The Brooks

Doug Wilson on reading and writing
October 13, 2010, 12:17 pm
Filed under: Reading, Spiritual disciplines, Writing

“Read. Read constantly. Read the kind of stuff you wish you could write. Read until your brain creaks. Tolkein said that his ideas sprang up from the lead mold of his mind. These are the trees where the leaves come from.”

  • Need to be voracious readers. Output requires intake and literary output requires literay intake.
  • Read like a reader and not someone cramming for a test. If you try to wring every book out like it was a washcloth full of info, all you will do is slow down to a useless pace. Go for total tonnage and read like someone who will forget most of it … you will forget most of it. Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading, you will not be able to remember … the fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean you haven’t been shaped by them.
  • Mark everything striking that you read. You need to remember some things and you need a way to find what you’ve read.
  • Pace yourself – a bit everyday.
  • Read boring books on writing.

Leithart on disobedient brothers
October 13, 2010, 12:13 pm
Filed under: 2 Thessalonians, Friendship, New Testament

2 Thess. 3:13-15: do not associate with disobedient brothers. Associate = mix together.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to such a brother. You may exhort him; you should continue to be a brother to him; you must pray for him. But until it is clear that he is walking in faithfulness, do not seek intimacy with him, do not breathe in his spirit, do not allow the leaven of his lifestyle to influence yours.”

JP Moreland meditation Psalm 131
October 11, 2010, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Prayer, Spiritual disciplines

Advice from JP Moreland on using Psalm 131 to meditate

Compose your life by intentionally going into solitude and quiet

  1. Find a comfortable place in your office or home.
  2. Regularly sit there—anywhere from 5 min—1.5 hrs
  3. “Father, I receive you …” Over and over
  4. Tell the Lord about what’s distracting you and then tell him you’re going to set it aside and come back to it later
  5. Focus on being present with Jesus in the moment
  6. “Father I receive your peace”
  7. Pray Phil. 4:6-7, Psalm 131 or any other Scriptures you’ve memorized


The voice of God
October 11, 2010, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Guidance, Prophecy, Spiritual disciplines

Here are some notes from Jack Deere’s The Voice of God on how to discern the voice of God:

God’s voice always agrees with the Scriptures

All private revelation in any form ought to be checked against the Scriptures. I do not believe that God will ever contradict the Bible. He may contradict our interpretation of the Bible, just as he did Peter’s interpretation of the Levitical food laws (Acts 10), but he will never contradict the actual teaching of the Bible. All prophetic words, impressions, dreams, visions, and supernatural experiences of any sort ought to be tested in light of the teaching of the Bible.

God’s voice may contradict friend’s opinions

-Some texts support that the counsel of friends are important to discerning the Lord’s will (Prov. 11:14).

-God sometimes leads his people to do things that make no sense to their friends – Paul deciding to go to Jerusalem even though his friends warned him that prison awaited him there (Acts 21:10-12; 20:22-23).

-When we are trying to discern whether or not the voice speaking to us is the Lord, we are not looking for advice in the natural. We do not simply want the opinion of others. We are trying to judge, not by eyes or ears, but by the Spirit of the Lord (Isa. 11:2-4). If others are to help us, what we need from them is true spiritual discernment, not reasonable advice. God expects us to learn to recognize his voice (John 10:3-4), therefore he will hold us, not our advisors, accountable for hearing his words (cf. 1 Kings 13:1-2)

God’s voice bears fruit

-Whether a prophecy comes true is not a good test b/c many prophecies contain a contingent element (cf. Jeremiah 18:7-10)

-Jesus’ test for discerning false from true prophets – their fruit (Matt. 7:16,18). Look at the effects of the voice speaking through the prophetic person. If that voice is from the Lord, it will produce good effects among the believing community – the fruit of the Spirit …. Jesus is giving us a general test of a person’s life or ministry. If we really are listening to the voice of the Lord, our lives will be marked the fruit of the Spirit wherever we go. If, however, we claim to be hearing from the Lord, and yet everywhere we go there is strife, dissension, and envy among believers, then it calls into question whether we are really hearing the voice of the Lord.

God’s voice is easy to reject

-Frequently God comes to us in ways that are easy to reject him. He comes to us as a baby in a stable, when we were looking for a prince on a white horse. He comes to us in a shadowy dream, when we were looking for a solid text of Scripture. He only lets us prophesy in part and know in part (1 Cor. 13:9), when we want complete understanding.

-Why don’t you speak more plainly, we ask? But God has already given us clear commands which we fail to heed. Why should God speak more plainly to people who ignore his clearest commands?

-Friendship is the key to recognizing God’s voice

Don Carson on the NPP
October 6, 2010, 7:08 pm
Filed under: New Perspective

D. A. Carson was invited by Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) to give a set of lectures on the New Perspective on Paul, a controversial theological movement that has gained in importance in Reformed circles.

Carson first addressed the history of the New Perspective on Paul and the principle figures. The movement was kicked off in 1963 by Stendahl’s work The Introspective Conscience of the West. Stendahl’s thesis was that our post-Reformation heritage has led us to read guilt back into the Bible when it isn’t there, so that we can then posit a salvation to address the guilt. He argues that the New Testament does not really concern itself with the level of guilt that those in the Reformed tradition have assigned to it. This work was considered a breakthrough at the time.

E. P. Sanders contributed the crucial work Paul and Palestinian Judaism. This book asserted that the concept of “seeing one’s good works and one’s bad works hanging in a balance” at the end of one’s life really was not present until the 4th century, and that those who have read this idea back into 1st-century writings have done shoddy historical work. Sanders claims that the massively legalistic Judaism that we see from Paul’s writings was really not in existence, and that instead, what existed was a pattern of religion called Covenantal Nomism (an approach to law that is determined by a certain covenantal relationship). Sanders insists that Covenantal Nomism covered all branches of Judaism in the 1st century. These eight points sum up Covenantal Nomism:

A. God has chosen Israel;
B. And given her the law.
C. This law implies both God’s promise to maintain his election of Israel;
D. And their requirement to obey.
E. God rewards obedience and punishes transgressions.
F. The law also provides for means of atonement;
G. The maintenance and re-establishment of covenantal relationships.
H. All who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, the atonement, and God’s mercy will persevere to the end

This, Sanders holds, is the background against which Paul was contending. According to Sanders, Paul could not have been setting up “grace vs. law,” because the Jews themselves at this time saw themselves as being chosen by grace, but in a sense still maintained by an obedience of faith. Therefore, Sanders says, the main difference between Paul and Judaism is not faith vs. works or grace vs. law, but the question of who the person of Jesus is.

James Dunn is another important figure in this discussion. His main thesis as it regards Paul is that Paul was not fighting against legalism but against nationalism. Dunn argues that the “boundary markers” that made Jews distinct from Gentiles were Paul’s main issues; Paul was not as interested in matters of personal guilt before God as he was in removing these boundary markers so that all believers, Jew and Gentile, could commune together.

Perhaps the theologian who has recently received the most exposure on the New Perspective issue is N. T. Wright. For Wright, questions of justification in Paul’s writing all go back to the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Wright posits that Jews thought themselves to still be in the exile in the 1st century, because many of the spectacular promises from God about the end of the exile did not occur when they returned from Babylon. In Wright’s view, Paul saw faith in Christ as resolving this issue: that the exile ended in the death of the Messiah, and the corporate guilt of the covenant community had been paid for by Christ. According to Wright, Paul viewed justification as God’s declarative act to the effect that you are in the covenant.

Another position that should be addressed is the more moderate position of Don Garlington and Scott Hafemann. While not necessarily considered to be a part of the New Perspective, this view is still leaning in that direction. The main idea in this view is that the good works that a Christian does as a result of their salvation are not only attesting evidence of that person’s salvation but serve somehow also as grounds of their salvation. Those who hold to this position believe that in the Old Testament, God did not necessarily require perfection, but covenantal faithfulness; therefore, they take Romans 2 to mean that faithfulness to the law was a live option and achieved by some. Obviously, this view is difficult to justify considering the rest of Scripture, but Carson did not go into the specifics of the refutation of this position.

Carson pointed out next that there were a large number of different domains touched upon when discussing these issues. First, one must have a good understanding of historical theology, especially of the theology of Luther and Calvin. Many of the stereotypes of what’s bad about Luther and Calvin are used to make the New Perspective look good, but the strengths of the New Perspective are actually found in Luther and Calvin (sometimes those holding to the New Perspective get their information on the Reformers from very derivative sources, instead of going to the writings themselves).

Another area that one must have knowledge in is that of second-temple Judaism. Sanders was correct in pointing out that merit theology was not, contrary to popular belief at the time, a prevalent thought-pattern in the first century. He makes the mistake, however, of insisting that covenantal nomism was the prevalent thought-pattern at this time, when really second-temple Judaism was much more diverse, and did not operate under just one prevalent thought-pattern.

To illustrate this point, Carson told of the ways in which Josephus spoke of grace in his writings, showing that Josephus did in fact have a sense of grace being poured out on those who merited it, and not on those who didn’t. Thus, it is clear that not everyone at that time was operating under covenantal nomism. The sense in which first-century Jews understood being saved by grace was a very different sense from the one we believe; it was not the grace of individual salvation but had to do with the corporate call of Israel in Deuteronomy 7 or 10.

(As an aside, Carson told that many of those advocating the view of covenantal nomism have asked why those opposing the view are so upset, and have claimed that they are only saying that covenantal nomism was found in first-century Judaism; but these advocates, in fact, did not simply say that covenantal nomism was found in first-century Judaism, but claimed that it was the only thing found there and therefore the only way to read Paul.)

Another methodological question that has to be raised is that of parallelomania and parallelophobia. Sanders’ approach seems to foster a lot of parallelomania, finding parallels everywhere in similar passages and in the historical background, and then reading the passage in light of those parallels. (Parallelophobia is the act of trying so hard to read the text out of its historical context that you become afraid of any parallels.) Sanders’ argument is that second-temple Judaism was controlled by covenantal nomism. But even if this is the case, it doesn’t prove that Paul must be read as advocating covenantal nomism; in fact, there is just as strong a possibility that he would be speaking out against it! The matter of sin makes this especially clear. Second-temple Judaism took sin much less seriously than Paul did; his writings argue that sin must be taken more seriously. They do not argue for the reader to have the same perspective on sin that second-temple Judaism had.

Fourth, many word studies have been done by those opposing the New Perspective, looking to see if the concept of “justification” is often tied to the concept of “covenant” (as those supporting the New Perspective claim it is). Exceedingly few instances of such a connection, however, have been found. Instead, the concept of “justification” is found tied scores of times to the concept of creational justice (that is, whether God holds his created beings to account for blessing or curse).

Fifth, the concept of the exile must be addressed in more detail. Wright claims that all Jews around the first century had a strong sense of corporate guilt, and felt strongly that their exile had not ended because of that guilt. However, many extra-biblical sources documenting that time period show Jewish groups who did not believe they were still in exile or, if they did, thought themselves to be the faithful remnant who were exiled in spite of their own righteousness. The actual sources do not give a very strong picture of this huge sense of corporate guilt that Wright argues for. Further, Wright insists that the Reformed emphasis on individual guilt leans too heavily on psychologism, but in moving from individual guilt to corporate guilt, one does not move away from psychologism, but simply from an individual psychologism to a national psychologism.

Also, Carson argues that the controversy that Paul mentions in Galatians seems to imply that the Jews thought (and communicated to the Gentiles) that they had some sort of “inside track with God” based on keeping the law, and the attraction for the Gentiles was this possibility of an “inside track.” Nowhere in Paul’s writings do the Gentiles see the Jews as having corporate guilt over the exile. Therefore, it seems, again, that not every group of Jews was ruled by the idea of covenantal nomism or exile-guilt.

(Carson exegetes a complicated passage in Galatians to illustrate this fact, and comes to the conclusion that Paul is emphasizing, first and foremost, how a believer is justified before God, and that the issue of boundary markers between Jews and Gentiles, while a factor, is by far not Paul’s main emphasis.)

In the third lecture, Carson chose a few passages (arbitrarily, as he insisted that there were many other equally helpful passages that he could have chosen to prove his points) to discuss in response to the claims of those in the New Perspective.

First, Carson chose Romans 2. He argues against the idea that Gentiles may have some way of attaining salvation (because they are made in the image of God and having a knowledge of what is right and wrong) apart from Christ. He argues that Paul’s emphasis in this passage is original sin, the fallenness of the entire human race, and the inability of anyone (Jew or Gentile) to be saved apart from the grace of Christ. Carson showed that Paul makes it obvious in this passage not that anyone has a chance to achieve salvation without Christ, but that the fact that people do have an understanding of what is right and wrong in fact condemns them further, because they always choose the wrong.

Carson laid out four things that Paul set out in these verses:

First, Paul sets forth the revelation of God’s righteousness and its relation to the Old Testament. Paul writes that the Old Testament bore witness to the righteousness of God and predicted the new covenant. A dichotomy cannot be made between a “wrathful God” of the Old Testament and a “loving God” of the New Testament; Carson argues that the descriptions both of God’s love and of God’s wrath are racheted up as one moves from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The passage shows that God’s righteousness has been disclosed apart from the old law covenant, not that God’s righteousness is entirely divorced from the law itself.

Second, Paul sets forth the availability of God’s righteousness to all human beings without racial distinction but on condition of faith. Under the terms of the old covenant, the righteousness from God was primarily directed towards the Jews. But now this righteousness comes to all who have faith in Jesus Christ because all have sinned.

Third, Paul insists that the source of God’s righteousness is in the gracious provision of Christ Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. Carson speaks of the concept of propitiation, that God must be “made propitious” for our sins to be forgiven. This is over and against the idea of “expiation,” in which sin is that which must be cancelled. Many have questioned how God can be both he who must be made propitious, and he who makes possible his own propitiation. Caron’s answer is this: “God is not the independent arbitrator of a system that is bigger than he (the way a judge is). He is always the most offended party in any sin and every sin we commit. In any sin we commit we are breaking the first commandment. And he is our judge. The law is not independent of him, it is what he makes it to be, and he absorbs it in himself in the person of his son in his own body on the tree. Within that framework you see how God becomes both the one who because of his very character loves such sinful people as we and the one whose wrath must be satisfied.”

Fourth, Paul establishes the demonstration of the righteousness of God through the cross of Jesus Christ. Carson showed that the sins committed in the Old Testament really did go “unpunished” in a sense; even though people reaped the consequences of their sin, it was not ultimately punished as it would be eventually in hell. “The full punishment comes in hell itself…or it comes on the cross.” N. T. Wright again reads the concept of exile into these verses, but it is hard to justify this when looking at the text.

Carson concluded this lecture with an outline of verses 27-ff in this passage, focusing on the glories of faith.

(Despite his desire to address several different passages during this lecture, Carson only had time to address the Romans passage.)

Carson’s last remarks were an invitation to read all of the passages mentioned during these lectures with one’s Bible and several commentaries open, to see if his conclusions are accurate.

A question-and-answer session followed

HT: China Institute

Environmentalists are jerks
September 22, 2010, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Environmentalism

From Popular Science

The study: “Do green products make us better people?” Psychological Science, March 2010

The findings: Sure, getting organic bok choy and phosphate-free toilet-bowl cleaner can make you feel good about yourself, but how good? And does buying green translate into more redeeming behaviour overall? Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto conducted three experiments on 305 subjects to find out. It turns out that just being exposed to green products – seeing a TV commercial or walking by an organic store – creates a “halo effect” that makes people more charitable and trusting. But actually buying green products was like getting a license for hypocrisy: After a purchase, the green consumers were more likely to lie and steal.

Why bother? Mazar points out that more and more consumers are buying green and socially responsible products, which gives them “moral capital” (aka a superiority complex). But, she says, she wants to learn how to get beyond the smug factor: “How do we educate kids to get to the stage of being more thoughtful about using resources without thinking ‘I’m so great’? This is ultimately the goal of our research.”

JP Moreland’s Passion
September 7, 2010, 3:06 am
Filed under: Spiritual disciplines, Vocation

From Moreland’s blog:

My fundamental life-commitment, the very reality that drives me on a daily basis, is increasingly to fall in love with the Triune God, to bring honor to Jesus Christ and make him famous among the nations, and to become like him in attitude and action. Under the power of the Spirit, I want to lead a victorious Christian life and experience a Christ-honoring, vibrant death.

The fundamental means by which these life goals are achieved revolve around making progress in what I have summarized as the “Kingdom Triangle,” and to do so in community with other friends, brothers and sisters: This involves:

Cultivating the life of the mind: It is important to know what one believes and why one believes that way. It is crucial to learn how to think as a Christian throughout the whole of life in a Christ-honoring way. While the Bible is not a philosophy text, still, it embodies a worldview, including implications for metaphysics, epistemology, value theory, and other areas, and my goal as a disciple is to honor Jesus Christ in my worldview thinking in which there is no distinction between secular and sacred.

Flourishing the life of a tender, non-judgmental, loving and joy-filled heart, centered in biblically-informed spiritual formation, the practice of spiritual disciplines, and a constant invitation from God to co-labor with Him in accessing my heart and its current state. I want to be a winsome, non-defensive, courageous witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to do so with a heart of agape love.

Attending to the supernatural life of a disciple of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God, in which I learn to grow in seeing answers to prayer, the sick healed, the demonic addressed appropriately, and words of knowledge, prophecy, and wisdom flowing through me for the edification of others.

All three values are to be done in the context of a priority on developing close friends in the body of Christ and serving alongside brothers and sisters in a local church.

The “Kingdom Triangle” is not the Gospel, but it does offer good news for those whose identity and way of life are defined and nurtured by the Gospel of God’s Kingdom, the proclamation of saving life, redemption, power, forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ.