Things Matter

Many consider that the only things that matter are those that have earthly consequences. But in God’s plan of things, He created both the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. Others who see this connection between the two have a different view of how things matter.

These two fundamental ideas comprise two various different philosophies which, when seriously adhered to as guides for thought and conduct, lead to two quite distinct ways of life.

That is why some fix their concerns upon the preservation of all that they can in this life. They have only one world, only one life to live. And they intend to make the most of it.

On the contrary, Christians have two worlds, both important, but one more important that the other. Indeed, it is thought by some that all the Christian cares about is the world to come. Pie in the sky when you die bye and bye, if you will. Not true. An informed Christian knows that he can begin slicing the pie right now! He sees both worlds as inseparably linked. What happens in the one affects what happens in the other.

This basic view of life for the Christian means that he is concerned about how he lives here, not merely how he will fare in the future. His activities, however, ought to reflect the fact that he has interests that are much broader than the one who is an earthling—confined in his thinking and living to the here and now. Contrary to those who look on the faith as restrictive, it actually enlarges those who live it biblically

It is something like a man who lives in America, but who knows that there is a Europe as well, longs to travel there, and is day by day preparing to travel there. Others spend their money and time on things that mean the most to them at the moment. He, on the other hand, is saving up for the trip, is reading up on the foreign country to which he will go, and is learning all he can about it before he leaves. He is having a whale of a time anticipating it. He’s having a good time of it. He may even spend time learning the language. While he is huddling over Rosetta Stone, others are out carousing—or simply having a good time doing things that won’t last. That have consequences only in this world of here and now. While they are engaged in temporal entertainments he is devouring the travel guides to the land across the sea.

So, because of the distinct view of life and death, things that we do here and now matter. They matter because the two worlds are immutably united. That which unites them, of course, is the cross of Christ.

On Writing

Because I have spent much of my life writing articles and books, it has been necessary to consider what good writing is like. While I am sure that I do not have all of the answers, I think I have a few. In this post, in a running outline form, I shall share some of my guiding principles with the hope that some of you will find them useful and be encouraged to put some of your own ideas into print.

Christian writing should be

I.  Biblical—but not academic.

  1. Writing that is informative, scholarly, and substantive,
  2. that uses the original languages and the best commentaries and helps,
  3. need not be dry as dust,
  4. using a stilted, abstract, passive, colorless style
  5. similar to that which is found in most Ph. D. dissertations.

But, instead, it can be,

II.  Interesting—but not shallow.

  1. Interest can be aroused over a variety of matters:
  2. stories, jokes, unusual experiences.
  3. But, good writing arouses interest from the subject matter itself
  4. by exposing the interest values that are inherent in it,
  5. by relating it significantly to the reader and
  6. by doing so in a style that at every point is appropriate to him and that grows out of these values.
  7. Such a style will have warmth and vividness, will stress active verbs, and will adopt the best colloquial form of the day.

Good Christian writing also will be

III. Practical—but more than a stress on “how to.”

  1. While “how to” and good methodology are essential,
  2. the writing must address itself to problems and issues
  3. and meet needs;
  4. in short, it must be motivated by a desire to help someone in some way
  5. and should, in fact, do so.

That is why it must be

IV.  Substantive—but clear and simple.

  1. It is hard work to strike the proper balance between substance and simplicity,
  2. but that is an essential factor.
  3. There is a large class of people who need to read substantive material but will do so only if they think that what they are reading isn’t.
  4. Because most academics refuse to write in a style that will reach them, their scholarship results in too little good.

When necessary, Christian writing must be

V.  Polemical—but not personal.

  1. It should attack faulty positions, but not people.
  2. However, a writer should never smash a window unless he has another, better one to replace it; negative writing, calculated only to tear down or root up, is a blight.
  3. The Christian writer, therefore, must also plant and build.
  4. But there must be a zeal for truth, coupled with boldness; people are tired of pussyfooting.

And, finally, conservative Christian writing should be

VI.  Innovative—but for a purpose.

  1. It must never contain innovation for its own sake.
  2. Rather, innovation must be used to clarify, freshen, and strengthen old truths,
  3. and it is important to realize that in many things the most radically innovative step of all is to be more biblical.

Egypt–A Perennial Problem

Again, and again, the people of God turned to Egypt for help instead of turning to God. The problem still occurs. Of course, in this article I’m not speaking of physical Egypt, but of all that Egypt came to represent.  Physical Egypt is the type of all that one trusts rather than God.

So, what does the Bible say about Egypt? Here is but one of many passages in which God explains what happens whenever His people turn to Egypt:

When Israel grasped you by the hand, you splintered, tearing all their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you shattered and made all their hips unsteady.     (Ezekiel 29:7).

Christian, are you leaning on a splintering reed rather than the rock-solid One Who saved you? If so, is your shoulder beginning to hurt?

Are you putting your trust in some modern “Egypt” of your own making rather than the unshakable, sturdy Creator and Sustainer of the universe? Foolish, if you are—and do you find yourself beginning to limp?

Staffs made of flimsy reed cannot help. Turn from them and back to the one and only unfailing support—the God Who made you!

An Observation, and a Wise Example

Somebody you’d like to “tell off?” You think he needs a piece of your mind—a good talking to? Think twice; but first, read the following:

When there are many words, sin is unavoidable.
Proverbs 10:19

Most of Proverbs is filled with wise observations given in FYI form (as in this one).  That is to say, they are not in the form of commands, but of information that a wise person, wishing to be wiser, will pay attention to. He will apply them as he sees need to do so.

These proverbs don’t promise anything when setting forth truth in this form—they merely tell you what is happening (generally) in God’s world—in relation to Him and others. The wise will wisely apply what he learns from such observations.

The proverb that you are examining is plain enough—but don’t stop with it. Instead, use the understanding that we have reached about many of the Proverbs from chapter 10 on, and begin to learn how to live wisely as a result.

Disagreement

People may not like Nouthetic Counseling (articles appear from time to time attempting to debunk it). But that’s to be expected. Whenever anyone tries to do something to serve the Lord there will be opposition.

What we ask for is an honest appraisal of what we teach—nothing more. We don’t expect everyone to see eye to eye with us. Far from it. But when they differ, we would like them to represent our views fairly.

To say that we believe everything bad that happens in a person’s life is due to his personal sin, is a calumny. We have never taught any such thing. Yet, this is frequently parroted by those unsympathetic with NC. Trouble comes our way because of Adam’s sin, yes. But certainly not all of it because of the sin of individuals since. This was made perfectly clear in Competent to Counsel as early as 1970!

Additionally, to say that we don’t believe in doing good to unbelievers is equally false. We would want to feed them if hungry, clothe them if needy, and so forth. But to ask them to do what only Christians can do is not only to treat them unkindly, it is counterproductive. It is one thing to do good to another; something quite different to ask him to do the same.

In a recent blog we were accused of teaching that the counselor cannot be wrong—only the counselee. That is nonsense! We have said so much about how a counselor can go wrong that there is hardly anything left to say. For instance, we have set forth Fifty Failure Factors for counselors to use in order discover possible ways in which they might be failing counselees.

In this same blog, the writer claims that the goal on NC is control. Yes, control of one’s own lifestyle by the Spirit—but never control of counselees by counselors. In Galatians 5, Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, one piece of which is “self-control.” That is precisely the goal of our counseling. It is always interesting to note how far from the actual practice of NC a critic can come, but it would be nice if he would read far enough in the literature to know what he is criticizing.

Empirical Evidence?

Question: What empirical evidence do you have that Nouthetic Counseling is superior to other forms of counseling?

Answer: Quite frankly, none. Do you wonder at that? Let me tell you why you shouldn’t. To compare Christian counseling with other forms of counseling is to compare oranges to apples (no, let’s say, oranges and socks!). Consider the goal of Christian counseling over against that of others. Most counseling seeks to solve a person’s problem in order to bring relief. That is the prime goal. In Christian counseling, however, the goal is to honor and glorify God, whether or not relief is obtained. How, then, do you compare the outcomes?

Moreover, since the object of biblical counseling is to bring about change in the counselee that honors God, how would you test for that empirically? Would you put his soul in a test tube, shake it up and hope it turns blue? How would you test whether God was honored, whether the motives of the counselee were sound (since God looks upon the heart; not merely on outward behavior) or whether he only made changes outwardly? How would you determine the extent of the Holy Spirit’s work in the counselee’s life so as to make the desired spiritual changes? In other words, there is no way to obtain empirical evidence. Since it is biblical attainments that are under consideration, it is impossible to get statistical evidence for the spiritual changes that the biblical counselor seeks to bring about.

Then, further, why would we need any tests anyway? The One Who tries the hearts of men is the Lord. He infallibly knows what is happening within the person. We can look only at his outward behavior and listen to his speech. It is He Who tests; and that is all that counts. Besides, from the counselor’s perspective, success is measured not by the outcome of the counseling sessions but ultimately by whether the counselor did those things that were biblical, thereby honoring his Lord. Success may be measured in many ways; Christians should measure it in terms of how well the counselor followed the Bible in a given case. And once again, there is no way to test this except by comparing what he does with what the Scriptures require of him.

So, what does the Christian counselor have to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nouthetic counseling? Nothing, as I said before. And he is absolutely content to say so. He must do as well as he can to meet biblical requirements in order to please God, and then let the chips fall where they may. He knows that his performance as a counselor will be flawed since he is not perfect. But he also knows that when he asks for forgiveness for failure God measures his success by that as well as by the performance. So, given the goals, given the persons at work (the counselor and the Holy Spirit) and given the kinds of outcomes that are expected and achieved in the sight of God, it would be not only foolish but arrogant to attempt to test Nouthetic counseling by some human apparatus. We do not have to set results of the sort that they might wish before the world, so long as we honor and please God. On Judgment Day, He will reveal the statistics! Any counseling claiming to be “Christian” that makes much of statistics thereby invalidates itself as such by showing that its goals and outcomes are not thought of in biblical terms.

Since the human counselor is not the only one who is at work in Christian counseling, the Christian has an “unfair advantage” over other counselors. With the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of counselees and enabling them to overcome sinful propensities that hinder growth, producing His fruit through His inerrant Word, what profit would there be in trying to determine how well a human counselor counsels? In effect, he is but a catalyst, ministering the Scriptures in ways that the Spirit utilizes to bring about change in counselees. The Spirit is the ultimate Counselor. The whole concept of empirical evidence, statistics and the like, begs the question. And the thought of attempting to obtain them is repugnant. Sorry, but that is how it is.

Grow By Grace

There are all sorts of ideas floating about today in various circles concerning sanctification. If you are getting confused by them, consider the following:

But grow in (by) the grace (help) and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:16).

More often than not, in NT (Koine) writing, it seems that the Greek “en” (often translated “in”) ought to be translated by one of its other possibilities–“by, with,” etc. Here, I am sure that it should read “by,”as I noted in the parenthesis in the quotation. The idea of a “spherical dative” is foolish here (as in many of the translations made of this important preposition).

What Peter was trying to get his readers to understand is that in order to grow in their faith it takes grace and knowledge—both, of course, applied to daily living—in order to grow. And growth, as one learns more about Christ and becomes more like Him, is what sanctification is all about. That grace (here, “help,” the second meaning of the word grace, is also a more appropriate translation).

Growth comes about as a believer learns more of the Christian faith and is helped by God to practice it. More and more he progressively comes to walk as he should (not, in this life without failures, of course). But if one is a true believer, he grows. He will change. He can because he is a new creation. Sanctification is not “on the spot,”as one modern preacher recently said. Nor does it come about without effort: studying and prayerfully applying scriptural truth. It is the result of knowing God’s truth about putting off the old sinful ways and replacing them with new biblical ones that please God. Growth is a sign of life—in this case spiritual life. No growth—no life.

Think about this and refuse to be herded by the crowd that teaches that something other than growth is essential.

Written In Stone

How would you like to have your words written down when you didn’t know they were going to be?

Well, listen to Job 19:23-24:

I wish my words were written down,
That they were recorded on a scroll
Or were inscribed on a stone forever
By an iron stylus and lead.”

He got his wish! Only from what he says later on in the book, I doubt that he would want them to be written anywhere by any kind of instrument after having been laced out by the Lord.

Still think he’d want his words to be recorded? Listen to Job 40:4:

I am so insignificant. How can I answer you?
I place my hand over my mouth.

So much for bolstering self-esteem! So much for questioning the Lord’s will as Job did.

“Will all of my words be recorded somewhere?”

Who knows?

Have you read Luke 12:3 lately? I suggest you get out your Bible right now and do so. It might have a salutary effect on your speech!

Using the Original Languages in Preaching

Why do I need to? After all, there was no time in the history of preaching when there were more good translations than now.

The argument sounds good; but the objector misses the obvious fact that the more translation possibilities that he has to choose from, the more one needs to know (at least something about) the original languages; otherwise, when they differ (and they do), how does he know which is correct? From which should he preach? Which more faithfully represents the original text of the writers? This is a special problem today, when so many translators have determined to become interpretive in their renderings. The very wealth of modern options itself should (all the more) point up the need for an acquaintance with the original languages.

“Where can I get this knowledge?” Self-help books, printed languages courses in both Greek and Hebrew, and internet courses exist. But (easiest) many Bible colleges. All conservative seminaries and a number of other schools provide courses in the original languages. Any pastor who has never had Greek or Hebrew (even if he doesn’t ever complete a seminary education) ought to take these courses. “Why?” Well, not only to decide between translations, but:

  1. To be able to “get the feel” of a passage. English translations tend to trowel off the original tone of the writers. Only by becoming acquainted with the original can one restore this. This “feel” is essential to good preaching.
  2. To be able to use the best commentaries and read the better Bible helps (most of which refer to the original text). Without some knowledge of the languages, one cannot follow the reasoning behind the renderings suggested.
  3. To be able to evaluate other books that (again, not using the original) may be far afield in their interpretations and/or uses of many passages.
  4. Preaching that flows from the study of a passage in the original moves forward with a more sure-footed stride; other preaching often limps. A certain confidence derives from having examined the text for one’s self.

“But I’ll never be a Greek or Hebrew scholar.” Right! That is true of most pastors. And right there lies the problem. Many good men who could have profited from a sensible use of the original languages were turned off by seminary teachers who taught them the study of languages as if their life occupation would be to teach Classics or Semitics in a university. They never recommended short cuts (e.g., like forgetting all about the rules for Greek accents—learning these is an almost totally unnecessary chore. One can get along well with learning only those distinguishing accents that count). They tried to build up a conscience against using analytical lexicons and interlinear translations (two very valuable helps that no one should feel guilty about using freely). They talk negatively about such books as Kubo’s Reader’s Lexicon and don’t tell students about Spiros Zodhiates’ crib for Machen’s grammar. All such “purism” is sheer nonsense. Who cares if a pastor leans on some Bagster help? Who cares how a person learns to get the right answers to his exegetical questions concerning the original languages so long as he gets them? Of course one should use the Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance if he finds it helpful. Why not?

With all that a busy pastor must do, it is only right for him to employ every available aid that he can afford, to keep his hand into the continued use of Hebrew and Greek. He would be a poor steward of time and energy if he did not. Many men have lost any language ability they once had because they believed (what they were told, or strongly led to think) that it was wrong to use anything but the naked text and the standard grammars and lexicons. Sheer, unadulterated nonsense! Pastor, if using an interlinear will help you get back to the Greek and Hebrew, use it—let me emancipate you from the chains of guilt forged in the shops of language teachers who never had to face the everyday problems of the pastorate. Use it! Use whatever is available. Indeed, every teacher of Hebrew and Greek in a theological seminary ought to take the time to compare and contrast these helps, giving his opinion about which is best (and why) and instructing pastors in the most effective and intelligent use of each.

Preach; preach from a study of the original text, and you will preach with confidence and joy.

All Truth

According to John 14:26, the apostles received the last revelation that would ever be given this side of eternity. Jesus told them

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, that the Father will send in My name, He is the One Who will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you.

It’s a good thing that God provided the Spirit to give all remaining revelation to the apostles, as well as to enable them to remember Jesus’ ministry so as to write inerrant Gospel accounts (See also John 12:16). We know that He met with them for forty days following His resurrection talking to them concerning the things that pertained to the church (Acts 1:3), but it was only after the Spirit of truth came upon them that they were given “all truth” (John 16:13), including prophetic understanding of the future. To know that they received all the truth that the church will ever have is important for many reasons, among which are the following:

  1. We can be sure that claims to additional revelation are false, and know, therefore, to reject them.
  2. We can know that there are no more prophecies to be forthcoming.
  3. We can know that the Scriptures, in which all truth is deposited, are sufficient for our lives.
  4. We can know that the more that we study the Bible and come to know the truths therein, the closer we come to knowing all the truth that God has disclosed (not that any of us gets all that far).
  5. We can know that there is a source of truth available to those who ask the Spirit to enable them to access and appropriate it as they study the Bible.
  6. We can know that God has completely provided a fixed rule of faith and practice for us in a world where everything else seems uncertain.

How richly God endowed us when in the coming of the Spirit, we also received all truth through the apostles!