Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Jonathan Edwards on Roles within the Godhead

According to Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott, for Jonathan Edwards, Trinitarian roles were important.

More than most early modern Christian thinkers, Edwards delineated distinct roles for each of the three divine Persons.  The Father is “the fountain,” “the Deity without distinction.”  He is the great “author” of the plan of redemption who provided a redeemer or purchaser.  Although the Father and the Son are equal in divine nature, the Father is the “head” of the persons in the Trinity and Christ’s personal head.  Christ is subject to him and dependent on him. … His principal role in the history of redemption was to purchase our communion with God, which is the Holy Spirit.

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford, 2012), 194-95.

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Should You Pay Your Kids to Tweet? On Social Media Addiction

A couple of days back, Jon Acuff–laugh-out-loud writer and author of Stuff Christians Likewrote a post on how to manage social media use as a father.  Acuff wrote the post in a whimsical style but ended up recommending that dads “pay for Tweets” in an effort to curb their phone use while at home.

Here’s what he said on this point:

The time doesn’t belong to me when we’re all hanging out. It’s family time. So if I want to use some of that valuable family time to write a tweet, it only makes sense that I would buy that time back from my kids. So every time I tweet on the weekends or on weeknights, I have to give each kid a quarter.

Let’s not treat this as some super-serious matter.  Reformed types can sometimes end up treating every little cultural ripple as a major wave.  We can bring a Thousand Mega-tons of Doctrinal Force to bear on the ministrations of a molehill.  That’s not good.  I should also say up front that I’m glad, genuinely glad, that Acuff is taking some kind of action to engage with his family and curb his social media addiction.

But I would say that I think Acuff may be barking up the wrong tree here.  Whatever happened to good old-fashioned self-control?  Are we really so addicted to social media that we literally can’t put the iPhone down?

I understand this temptation, by the way.  I have an iPhone.  Sometimes, you come home from work and you’re tired and you don’t want to engage.  Or you get an idea and you really want to share it with the world (or at least several hundred/thousand of your closest friends).  I get that.  I’ve had to focus on this matter and essentially retrain myself out of bad habits.  I’m like Acuff, after all–I like ideas, my brain is usually going, and most significantly I’m a sinner, so I can take immense blessings like my sweet kids and my great wife and ignore or disdain them.

It may not be the worst thing in the world, then, to “pay for Tweets.”  Like I said, at least Acuff is fighting his addiction, unlike many parents I see.  Let’s just be honest–the smartphone has become an escape tool.  When you’re with your kids but your heart’s not in it, you jump on Twitter and scroll through comments.  Meanwhile, your kids get annoyed, they act up, and no one ends up happy.

So some action is better than no action.  But doesn’t “paying for Tweets” put your kids in the awkward position of adjudicating your fatherly behavior?  That’s a silly idea, and a bad one.  Your kids shouldn’t be your authority (even in a whimsical sense), you should be theirs.  It may be fun for a bit to have them “police” you, but that’s ultimately an irresponsible position to put them in.

How about this for a proposal?  Buckle your seatbelt, because this one’s really going to take your breath away; it’s likely that a whole new way to be a dad may open up for you in this very paragraph.  How about fathers be fathers?  How about they exercise major amounts of self-control, praying to God for the strength given them in the power of the Holy Spirit through union with the world-conquering Christ?  How about they discipline themselves, and own their fatherliness, and take on responsibility, and live and think and act as a God-commissioned authority?

How about they cease to spend their time like a little kid with a new video game and instead leave their phone alone for, I don’t know, hours, and plug in with their tired wives and help their children who are filled with pent-up excitement and want nothing more than to play with them uninterruptedly?

How about about as fathers we cease to image a distracted, selfish, boyish father (a pale reflection of the father of lies, don’t you think?) and instead image a loving, strong, others-centered father (something akin to, say, the heavenly father)?

I’m guessing Jon Acuff wants to be a good dad and may well be.  And I did break my promise and go a bit thermonuclear in my cultural analysis.  But I do think that our culture of weak manhood has lowered our expectations of ourselves to a new low.  We’re all grading on a curve nowadays, and we can trick ourselves into thinking that a “C” effort really deserves an “A.”

So how about this: we break our social media addictions (which really are sinful, by the way) and reassume the role of Christ-shaped champion of our home?  We will surely bless our sweet wives and kids, and we’ll end up with a good deal more quarters in our pockets besides.


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John Calvin and Sin in the Life of the Believer: The Gospel Coalition and Evangelical Spirituality

How should we who consider grace the central reality of our life think about God’s response to our sin?  This is a tricky question, one that defies some of the easy answers we offer to it.  Today at The Gospel Coalition, I ask and seek to answer this question in a post entitled “You Can Anger God But Not Lose Him.” 

Here’s a bit to chew on:

The fact that our sins displease God motivates us in practical terms to put our unrighteousness to death through the power of the Spirit offered and given us in the gospel (Col. 3:1-10). Pastor-theologian John Calvin said it best in his Institutes: “[H]e who in the end profits by God’s scourges is the man who considers God angry at his vices, but merciful and kindly toward himself” (III:4:34). Like David, God is angry at our “vices,” but if we may inject some Lutheran paradox into our treatment of Calvin, this anger is also kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

God’s response to the sin of believers is not vengeance, Calvin noted, but “chastisement.” The Frenchman pointed out that “when a father quite severely corrects his son, he does not do this to take vengeance on him or to maltreat him, but rather to teach him and to render him more cautious therefore” (III:4:31). The authors of the Westminster Confession concurred with Calvin when they noted that believers “may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance” (11.5).

This short essay is part of a series on evangelical spirituality that TGC has been running this week.  Here are the other posts, all of which I commend to you.  Each tackles an important issue in the spiritual life of the believer.

(Image: Churchofnopeople.com)

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Are Roommates the New Family?

Just found an interesting article that captured a cultural trend.  The New York Times writer Stephen Williams penned a piece called “Home, Hangout, Departure Lounge” that profiles a group of roommates living together in New York City.  It’s a short but noteworthy article that includes the following:

nytHere’s how the group came together: “The four roommates from Grand Rapids became friends in high school. Each of them eventually made it to New York, where all but Mr. Armstrong attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was there that Mr. D’Adamo joined the crew. He now works in sales at the Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams furniture store in SoHo.  About four years ago, everybody except Miss Scott rented an apartment together in Harlem. It had a huge kitchen and living room and four bedrooms, and cost $2,600 a month. Then Miss Scott moved in, staying in whichever room was empty — all of the roommates spent (and continue to spend) many nights with their significant others. When it was decided that Miss Scott needed her own room, they started looking for a five-bedroom place to share. They like hanging together.”  

Here’s how they think about family: “It’s nice to have some sort of family here where you know each other’s business, their parents, everything,” Mr. Vosovic said.”

They live separate lives together: “It’s a great little commune, especially because while the residents hang out now and then, and give birthday parties for one another, they still live separate lives. So far, there are no plans to break up a good thing. But Mr. Vosovic has ideas for the future. “Hopefully the girls will get pregnant and we’ll have babies with live-in baby sitters!” he said.”

Clearly the roommates are nice people.  They prize that most precious of modern buzzwords, “community.”  That’s no bad thing.  They sound fun and caring, and it seems that they have created their own little family.  It seems, though, that they have accepted the current generation’s radical redefinition of family–where once it referred to a “nuclear” unit composed of husband, wife, and children, now it refers to any number of shifting collections of friends and acquaintances.  Having seen many couples seemingly fall out of love, observing the fragmentation and geographical isolation of the modern family, groups like this are recreating family the best they can.

But this comes with a price.  It means that one lives as one likes.  It means the delaying of responsibility and maturity.  As a new father, I can say that I have found fatherhood to be one of the most spiritually stimulating experiences of my life.  It is a blast, simply put, though it involves tons of dedication, sacrifice, and hard work.  I’m very much figuring all that out, but I can already see how fatherhood helpfully changes us and robs us of our selfishness, if we allow it to do so.

Though this modern way of living–with relationships, work, and friends neatly compartmentalized–seems optimal, it can mask a pervasive narcissism and refusal to mature.  The call to make a family, which many of us will hear, brings together all aspects of life, unifies them as a single whole, makes us whole people.  One can’t have a “life” at work, another with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, another with one’s roommates.  Rather than accepting a new definition of the family, an unbiblical one, Christians need to be salt and light by transmitting the beauty of the natural family to a confused, compartmentalized world.

In the end, it strikes me that these young people are looking for something that they can’t find outside of Christ–a family greater than their own.  This little group of roommates, in their own way, is reaching for a community they cannot enter, a joy they cannot taste, unless God makes them His own by giving them faith in His Son through the work of His Spirit.   

Whether single or married, we need to call all people to the true family, the family of God.  Our natural families, saturated with goodness and blessing, are just a snapshot of the beauty of God’s spiritual family in which both all people may find ultimate fulfillness.  In New York City or rural South Dakota, the local church beckons to the sad and lonely, calling all to join it in its journey to the lasting home, the dwelling place of God.


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David Jackman on Preaching That Connects

From the just-published Trinity Journal come from wise words of expert preacher David Jackman of the U. K.’s Proclamation Trust:

“Counteract the particular distortions of our present cultural context by refuting them biblically.  That is to say that we must read the newspaper as well as the Scriptures.  We should be people who know and understand our times, who discern the currents and tides beneath the surface of events and movements.  We should be people who penetrate to the causes of the cultural malaise and expose them, rather than simply railing against the symptoms.  If we do not take on the real pressure points of the culture in our preaching we shall not connect with our people.  We shall end up preaching an abstracted discipleship, which has no cutting edge in reality.  Why, for example, were eighty percent of the abortions in one of the southern states performed on women who are church members?  This is where the gospel connects and so we must be courageous enough, and dependent enough upon God’s Spirit, to address these issues.  It will requires the negatives of rebuke and correction as well as the soothing message of grace, forgiveness, and transformation.  But remember the same Jesus who spoke those wonderful words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” continued immediately with a negative: “No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).  Pastoral preaching must seek above all to be faithful; it may not be popular.” (Fall 2008, 202)

Too many of our churches feature “abstracted discipleship” in which the pastoral burdens expressed are those found in Calvin’s or Hodge’s commentaries, thus relevant only to those members of our churches currently dealing with Victorian-era social problems.  Not all pastors need to be cultural experts, but all pastors need to be culturally familiar, and to bring the gospel to bear on the unique challenges and vicissitudes of life in their environment.

Do not preach an abstract Christianity; preach a particularized, powerful, personally applicable one that engages your hearers, reaches their hearts, and addresses their needs, desires, and sins.

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Saturday Devotions: Holy Spirit Comfort

Acts 9:31 reads,

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

Following a section on the difficulties the newly converted Saul faced in joining the church, this verse stood out to me because it seems to connect the way in which the church lived–”in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit”–with its growth.

Why is this noteworthy? Well, because there are roughly 18 million church growth books that offer you the one surefire way to “grow your church.” I am not one to think that anyone, however talented or creative or holy, can come up with the solution for church growth. Nor am I one to think that we should focus much of our time and energy on this matter. If one is to do so, though, it seems a good idea to start with the Bible and its testimony regarding growth.

What, then, does this verse say to us about the means by which we grow the growth? Well, nothing we wouldn’t already find out from out the Word. Our local churches need to “fear the Lord” and taste “the comfort of the Spirit” as we live boldly in a fallen world, sharing the gospel and living it out in our communities. That, it would seem, is our basic approach to church growth.

This is a most comforting mandate, though. We need to fear the Lord, and we need to taste the Spirit’s comfort. Let us start there, trust the Lord, work very hard to glorify Him through our evangelism and radically different and attractive corporate life, and leave whatever comes to Him, staying open all the while to counsel and encouragement from others.

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Walking the Sawdust Trail: The Altar-Call and its Use in American Evangelicalism

“The pastor closes his sermon: “The Holy Spirit bids you come. The congregation, praying, hoping, expectant, bids you come. On the first note of the first stanza, come down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles. May angels attend you. May the Holy Spirit of God encourage you. May the presence of Jesus walk by your side as you come, while we stand and while we sing.” And come they do. Week after week, in churches all across the America—and other parts of the world—scenes like this play out at the end of thousands of sermons. The congregation stands and sings “Just As I Am” or “Come Just as You Are.” Sinners walk the aisle and pray for salvation.”

So begins a recent article on the excellent Church History website by TEDS historian Douglas A. Sweeney and TEDS PhD student Mark C. Rogers entitled “Walk the Aisle.” I would encourage you to read the very nicely written and researched study and to reflect on it (and while you’re at it, check out and support Church History).

Here’s a nice section on the 19th-century development of the practice:

“Many people consider Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) to be the “father” of the altar call. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1823, Finney did not begin giving public invitations until long after Methodists had made the altar call a regular part of their camp meetings. Finney, however, did more than anyone to establish altar calls as an accepted and popular practice in American evangelicalism. Finney regularly called anxious sinners to the front of the congregation to sit on an “anxious bench.” There, they would receive prayer and often be preached to directly. The altar call was also one of Finney’s famous “new measures.” He was convinced that ministers could produce revival by using the right methods, and that the altar call “was necessary to bring [sinners] out from among the mass of the ungodly to a public renunciation of their sinful ways.”

The even-handed conclusion of the article:

“Despite criticism, the altar call continues. It has become a permanent fixture in American evangelicalism. One need only watch a few minutes of a Billy Graham crusade on TV to recognize that what was once a “new measure” has become mainstream. Graham’s distinctive voice calls out, “Up there—down there—I want you to come. If you are with friends and relatives, they will wait for you. The buses will wait for you. Christ went all the way to the Cross because He loved you. Certainly you can come these few steps and give your life to Him.” While the venue has changed from the backwoods of Kentucky to modern football stadiums, and the mode of transportation has evolved from covered wagons to charter buses, the altar call has endured. It is featured even today in the stories of countless Christians who met Christ when they stood up, stepped out, and walked the aisle.”

I used to get very exercised about things like the altar-call.  I’ve toned down a bit, which tends to happen with a bit of seasoning.  This is not to say that I would personally use an altar call (I don’t when I preach) or that I would encourage others to do so (I would not for theological reasons).  With that said, though, I am aware that many people who are far more evangelistically faithful and fruitful do use the altar call and see many more people truly come to Christ than I ever will.

If one would still seek to think carefully through the practice–we must do so, after all, and should never blindly accept tradition–one can also give thanks for the many souls who past and present evangelists have led to the mercy seat of God.  Whether we find Christ while walking a church aisle or sitting in a bar, desolate and lonely, we know that we Christians will all walk down a very different path in a day that is soon to come.  Here, we tread on sawdust or hardwood; there, we will walk on gold, and worship the King who staggered up a hard and bitter road to bring us to our rest.


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Important Essay: Michael Horton’s “Beyond Culture Wars”

I like theologian Michael Horton‘s writing.  He’s often provocative and helpful.  Even if one doesn’t always agree with him, one generally finds him a stimulating read.  The latest issue of Modern Reformation has reprinted a column entitled “Beyond the Culture Wars” published fifteen years ago that bears out a reading.  Horton’s burden in the piece is to direct Christians away from the “culture wars” and toward gospel proclamation.  He overstates things in places and comes to some conclusions that make me a bit uneasy, but his general message is, I think, challenging.

Here’s an excerpt that pushed me to consider the thoughts and intentions of my own heart:

“We have become the rock of offense rather than Christ. The irony is we have taken the offense out of the gospel–we don’t preach sin and grace anymore–and have taken it over for ourselves. We’re offensive for all the wrong reasons while we leave the gospel itself devoid of its power. The minorities, the feminists, the gays, and others who practice immoral lifestyles–people with whom we may not agree–will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. Not because we have preached the gospel and called them to repentance and they don’t like that, but because we have framed our communication with them in terms of a war for social, political, and cultural control. Contrary to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was the friend of sinners. Prostitutes turned from their prostitution because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much loves much.” The Holy Spirit will not convert a single soul through moral crusades. He will not convert a prostitute through Senate bill 242, or change the direction of the homosexual by prime-time denunciation from moralistic preachers. Yes, we are called to preach the good news and to call men and women to repentance, but that is not a political issue, that is not ultimate a moral issue, that is a gospel issue. Repentance can no more be coerced by the state than faith; both are the gracious gifts of God.”


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Extremely Helpful Thoughts on Whether or Not You Should Do a PhD as a Christian

Following a link from Justin Taylor, I found this blog post by Regent’s John Stackhouse extremely helpful in evaluating the often confounding question of whether one should do a PhD. The article targets evangelical students who are (primarily) considering a PhD as preparation for academic ministry, but it is so broad and trenchant that it will be of great help to young Christians considering the PhD as a means of preparation for ecclesial ministry.

I will be blogging on this in the future, when my thoughts are more developed on the subject, but right now, let me quote a section of the piece that will be of particular interest to consumed readers (all should read this, including pastors, so that even if one is not personally considering this matter, one can give good counsel on it):

• “Do I feel I have gifts in scholarship and teaching? Do I feel inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit to pursue the Ph.D. as part of a calling to study and teach? How do I know this is the Holy Spirit?

• How has this calling been confirmed by others and by experience? What does my Christian community think? Would this decision have the enthusiastic endorsement of those closest to me, who know me best?

• How might I serve the Church and the Kingdom of God better with a Ph.D. than without one?

• The Ph.D. is the requirement for most postsecondary teaching positions, but have I considered whether God has gifted and called to teach and research in some other sphere? Have I fully explored my motives, and am I satisfied that I am not interested in a Ph.D. simply to prove something to somebody or to myself, to flee some other situation, or for other unsound reasons? None of our motives is ever entirely pure or unmixed with other motives, but how deep is my self-knowledge about my desire to do a Ph.D.?”

This is tremendously good fruit for thought. Again, read the whole piece, particularly if you are mulling this question over in your mind. I’m encouraged to see a theologian like Stackhouse (and historical theologian Sean Lucas) tackling in a meaningful, practical way hard questions like this which confront students in a highly professionalized (meant in a neutral way) era.

I’ll close with this (which I have said before): we need more scholarly pastors. This is the model of ministry that I’m really focused on in my life, and I hope to see many more catch the same vision and invest their time and energy in excellent, thorough, mentally stimulating preparation for ministry such that God’s pastors would lead their churches not simply with evangelistic zeal, personal warmth, and administrative wisdom, but exceptional intellectual ability sufficient to function in the truest sense as theologian-pastors leading people into the glories of biblical teaching.

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Preaching Christ from All of Scripture? Bryan Chappell Shows the Way

I came across a great link at a site I love, Monergism.com, which has just about anything and everything you could ever want related to reformed theology. Turns out that Dr. Bryan Chapell has had Covenant Seminary post all of his lectures (with PDFs!) on Christ-centered preaching. Here’s the blurb on the lectures, which are free (!):

“Dr. Bryan Chapell explores the unifying principle of grace that binds all Scripture together. He outlines and demonstrates the principles and practice of sermon crafting and delivery to illuminate the message of grace in each passage, and to submit it to God’s Spirit for the transformation of lives through preaching.”

It sounds like this is Covenant’s preaching class; I could be wrong on this. If there’s a Covenant Seminary student out there who has chanced upon this blog, please feel free to comment and let us know. Whatever the case, I think that you’ll find this a manifestly helpful resource in figuring out how to preach the Bible per the conditions Christ gave in Luke 24:44-47. This is not an easy subject to figure out, and one can easily go overboard in one’s typology (identifying shadow images of Christ in the people, ideas, institutions, and things of the Old Testament), and so it is great to have a gifted, godly expositor like Dr. Chapell dig deeply into this matter. I hope that these links help you to preach Christ from the Word.

Also, Chappell has authored a very fine text on preaching. Click here to order Christ-Centered Preaching. I’ve worked through it and found it quite helpful on this subject. There are lots of drawbacks to the Internets, but there are also many clear strengths. Having great resources like this out there for free is most definitely one of the strengths.

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