The Rich Young Ruler

The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19 (and parallels; Luke calls him a “ruler”) has got to be one of the most misunderstood passages in the NT. It is confusing on the face of it. Because at a cursory read, it really looks like Jesus tells the guy he can have eternal life if he sells his stuff and gives the money to the poor. And, of course, this could be contrasted with other passages that make it seem like we can only get eternal life by trusting in Christ.

A few reasons I don’t think Jesus means to tell this guy he’ll be saved by selling his possessions:

  • It would contradict numerous other texts, including words out of Jesus’ mouth, that say we are saved only by grace through faith (for example, Matt 20:28, which is discussed below).
  • The first thing Jesus says to the young man is “Why do you call me ‘good’? There is only one who is good.” This would not be true if selling his stuff would make the young man good enough to inherit eternal life.
  • In v. 21 Jesus tells him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess,” etc. Since the man asked what he needed to do to have eternal life, it seems like Jesus is saying that you have to be perfect to inherit eternal life. Surely he’s not admitting that the young man has never sinned, and that if he did this one thing he would become “perfect.”
  • When the young man walks away, Jesus comments on how difficult it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom. His disciples ask him, “Who then can be saved?” His reply: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” If the young man could actually be saved by selling his possessions, why would Jesus say “with man this is impossible”?
  • The very next passage is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the point of which is that God’s grace, not the amount or quality of our work, is the issue in salvation. Matthew chose to place these passages next to each other. Why would he do that if they contradicted each other?
  • In the next chapter Jesus says “the Son of Man came… to give his life as a ransom for many.” We would not need such a ransom if we could be saved simply by giving away our possessions.

So what does Jesus mean to tell this young man? More tomorrow.

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Mark Driscoll and Rush Limbaugh

Once again there’s a lot of ink being spilled in the blogosphere (not literally, of course) over Mark Driscoll. His new book Vintage Jesus comes out next week, and advance reviews are coming out this week. As is usually the case with Driscoll, a common reaction is that most of the content of the book is good, but some of Driscoll’s provocative– even off-color– statements cross the line between what’s appropriate and what’s not. Here’s the most popular example:

Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the “fact” that she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom.

This is the kind of thing that makes some people think Driscoll is the greatest thing since Bono and some people think he’s the Antichrist. (Of course, some people like Tim Challies are in between.) I myself like his stuff a lot, although he regularly says things I wouldn’t say and occasionally says things I wish he wouldn’t.

This is where Rush Limbaugh comes in. Rush, although many of his detractors would disagree, is a very smart guy. He has a great understanding of conservative principles and is very good at explaining them on the popular level. He’s also an entertainer, which is why about every other thing he says is something like “half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair.” With Rush, I figure you get about 50% thoughtful analysis and 50% obnoxious smoke-blowing. But the thoughtful analysis is there, make no mistake about it.

Driscoll is similar. But I actually think he’s a lot better. Don’t be fooled by the macho/hip exterior– Driscoll has a degree in philosophy, is a voracious reader, and is basically wicked smaht. He also loves Jesus. A lot. He loves the Bible a lot, loves good theology a lot. He consistently takes all kinds of solid Biblical stands that are incredibly unpopular, like the substitutionary death of Christ, God’s sovereignty in salvation, the importance of the local church, even the importance of God-given gender distinctions. And he does this in Seattle, a city that, he frequently remarks, has “more dogs than evangelical Christians.” So there’s a lot of content there. He is also an entertainer. He is funny and provocative, and he uses those traits in his preaching and writing. I’m sure part of this is just his personality and part of it is a deliberate effort to reach out to the young urban crowd he’s trying to impact.

Sometimes in the effort to make a point dramatically or get a laugh, he says things that I think are inappropriate. It could be, as the anti-Driscoll bloggers suggest, that this is because he has no concept of the holiness of God and the importance of the preacher’s task. But seriously, read his books or listen to a few sermons and I think you’ll see that’s not the case. If Rush is 50/50, Driscoll is at least 80/20 on the side of solid biblical content. So even if you do roll your eyes or cringe occasionally, it’s worth it for the good stuff, and for the impact he’s having in places where nice preachers with ties don’t even typically go.

So as if anyone cares, I’m happy to take sides with the Driscoll defenders. Sometimes I do think he’s over the top– so does he; he’s made public apologies. But almost all the time, he’s simply a great communicator of the truth of the Gospel, someone God is using mightily to raise up worshipers of Jesus.

And maybe, since I’m a sinner too, I just delight in the torment he brings to some people who take themselves way too seriously.

Mark Driscoll and Rush Limbaugh

Once again there’s a lot of ink being spilled in the blogosphere (not literally, of course) over Mark Driscoll. His new book Vintage Jesus comes out next week, and advance reviews are coming out this week. As is usually the case with Driscoll, a common reaction is that most of the content of the book is good, but some of Driscoll’s provocative– even off-color– statements cross the line between what’s appropriate and what’s not. Here’s the most popular example:

Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the “fact” that she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom.

This is the kind of thing that makes some people think Driscoll is the greatest thing since Bono and some people think he’s the Antichrist. (Of course, some people like Tim Challies are in between.) I myself like his stuff a lot, although he regularly says things I wouldn’t say and occasionally says things I wish he wouldn’t.

This is where Rush Limbaugh comes in. Rush, although many of his detractors would disagree, is a very smart guy. He has a great understanding of conservative principles and is very good at explaining them on the popular level. He’s also an entertainer, which is why about every other thing he says is something like “half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair.” With Rush, I figure you get about 50% thoughtful analysis and 50% obnoxious smoke-blowing. But the thoughtful analysis is there, make no mistake about it.

Driscoll is similar. But I actually think he’s a lot better. Don’t be fooled by the macho/hip exterior– Driscoll has a degree in philosophy, is a voracious reader, and is basically wicked smaht. He also loves Jesus. A lot. He loves the Bible a lot, loves good theology a lot. He consistently takes all kinds of solid Biblical stands that are incredibly unpopular, like the substitutionary death of Christ, God’s sovereignty in salvation, the importance of the local church, even the importance of God-given gender distinctions. And he does this in Seattle, a city that, he frequently remarks, has “more dogs than evangelical Christians.” So there’s a lot of content there. He is also an entertainer. He is funny and provocative, and he uses those traits in his preaching and writing. I’m sure part of this is just his personality and part of it is a deliberate effort to reach out to the young urban crowd he’s trying to impact.

Sometimes in the effort to make a point dramatically or get a laugh, he says things that I think are inappropriate. It could be, as the anti-Driscoll bloggers suggest, that this is because he has no concept of the holiness of God and the importance of the preacher’s task. But seriously, read his books or listen to a few sermons and I think you’ll see that’s not the case. If Rush is 50/50, Driscoll is at least 80/20 on the side of solid biblical content. So even if you do roll your eyes or cringe occasionally, it’s worth it for the good stuff, and for the impact he’s having in places where nice preachers with ties don’t even typically go.

So as if anyone cares, I’m happy to take sides with the Driscoll defenders. Sometimes I do think he’s over the top– so does he; he’s made public apologies. But almost all the time, he’s simply a great communicator of the truth of the Gospel, someone God is using mightily to raise up worshipers of Jesus.

And maybe, since I’m a sinner too, I just delight in the torment he brings to some people who take themselves way too seriously.

Jesus and Sheep

From Mark Driscoll’s new book Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions. Driscoll’s talking about the Jesus he learned about in Sunday School as a kid:

Worse still, this weird Jesus seemed to really like sheep. I never saw a picture of him with a baseball glove or with other kids, but I did see him with a lot of sheep. Sometimes they even made us glue cotton balls to construction paper in an effort to make our own sheep so that we could apparently be as weird as Jesus. In short, Jesus seemed downright freakish, definitely not the kind of guy you’d want on your baseball team because he’d never have the guts to slide hard into second to break up a double play or throw inside to a batter to back him off the plate. Rather, he’d prefer to pick flowers in the outfield and daydream about fluffy sheep while praying for his enemies and keeping his emotions under control.

Full review later in the week.

Band of Bloggers and Together for the Gospel

Everybody loves a good conference, am I right? One I’m hoping I can hit this year is the second bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference. The idea behind this conference is for Christians with various secondary differences to stand together and rejoice in what we all agree on: the greatness of the Gospel. So it’s hosted by Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan and C. J. Mahaney— 2 Baptists, a Presbyterian, and a charismatic. It’s kind of a guy-walks-into-a-bar joke waiting to happen.

At any rate, the 2006 conference was great, or at least the MP3’s were. All four of the above guys spoke, and also John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul and John Piper. This year they’re also adding Thabiti Anyabwile, one of whose books I’ll be reviewing this week. You can see the titles of all the talks here.

Another cool feature that they had in 2006 but are expanding this year is the Band of Bloggers pre-conference. In 2006 this meeting before T4G sort of developed on the grassroots level, and they’re working to make it even better this year. It’s a brief conference for bloggers to interact in person, kick ideas around and basically encourage each other to “live and write with a gospel-centered emphasis.”

Unless something changes I’ll be in Prague during the conference this year. But if you’re looking for something to do April 15-17, check this stuff out.

Follow the Trail

Justin Taylor points to C. J. Mahaney‘s pointing to Greg Gilbert‘s critiques of Rob Bell‘s Nooma videos. Got that?

But seriously folks, Gilbert’s reviews (in three parts) are good. Full disclosure, I haven’t seen any of the Nooma videos. But reading Bell’s stuff I’ve had some of the same concerns as Gilbert. See what you think.

The Kind of Rest Jesus Offers

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Jesus, Matt 11:28-30

Is this the same Jesus who said things like this just a chapter earlier?

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:34-38).

Jesus promises us rest, an easy burden. But it’s the kind of rest that’s “not peace but a sword”—the kind of rest that severs you from people you love. It’s a rest that’s the fight of your life: a rest where you can’t buy all the things you want, a rest where babies and young people die. It is, in other words, a very real rest—a rest that takes place in the real world with all its real problems and brokenness.

So how is that rest? How is it an easy burden? Because it’s a rest from trying to bear the burden ourselves, from trying to understand/overcome/fix everything—or fix ourselves, for that matter. It’s a rest from depending on our own sorry effort, our own sorry record. A rest from having all the answers. A rest that knows this is not all there is. And since it’s not, we can bear it a little while longer. A few decades of the sword—mixed with “joy unspeakable”—and then we enter the rest remaining, where the yoke will only be easy, the burden only light.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! The strife shall not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song.

Mysterious Ways

Last March we spent a week in Philadelphia being assessed by World Harvest Mission, who oversees the Prague church planting team we’ll be joining soon. Along with us, there was another married couple and three single girls. One of these was Jessica, a Furman student who had already done a lot of mission work and had a heart for the Muslim world. She was applying for an internship in Europe as part of discerning what her call to missions might look like. We stayed in the same house all week, got to hang out a lot, and really liked her. She was into John Piper and The Office. Clearly we became friends.

This month Jessica was doing her pre-field training in Colorado. Sunday morning she was traveling with several other missionaries when they were in a terrible wreck. Jessica, another young woman, and an eighteen-month-old child were killed. The baby’s parents are still in the hospital; the mom is in critical condition.

We are crushed. And of course it doesn’t make sense to us. How does it help the Kingdom to take a girl who would have given the rest of her life to missions? Why save the parents and take the child? God does not give us any of these answers, at least not now. He does not have to.

There is one thing we do know: it won’t always be like this. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Come, Lord Jesus.

Desiring God Conference

Each year Desiring God hosts a conference for pastors, and this year is a special one. The theme is “The Pastor as Father and Son,” and pastors were encouraged to bring their fathers and/or sons (at a deeply discounted rate!). John Piper lost his dad early last year, and he will be the subject of Piper’s biographical message. D. A. Carson, another conference speaker, has a memoir of his father coming out later this month.

The conference looks great, and they are posting the audio within about an hour of each talk. This will be good stuff to download and enjoy, especially for men.

Theopedia

We all know Wikipedia, our generation’s Britannica and a relatively productive timewaster. (Did you know that at the 1980 Republican convention Ronald Reagan came close to nominating former President Gerald Ford as his vice-presidential running mate? I didn’t. Until last week.) But you may not know about another great resource: Theopedia.

Built on the same model as Wikipedia, Theopedia is “an encyclopedia of biblical Christianity.” What is hyper-Calvinism? Who is Wayne Grudem? What do we mean when we say the Bible is inerrant? You can get a quick answer to these kinds of questions on Theopedia. It’s in progress, and some articles are better than others, but I haven’t seen anything out-and-out wrong in the articles I’ve looked at. When you find yourself needing a 30,000-foot overview of something theological, this is a good bookmark to have.