“The Addicting Power of Talking About Yourself (on the internet)”

From The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor by John Piper and D.A. Carson, also at Desiring God.


There is another possibility—in fact, there are several. One is that I do not have “exceptional qualities” to make my story helpful; I may just be stupid to take this approach. Another possibility is that I may be egotistical and vain. The Internet world we live in today is awash in narcissism and vanity, with some people taking their clothes off literally, because exposure gives them a rush, and others doing it spiritually—because the addicting power of talking about yourself where anyone in the world can read it is overpowering.

I put Philippians 2:3 before me regularly with it’s piercing word kenodoxian(vainglory), “Do nothing from rivalry or vainglory (kenodoxian), but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The love of human praise—human glory—is universal and deadly.

Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). You can’t. You can’t believe in the crucified Messiah as your supreme treasure and hero, and then love the exact opposite of what took him to the cross.

Oh God, how I love human praise.  Help me to seek and to delight in your glory!


Review: The Nature of True Virtue

The Nature of True Virtue by Jonathan Edwards

This is the second part of two dissertations, the first being The End for Which God Created the World). The first deals with the glory of God; this deals with what constitutes true virtue. It was written to expose the fallacies of other views of virtue which sought to define it without reference to God, but only to the goodness of man.

He starts with a basic definition: “virtue is the beauty of the qualities and exercises of the heart, or those actions which proceed from them…[or] what that is, which renders any habit, disposition, or exercise of the heart truly beautiful.” His answer to what “virtue most essentially consists in,” sounds strange at first: “true virtue most essentially consists in BENEVOLENCE TO BEING IN GENERAL.” He then develops this to show how since God is the source of all being and has infinitely more being than anything else, virtue must consist mostly in love (benevolence) to Him, and love to fellow creatures.

He explains two types of love. Love of benevolence is “that affection or propensity of the heart to any being, which causes it to incline to its well-being, or disposes it to desire and take pleasure in its happiness.” Love of complacence is “delight in beauty, or complacence in the person or being beloved for his beauty.”

As usual, there is so much to stretch the mind into areas never considered before. Have you ever been happy for God because He is so happy? “A benevolent propensity of heart is exercised, not only in seeking to promote the happiness of the being towards whom it is exercised, but also in rejoicing in his happiness.”

His chapter on “natural conscience” was very thought provoking. Edwards explains how it is that man by nature “approves or disapproves the moral treatment which passes between us and others.” A sobering thought was that “The natural conscience, if well-informed, will approve of true virtue, and will disapprove and condemn the want of it, and opposition to it; and yet without seeing the true beauty in it.” Similar to his reasoning in A Divine and Supernatural Light. His description of the final judgment at the close of this chapter is so helpful in describing the sinfulness of man and the total justice of that final judgment, so that “their consciences will approve the dreadful sentence of the judge against them.”

This is one of the most philosophical of Edwards’s writings. It takes intense thought to follow his reasoning, but I found some of the most delightful meditations on love for God to be the result.

Highly recommended.

Edwards’s Influence on Piper: a new book from DG






Captive to Glory (Free eBook)

Captive to Glory

This book is right up my alley.  Like every single resource from DG, including all of John Piper’s books, it’s free.  Each chapter takes a extended excerpt from one of his other books in which Edwards is extensively and explicitly referenced.  God Is the Gospel gets three chapters, Future Grace gets two, and the rest get one a piece: God’s Passion for His GloryThinkDesiring GodThe Supremacy of God in Preaching, and Let the Nations Be Glad!

At the end are two very good appendices.  Piper Encounters Edwards: A Chronology is a somewhat biographical account of when Piper encountered each of the key Edwards books over the course of his life.  It includes a couple of charts in which Piper lists top ten books in order of their significance and impact on him.  The second appendix, Edwards’s Influence on Piper: a Bibliography, is a bibliography, and how I love bibliographies.

The only thing I  could wish for would be for this book to be in print, maybe later this year… ?

tracking down Moo

I’m a footnote hound.  I read them, and I take note of which notes are referenced most frequently and relied on most heavily.  It didn’t take long in wading through reviews of Gospel and Law to discover that Douglas Moo’s review in the Trinity Journal in 1982 would be particularly helpful in trying to process this book.  The problem?  While there are many scholarly articles and publications available as pdf.s online, this wasn’t to be found anywhere.

I checked out the Trinity Journal website and archives.  Nothing.  I found an email address and sent one off: “where can I find a copy?”

ATLAS, or EBSCO was the answer.

I headed to the library which has an EBSCO search of certain databases.  Unfortunately, my public library doesn’t subscribe to any of the “religious” databases.  So I asked a librarian at the reference desk for help.  She searched around and couldn’t find it either.  Then she said, “I’m a recent graduate of UW-Milwaukee.  Maybe they haven’t cancelled my student privileges yet.”  Lo and behold, they hadn’t, she logged in, searched their EBSCO databases, found the article, and printed it out for me.

It was indeed the most helpful review of any that I’ve read so far.

Moral(s) of the story:  love your librarians, and don’t forget EBSCO.

Review: Gospel and Law – Contrast or Continuum?

The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology by Daniel Fuller

stimulating, provocative… heretical? (it’s complicated)

I finished this book a month ago, and started reading reviews. I was really excited about what I had read; it was indeed “stimulating and provocative,” but all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of controversy: Norman Shepherd, Federal Vision, New Perspective, N.T. Wright, and accusations of “heresy” and “denying the reformation” were flying. The reformed guys, especially Westminster, came out emphatically against it. What a quagmire!

I listened to John Piper sermons: he wrote the blurb on the back of G&L back in 1980 and many of his sermons from the early 80’s echo Fullerisms, but in the early 2000’s he started emphatically teaching the reformation doctrine of Justification, and the imputed righteousness of Christ.  He is quite emphatic at times, and even received some pushback from Fuller himself. I read Jonathan Edwards’s Justification by Faith Alone, who Piper and Fuller both refer to heavily.

Gospel and Law has two main parts: a critique of Dispensationalism takes up 3/4 of the book (and he lumps covenant theology into this critique – they didn’t like that), and the middle 1/4 of the book is a single chapter entitled “Paul’s View of the Law,” that sets forth Fuller’s proposed answer to the hermeneutical problem.

As a critique of dispensationalism, this book is devastating. Fuller cites extensively from original sources: the Scofield Reference Bible, the New SRB, Darby, Chafer, and the (then) modern form in Ryrie and Walvoord. He evaluates its theology in general, its history, and in the last part of the book deals specifically with its view of the Abrahamic Covenant, The Kingdom of God, and the “Parenthesis” Church. He shows with example after example how dispensationalism “compartmentalizes Scripture,” and does so with direct quotes throughout.

The controversy is surrounding his own positive thesis regarding “gospel and law.” Here he makes provocative statements like “law and gospel are one and the same,” (p. 103) and fleshes out his thesis that, “the enjoyment of grace is dependent on faith and good works.” There is a very conspicuous AND there, especially when the doctrine of justification by faith alone is a cherished and essential truth. He seeks to explain, though, “that this conditionality of grace does not therefore open the door to human endeavor in which a man may boast.” Whether he succeeds in this, or whether it is even possible, will determine whether you love it, find it “deeply flawed” or burn it as “heretical.”

For me, this book has had several notable effects. One has been a clearing away of faulty hermeneutics and exposure of how a systems of interpretation (dispensationalism in particular) can clash with what the Biblical data. It has cleared out any last vestiges of “compartmentalization” I may have had. It has confirmed for me that I am much more inclined toward “Biblical Theology” than “Systematic.” I’m not precisely sure yet what my hermeneutic is, but this has confirmed for me even more what it is not: dispensational or covenant. It has caused me to read my Bible with a fresh attention to what it actually says, and a renewed vigilance not to cram texts into a system. It has inspired much fresh thinking about the nature of the law of God, particularly the gracious aspects of it. There are elements of both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants, and this has shone light on some significant continuities.

I personally don’t think I can go all the way with Fuller. He has set up his own false dichotomy: “contrast or continuum?” and emphasized continuity to the exclusion of discontinuity.  This results in extreme statements like “law and gospel are one and the same.” While his view of justification is stimulating, I think in the end there are some serious problems with it, specifically regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and that very looming “AND.”

I recommend this book highly, yet with a serious caveat. It will inspire some very good thinking, but it must be read carefully, and not just swallowed whole. Be prepared for a big study of a big subject if you want to bite this off.

The best review I’ve found so far is Douglas Moo’s, from the Trinity Journal 3, 1982, if you can track it down.

Review: The Works of Jonathan Edwards

Banner of Truth Edition (Vol. 1, Vol. 2)


In Defense of Reading Glasses

First of all, 10 stars for the actual material by Edwards. This review is on the format of the Banner of Truth Works.

I must admit, I was intimidated by the Banner of Truth formatting. They simply reprinted a two volume set from 1834, and it is in size 9 (or smaller?) font, double columns per page, nearly 1,000 pages per volume. In a panel discussion at the Desiring God Conference in 2003 devoted entirely to Jonathan Edwards, all of the participants, including Iain Murray himself, made reference to the small print, and joked that it should come with a magnifying glass included.

I hesitated. My first real reading of Edwards was The End for Which God Created the World, and I had John Piper to hold my hand in reading it. I was so swept along by it that I decided to read “True Virtue” next, but I didn’t have a separate copy. Do I buy it in paperback, or read it in my giant, scary, tiny print Banner of Truth edition? I decided I would try it, and if it was absolutely miserable, at least I tried. Since then, I’ve read “Justification by Faith Alone” in the BoT, and am currently reading BoT’s separate edition of A History of the Work of Redemption – not in the collected works.

All of that is to say that I’ve evaluated the reading experience enough to comment on this particular volume: and I highly recommend it.

Yes, the print is small. I find myself leaning into the page to bring the small print closer to my eyes. This is actually a benefit. Reading Edwards takes effort, and I find that even the physical act of “leaning in” helps my mind to do the same.

One of the huge benefits of the small print is how much can fit on a single page. The ratio is 1:5, so if you have the book open before you, you are looking at 10 pages of a normally printed book. This is so helpful when reading Edwards! Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book explains that the 1st reading (of 3) is the “structural” or “analytic” reading. One of the rules in this type of reading is to “set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole.” (p. 163) Edwards writing is oftentimes very structured, and outlined in the text. I,II,III, a,b,c, 1,2,3, etc. I’ve found that the best way to read him is first to go through and write in the margins all of his “outline markers” so that I can see the structure ahead of time. This makes it so much easier to grasp his flow of thought, and to understand his reasoning. Having the equivalent of 10 pages in front of you at a time allows you to see the big picture in his structure in a way that is almost impossible in a normal book. Flipping through ten pages trying to see the structure of the whole, versus having it all in front of you at once? There is no comparison.

I own The Religious Affections and The Freedom of the Will as separate publications. I will most likely read them in this Banner of Truth format, specifically to better understand the overall structure and flow of his thought.

There are some footnotes included throughout. Some of them are Edwards own notes – read those. Others are the “valuable notes of Dr. Williams.” They are actually pretty distracting and not very valuable. Feel free to skip them.

Volume 1 includes just about all of his major works:

Memoirs (by Sereno Dwight)
Freedom of the Will
The End for Which God Created the World
True Virtue
Original Sin
Religious Affections
Narrative of Surprising Conversions
Thoughts on the Revival
Qualifications for Communion
Reply to Solomon Williams
A History of the Work of Redemption
Justification by Faith Alone
The Excellency of Jesus Christ

Volume 2 includes many sermons, including:

God Glorified in Man’s Dependence
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
A Divine and Supernatural Light
Many of his “Miscellanies”
The Divine Decrees
and many more

This is the best $30 you will spend in your life! Don’t be afraid of the small print 🙂