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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Book Review: Big God, by Orlando Saer

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As soon as I finished reading Big God I did two things. First, I prayed, and thanked the Lord for his perfect and powerful control over all time and existence. Second, I hopped on Amazon planning to buy every other book by Orlando Saer that I could get my hands on. (As it turns out, my shopping spree didn’t cost too 

much, because he only has one other book in print right now). Big God was that good..

Stepping into one of the most complex and potentially confusing areas on the Christian life, Saer, the senior pastor of Christ Church Southampton, wrote Big God to help others think better (read: more biblically) about “the way God works in the world, and particularly the way his work co-exists with ours” (11). Seemingly undaunted by the enormity of such a task, and armed with wit, wisdom, engaging stories, and practical proposals, Saer sets forth a three-fold path for this process.

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Book Review: Finding a Vision for Your Church, by Michael A. Milton

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Last year, Michael Milton resigned as chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary due to a serious but treatable illness. Though I have not been directly impacted by his ministry prior to reading this book, I’ve rejoiced to see others’ accounts of his faithfulness in a variety of demanding roles. I am confident that all who work and write for 9Marks give thanks to God for how he uses individuals like Dr. Milton to advance gospel work in a variety of churches, institutions, and denominations. I pray that God would glorify himself as Dr. Milton suffers well, and ultimately grant him many more years of fruitful labor.

Milton writes in his letter explaining his resignation, “[T]he winter this year has killed off the busily growing weeds of distraction to reveal a grim woundedness in my body which is crying out in no uncertain terms: there will be a time of resting afresh before running again.” This is the sort of pastoral warmth and wisdom the reader will likewise find in his book Finding a Vision for Your Church: Assembly Required.

Though its topic is rather different from the anguish of a health-related resignation, you will find in it an unreserved and pervasive commitment to the glory and purposes of God, advanced through the means God has ordained—first and foremost, his Word. Milton wants his readers to grasp what are the vital priorities of pastoral ministry and to embrace them enthusiastically. He presses towards an ambitious “vision for personal, corporate, and global transformation” (17), and an expectation that our omnipotent God will exceed those ambitions.

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Book Review: Why We Belong

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In today’s Christian world, there seem to be two streams of thought regarding denominations. There’s the card-carrying “denominationalist,” for whom it seems the scope of Christianity is coextensive with his own denomination, and for whom a conversion from, for example, Methodist to Southern Baptist is on par with a conversion from Islam or Mormonism. On the other hand, there’s the “mere Christian,” for whom denominations represent the worst of Satan’s ploys, undermining the very unity which Christ purchased by his blood, and who count it a sin to list anything more specific than “Christian” under Facebook’s “Religious Views” heading. I'm exaggerating slightly, but you catch my drift.

Why We Belong offers a middle path. The authors promote a high esteem for the real unity between all Christians everywhere, represented in this volume by the “evangelical” banner. And they also demonstrate high esteem for deep and serious denominational commitments. Are these two commitments laudable yet incompatible? Or the way of wisdom in our present world?

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Book Review: God’s Forever Family, by Larry Eskridge

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Whether accompanied by wincing or waxing nostalgic, those Americans who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s tend to have colorful memories of the period. The era’s anti-establishment ethos expressed itself in the sexual revolution, hippies, war protests, communes, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Many teens and young adults embraced the style of the counterculture: long hair and beards, love beads, far out music, tie-die shirts and tasseled leather. And, for some of them, Jesus.

In God’s Forever Family, Larry Eskridge offers a comprehensive history of the movement initiated by those called “Jesus Freaks” or “Jesus People.” He argues that while the movement itself was short-lived—lasting roughly a decade beginning in 1967—it has had a substantial impact on American religious culture, particularly evangelicalism.

Like so much youth culture in that day, the Jesus People began in California, particularly in San Francisco. The “Summer of Love” in 1967 brought tens of thousands of young people to the Bay Area, with promises of peace, unity, and happiness. But in an environment of easy sex and drugs, many of these seekers and runaways instead found disillusionment, addiction, homelessness, and sexual predators.

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Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

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“Should I tell my wife?”

Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her?

What would you tell Daniel?

SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Because every couple is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some couples are totally transparent with each other, while others find it best to allow accountability to be handled by trusted friends. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, it is important for husbands and wives to develop a plan to help each other fight sexual temptation.

What follows are seven principles to help you and your spouse wade through this sensitive area together.

1. Help each other make it to heaven.

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

My chief calling as a husband is to help my wife love Jesus more. My wife has the same responsibility toward me. In fact, I would suggest that the most weighty and wonderful responsibilities in marriage is to help our spouse make it to heaven. One of the ways to make this happen is by doing whatever we can to help them fight off temptation, including sexual temptation (Heb. 12:1-2; James 5:19-20). We are to be each other’s greatest allies in the journey toward the heavenly city (Rev. 21-22).

Satan will oppose your efforts with all he’s got, but you must not lose sight of this fact: your greatest responsibility as a couple is to help each other home by leaning upon the strength of your Savior. Let the mantra of our marriages be the same as the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). This will be painful at times, but it is eternally worth it.

2. Cultivate an atmosphere of intimate trust.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her...” Proverbs 31:11

After God brought Adam and Eve together in the first marriage, we are told, “the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). They had nothing to cover up in those days. There were no deleted search histories in Eden. There were no shameful compromises or weeping wounds from unfaithfulness.

Intimacy and trust are still possible outside of Eden, but they don’t happen by accident. They must be cultivated. As 1 John 1:7 promises, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...” There is no better way to deepen trust in marriage than walking honestly and openly together.

Do you hide things from your spouse?

I believe there should be no secrets in marriage. Surprises? Yes. Secrets? No.

Wisdom and discernment is certainly needed on this point. For instance, it is unwise to share every thought that comes in your head or every conflict you have at work or the details of other people’s lives that have been shared with you. We aren’t talking about those kinds of issues. This is a challenge to not intentionally hide sins from your spouse. Death and deceit breed in the darkness. A husband and wife should always be honest with each other about the condition of their souls.

If our goal is to build trust, it probably seems counter-productive to reveal trust-breaking sins. But the fact is, nothing builds trust like seeing your spouse trying to delight in God more than anything else. Honesty and humble transparency, over time, produce intimate trust in your marriage. Walk in the light together.

3. Consider the Basics of Accountability.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another...” James 5:16

At some level, husband and wives should be each other’s accountability partners. Confessing sin to each other should be a normal part of your life together. Because each couple is different, you need to have a conversation about what this will look like in your own marriage.

Here are a few basic ideas:

Talk. If you’ve never had a conversation with your spouse about your struggles with sexual sin, you should have one. Your spouse needs to know to whom they are married. I strongly encourage you to allow your pastor to help you think through how to have this difficult initial discussion.

Plan. Husbands and wives should work together to make an accountability plan (see #4 below). Because your body is not your own (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:4) they have the right and responsibility to talk through this with you. Husbands should lead by taking the initiative in this discussion (Eph. 5:22-25) and wives should give husbands the much-needed help they require (Gen. 2:18). Regardless of which spouse is struggling, you need to help each other. Again, it may be wise to involve a pastor or other mature Christian friends in this process.

Ask. Part of the plan should be that your spouse reserves the right to ask you at any time how you are doing in your fight against temptation—and expect to get an honest answer from you.

I would also suggest that you should always have at least one other person, of the same sex, to whom you are accountable, not just about sexual sin. Sin thrives in the darkness. Making regular and honest confession to another believer is one of your best defenses against sin’s power. To learn more about confessing sin to others read this.

4. Agree on Your Approach to Accountability.

I have spoken to dozens of people about this subject and every couple does things differently. What follows are two categories on the opposite ends of the accountability spectrum.

Some couples are very open about sexual temptations. Some couples agree it is best to tell each other when they feel tempted, if they find someone else attractive, if they compromise at all on the internet, if they give into self-gratification, and just about everything else. Couples who take this approach say that complete transparency helps both of them to stay honest and vigilant in the battle against sin.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Make sure your motives are good. Sometimes seeing the pain that our sin inflicts on the ones we love can be a deterrent to sin, but don’t use your spouse just to unload your guilt and make you feel better.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to respond well to your sin. Your confession may devastate them. Don’t get all self-righteous because you’re being vulnerable. You’ve sinned against them. Don’t get defensive when they ask questions. Nothing ruins a confession like making excuses. Give them a chance to grieve, process, and go to God. Give them permission to talk to a trusted friend about what has happened if they need to.
  • If you’ve agreed to a plan, honor it. If you’ve sinned in a way your spouse would expect you to tell them, follow through with being honest. It will be tempting to find a way out and rationalize a million excuses why you don’t need to tell them (I won’t do it again, I don’t want to hurt them, and so on).
  • Be willing to switch your plan if it seems wise. Insecurities can flourish in unexpected and unnecessary ways in these conversations. I have godly friends who have tried going with the “total transparency” option and found it to be way too much for their spouses to handle. There is no shame in making changes to the plan if necessary.
  • If your spouse confesses sin to you, you will be tempted to be most worried about how the sin affects you. It is normal to be hurt by sin, but ask God to help you be even more concerned about the way your spouse has strayed from him. None of us can do this perfectly, but plead with God to keep your heart postured in that direction.

Some couples don’t talk about this area in detail unless a certain level of sin occurs. Some couples agree it is best for their spouse to confess struggles with lust to a mutually trusted Christian friend, not to them. They humbly realize they would be too hurt by their spouse’s straying heart or that they feel the struggle is too foreign to them to be able to know how to help them.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Have an agreed-upon type of sin at which you agree to talk to your spouse. Purity is a heart issue (Matt. 5:28, 15:19), but it is fine for couples to set agreed-upon conversational mile markers. This may be habitually looking at porn, giving in to masturbation, or crossing certain lines with someone of the opposite sex. Pray for God to give you wisdom in this discussion.
  • Don’t use this approach as a deceptive cover for your sin. Romans 13:14 says “make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts.” The well-trusted accountability partner should know what these mile markers are and be willing to inform the spouse if sin were to ever get out of control.
  • Don’t avoid the discussion just because it hurts. As one wife said to me, “out of love for him, I would want to be a part of the solution, but it would be really difficult.” That’s a good perspective. Growing in holiness and helping others to do the same is hard and painful work. It is humble to know your limitations, but it is also humble to accept your responsibilities. Pray for God to give you wisdom to know the balance.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this subject. Some spouses will be able to hear about your struggle, be hurt by it, but recover in the grace of God. Others will be devastated by the fact that you’d even be tempted, even if you didn’t yield to the temptation. We need to live with our spouses in an understanding way and be willing to humbly and graciously build a plan together (1 Pet. 3:7).

5. Ask Each Other Important Questions

As you begin this process together, here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation.

  • How are we helping each other love God more? How can we do this better?
  • How can I help you fight against temptation? Who else can help you?
  • Do you fear talking to me about these things? How can we make our marriage a safe place to have these talks?
  • Do you have any sins in your life that no one knows about?

For many of us, having this kind of conversation can be terrifying. Some of us don’t want to know what our spouse is struggling with, and some of us don’t want our spouse to know what we’re struggling with. But because God’s glory and the salvation of souls are at stake (Heb. 3:12-14), we must be willing to have tough conversations.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I talked through this article with a couple of close friends. God used that discussion to help them pray and discuss how they could better serve each other in this area. They said the conversation was difficult at times, but in the end God used it to draw them closer than they had been before.

If you want to do this, but don’t know how, I’d encourage you to share this article with your pastor or another mature Christian couple and ask them to help you begin this journey together.

6. Go Make Love

“Do not deprive one another...come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you...” 1 Corinthians 7:5

Much could be said here, but believe this: making love should be a priority in your marriage. God has given sexual intimacy for many reasons, one of which is to help each other fight against sexual sin. Husbands and wives need to be committed to regularly engaging in sexual intimacy.

Some of you may be tempted to feel like a mere outlet for your spouse’s physical desries. Guard your heart from this distortion. As my wife told a friend, “As a wife, you have the great responsibility of protecting your marriage by serving your husband through sex. It’s one of God’s divinely ordained means to help his heart not be as easily tempted by lust. Sex is sometimes a sweet dying to self.” The same truth goes for husbands. Serve your wife through sexual intimacy, through non-sexual affection, and through regular, intentional, attentive conversations. God can use that to help guard her heart from wandering.

For some of you, this encouragement to make love to your spouse brings up a slew of painful emotions. Maybe you have been sinned against gravely by your spouse and the thought of giving yourself to them intimately is almost inconceivable. Maybe you’re facing physiological problems that hinder you from being able to make love. Maybe it’s one of countless other reasons that make sex with your spouse difficult.

If you and your spouse are one of the many who feel this way, please don’t give up. Prayerfully plan and begin working through these issues with your pastor, a gospel-centered counselor, or capable doctor. Be patient with each other in this process and trust that the Lord is able to do more than you can imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).

7. Keep the Gospel Central in Your Marriage.

Husbands and wives sin against each other every day. This is part of marriage in a fallen world. But there is something unique about sexual sin that seems to hurt in a distinctly deep way. And even if they haven’t sinned but are being tempted to do so, the sting of knowing that your beloved’s heart is being tempted to stray can be painful.

So if your spouse comes to you with the weight of sinning against you and the Lord on their back, it will be difficult, but remember that Galatians 6:2 says we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Lead them to the cross where they, and you, will both be refreshed and restored by the Lord who daily bears our burdens (Ps. 55:22, 68:19). Plead with the Lord to cover your pain with his grace and you do all you can to cover your spouse’s shame with the truths of the gospel.

Remind each other that the Jesus who spoke severely about sexual sin (Matt. 5:28-30) is the same Jesus who died for those sins and rose victorious over them (Rom. 4:25). He is patient with sinners of all sorts, and promises forgiveness for all who turn from their sin and follow after him (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:8-9). He promises to intercede for us and provide grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16) while also providing power to help us war against our unrelenting foe (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:17).

Moments like these are where the gospel feels most real and most needed. They are also when the power of the gospel can most transform your marriage. God will help you forgive and work through the process of restoration. So don’t lose heart with each other, or with yourself. God’s grace is sufficient, even for what you and your spouse face.

Help each other to heaven. Talk about these things. Cultivate intimate trust. Make a plan. Make love. Cast yourselves upon the grace of God. And do this all with your hope fixed on the glory that is to be revealed. We will be home with Jesus soon, so help each other toward that Day.

For Further Consideration

  • Heath Lambert’s excellent book Finally Free (ch. 5) discusses how spouses should talk about sexual sin.
  • Remember that temptation is not sin. This article by Kevin DeYoung may be helpful to read together.
  • Dr. Russell Moore answers a man who asks if should confess an affair that happened years ago.
  • Considering marrying someone who struggles with porn? Read Heath Lambert’s article and listen to John Piper’s advice first.
  • John Piper also addresses whether your spouse’s struggle with porn is worthy of divorce.
  • What should you do if your spouse confesses that they have committed adultery or is living a secret life of sin? A good article by John MacArthur helps you think through forgiveness, but you must involve the elders of your church in this discussion.

Author’s Note: Thank you to my wife, Zach Schlegel, Jason Seville, Shai Linne, Brian Davis, and the many other brothers and sisters who helped me think through this important topic.

Garrett Kell is the senior pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Book Review: Prepared by Grace, For Grace, by Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley

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Joel Beeke, president and professor of systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Paul Smalley, his teaching assistant, came together to write Prepared by Grace, For Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.

The primary question they seek to answer from the writings of the Puritans is: “What is the ordinary way in which God leads sinners to Christ?” The answer at which they arrive is the preparatory work of the Spirit of God. The Puritans used this word “preparation” in many contexts. For this book, Beeke and Smalley specifically refer to the Puritan’s understanding of preparation for saving faith in Christ (3).

The Puritans believed that without the work of the Spirit, no one can confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). And while “the Spirit could sweep aside such obstacles and bring the sinner immediately to faith…that is not the Spirit’s usual or ordinary way, for He created the mind and conscience of man and generally prefers to work through those faculties…So, the Spirit works to prepare the lost sinner’s soul for grace” (9). This is the essence of the Puritan doctrine of preparation.

This doctrine is not without its controversies. Some modern scholars have sought to argue that the Puritan doctrine of preparation is not a Reformed doctrine at all, and that this doctrine attempts to usurp the gospel of grace.

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How Biblical Theology Guards and Guides the Church

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Biblical theology is a way of reading the Bible. It is a hermeneutic. It assumes that Scripture’s many authors and many books are telling one story by one divine author—about Christ.

Sound slightly academic? It is, but…

The discipline of biblical theology is essential to guarding and guiding your church. It guards churches against false stories and wrong paths. It guides the church toward better preaching, better practices, better paths.

BIBLICAL THEOLOGY AS CHURCH GUARD

Think, for instance, of theological liberalism. It recasts the narrative of salvation as God’s work to overcome, say, economic injustice or the self-centered political conscience. Such redemptive storylines may not be all wrong, but they remind me of how one of my daughters will narrate a fight with her sister. She will speak truth, but she will also omit details, redistribute emphases, make tenuous interpretive connections. So it is with the narratives of liberalism and the Bible’s gospel storyline.

And so it is with Roman Catholicism, where the priests and sacraments play a mediatorial role that smacks heavily of the old covenant.

Or with the prosperity gospel, which also imports elements of the old covenant into the new, only it’s talk of blessing.

Other groups don’t bring the redemptive past into the present, they bring the redemptive future into the now. Once upon a time it was the perfectionist Anabaptists who thought they could bring heaven to earth right quick. The progressive liberals tried this a century ago. Now it is those who are hopped-up on transforming culture that offer subtle re-narrations. 

The list is long, whether we are thinking of “Christian” cults like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, or movements within churches such as the social gospel, liberation theology, American messianism, or some forms of fundamentalist separatism. Some better, some worse.

The point is, imbalanced (or false) gospels and imbalanced (or false) churches are built either on narratively-mindless “proof texts” or on whole stories gone awry. Either they wrongly connect the Bible’s major covenants; or they have too much continuity or too much discontinuity; or they fail to distinguish type from antitype; or they under-realize or over-realize their eschatology. Maybe they promise heaven on earth now; maybe they disembody the spiritual life now.

In each case, bad or imbalanced biblical theologies proclaim a bad or imbalanced gospel, and such gospels build bad or imbalanced churches.

Meanwhile, good biblical theology guards the gospel and guards a church. “A robust biblical theology tends to safeguard Christians against the most egregious reductionisms,” says D. A. Carson.

That means it’s a pastors job (i) to know good biblical theology and (ii) have some sense of the bad biblical theologies that impact people walking into his church. Today, many of those folk have been weaned on some version of the prosperity gospel. Can you explain why that milk is bad? (For help, see here and especially here.) 

BIBLICAL THEOLOGY AS CHURCH GUIDE

But biblical theology is not just a guard, it’s a guide—a guide to good preaching, good outreach and engagement, good corporate worship, good church structures, and the healthy Christian life.   

A Guide to Good Preaching

When you sit down to study a text and prepare a sermon, biblical theology keeps you from proof texting or telling an imbalanced story of redemption. 

It places each text in the right canonical context, and helps you to see what your text has to do with the person and work of Christ. It wards off moralism so that one preaches Christian sermons. It rightly relates indicative and imperative, and faith and works. It teaches evangelistic exposition. It ensures that every sermon is part of the big story.

In short, pastor, you need biblical theology to do the most important thing in your job: preach and teach God’s Word. For more on this, see Jeramie Rinne’s “Biblical Theology and Gospel Proclamation.”

A Guide to Good Outreach and Engagement

Turning to think about a church’s outreach and engagement with the world outside, biblical theology rightly balances our expectations between expecting too much (over-realized eschatology) or demanding too little (cheap grace, easy-believism, belonging-before-believing, not preaching the imperative).

Good biblical theology will not promise our best life now (whether that means health and wealth, transforming the city, winning the favor of the elite, or retaking America). But nor does it shy away from engaging culture and seeking the good of the city in deed ministry for the sake of love and justice.

It makes word outreach (evangelism and missions) primary, but it does not falsely separate word and deed. These are inseparable for the church’s witness and mission, as the storyline from Adam to Abraham to Israel to David to Christ to church makes clear.

A Guide to Good Corporate Worship

Is David’s naked ark-of-the-covenant dance normative for church gatherings? No? How about the incense used by Old Testament priests, or the use of instruments and choirs, or “making sacrifices” for various holidays, or the reading and explaining of the biblical text? A right biblical theology helps to answer what to bring into the new covenant era and what to leave in the old.

Much depends, again, on how one puts together the covenants, one’s approach to continuity and discontinuity, and one’s understanding of Christ’s work of fulfillment. It also depends on one’s understanding of what Christ’s gathered church has been authorized to do.

All this may sound academic, pastor, but your practices depend upon some biblical theology. The question is, have you thought through which?  

For more on this, see Bobby Jamieson’s article “Biblical Theology and Corporate Worship.”

A Guide to Good Church Structures

By the same token, the storyline of Scripture requires us to pay attention to matters of continuity and discontinuity for how we organize our churches. In terms of continuity, God’s people have always and an inside and an outside, which means we need to practice membership and discipline. In terms of discontinuity, the leaders of God’s people change dramatically from the old covenant to new. First, all of God’s people become priests. Second, God’s elders are undershepherds who feed the flock through the Word.

No doubt, the question of who can be a church member depends on biblical theology. Is membership just for believers, or believers and their children? It depends on the amount of continuity and discontinuity you see between circumcision and baptism.

A Guide to the Healthy Christian Life

Finally, it’s worth considering the significance of biblical theology for the healthy Christian life, and how that life connects to the local church.

In the story of the exodus, redemption was corporate. But in the New Testament, redemption is individual, right?

Well, it depends on how one understands the relationship between the old covenant and new, and what Christ accomplishes in the new. Might one not argue that the existence of a covenantal head requires a covenantal people (see Jer. 31:33; 1 Peter 2:10)? What’s more, Paul seems to argue that the dividing wall of partition between Jew and Gentile fell and that “one new man” was created in precisely the same moment that sinners were reconciled to God (Eph. 2:11-22; for more on the corporate aspects of conversion, see here).

If it’s true that salvation in the New Testament is directed toward a people every bit as much as in the Old, even if every individual’s experience of that salvation occurs at different times and not together as in the exodus, then it would seem that the Christian life is fundamentally corporate. And growth is corporate. And life in the faith is corporate. It was dad who adopted me, but he adopted me into a family, so that being his son or daughter means being their brother or sister.

Well, this corporate reality has countless implications for everything in a church’s teaching, fellowship, and culture. A primary goal for the existence of a local church—if this biblical theological account is correct—is simply to be a church. It’s to be this new family, new people, new nation, new culture, new body. So much of spiritual growth is not about what I do in my quiet times; it’s how I learn to take on the new identity as a family member.

On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine a biblical theology that overemphasizes the individual at the expense of the body (as some conservative theologies can do) or overemphasizes corporate and societal structures at the expense of individual culpability (as some liberal theologies do).

Furthermore, your understanding of that storyline helps you to know what to expect of your fellow members: how much righteousness, how much victory over sin, how much spiritual healing for the victim of injustice, how much restoration in broken relationships. The shape of the biblical storyline—as you understand it—will shape your approach to tragedy and evil and righteousness as you encounter it in your life and others. 

In other words, a right biblical theology leads to an already/not yet vision of the Christian life. It’s easy to err toward too much “already” or too much “not yet.”

Bottom line: a right biblical theology offers a trustworthy guide to the Christian life, particularly as that life relates to the local church. And it guards the church against wrong emphases, wrong expectations, and a wrong evangel.

Jonathan Leeman, an elder of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and the editorial director of 9Marks, is the author of several books on the local church. You can follow him on Twitter.

Good Writing, Archetypes, and the Glory of Christ

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Good writing, says Roy Peter Clark in his excellent Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, doesn't employ stereotypes, but stands on the foundation of the classic story archetypes. It uses those archetypes to manipulate, frustrate, or fulfill reader expectations in novel ways. 

He then lists a number of the classic narrative archetypes:

  • the journey there and back
  • winning the prize
  • winning or losing the loved one
  • loss and restoration
  • the blessing becomes the curse
  • overcoming obstacles
  • the wasteland restored
  • rising from the ashes
  • the ugly duckling
  • the emperor has no clothes
  • descent into the underworld (Writing Tools, 185).

​It's not difficult to recall scores of novels, movies, and children's stories that employ these basic archtypes.

Reading over that list as a Christian, however, one cannot help but notice how the coming, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ fulfills every single one of these archetypes. Consider them again: 

  • the journey there and back: Think of Philippians 2:6-11, which narrates Jesus' leaving the Father's side in heaven, coming to earth, and then returning to glory.
  • winning the prize: Did Christ not win a people for himself?
  • winning or losing the loved one: Indeed, he won a bride for himself.
  • loss and restoration: He gave up his life as a ransom to save many.
  • the blessing becomes the curse: The blessed One became a curse for us, so that we might be blessed.
  • overcoming obstacles: Remember him in the wilderness, overcoming the temptations that defeated both Adam and Israel? 
  • the wasteland restored: He showed himself to be the blessed man of Psalm 1, who delighted in God's Word and whose life and death ushered in a new Eden. 
  • rising from the ashes: The resurrection and a new creation!
  • the ugly duckling: He had not form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
  • the emperor has no clothes: Satan believed the kingdoms of the world were his to give, but Christ exposed the charade by binding the strong man and his minions. 
  • descent into the underworld (Writing Tools, 185): ...that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...

I have no major point to make from all of this other than...

Students of literature, give glory to God in Christ!

The life, death, and resurrection of Christ provide us with the greatest story ever told. Not only does it employ many of the classic archetypes in unexpected and shocking ways, the story actually happened. God moved history and sent his own Son to make it happen.

And doesn't that mean, Christian, that each one of these archetypes comes to define your life and mine as the beneficiaries of history's greatest protagonist? 

Book Review: Does God Desire All to Be Saved?, by John Piper

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The Christian religion is riddled with difficult truths that defy human understanding. The Trinity: he is three; they are one. Jesus Christ: fully God, fully man. Compatibilism: divine sovereignty, human responsibility. God’s sovereign grace: he loves all, yet chooses some.

Consider that last one for a moment. How can one legitimately affirm that God desires that everyone be saved while upholding the biblical claim that God unconditionally elects only some? This is the question that John Piper addresses in his short new book Does God Desire All to Be Saved? In it, Piper takes the bull by the horns and argues persuasively from Scripture that God’s sincere desire for the salvation of all people is not at cross-purposes with his election of a select few.   

SUMMARY

The book is essentially a succinct systematic theology on God’s will. The lynchpin of Piper’s thesis is that we need to describe God’s will from two distinct vantage points: his hidden will of decree and his revealed will of command. These “two wills” often diverge: God regularly wills (determines) events to come about which contravene the very things that he wills (commands).

The book is organized in four chapters. In chapter one, Piper introduces four of the go-to texts that are used to affirm God’s sincere desire that all be saved: 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:23, and Matthew 23:27.

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Book Review: Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell

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“Three points and a poem” may be a caricature of evangelical preaching, but for too many years and too many preachers it was the norm. Thankfully, a return to expository preaching that feeds the flock and proclaims the gospel has given a new hope for this generation.

Expository preaching does not take place without devoted effort. Bryan Chapell—former president of Covenant Theological Seminary, long-time homiletics professor, and current pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois—capably details the needed preparation process for expository preaching in Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Chapell brings his wealth of pastoral preaching and homiletical instruction into a well-crafted volume of eleven chapters and twelve helpful appendixes. He approaches his subject through three sections.

PRINCIPLES FOR EXPOSITORY PREACHING

Chapell’s first section puts the weight of expository preaching on three things. First, the power of God’s Word in preaching. “Good preaching,” he writes, “in one sense involves getting out of the way so that the Word can do its work” (34). Priority is given to the Word rather than the preacher’s ability. Second, the power of a holy life supports and confirms what the preacher asserts. “No truth calls louder for pastoral holiness than the link between a preacher’s character and a sermon’s reception” (38). Third, Chapell reinforces the power of gospel-focus in every sermon. “Without a redemptive focus, we may believe we have exegeted Scripture when in fact we have simply translated its parts and parsed its pieces without reference to the role they have in God’s eternal plan”(40).

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