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The Role of Preaching in Reformed Theology

The Role of Preaching in Reformed Theology

Over at Theologia, one of the best kept secrets in the Reformed world, Duane Garner wrote a piece in 2003 where he elaborated on the place of preaching in the service. It is a well worth read. It will place preaching in its proper place and show its place in the totality of the worship service. Garner writes:

Today, the great majority of Reformed preaching is not too far from the basic Puritan model. The entire Lord’s Day gathering in many Reformed churches is driven by and centered around the sermon, which is ordinarily marked by its academic language, arcane theology and tedious delivery [12]. This present reality is a world away from Calvin’s original intent when he endeavored to place the preaching of the Word back in its proper place in worship.
Calvin wrote, “No assembly of the Church should be held without the word being preached, prayers being offered, the Lord’s supper administered and alms given” [13], indicating that the weekly meeting should be a balanced celebration of Word and Sacrament. Calvin did not intend to obliterate the mass, but simply to rid it of those things which were distractions and not helpful to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Throughout his time in Strasbourg and Geneva, he appealed to the patristic pattern of worship and sought to present Communion every single Lord’s day [14]. Such was the importance of proper liturgy to Calvin. He desired to have truly “Word-centered” worship by not simply preaching the Word, but obeying the Word in renewing covenant and eating with the Lord every week.

Read the entire article here.

NANC no more? The Future of Nouthetic Counseling

NANC no more? The Future of Nouthetic Counseling

In my earlier years (the cage stage, as one wise author puts it), I supported the NCN, which stands for No Counseling Necessary. Why don’t people just get their act together and get on with it? My senior year in high-school was filled with empty zeal. I was zealous about many things, but knew little of anything.

In college as I pursued my degree in Pastoral Studies I noticed a strange bunch of people pursuing a degree in counseling. They did not look particularly different from anyone else in the school, but their vocabulary was foreign to me. I would often hear of Rogerian and Jungian methods. These were considered distinct from the truly Christian view referred to as Nouthetic Counseling. NANC, as it is known, was founded by Dr. Jay Adams. My father was reading Jay Adams early on in his pastoral career. There were Portuguese copies of Adams’ books on my father’s shelf. When he came to the United States, the university he attended was fully engaged in the NANC world bringing Dr. Adams to speak numerous times.

I attended a small Christian college. The school was essentially a mini-version of Bob Jones University. The counseling professors, though committed to Baptist theology, were quite fond of Jay Adams, a Presbyterian. a I don’t know what attracted them to Adams, but I have my suspicions. Adams’ straightforward, no non-sense style was certainly an attractive picture.

I have the deepest respect for Jay Adams. I have called him on numerous occasions to help me with specific counseling issues. I remember his advice being very helpful. The caricature of Adams, however, is certainly not a pleasant one. As I have said many times, Adams can be extremely helpful, but put him in the hands of a theologically illiterate pastor or parishioner and he can be dangerous; almost abusive. This may be in itself a problem with the system, and I have argued to many that Nouthetic Counseling is not the end all of Christian counseling.

Adams’ labors continues on through the Institute of Nouthetic Studies. Donn Arms seems to have taken on the role of continuing to provide Jay Adams’ titanic labors (over 100 books and hundreds of lectures) to a new technological audience.

Recently, however, I discovered that there is turmoil in the camp. The debate centers around whether the word “nouthetic” should continue to be used. The NANC board had originally asserted that the change to the term “biblical” instead of “nouthetic” would be more reflective of the diversity within NANC. And they also affirmed that the change is not meant as a repudiation of Jay Adams’ teaching. At this stage, Donn Arms, noting that NANC is no longer what it once was when it started in 1975 said that he would favor the change. If NANC is headed where he sees it heading then the name change is necessary. He elaborated on how NANC has changed over the years:

The orthodox doctrine of progressive sanctification, a cornerstone of nouthetic counseling, is no longer essential. Many NANC members have replaced it with a doctrine commonly labeled as Gospel Sanctification which teaches that loving Christ and contemplating all that He has done for us on the cross is sufficient for our sanctification.

NANC membership now includes counselors who are members of churches in charismatic and liberal denominations.

NANC has held “On the Road” training conferences in charismatic churches.

The training requirement for NANC certification has become insignificant. Several years ago John Street, the NANC president speaking at a Shepherd’s Conference, taught that pastors should require a minimumof 115 hours of training before allowing people to counsel in their churches. Yet all NANC now requires is attendance at three weekends of classes or a one week conference.

The NANC board gave $30,000 to help establish a coalition of biblical counselors whose stated goal is to “foster collaborative relationships” among all who call themselves biblical counselors.

Donn Arms sees a wide split in the NANC movement. He is a purist when it comes to NANC’s original intent, and to see these “compromises” take place in the name of NANC seems disingenuous.

But to strengthen Arms’ resolve, the NANC board further explained why using “nouthetic” is not helpful:

First, the word nouthetic is a perfectly good Greek word, which most people simply do not understand.  Most of us in NANC spend more time explaining the meaning of a Greek word than we intend to when we mention the name of our organization. Once people understand the meaning of the term it does not help us that much.  The term means “to confront or admonish,” and this only describes a narrow slice of the kind of counseling endorsed by NANC.  Of course biblical counselors admonish people in their sin, but at NANC we also encourage our counselors to comfort the fainthearted, help the weak, pray, encourage, instruct, take care of their physical bodies, and 101 other things the Bible says to do.  In its precise meaning the word nouthetic is a truncated expression of the many and varied counseling styles that God communicates in Scripture.

Donn Arms responded to each line. b But the question of the future of NANC remains. Will NANC and its forefathers, Wayne Mack and Jay Adams, lose their footing in the movement they started or will a new generation of counselors take that vision in a new direction?

  1. I asked Adams this question when I interviewed him – download information forthcoming for the interview  (back)
  2. You can read the response here: http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=6220  (back)
The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving

There is a fundamental truth in the Bible that must not escape us: giving is a God-given gift. God delights in giving. He gives apples and guava; bread and wine. Everything comes from His hands. John said a person can receive only what is given to them from heaven (Jn. 3:27). Just as the truth of our salvation is of heavenly origin, the gift of everything is from heaven also. Life is good, but life is only delicious when we accept and affirm that God is the giver of all good things. Give thanks always and when always is not enough, give thanks some more. Find excuses to give thanks. Find work breaks for thanksgiving. Sing with thanksgiving and sing about thanksgiving. It is a Christian gift. This is what it means to be imitators of God: not simply that we mimic the Creator, but that we give Him thanks for allowing us to imitate Him.

There is nothing more profound than giving. Jesus gave His life for us because it was better for Him to give than to receive. Jesus set an example of giving; greater love hath no man than the One who lays His life for another. Giving is what sets us apart as Christians. Why do we give? We give because we desire to be like our Lord. When do we give? As often as the sun rises. We are to give of our gifts, our resources, our homes, and ultimately, our lives.

Jesus, who came in human flesh, gave up His heavenly home to give up His earthly body. He abandoned glory to embrace a gory tree.

Paul speaks of esteeming others better than ourselves. This is a form of giving; giving up. This is the remarkable contrast between the first Adam and the last Adam. The first Adam took, the second Adam gave. The first Adam took glory for himself, the last Adam gave from his glory. The first Adam took for himself, the last Adam gave of himself.

Giving is a cultivated gift. For some giving is easier than others. For others giving has not been pursued. But we are called and created to be givers. Just as God gave form to a formless world, in our giving we give form to formless humanity. Giving is a form of restoring broken humanity. It is better to give than to receive, because in giving we receive.

A wonderful example of this is illustrated in this three minute video:

The Sacraments are for the Hurting

The Sacraments are for the Hurting

The Sacraments are for the hurting. And if you consider how it is structured you understand that a bit better. Why do we eat first and then drink after? Because the world goes from bread to wine; from suffering to glory. The bread is broken for us because Christ suffered for us. His body was broken; and in that brokenness he sympathizes with our weakness. He knows the depths of human sorrow like no other God.

I met someone this week who is dying, but now has to deal with a wife who is also at the point of death. His words to me were: “What kind of man would I be at this stage in my life if I did not trust in God?” “ A miserable man,” I answered. We eat bread because our lives are at times broken apart through pain and suffering. Bread reminds us of that brokenness. It reminds us that Christ was broken that we might be one.

After bread comes the wine; the wine, which throughout the Bible is God’s symbol of joy. Judges says that wine “gladdens the heart of God and man.” Wine reminds us that after suffering comes laughter; after pain comes peace. And so we pass the peace of Christ to one another reminding and re-enforcing the idea that Christ is our peace.

Bread and wine are here given for the people of God: eat and drink for in Christ we are one in suffering and joy.

The Significance of Image-Bearing

The Significance of Image-Bearing

I am preparing for an interview with Jason Hood on his excellent book: “Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern.” It’s a gem. Here are two samples:

Many Christians do not ponder their status as the likeness of God. For many evangelicals, the only significance of image-bearing is that murder and abortion are wrong. They have lost sight of the dignity God gave their work when he made it (after a fashion) his own work and enabled our thoughts and deeds to reflect his own. As a result, it is very easy to accept God’s love for us on a spiritual level and ignore God’s involvement and delight in everyday life, laughing or lovemaking. Many Christians do not believe that their activities—whether parenting or preaching, pastoring or partying—are important, that they have been done “in him” (Acts 17:28) and that God enjoys them.

Jesus came to share our clay and restore our royalty. He is the human who brings humanity back to God and the world back to humanity.

Hood, Jason B. (2013-03-07). Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern (Kindle Locations 771-772). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Trinity Talk Update

Trinity Talk Update

There is resurrection coming! It has been almost a year since Trinity Talk produced a new interview. My schedule has picked up quite a bit at church and Trinity Talk became secondary in my priority list. But with the new format, I will be able to produce more interviews with world class scholars on a host of issues. My time is precious and in order for me to dedicate time outside of my regular work schedule it will have to be financially worth my time. Here is the potential downside for some: each interview will cost $0.49. Yes, half a dollar to download a well-edited interview with world class scholars and authors.

What is coming? On my list I have interviews on Christian Counseling with Dr. Chuck DeGroat, Eschatology with Dr. Joel McDurmon, and Theology of Imitation with Dr. Jason Hood. It also appears that I have just secured an interview with Andy Crouch on his new book. Stay tuned!

What Controls Your Mind?

What Controls Your Mind?

What is it that controls your mind at this stage in life? This is a question I often ask of people. I ask you now as we stand at this remarkable stage in history; the point where we are about to transition into sacred worship: what is it that controls your mind at this moment? Are you still suffering from that comment someone made to you a year ago? Are you self-consciously being controlled by the opinion of others? Do you see yourself stifled by continual introspection and doubt? If so, you are not alone. We have all felt this way before, and perhaps we feel this way now. But remember that this is not what God has in store for you this morning as you gather with God’s people. God wants to be the answer to all your questions. He wants to be the beginning and the end of your journey.

If what controls your mind is guilt and shame, then you are at the right place. I Peter says that we are to cast our cares on him. Confession is a form of casting our cares, even worldly cares on him. When you confess your sins this morning corporately and individually, confess your fear of what others think of you and be reminded that this is where God re-orients your affections and fears.

Worship does all these things: it shapes and structures your thinking in a way that nothing else will. Worship is our way of saying to the world that what God says matters. In fact, it matters more than anything else. Worship is a prayer; a genuine prayer for God to be our all in all. Let us prepare our hearts for worship.

Prayer: Most merciful Father, we have indulged in sinful desires and we have acted in fear. We have made you too small and man too big. Help us to orient our hearts as we confess our sins and as we rise to sing your praises. We pray that you will answer us according to the promises you have made through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Prayer on 9/11

Prayer on 9/11

Prayer from the Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod

Lover of the human race, kind heavenly Father, on this anniversary of the tragedy that befell our nation 12 years ago, we pause under Your embrace to remember.

We remember those whose lives were lost that fateful day.

We remember the compassion and courage of our first responders.

We remember the families that were torn apart, never to be united again in this fallen age.

We remember all who ministered to broken hearts and sought to bring them Your comfort.

We remember the way our nation changed that day.

And as we remember, we beg Your mercy on all who carry wounds of heart, body or mind.

We ask Your mercy on all who continue to serve in our armed forces, strengthening and upholding them in every good deed.

We ask Your mercy upon all our first responders who so frequently put themselves in harm’s way to protect us.

We ask Your mercy for our public servants that they be given wisdom as they continue the struggle against terror and violence in our world.

We ask Your mercy also on those who meant us harm, begging You to give them the gift of repentance, changed hearts and new minds.

And we ask all these things in the name of Him who knew in His own body the pain inflicted by unreasoning hatred and religious violence, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose love triumphs over all, whose forgiveness holds us fast, and who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Addiction of the Heart

The Addiction of the Heart

Over the years theologians have allowed specialists to handle the matters of the heart. Theologians deal with nobler issues leaving the matters of the heart to the Rogerians and Freudians. But this is how we have allowed secularism to win the day. We have allowed pop-psychology to offer answers to the questions of the heart. The Bible is left at a place of minimal use to be pulled at a wedding or funeral.

The area of human addiction is one of those areas. The porn addict, the one who abuses alcohol or drugs, and other types of addictions are defined as diseases. These diseases are outside of the expertise of the theologian and left to those of specialized clinical or psychological fields. Here again the biblical thinker is left out of the conversation. It’s not as if there is nothing to learn from the scientific community, but the reality is that the scientific and psychological community are certain that they have nothing to learn from us.

The matter of addiction, I propose, is one of those topics. If addiction is primarily an issue of the heart, then there is more to the discussion. People engage in addictive practices for all sorts of reasons, but the reason addiction exists is because false worship exists. Human nature, marred by sin, offers a life of contradictions. He/she may consider life through the lens of order and peace, but sin considers life through the lens of disharmony. The theologian/pastor has a distinct duty to bring people to see this contradiction and how to re-orient their minds.

The question has to do with human nature; the addiction of the heart. Addiction is disoriented worship. Sheer will-power will not do in such cases. Those engaged in such practices need immediate assistance in the community. One of the signs of an addict is the inability to enjoy normal life pleasures. Suddenly the common duties of day-to-day become burdensome and characteristically painful. The addict is engaged in a world that he has created. The world of the addict is a confined space. Usually he is unwilling to seek help due to the loss of privacy that it would entail.

Young man are especially prone to isolation. Isolation is usually a strong sign of an addict. Isolation is the antithesis of health. Another indication of an addictive heart is choosing new friends. The addict isolates himself from a safe community and enters into a community where accountability is minimal. a Parents need to be well aware of these changes in friendships. Though they may be harmless, addicts easily change loyalty to maintain their habits.

Finally, and this comes as no surprise to the theologian, the addiction of the heart is an addiction to other gods. Addiction leads to an explicit rejection of the commandments of God and the worship of God. When individuals begin to slowly divorce themselves from the life of the body of Christ it is time to reach out and take action. Pastors should not allow parishioners to make a habit of absence from worship. When someone has been deeply engaged in particular addictions for a long period of time it is because they have not experienced any form of intervention. Community in this sense becomes necessary to avoid such outcome.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the addict’s only hope. God’s people become the means of grace for those seeking refuge in other gods. The sacraments become even more meaningful to those who suffer under the weight of unending temptations. In bread and wine, men and women can rest and partake of the goodness of One who suffered and experienced temptations of every kind. The addict’s hope must be in Jesus. If he seeks any other savior the addiction of the heart will lead to death.

  1. The Psalmist deals with this in the first psalm  (back)
Are there Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

Are there Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

This is a very helpful 30-minute round-table discussion on the grounds for divorce. Churches have failed in this area by encouraging further abuse instead of protecting the victim. Pastors/Counselors need to watch this as they deal with these matters in the Church. The covenant of marriage presupposes basic human rights. This discussion highlights the nature of God and how that ought to shape our view of marriage. This is a topic worthy of the Church’s attention.