Sons in the Son – Book Review

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Sons in the Son (P&R Publishing, 2016) by David B. Garner goes deep into the doctrine of our adoption in Christ.

Adoption is one of those doctrines that warms and encourages the soul and needs to be dwelt upon.  It is also deeply foundational to who we are as united to Christ.  J.I. Packer famously wrote (and Garner is quick to quote) that if he could summarize the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”

This book is a challenging and academic read, one that is good for enhancing,  deepening and poking at our gospel perspectives, while keeping Christ central.

In Garner’s first section of the book, he lays the adoption foundation -“Securing a family of adopted children occupied the mind of God since before the world’s origins…God purposed adoption, God accomplished adoption, and God applies adoption.” [19] After a brief survey of the concept of adoption in early church history and culture, Garner focuses on the Pauline references to huiothesia – the Greek term  (literally “son-placing”) for adoption which the Apostle uniquely uses for spiritual (not social) adoption.

In the second section, the author dives into the specific texts exegetically and theologically.  Ephesians 1:3-6 [“…God the Father…predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons thru Jesus Christ…”]  As Garner wisely puts it “the opening words of Ephesians affirm, without the all-wise counsel and eternal purpose in the mind of God, redemption would have never happened.”  Amen!  Praise be to God for his sovereign mercy and grace.  Garners stresses, as Paul does in his letters that adoption is in Christ (en Christo) and that union with Christ is paramount to keep in central focus.   Many things stem from this, but one I appreciated particularly was the connection between adoption and Christlikeness.  Eph 1:4 says that he “chose us…to be holy and blameless.”  We have a calling and a purpose therefore as his adopted sons and daughters – bring him glory by looking more like Jesus, through his abundant transforming grace.

The author brings in a redemptive-historical view of adoption when looking more closely at Galatians 4:4-7. [“…so you are no longer a slave, but a son…”]  We see that adoption was not only sovereignly planned, but accomplished in Christ.  As he powerfully writes “the stranglehold of the law and the power of it’s curse meet their defeat under the power of Christ and the cross…” [93] As a result, thru faith, we are no longer slaves to the law/sin – but we are adopted as sons in freedom! Romans 8:15-17 furthers the emphasis of accomplishment. [“…you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…”]  This is indeed a powerful and central point, once again tied to Christlikeness in practicality – “The Spirit of adoption empowers the believer for spiritual renovation by mortification of sin, and he accomplishes  this empowerment in the mystical union with the Son by the Spirit, or as Paul puts it succinctly, by adoption.” [115]  Through this mortification of sin we grow into the reality of our adopted sonship.  [129]

Garner makes some big statements in this book, one of which he brings out in the context of Ephesians 1:4 to 1:11.  [“…works all things according to the counsel of his will…”]  “Or put in Pauline shorthand, adoption is the singular goal of redemptive history, an adoption that changes the state of the sons, the hearts of the sons, and even the bodies of the sons.” [143]  I can’t say that I disagree with this statement, but the author is laying the groundwork for some bigger statements to follow.

Section 3 contains the significant disconnect I have with the book.  While remaining faithful to the orthodox doctrine of the eternality of Jesus as the Son of God, Garner maintains that Jesus himself was adopted as the Son of God at His resurrection.   This point he carries then for the rest of the book, but devotes a whole chapter to it in chapter 7.  Again, Garners sets the theological foundation with boundaries – “That Christ is eternal Son does not mean, however, that there is therefore no progressive, functional dimension to his sonship.” [179]  Quoting Dunn, he claims this was the adoptionist perspective of primitive Christian teaching “…to have regarded Jesus’ resurrection as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son.” [179]  This can be a dangerous perspective and I couldn’t help but take it as a thesis driven push point.  It colored the rest of my interpretation of the book.

The author mainly relies on Romans 1:3-4 for textual support  – ““concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:3–4 ESV). The centrality of the argument is the ESV (and KJV, NKJV, and NASB) translation of horisthentos as “declared” which Garner (along with NIV and the new CSV BTW) claims is actually better ” appointed” – thus surmising that Christ was appointed the (adopted) Son at his resurrection.  To be blunt, I can’t buy this, I don’t think it’s helpful, and again it can be dangerous.  Citing support from Gaffin [“…the resurrection of Jesus is his adoption.”] he claims this nuanced interpretation warrants serious attention. [187]

Where it troubles me further is the connection made to biblical Christology and biblical soteriology.  “To put it simply, without the human biography of Christ Jesus, capped by his own adoption as the Son of God, there is no salvation.” [195] – I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement, were it not for the singling out of Christ’s “adoption.”Hence, I cannot.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, I know the author agrees with that of course, but the addition of the adoption of Christ himself seems to obfuscate the overwhelming orthodox centrality of it.   Highlighting my concern are statements such as “…there is no adoption of believers in Christ Jesus without the adoption of Christ Jesus.”  As he continues to make the point, I find myself less and less convinced and more and more concerned.  Don’t get too excited – I realize that Garner isn’t denying the eternal divine sonship of Christ, he is stating that “…at his resurrection, Jesus enters a new phase and new dynamic of sonship.” [214], but I’m at a loss as to why this nuance is emphasized for half of the book.

I appreciated Garner’s discussion of the ordo salutis and rescuing it from a forensic, stale, sequential view. He returns to highlight the importance of sanctification resulting from our adoption, and brings a balanced perspective to a sometimes over-emphasized justification.  “Actual holiness is as important as declared holiness.”  [292] AMEN!  He expands the readers view of ordo salutis and it is appreciated and helpful.  “The golden chain of salvation then comes to the redeemed not as consecutive links, but at once as a gloriously completed crown of divine filial grace.”  Once again, AMEN!  Having sat thru many extended dialogs on “which came first” this is very refreshing and helpful.

All in all, I found this book equally helpful and challenging, but one that should be read with a Berean mindset as the priority given to Christ’s own adoption should not be read without significant personal prayer, study, and thought.

 

 

 

Adoption, the Gospel, and Fairness

Nearly 2 years ago I received a call from my wife that I had received many times before. She told me that DYFS called and they want to place a foster child in our home.  We’ve said ‘yes’ to 7 children previously, but this one seemed different.  4 month old baby boy.  Undernourished.  Almost definite we could adopt if we wanted to – truth be told, we had been hoping we’d find a child we could adopt someday. We said yes immediately.

As I drove home from work that day, I was anticipating a cute, cuddly baby boy.  When I walked in the door and saw him, I was shocked.  Sticks for legs and arms, oversized head, sunken eyeballs.  I was angry…I was trying to not be self-righteously angry.  “How could anyone starve a child in this day and age?”

Baby S quickly started to thrive, mostly because of my wife’s status as a SuperMom.  We started our journey with him – as he started to grow and change.  His smiles, his laughs, his first crawling (more like Army crawling/sliding/dragging), first standing up, first walking, first foods…first words. His obsession with balloons and YouTube Kids. The “not-so-fun” stuff like poop filled diapers, a seemingly constant need for schedule modifications and baby sitters, the countless nights of interrupted sleep, screaming, dinners with friends cut short by projectile vomiting, an awesome case of coxsackie virus on vacation…and the introduction of the full blown 2-year old fit when you do not draw the letter “S” to his exact requirements, or “dit” (sit) when and where he’d like you to. In all that he became our son.  A part of our family.  He had a brother and a sister, grandparents, pets…and an extended family at church that adored him.

img_0028Now, 2 years later we held each other as the DYFS van came back, this time to take him away and reunite him with his birth parents. I snapped this picture standing with the van door open in the awkward, and seeming 45 minutes (in reality probably 2 minutes) it took the driver to strap S into his carseat, while Mel and I cried our eyes out. I didn’t know what else to do, I felt stupid for just standing there. The “impossible” had happened, and it seemed to happen fast.  The trajectory turned quickly from adoption, to him being removed from us and reunited with the situation that put him with us in the first place. Shock.  Pain.  Loss of words. Anger. Disbelief. Fear of the future. Then today…just numbness and grief.  I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The thing that comes to mind most often is “this isn’t fair.”  And that would be correct – but it points to a greater truth.  This world isn’t fair.  It’s broken.  It’s chock full of unfairness.  It’s that way because of sin.  We were all created to be in perfect relationship with our good and perfect Heavenly Father, but we chose to reject him – and in so doing fractured the perfection of this world and opened the door for sin, pain, hurt, sickness, unfairness to charge in and take over.

But there is a greater reality that sin hasn’t taken over completely – because it can’t.  Our loving Heavenly Father knew that we would reject him, and despite the stupidity of our choice, he had a plan that he enacted at the perfect time to reconcile us, forgive us, heal us, and conquer sin and unfairness, forever.

Today, we receive this thru repentance and faith.  We turn (repent) from our choice to reject God, and believe (faith) in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to he sent to absorb his full wrath for our sinful choice on the cross.  He then was resurrected from the dead to prove that the sacrifice was accepted and also to allow us to be united with him in new life.  We live this new life here on earth by his power, and one day he will return to permanently banish sin, sickness, unfairness, and death.

While human relationships will always be flawed and full of sin, and occasional unfairness – thru Jesus our relationship with God can be one of perfect grace, healing, hope, and fairness.

While we won’t always know why things happen, we do know that God is always good and always fair, most profoundly because of what he demonstrated to us in the cross of Jesus.  Fairness in treating sin the way it needs to be treated, and overwhelming grace to give us something far above we could ever earn.

So in that, we press forward.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

(Romans 8:32 ESV)

 

 

Signs of the Spirit – Book Review

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Jonathan EdwardsReligious Affections is one of the most foundational books on the life of a believer ever written. But reading Edwards can be a bit…challenging, shall we say?Henceforth – in Signs of the Spirit, Sam Storms takes on the massive task of recasting and commenting the treasure trove that is sometimes buried within his writing style.

Edwards wrote Religious Affections as a response to the controversy surrounding the Great Awakening, particularly answering the questions “What is the nature of true religion/conversion?” and “How can we tell between authentic and spurious holiness?”

What is the evidence of a genuine saving encounter with the Spirit of God?

Storms sets a foundation from Edwards and then he goes on to explain and apply Edwards’ 12 signs of genuine religious affections.

First, per 1 Peter 1:8, we see that love for Jesus and joy in Jesus are the essence of true spirituality. This love and joy should endure through trials and pain, knowing that God is working within us, like a sculptor who “chips away in us anything from our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus.” This then is no ordinary, temporary emotion, but more of an “inclination of the will,” or as Edwards puts it an “affection” of the heart.

Inclinations and affections should therefore not be half-hearted or lukewarm, but intense and vibrant – ultimately giving way to outward actions that are pleasing to God. As anyone knows, affections cannot (most of the time) be self-generated, we are thus dependent on God to bring them, and that’s where prayer comes in. Storms powerfully writes/summarizes “We are not to pray as if our petitions inform God of what he doesn’t know or change his mind or prevail on him to bestow mercy that he was otherwise disinclined to give. Rather we pray “to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.” In fact, virtually all external expressions of worship “can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.”

Likewise, our singing should be vibrant and stir our affections. Our preaching should aim to affect hearts, not just inform minds. Our enemy, Satan, is quite happy to see Christians fall into a zone of lifeless religious ceremony, stoicism, and routine. “There is no true religion where there is no religious affection, because if the great things of religion are understood, they will affect the heart.” Chief among these great things is the gospel of Jesus Christ! There should be our greatest joy, delight and affection.

The controversy therein is which are genuine, biblical affections and which are not. Sometimes people can appeal to affections which in actuality prove nothing of genuine spirituality. In Edwards day, as in today, there is a school of thought that would put all the weight on a “spiritual experience” rather than the fruit of genuine faith. We cannot rely on outward expressions, but rather something much more deep. This has everything to do with assurance of faith and Storms/Edwards is right in saying that there is no assurance of salvation in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.

This then sets the stage for an analysis of the twelve signs of authentic affections that Edwards provides. I’ll try to quickly list and comment on each.

  1. Authentic religious affections arise from supernatural influences on the heart. God, in response to our hearing of the gospel, through the power of His Holy Spirit, gives us new life – which includes new perspectives, feelings, desires, and appetites.
  2. An awareness that divine things are not for self-benefit. In short, it’s not about us. It’s about God and we are drawn then for more of God. The hypocrite rejoices in self, the child of God rejoices in God. Our primary joy must be of God Himself, and not in even in any perceived “experience” of God. I unfortunately see this all over the church today, primarily in the false gospels of prosperity and charismatics. We don’t come to God for what he can do for us, period.
  3. Affections that are founded on a belief of the goodness, sweetness, and beauty of divine things. Do we really believe that God is good, that his word is true and sweet, that prayer is joyful dependance, that the church is our spiritual family? Or do we consider other things more valuable, when they are in actuality pale substitutes.
  4. Affections that result from the mind being divinely enlightened about spiritual things. When God’s word is read, preached, spoken of – it becomes understood by us through the Holy Spirit. Subsequently, per the last point, spiritual things aren’t merely intellectually appreciated, they are savored in the heart.
  5. Affections that come with a level of conviction about the seriousness, judgement and reality of the gospel. These again, are not a mere intellectual belief, but a deeper conviction that spiritual things are indeed truth.
  6. Affections must be accompanied by humility. An awareness of one’s sinfulness and the gift of God in Jesus. Not to mention, deep pain at the signs of sin and the lack of deeper affections for God Himself.
  7. A change of nature must be visible. True conversion includes a gradual renovation of the thoughts, impulses, and actions.
  8. A reflection of the character of Jesus in love, humility, forgiveness, mercy…and many other things.
  9. A tenderness of spirit and a sensitivity toward sin. If we are claiming to be Christians, are we more inclined to determine what is sin and act on it?
  10. A symmetry and pervasiveness in Godly affections. It is a characteristic of the hypocrite to pick and choose where Christlikeness applies in their lives. This is still alive and well in the church in legalism. We pick and choose our pet issues and are willing to die for them, but then subsequently express an inconsistency and imbalance in applying sanctification in other areas of our lives.
  11. True religious affections want more. False affections are satisfied in spiritual complacency. We are called to grow (Eph 4:15) and to give ourselves to seeking God and applying his likeness in “ever increasing measures” so that we will not be ineffective or unfruitful. (2 Peter 1:3-8)
  12. Straight up – we bear the fruit of holiness in our actual lives. This is the most important of the signs. True Christians are never content with the presence of sin in their lives. True Christians will sin, but never completely forsake righteousness. Always fight, by the grace of the gospel, to be more consistent with their spiritual new life in Christ. As Edwards wrote “holy affections have a governing power in the course of a man’s life.” Then we have come full circle, because holiness fuels Godly affections.

Storms includes an additional part of the book about the personal spirituality of Edwards. If you haven’t read a biography on a saint like Edwards that has gone before, please do so. (PS:  Here is a good one on Edwards if you’d like.) They are tremendous soul building exercises. Storms includes a mini-biography in the final part of the book that explains in transparency how much Edwards believed and lived by his faith. We see a mini-tour of his confessions, struggles, and aspirations and it should encourage and give hope for us.

We have much to learn from the saints that have gone before us, your soul will benefit from getting to know Jonathan Edwards.  Thank you, Sam Storms for making these deep truths even more accessible.

Book Review – Discipling

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Discipleship can be a mysterious topic in churches.  How do we do it well? What does it look like? Is it a formal didactic lecture or an informal hang time?  Dever, as he tends to do well, simplifies the mystery in his book “Discipling” he provides a working definition of discipleship as quite simply “helping others follow Jesus.”

In this increasingly individualistic culture, it rubs against the grain to intentionally orient our lives towards others, but that is the foundation of discipleship – particularly, of course, with an eye towards gospel influence.  Yet, this is what the book, appropriately so, encourages.

The book is well organized into three parts, addressing some of the questions in discipling.  What is discipling? Where should we disciple? How should we disciple?  As is expected and appropriate, Dever highlights the centrality of the local church as the primary place for making and maturing disciples of Jesus.   If the church is doing it’s job, people will be diligently following Jesus and then others will be following their example in discipleship relationships.

This all should ultimately be based on the word of God, as the core of discipleship is about teaching truth from the Bible and applying it in our actual lives.  This looks differently for each situation.  I have seen people intimidated by a discipleship relationship thinking that it is a didactic lecture from the Greek text with PowerPoint slides each week, but it doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t!) look like that.  We share the word of God in our dailiy relationships which are born from the local church.

Truth needs to be taught and seen in peoples actual lives, with it’s chaos and unpredictability.  This is what Dever highlights as the “life-truth-life” pattern.  Our lives should attract people to listen, we teach truth from God’s word to them, and then their transformed lives illustration what is taught and in turn attract more people to listen to them…and the cycle repeats, and God is glorified!

 

 

Book Review – Hungry

prpbooks%2fimages%2fcovers%2fmd%2f9781629952017I’ll admit it, when I first started reading “Hungry” (P&R Books, 2016) I thought “OK…another book on idolatry.”  I was pleasantly surprised.  Lauterbach, a pastor’s wife, Bible study leader, and self-made expert chef not only has a clear grasp on the Scriptures, but is unintimidated in the challenge to apply them, and suitably transparent in the ups and downs of her own spiritual journey.  (Not to mention at times, quite funny.)

Lauterbach’s central idea behind the book is that as we have learned to feed ourselves with physical food, so should we learn to feed ourselves with our spiritual food – the Word of God.  This comparison, which I’ll admit I first what I thought was somewhat gimmicky, turns out to be an extremely powerful teaching and application point.  What certainly helps this cause is the author’s own expertise in cooking which only serves to deepen the analogy and make it more helpful.

All of our spiritual journeys start with a hunger, a hunger for a “perfect food that will delight and satisfy us without tempting us.”  The gospel of Jesus offers us rebirth into a completely new person, which then our food should be Jesus himself (“I am the Bread of Life” John 6:35) and His Word, but yet we are tempted by cravings to gorge (or snack) on sin…especially during those times when we are in the wilderness.   This is all a matter of the heart, as all idolatry is – as Lauterbach helpfully notes “we all instinctively feed on what we love.”

In the second part of the book, Lauterbach shows her strength as a Bible study teacher, discipler, and chef with powerful application of the foundational truths laid down in Part 1.

Just as a chef (or a parent feeding their children) would prepare, cook, and eat food to feed others – so we should observe, interpret, and apply God’s word to feed our souls. I wholeheartedly agree – God has provided His holy word to feed us and nourish us – why are we (myself included) sometimes so unintentional in how we come to the dinner table?  The author provides extremely helpful and accessible “ingredients” to help in making studying the Bible a meal that nourishes, instead of an act of frustrated half-obedience that brings guilt, discouragement, leaving us unsatisfied.  This is the real strength of the book. As a Pastor I’m obviously one to encourage people to regularly read and study their Bibles, but have often heard tales of the frustration and inability to understand it…which usually leads to a lack of proper eating and spiritual growth.  Lauterbach’s instruction here is much needed and very timely.

Ultimately, of course, we don’t read our Bibles to just check the box, but rather we read them to experience and get to know God himself.  The author rightly notes “When is our hunger satisfied?  Not when we read our Bibles, but when we see Jesus there.” Amen!

I recommend this book to all believers seeking to gain practical help in not only knowing our hearts in light of the gospel, but subsequently studying God’s Word to keep us growing and maturing!

 

 

 

 

Walking in Thankfulness

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“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)

Paul is writing to the church, Christians, reminding them of the gospel and encouraging them.  As you are Christians – then WALK in Him.  Biblically speaking, to “walk” is to “live.”  So then, as Schaeffer said – How then shall we live?

First way is “rooted and built up in Him.” This means to be a Christian, our hope, our lives, our purpose, our mission is centered around Jesus.  We are to be “rooted” in Jesus, like a tree’s roots go deep into the soil, so the roots of our lives should go deep into Jesus getting our nourishment from him.

This world tempts us to sink our roots into other soil – We must be careful to see what sold our roots are actually in.

That brings us to the second way – we are to walk “established in the faith”.  We are to live as those who are confirmed, sustained, strong in the faith.  Note we also see that this is “just as we were taught.”  It’s the faith that we were taught. We learn this in His word, the Bible.

These two things, living rooted and built up in him; walking established in the faith as you were taught – should then result in something. 

So what’s the result?  Thankfulness.  Not mere thankfulness – overflowing, abundant thankfulness.  This is something that is ours to do, ours to recognize.

We can live in abundant thankfulness because of what Christ has done in our lives.

We were dead in sin, unable to save ourselves, alienated from God, objects of His wrath, broken and needing healing and we can’t fix ourselves. God in his mercy and grace, gave us Jesus.   We then live transformed lives and we then abound in thanksgiving.

This gospel-based thanksgiving can transcend circumstances because it’s based on what Christ has done.  This Thanksgiving, let’s abound in thankfulness for what Jesus has done.

Lessons from the Spartan Race

Moomer_Dad_SpartanYesterday, I ran a Spartan Sprint race with my daughter Morgan. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Spartan race is…this is the “Intro” one called a “Sprint.” It was 5.2 miles with 20 obstacles…not the least of which were crawling under barbed wire in the dust and rocks for what seemed like 10 miles, carrying a 40lb bag of sand up hill (did I mention this was a ski mountain?), rope climbs, more walls than I care to remember, sporadic mud and very smelly water, and just generally enduring the punishing, unrelenting Summer sun.

Yes, we paid to do this, and I’m glad we did.  Here are some lessons and thoughts:

  1. Training.  It cannot be overstated the importance of being ready for this race.  It was punishing.  I was very happy I had been diligent in training.  Still.  It. Was. Hard.  Makes me think – are we prepared for trials and suffering in our lives?  We are preaching thru 1 Peter right now at Highlands and suffering is unavoidable. Am I ready?
  2. Military.  I grew in appreciation for our military in not only how hard they train, but also the danger they face.  As I said to one fellow Spartan as we were crawling under the barbed wire – “Hey.  At least we aren’t getting shot at.”
  3. Team Work.  There is a generally good sense of team work at these races.  Morgan and I definitely cheered each other on, helped each other, and celebrated overcoming the obstacles.  Are we helping each other run our “life races” well?
  4. Goals.  Straight up – it’s awesome to set goals and then accomplish them, even in the face of suffering and resistance.  We were walking up our final hill and one woman said “Keep your head up. One foot in front of the other and don’t stop.”  It was so simple, yet true – each step we took literally got us closer to the end.  Set goals, get going, push yourself past where you think you can go and don’t stop.
  5. Stewardship.  This wasn’t about us, it was about the challenge, but it made me think of being a good steward of what God has given us in our health and the gospel. I think of 1 Timothy 4 – for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV).  Am I giving enough dedicated, diligent attention to growing in Godliness and living daily in the gospel?  Our bodies will pass away, we need to be healthy and diligent stewards of them, but ultimately we exist not for our own glory but for the glory of God!