Saturday, October 11, 2014

John V. Fesko, Songs of A Suffering King

This is a brief devotional book that deals in sequence with the first eight Psalms. The treatment of each psalm follows the same order. First, Fesko presents the psalm in its original context: “What was occurring in the life of David to occasion the psalm?” Second, he considers the connection of the psalm to Christ: “In what way does the psalm speak of Christ?” Finally, he considers the connection of the psalm to the church. In this last section he primarily considers the application of the psalm to the individual believer, as can easily be seen by reading the conclusion to each discussion. Fesko also provides each devotional with some questions for further study, and a metrical version of the psalm so that it might be sung.


For the most part, it is a helpful set of devotions. I do have some concern with a statement he makes in the Introduction. He says, “First, the entire Psalter is connected to the person and work of Christ” (2). He defends this by an appeal to Luke 24:44. Such an appeal (and it is common among Reformed thinkers today) strikes me as reading too much into Jesus’ statement. Jesus is not saying here that each and every passage in the Old Testament refers to Christ, though that seems to be how Fesko takes it. It’s also the reading that David Murray in his book Jesus on Every Page takes. The result of such an approach, however, tends to produce a certain amount of fanciful exegesis in pursuit of the goal of finding Jesus in every text. Fesko effectively admits this, for example, in his comments on Psalm 3. In drawing parallels between David and Christ in this psalm, he says, “The parallels are not precise—they usually are not—but it was Jesus who was the  Messiah, and throughout his life there were those who sought to kill him” (41). The fact that the parallels are usually not precise should caution us about an undisciplined eagerness to find Jesus in each and every Old Testament text. 

I can give this book a limited recommendation, urging the reader to read with care. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reading Through the Psalms in 30 Days

This plan gives the reader about the same amount to read each day. The reader will also notice that I have divided Psalm 119 so that one section of the psalm is read each day for 22 days. It seems to me that this gives the reader time to savor the psalm a little bit at a time. Otherwise, the variations get lost in reading through it in one or two days.

Day 1: Pss 1-7; 119:1-8                                 Day 16: Pss 74-77; 119:121-128
Day 2: Pss 8-14; 119:9-16                            Day 17: Pss 78-80; 119:129-136
Day 3: Pss 15-18; 119:17-24                         Day 18: Pss 81-85; 119:137-144
Day 4: Pss 19-22; 119:25-32                       Day 19: Pss 86-89; 119:145-152
Day 5: Pss 23-28; 119:33-40                      Day 20: Pss 90-95; 119:153-160
Day 6: Pss 29-33; 119:41-48                       Day 21: Pss 96-102; 119:161-168
Day 7: Pss 34-36; 119:49-56                       Day 22: Pss 103-105; 119:169-176
Day 8: Pss 37-39; 119:57-64                       Day 23: Pss 106-107
Day 9: Pss 40-44; 119:65-72                       Day 24: Pss 108-112
Day 10: Pss 45-49; 119:73-80                    Day 25: Pss 113-118
Day 11: Pss 50-55; 119:81-88                     Day 26: Pss 120-129
Day 12: Pss 56-60; 119:89-96                    Day 27: Pss 130-136
Day 13: Pss 61-66; 119:97-104                   Day 28: Pss 137-142
Day 14: Pss 67-69; 119:105-112                  Day 29: Pss 143-146
Day 15: Pss 70-73; 119:113-120                  Day 30: Pss 147-150



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Biblical Portraits of Creation, Walter Kaiser and Dorrington Little

This is a very useful little book. It is taken largely from sermons by the two authors. Kaiser, of course, is the well-known Old Testament scholar and emeritus president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Little is the senior pastor of the First Congregational Church on Hamilton, MA. In the book, they trace the theme of creation (and new creation) through Scripture by focusing on selected texts. Obviously Genesis 1 is included, as well as such other passages as Proverbs 8, Psalm 29, and Psalm 104. With regard to new creation, Little deals with Matthew 1 and 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. Kaiser deals with Isaiah 65 and 66.

The author gives an exposition of each passage, ending each chapter with a restatement of the conclusions and a list of study and discussion questions for small group use. The chapters are directed primarily to the non-professional, and are written accordingly. Contrary to what some might think, it is much more difficult to write for a popular audience than it is for a technical one, as a great deal of attention has to be paid to keeping the language clear, and explaining any technical terms that must be used. Both authors are to be commended for meeting this exacting standard.

The book concludes with an appendix, which is essentially a reprint of Kaiser’s article “The Literary Genre of Genesis 1-11,” which initially appeared in 1969. In this article he argues for reading Genesis 1-11 as straightforward “historical narrative-prose.” I think the article is convincing. However, such self-identified evangelical scholars as Peter Enns (formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia) and John Walton (currently at Wheaton College) are currently insisting that Genesis 1-11 (especially Genesis 1-3) is really myth. I think the article would have been strengthened if Kaiser had rewritten it in order to take the views of Enns, Walton, and others into account. But that is a relatively small complaint.


By and large, I have no hesitancy in recommending this work for personal and/or group study on the doctrine of creation as set out in many key biblical passages.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Christian Reading List for Atheists

In a day when Christian bookstore shelves are loaded with the likes of Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen, it is not surprising if atheists tend to think of Christians as either non-intellectual or outright anti-intellectual. However, it is somewhat surprising that the new apostles of atheism, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, are so profoundly ignorant of the Christian intellectual tradition. In the spirit of enlightenment, I offer the following admittedly eccentric and selective bibliography for the study of atheists (and under-educated Christians) who need to be more familiar with the Christian intellectual tradition.

Many other books could be added, and no doubt better selections are available. I deliberately avoided systematic theologies (except in the case of Aquinas) and tried to stick to more readily accessible material (except for Edwards, which is a tough read). I have also tried to reflect the broadness of the Christian intellectual tradition (though I haven’t included anything from Eastern Orthodoxy, simply because I am not familiar with that tradition). So if I didn't include your favorite book, make up your own list.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. No atheist critic of Christianity has earned the right to be taken seriously if he hasn't read the Bible cover-to-cover at least once. I’m recommending this particular edition for two reasons. First, it is the King James Bible, which is still a foundational piece of English literature. Second, it is really a reader’s edition; no commentary, no cross-references, just clear, single-column text.

Augustine, The City of God. Cultural criticism, systematic theology, biblical exegesis and more under one cover, by one of the finest minds of the Western tradition.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. I recommend the Concise Translation edited by Timothy McDermott. Aquinas summarized in 600 pages. Aristotle placed into the service of the medieval church.

Dante, Divine Comedy. Thomistic theology in the form of epic poetry. There are many good versions available, but I particularly recommend that done by Dorothy Sayers, originally published in the Penguin Classics series.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress. Puritan Protestant theology in allegory. Perhaps the greatest allegory in English literature. Available in many editions.

John Milton, Paradise Lost. “Justifying the ways of God to men.” Protestant theology in the dress of epic poetry. One of the greatest works of English literature.

Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will. Perhaps the finest philosophical theologian America ever produced. Here, a close and careful analysis of man’s choosing. Many editions are available, but the Yale University Press edition, though exorbitantly priced, has a very useful introduction.

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. One man’s journey from status quo British theological liberalism to the Roman Catholic Church. One of the great spiritual autobiographies.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. Classic Chesterton. Perhaps a favorite of mine because his tale so resonates with mine.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More Thoughts on a Delegated PCA General Assembly

My previous post suggested four men (two TEs and two REs) from each presbytery as delegates to the Assembly. Responses have wondered about other ways of determining the number of delegates; for example, determining the number of delegates by the size of the presbytery or suggesting a much larger number of delegates. Also some suggested that one of the problems with preceding proposals for a delegated assembly was that men simply enjoy having the time to meet with other elders that they haven’t seen in a year.

While I recognize that some would like a larger attendance, even at a delegated assembly, four from each presbytery struck me as the right amount. It is a small enough number to enable the GA to function as a committee of the whole (in other words, no more “Committees of Commissioners”) and is sufficiently representative. In dealing with the “more representatives for larger presbyteries” question, it seems to me that the four per presbytery also avoids the problem of larger presbyteries having too much sway. In addition, the delegates from each presbytery would be instructed that they are going as representatives of the entire presbytery, thus perhaps giving greater representation to small churches.

In addition to the above, I would suggest that GA meet biennially. There is, as far as I can tell, no good reason for annual meetings. The reports and budgets of the denominational committees and agencies can be done on a biennial basis, as can review of presbytery records. In fact, having to submit records only every two years instead of every year may help some of our delinquent presbyteries come into accord with requirements.

As for the fellowship aspect of GA: if you take a look at the docket of GA, there is currently precious little time for fellowship, especially as each year the assembly seems to press harder and harder to get done before Thursday evening. As a result, fellowship takes place late, after the evening services, or it takes men away from the assembly itself, resulting in one-fourth to one-third of the commissioners commonly being absent from counted votes. My suggestion is that in the years between assemblies there be a “conference of presbyters.” It would be set up something like an academic conference. It would begin Monday evening with a plenary session presentation by someone picked by the GA on some topic relevant to pastoral work. Then, Tuesday through Thursday there would be smaller sessions, much like those currently done in the early mornings at GA. I would suggest two session periods each morning and one session period in the afternoon. There could be several alternatives at each of these periods, perhaps dealing with a general theme, but not required to. With only three session periods during the day, and with the evenings entirely free, there would be plenty of time for fellowship. Perhaps a final plenary session could close things out on Friday morning. REs would certainly be encouraged to attend, but since this is not a meeting of a court of the church, the presence or absence of REs would not be a problem. TEs could use this as a week of study leave, since the various presentations would be applicable to their pastoral labors.


This is admittedly a big-picture proposal. The devil is in the details, and perhaps these suggestions would not work. But unless we begin talking about alternative ways to doing GA, it is not going to improve.

Friday, June 20, 2014

It Is (Past) Time for a Delegated Assembly

As of 2012, the PCA had eighty (80) presbyteries, 1,474 churches, and 303 missions (church plants). Those numbers have not changed significantly in the last two years. This year, there were 867 Teaching Elders (TEs) and 256 Ruling Elders (REs) registered for General Assembly (GA). Those statistics also have not changed significantly in the last several years. In fact, if there is any movement at all, the trend seems to be to a lower number of attendees each successive year.

Every TE may attend GA. In addition, “Each congregation is entitled to two ruling elder representatives for the first 350 communing members or fraction thereof, and one additional ruling elder for each additional 500 communing members or fraction thereof.” (BCO 14-2). That being the case, attendance at GA could theoretically be in the range of 7,000-7,200 people. Yet the real attendance is about one-sixth of that number. In fact, the total number of commissioners is about two-thirds of the total number of the denomination’s churches and mission works. So it is obvious that not every church is being represented at GA. But a closer look at the numbers makes it even worse. Some of our larger churches are diligent about sending their full contingent of TEs and REs. They are to be commended for that. However, that results in the fact that these large churches regularly have more commissioners present at GA than some presbyteries do. Many (certainly dozens, if not hundreds) of the denomination’s small churches are not represented at GA at all, because the cost of GA is more than the church budget can bear.

The unofficial motto of the PCA is “we’re a grassroots denomination.” That may at one time have been true. But we need to stop lying to ourselves. The PCA is run by the denomination’s program committees and the large and influential churches and presbyteries. The only hope for a real grassroots PCA is the move to a delegated assembly. That would mean that each of the eighty presbyteries would elect delegates to attend GA. Every part of the church would receive equal representation. It would completely change the character of the GA, and would quite possibly change the character of the church itself.


Making that change would not be easy. It would probably take 3-5 years to implement. For one things, there would have to be significant changes to the BCO and RAO (Rules of Assembly Operation). Further, there would be any number of practical considerations. Here are some suggestions to begin with. Each presbytery would send four delegates (two TEs and two REs). Expenses for attendance would be paid by the presbytery. GA would be held at colleges, universities, or other relatively small sites that could host the four hundred or so people who would be attending. Meeting in such venues would considerably reduce costs. Location of GA could be rotated, perhaps something like this: first year, somewhere in the Northeast; second year, Southeast; third year, Midwest; fourth year, Southwest; fifth year, Northwest. That way, the more expensive travel costs are spread around each year. I have more ideas, and I’d be happy to talk with people who would be interested in seeing this come about.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Sabbath

Many who identify themselves as evangelicals in our day are opposed to the idea of the Christian having a weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath, in this view, is an Old Testament institution, part of the Law of Moses and not reiterated in the New Testament for the church. There is an extensive literature available dealing with the issue, and I have no possibility of adding anything new to the discussion. I do, however, want to deal briefly with one passage and make some application of it.

Hebrews 4:10-11 says, “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” By the non-Sabbatarian, these verses are taken to be saying the following: when we believed in Christ, we rested from our works. Therefore, we have already entered that rest of which the Old Testament Sabbath was a figure. Since we have already entered that rest, there is no more need for the Sabbath.

In some sense, it is true that when we believed in Christ, we entered that rest. However, the passage is not speaking about our present enjoyment of that rest. It is speaking about our future enjoyment. Hence, the “there yet remains a Sabbath rest” of verse 9, as well as the “let us strive” of verse 11. My sense of this is that while we, by trusting in Christ, have entered into rest, we have not entered into that final rest which is in view here. We have, as it were, left Egypt, but we have not yet entered Canaan.

The Sabbath in the Old Testament had a three-fold consideration with regard to time. First, it made the believer look back to be reminded that he was God’s creature (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:11). The past fact was that God created. The present fact (for that Old Testament believer) was that God was his creator. The future fact was that God would be the creator of the new heavens and the new earth. Second, the Sabbath made the believer look back to be reminded that God was his redeemer (Deut 5:15). The past fact was that God redeemed a people. The present fact was that God was his personal redeemer. The future fact was that God would usher him into a redeemed new heavens and new earth. Third, the Sabbath was a sign that they were his people and he was their God (Ex 31:12-17). God had chosen a people going back to Abraham (in fact going all the way back to Adam, though the “I will be your God, and you will be my people” language goes back only to Abraham). They had been his people in the past. They were his people in the present, ad they would continue to be his people into the future.

We, as New Testament believers, have the same identity. We are God’s creatures. We are God’s redeemed people. God has given us a sign that these things are so. We still have the same need—to be reminded that these things are so. Yes, we have entered rest, but we have not fully entered it. Do you not find that your heart is often restless, worried, anxious? If so, you have not fully entered into that rest. This is right, because our redemption is not yet complete. We are being sanctified. We will be glorified. But that work is not yet complete.


Some say that there is no distinct holy time for the New Testament believer because all time is now holy. But we all know that when everything is special, nothing is special. We still need that weekly time; time that is not ours to do with as we please, but time for God. He has given it to us in the weekly Sabbath. Will we not take advantage of it, preparing ourselves for that full rest that we long for?