Poor reception

A fascinating quote from Dr John Piper’s new book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God:

[...] People receive Christ [but] they do not receive Him as supremely valuable. They receive Him simply as sin-forgiver, because they love being guilt-free; and as rescuer from hell, because they love being pain-free; and as healer, because they love being disease-free; and as protector, because they love being safe; and as prosperity-giver, because they love being wealthy; and as Creator because they want a personal universe; and as Lord of history because they want order and purpose; but they don’t receive Him as supremely and personaly valuable for who He is. They don’t receive Him the way Paul did when he spoke of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”; they don’t receive Him as He really is, more glorious, more beautiful, more wonderful, more satisfying than everything else in the universe. They don’t prize Him or treasure Him or cherish Him or delight in Him.

Omnipotent Compassion

In the middle of one of his least accessible talks, John Murray throws in this gem:

To view the heavenly sympathy of our Lord from the aspect of our existential need, how indispensable to comfort and perseverance in faith, to know that in all the temptations of this life we have a sympathiser, and helper, and comforter in the person of him from whom we must conceal nothing, who feels with us in every weakness and temptation, and knows exactly what our situation physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual is! And this he knows because he himself was tempted, like as we are, without sin. That he who has this feeling with us in temptation appears in the presence of God for us and is our advocate with the Father invests his sympathy and help with an efficacy that is nothing less than omnipotent compassion.

– John Murray, The Heavenly, Priestly Activity of Christ. The Campbell Morgan Bible Lecture, delivered June 18, 1958 at Westminster Chapel, London.

Eggheads and babies

Reading from Matthew 14:14 today

When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

it struck me how hard it is to find a balance between knowledge and application in teaching the Bible.

In contrast to other religions, Christianity is actually more news than system. What I mean by that is that there is more proclamation involved in the Christian faith than instruction. There is instruction (read any NT letter), but it comes after the proclamation/description/teaching of greater principles. First we learn the news, then we are to live by them.

That is consistent with the gospel. The gospel is not a self-help recipe; it is a diagnosis of a terminal disease and a prescription for the only cure available. People aren’t called to come to Christ in order to improve themselves (although that will happen inevitably). They are called to come to Christ because they are in desperate need for a radical change of their position before God. Christ Himself never implied anything different.

So in a sense, the Bible is mostly news – but news that must inevitably affect us in a profound and unprecedented way. I think that this ought to be consequently reflected in the teaching of the Bible.

There are teachers/churches that emphasise proclamation above application. This results in hypocrisy: Theological knowledge that is separated from the life and troubles of the individual believer. A God who only cares about His truth and can’t be bothered with “my silly little problems”.

Other teachers/churches emphasise application above proclamation. The result is what is called “seeker-sensitivism”. A constant me-me-me atmosphere, with me-centred worship and me-heavy teaching. If it doesn’t “speak to my situation”, I simply don’t care or don’t believe it’s relevant/important/true. How can God say anything that doesn’t apply to my current concerns right now?

Jesus balanced both perfectly. He combined his divine theological wisdom with an immense compassion for people. He proclaimed the news and lived them out. He showed us that theology must be “efficacious” – it must affect and change us. It must be broad and deep. Neither eggheads nor babies.

Notes on John Murray’s “Power of the Holy Spirit”

John Murray: “The Power of the Holy Spirit” (Collected Writings, Banner of Truth, pp 138-142)

Introduction notes:

  • Jesus inaugurates the ministry of the Holy Spirit (p 138) – And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
    • Either reflects “higher degree” of power endowment…
    • …or anticipates Pentecost
    • Cannot be separated from Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
    • The main/overall focus of the Holy Spirit’s power in us is to enable us for the work of witnessing.
The Power of the Holy Spirit is…

I. …the source of faith

  • Main verse – 1 Cor. 2:4-5: [4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] that your faith might not rest [μὴ ᾖ] in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
  • Murray writes (p139): “…faith is elicited and rests upon the power of God [v5]. But this power is surely specified in the preceding verse as ‘the demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ [v4] and [Paul] is thinking of that attendant influence of the Holy Spirit in virtue of which the Word of God was effectual at Corinth”.
  • The implication is that, in this age, saving faith depends of the power of the Holy Spirit. “…we must think of that power as that by which the Word of the gospel was registered in the hearts of believers as the truth of God.
  • Murray also quotes 1 Thes. 1:5a: …because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
  • Murray ties this with 1 Thes. 2:13: And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work [ἐνεργεῖται] in you believers.
  • Point: Although these passages explicitly describe the power of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the gospel, they also imply (esp. 1 Thess. 2:13) that it also created faith/assurance in the hearers.

II. …the source of effectual proclamation

DEPENDENCE

  • Communication without power is ‘deceitful’

CULTIVATION OF THE MEANS

  • Our dependence on the Holy Spirit’s power does not preclude preparation.
  • Power does not excuse laziness
  • There is power in proclamation and therefore in the preparation for that proclamation.
  • The Holy Spirit’s power seals and reveals the Word, therefore it is also involved in the proclamation and certification (response) of the Word: “The product of the Holy Spirit’s revelation, and the power by which it is certified as his product, always go together.” To ignore this is to make a mockery of our dependence on the Holy Spirit.

III. Source of encouragement (in witnessing)

  • As we witness the gospel to others, we are faced with discouragement from:
    • Unresponsiveness
    • Coldness (apathy)
    • Indifference
    • Unfaithfulness by those who profess faith
    • Lesson: We are helpless to confront human depravity in our own power
    • Comfort comes from knowing that…
      • The Holy Spirit abides in and with the Church
      • He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8)
      • He discloses the glories of the Redeemer to the world
      • That God is Sovereign in His redeeming work (John 3:8)
      • Advice: “Our dependence should be as unbounded as our dependence complete. Our desires and intercessions should be as extensive as the promises of God (Gen. 22:18; Ps. 2:8), and as extensive as the commission to disciple all the nations.” (p141)
      • Warning: “Defeatism and discouragement are the hall marks of unbelief and the counsel of the enemy.” (p141)

Questions

  1. What does Murray mean by “…the gospel was registered in the hearts of believers…” (p139)? Is saving faith instigated by the power of the Holy Spirit or only cultivated following the ‘initial response’?
  2. What is the work of illumination of the Holy Spirit? Does it violate human psychology and therefore responsibility?
  3. Why is “art destitute of the Spirit” ‘deceitful’? Why not ‘pointless’ or ‘ineffectual’?
  4. How can we become discouraged in our witnessing? What comfort does the power of the Spirit offer us?
  5. Is discouragement in gospel ministry always a “hall mark of unbelief”? How does 2 Cor. 1:8 fit with this? (cf. 2 Cor. 4:8)?
  6. Is the power of the Holy Spirit restricted to Christian witness-bearing? Are there other ways His power works in or with us?

How to deal with theological differences

Christians are divided over many issues, which is the (at least original) reason behind different denominations within the Evangelical confession.

Often these differences become exacerbated and lead to actual divisions of fellowship and an overall loss of the love that should characterise relationships between Christians. Reacting to this, (usually a generation or so afterwards), some Christians try to “break down the barriers” between denominations, especially in para-church ministries. The idea that is often to “put aside those things that divide us and focus on the things we agree upon”.

What follow are some thoughts on the issue.

1. It is important to distinguish between major and minor differences. Is there a division over a major doctrine (e.g. the nature of God, nature of Christ, biblical attributes, Trinity, gospel, atonement etc.) or a minor, “secondary” doctrine (e.g. church polity, service content, eschatological details, Church/State relationships etc.)? In the first case, there is a biblical mandate to separate fellowship (Rom. 16:17; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14; Titus 3:10; 2 John 9-11). But this does not extend to difference of opinions that are, as far as their proponents can see, biblically sound.

2. Minor differences may reflect differences in greater doctrines. For example, although we might think of ammilenianism and premillenianism as a minor difference, they often originate from very different views concerning the relationship of national Israel and the Church.

3. One way of addressing theological differences is to avoid/deny/minimise them altogether. But this  approach is short-lived benefits because it only allows for shallow, “restricted” fellowship. Sooner or later, differences will crop up again and again in practice, prayer, and teaching emphasis. This is unavoidable because healthy Christian fellowship requires the full extent of biblical truth.

4. The best way to deal with theological differences is to openly clarify them and humbly debate them. This has the multiple effects of

  • a) informing believers of a particular denomination what they actually believe and why; this leads to more biblically-critical thinking and less unqualified emotion – more light, less heat
  • b) informing believers of a particular denomination what “the other side” actually believes and why
  • c) promoting in-depth searching of the Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:11)
  • d) edifying one another (1 Thes. 5:11)
  • e) often casting the differences into their real light as either major or minor, or even as different angles on the same view.