Monthly Archives: April 2009





Trevin Wax|3:16 am CT

Kingdom People – April 2009

Lately, I have been thinking of this blog as a sort of magazine spread out over the course of a month. Perhaps it will be helpful to provide a month’s worth of contents in one post. So… I hope to provide a monthly summary of Kingdom People at the end of each month from this point on. Here is the summary for April.

Unfashionable – Tullian Tchividjian
Lost and Found – Ed Stetzer
Introducing Paul – Michael Bird
Lost in Transmission? What We Can Know about the Words of Jesus - Nick Perrin
Fasting – Scot McKnight
The God I Don’t Understand – Christopher Wright
The Gospel of the Kingdom – G.E. Ladd
Godology – Christian George
W.H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy – James Slatton

Michael Bird on Having a Fresh Encounter with the Apostle Paul
Ed Stetzer on his new book, Lost and Found
Nick Perrin on the reliability of the Gospels
Trevin Wax on “Echoes of Babel”

American Idol: Well, At Least I Had a Good Time

Let My People Go!
Jesus is God’s Answer to Our Cry
Go Deep
Easter Means that Our Coffins Will Not Stay Closed
Blessing, Praying, Forgiving

Jesus Wants the Rose! – Matt Chandler
The Paradoxical Cross – Michael Bird
Bonhoeffer on Brotherhood
John Updike’s Seven Stanzas on Easter
Death Has Been Defeated – G.E. Ladd

Michael Patton
Roger Nicole

A Prayer for Humility
Palm Sunday
Help Us Die Daily

In the Blogosphere – 4/24
Akin’s Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence
In the Blogosphere – 4/17
In the Blogosphere – 4/10
In the Blogosphere – 4/3

My interview with N.T. Wright on Surprised by Hope (April 2008)
Raising “The Resurrection” from the Dead (April 2007)





Trevin Wax|3:52 am CT

Worshipping the God You Don't Understand

The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of FaithIn conversation with 20somethings and teens today, I have discovered that there is an aversion to simplistic ”Sunday School” answers to the tough passages of Scripture. Dissatisfaction with easy answers is widespread among the younger generation. Whereas previous generations prized practicality over everything else, the up-and-coming generation is looking for depth in its quest for truth.

We do not want to devote our lives to the worship of a God made in our own image. Neither do we wish to confine God to a box. Let us do business with what the Bible teaches, no matter how complex or difficult or unpleasant the journey may be.

Christopher Wright’s book, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith is a welcome addition to a spate of recent books that demonstrate a willingness to tackle the hard questions raised by the Bible. The God I Don’t Understand is an appropriate title. Wright does not exhaustively answer the difficult questions he poses, but he shares valuable reflections that display his pastoral insight and personal piety in seeking the truth.

The God I Don’t Understand is for people who ask, “Why?” 

Why did God judge the Canaanites the way he did in the Old Testament?

Why is there evil in the world?

Why do good people suffer?

Why do we have to believe this or that about the cross?

Why are there so many views about the end times?

Christopher Wright ponders these questions and then provides some insights that help clarify the issues:

“To me it is a profoundly moving thought that the word that introduces our most tormenting questions – ‘Why’ – was uttered by Jesus on the very cross that was God’s answer to the question that the whole creation poses.” (21)

Wright understands the importance of putting ourselves in the shoes of those who read the Bible in its original, historical context. Therefore, when addressing the problem of evil, Wright says:

“Whereas we often ask ‘Why?’, people in the Bible often asked ‘How long?’. Their tendency was not to demand that God give an explanation to the origin of evil but rather to plead with God to do something to bring about an end to evil.” (27)

In addressing the mystery of evil and its origins, Wright insists on holding three truths together that he can see in the story of Joseph and in the story of the cross:

  1. The utter evilness of evil.
  2. The utter goodness of God.
  3. The utter sovereignty of God.

Wright refuses to deny any of these truths or to pit one against another. He insists on holding them together, just as he sees the biblical authors doing.

The second part of the book focuses on the judgment of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. Did God really command Israel to commit genocide?

Wright does not minimize the issues at stake here. He points out some wrong solutions to the problem. Then he takes us back to the Old Testament in order that we might make sense of these accounts and what we can learn about God from them.

But Wright does not neatly resolve the issue. Perhaps that is why the book is entitled The God I Don’t Understand. There are no easy resolutions, but Wright’s pastoral insights help shine light on the issues at stake.

Part 3 focuses on the cross. Wright wants to be faithful to the biblical teaching about the cross of Christ. And yet, he also wants to embrace the mystery inherent in the cross. He fully recognizes that we will never exhaust the depths of the meaning of Calvary:

“I understand enough on the basis of what the Bible tells me to know that I owe everything I am now or ever will be to the love and grace of God supremely poured out at Calvary. But when I probe into why and how that is so, I join the multitudes who recognize depths and mysteries here that lie beyond our own understanding but not beyond our faith, praise and worship.” (109)

Wright refuses to join the recent critics of the traditional understanding of substitutionary atonement. He holds tightly to penal substitution as one of the primary ways in which we should understand the cross of Jesus Christ.

But even here, Wright helpfully resists pitting the differrent atonement pictures against one another. He argues for a “both/and” approach, refusing to separate what he believes should be held together. Wright recognizes the tendency to make debates about the atonement too abstract:

“Part of the problem with so many theories of the atonement through the centuries is that they tried to explain the death of Christ in terms of other stories or world views where it does not really fit while ignoring the one story in which it is actually set – the Biblical story of God’s dealings with Israel and of God’s mission through Israel to bring blessing and salvation to the world.” (145)

I believe that Wright is on target here. We should promote the biblical atonement theories, including penal substitution, but we should situate these theories within the historical setting of Jesus in the first century.

The last part of the book focuses on eschatology – the doctrine of the end times. Wright offers some illuminating insights into biblical eschatology. Yet, I did not find part 4 as relevant to the book’s overall theme as the previous sections.

The God I Don’t Understand is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I highly recommend that those who want to wrestle with these issues of faith consult Chris Wright’s wise reflections.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog





Trevin Wax|3:45 am CT

The Other Side of William Whitsitt

W.H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy (Jim N. Griffith Series in Baptist Studies)James Slatton has done Southern Baptists a service by offering us a fascinating portrayal of one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most notable (and notorious) leaders.  W.H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy recounts the fascinating story of Whilliam Whitsitt, the third president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a leader who found himself at the center of a controversy that raged for the last two decades of the 1800′s.

The Whitsitt controversy surrounded a “discovery” that Whitsitt made regarding the origins of the Baptist movement. Whitsitt wrote in an encyclopedia that Baptists “invented” immersion in the 1600′s. Of course, as a Baptist himself, Whitsitt did not intend to imply that Baptists were the first to baptize adult believers, only that they recovered the practice.

But Whitsitt’s discovery came at the time when the Landmark movement was gathering steam. T.T. Eaton, B.H. Carroll and other Baptist leaders were arguing that there had been an apostolic succession of Baptist churches (and thus baptism by immersion) since the first century. Whitsitt argued that the historical documents indicate that Baptists recovered the practice and that the idea of succession could not be sustained historically.

Slatton’s biography is a fascinating look at Whitsitt’s life. Whitsitt remains a pivotal figure in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was the bridge between the founding generation and the second generation of Southern Seminary leadership.

Slatton was given access to Whitsitt’s personal documents and his “secret” diary. Surprisingly, Whitsitt comes across as quite arrogant. He calls James P. Boyce, the first president of Southern Seminary a “dunderhead.” He goes off on people who disagree with him, and he expresses disdain for friends as well as enemies.

But readers must also keep in mind that Whitsitt also talks about himself negatively. Many times, after preaching a sermon, he will dismiss his own delivery and content as sub par. He seems to be rather self-deprecating, so that his harshness with others is also reflected in his harsh treatment of himself.

Most interesting is Whitsitt’s sympathy for his colleague and roomate, Crawford Howell Toy, who left the seminary because of his unorthodox views of inspiration. Whitsitt appears to agree with Toy, even though he remained at the seminary.

Usually, after reading a biography, I better sympathize with the protagonist. Not so with Whitsitt. Before reading this book, I had seen Whitsitt as a good man and conservative scholar who became involved in an unfortunate controversy over Baptist history. Since Whitsitt was right on the issue of Baptist origins, I had seen him as a beleaguered hero of academic freedom.

Now that I’ve read this book, I am glad that Whitsitt left the seminary. The attitude he reveals in his diary, the sympathy he confesses for a colleague who became a Unitarian, and his disdain for his Baptist brethren have caused me to lose respect for the man himself. Southern Baptists were wrong to oust Whitsitt for his views on Baptist history. But perhaps the seminary was actually better off because of his removal.

Slatt recognizes the complexity of Whitsitt:

“He was a complex man. At one time he predicted Baptists eventually would drop their insistence on immersion – and should. In his most important published work, however, he identified immersion as their defining practice.

He agonized over the narrowness of his fellow Southern Baptists and whether he could stay with them in good conscience. Later, when the issue was joined, he took his stand as a Baptist to the bitter end – and a Southern one at that!

He argued that he had been assailed for the mere assertion of a mere historical fact, and that the issue was not doctrinal. Yet he consistently argued that at stake in the controversy was the essential Baptist doctrine of the universal spiritual church, and that it was the foundation on which the Baptist vision of the church stood! – surely a doctrinal issue.” (327)

W.H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy gives us the long-overdue biography of a man at the center of a theological and denominational storm. James Slatton’s work is an unflinching portrayal of Whitsitt and his research is a gift to all Baptists who wish to learn lessons from Baptist history.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

Related Posts:
John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy
A Man of Books and a Man of the People
A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary





Trevin Wax|3:32 am CT

Blessing, Praying, Forgiving

stationsofcross“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
- Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:28)

When Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, he was not giving us an abstract unattainable ideal. By fulfilling his own commands as he died on the cross, he purchased our redemption, providing us with an example to follow and the power necessary to obey.

“Love your enemy.” This command is surely one of Jesus’ most difficult sayings. Return blessings for curses and prayer for abuse. How can we begin to obey this strong saying?

The person who gossips, spreads lies, and accuses us wrongly behind our back may truly become like an enemy to us. Our response must be to speak well of the hurtful person, thus pouring water on their fire.

The great temptation is to fight back with even harsher words, but Jesus commands us to avoid this trap by speaking blessings instead of cursing. Only love-filled speech can free us from the entanglement of hateful speech that tries to spin its web around us in hopes of dominating our conversation.

Even though the blessing we return may not stop the abuse, our only choice, according to Jesus, is prayer – not payback…

Reaching out – not retaliation…

Resolution to do good instead of resentment of the bad…

Jesus does not encourage us to fight the one who mistreats us. Instead, he demands we pray for the one who hurts us and fills our life with pain.

And nowhere do we see a better example of keeping this command than in Jesus himself. Jesus lived out His teaching when He prayed for those who mocked Him as He hung dying on the cross.

Likewise, even in the midst of our suffering, we must continue praying for the one who would harm us.

The command remains always: Continue loving; continue blessing; continue praying. Even when we see no response, with hope in our hearts and Christ’s love in our lives, we can bless the curser and pray for the abuser.

The more we obey this command, the more we will see that even if there is no change in our enemy, Christ is surely bringing about change in us.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog





Trevin Wax|1:04 pm CT

Sunday in Romania

Fişier:Emanuel.jpgToday, we served in two churches that are dear to our hearts. First, we went to the village church where my father-in-law pastors. It was great to see old friends again and I enjoyed the opportunity to bring a message of encouragement and challenge from God’s Word.

This afternoon, we came back to the city and I preached at Emanuel Baptist Church (pictured left). During the time we spent in Oradea, Emanuel was our “default” church whenever I happened to have a Sunday morning or evening free and was not preaching somewhere. Corina grew up in this church, so we enjoyed seeing friends that we have missed the past few years. It was also a great honor for me to be invited to speak at this church!

Thank you for praying for us on this trip. Please continue to pray for the kids. They are having a hard time with the jet lag, and by extension, we aren’t getting too much sleep either! I will be teaching at Emanuel University this week, and I look forward to spending some time with the pastoral theology students. Pray that our time is fruitful.





Trevin Wax|3:21 am CT

A Prayer for Humility

humilitydoorLord Jesus Christ,
I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit,
and give your peace to my soul,
that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry.
Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you,
so that your will may be my will.

Grant that I may be free from unholy desires,
and that, for your love,
I may remain obscure and unknown in this world,
to be known only to you.

Do not permit me to attribute to myself
the good that you perform in me and through me,
but rather, referring all honor to you,
may I admit only to my infirmities,
so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world,
I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen

- Frances Cabrini





Trevin Wax|3:13 am CT

Bonhoeffer on Brotherhood

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize;
it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community





Trevin Wax|2:59 am CT

Arrival in Romania

Corina and I and the kids arrived yesterday in Romania for a two-week stay. The plane trip was not as difficult as we expected, but our first night here was long. The jet lag is hard on the kids (not to mention us adults!).

A few months ago, several blog readers helped us come up with the funds to translate my book, Holy Subversion, into Romanian so that I could teach the material to pastoral students here in their native tongue. I will begin teaching the contents of my book on Monday. I will also be preaching in several churches in the area this week. Tomorrow, I preach at the church where Corina’s dad pastors, as well as Emanuel Baptist in the afternoon.

We are excited to be back in Romania after a 4-year absence. It has already been wonderful to see family that we have not seen in a very long time. I ask my readers to continue praying for us as we are here – that we will have a terrific time with family and friends and that I will be able to effectively minister to the Romanian congregations and students.





Trevin Wax|3:10 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Check out Ed Stetzer’s annotated bibliography on every church planting book in the English language!

22 essential words for writing cheesy Christian pop songs

Mike Wittmer on being “centered-bounded”

A good post on dealing with criticism.

Tullian on holy unction in the pulpit

Michael Bird responds to last week’s SBTS panel discussion on N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification.

Tim Challies with some personal reflections on blogging 2000 consecutive days.

Interesting article about how marketers are targeting the “older” generation.

Top Post this week at Kingdom People: Well, At Least I Had a Good Time…





Trevin Wax|3:14 am CT

Interview with Michael Bird on Having a Fresh Encounter with Paul

clearmikebirdToday I am posting an interview with Dr. Michael F. Bird, author of the recent book,  Introducing Paul (see my review). Dr. Bird teaches New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland.

Trevin Wax: Why do Christians need a “fresh encounter” with the Apostle Paul?

Michael Bird: In church history, times of theological renewal and religious revival have most often come from a fresh re-reading of Paul. From Augustine to Luther to Barth, Paul has often been the catalyst for huge theological shock waves that riveted through out the church.

When you read Paul, there are so many places where you find that your experience (whether that is: joy in salvation, frustrations in ministry, or even the challenges of living in a pluralistic, pagan, and permissive society) is also the experience of Paul.

Paul’s letters also present us with a “warts and all” picture of the church (especially in Galatians and the Corinthian letters). From him we learn that there really are no new problems and no new heresies, just the same one’s that get recycled over and over, and if we are to deal with those challenges in our own setting, then it is really a matter of going back to the Pauline letters.

The other reason we should read Paul is because he was the first great “missionary theologian” of the church. Most of Paul’s theology (biblical and practical theologies I should say) was done on his feet, on the move, in some cases while on the run, while on the mission field.

Paul demonstrates that theology is no ivory tower exercise for pew sitting couch potatoes; it is done in the church, amidst prayer and hardship, in the context of church debates about our identity and purpose, and in the service of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think Paul, above everyone else, validates Martin Kahler’s dictum that “Mission is the Mother of all Theology”. In the 21st century, that is something we need to think about time and time again.

Trevin Wax: How important is Paul’s conversion story to his theology of grace?

Michael Bird: I think Paul was the kinda guy who never really got over the fact that God had saved him.

When you read the account of his conversion in Galatians 1, Philippians 3, and 1 Corinthians 15 (especially 1 Corinthians 15:10 –  ”But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them– yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”), you get the feeling that Paul knew that God had every reason available not to save him, but nonetheless, He still decided to do so. There was nothing about Paul that made him more saveable than anyone else. To the contrary and by his own admission, he was the last person worthy of salvation.

Thus Paul’s narration of his conversion, I think, is the best example of the catch-cry sola gratia (grace alone) that I can find in the entire New Testament.

For Paul grace was an event that turned him around 180 degrees from persecutor to proclaimer, and grace was the power of God that operated in him, despite his weaknesses, with amazing effect.

Trevin Wax: You spend a lot of time telling the “stories behind the Story,” helping us see the worldview stories that form the foundation of Paul’s thought. Why is it necessary for us to understand Paul within this framework?

Michael Bird: When you come to Paul you are not approaching a guy who lives in a historical or cultural vacuum.

Paul is engaging competing ways of telling the story of the Messiah and Israel in relation to his Jewish compatriots and Jewish Christian co-religionists. Ultimately, the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) provided a tapestry of stories upon which Paul’s theological disputes and his theological discourses were based.

For instance, unless you have a grip on the story of creation in Genesis 1-3 a lot of Romans 1 and 1 Timothy 2 simply won’t make sense.

Likewise, unless you’re up on Genesis 15-22 (and aware of some Jewish perspectives that Abraham somehow kept the Law of Moses) then you’re missing a lot of background in his debates in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.

When we come to Paul we miss his admonitions (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10) and theological argumentation  (e.g. Romans 9-11).

Paul demonstrates, much like the writer to the Hebrews, that the Old Testament really is the substructure of New Testament Theology.

Trevin Wax: You express appreciation for many of the insights of the New Perspective on Paul, and yet you come back to what is largely a traditional Reformed framework for understanding Paul. What are some of the beneficial insights of the New Perspective that you believe we should incorporate into our understanding of Paul’s theology?

Michael Bird: I think the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is correct in what it affirms, but wrong in what it denies.

Where the NPP is correct is in emphasizing the social dimension of Paul’s debates and concerns. Paul’s debates about works of law and justification by faith, were not abstract debates about “what must I do to be saved?” but really came down to the matter, “Do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to become Christians?”.

To claim that one gains a righteous status by “works of law” is both legalistic andethnocentric. I think the NPP provides us with a bit more social realism in our handling of Paul and his letters and keeps us grounded in the socio-religious realities of the first century.

To give another example, I often ask my students, why was Jesus cursed on the cross (Gal. 3.13)? They often say things like: “so we could go to heaven”, “so we could have a relationship with God”, “so we would be saved” – all these answers tend to revolve around personal, vertical, and individual soteriology.

I then ask them, “Why did Paul think that Jesus was cursed on the cross?” The answer being in Galatians 3:14 – ” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

There is no doubt that we are “redeemed” by Jesus’ death. And the fact that he is cursed “for us” is as pretty clear a statement on penal substitution as you can get.

But note the redemptive-historical horizon! Jesus was cursed so that God’s plan to bring Gentiles into the family of Abraham would come to fruition. And here, I submit, whether you jolly well like it or not, you have to admit that those NPP chaps are actually on to something.

That is not to say that one should wholly embrace the NPP. Far from it! We should read the NPP authors critically and discerningly. That is part of the problem here.

For instance, I find N.T. Wright utterly inspiring when he’s talking about Jesus and Israel and the big picture of the Bible’s storyline, but I also find him utterly frustrating when he’s going on about “works of law” as exclusively boundary markers and his understanding of the righteousness of God in 2 Corinthians 5.

Generally speaking, I think the NPP has shown us that we need to read Paul not through the lens of an ordo salutis, but through the lens of a historia salutis.

Trevin Wax: How does the doctrine of imputation of Christ’s righteousness fit into Paul’s theology?

Michael Bird: This is a good question and I’ve thought much on this.

John Piper has presented a fairly thorough case for imputed righteousness. The problem I sometimes get with Piper is that in several of his exegetical displays (e.g. 1 Cor. 1.30, Rom. 4.4-5, 2 Cor. 5.21), I think he’s simply going a few steps further than what the text actually says, and you end up having to read a lot of stuff into the text for his argument to work.

In contrast, Wright can say that union with Christ gives you everything that imputation is ordinarily supposed to. That is fine, until you ask, “how does union with Christ result in me having a righteous status before God”?

My own approach has been to speak of “incorporated righteousness” whereby we are united to Christ by faith, and in that union God’s verdict against us is executed in the cross of Christ, and yet that verdict against us is transposed into God’s verdict for us in Christ’s resurrection. Jesus is justified by God in his resurrection and because we are in him, we too are justified.

So for me, union with Christ is absolutely central, and we need to relate justification to incorporation and participation in Christ. (I’m hoping to read Mike Horton’s book Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ soon because I hear that it represents another approach to combining the forensic and participatory aspects of justification).

Now if you take union with Christ, the representative nature of Adam and Christ, the language of reckoning, recognize that righteousness is a gift, etc.,  then the only way to hold it together in my mind is with some kind of theology of imputation.

So, I don’t think that any single text in the New Testament speaks of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers, but spread throughout the New Testament we find the ingredients for it when taken collectively. (I really do recommend Brian Vickers’ book, Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation, for a judicious and sober account on imputation that approaches the subject much like the way I’m suggesting here!)

In the end, I would say that “imputation is a corollary of union with Christ”. Now to any in the Reformed spectrum who think that that is not a good enough a statement, I will simply plead that what I have just written is a direct quote from Leon Morris’ book, Apostolic Preaching of the Cross!

Trevin Wax: How can Paul’s letters help us to live a life worthy of the gospel?

That little phrase, taken from Philippians, is my favorite verse for summarizing the task of discipleship. In a nutshell you could say that we live the gospel-driven life. Paul makes the gospel central to everything: missions, pastoral work, hope, prayer, etc. Christian discipleship is the process of gospelizing ourselves so that we begin to reflect in our thoughts, actions, families, churches, mission, and witness the realities which the gospel endeavors to produce in us: conformity to the image of Christ.

Paul helps us to live a life worthy of the gospel in a number of ways:

  1. He reminds us that the gospel is the only way we can deal with our post-conversion sins. Sin is always a struggle, but the gospel shows that God’s grace super abounds over our sin.
  2. We are ordered to have an obedience that accompanies our confession of the gospel. So if the gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus is Lord and Messiah who has died on the cross and been raised for our redemption, reconciliation, and justification, then as a consequence we must offer him the best of our service.
  3. The gospel reminds us that nothing less than God’s honor is at stake in our behavior. What the unbelieving world thinks of God will ultimately depend on what they see us doing and saying. For the sake of God and the gospel, we must cultivate a character, conduct, and virtues that bring honor and glory to our Savior and Lord.