Dan Crabtree

From Prophetess to Pastrix: A Review of The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood (Part 4)

There are two major problems with Payne’s treatment of Mary Magdalene’s role in resurrection proclamation. First, he ignores principle #1. Just because Jesus did tell a woman to proclaim the gospel to a group of men once doesn’t mean women should do that today. Second, Payne wrongly equates Mary’s delivery of information to the disciples with preaching to the gathered church. He turns similarity into prescription, correspondence into command.

Earlier this year, the debate over women as pastors was reignited by Rick Warren’s attempt to convert the Southern Baptist Convention to egalitarianism. In his March interview with Russell Moore, prior to Saddleback’s removal from the SBC, Warren made his case for why he believes women should be pastors, citing Matthew 28:18-20 (The Great Commission), Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost), and Matthew 28:1-10 (The Resurrection) as his defense. According to Warren, these passages are what moved him to repent of complementarian doctrine and embrace egalitarianism.
Of particular interest for this review is that all three of the passages Warren cited were taken from biblical narratives.
In this four-part review of Philip Payne’s The Bible vs. Biblical Womanhood, we observed how egalitarianism warps equality in the Bible, twists the text of the Bible, and overrules the authors of the Bible. My aim has been to show how Payne’s distortions of Scripture fall into easily identifiable categories so that Christians can spot these kinds of errors wherever they see them. This last part of the review will deal with one more category of common egalitarian error: its abuse of biblical narratives.
Admittedly, Payne doesn’t write as much about narrative texts as he does didactic (teaching) texts in his book. But arguments from narrative texts are prominent among egalitarians because of the appeal to well-known portions of Scripture, to the life and ministry of Jesus, and to current cultural ideas about narrative. There is an exploitable elasticity to the way that many think about applying Bible stories to the church today, and Payne knows it. If it can be shown that women were given pastoral roles (or something similar) in sacred history, the egalitarian reasons, then it can be argued that women should be given pastoral roles today.
That leads me to the main takeaway from this post, which I hope will be useful for you whenever you encounter any narrative in Scripture:
Just because something did happen in a biblical narrative doesn’t mean that it should happen today.
This point may seem obvious at first. Biblical narratives record all kinds of behavior unworthy of imitation today: Ishmael’s ill-advised regicide (Jer 41:1-8), Lot’s offering of his daughters to the Sodomite mob (Gen 19:8), Samson’s almost-marriage to a Philistine (Judges 14:1-20), and Solomon’s massive harem of wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:1-8). Likewise, biblical narratives include details about events that we wouldn’t expect to be repeated today; at least, I don’t open my window in the morning expecting to get a meal delivered by a local murder of crows (1 Kings 17:1-7).
But my guess is that you have heard a sermon about “defeating the Goliaths in your life” or “not letting go until God blesses you” or “looking for your honey in the rock.” Apparently, we do think some parts of Bible stories – what did happen – can teach us how to live the Christian life today – what should happen. In the Bible itself, Peter teaches us about the modern relevance of the Noahic narrative (2 Pet 2:4-10), Paul instructs us how to apply the wilderness wanderings to our own temptations (1 Cor 10:1-13), and John tells us that believing in the story of Jesus’ flesh-and-blood life on earth is essential to Christian living (1 John 5:6-12). If all of Scripture is profitable for our maturity (2 Tim 3:16-17), surely that includes the 40% of Scripture that we label “narrative”!
So, what principles should drive our right understanding and appropriate application of biblical narratives?
To illustrate just two of these interpretive principles, we will examine how Payne (as an example of egalitarian exegesis) wrongly interprets biblical narratives to turn prophetesses into female pastors. Payne regularly leaps from biblical stories involving a woman to a prescriptive application for the church today, misunderstanding and misapplying the texts against the original author’s intention. By undermining these common-sense principles, he demonstrates the need to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive elements in a narrative – that which did happen and that which should then happen.
Bible Narrative Principle #1: Characters Aren’t Always Examples
When egalitarians attempt to defend their views on women in church leadership, the name “Deborah” frequently makes an appearance. According to Judges 4-5, Deborah was “a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth” who “was judging Israel” (Judges 4:4), who spoke on behalf of God to the leader of Israel’s army (4:6-14), and who celebrated God’s victory over the Canaanite king with a chapter-long song (5:1-31). Her name is often invoked by egalitarians because she acts as a judge for all Israel and because Barak, the male leader of Israel’s army, receives commands from God through her and says to her “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (4:8).
In dealing with the story of Deborah, Payne claims that she is an example of God’s affirmation of female leadership over his people. Payne asserts, “that there is no suggestion whatsoever in the text that there is anything amiss because this judge, Deborah, is a woman” (p. 14). Positively, he states, “Deborah powerfully demonstrates God’s blessing on female leadership” (p. 14).
So how does Payne go amiss? In 1996, D. A. Carson demonstrated Payne’s logical error in his book Exegetical Fallacies by showing that Payne improperly handled a syllogism in his 1981 article on 1 Timothy 2 (p. 94-95, Exegetical Fallacies). The same problem is at work here. Payne’s logic with the Deborah narrative can be represented in the following way:

Deborah is a female leader of God’s people.
God blesses Deborah’s efforts as a leader.
Therefore, “God blesses female leadership.”

The first problem with this logic is labeling Deborah a “leader,” which is intentionally vague and textually imprecise. She was a mouthpiece for God (“prophetess”) and a resolver of legal debates (“judged Israel”). Secondly, Payne draws his assertion about God blessing Deborah’s leadership from Judges 5:31, “And the land had rest for forty years.” To claim that a good consequence following one’s action demonstrates blessing on that action doesn’t logically follow and is the kind of leap prosperity preachers regularly make. God regularly blesses wicked rulers in Israel not as an affirmation of them, their gender, or their office but as an expression of his grace or even his eventual judgment (see, for example, 2 Kings 14:23-27 with Jeroboam II).
But the biggest exegetical problem with Payne’s reasoning is his massive logical leap of a conclusion, that God blessing Deborah’s leadership is God blessing all female leadership.
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How Should Christians Disagree? The Clarity of Scripture Part 6

How, then, shall we disagree? We start by welcoming one another, and when we look to the clear light of Scripture we stand fully convinced on that solid ground. In other words, we disagree like Christians, like those who have been welcomed by the God of goodness and truth. And if Paul’s instructions don’t seem to relieve the tension you still feel between Scripture’s clarity and our fallibility, then number your days and ask for a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12). We disagree because our dim little minds obscure even the purest light of heaven. The light is still shining and shining bright. May we learn to live in the light of God’s clear truth as he dispels our darkness and disagreement until one day we “know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).

One of the most common objections I hear from non-believers about Scripture is: “How do you know that you’re right about the Bible when so many other Christians disagree with you?” Usually, the mere existence of Christian denominations (a kind of crystallized disagreement) provides enough of an excuse for a scoffer to throw up his hands and walk away. And I know some in the church who have struggled with this reality as well. “If the Bible is as clear as you say, shouldn’t we all interpret it the same?”
My answer: The clarity of Scripture doesn’t erase Christian disagreements, but it does help us disagree like Christians.
We’ve already seen the Bible’s own case for its clarity and the undergirding of that clarity in the character of God. Beyond that, we’ve considered the natural blindness of mankind to biblical truth and the Scripture’s own demand for obedience to grant understanding. So, Christians should expect to disagree with non-Christians about the Bible – we’re starting from a different premise, so we’ll naturally reach different conclusions. We also saw that we can only be enabled to rightly read the Scriptures when Christ illumines our spiritual eyes to see the clear truth in his light.
So, if all Christians have the same Holy Spirit helping them read the same, clear text, why all the disagreement? Why do some baptize babies and others don’t? Why do some teach sovereign election and others don’t? Why do some believe in a pre-tribulational rapture, some mid-trib, some post-trib, and some the pre-wrath mid-trib double-check discount rapture? Shouldn’t a clear text with the clear light of Christ lead to clear, universal agreement among earnest Bible readers?
Christians can and do still disagree in their interpretations of the clear Scriptures for three reasons, none of which negate the clarity of Scripture itself. Christians disagree because of sin (we may still reject a clear text because of a hard heart), finitude (we are limited beings who can only know so much), and distance (we’re removed from the authors of Scripture by thousands of years, a language barrier, and differing cultural values that need to be grasped before rightly interpreting the text). A combination of these factors can pour mud into the crystal-clear waters of Scripture and make it hard for us to see the bottom. The consequence, then, is that Christians still disagree on the right interpretation of a clear text of Scripture.
So, it’s obvious that we disagree, and it’s apparent why we disagree. The question is how, then, shall we disagree?
The apostle Paul gives us a roadmap to Christian disagreement in Romans 14:1-12. Without plumbing the depths of this text, I just want to help us see Paul’s two chief commands for disagreeing with Christians like Christians. First, “welcome one another.” Second, “be fully convinced.”
Welcome One Another
In writing from the church at Corinth (known for its division), the apostle Paul assumes that the Roman church (whom he has not visited) needs to be prepared for disagreements among the brethren. In fact, Paul seems to assume in his letter to the Roman Christians that they will disagree. This is the same apostle Paul who assumes that Timothy can “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). This is the same apostle Paul who “reasoned from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2) and told his protégé to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). Paul certainly believes the Scriptures are understandable, or else his whole ministry would be forfeit! And yet, Paul also anticipates that Christians who approach the same texts of Scripture will arrive at different conclusions regarding eating meat and esteeming certain days. Paul assumes Christians will disagree.
We should also notice that in this passage Paul believes that when Christians disagree, someone is right and someone is wrong. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom 14:14). The mere presence of a disagreement doesn’t kneecap the truth. Paul’s no post-modern life coach spewing relativist nonsense about “your truth,” “all truths,” and “the truthiness of truth.” No, Paul knows that there is a right way to understand and apply the New Covenant to the lives of believers (the “strong” position), and there are “weak” brothers who need to mature spiritually into that right understanding.
And yet, even though Paul knows there will be disagreements and truly believes that one side is right and another wrong, his first word to his fellow Christians is not a resolution to the debate! More than simply landing the plane for them, Paul wants them to learn how to land it in one piece. In Christian disagreements, Paul wants to first turn their attention to how they love each other in the midst of their difference.
Paul says, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Rom 14:1). Meaning that before you try to correct another Christian with whom you disagree, you ought to warmly, richly, hospitably embrace him as your brother first. And why should you do that? “For God has welcomed him” (Rom 14:3). If God was willing to bring you close, make peace with you by the blood of his Son, and bring you into the family home, then who are you to begrudge that same welcome to another?
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You Need to Know Jesus to Understand the Bible: The Clarity of Scripture Part 5

If you do not read the Bible with the ultimate goal of seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, you don’t understand Scripture. We need to see Christ’s glory through his illumining power to truly appreciate why his Word is and what his Word does. Without illumination, Scripture is a textbook at best. With the light of Christ, the Scripture is our doorway to heaven.

The truth of Scripture is like the sun. During the day, the light from the sun is clear to anyone who can see. Not everyone can see, but blind eyes don’t dim the sun. For the blind to see it, the sun doesn’t need to shine brighter or clearer – they need to be given sight to see what’s been there the whole time.
So it is with the sun, so it is with Scripture. God has spoken clearly in the Bible for any who have ears to hear because God is good.. That some claim God’s Word is a jumbled mess of impenetrable mysteries only reveals the hardness of their hearts, not the obscurity of the text. And if those hard hearts would joyfully embrace the truth of God’s Word, nothing needs to change about the Word itself. They need to be given eyes to see what’s been plainly there the whole time.
So, how can blind men see the clear light of the truth of Scripture? “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). How can the blind see? Who can give them sight?
Let me make it more personal. How is it that you have any hope of understanding Scripture? In the face of interpretive anarchy, esoteric theological debates, and the world’s ceaseless scoffing at Scripture, how could anyone be so smug as to think they have nailed down the true meaning of the eternal Word of God? Under the devil’s dark veil, how can you see the clear light of the gospel?
Christ is our clarity. The Son of God lights the Word of God. In other words, you need to know Jesus to understand the Bible.
Jesus the Light
The theological term that’s used to describe the lighting up of dark eyes, the giving of spiritual sight to the spiritually blind, is illumination. And we usually think of illumination as an action of the Holy Spirit, and it is. Paul prays for the Ephesian church that “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Eph 1:17-18). To the Corinthian church, Paul explains his ministry by saying, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13). The Spirit opens up darkened eyes to give spiritual sight.
But while the Spirit of God is the agent of human change in illumination, Jesus Christ is the object of that illumination. He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12). It’s in Jesus’ face that we see the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6). God is light (1 John 1:5), a revealer of the truth, and Christ is the one who makes him known (John 1:18).
While he was on earth, Jesus not only healed the physically blind but also the spiritually blind. In Luke 24, when Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection, he illumines them to rightly read the Old Testament.
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”
Luke 24:44-47
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Why Does the Bible Seem Unclear? The Clarity of Scripture Part 3

The Bible can seem so unclear to us because we have rejected the ground of clarity in the goodness of God. Of course, that struggle is even more painful because of our own natural finitude and the cultural distance between us and the authors, but the start of it all was a human refusal to cling to the goodness of God. We have a moral problem obscuring the clear light of Scripture. We need to see God’s glorious goodness in the pages of his book to rightly understand it, but our hearts have been blinded by our love of idols. 

Ironically, the main reason why we talk about the clarity of Scripture is that it often seems so unclear.
Even though Scripture says that it’s intelligible in part and whole, and even though we know theologically that God’s goodness grounds the clarity of his communication, we still bang our heads against the unforgiving concrete of hard texts. Zophar’s diatribes, Moses’ “bridegroom of blood,” and John’s Apocalypse can feel unsurmountable. John Calvin didn’t preach Revelation, and likewise, Martyn Lloyd-Jones never finished Romans. And the apostle Peter himself says, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand…” (2 Pet 3:16).
If the Bible is so clear, then why is it so unclear?
One way to begin answering this question is to make a distinction between the intrinsic clarity of Scripture and the extrinsic clarity of Scripture. God has spoken clearly, but that doesn’t mean that we will always listen clearly. We can intentionally and unintentionally misinterpret Scripture, or cultural and historical factors outside our control can make interpretation difficult. None of those communicative barriers prevent God from inspiring a clear biblical text, but they do make the text seem unclear to us. Scripture is intrinsically clear but can be extrinsically unclear.
A few illustrations may help. If I tell my kids to “clean up your toys,” and they choose to interpret that as “don’t clean up your toys,” the obscurity does not lie in the speech but willfully in the hearer. Or, if you send a clearly worded email to a client who earnestly tries but fails to understand it, then the fault could unintentionally be on the hearer’s end as well. Or, an English speaker may turn on the radio and hear a song being sung clearly and beautifully in Spanish; he hears the clear words, but because of his cultural distance doesn’t know what they mean. While there may be intrinsic clarity all the way through, there can simultaneously exist extrinsic difficulty in interpreting those clear words.
While such categories about obscurity may be philosophically useful, we need to find out if they are biblically grounded. If it’s true that God’s clear Word can be mangled by our misinterpretation willingly and unwillingly, do we see that borne out in Scripture? And if so, where did obscurity in communication begin?
To see the genesis of our unclear interpretations, we need to head back to the garden.
Did God Actually Say?
Moses writes, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’” (Gen 3:1).
According to Scripture, this serpentine deceiver is the source of our obscurity. And he delivers his poisonous confusion in two attempts aimed at Eve, Adam’s wife.
The serpent (identified as Satan in Revelation 20:2) begins his attack with a plain falsification of God’s command to Adam. No, God did not say they couldn’t eat from any tree. He said almost exactly the opposite (Gen 2:15-17)! Satan is hoping, it seems, to suggest that God is hardnosed and miserly, unwilling to share his good creation with his image-bearers. But, in fact, God is immensely generous, liberal, and kind-hearted with his newly-minted world, and Eve remembers that, albeit with some modifications of her own (3:2-3).
Satan’s first attack is bound up in the word “really,” which translates two little letters in Hebrew. Implied by that word is something like, “Would God really do such a thing to you? How horrible! I’m shocked! Why would he be so tight-fisted with such a wonderful servant as yourself? I almost can’t believe that he would be so stingy. Did he really say that? How un-Godlike of him.”
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Why Does God Speak Clearly? The Clarity of Scripture Part 2

Every time you open the Bible and understand what it says, you are basking in the goodness of our clear-speaking God. The clarity of God’s Word is a testimony to his kindness, his love, and his generosity. God wants to make himself known to you! He wants you to understand his Word! God communicates clearly with us because “he is good and does good” (Ps 119:68). Praise the Lord that his Word is clear because he is so good!

The Bible testifies that you can read the Bible. In other words, the Scriptures are clear. Unambiguous. Intelligible. Understandable. This conviction about the clarity of Scripture is essential to the Christian life and has been the steady assumption of the church throughout history.
But any doctrine of Scripture must always be traced to its source in the doctrine of God. God’s Word is, in part, as God is. Why do you talk the way that you do? Because of who you are. Why does God speak the way that he does? Because of who he is. Which means that if we affirm or deny the clarity of Scripture, we’re necessarily saying something about the character of God.
So why does God speak clearly in his Word? What does the clarity of Scripture teach us about God? For that answer, we turn back to the beginning.
Created to Communicate
At the genesis of mankind, we get a glimpse into the clarity of God’s Word. God said on the sixth day of creation, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Who is God talking to? Not the antelope or the trilobite. “Us.” According to the text, the persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – engaged in a divine deliberation when they created the first people. And the decision of the Godhead was to make man “after our likeness.” Unlike the antelope and the trilobite, mankind would be made in God’s image.
While there’s plenty of debate about exactly what’s included in the reality of “the image of God” in mankind, one parallel is clear: God made man, like him, to communicate. As the Trinity, God is inherently a communicator. The Father perfectly radiates his image in the Son (Heb 1:3), the Son joyfully glories in the Father for all eternity (John 17:5), and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son (John 15:26). God is a communicator, and so man, made in God’s image, also communicates.
In Genesis 2:16-17, we find the first recorded communication between God and man. Still on the sixth day, after God had formed Adam from the dust but before he formed Eve from Adam’s rib, God speaks to Adam and says, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God not only communicates within himself, but he speaks to his creatures as well. And in this first sentence spoken from God to man, notice that God expects Adam to understand. Adam’s life depends on it! This means that out of the box, God made mankind capable of both listening to, understanding, and even speaking with language (Gen 2:23).
God made man and God gave him language. Human language is a gift from God. Words and sentences are not tools that homo sapiens evolved into or developed through burps and grunts over millennia. On humanity’s birthday, we could hear, we could speak, and we could understand.
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He Tailors Your Trials: How God Fits Your Afflictions Just for You

Whatever flood you’re facing, whatever loss you’ve endured, whatever sickness or strain or hurt or pain the Lord has brought into your life, please know, dear saint, that he has tailored it just for you. God wastes nothing—not even your affliction—but means to do you everlasting good in every movement of Providence.

Dear brother or sister, are you in the valley? Has the grey cloud of pain and uncertainty been hovering above you? Has a sword pierced your heart and driven you to despair?
If you’re in the pit of affliction, then I hope this truth will be a ray of light and comfort from heaven: Your God tailors your trials just for you.
With his kind and sovereign hand, God designs your pain and hardship precisely for you. Your Father is not some Olympian Zeus hurling lightning bolts aimlessly at the earth below. He is not arbitrary, unfeeling, or aimless in his distribution of severe mercy. No, your faithful Shepherd knows you, knows your need, and knows how to bless you better than you do yourself. He skillfully threads every moment of your life – including your suffering – into perfectly tailored, righteous robes (Rev 19:8). God is precise in afflicting you because God knows everything about you, and his purposes in your pain are good and unfailing.
To prove my point, and I hope to bring you glorious peace in your storm, let me show you four reasons that God tailors your trials for you according to the Scriptures.
God Tailors Your Trials To Teach You
The Puritans often spoke of “the school of suffering,” casting God as their divine teacher whose lessons are often more painful than we’d prefer. But the obedience and knowledge those lessons produce, according to Psalm 119, far outweigh the price we pay in tears.
“You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word.Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word…It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”Psalm 119:65-67, 71-72
Oh, how we wish we could learn without the rod! But God knows that discipline is often necessary for sinners like us to “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11). Notice how the psalmist, in retrospect, sees how he “went astray” before his affliction, and how his prayer for God to “teach me good judgment and knowledge” was answered in his affliction. How blessed to learn this hard truth before our suffering, that we might say in the midst of our pain “it is good for me that I was afflicted!”
And what, ultimately, does affliction teach us? Countless truths about God, his faithfulness, his tenderness, and his love, to be sure. But notice what the psalmist learned through his affliction: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” God afflicts us to teach us the value of his Word. Treasuring God’s Word is not only better than money, but it’s also better than not suffering. God sends bitter winds to chill us so that we might seek warmth by the fire of his Word. In his wisdom, God allows pain to enter our lives so that he might teach us to trust his Word.
God Tailors Your Trials To Humble You
It’s not always the case that God sends storms to confront a Jonah’s pride, but sometimes that’s exactly his design. Take, for instance, the apostle Paul’s explanation of his thorn in the flesh:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”2 Corinthians 12:7
Whatever you conclude the thorn in the flesh to be (a physical malady, a false teacher, or an imprisonment), Paul knows that it is from God and for him – it was “given to me.” And, apparently, Paul knew why God gave it to him: “to keep me from becoming conceited.” In fact, this purpose of God in Paul’s affliction is so important that he says it twice! And Paul begs Christ three times for its removal, only to be told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). In God’s wise plan, he gave Paul both an exalted spiritual experience and a painful thorn. God guarded Paul against pride with pain.

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Book Review: Knowing Sin

Mark Jones has done the Church a needed service by putting together this accessible, precise, and thoroughly practical work on the doctrine of sin…Knowing Sin [is]…a mature discipleship resource, a means to expose the evil of our own hearts that we might continually turn to Christ in grateful repentance. 

It’s a horrible, necessary paradox in the Christian life: If you want to know God more, then you need to know your sin more, too. Here’s how Calvin put it at the outset of his systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion:
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves… Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.Calvin, Institutes, I:1, 37-38.
Calvin’s point is not that our great, immortal, all-wise God is in some way dependent on our sin to be who he is, but exactly the opposite. Because we are sinful, we’re entirely dependent on God to reveal our sin to us so that we might be motivated to look to him, the great cure and antithesis of all our sin.
If we sinners want to love God more, we need to know and hate our sin more. And Mark Jones’ latest book aims to aid us on that dark and perilous journey.
In Knowing Sin: Seeing a Neglected Doctrine Through the Eyes of the Puritans, Jones delves into the theological deeps of the study of sin (what theologians call “hamartiology”) with the lantern of Puritan wisdom lighting the way. As a pastor, professor, and expert in the writings of those 17th century English non-conformists, Jones brings together precise doctrinal articulation and devotional Puritan application to lay sin bare in all its ugliness. Uniquely, Jones writes like a Puritan, full of theological depth and devotional fervor, but without any stuffy anachronisms or slavish imitation. If you’re looking for a personal or small group study resource that will convict you, challenge you, and provoke you to greater love for your sin-bearing Savior, then Knowing Sin should be at the top of your list.
To see the value of a resource like Knowing Sin, we need to feel the weight of the subtitle’s assumption: Seeing a Neglected Doctrine. What’s so neglected about the biblical doctrine of sin that this cobwebbed corner of systematic theology warrants our attention? Consider any modern public debate and you’ll see the need for more biblical precision about sin. For example: How should we think about the sins of our elected officials, the sins of our forefathers, the sins of someone else’s forefathers, the sins of ethnic groups, the sins of men, the sins of women, the sins of Christians, or the sins of the culture? In her foreword to Knowing Sin, Rosaria Butterfield shows how a robust theology of sin can help us respond to something as controversial as feminist arguments in the #Churchtoo movement. Today’s headlines and op-eds are littered with unwitting admissions of profound ignorance about the most fundamental human problem: our sin. So, our sin is worth discussing so we can speak credibly and biblically to current events and issues.
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To Reach the Unchurched, Build Up the Church

The primary obligation of the minister who wishes to reach every pew from front to back is to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to build up his body, knowing that the manifest presence of Christ through his preached Word will bring dark hearts into the light of his glorious grace. The unchurched see Christ in his church being made more like him. And that happens as men of God expound the Word of God to the people of God for the praise of God in his church.

Imagine that you’ve invited a non-believing, unchurched friend to the worship service at your church this Sunday. You’ve explained about the old-school songs that he or she won’t know, prepared them to let the communion plate pass, and even given them a heads up that the sermons can be kind of long. Now, as the preacher gets up into the pulpit, Bible in hand, you nervously shift in your seat, thinking about how your friend might receive what they’re about to hear.
Think about that moment. What do you hope the preacher will say? What do you hope the preacher won’t say?
The church growth gurus say that they know how that sermon can best reach your unchurch friend. The truly evangelistic preacher needs to address the life issues of your non-believing friend, preferably using up-to-date movie illustrations. He should preach about issues of injustice and present community concerns. Less judgment, more affirmation, less Bible, more conversation, and so on. You’ve heard it all before. The advice sounds, in summary, like this: “Leaders should focus on who they want to reach, not who they want to keep.”
According to the apostle Paul, that’s painfully backward. What preachers must say to reach non-believers in the pews, and what we should desperately want our unchurched friends to hear at church, isn’t necessarily what our unchurched friends want to hear. It’s what the church needs to hear.
The best way to evangelize the unchurched at church is to build up the church.
The logic of edification as evangelization seems counterintuitive to us, so let’s hear Paul explain it in his own words to the confused Corinthian Christians:
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
1 Corinthians 14:20-25
Without explaining this whole passage, let me note the relevant pieces to reaching the unchurched at church. First, notice that the context of Paul’s exhortation is when “the whole church comes together” (1 Cor 14:23), a description of the Lord’s day assembling of the church for worship. Paul uses this same word for “come together” five times in 1 Corinthians 11 in discussing the practice of the Lord’s Supper, and again in 14:26 about the regular worship of the church. So, what Paul has to say applies to the Sunday gathering of the church, not another setting. If it were an evangelistic campaign, or street evangelism, or another venue, then Paul’s instruction would probably sound more like 1 Corinthians 9:22 “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” But here, we’re just dealing with what believers should do when they come together as a local body on the Lord’s Day.
Second, notice that Paul makes a distinction between gifts meant for evangelism and gifts meant for edification.
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Why the Bible is the Only Book You Need on Race (from a Book on Race)

If you have the Bible, you have everything you need to minister to souls. You don’t need to become an expert in African American history, critical race theory, or the American criminal justice system to talk about ethnicity today…If the Bible is sufficient, then the Bible is what you need. 

I want to briefly address two aspects of Scripture that will affect our conversations about ethnicity: illumination and sufficiency. I’ll start with illumination.
If it’s true that the Bible doesn’t privilege certain human perspectives over another, then what is Paul getting at in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16? Paul writes:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
On the surface, it sounds like Paul is breaking up humanity into the haves (“spiritual”) and the have-nots (“natural”) and then asserting that the haves are the sources of authoritative truth. But read that passage again carefully because that’s not exactly what Paul is saying. The truth resides in “the things of the Spirit of God” in “the mind of Christ,” which is to say, God’s revealed Word. And in quoting Isaiah 40:13, Paul affirms that God’s comprehensive knowledge is beyond any of us, despite the revelation He has given. Nobody can pretend to know everything like God does and so claim omniscient objectivity like God can.
But Paul also labors in this passage to make it clear that not everyone has the same kind of response to God’s revelation. The “natural person” responds with a rejection of God’s Word; he “does not accept” the truths of Scripture. The word in Greek for “does not accept” has to do with welcoming in, like you would a guest to your house.[1] And the natural man won’t do that because God’s Word is “spiritually discerned”—that is, it requires the indwelling Holy Spirit to be accepted.
What is it about God’s Word that non-believers always, without exception, refuse to accept? It’s not necessarily mental assent to the facts contained in the words. Plenty of non-believers agree that Abraham existed, that David was king in Israel, and even that Jesus was a real Rabbi in ancient Palestine. So, what won’t they accept? The unbelieving, natural heart will always reject the intended application of the Word of God because by their nature, they won’t obey God (Rom. 3:10-11; Titus 3:3). As Paul puts it, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7).
So, if we put that all together, what we hear Paul saying is that non-believers who do not have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are unable to accept the truths of Scripture, meaning that they will not respond with a right application of Scripture. On the other hand, believers can and will appropriately read and apply Scripture, though to varying degrees. We “judge all things” in light of the truth of God’s Word, illumined by the Spirit, and so we have the ability to see truth rightly. Nobody can understand anything rightly unless they see its relationship to the ultimate Reality—God—and only believers have the spiritual enablement to do just that. And we live in light of that understanding given to us by God.
So, in a way, the Bible does create a group of haves and a group of have-nots. There are those who bow their knee to Jesus, rightly discerning and obeying His Word; and there are those who refuse to obey and, in so doing, completely miss the purpose of God’s Word. It’s not that unbelievers can’t do accurate exegetical work, rightly arriving at the intended meaning of the authors of Scripture. The problem for anyone outside of Christ is that they can’t respond to that meaning rightly, and they can’t respond rightly because in their sinful, rebellious hearts, they won’t. It’s a problem of the will, not the mind.
It’s worth taking the time to walk through the theological dynamic of the illumination of Scripture because it has huge implications for how we talk about ethnicity in the Church. Many voices in the conversation about ethnic division in the Church would have us lean on not just the Word of God but also on the wisdom of minority groups as a whole, regardless of their spiritual condition. And while I heartily agree with my own need for wisdom from different perspectives, I disagree that “the non-dominant perspective should be given heavier consideration due to the nature of the understanding necessary and provided by minoritized status.”[2] Being part of a minority group doesn’t supply the applicational insight to Scripture that the Church needs—the illumination of the Spirit does! Likewise, European American Christians are no more privileged in their interpretation and application of Scripture than African American Christians. We all share the same Spirit, Who gives the same life and light to all regardless of our ethnicity.
Too often, non-believers and even the enemies of Christ have been lauded within the Church as wise guides on the topic of ethnic division.[3] But “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). I’m not saying that I can’t learn anything from the non-believing world—much of my formal education as an adult has come from secular sources, for which I am extremely thankful. But we would be foolish to think that the world will give us answers for spiritual problems or that ethnic tension in the Church can be resolved by solutions from outside the Church, like critical race theory and intersectionality. If non-believers can’t apply Scripture by the power of the Spirit, then how are they supposed to help us “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3)?
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The Unteachable Key to Biblical Wisdom

Though it strains against our selfish fiber, the key to biblical wisdom truly is teachability. If we would get a heart of wisdom, then we should pursue humble receptivity to God’s Word and biblical counsel. Wisdom’s house can’t be built without the stable steel of a teachable spirit. May God grow in us a longing to be taught by his wisdom today.

If you’ve read the Bible’s ancient library of sage counsel – the book of Proverbs – then you know where wisdom begins: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). So, there it is. Fear God and you can be wise. Simple, right?
Well, if being wise were as simple as just fearing God, then why does wisdom still seem so elusive for so many of us?
You might think, “I fear God, I love Christ, and I want to be wise, but I still struggle to know how to make good decisions.” Perhaps you find yourself drawn back into some besetting sin over and over again, and you wish you knew a wise, biblical path to break that horrible cycle. Maybe your friends are asking you for godly counsel, but you feel ill-equipped to respond with anything more than anecdotal tips. Isn’t wisdom part of the fearing God package deal? Why can’t I seem to find the wisdom I so desperately need?
As we’ve taught through the book of Proverbs in our young adult ministry recently, I’ve been struck by the consistency of Solomon’s answer to this common predicament. The key to wisdom isn’t age – Proverbs is addressed to Solomon’s son, probably in his teens or twenties. The secret isn’t experience either – as Bruce Waltke has noted, “The world’s wisdom is live and learn. God’s wisdom is learn and live.” And while Solomon does repeat that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10, 19:23), that reverent awe isn’t an automatic connection to wisdom. Solomon tells us that there’s one more needful ingredient for wisdom to work in our lives, and it’s probably not what we want to hear.
In a word, the unteachable key to biblical wisdom is teachability.
Proverbs Teaches Teachability
Think about gaining wisdom like building a house. The fear of Yahweh is the concrete foundation and teachability is the metal rebar firmly planted in the foundation that attaches to the frame of biblical wisdom. Without the foundation, everything would fall apart, and you could never begin building. But you also need for the foundation to connect to the frame, or else the frame would just slide off or blow away. That connection is teachability – the bond that seals the fear of God and God’s revealed wisdom.
Now, you won’t find the word “teachability” in any translation of Proverbs, as far as I know, so I need to defend that word for a second. Why use that word? Well, because teachability implies at least two things: First, it implies a humble acknowledgment that one needs to be taught. Second, it implies a willingness, even an eagerness to be taught. And Solomon tells us in Proverbs that those two elements are essential to gain wisdom.
One of the most common synonyms for “wisdom” in the book of Proverbs is the word translated “instruction” or “discipline” – Solomon uses it 29 times. “To know wisdom and instruction,” “to receive instruction in wise dealing” “the reproofs of discipline are a way of life.” According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, it’s a word that describes “correction which results in education” (TWOT, 386). Think chastening, admonishing, reproving. Gaining biblical wisdom requires being told that we are wrong about something and then shown the right way. That is, to become wise we must first be teachable.
Solomon also speaks explicitly about the need for humble receptivity in Proverbs.

Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
Proverbs 9:9 “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”
Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”

Consider Solomon’s instructions to parents, to children, to sluggards, to kings – to every category, Solomon says essentially the same thing: Know that you need wisdom. Receive this teaching. Don’t reject it. Don’t assume you’re above it. If you would be wise, listen and learn.
Solomon goes further still and structures his introduction to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) with a repeated refrain to be teachable.
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