Friday, October 17, 2014

A Theological Primer for the Home

This article first appeared at The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, www.cbmw.org

Theology is neither a mere theoretical exercise nor a mere academic pursuit; rather, it’s the means by which we grow in acquaintance with God and consequently in godliness. The goal of theology, therefore, is to engage the mind with the ultimate purpose of embracing the heart’s innermost affections, so that we worship God. That’s why, as a pastor, I want to see good theology in my church, and, as a father, I want to see good theology in my home.

But what does good theology look like? For an answer, I’m going to turn to William Perkins (1558–1602), fellow of Christ’s College and lecturer of Great St. Andrew’s Church in Cambridge. Perkins was a prolific author, composing almost fifty treatises on a wide range of biblical, theological, polemical, and practical subjects—all before his death at age forty-four. From all that he wrote, I want to highlight three marks of good theology.

First, Scripture is the basis of good theology.

Perkins celebrated Scripture’s “infallible certainty,” meaning he believed “the testimony of Scripture is the testimony of God himself.” Because Scripture is the very Word of God, Perkins viewed it as the means by which God reveals himself to us, as the means by which God imparts his grace to us, and as the means by which the Holy Spirit effects our union with Christ. Owing to his concept of Scripture’s “infallible certainty,” Perkins adopted the Bible as the axiom of all his thinking and the focus of all his teaching.

That’s what I want for my family. I want my home to be a place where Scripture is cherished. Scripture reveals a glorious God. It reveals a great Savior and a great salvation. It sustains in times of dark affliction, comforts in times of deep sorrow, strengthens in times of danger, and guides in times of confusion. It promises the greatest blessings. It entitles us to the best inheritance. It has God for its author, Christ for its subject, and eternal life for its end. I want my family to handle Scripture as a special treasure, which God has entrusted into the hands of his people.

Second, blessedness is the aim of good theology.

Perkins defined theology as “the science of living blessedly forever.” What did he mean? He affirmed that God is perfect being; therefore, he’s sufficient and satisfied in himself. That being the case, he’s the source of all good. Since he’s the source of all good, he’s the only source of our blessedness; that is to say, we find our greatest good in communion with him. According to Perkins, the blessed person is the one who’s in “a state or condition whereby he is in God’s favor.”

That’s what I want for my family. I want my home to be a place where God is esteemed. We live in a society in which people are desperately trying to find happiness. For the most part, they equate it with externals: possessions, experiences, achievements, relationships, etc. Yet none of these things can satisfy the soul. This place of distinction is reserved for God alone. We find in him all we could ever want. He’s the dearest love, surest friend, highest honor, greatest beauty, and fullest joy. He’s omnipotent in his power, unsearchable in his wisdom, and inconceivable in his grace. His power is ours to protect us, his wisdom to direct us, his mercy to assist us, his grace to pardon us, his love to delight us, and his joy to satisfy us. Our knowledge of this God diffuses into our soul a satisfying peace in this life and a tantalizing taste of what awaits us in glory. I want my family to embrace this wonderful truth: “Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD” (Ps. 144:15).

Third, Christ is the center of good theology.

Perkins affirmed that “our salvation must be built on Christ.” Why? Simply put, our works of righteousness can’t provide any protection against God’s judgment. We’re born under bondage to sin, and we’re unable to free ourselves from its power or penalty. For this reason, we must look to Christ. “True faith,” says Perkins, “makes us one with Christ.” By means of this union, “Christ, with all his benefits, is made ours.” That means we enjoy a new legal status in him. Moreover, we enjoy communion with him in his names, titles, righteousness, holiness, death, and resurrection.

That’s what I want for my family. I want my home to be a place where Christ is savored. He was condemned, so that we might be justified; punished, so that we might be pardoned; cursed, so that we might be blessed; wounded, so that we might be healed; and forsaken, so that we might be accepted. God receives us in Christ—his Beloved. Now, when we think of our sin, we remember Christ’s forgiveness. When we think of our guilt, we remember his merit. When we think of our weakness, we remember his strength. When we think of our pride, we remember his humility. When we think of our vileness, we remember his righteousness. I want my family to know that there’s nothing more soul-satisfying than contemplating Christ and our interest in him.

These three points of divinity are a pretty good theological primer—a necessary foundation for any home.

J. Stephen Yuille

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships



This review was first published at Books at a Glance: www.booksataglance.com
 
What is love? For many in our day, love is strictly the stuff of Hallmark cards and movies. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling that defies explanation. It’s an overwhelming emotion that people helplessly follow because the heart has reasons the mind never understands.

But what happens when this notion of love collides with the equally entrenched notion that the supreme goal of life is to feel happy? In other words, what happens to this kind of love when it encounters negative feelings such as pain and sorrow, or negative experiences such as denial and sacrifice? For many people, the answer is obvious: they must not be in love anymore, and they must uproot in order to remain true to themselves.

Could anything be more antithetical to biblical love?

In A Loving Life in a World of Broken Relationships, Paul Miller takes us on a journey of hesed (steadfast) love. He does so by leading us through the Book of Ruth, peeling back the layers of this ancient story to provide a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for His people.

A Compelling Story
Miller does a masterful job of expounding the text, unpacking the historical and cultural context, and highlighting the literary nuances, while at the same time conveying Naomi’s heartbreaking loss and Ruth’s heartwarming devotion. He reveals the nature of hesed love in Ruth’s unwavering commitment to Naomi. Ruth loves Naomi in such a way that she limits and restricts her own life. She loves Naomi in such a way that she sacrifices her own dreams and interests. She loves Naomi in such a way that she suffers insecurity and uncertainty. She loves Naomi in such a way that she persists even in the face of Naomi’s casual indifference. In short, Ruth demonstrates that “hesed love is one way love […] a love without an exit strategy” (p. 24).

A Challenging Story
Miller makes it clear that this kind of love is antithetical to “the spirit of our age” (p. 25). Most of us assume that we must act on our feelings. Therefore, when love becomes costly, we usually respond by pursuing an exit strategy or creating a false reality. But the story of Ruth shows us that, when love becomes costly, we must act on our commitments. This mindset is impossible unless we embrace the fact that, when we love, we disappear (p. 135). That is to say, when we’re captivated with the object of our love, we don’t want to be seen. This necessarily means that love and pride are antithetical. Miller states that the great barrier to love is ego – the life of the self (p. 19). In order to love, therefore, we must die to self.

A Comforting Story
Miller demonstrates how Ruth’s selfless love ultimately points us to Christ, thereby making her “the Christ figure, the one who dies so others may live” (p. 152, italics mine). In my opinion, Miller overstates his case ever so slightly. Surely, Boaz is a Christ figure. Like Boaz, Christ pays the ultimate price to purchase us – outsiders, who stand in need of a kinsman-redeemer. Personally, I would rather Miller had referred to Ruth as a Christ figure instead of the Christ figure. That being said, his point is well made; namely, Ruth’s “complete absence of self reflects the mind of Christ” (p. 155). Because of hesed love, Christ left a glorious crown, walked in our flesh, and took our infirmities; He gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute, and life to the dead. Because of hesed love, He was hungry, thirsty, and weary; He was betrayed, arrested, and condemned; He was sorrowful unto death. Because of hesed love, He climbed a shameful cross to bear our guilt and shame. Christ’s love for His people is steadfast.

Recommendation
Miller upholds this hesed love as the necessary alternative to the many false views of love so prevalent in our day. He includes numerous stories and anecdotes in his exposition, drawing from the deep well of personal and pastoral experience. His insights will prove beneficial to all, particularly those who are struggling with the difficult reality of broken and burdensome relationships. I highly recommend A Loving Life to you.
 
J. Stephen Yuille

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Means of Change: The Mind

Continued from previous post . . .
 
But how exactly does the Holy Spirit impress God’s “excellencies” upon us? The Puritans affirm that the Holy Spirit uses means. God is the source of all knowledge, but He imparts knowledge to us through means. We study, meaning we inquire into the meaning of God’s Word. We observe, meaning we compare God’s curses and promises with His works of providence. We consider, meaning we seek to reflect the light of truth into our souls. This approach to Scripture is the means by which the Holy Spirit illuminates our spiritual eyes (Eph. 1:18).
 
According to Richard Sibbes, there is a “power of the soul” between our senses and understanding, which makes our thoughts real and vivid. If it is not occupied with God’s Word, we quickly lose sight of God’s greatness, God’s righteousness, and God’s lovingkindness; the majesty of Christ, the beauty of grace, and the reality of eternity. These truths become mere abstractions. As a result, our affections lose order, our mind loses focus, and our will chooses sin. That is why, for the Puritans, Scripture meditation is of upmost importance.
 
When they speak of meditation, the Puritans are not referring to the mere reading and studying of Scripture, but the purposeful reading and studying of Scripture. Its goal is the internalization of God’s Word. It involves musing and mulling over the biblical text, whereby the truth of God’s Word grips the mind, will, and affections. Swinnock defines it as “a serious applying of the mind to some sacred subject until the affections are warmed and quickened, and the resolution heightened and strengthened against what is evil and for what is good.”
 
Swinnock encourages us to “retire out of the world’s company, to converse with the Word of God.” He believes this “conversing” (or meditation) is essential, because it functions like fire to water. Water is naturally cold, but fire makes it hot, causing it to boil. Likewise, our hearts are naturally cold, but meditation makes them hot, causing them to “boil with love” for God and His Word. For Swinnock, therefore, Scripture meditation is the means by which what is known in the head seeps down into the heart. He declares, “The spring of this knowledge may be in the head, and its rise in the understanding, but it slides down into the heart, breaks out into the life, and so flows along in the channel of grace and holiness until at last it loses itself in the ocean of glory.”
 
“Above all,” writes Swinnock, “meditate on the infinite majesty, purity, and mercy of that God against whom thou hast sinned.” Similarly, Richard Baxter directs us to “dwell on the meditations of the Almighty,” adding, “one would think if I should set you no further task, and tell you of no other matters for meditation, this one should be enough, for this one is in a manner all.” As we apply our minds to “what an excellent incomparable majesty God is,” the Holy Spirit impresses the truth upon us, warming our affections, thereby producing awe, love, trust, humility, and obedience.
 
Scripture meditation, therefore, begins in the mind, which esteems God “above all.” From there, it extends to the affections, which desire Him and delight in Him “more than all.” From there, it extends to the will, which chooses Him “before all.” As a result, the “whole man” seeks, serves, honors, and praises God “beyond all in heaven and earth.”

Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). Elsewhere, he exhorts, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Scripture meditation opens the door between the head and the heart, whereby the Holy Spirit makes deep impressions upon our affections. In so doing, He makes sin unattractive to us, and compels us to mortify sin. And that is how we change.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Impetus for Change: The Gospel

Continued from previous post . . .
 
How does the Holy Spirit enable us to mortify sin? According to the Puritans, He does so by fanning the flames of our love for God to such a degree that sin becomes the object of our hate. The Holy Spirit heightens our love for God by revealing His “excellencies” to us. “The more the blessed God is known,” says George Swinnock, “the more He is prized, desired, and obeyed.”
 
God’s Greatness
 
For starters, the Holy Spirit impresses God’s greatness upon us. “Can you by searching find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than the heaven – what can you do? Deeper than Sheol – what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea” (Job 11:7–9). We have a greater chance of holding the stars in the palm of our hand, measuring the mountains on a scale, gathering the oceans in a thimble, and balancing the world’s skyscrapers on a needle, than we do of finding out “the limit of the Almighty.” He is higher than heaven, deeper than Sheol, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. Heaven is high but limited; Sheol is deep but restricted; the earth is long but contained; and the sea is broad but bounded. God alone is unlimited, unrestricted, uncontained, and unbounded.
 
This great God “looks on the earth and it trembles; [he] touches the mountains and they smoke” (Ps. 104:32). A mere glance produces earthquakes, and a mere touch produces volcanoes. If these slight impulses from God cause such devastation, what is the full effect of His power? This great God “determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Ps. 147:4). Apparently, in the time it takes me to snap my fingers, light circles the earth seven times. Traveling at that speed, if the sun were the size of a pea, it would take ten billion years to reach the edge of the universe. How long would it take travelling at a realistic speed? How long would it take given the sun’s actual size? We cannot get our mind around the computation. Some astronomers estimate that there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on the earth’s beaches. Here are two wonders: God can compute that number, and God can invent that number of names.
 
God’s Righteousness
 
The Holy Spirit also impresses God’s righteousness upon us. Does God need us? Does He gain anything from us? “Can a man be profitable to God?” (Job 22:2). God is a perfect being, meaning He is incapable of increase or decrease. Nothing can be added to Him or subtracted from Him. He does not require anything outside of Himself, nor does He benefit from anything outside of Himself. Our effect upon God is that of a snowball hurled at the blazing sun. What are we to God? “Sheol and Abaddon are before the LORD; how much more then the hearts of the children of men!” (Prov. 15:11).
 
God peers into our heart – weighing its desires, motives, impulses, and inclinations. He sees our heart riddled with self-love. This sin is an affront to Him – a transgression of His law, rejection of His rule, desecration of His goodness, and violation of His glory. He has power to avenge Himself. With a mere look He can cast us into hell. Hell is a place where the worm never dies and the fire never extinguishes (Mk. 9:48). The first speaks of the internal torment by conscience, whereas the second speaks of the external torment by God. In hell, the sinner falls into the hands of God who is a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). A day is coming when He will deal definitively with sin. He “will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). He is a perfect judge, whose knowledge of the evidence is unsearchable and whose power to execute sentence is unrivalled.
 
God’s Loving-kindness
 
The Holy Spirit also impresses God’s loving-kindness upon us. The Son of God draws near to us in the incarnation. He experiences life in a fallen world. He bears our sin and shame, and tastes death for us (Heb. 2:9). We placed ourselves where He deserves to be – on the throne. He places Himself where we deserve to be – on the cross. In His death, He bore God’s judgment in our place. John Flavel describes His sacrifice as follows:
 
“Lord, the condemnation was Yours, that the justification might be mine. The agony was Yours, that the victory might be mine. The pain was Yours, and the ease mine. The stripes were Yours, and healing balm issuing from them mine. The vinegar and gall were Yours, that the honey and sweet might be mine. The curse was Yours, that the blessing might be mine. The crown of thorns was Yours, that the crown of glory might be mine. The death was Yours, but the life purchased by it mine. You paid the price that I might enjoy the inheritance.”
 
All the blessings of salvation (all that Christ purchased for us) flow to us through our union with Him. Christ takes hold of us by the Holy Spirit, and we take hold of Him by faith. As a result of this union, we live upon His merit. We commune with Him in His names and titles, His righteousness and holiness, His death, burial, and resurrection. As a result, we enjoy a new status. God owns us as His people. He owns us by creation – He made us in His image. He owns us by election – He chose us before we were born. He owns us by redemption – He paid an infinite price for us. He owns us by regeneration – He caused us to be born again. He owns us by adoption – He made us part of His family. In Christ, God’s forgiveness supersedes our sinfulness, His merit eclipses our guilt, and His righteousness hides our vileness.
 
Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (Rom. 8:31–39). Separation means division (or divorce). But Christ never divorces His bride. It is an eternal union, based upon an eternal love. We can rest assured that His love for us does not depend on anything in us. As a matter of fact, we spoil His love when we think it is induced by anything in us. R. C. Sproul explains, “God does not love us because we are lovely. He loves us because Christ is lovely. He loves us in Christ.” He loves us, because we are one with His Beloved.
 
In Christ, God is our God. We find in Him all we could ever want. We find an eternal and spiritual good, suitable to our every need. We rest in Him as the dearest Father, wisest Guide, strongest Shield, greatest Good, closest Friend, richest Grace, highest Honor, kindest Comfort, finest Beauty, deepest Truth, and sweetest Love. Our knowledge of Him diffuses into our soul a satisfying peace in this life and a ravishing foretaste of what awaits us in glory.
 
As the Holy Spirit impresses these wonderful truths upon us, our love for God grows, and correspondingly, our hatred of sin. “Be confident of this,” says Swinnock, “the more you know of the excellencies of God, the more you will prize His Son, submit to His Spirit, crucify the flesh, condemn the world, fear to offend Him, study to please Him, the more holy you will be in all manner of conversation.”
 
To be continued . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Agent of Change: The Spirit

Continued from previous post . . .
 
We come to the second truth the Puritans affirm concerning the biblical dynamics of change – namely, the agent of change is the Holy Spirit.
 
How does He change us? The answer is regeneration (Jn. 3:3; Eph. 2:4–5; Col. 2:13; Ti. 3:4–6). Simply put, regeneration is the restoration of God’s image in us, whereby the faculties of the soul (mind, will, and affections) are renewed in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). That is to say, the Holy Spirit illuminates our darkened mind, liberates our enslaved will, and directs our disordered affections. In so doing, He renews our love for God. This love is expressed in two ways.
 
The first expression of love is desire. “When God has once effectually touched the heart with converting grace,” writes Richard Baxter, “it leaves a secret thirsting after Him in the soul.” We long for God, crying with the Psalmist: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1).
 
The second expression of our love is delight. It arises from the fact that we find in God all that is good, right, and true. We cry with the Psalmist: “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High” (Ps. 9:1–2).
 
We embrace God as incomparable. His incomparable power draws forth faith from our hearts. His incomparable wisdom draws forth fear from our hearts. His incomparable goodness draws forth love from our hearts. These three graces cause our hearts to close with God as our center and rest. That is to say, we take God as our happiness, we take God’s Son as our Savior, we take God’s Spirit as our guide, we take God’s Word as our rule, we take God’s holiness as our desire, and we take God’s promises as our hope.
 
Having embraced God as the greatest good, we now hate what God hates. As Swinnock observes, “They who know the holiness of God […] know that sin is loathsome to Him, because contrary to His holy nature, and therefore they hate it.” This hate is expressed in two ways. First, we fear sin. Why? We fear it will “disturb the peace and violate the purity of what we love.” In other words, we fear it will rob us of our enjoyment of God. Second, we grieve over sin. According to Swinnock, this sorrow “springs from the consideration that we have sinned against so good, so pure, so perfect a God, in conformity to whom, and communion with whom, all our happiness consists.”
 
Now, it is extremely important to note that this renewal of the image of God in us does not make us perfect. While it is true that regeneration breaks sin’s dominion over us, it does not eradicate sin in us. Future glorification alone will mark the termination of our sin. For its part, regeneration ushers in a great conflict between the flesh (our love of self) and the Spirit (our love of God). That is why Paul writes, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12–13). The verb – “put to death” – is in the present tense, implying a continuous action. This is significant, because it means that our killing of sin (love of self) is not a dramatic one-time experience, but a continuous battle. To put it another way, it involves a daily weakening of sin at the motivational level. That truth is aptly expressed in the following illustration:
 
“I once read of a missionary, who had in his garden a shrub that bore poisonous leaves. He also had a child who was prone to put anything within reach into his mouth. Naturally, the father dug the shrub out and threw it away. The shrub’s roots, however, went very deep. Soon the shrub sprouted again. Repeatedly, the missionary had to dig it out. There was no solution but to inspect the ground every day and to dig up the shrub every time it surfaced. Indwelling sin is like that shrub. It needs constant uprooting. Our hearts need continual mortification.”
 
John Owen observes two very important details concerning Paul’s words in Rom. 8:12–13. The first is that mortification is the Holy Spirit’s work: “by the Spirit.” The second is that mortification is our work: “you put to death.” At first glance, Paul seems to contradict himself. Which is it? Is mortification the Holy Spirit’s work or our work? The answer is both. As Owen explains:
 
“The Holy Spirit does not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Spirit works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures. He works in us and with us, not against us or without us, so that His assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.”
 
To put it another way, the Holy Spirit is the author of mortification in us, because we mortify sin by His enabling grace and power. He alone is the agent of change, because He alone is the source of quickening and enabling grace.
 
To be continued . . .

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Object of Change: The Heart

How do we change? How do we alter our behavior? How do we break sinful habits and patterns? How do we address sin in our thoughts, desires, and motives? These are significant questions, which have perplexed countless Christians over the centuries. Our struggle to change is related to the fact that we face a constant dilemma, arising from our knowledge of two simple truths: we know sin feels good, and we know sin displeases God. Whenever we face temptation, these two truths collide in our experience, and we necessarily act upon one of them. Which one? The answer is determined by which of the two truths is most attractive to us at any given moment. This means that – to a large extent – the key to change lies in making sin unattractive. But how is this done?
 
To answer that question, I am going to turn to a group of men, from the seventeenth century, known as the Puritans. In the opinion of some, we have come such a long way since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So what could the Puritans possibly teach us? According to J. I. Packer, “The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we do not. We are spiritual dwarfs […]. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God.” To put it simply, we need the Puritans because they were strongest where perhaps we are weakest. They were experimental (or, experiential) theologians steeped in the Scriptures. The Latin verb experior means to know by experience. Experimental theology, therefore, is that which aims to apply the Bible to the whole range of personal experience. In the next four posts, I am going to share with you what these experimental theologians have to say concerning the biblical dynamics of change.
 
The Object of Change: The Heart
 
To begin with, the Puritans affirm that the object of change is the human heart. Admittedly, this is a very difficult concept for people in our day to grasp. Why? For the most part, they do not think anything is wrong with their heart. When it comes to explaining human behavior, the vast majority of people fall into one of two schools of thought. Some adopt the nurture argument: they think we behave as we do because of our social environment; and if we want to change our behavior, we must alter our social environment through education. Others adopt the nature argument: they think we behave as we do because of our genetic makeup; and if we want to change our behavior, we must alter our genetic makeup through science. Both schools of thought attribute the cause of human behavior to external factors, thereby absolving the individual of responsibility.
 
But the Bible paints a very different portrait of the human condition. Christ declares, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mk. 7:21–23). In other words, our problem is not external, but internal. It is true that nurture and nature might exasperate our problem, but they do not cause it. Our problem resides in our corrupt heart. George Swinnock describes this predicament as follows: “Original sin has debauched the mind, and made it think crooked things straight, and straight things crooked; loathsome things lovely, and lovely things loathsome. It has perverted the will, and made it, as a diseased stomach, to eat unwholesome food against reason. It has enthralled the affections to sensuality and brutishness. It has chained the whole man, and delivered it up to the law of sin.”
 
Here, Swinnock affirms that original sin has “debauched” the mind, “perverted” the will, and “enthralled” the affections. In short, original sin has “chained the whole man.” What does he mean? According to the Puritans, the image of God in humanity consists of the three principal faculties of the soul (mind, will, and affections), characterized by knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). When Adam sinned in the Garden, the image of God was corrupted, meaning Adam lost knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This deprivation had a negative impact upon Adam’s faculties, in that his mind was “debauched,” his will was “perverted,” and his affections were “enthralled.” What exactly does Swinnock mean when he speaks of “enthralled” affections?
 
Simply put, the affections are the soul’s dispositional drives – its inclination or disinclination to any given object. If our soul perceives an object as good, we set our love upon it. Love expresses itself in two ways: desire and delight. When the object of our love is absent from us, we desire it. When the object of our love is present with us, we delight in it. Let’s think, for example, of the relationship between a husband and wife. The husband travels out of the country; hence, he is absent from the object of his love – his wife. The result is desire. But what happens when the husband returns home? He is again present with the object of his love – his wife. The result is delight.
 
If, however, our soul perceives an object as evil, we set our hate upon it. Hate expresses itself in two ways: fear and sorrow. When the object of our hate is absent from us, we fear it. When the object of our hate is present with us, we sorrow over it. And so, I hate the dentist – not him personally, but what he does to my teeth. When I realize my next scheduled visit is a week away, I experience a measure of anxiety and fear. When I actually sit in the chair at his office, I experience discomfort and sorrow (depending on how much work he has to do on my teeth).
 
That is how the affections function. Now, how does this relate to the image of God in humanity? Prior to his fall in the Garden, Adam’s love was set on God and, consequently, his affections (desire delight, hate, fear, and sorrow) were well-directed. That is to say, they functioned properly. When Adam sinned, however, the object of his love changed. In his fallen condition, his love was no longer set on God, but self. As a result, his affections became “enthralled’ (or disordered). And that has been the predicament of Adam’s descendants ever since. We love what we should hate, and hate what we should love.
 
Because of our “enthralled” affections, sin has dominion over us. At times, this dominion is obvious, meaning we live with its visible effects and consequences. At times, however, sin’s dominion is not so obvious. It is secret and hidden. But it is just as real, just as powerful, and just as wicked. Self-love corrupts our every thought, word, and deed.
 
Because of sin’s dominion over us, we are helpless – unable to change ourselves. In the Garden, Adam possessed the freedom to choose what he wanted. We still possess this freedom. The problem, however, is that our mind and will are governed by affections that prefer evil to good. We are self-seeking rather than God-seeking (Rom. 2:6–8). As a result, our freewill is in bondage to sin (Eph. 2:1–2; 4:17–18). To put it another way, we are so captivated by sin that we have no power to escape from it. For this reason, we need help from outside ourselves.
 
To be continued . . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life



This review was first published at Books at a Glance: www.booksataglance.com

Last month, Shepherd Press sent me Brian Hedges’ Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life. I read it in one sitting (while waiting for a flight—yes, delayed). The book made an immediate impression on me—an impression that was confirmed several weeks later when I perused it at a slower pace. Let me explain why.

For starters, the book is timely. Over the past few months, there has been a great deal of discussion (even debate) within Reformed circles concerning the relationship between justification and sanctification, faith and works, grace and effort, the indicative and the imperative. Hedges speaks to the entire discussion with clarity and accuracy, noting that “the church veers north when she loses her wonder of the freedom of grace [… and] south when she loses her wonder of the power of grace” (p. 10). But when we maintain our wonder of both, and remember that the gospel is about what Christ does for us and in us, we stay on course and avoid the pitfalls of legalism and antinomianism.

Second, the book is experimental. The Latin verb experior means to know by experience. Experimental theology, therefore, is that which aims to apply divine truth to the whole range of personal experience. That’s precisely what Hedges seeks to do in this book. He explains, “I’ve not written this book simply because Christians need balanced theology (as important as that is) but because there are real threats and dangers to my life and faith, and to yours. I want to be standing in Christ ten years from now. And I won’t be unless (by God’s grace) my spirituality is active” (p. 13).

I really appreciate this experimental emphasis, as I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the common notion of “pure” theology—that is, the idea that we can study theology as an academic discipline without any reference to its situational application. I’m reminded of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ observation regarding the Puritans (which might come as a surprise to those who’ve never read the Puritans): “There is nothing that they more deplored than a mere academic, intellectual, theoretical view of the truth.” Hedges’ writing most certainly isn’t anti-intellectual—not by any means. My point is simply this: he doesn’t handle theological motifs in the abstract, but demonstrates how integral they are to our spiritual journey.

Third, the book is balanced. The concurrence of the divine and human in the realm of spiritual activity perplexes many of us, but Hedges proves a safe guide. He writes, “The Christian life is called a walk, a race, a contest, and a fight. We are told to run, to wrestle, to watch, and to stand. And the victors—those who conquer and overcome—receive great promises whereas terrible warnings go to those who grow sluggish and neglect the great salvation secured for us by Jesus” (p. 13). Despite this emphasis on human activity, Hedges is careful to stress that our efforts are ineffectual apart from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. As he repeatedly makes clear, active spirituality involves working “out” what the Holy Spirit has worked “in” (Phil. 2:12–13).

Finally, the book is unique. How so? It consists of thirty-one letters between two believers: Chris and Brian. Hedges gives two reasons for choosing to teach theology through letters. First, he views it as “a fun and creative approach” (p. 14). Second, he believes it reflects the reality of “our faith journeys,” which “are not linear or direct from infancy to maturity,” but “are circuitous and roundabout, with lots of detours and obstacles, punctuated by backtracking, rest stops, and significant delays on the side of the road” (p. 14).

What particular issues do the letters address? Here’s a sampling. What does it mean to walk with God, turn to God, and hope in God? How do we deal with the spiritual blahs? What leads to spiritual neglect, backsliding, and apostasy? What role do works play in salvation? What is intervening grace? How do we fight the good fight? What does it mean to enjoy God in everything? How do we obtain and maintain assurance? How do we overcome weariness? Why is the church important to spiritual growth? What is gospel humility? What does it mean to rest in Jesus and look to Jesus? What is so dangerous about self-trust?

Hedges’ handling of these issues is very helpful, and serves as a modern-day example of Puritan casuistry—the art of dealing with “cases of conscience” through self-examination and scriptural application.

For the above reasons, I recommend Active Spirituality to you. In addition to edifying and encouraging all readers, it will prove a useful resource for pastors, as it provides valuable insight into how to minister to God’s people as they struggle with common spiritual ailments.

As already mentioned, I read the book in one sitting, but I don’t recommend you do the same. An ideal approach would be to read one chapter per day, allowing ample time for reflection and application.

J. Stephen Yuille