Monday, June 30, 2008

Preaching for Consistency

Yesterday, by God's grace, I was able to begin our summer series of sermons from the book of James. I've titled this series 'A Call to Consistency.' I figure that's about as close as I can get to a base theme that unites all the different emphases in James. Doug Moo refers to it as 'spiritual wholeness.'

The first message in the series introduced the book of James (author, date, recipients), and then dove into the letter's introduction from 1:1-18. The title of the message was 'Steadfast Joy in Suffering.' If you like, you can download it here or listen to it directly from the flash player below.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Egalitarian or Complementarian: How to Decide?

Both the complementarian and the egalitarian positions ultimately must stand or fall based on their interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Both sides agree that male and female were created alike, with the same human nature, both created in the image of God with equal dignity and value; but was it God’s intention for there to be distinction in role or was it not?

One basic rule for the interpretation of Scripture that is adopted by the majority of evangelicals is that Scripture must be allowed to interpret Scripture. In other words, where an issue is dealt with in obscure places and then again in clearer places, we must allow the clearer revelation to interpret the less clear. Also, it is standard hermeneutical practice among evangelicals to allow the newer revelation to give clarity to the older (since Christ is the mystery proclaimed in the OT, but revealed in the NT, which has implications for everything!).

This issue is a good place to employ this helpful rule. While scholars may debate the validity of seeing a distinction in role in Genesis 1-2, the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has already given us a clear and authoritative interpretation. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Paul argues that women must not teach or have authority over a man in the local church, and he cites Genesis 1-2 as his rationale: “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Lest we think this was an appeal only relevant in a particular situation in a particular local body of believers, Paul uses the same logic again, in 1 Corinthians 11. In this passage he argues that within the kingdom of those redeemed in Christ (therefore, among those spoken of in Gal. 3:28), “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband”. His defence of this position is drawn from the same text in Genesis, and he says “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” To these passages must be added Ephesians 5:22-33. In this glorious text, the apostle looks back at the “profound mystery” of two becoming one flesh, which is spoken of in Genesis and says that the original human marriage is patterned after the loving authority-submission relationship of Christ and his bride, which God had purposed to establish from before the creation of the world.

In these decisive passages, where Scripture interprets itself, we are able to see clearly that it was God’s intention for there to be a distinction in role, including a loving authority-submission structure within marriage, and therefore within the local church. Many other details of many other arguments from both sides could and should be examined where time and space allow, but here it suffices for us to know that the testimony of Scripture is on the side of the complementarians. Throughout the Bible, from creation on, through the fall and ultimately through redemption, God has testified that he has a plan for male and female, equally created in his image, equal in essence and value, yet distinct in their roles in the home and in the church.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

For the Kerux...

When I saw this I just had to...

This Week's Fighter Verse

I've been re-impressed over the last few weeks in particular by how important it is to be memorizing Scripture. Our Fighter Verse programme at Grace Fellowship Church has been a huge help to me in my own walk. This week's verse is one each of us would do really well to memorize as we seek to live other-worldly in a culture of materialism, that finds life, joy, peace, and security in credit cards and chequing accounts.

Here's our Fighter Verse for this week. You should memorize it too:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'
-- Hebrews 13:5-6

The Gender-Issue Landscape

Seeing as how I've been giving some really broad, yet really brief overviews of theological positions this week (dangerous at the best of times, but necessary just about always), I thought I'd continue with that pattern but on a different issue.

So, we approach again the gender debate. Are women free to take any office in the NT church, or are they restricted by their gender? Are men more valuable than women? Did God create men & women with difference in roles, or is that result of sin or some construct of society? Does redemption in Christ undo gender distinctions? These are just some of the numerous questions involved in the gender issue.

Despite how some argue, there are only two positions on the issue of women in ministry in the local church: one is either a complementarian or an egalitarian. This is so because it must be decided, Is being a woman (just having this gender) a disqualifying factor at some point for some positions of ministry or is it not? Regardless of where one draws the line, as soon as a line is drawn, one becomes a complementarian at some level. What follows is a brief sketch of both the egalitarian and complementarian arguments.

  1. Egalitarians

  2. Egalitarians argue for created equality. Adam and Eve were created as equals, both alike in the image of God; there was absolutely no distinction between them other than gender. They have functional equality as well, both given responsibility to rule of the creation. As a result of the fall, however, human relationships have been subjected to disorder and falsely established and wrongly motivated hierarchy. Sin introduced disorder into God’s creation, and the result of the curse of God was that man would “rule over” woman, but woman would “desire” man (Genesis 3:16). The perceived supremacy of male over female in relationships, in the world at large and throughout history is a result of the fall and the resulting disorder. However, now that we are in Christ, and because of the redemption that he has accomplished, “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This means that the relationship of equality in essence, function, and relationship has been completely restored. Differences have been obliterated and females, like males, are encouraged to pursue all areas of ministry in the local church.

  3. Complementarians

  4. Complementarians, just like egalitarians believe that Adam and Ever were alike created in the image of God, and that both are of absolute equal value. Complementarians, however, see a distinction in role between male and female, even in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. This is shown in several ways: Adam was created first, then Eve; Adam was given the command and the primary responsibility for the care of the garden; Eve was created to be Adam’s helper; and, the fact that Adam was the one to name Eve. That there was a distinction and overall distinction greater than that admitted by egalitarians is demonstrated by the apostle Paul’s use of the Genesis texts in places like 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. For the complementarian, the fallen disruption of God’s created design is perceived differently. Where there was loving leadership and glad-hearted submission before, Adam’s desire is to “rule” (that is, by force of power, not lovingly) over Eve, while Eve’s desire is “against” (that is, with evil intent, to subvert and rule over—see Gen. 4:7) Adam. Complementarians argue that there is true role restoration in the redemption that Christ accomplishes, but it is not of the nature envisioned by the egalitarians. Rather, it is a reestablishment of the loving headship-submission relationship of Adam and Eve, which was designed to prefigure the relationship of Christ with his bride (Ephesians 5:22-33). That this is a restoration of the relationship as it was in Eden is evinced by 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's Important to Canadians?

A recent Angus Reid study has revealed some interesting (even if not surprising) things about what Canadians value. Here are a few highlights.

96 per cent of respondents say having enough free time to do what they want is very important or moderately important to them. Achieving career success (89%), volunteering (74%) and having children (72%) are also high on the scale of accomplishments.
Following their religious beliefs (46%), being wealthy (53%) and tying the knot (55%) are not valued as highly by Canadians across the nation.
More men (58%) than women (53%) view marriage as an important part of life.
What to make of this? There are lots of things that could be said, but I'll leave it at this for now: There is a profound irony here.

The trendy emergent crowd says that evangelicals are out of touch, fighting yesterday's battles about things like marriage, feminism, and other family issues. Yet, these seem to be the very areas where our culture needs to be challenged and corrected.

The ironic twist is completed when we notice that most of the excitement in the emerging crowd is directed to issues like social justice (with a high emphasis on volunteering), not being a religious zealot, and fighting against the drive to be rich. Yet, none of these seem to be out of line with what secular people in Canada already think.

While the conservative evangelicals are accused of being out of touch, the hip emerging crowd preaches what the culture wants to hear--and what they already believe. Why would we expect anything else?
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.

The Blame Game

This summer, while our pastor is on sabbatical, I'll be preaching (God willing) through the book of James. This week I'm studying to preach James 1:1-18. Today, over at the Desiring God blog, they've got a great application of James 1:13-15.

I heartily recommend you check out this post: '12 Sins We Blame on Others'

Here are the 12 sins they list:

  1. Anger
  2. Impatience
  3. Lust
  4. Anxiety
  5. Spiritual Apathy
  6. Insubordination
  7. A Critical Spirit
  8. Bitterness
  9. Gluttony
  10. Gossip
  11. Self-Pity
  12. Selfishness
Blaming others is an easy way to justify self in attempts to remove shame and guilt without even realizing it. May God give us grace to see our sin and accept our sin for what it is... and then flee to the cross!

Biblical Support for Penal Substitution

As promised yesterday, here is what amounts to a super-brief (again) presentation of the biblical support for penal substitution. Despite what the critics will posit, it's not new, it's not western, it's not because of Augustine, and it's not even modern; penal substitution is biblical.

We'll borrow our definition of 'penal substitution' from Wayne Grudem (579):

Christ's death was 'penal' in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a 'substitution' in that he was a substitute for us when he died.
The biblical support for penal substitution is so prevalent throughout the storyline of redemptive-history that it is hard to express with concision. Our approach will be to sketch a few examples of the foreshadowing of Christ’s penal substitutionary work from the OT, and then examine the corroborating evidence from the NT.

The penal substitution of Christ is foreshadowed at least as early as Genesis 22. In this story Abraham is called to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. When Abraham demonstrates his faith in God by preparing to offer his own sin, God intervenes—surprisingly and miraculously—by providing a substitute; a ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac, so that he could live. Again, in the miraculous redemptive work of God in saving Israel from their captivity in Egypt, penal substitution is prefigured. On the night of the Passover, the people are to slaughter a spotless lamb (just enough for each household). During the night, the Destroyer would come to take the lives of all the firstborn sons in the land. Only those who were in the homes where the lamb had been slaughtered were preserved; the lamb had died in place of the son. The book of Leviticus (chs. 4-7 indicate specifically the nature of the cultic rites) teaches that where sin has occurred, whether intentional or not, a death must result. Here it is made clear that an animal had to die in place of the human who had sinned, and therefore deserved death. The prophetic writings reflect back to the Israelites the nature of that law, as well as looking forward to the coming of Christ, which is why Isaiah 52-53 portrays the penal substitutionary work of Christ perhaps more clearly than anywhere else in the OT. There it is put bluntly and undeniably: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The NT evidence is no less scarce. In fact, one approach to displaying the NT evidence is by a simple study of the preposition huper (ὑπερ). It has been argued that huper has a simple meaning of “for one’s benefit.” When studied in individual passages, however, it has been demonstrated that there is a much stronger meaning contained in the word, which may be explained as “for one’s benefit, by being in one’s place.” This stronger meaning is evinced in the following passages. In John 10:11, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. The very nature of the metaphor requires the stronger meaning. Similarly, in Galatians 3:13 we are told that Christ redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. This simply cannot mean only “for our benefit”; in this instance it is clear that he becomes the curse in our place, that we might benefit. Again, 1 Peter 3:18 states that the righteous one suffered for the unrighteous, which clearly indicates that we receive the benefit only by having a substitute. Aside from the meaning of huper, a plain reading of passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 (where Christ was “made to be sin” on our behalf) and 1 Peter 2:24 (where Christ “bore our sins in his body”) militate against any argument that penal substitution is unbiblical or unnecessary.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vanity 'Wordle'ing

I thought it would be interesting to wordle my blog... I wordled the archives for each year. The top is 2005, moving along to the bottom, which is 2008 (so far). It's interesting to note the progression of themes. I like that the things that are consistent, however, are the things I hope to major on in my thoughts and writings.

Some Objections to Penal Substitution

In keeping with our theme of atonement from yesterday, I thought I'd outline some of the more common objections to penal substitution offered in contemporary 'evangelical' literature. Again, these are very brief descriptions of the arguments, but they are simply intended to familiarize us with what is being said by self-proclaimed evangelicals today.

God willing, we'll examine some of the arguments for penal substitution tomorrow, but for now, here are some of the most common contemporary objections to it:

  1. Penal Substitution and Divine Love

  2. Those who hold to this objection argue that God is love (1 John 4:8), and his expression of his character in Christ is ultimately love. With this schema in place, seeing God as wrathful and punitive is clearly out of character, and therefore wrong. The God who would demand penal substitution is a God of vengeance, it is argued, not a God of love. The justice of the God of the Bible is in line with his love and is therefore corrective and remedial rather than wrathful or punitive.

  3. Penal Substitution and Divine Justice

  4. Here it is argued, in connection with the above argument that we have misunderstood divine justice. God’s justice must be interpreted in light of his love. The notion that there is guilt which must be punished is western and modern in its origin, and is far from biblical. God’s justice must be viewed as remedial. Our guilt is better viewed in terms of shame, rather than guilt, and once that is understood we will see that there is no need for a penal substitute to satisfy the wrath of God. Like God’s justice, it is argued that his wrath must be redefined in non-western terms. Rather than an angry response to sin, God’s wrath is seen merely in the natural consequences for sin.

  5. Penal substitution and the Trinity

  6. Here it is argued that penal substitution betrays a wrong understanding of the Trinity. Since, in penal substitution, God the Father would be turned against God the Son (which, it is assumed, could never happen), then penal substitution must therefore be wrong. Any pitting of the persons of the Trinity against each other must be wrong, and therefore penal substitution is jettisoned.

  7. Penal Substitution and Violence

  8. Here it is argued that the notion of God requiring a violent atonement for the sake of forgiving offences and propitiating wrath is entirely distasteful at best, and could well be construed as condoning violence in human relationships as well. For example, it is often argued in contemporary feminist literature that penal substitutionary atonement theories only encourage the abuse of women and children who are innocent, but told they must bear the wrath of their fathers and “bear up” and suffer like Christ. This, they argue, is a far cry from biblical Christianity, and is a reason to deny penal substitution.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On Momming, part 2

My brother (over at his newly up-and-running blog) has a rather comical (and incredibly geeky) version of my 'on momming' post. You can read it here.

Maybe it's just funnier for me because I can actually envision the whole thing. Or maybe I can just envision it because it could very well have been a description of life in my house instead of his!

The Atoning Work of Christ

It is a charge often brought against those who hold to penal substitution that we miss the dynamic presentation of the atoning work of Christ through Scriptures. In other words, if you hold to penal substitution, you miss the many ways that the Bible speaks about the atonement.

I've had some opportunity lately to think through the atonement, and I believe that this charge is patently untrue. As one who holds firmly to the notion that penal substitution is at the root of all benefits that come to us through the cross of Christ (biblically and historically), I still am able to see that the picture of Jesus' cross-work is not monolithic.

In an effort to flesh this out, and show that this charge is incorrect, here is a super-brief examination of six facets of the biblical presentation of the atonement aside from penal substitution.

  1. Sacrifice

  2. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of sacrifice, not all of which carry notions of penal substitution. The concept of Christ as “the Sacrifice of God” picks up on these sacrifices and proclaims Jesus to be the ultimate antitype. Examples would include Noah’s post-flood sacrifice, the averted sacrifice of Isaac, the various prescribed sacrifices in the Old Testament law, and many others. Christ as the antitype of the sacrifice theme in the Old Testament is picked up clearly by John the Baptist, who proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36; all Scripture quotations from the esv). This theme is developed most prominently in the book of Hebrews, particularly in chapters 5-9. In chapter 9, Christ is seen to be the antitype of all the “bulls and goats” as he accomplishes salvation as a sacrifice for his people, in the eternal holy place (vv. 11-27). As Hebrews 9:26 sums up, Christ came “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

  3. Redemption

  4. Redemption is another theme which runs through storyline of salvation-history. God’s people are, at various points, seen to be slaves or captives who must have their freedom purchased at a price. So, the Israelites needed to be redeemed from slavery in Egypt, then the laws for the redemption of individual slaves are established through the Torah, and then finally, when Judah is in exile in Babylon, God must accomplish her redemption to bring her home. This theme is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, through whose work we see that the redemption price must ultimately be paid to God, not to any human oppressor. It is God who is offended by our sin, and therefore, the price of redemption must be paid to him. Hebrews 9 draws out the fulfilment of this theme, saying that the “blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (v. 14) is what has secured our “eternal redemption” (v. 12). Through his death, Christ has inaugurated the new covenant, in which his people may receive the “promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them” from their transgressions (v. 15). The basic idea of redemption is that the world is in bondage to sin and Satan (1 John 5:19), but Christ came to offer his life as a redemptive ransom (Mark 10:45).

  5. Propitiation

  6. Interestingly, Romans 3:24-25 links the redemption accomplished in Christ with the propitiatory nature of his sacrifice. Propitiation carries the notion of God’s righteous wrath against sin being fully borne out on another. In the context of Romans 3, then, as Paul has said (vv. 5-6), God is indeed righteous to inflict wrath on us and the condemnation of all is justly deserved (vv. 8, 19, 23). In fact, it was for the very purpose of displaying his righteousness that God showed himself to be both just and the justifier of the ungodly when he put forward Christ Jesus “as a propitiation by his blood” (vv. 25-26). God’s propitiation of his wrath against sin and sinners in the atoning death of Christ Jesus, then, is intrinsically tied up with the display of his justice and righteousness, as he declares the guilty innocent; the wrath they deserved was justly poured out on the substitute. Hebrews 2:17 declares that Jesus’ had to be entirely human in every respect so that he could justly become the propitiation for the sins of humans. 1 John 4:10 also states that the love of God is shown in this: that Christ was sent to become the propitiation for our sins.

  7. Reconciliation

  8. There are three aspects to reconciliation. First, there must be a present relationship of estrangement / alienation / hostility between persons. Second, an intervention must be made to remove the basis of the estrangement. The third stage is a renewed relationship of peace, love, and acceptance between those formerly estranged persons. The biblical doctrine of reconciliation begins with the understanding that we have sinned against God, and that he is the alienated party. That is why Paul can plead with sinners to be reconciled with God (2 Cor 5:20). The reconciliation that takes place is accomplished by God, in Christ, who initiates reconciliation, even though he was the offended party (2 Cor 5:18-19).

  9. Christus Victor

  10. The doctrine of Christus Victor states that Christ’s work (death—resurrection—ascension) indicates that he has taken on death, sin, and Satan, and has emerged from the battle as a victorious conqueror. It is based on texts such as Colossians 2:15 and Hebrews 2:14-15, which state that Christ has destroyed the one who has the power of death and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to slavery; he has disarmed the rulers and authorities and triumphed over them. While the doctrine of Christus Victor is often pitted against the doctrine of penal substitution, it is actually a result of Christ’s penal substitutionary work, and the two doctrines must be held aright in view of each other.

  11. Christus Exemplus

  12. Similarly, the doctrine of Christus Exemplus is sound only when kept in perspective by a right understanding of the justifying and propitiating work that Christ accomplished on the cross. This doctrine teaches that Christ, in his suffering, became a perfect model for us of how we are to live and to suffer, entrusting ourselves to God. This is based on passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Peter 2:18-25. We are to follow Christ and become like him in his sufferings, taking up our cross daily; but we must bear in mind that the primary intent of Christ’s cross-work was first and foremost to propitiate God’s wrath, accomplishing salvation, and then derivatively it serves as an example for us.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rejoicing in Four Years of Grace

Today I am rejoicing. Stacey and I are celebrating our fourth anniversary this very day. As I look back over the four years, I have to marvel at God's grace... in so many ways!

On this anniversary I'm rejoicing in God's grace in these three ways in particular:

  1. God looked at me, liked he looked at Adam, and said, 'It is not good for that guy to be alone.' I could not possibly agree more! The Lord provided a bride for me--out of all men, the most undeserving. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. She has become one with me. She is my partner, my friend, my lover, my helper, my companion, my counsellor. She listens, she shares, she opens herself up to me, and she lets me open up my heart to her. I am grateful for God's grace in giving me my wife. I couldn't do 10% of what I do if I didn't have her.

  2. God has preserved our marriage through his love and by his grace. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love hopes and believes all things. That's God's love... and it's been poured out into our hearts and into our marriage by the Holy Spirit through the example and work of Christ. This is amazing... and so needed! Maybe other husbands are just better husbands than me, but I don't see how any marriage could last without the love of Christ, present and active. I have needed my wife to forgive me countless times. I have needed her to continue to open her heart to me time after time when I've hurt her or let her down. She's never failed, because of God's grace. Her love for Christ is powerfully evident in her faithful love for me, no matter how many times I mess up. I am thankful to God that my wifes 'hopes all things' and 'believes all things' for me now, even more than she did four years ago today. That is evidence of God's grace, and so I'm thankful to God for my bride.

  3. My wife has grown in beauty. Over the five years that I have known her, I have watched Stacey grow in remarkable ways as she seeks to live in 'respectable and pure' ways. She has worked hard to make sure that her adorning is not external, but is an 'imperishable beauty' of the inner person, which is precious in God's sight--and a husband's! She has been a faithful testimony to me of God's Spirit active and working in the heart of a woman... and that is a beautiful thing indeed. And on top of all that, she has flourished in external beauty as well. How could I have imagined that? I don't know... but it sure makes me look forward with great anticipation to our fiftieth anniversary!
So, Stacey, thanks for four wonderful years. Here's to many, many more!

Friday, June 06, 2008


It's hard to know sometimes what to blog about when there are so many different things going on in life. Here's a few things I've been thinking about.

I've thought about this on this blog before, but I was blessed with the opportunity to teach on it recently at a men's meeting at our church. The more I look into my heart, the more it seems the Lord is pleased to reveal to me the hideousness of my own pride-filled, arrogant heart. You can download the pdf of the handout and application questions I gave to the guys here, if you like.

Letting Others Serve
It's a funny thing, but you'd think that not wanting others to serve you would be a sign of humility. As I've been noticing in my own heart lately, though, it's more a sign of pride. Why don't I want others to help? For one thing, because I don't want anyone to think I need help. CJ says part of pride is refusing to acknowledge our absolute dependence on God. I like to think I'm self-sufficient. That's pride.

Another thing I've been confronted with a few times now is other people wanting to take over jobs for me, since I've become an elder at church. They want to employ biblical wisdom and free their elders up from other tasks so that we can focus on the word and prayer. But I don't want to give these things up. Why? Because somewhere in my heart I feel like I do a good job at what I do and if someone else were to do it, they wouldn't do it just the way I like it. Well that's a load of hoogly. Just because something's the way I like it doesn't mean it's best. And in reality, they'd probably do it way better than me anyway! What's best for the kingdom is me moving aside and letting others serve.

Leadership Can Be Nerve-Wracking
We're in what's probably the busiest time of year for the leadership of GFC--annual meeting time. We're looking at numbers, praying through plans, and discussing endless possibilities for future directions. This is my first year as an elder working through these things. Whenever I begin to think that any of these things--and therefore the welfare of the church--depends on us, as humans, I get stressed, worried, and fretful. This has been a good exercise for me in learning to pray things through, and trust Christ to build his church. I am learning (painfully slowly, but learning nonetheless) to trust in the Spirit to give wisdom. I am learning to trust the Father's providence. He has given us much responsibility, and we will be held accountable for our leadership, but the worst mistake we can make is thinking that it all depends on us and our wisdom, and then forge ahead un-prayerfully.

Monday, June 02, 2008

How Big Are Your Phylacteries?

What are phylacteries? They're the Greek word used for Tefillin. Not helping? They are boxes with straps that the Jewish people have made for millennia. They contain pieces of Torah and are worn on the arms or foreheads.

Where would they get an idea like this? Try looking up Exodus 13.9, 16; Deuteronomy 6.8; 11.18.

Each verse on its own, isolated from its context, could be taken in such a way that these Tefillin could be defended. More fitting, however, is the idea that the Lord is calling his people to preach to themselves and their children. His word is to be so central to their thoughts, meditations, and conversation that it would be as if they have the word bound to their foreheads--you can't help but notice it! To run into one of these people is to come face-to-face with the Law.

As I've said before, what excites you is what you pass on. God is calling his people to show their passion for his righteous Law.

When it comes to phylacteries, one could make the case that they are legitimate, even as physical things. But they were to be peripheral things, not central.

What did Jesus think of phylacteries? Well, he mentions them in Matthew 23.5, in condemning the religious leaders of his day. In that case, Jesus was condemning their actions because they had taken a peripheral, non-necessary element of their faith and made it central. They had made it a show. It wasn't enough to rejoice in the Law like all the rest of God's people--they had to figure out something extra that they could do to make themselves stand out from the crowd. They wanted to show themselves as different and better in some regard.

The temptations to do this in the Christian life are legion. As Don Carson is wont to say, 'It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is desperately needed is to be prophetic from the centre.' What he means is simple. It is easy to make yourself seem more spiritual, more noble, more informed, more mature than you are by dealing with side issues. It makes you look like you're further advanced. If you're forever preaching about things that others hear and say, 'wow, I hadn't even thought about that...', then it makes you seem like a prophet. You are exalted.

What I want to suggest is that in the Christian life, our pet issues will often become our phylacteries; the extra things we add on to the centre of the Christian faith to make ourselves seem further advanced in Christian living than we are. They make us stand out in a crowd of 'normal Christians.'

As Christians who know the gospel, it is always a temptation to assume the gospel. When that happens we exalt secondary (or even tertiary) issues to levels of primary importance, and determine levels of standing within the church based on our pet issues (our phylacteries), rather than our faithful love for and proclamation of the gospel.

What kinds of things do Christians make into phylacteries? How about new books that you've read / are reading? Understanding all issues of deep theology, or being the first to discover some hip 'new' theology that no one at church understands yet. For many in our day it is social justice or 'ministering to the community at large.' For some it is on-demand breast-feeding, while for others it could be scheduled feeding. Many Christians get caught up with new diets or types of food that they swear will make all the difference. Some Christians make a career out of arguing for home schooling, Christian schooling, or public schooling. The list could go on and on! All this is not to say that these are bad causes, but it is to say that we need to fight with everything in us to make sure we're known first and foremost for loving the gospel (like we wear it on our foreheads!), not for being some social justice advocate, or some home-school promoter.

What Carson has said is true, that it is easy to sound prophetic from the margins. What is most concerning about this, however, is that Jesus says pride is living in these attitudes and working through them. Pride destroys opportunities to be workers for the kingdom, since Jesus himself says 'Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.' God opposes the proud. You're not working for the kingdom if you're promoting another cause more than the gospel.

The second part of Carson's quote is equally true: 'What is most needed is to be prophetic from the centre.' You can't do that when you're shouting from the peripheries. The gospel gets drowned out. If we're always known for being passionate about secondary issues, how will we ever be able to express that we're more passionate about the gospel?

So how about you? What are you known for? What do people see on your forehead and arms? Is it obvious to those who know you that the gospel is your first love and primary passion?

It is my prayer that my phylacteries would shrink; that I would speak boldly and passionately about the gospel, and never be more passionate about anything else than Christ and his love for me. I want to be slow to express my opinions on secondary matters. I want to be known for loving what all Christians are called to love: the gospel. Never some other cause.