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Posts Tagged ‘book

Joy at the End of the Tether

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tetherWilson, Douglas. Joy at the End of the Tether. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999.

This book is a conversational walk through the book of Ecclesiastes. Douglas Wilson helped me to see for the first time the depth of wisdom and truth in Ecclesiastes. It is not exaggeration to say that Wilson has revolutionized my understanding of Ecclesiastes.

Previously I saw Ecclesiastes as portraying a world of emptiness and hopelessness, with an occasional disjointed glimmer of hope that there was some escape from the wasteland. But Wilson shows, conclusively I think, that Ecclesiastes is a unified whole. The world is full of vain repetition. But the message is not that we should become ascetics, forsaking the vain repetition of the world, for to do so rightly we would have to go out of the world! The message, rather, is that we should walk in faith, receive our lot as a gift from God, with appropriate joy and gratefulness. To the one who walks in unbelief, the vain repetition of this life brings nothing but despair. But to the one who walks in faith, trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness, even the vain repetition of this life is a gift from God to be enjoyed.

This book has been tremendously helpful in encouraging me to walk in faith through difficulty and even tedium, challenging me to cultivate real gratefulness rather than a worldly gritty perseverance. This is part of faith’s growing in seeing all of life as being before the face of God (coram Deo).

I recommend this book very highly.

I’ve also encountered John Reisinger’s series titled “Thoughts on the Book of Ecclesiastes”. I don’t know much about Reisinger, nor have I yet done more than skim these articles. But Reisinger references Kaiser frequently, who was also one of Wilson’s primary sources. I’m retaining links to these articles for my reference; I don’t know yet whether I can recommend them: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 28, 2005 at 7:12 am

Baby Wise

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babywiseEzzo, Gary. On Becoming Baby Wise. Hawks Flight & Association, 2001.

Of all the decisions new parents make, perhaps the most controversial is the style of care and feeding to use. There are a lot of competing ideas out there, some of which are strongly opposed to one another, although at times it seems they have more in common than folks are willing to admit. The two ideas that you will most often encounter are demand feeding and schedule feeding.

We have used schedule feeding for our children, and are very happy with the results. We have no experience with demand feeding, though I have heard cogent criticism of it. There is also criticism of schedule feeding, though I think much of it misses the point. Schedule feeding is not blindly clock-driven, but appropriately moderates regularity in service of the baby’s needs. Much of the underlying difference between the two methods is the question of whether babies are autonomous and able to accurately judge their needs; or whether babies are under the authority of parents who are able to wisely balance their child’s felt needs and desires with their child’s actual needs, the family’s needs, and the goal of developing good habits. Schedule feeding is the method that is presented in Baby Wise.

Some caution is needed in approaching Baby Wise. Ezzo frames schedule feeding as the only proper way to parent, which I think is an overstatement. Feeding style is an important decision that has broad influence, including even character development. But it is nonetheless a matter of personal preference, not a matter of religious importance.

Baby Wise has a lot of ideas to digest. We found three points to be of central importance:

  • No snack/pacify feeding. This generally means to feed on a schedule, but with some flexibility.
  • Follow a pattern of feed, wake, sleep. Avoid letting feeding becoming a crutch for sleeping.
  • Establish a fairly consistent morning feeding time.

There are three corollaries that we also found helpful:

  • It’s ok for a baby to cry, provided their diaper is clean and it’s not time to eat.
  • This approach requires significant discipline, patience, and consistency on the parents’ part. In particular, the father should be committed to leading, encouraging, and helping through this.
  • It does not matter whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. We only have experience with bottle feeding, but we know families that have successfully used these methods when breastfeeding. The main challenge with breastfeeding is that it’s more difficult to know how much food the baby is receiving.

While using these principles, all of our children slept through the night by about 12 weeks, and as babies were always at least 80th percentile in weight. Even more importantly, they have been generally sweet and submissive. While we cannot know how much of this is due to schedule feeding, this is what we practice and recommend.

Lisa has also read and recommends Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, whose approach is similar to the above.

Written by Scott Moonen

April 23, 2005 at 9:40 am

Posted in Books, Parenting

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Holy Trinity

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holy-trinityLetham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2005.

This is an outstanding book. Letham begins with an overview of the Biblical doctrine of the trinity. He then describes the historical development of the doctrine of the trinity from the early church to the present, covering both the orthodox and heterodox. The book closes with an excellent overview of how the trinity ought to inform our life and worship.

While the entire book is very good, this closing section is the best part. Christianity is inescapably trinitarian: God’s nature is fundamentally triune, and His relation to man, through creation, revelation, salvation and glorification, is an unavoidable expression of His triunity. Yet so often our life and worship is practically unitarian. Letham wants to see the church recover an essential trinitarian life and worship, and this God-glorifying focus is very refreshing. Letham develops how this appropriate focus on the trinity will have vital practical outworking in our salvation, sanctification, worship, prayer, evangelism, and sacrificial love for fellow believers with whom we are united to Jesus.

Letham encourages us to see the trinity as expressed through all of reality, and to enjoy unity in diversity and diversity in unity. This contrasts on the one hand with postmodernism’s diversity without unity, and on the other hand Islam’s unity without diversity. Only Trinitarianism can understand a reality that is both united and diverse. (This echoes Van Til’s apologetic emphasis on the problem of the one and the many, to which only Trinitarian Christianity has an answer.)

It seems to me that an appropriate focus on the gospel must result in an appropriate understanding and focus on the trinity. Even more clearly than in creation, the gospel showcases both the unified and diverse act of God in saving us. Each person of the trinity plays a distinct role in our salvation, but the unity of God’s purpose and action in saving us is also clear.

Following are several quotes that struck me while reading this book:

Quoting Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Holy Baptism:

This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unity, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.

On the filioque and Jesus’ eternal submission (but not subordination) to the Father (p. 401), reminding us that God is who He has objectively revealed Himself to be:

The economic Trinity is a reliable gauge of the immanent trinity, owing to the faithfulness of God [emphasis mine]. [Quoting Jurgen Moltmann], “One cannot say, therefore, that something holds true in God’s revelation, but not in God’s being.”

Quoting Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church:

The dogma of the Holy Trinity is not only a doctrinal form, but a loving Christian experience which is constantly developing; it is a fact of the Christian life. For life in Christ unites with the Holy Trinity, gives a knowledge of the Father’s love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is no truly Christian life, apart from knowledge of the Trinity; this is abundantly witnessed in Christian literature.

Written by Scott Moonen

April 11, 2005 at 4:39 pm

Biblical Theology

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biblical-theologyVos, Geerhardus. Biblical Theology. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1996.

In this book Vos presents an expansive summary of Biblical theology. In this case, Biblical theology is a technical term that means the study of the history of theological development in Scripture. Biblical theology as a discipline seeks to understand what Israel understood about God throughout Biblical history, and what God was intending to teach Israel as He progressively revealed himself to them.

Vos is reformed, and he presents a compelling view not simply of a sovereign and glorious Creator and Redeemer, but of a Creator who has had one plan for all of history. Vos demonstrates the continuity of God’s revelation and covenants, showing how each progressive stage fits into God’s revealed eternal plan. I had never seen this demonstrated so powerfully before; this was very encouraging for me to read.

In particular, I was struck by Vos’s presentation of God’s law. Vos reminds us that God has always intended to save by grace alone, and that even in the Old Testament it was not obedience to the law that brought salvation, but rather obedience filled with faith in a God of grace. In Romans Paul discusses his pre-conversion understanding of God’s law. Forgetting Paul’s reminder that Abraham was saved by faith, not works, I sometimes think that Paul’s legalistic pre-conversion understanding of the law was right! But Vos reminds us that law and grace are not at odds; that the law is good and gracious; and that as much as we are now freed from bondage to the law, God never intended to save by anything other than grace.

I understand that Vos had not fully completed this book by the time of his death, and so his treatment of the New Testament is somewhat less extensive than his treatment of the Old Testament. But this book is still a tremendously valuable survey of God’s self-revelation and dealings with man throughout scripture.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 24, 2005 at 1:44 pm

Love of God

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love-of-godCarson, D. A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.

Carson presents a brief and beautiful affirmation both of God’s transcendent sovereignty, but also the genuineness of God’s love as an affection, both to the elect in particular but also to mankind in general.

Often we tend to force God into convenient little boxes and categories, forgetting that He is far above and beyond our understanding. We know that the doctrines of grace guard against universalism; Carson shows that we must also have a full understanding of God’s love, guarding against the hypercalvinist tendency to see the world exclusively through the lens of God’s decrees.

I recommend this book very highly.

Quotes

For my own purposes I’ve kept an outline and some quotes of this book:

Chapter 1, On Distorting the Love of God

Why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult:

  1. Love is the least doubted of God’s attributes, but often understood in an un-Biblical light. Christians must understand and present it rightly.
  2. So many other attributes (justice, holiness, …) of God are disbelieved today. Christians must understand and rightly present how God’s love relates to his other attributes.
  3. Postmodernism emphasizes a sentimental, syncretistic God. This presents a particular challenge to those representing a Biblical understanding of God’s love.
  4. Within confessional Christianity, how do we understand God’s love relating to evil in the world? How do we understand God’s love relating to his justice?
  5. Christians tend to over-simplify God’s love compared to the Bible’s portrayal.

Five distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God (not exclusive):

  1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (p. 16).
  2. God’s providential love over all that he has made (p. 16).
  3. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world (p. 17). Comments on sense of “world” in John 3:16.
  4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect (p. 18).
  5. Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way — conditioned, that is, on obedience (p. 19). Comments on “remaining in God’s love”, and on texts expressing conditional aspects of God’s love.

Three preliminary observations

  1. If we absolutize any one of these ways of understanding God’s love, we will lose sight of vital aspects of God’s character (p. 21). “In short, we need all of what Scripture says on this subject, or the doctrinal and pastoral ramifications will prove disastrous.” (23)
    1. Intra-Trinitarian love -> lose redemption
    2. Providential love -> lose God’s personality
    3. Common grace love -> lose force and power of saving grace
    4. Salvific love -> lose common grace love
    5. Conditional love -> fall into merit legalism
  2. God’s love is unified, not compartmentalized. All of God’s attributes stand in relation to one another.
  3. Many evangelical cliches about God’s love are true in some sense, but not generally true. “It is pastorally important to know what passages and themes to apply to which people at any given time.” (24)

“Christian faithfulness entails our responsibility to grow in our grasp of what it means to confess that God is love.” (24)

Chapter 2, God is Love

Carson argues against the consideration of agape as a mere willed altruism.

He is concerned that we not argue from God’s impassibility to his lacking emotion. Quoting Charles Hodge:

Love of necessity involves feeling, and if there be no feeling in God, there can be no love. . . . We must adhere to the truth in its Scriptural form, or we lose it altogether. We must believe that God is love in the sense in which that word comes home to every human heart. The Scriptures do not mock us when they say, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him (Ps. 103:13).” (29)

Carson is concerned that we not pursue “methodologically flawed word studies”, but rather pay attention to context, and broad themese of redemptive history.

Chapter 3, God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty

  1. God’s love has an affective element.
    • 1 Cor 13 — it is possible to have incredible altruism and be without love. agape is not merely “willed commitment to the other’s good”.
    • Hosea 11 speaks in very emotionally intense terms about God’s love and devotion for Israel.
    • God is not relenting per se; the judgment+exile will still come. But it will end.
    • Emotional expressions common in prophets. God is jealous, abounding in lovingkindness.
    • God grieves, rejoices, has intense wrath, pities, and loves with an everlasting love.
    • Our love to be modeled after God’s (1 John 4:7-11).
    • God is in some sense impassable, “without … passions” (WCF). But this does not mean that God is without emotion. Rather, God is unchangeable, not given to mood swings, nor dependent on his creatures.
  2. God is sovereign and transcendent.
    1. God is utterly sovereign (omnipotent and omniscient, over people and things) and transcendent.
    2. God’s sovereignty extends to election — of the nation of Israel, of God’s people, and individuals.
      • Acts speaks unashamedly of those “appointed to eternal life”.
      • Election extends even to angels (1 Tim 5:21), so is not limited to salvation.
      • God’s electing love is immutable; he will lose none of those he has saved.
    3. Christians are not fatalists.
      • We do not sacrifice either God’s sovereignty or our responsibility — compatibilism.
      • Both are affirmed, so fatalism is denied. We do not understand how they reconcile.
      • Though man intends evil, God is always at work through men’s actions for his good purpose.
      • Compatibilism is necessary, otherwise 1) the cross is an accident, or 2) there is no responsibility for sin, and no need for atonement.
    4. God is immutable, unchangeable. Ps 102:27, Mal 3:6, Isa 46:8-11, Ps 33:11
      • “God’s immutability . . . engenders stability and elicits worship.” (54)
      • God “is unchanging in his being, purposes, and perfections. But this does not mean he cannot interact with his image-bearers in their time. . . . Even the most superficial reading of Scripture discloses God to be a personal Being who interacts with us. None of this is meant to be ruled out by immutability.” (55)
    5. God’s sovereignty is under attack both by process theologians and open theists.
      • What of God’s repenting and relenting? “God relents over a step he has already taken . . . what he has said he would do or even started doing, sometimes in response to the prayer of an intercessor.”
      • The key is not an internal change in God, but an external change in what God is doing.
      • Still a mystery here how our responsibility and actions relate to God’s sovereignty.
      • We can somewhat imagine God’s sovereignty by extrapolating authority and power, and by thinking of transcendence apophatically.
      • God’s being personal is hard to understand because he never grows in his knowledge of us.
      • But it is clearly taught in scripture, and most clearly revealed in the person of Jesus.
      • Neither God’s personhood nor his sovereign transcendence must be elevated to the exclusion of the other (open theism vs. hypercalvinism).
  3. God’s impassibility is a personal, loving, emotional impassibility.
    • What space is left for emotions in a sovereign, transcendent, all-knowing God?
    • God “knows the end from the beginning, cannot be surprised, and remains in charge of the whole thing anyway.”
    • Cannot deny God’s emotions. Much biblical evidence to the contrary, and this leaves us “[resting] in God’s sovereignty, but . . . no longer [rejoicing] in his love.” His love is not an anthropopathism. “Give me a break. Paul did not pray that his readers might be able to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of an anthropopathism and know this anthropopathism that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:14-21).” (59)
    • Must not insist on impassable immanent Trinity but economic Trinity that is able to suffer.
    • Must not divorce God as he is in himself from God as he interacts with creation.
    • But impassibility is “trying to ward off the kind of sentimentalizing view of the love of God and of other emotions (‘passions’) in God that ultimately make him a souped-up human being but no more” (60). Not deny God’s sovereignty, power, authority, aseity, infinitude.
    • God’s love is real but exists in relation to his knowledge, power, will, justice, holiness.
    • So his emotion does not make him vulnerable to external contingency. But at the same time his will and power are never exercised independent of his love.
    • “God’s ‘passions’, unlike ours, do not flare up out of control. . ., are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections.” (60)
    • So God’s love is different from ours, but no less a real emotion.
    • Guards various truths. God doesn’t ‘fall in love’ with us, but sets his affections on us. He doesn’t predestine us capriciously, but in love.
    • God’s love is always exercised in concert with all his attributes; and it is dependent on his loving character, not our loveliness. This, then, is a model for Christian love.

Chapter 4, God’s Love and God’s Wrath

With a sentimental view of God’s love, people assume that God is bound to forgive sin.

  1. God’s love and wrath
    1. God is often represented in violent, judicious, angry, wrathful ways. Like love, wrath includes an emotional aspect, and this cannot be denied even for the sake of impassibility.
      • Wrath is a product of holiness and sin, not a first-class attribute of God.
      • To depersonalize God’s wrath is to diminish his holiness.
      • To distinguish economic-trinity wrath from immanent-trinity wrath is to limit God’s holiness to dealings with man.
    2. Reconciling God’s love and wrath
      • God hates the sin. It is true hate is not his only posture to the sinner, but God’s hatred and wrath do rest on both sin (Rom 1:18ff) and sinner (John 3:36).
      • Human experience separates love and wrath.
      • But “God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love . . . wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God” (69).
    3. Misconceptions
      1. OT more about God’s wrath, NT more about his love. Perhaps main reason for this is that manifestation of God’s wrath in OT is more temporal, in NT more eternal. OT manifests both love and wrath in “experience and types”, and both become “clearer” and “ratcheted up” in NT. Both God’s love and wrath are perfectly manifested in the cross. “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross” (70-71).
      2. Father full of wrath, Jesus mollifies him. Some truth to this; Hebrews’ picture of Jesus as constantly interceding high priest. 1 John 2:2 — Jesus as advocate.
      3. Yet God loved the world (Jn 3:16). “Here it is not that God is reluctant while his Son wins him over; rather, it is God himself who sends his son. Thus (to return to Hebrews), even if our great high priest intercedes for us and pleads his own blood on our behalf, we must never think of this as an independent action that the Father somehow did not know about or reluctantly approved” (72). Picture is complex. Father and son both full of wrath, and both loving us so much that they sent/came.
      4. Revelation speaks of the “wrath of the Lamb”; full Godhead “is both the subject and the object of propitiation” (72)
  2. The Love of God and the Intent of the Atonement
    • Limited atonement -> definite atonement. God’s intent for the cross was different for the elect than for the non-elect. Much scripture speaks of the specificity of Jesus’s saving work for his people. But Arminians cite texts indicating God’s love for the world, and it is stilted in many places to read “the world” in a limited fashion. This hearkens back to ch. 1 — neither of these understandings of God’s love (towards elect, non-elect) should be absolutized.
    • “Surely it is best not to introduce disjunctions where God himself has not introduced them. If one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, then both sets of texts are accommodated” (76).
    • Has observed a gradual shift in categories of debate from Calvin forward that moves from conjunction to disjunction.
    • “God is a person. Surely it is unsurprising if the love that characterizes him as a person is manifest in a variety of ways toward other persons. But it is always love, for all that.” (77)
    • Unlimited effectiveness allows us to preach the gospel to all, extend invitation to all, assure all of God’s love.
    • Particular extent gives us pastoral assurance, since the ground of our salvation and our perseverance is not in ourselves.
  3. God loves the world in a compassionate way; we are to have this sort of love for the world. We are not to love the things of the world, nor desire to be like the world (1 John 2:15-17).
  4. Concluding thoughts
    1. God loves us as a parent, disciplines us as a parent. This means that we are responsible in some sense to “love him and keep his commandments”. While his saving love and ultimate disposition to us are unconditional, there is some conditional sense in his face toward us.
    2. “The love of God is not merely to be analyzed, understood, and adopted into holistic categories of integrated theological thought. It is to be received, to be absorbed, to be felt” (80-81). Eph 3:14-21
    3. God’s love is sufficiently powerful to save and transform anyone. Our love toward others should be full of hope in the power of grace.

Back to original 5 categories:

  1. God’s intra-Trinitarian love “ensures the plan of redemption” (82).
  2. God’s providential love cares for us and preserves us even when wrath would destroy us.
  3. God’s inviting love “compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:14-15)
  4. God’s elective love gently draws us to him, opens our eyes, and secures our salvation.
  5. God’s fatherly love sanctifies us and preserves us, helping us to grow in obedience and holiness.

Our response is to love God with all our being!

Written by Scott Moonen

February 1, 2005 at 5:23 am

The Puritans

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puritansLloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987.

These are a series of lectures Lloyd-Jones delivered at the Puritan Studies and Westminster Conferences. This was my first encounter with Lloyd-Jones, and I enjoyed it very much.

The burdens of Lloyd-Jones that stand out in my memory are:

  1. The stark difference between revival and revivalism, and a need to appeal to God to bring true revival.
  2. The need to avoid dead academic intellectualism in our study of the Puritans and our pursuit of God.
  3. The importance of full-bodied faith as opposed to mere intellectual assent to propositions.
  4. The role of the Holy Spirit in empowering, encouraging, and assuring believers, and the need to earnestly desire that.
  5. The need to break down barriers between Christians that are over unimportant matters (while upholding and defending those matters that are of vital importance).
  6. The need for continued fresh analysis and application of God’s word, rather than unthinking adherence to tradition and habit.
  7. The importance of ”application” in preaching.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 25, 2004 at 6:37 am