Worth a Look 8.21.14

Aug 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Healing for a Broken World: Christian Perspectives on Public Policy by Steve Monsma. $2.99.

Monsma lays a foundation of biblical principles that should undergird all our political involvement. Three principles are key: justice, solidarity, and civil society.

Thabiti Anyabwile – Why We Never “Wait for All the Facts” Before We Speak:

My brother pastor thinks that by speaking before we “have all the facts” we’re putting the gospel on the line. I think by not speaking about about the facts we do have and the patterns of injustice affecting the marginalized we’ve already abandoned the gospel and what it demands of us.

You decide.

Shaunti Feldhaun – Restoring Our Faith in Marriage:

I have seen in the research what every marriage counselor knows intimately: divorce isn’t the greatest threat to marriage. Discouragement is. A sense of “why bother” is. And for too long, our confidence in marriage has been undermined by persistent misunderstandings and damaging myths.

The president of the World Jewish Congress asks, “Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?”

The Jewish people understand all too well what can happen when the world is silent. This campaign of death must be stopped.

5 Statements on the Apostle Paul’s “Tombstone:”

In Acts 20, we get a glimpse into what Paul would have wanted on his tombstone. Paul gives a farewell speech to some of his closest friends, and summarizes his entire philosophy of life. I’d like to be able to have these five statements be the funeral sermon at the end of my life.

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When Your Father Tells You To Walk: Engaging the Sanctification Debate Through the Lens of Adoption

Aug 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

23snaps-First-StepsEvangelicals have been engaged in a contentious conversation about the nature of sanctification and what role God’s Law has in shaping our spirituality as we become more like Christ.

On the one hand are those who believe the way we grow in holiness is by allowing the Law is to drive us to our knees, show us our continual need for a Savior, so that we renounce all works of self-justification and rest fully in Jesus. This process takes place over time; the wonder of being justified becomes the motivation for obedience. 

On the other hand are those who believe growth in holiness includes grace-driven effort. In light of Christ’s finished work on our behalf, we pursue holiness, heed the moral exhortations in Scripture, and seek progress in our obedience. One purpose of the Law is to lead us to renounce our self-sufficiency, but another purpose is to show us what the Spirit-empowered life looks like, a life God expects us to live.

Sometimes, both these perspectives collide in the life of one person.

From the Law-Centered Life…

Consider the woman who grew up in a legalistic environment. It seemed like all she heard was the law, often disconnected from the gospel. The Christian life was reduced to a checklist, a series of do’s and don’ts.

In church, she learned that the gospel is the good news of God’s grace, but the law is “where it’s at.” To put it another way: “Yes, of course, we are saved by grace, but…

That “but” is deadly. It sucks the life out of our Christianity because it shifts the emphasis away from Christ’s redeeming work and points toward whatever good works we’re supposed to be doing. Christ’s good work for us gets taken for granted and our good work for Christ gets the spotlight. This is disastrous for the Christian life, as many have discovered personally.

To the Gospel-Centered Life

In reaction to the moralistic, rules-centered Christianity, this woman runs to the great truths of the gospel (what Christ has done) and skips by the New Testament’s commands (what we are to do now, in light of what Christ has done).

She thinks: As long as I preach the good news of Christ’s unmerited favor to myself, good deeds will naturally occur. There’s no need to stress what God expects of me as a believer; the key to growth in Christianity is to return again and again to my need for God’s grace, and then bask in the beauty of His justifying work through Jesus.

Over time, however, she begins to have doubts about this strategy. Some biblical texts don’t fit this paradigm. Who is right? she wonders.

The Freedom of Belonging

It’s here that we need to remember what it means to be adopted into Christ’s family.

God is your Father. You belong to His family because of Jesus’ work on your behalf. He tells you that He is making you in the image of Your Savior-Brother who gave Himself for you.

Now imagine that whenever He says to do something, He whispers to you, There will be times you will fail, but I want you to know, you are part of this family. The good news is your Brother has stood in your place, and as you marvel at His sacrifice, your gratitude and love for Me will increase.

There’s a beautiful freedom at work here, a reminder that one’s status as a family member isn’t dependent on one’s own work. You’re there by grace.

And yet, it’s possible for a person to internalize this gospel truth in a way that is constraining rather than freeing. If this is all we ever hear our Father say, we might begin to see the good news of Christ’s work as a ball and chain that reminds us only of our frailty and fallenness, instead of the gospel freeing us for obedience.

The Freedom of “You Can Do It, Son!”

Let’s change the conversation around. Your Father comes to you and issues a command: Love your enemies.

Well aware of your ongoing struggles, you reply, “I don’t think I can.”

He smiles and says: Your Brother has loved His enemies perfectly in your place, but I see you are becoming more like Him. So I say, “love your enemies.”

You look up to your Father: ”You think I can do this?”

He nods: My Spirit is in you. Of course I do.

Suddenly, the seemingly impossible command of God is not constraining but freeing. ”My Father calls me to obey! He thinks I can do it!”

This is no longer a command that drives you to your knees in repentance; it’s a command that surges through your veins and fires you up.

Imagine a baby just learning to walk. The Father doesn’t say, “You’re going to stumble, so I’ll just let your Brother walk for you.” No, your loving Father says, with a gleam in His eyes, “I know you can do it!” And like a jolt of electricity in your toddling legs, you look up at your Father, you see your big Brother walking, and you gather up your courage and totter forward, amazed you are moving.

Imagine the boy on the soccer field whose Father is on the sidelines, saying, “Take a shot, son!” Knowing you have His love no matter what, even if your shot misses, you risk it all and aim for the goal. Your Father believes in you.

Freedom to Obey

Legalism is an ever-present danger to the Christian life. If we view God only as our Judge, we will never understand how God’s commands, how the Bible’s imperatives, could be anything but condemnatory toward us.

But if we see God through the eyes of adoption, as a loving Father who in His grace now calls us to obedience, then we are freed by the commands of love.

So, on we go. We stumble forward in grace, knowing if we fall, we can run to Him for forgiveness, and when we succeed we can run to Him with gratitude. We belong to His family, no matter what.

Sometimes, the most loving thing a Father can say is, “Get up and walk.”

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Worth a Look 8.20.14

Aug 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Political Thought: A Student’s Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition) by Hunter Baker. $0.99.

Award-winning professor Hunter Baker helps political amateurs gain a foundational understanding of the subject and encourages seasoned political observers to find a fresh perspective in this book. Learn how to fruitfully consider and discuss politics, and gain a greater capacity for evaluating political proposals and the claims that go with them.

D. A. Carson – What Are Gospel Issues?

Not only do we not agree on what things are gospel issues, I suspect that sometimes we do not agree on what “gospel issue” means. The following reflections provide the merest introduction to some of the factors that strike me as relevant…

Matt Chandler – More on Ferguson and White Privilege:

What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias. A privileged person’s heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege.

This is amazing. Airplanes dodge thunderstorms over world’s busiest airport:

Last Friday, a thunderstorm in Atlanta wreaked havoc on the comings and goings at an airport that sees more than a quarter of a million people pass through its gates each day. Watch this timelapse of the hours during the storm as the incoming planes were maneuvered by the air traffic controllers around thunder clouds like characters in an old video game until they can sneak through the storm and safely land. Incredible…

J. A. Medders – Wisdom is a “Who” More Than a “What”

Jesus is Wisdom. He is the Proverbs wrapped in flesh. They are animated and fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

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Is Sanctification a Process or a Position?

Aug 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

SanctificationIs sanctification the “process” of being made holy?

Or is it a term that refers to our position as belonging to God?

That’s the question at the heart of David Peterson’s Possessed by Goda book I summarized yesterday. (Start there to get the gist of Peterson’s proposal.)

Today, I want to follow up with some thoughts on how Peterson’s book plays out in day-to-day ministry.

What Is Sanctification: A Process or Position?

Possessed by God is a good contribution to the ongoing discussion on the nature of sanctification and the pastoral wisdom of knowing where to put the emphasis when discipling believers.

Peterson admits that sanctification can be conceived of as a process, but he argues that the New Testament emphasis (building on Old Testament examples) is on sanctification as a position, a status bestowed on us at conversion. He warns against focusing more on the process than the position because such an approach can actually work against the progress that a believer wants to experience.

In surveying the sanctification debates, it appears that some Christians focus on the motivations for growth in holiness and seek to measure the progress that takes place in this life, while other Christians believe one should focus more on the definitive aspect of our sanctification that comes with salvation, believing this emphasis will motivate us to live out the identity that has been bestowed upon us in Christ.

What Do You Emphasize?

When pressed, pastors and scholars on all sides of this conversation generally affirm the statements and teachings of others. The difference lies in where the accent should be placed and the potential consequences of getting the emphasis wrong. Peterson is squarely on the side of emphasizing the definite nature of our being consecrated, set apart for God as his people.

The strength of Peterson’s work is his ability to engage various biblical texts without ever losing sight of their wider context. In fact, it is an appeal to context that leads him to disagree with J. C. Ryle’s interpretation of Hebrews 12:14 (a verse that says “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”). Peterson and Ryle are not far from each other, but Peterson’s approach sees holiness as an expression of our “once-for-all” sanctification and Ryle sees holiness more as “proof” of our salvation.

At the risk of oversimplification, we might put it this way: Peterson believes stressing the positional aspect will lead to the expression of the progressive aspect, whereas Ryle believes stressing the progressive aspect will lead to evidence of the positional.

Or to look at it from the other side: wrongly emphasizing the progressive will lead to an obscurity of the positional and to doubts of salvation (according to Peterson), whereas wrongly emphasizing the positional will lead to apathy and lack of incentive to faithfully pursue a holy life (according to Ryle).

In pitting Ryle and Peterson against each other, I do not want to give the impression that their differences are quite as stark as presented here; neither is it true that Peterson uses Ryle as his primary foil (he engages with a number of scholars, both living and dead). But I find it helpful to simplify the discussion as a way of facilitating further conversation among pastors and counselors who genuinely want to see people growing in holiness and yet disagree as to the best way to biblically motivate them to obedience.

Concluding Thoughts

The strength of Peterson’s proposal is his reliance on eschatological categories and the doctrine of our union with Christ. It is refreshing to see the sanctification debate placed in the wider context of eschatological realities, a move that incorporates the outlook of various New Testament passages (including, but not limited to Romans 6-8) and also keeps us firmly in the soil of the biblical narrative and worldview, not in the miry debates between systematic theologians through the years.

Peterson’s work is careful and nuanced, making him a needed voice in the conversation about how Christians grow in obedience.

Anyone interested in the ongoing (sometimes heated) discussions about sanctification should consult Possessed by God. He ably incorporates biblical exegesis, systematic insights, and historical analysis into his study, such that the reader comes away with a greater appreciation for God’s work in justifying and sanctifying us in the past, and a stronger desire to manifest God’s work in our obedience in the present.

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Worth a Look 8.19.14

Aug 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper. $1.99.

We all want to experience liberating, love-producing, risk-taking satisfaction in God. But the reality is that we often struggle to find, and hold onto, true and lasting joy—even when we have embraced the good news of God’s grace. So we face a crucial question: What should I do when I don’t desire God?

John Perkins on what made Ferguson escalate so quickly:

In Ferguson, I know it was a tragedy that happened and a tragedy in the reaction. And we as Christians have to take some responsibility for that hostility and affirm the love God has for all people. We don’t want to be hostile but exemplary, not angry but affirming.

Thabiti Anyabwile’s one fear of moving back to America:

So I’m watching Ferguson and I’m thinking about Titus. And I’m thinking about the long list of African-American men shot to death for no good reason. And I’m mad as hell. And I’m scared to death. For my son. For me. For the possibility that my son could witness this happen to me.

Whose Lie Is It Anyway? Americans Aren’t Honest about Church Attendance:

Americans like the idea of church attendance much more than they actually like attending church. But they don’t want you to know that.

4 Features of a Healthy Mentoring Relationship:

What does it look like for a pastor to mentor a seminarian that isn’t on his church staff? What kind of man should those early in their ministry look for? As one who has been fortunate to have great mentors, I’d like to suggest four features of a healthy mentoring relationship.

The Iron Curtain is Now a 7000 mile Bike Trail:

For more than 40 years, the Iron Curtain partitioned Europe, but now, nearly a quarter of a century after the symbolic division disappeared, it is being remembered and revived as a cycle path called the Iron Curtain Trail.

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Christians Are Holy and Wholly Possessed By God

Aug 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

9780830826018Debates about sanctification are common within evangelical circles. Why? Because the Bible does not present us with a systematic analysis of sanctification and its many facets, but speaks of sanctification within the broader storyline of Scripture, of creation to new creation, of the new birth to final consummation, and of the individual’s progression to becoming a glorious reflection of Jesus Christ.

David Peterson’s contribution to the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series (edited by D. A. Carson), Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Intervarsity Press, 1995), tackles some of the most pressing issues related to sanctification by doing a thorough examination of relevant New Testament passages.

Today, I want to summarize Peterson’s book. Tomorrow, I’ll offer some reflections.

What is “Definitive Sanctification?”

In the introduction, Peterson lays out the various perspectives on sanctification and the debates that have ebbed and flowed over the centuries, discussions related to progression in holiness. He lays out his view this way:

“…definitive sanctification is a more important theme in the New Testament than has generally been acknowledged. Rightly understood, this doctrine is a key to holy living and a way through the impasse created by much previous debate. God calls us and enables us in Christ to live as those possessed by God and empowered by his Holy Spirit” (14).

To make his case, Peterson begins with the Old Testament, focusing on God’s holiness: his singularity, his moral purity and perfection, which is to be characterized by the consecration of his people in relation to himself.

“With regard to God’s people, holiness means being set apart for a relationship with the Holy One, to display his character in every sphere of life” (24).

The New Testament builds on this understanding and prioritizes the definitive nature of being set apart for God.

Although theologians often speak of sanctification as a process of transformation following conversion, Peterson argues that the New Testament primarily speaks of sanctification as “God’s way of taking possession of us in Christ, setting us apart to belong to him and to fulfill his purpose for us” (27). He does not deny that sanctification has ongoing effects, but claims the stress of the New Testament writers is on the definitive aspect – the status we are given by God as “saints.”

Four Implications of New Testament Sanctification

From the New Testament, Peterson finds four practical implications:

  1. Our identity is our being possessed by God “and expressing that distinctive and exclusive relationship by the way we live.”
  2. Our standing before God is given to us through grace and is not dependent on the degree of our progress in meeting his expectations.
  3. We must see ourselves as God sees us in Christ.
  4. We should have patience with other believers as being “already sanctified” in Christ Jesus even if they are struggling with sin (47-49).

Peterson bolsters his case for definitive sanctification by showing how the New Testament usually connects “holiness” to a Christian’s initiation into the called-out, set apart community of faith. One cannot separate sanctification from redemption and conversion, as if it is a subsequent process or (in John Wesley’s view) a process-crisis-process pattern.

What About Pursuing Holiness?

What does the New Testament’s emphasis on definitive sanctification mean for the individual believer who is pursuing holiness? Peterson appreciates J. C. Ryle’s work on holiness, but worries that it could create a “graded form of progress” which spawns unrealistic expectations and leaves Christians in doubt about their final state before God.

In Peterson’s view, an unbalanced focus on progressive sanctification misses the New Testament’s primary method of motivating us to holiness: emphasizing our justification and sanctification by faith in Christ (70). To provide a needed corrective, he works through New Testament epistles, encouraging us to take seriously the Scriptural warnings about neglecting holy living, and urging us to keep our attention from shifting from God’s grace to human effort (91).

The key to understanding the relationship between sanctification and the other aspects of salvation is found in eschatology. “Moral renewal proceeds from our union with Christ in his death and resurrection” (95), he writes, before launching into a lengthy examination of the Romans 6-8 passage’s teaching on sanctification.

“Those who belong to the new age are liberated through Christ, but are not yet entirely free from the old age” (96).

We have died to sin

  • in a judicial sense (Christ died on the cross for us),
  • a baptismal sense (we identify with Christ’s death),
  • a moral sense (we walk as resurrected people),
  • and a literal sense (we will be united with him in resurrection) (96-98).

Living as sanctified people in the world that is passing away should inform our behavior: we struggle in a fallen world and yet live with confidence in God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

Sanctification and the Other “-tions”

In the final chapter, Peterson examines the relationship between sanctification and glorification, adoption, and regeneration.

We should not see sanctification primarily as a process that follows justification, but as “another way of describing what it means to be converted or brought to God in Christ and kept in that relationship” (136).

Other terms (renewal, transformation, growth) are used in the New Testament to express the reality of “progressive sanctification,” not the word sanctify. We are called to live out the implications of our sanctification by pursuing holiness as a lifestyle. The picture of what progress entails is not given to us in detail, and therefore, we should avoid simplistic steps of progress in growth and holiness.


I want to offer a few thoughts about Peterson’s proposal and the strengths and weaknesses of his view on sanctification.

But for now, what do you think of Peterson’s view of “definitive sanctification?

Pastorally, do you tend to focus more on sanctification as “making progress in holiness” or on the definitive sense Peterson lays out here?

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Worth a Look 8.18.14

Aug 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians: Pushing Back Against Cultural and Religious Critics by Mark Coppenger. $2.99.

Mark Coppenger mixes compelling references—from classic philosophers to modern entertainers—to reasonably push back against both harsh critics and less intense cultural relativists, contending that Christianity is morally superior to its competitors as well as true.

The Atrophy of the Evangelical Imagination:

Rather than seeing literature as narrative and entering the story, evangelicals tend to see all literature as prescription, either friendly to Christianity or counter to it. This is a failure of worldview, to be sure, but primarily it is a failure of imagination, a misunderstanding of what art and fiction really are.

Mike Harland – 5 Ways to Demotivate a Team:

There are obviously more ways to demotivate, but these are the BIG FIVE. This really will impact your effectiveness in leading people. Pay attention to how you are doing with these.

ISIS – A Living Nightmare for Iraqi Christians:

There is inconsistent information out of Qaraqosh, once known as Iraq’s Christian capital, but since ISIS captured the town on August 4, it can only be imagined that its Christians have already fled—or will soon. But who are these Christians? And how did we get to this point?

Derwin Gray – Ferguson, and Why We Need More Multi-Ethnic Churches:

So are we just going to scream “racism” and “injustice” from behind our segregated church walls or are we going to start building multi-ethnic communities that embody what God’s desire is for the world to be? I choose to build. How about you?

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Lord, Help Us Understand The Times

Aug 17, 2014 | Trevin Wax

613vc4UmQjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_High King of heaven,
Lord of the years and sovereign over time and history,
grant to us such an overpowering knowledge of who You are
that our trust in You may be unshakable.

Grant to us too a sufficient understanding
of the signs of the times in which we live
that we may know how
to serve Your purposes in our generation
and more truly be Your people in our world today.

To that end, O Lord, revive us again
and draw us closer to Yourself and to each other.

Where there is false contentment with our present condition,
sow in us a holy restlessness.

Where there is discouragement,
grant us fresh hearts.

Where there is despair,
be our hope again.

For Your sake
empower us to be Your salt and light in the world,
and thus Your force for the true human flourishing of Your shalom.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.

- Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times

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Proclaim The Gospel, Not Your Own Thoughts

Aug 16, 2014 | Trevin Wax

sunlight-in-your-homeCharles Spurgeon:

Brothers and sisters, if you have learned the truth of God, manifest it and make it plain to others!

Proclaim the gospel, not your own thoughts, for it is Christ whom you are to make manifest! Teach not your own judgments, conclusions, and opinions, but the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

Let Jesus manifest Himself in His own light. Do not cast a light on Him or attempt to show the sun with a candle. Do not aim at converting people to your views, but let the light shine for itself and work its own way. Do not color it by being like a painted window to it, but let the clear white light shine through you that others may behold your Lord.

Scatter your light in all unselfishness. Wish to shine, not that others may say, “How bright he is,” but that they, getting the light, may rejoice in the Source form which it came to you and to them.

Be willing to to make every sacrifice to spread this light that you have received! Consecrate your entire being to making known among the sons of men the glory of Christ.

- Charles Spurgeon, from “The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ”

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Karen Swallow Prior

Aug 15, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Karen Swallow PriorName: Karen Swallow Prior

Why you’ve heard of her: Prior is a contributing writer at Christianity Today, The Atlantic, and Think Christian, and has been published in numerous other print and online magazines.

Position: Prior is an English professor at Liberty University. Along with her popular writing, she has also contributed articles to scholarly journals. Prior also serves as a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, on the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States, and on the Board of Trustees of Faith and Action in Washington D.C.

Previous: Before coming to Liberty in 1999, Prior was a principal at a Christian high school in New York.

Education: She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. at the State University of New York at Buffalo and her B.A. at Daemen College.

Books: Her books include Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More – Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist and a literary and spiritual memoir, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.

Why she’s important: Prior says her primary calling is teaching, and she has been recognized and honored frequently by Liberty. Her Twitter handle (@LoveLifeLitGod) comes from her desire that each of her students leaves class loving life, literature, and God more than when they started.

In addition to serving as an academic, Prior speaks about cultural topics from a Christian perspective in a wide variety of venues. She is carving out a place as a respected public intellectual and is doing so as a committed believer. Writing on topics ranging from Common Core to birth control on sites both religious and secular, Prior has worked to demonstrate the necessity of taking every thought captive to Christ.

Along with her passion for teaching and gift of writing, she and her husband are active at Rivermont Avenue Baptist in Lynchburg, VA, where they serve as deacons.

Notable Quotes:

“The greatest gift of marriage is the formation that occurs through the give and take of living in lifelong communion with another.”

“We must not try to remedy injustice with error.”

“Literature is like the cleft of a rock that God has taken me to, a place from which I can experience as much of the glory of God as I can endure. Great literature allows me, like Moses, to see the back of God.”

“What good literature can do and does do—far greater than any importation of morality—is touch the human soul.”

“Self-esteem is the dark, distorted shadow of self-possession. Self-esteem gazes inward and wills the inner eye to like what it sees; self-possession looks inward only long enough to take a measure then looks outward at the world in search of a fitting place—and settles for no less.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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