This morning in my Bible reading I read again the crazy plot to kill Lazarus (John 12:9-11):
When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.
Threats of death to the resurrected?!
The story reminds me of a Ravi Zacharias sermon jam I found many years ago:
Have you ever wondered what you would do to frighten Lazarus after he’d been raised from the dead? What would you do to threaten him? “Lazarus, I’m gonna’ kill you?” Caligula says, “I’m going to kill you.” He says, “Ha, ha, ha.” He says “Stop ha, ha, ha-ing. I’m going to kill you as I’m killing all the Christians.” He doubles over in uncontrollable laughter, comes up for air and says, “Caligula haven’t you heard? Death is dead! Death is dead!”
How do you frighten somebody who has already been there and knows the one who’s going to let him out? …
Behind the debris of the fallings of our solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists lies the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom, mankind may still survive. The person of Jesus Christ.
What follows are 10 sentences from C. S. Lewis’s book The Weight of Glory (HarperCollins, 1949), pages 45–46. These sentences are not written to parents, nor are they concerned specifically with the the fine art of parenting. And of course they have far-reaching implications for all of life. But for me the most frequent situations when these lines bubble up from my subconscious is when I’m thinking about my kids and parenting them well. So that’s where the title comes from. But enough of me.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.
Perhaps the most significant passage in Scripture explaining the power of awakened (or illuminated) literacy is found in 2 Corinthians 4:6, and it’s particularly interesting given the parallels:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness” [first creation], has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [new creation].
Gospel awakening is an act of new creation finding its appropriate parallel in the initial act of cosmic creation. And just about everyone from Matthew Henry onward has acknowledged this. But the context of this passage has everything to do with reading (2 Cor. 3:15). If we ourselves read over this too quickly we can miss is how new creation illumination, enacted by God on a spiritually dead heart, brings with it a permanent and abiding change to the literacy faculties.
But Christian literacy is more than mere noetic intellectual awakening because, in Christ, Christian literacy is God-appointed means for the regenerated soul to live and move and have its being. Scripture itself takes on new meaning and significance to us, it begins to live, it affects us, it begins to claim us, and it begins to change our behaviors and attitudes. This is a key point Karl Barth understands and well articulates in Church Dogmatics (IV/3.2, §71.2):
“In thy light shall we see light” (Ps. 36:9)… There is a god of this world — we are reminded of the darkness in Col. 1:13 — who has darkened the thinking of unbelievers “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:4). To continue the quotation already adduced: “For it is the worst evil that can befall us not to see the light.” But the true “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (Gen. 1:3), hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). As His God, “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” He gives him “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” in which he may know him, “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe,” in short, what is proffered to man and awaits him in Him (Eph. 1:17f), and what is the structure of the mystery concealed from all eternity in God the Creator of all things (Eph. 3:9). Man is called as this knowledge is imparted to him. By this knowledge Christians are distinguished as the called from others who are not called.
If we are to understand this process, however, we cannot pay too much attention to the fact that in it we really have to do with a new creation. According to the speech and thought-forms of the Bible, concepts such as light, illumination, revelation and knowledge do not have, either alone or in their interrelationships, the more narrowly intellectual or noetic significance which here as elsewhere we usually give them. The light or revelation of God is not just a declaration and interpretation of His being and action, His judgment and grace, His endowing, directing, promising and commanding presence and action.
In making Himself known, God acts on the whole man. Hence the knowledge of God given to man through his illumination is no mere apprehension and understanding of God’s being and action, nor as such a kind of intuitive contemplation. It is the claiming not only of his thinking but also of his willing and work, of the whole man, for God. It is his refashioning to be a theatre, witness and instrument of His acts. Its subject and content, which is also its origin, makes it an active knowledge, in which there are affirmation and negation, volition and decision, action and inaction, and in which man leaves certain old courses and enters and pursues new ones.
Illumination, we find out, is a sovereign act of God (in the gospel) in bringing new creation. It plays an important role for God in making his children’s lives into a theater, a witness, and an instrument for his own glory and use.
Here we discover one of the profoundest purposes for Christian literacy.
Writes Francis Schaeffer in his book Genesis in Space and Time (IVP, 1997), page 86:
Paul in 1 Timothy 2:14 points out: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” Temptation is extremely hard to resist when it is bound up with the man-woman relationship. For example, in Exodus 34:16 we are warned not to let the man-woman relationship lead us into idolatry.
Two great drives are built into man. The first is his need for a relationship to God, and the second his need for a relationship to the opposite sex. A special temptation is bound up with this sexual drive. How many young women are faithful as Christians until they come to a certain age and feel with their whole being, without ever analyzing it, the need for marriage and are then swept over into marrying a non-Christian man. And how many men are faithful until they feel the masculine drive and give up their faithfulness to God by marrying a woman who carries them into spiritual problems for the rest of their life.
I look upon such young men and young women as I see them going through this, and I cry for them, because in a way there is no greater agony than suddenly to fall in love and then to realize that one must say no to this natural drive because it leads in that particular case to a severing of our greater relationship — our relationship to God.
While what happened in the Garden of Eden was a space-time historic event, the man-woman relationship and force of temptation it must have presented to Adam is universal.
Puritan pastor John Flavel said the following words in his address, “The Character of a Complete Evangelical Pastor, Drawn By Christ,” as published in The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel (Edinburgh, 1820), 6:568-569:
I may say to him that snatched at the ministry, as Henry IV did to his son that hastily snatched at the crown: He little knows what an heap of cares and toils he snatches at.
The labors of the ministry will exhaust the very marrow from your bones, hasten old age and death. They are fitly compared to the toil of men in harvest, to the labors of a woman in travail, and to the agonies of soldiers in the extremity of a battle. We must watch when others sleep.
And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labors, as the loss of them, that kills us. It is not with us, as with other laborers. They find their work as they leave it, so do not we.
Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yea, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness.
But well-spent head, heart, lungs, and all; welcome pained breasts, aching backs, and trembling legs; if we can by all but approve ourselves Christ’s faithful servants, and hear that joyful voice from his mouth, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’
When Jesus Christ says, “You are the salt and the light of the world,” this is what he is saying a Christian should be like. Okay, now hold your breath. Number one, salt and light expose decay and darkness. If you are light, that means your life should be so beautiful that when it comes into contact with other parts of the environment, the beauty of your life shows up other things for what they really are.
For example, if you’re a Christian, then just by your very presence, you show up, you reveal the dishonesty in the business. You reveal the gossip in the office. You reveal the racism in your neighborhood. You reveal the corruption in your political ward. You reveal the promiscuity in your party … just simply by being a Christian. You walk on in and it immediately makes the racism look like racism. It makes the promiscuity look like promiscuity. It makes the gossip look like gossip. It makes the corruption look like corruption, just by you saying, “I’m going to live according to the truth, which is the Ten Commandments, to the beauty of Jesus Christ.”
If your life, by its order, by the way in which you handle pressure, by the way in which you take criticism, by the way in which you treat the people who work under you, if you are like Jesus Christ, the beauty of that is going to show up the reality of the environment. A good light shows you real color, right?
Have you ever noticed that sometimes you pull out a pair of socks, and you can’t tell if they’re blue or black, and you look in one light and you still can’t tell, and you have to come to a good light in order to tell whether it’s blue or black? A real good light shows you the real colors. If you are a Christian walking like Jesus Christ, then the beauty of your life shows everybody around you what is good and what is bad.
Monday afternoon in Minneapolis I led a seminar at DG’s 2013 conference for pastors. My topic: The Pastor and His Reading: Why You Are the Key to Building a Church That Loves Books.
This seminar provided me the opportunity to review a basic theology of literacy (as I understand it), and to press a little deeper into the message of Lit! in three new areas.
First, I was able to press a little deeper into why I think literary pleasure is connected to Christ’s glory. There’s still much more work that needs to be done here, but I hope to have advanced the conversation by suggesting the revelation of Christ in the gospel brings with it a reorientation of all our affections around his truth, goodness, and beauty. Which means the glory of Christ brings with it a recalibration of the literary palate.
Second, I was able to look more closely at why and how Bible-centered pastors already inherently provide counter-cultural models of literacy for the men and women in their own churches. That’s not something I’ve pointed out very well in the past but hoped to accomplish in this seminar (with the goal of encouraging these faithful pastors).
Third, I was able to press deeper, think harder, and expand my list of practical suggestions for pastors to a list of 14. So many other things can be done to encourage literacy in our local churches. You’ll find this expanded list in the final pages of my notes.
I was honored to lead the session, enjoyed the questions and answer time, and came away deeply grateful for all the friends who attended. Anyone interested can download the seminar manuscript here (PDF).
I love this quote from J. Gresham Machen’s classic little book, What Is Faith? [(Eerdmans, 1925), pages 72-74], a book I cut my theological teeth on early in my Christian life. I’ll post this excerpt to serve as a little weekend meditation:
Many men … make shipwreck of their faith. They think of God only as one who can direct the course of nature for their benefit; they value Him only for the things that He can give.
We are subject to many pressing needs, and we are too much inclined to value God, not for His own sake, but only because He can satisfy those needs. There is the need of food and clothing, for ourselves and for our loved ones, and we value God because He can answer the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is the need of companionship; we shrink from loneliness; we would be surrounded by those who love us and those whom we can love. And we value God as one who can satisfy that need by giving us family and friends. There is the need of inspiring labor; we would be delivered from an aimless life; we desire opportunities for noble and unselfish service of our fellow-men. And we value God as one who by His ordering of our lives can set before us an open door.
These are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things that He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things—even lofty and unselfish things—then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail.
When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God; we have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. He is not content to minister to the worldly needs of those who care not a bit for Him. The text in the eighth chapter of Romans does not mean that religion provides a certain formula for obtaining worldly benefits—even the highest and most ennobling and most unselfish of worldly benefits.
“If God be for us, who can be against us?”—that does not mean that faith in God will bring us everything that we desire. What it does mean is that if we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides.
Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all?
If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. I do not mean that the Christian need expect always to be poor and sick and lonely and to seek his comfort only in a mystic experience with His God. This universe is God’s world; its blessings are showered upon His creatures even now; and in His own good time, when the period of its groaning and travailing is over, He will fashion it as a habitation of glory. But what I do mean is that if here and now we have the one inestimable gift of God’s presence and favor, then all the rest can wait till God’s good time.
This is very likely the best explanation for why a Christian who truly understands the centrality of Christ is a generous reader. At once we prize Scripture above all books, and in prizing Scripture above all books we are properly postured to read all other other books with discernment and appreciation.
The following quote is taken from Herman Bavinck’s outstanding book Our Reasonable Faith (Eerdmans, 1956), pages 36–38, 44. If you don’t have it, it’s worth owning, and I think page-for-page it’s Bavinck’s most valuable work (though it’s not cheap).
The quote is worth quoting at length and is worth reading slowly.
It is not the sparkling firmament, nor mighty nature, nor any prince or genius of the earth, nor any philosopher or artist, but the Son of man that is the highest revelation of God. Christ is the Word become flesh, which in the beginning was with God and which was God, the Only-Begotten of the Father, the Image of God, the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person; who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9). In that faith the Christian stands. He has learned to know God in the person of Jesus Christ whom God has sent. God Himself, who said that the light should shine out of the darkness, is the One who has shined in His heart in order to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
But from this high vantage point the Christian looks around him, forwards, backwards, and to all sides. And if, in doing so, in the light of the knowledge of God, which he owes to Christ, he lets his eyes linger on nature and on history, on heaven and on earth, then he discovers traces everywhere of that same God whom he has learned to know and to worship in Christ as his Father. The Sun of righteousness opens up a wonderful vista to him which stretches out to the ends of the earth. By its light he sees backwards into the night of past times, and by it he penetrates through to the future of all things. Ahead of him and behind the horizon is clear, even though the sky is often obscured by clouds.
The Christian, who sees everything in the light of the Word of God, is anything but narrow in his view. He is generous in heart and mind. He looks over the whole earth and reckons it all his own, because he is Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 3:21–23). He cannot let go his belief that the revelation of God in Christ, to which he owes his life and salvation, has a special character. This belief does not exclude him from the world, but rather puts him in position to trace out the revelation of God in nature and history, and puts the means at his disposal by which he can recognize the true and the good and the beautiful and separate them from the false and sinful alloys of men.
So it is that he makes a distinction between a general and a special revelation of God. In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearances, prophecy, and miracles to make Himself known to man. The contents of the first kind are especially the attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness; those of the second kind are especially God’s holiness and righteousness, compassion and grace. The first is directed to all men and, by means of common grace, serves to restrain the eruption of sin; the second comes to all those who live under the Gospel and has as its glory, by special grace, the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of life.
But, however essentially the two are to be distinguished, they are also intimately connected with each other. Both have their origin in God, in His sovereign goodness and favor. The general revelation is owing to the Word which was with God in the beginning, which made all things, which shone as a light in the darkness and lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:1–9). The special revelation is owing to that same Word, as it was made flesh in Christ, and is now full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace is the content of both revelations, common in the first, special in the second, but in such a way that the one is indispensable for the other. …
In determining the value of general revelation, one runs the great danger either of over-estimating or of under-estimating it. When we have our attention fixed upon the richness of the grace which God has given in His special revelation, we sometimes become so enamored of it that the general revelation loses its whole significance and worth for us. And when, at another time, we reflect on the good, and true, and beautiful that is to be found by virtue of God’s general revelation in nature and in the human world [e.g. on the shelves at Barnes & Noble], then it can happen that the special grace, manifested to us in the person and work of Christ, loses its glory and appeal for the eye of our soul.
This danger, to stray off either to the right or to the left, has always existed in the Christian church, and, each in turn, the general and the special revelation, have been ignored or denied. Each in turn has been denied in theory and no less strongly in practice. … We must be on guard against both of these one-sidednesses; and we shall be best advised if, in the light of Holy Scripture, we take a look at the history of mankind and let it teach us what people owe to general revelation.
J. I. Packer rather famously wrote, “were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that” (Knowing God, 214). Adoption is precious, and that line from Packer is worth memorizing.
But there’s a much broader historical-redemptive context for understanding our adoption as David B. Garner explains in his excellent chapter, “The First and Last Son: Christology and Sonship in Pauline Soteriology,” published in Resurrection and Eschatology (P&R, 2008).
Here is Garner’s thick-and-rich-like-dark-chocolate conclusion. Best enjoyed in small bites:
Behind the creation of the cosmos—and most relevantly here, behind the creation of man—exists the archetypal, eternal sonship of Christ. Man, made in the image of God, a finite replica (ectype) of the eternal, ontologial Son (archetype), is, at creation, necessarily a son of God.
While the fall skewed sonship and alienated the relationship of the created son with the Father, just as man did not completely lose the divine image, he likewise did not lose the broad sense of his sonship. Still sons, but alienated and depraved, the first man and his progeny stood under the curse of their Creator/Father, and were in need of the judicial declaration of God to rectify their sonship status, and the redemptive power of God to restore their sonship constitution, indeed to vouchsafe their eschatological familial telos.
In view of the failure of the first son of God, the realization of this declaration and redeeming power by God’s grace came through the Last Adam, the Son of God par excellence, whose redemptive work provided the reversal of the curse on man and the attainment of adoption for the fallen sons of Adam. In Christ, created sons of Adam become the adopted sons of God.
While the entire redemptive-historical development and realization of redemptive sonship organically derive from his messianic sonship, Christ’s pre-temporal constitution plays the prior, ultimate role. In fact, all biblical sonship flows from an anterior, ontological principium—the eternal Son of God, in whom the ectypal, typological, and antitypical sonships find their raison d’être.
This principium of christological sonship unites the sonships of Adam, of Israel, of the incarnate Christ, and of the eschatologically adopted believer in covenantal, redemptive-historical continuity. The first Adam finitely replicates the First Son; the Last Adam fulfills the telos of the first created son. In this way, Christ is not only the eternal Son, he is also the archetypal Adam. Further, by his covenantal obedience as the Last Adam, he became the glorious, exalted, eschatological Son of God in power (Rom. 1:4).
We see therefore in Pauline soteriology an exhaustively christological cast, wherein the filial, ontological, and redemptive-historical are securely tethered in Christ the Son of God, the Source, Epicenter, and Consummator of all reality. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First Son and the Last. (279)