The Gospel is Not Dynamite

Driving home last night I heard a preacher on the radio mention that our word “dynamite” comes from the Greek word dynamis. True enough, but too many preachers make far more out of this than what should be done. And he did do more than just “mention” it. Consider this from D.A. Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies.

“Our word dynamite is etymologically derived from δύναμις (dynamis, power, or even miracle). I do not know how many times I have heard preachers offer some such rendering of Romans 1:16 as this: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the dynamite of God unto salvation for everyone who believers’—often with a knowing tilt of the head, as if something profound or even esoteric has been uttered. This is not just the old root fallacy revisited. It is worse: it is an appeal to a kind of reverse etymology, the root fallacy compounded by anachronism. Did Paul think of dynamite when he penned this word? And in any case, even to mention dynamite as a kind of analogy is singularly inappropriate. Dynamite blows things up, tears things down, rips out rock, gouges holes, destroys things. The power of God concerning which Paul speaks he often identifies with the power that raised Jesus from the dead (e.g., Eph. 1:18-20); and as it operates in us, its goal is εἰς σωτηρίαν (eis sōtērian, ‘unto salvation,’ Rom. 1:16, KJV), aiming for the wholeness and perfection implicit in the consummation of our salvation. Quite apart from the semantic anachronism, therefore, dynamite appears inadequate as a means of raising Jesus from the dead or as a means of conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Of course, what preachers are trying to do when they talk about dynamite is to give some indication of the greatness of the power involved. Even so, Paul’s measure is not dynamite, but the empty tomb.” (p. 33-34)

I’ve said it before: this book should be mandatory reading for every seminary student and certainly for anyone considering a vocation in preaching. It is short, accessible and it will richly reward the pastor who heeds Carson’s advice.

Exegetical Fallacies

John Frame’s Thoughts on Joel Osteen

Last week we received the second volume of John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. The book is divided up into seven sections: “Theological Topics,” “Theological Education,” “Theological Method,” “Apologetics,” “Ethics,” “The Church,” and “Personal.” Under the “Ethics” section there is a chapter entitled “Two Levels of Blessings, and a Few Words about Joel Osteen.” I wondered if Frame would blast Osteen with a spanking from a Reformed theological stand point. As I should have known from reading Frame he is much more gracious and circumspect in his evaluation of the famed pastor. Frame begins his essay by pointing to two levels of divine blessing: initial grace (or God’s initial saving grace) and subsequent blessing. He notes that Luther and Calvin were much more balanced than many of their followers. Luther, he says, “lived somewhat more in the realm of initial grace, and Calvin lived somewhat more in the area of subsequent blessing.” Frame says the evaluation of Osteen is “more complicated” than what his normal critics usually state. First, Osteen’s “preaching of blessing is presented in a salvation context–to people who are committed to Christ as Lord and Savior.” (p. 321) This means it “is a preaching of what I have called subsequent blessing, not a preaching of salvation based on works.” (p. 321) Frame says that while he disagrees with some of Osteen’s applications of Scripture he thinks that “for the most part they are true expositions of the passages he cites.” (p. 321) Is Osteen part of the “pray for a bigger house” kind of materialism? Frame urges caution here. “Although he does urge his audience to pray for earthly advancement and prosperity, he always puts that in a context of godly motivations.” (p. 321) Frame says he has been moved by one of Osteen’s sermons and that he has “found many of [his] sermons to be personally beneficial.” (p. 321) Does Frame have any criticism for Osteen? Yes.

“My only criticism is this: he preaches on only one topic. that topic of course, is subsequent blessing. That is a genuinely biblical theme, and perhaps it deserves more stress in today’s church. But there is so much more in God’s Word! If one joins Osteen’s church and trusts Osteen as his main teacher of God’s Word, he will not hear much about creation, fall, sin, incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, or glorification. He will not hear much , either, about the tragedies brought into human life by sin and by God’s curse on the ground. That would be a severe loss. Of course, Osteen’s own emphasis, on subsequent blessing, intersects with all these doctrines and gives his congregation a perspective on all of them. But he doesn’t teach these doctrines with any level of directness, and that is a mistake.” (p. 322)

Frame says he won’t “reject Osteen as a heretic or a preacher of ‘another gospel.’ His message is the gospel of Jesus as Lord and Savior, who leads his people in a path of blessing.” This final paragraph I thought was especially good and typical of the wisdom displayed so often by Frame.

“Still, there are many people who have been spiritually hurt–who have been troubled by the image of God as an angry tyrant, who wants to take away every happiness. For such people, I think Osteen’s preaching may be a healing balm.” (p. 322)

John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings is from P&R Publishing. It is a paperback with 384 pages and sells for $16.99. You can see a sample chapter here.

John M. Frame (AB, Princeton University; BD, Westminster Theological Seminary; MA and MPhil, Yale University; DD, Belhaven College) holds the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and is the author of many books, including the four-volume Theology of Lordship series.

John Frame



Why We Need the Church? Some Insights from Martin Luther

I’m really enjoying Carl Trueman’s book Luther on the Christian Life. I can’t help but be refreshed by Luther’s emphasis on the importance of the preached word of God. This is a healthy response to those who would rather sit at home (or gather in a coffee shop) and pray and read their Bible. “No need for church” is the banner over the living room sofa. Trueman says,

“In Luther’s time, most people were illiterate and thus the corporate reading and preaching of the Word were the only ways in which the Word could come to them. Yet there is more to it than the question of literacy: the external Word—the Word mediated to me via another from outside and thus not immediately filtered through my own sinful mind—confronts me in a way that my own Bible reading can never do. The external Word preached is thus, for Luther, one of the major means of personal transformation.” (p. 90)

He continues, “[T]here is a prioritizing of public worship over private devotions. The latter are an important option but Luther sees that when it is the time of public worship, the troubled or lethargic soul would be better served in the context of the gathering of the saints. . . I can sit in my room and read my Psalter, which is fine; or I can go to hear the Word sung and proclaimed to me by others, which has a confrontational, external aspect to it over which I have no control and toward which I cannot be neutral but must respond either in unbelief or in faith.” (p. 120)

This emphasis on the church would even be manifested in Luther’s counsel to his parishioners. “One could imagine a person seeking Luther’s advice for, say, struggles with assurance. Luther’s first question of him would almost certainly be, Are you going to church to hear the Word and receive the sacraments? If the answer came back in the negative, it is safe to assume that Luther would send the person to attend church for a few weeks before he would consider giving him individual counsel. If the person had excluded himself from the objective means of grace, not only would spiritual problems be expected, but also Luther could really offer nothing else to help him.” (pp. 120-21)

Too many in church today are too quick to give up on church. They are swift to highlight the problems and throw their arms up in despair over hypocrisy, legalism, shallow preaching, and a host of other issues. But God has not given up on the church. It is important to realize that it is in the midst of the sin-infested church that God continues to raise up people who burn with passion for God and his people. The answer for many is to give up and meet in a coffee shop. Give it enough time and the coffee shop group will exhibit signs of hypocrisy, legalism, and shallow discussions of the Word. We need the church with all her faults and problems because she is the bride of Christ. When the faults of the church manifest themselves focus on patience and know that God is not done working with and through his church. What about meeting in the coffee shop? No need to stop that but don’t make it a substitute for church. Perhaps some time could be spent praying for the good of the church rather than criticizing and berating her.


If Bible Translations Had Dinner Together

A coworker sent me this link on “If All the Bible Translations Had a Dinner Party.” While not every translation is represented you’ll get the idea. Here’s just part of it. Very funny.

King James Version (KJV): Hear, hear! Thou young Bibles have no sense of tradition or languages. Thou goest hither and yon, getting makeovers every three years.  NIV, in the last ten years thou hast gotten plastic surgery and thou hast begun dressing like a metrosexual. Thou hast lost thy manhood! I haven’t changed one jot or tittle in over 400 years! [Takes small sip of merlot from a goblet marked “Ebenezer”].

NIV: I am not dressing like a metrosexual! These are skinny jeans. They’re supposed to look…skinny. And in terms of my manhood, let me make something…

The Message (MSG): Dudes, why does Old Man James always talk like that? [Slurps on Redbull]. I mean, like, what’s the difference between “Thee” and “Thou”? And what are jots and tittles? Are they like “Mike & Ike’s”? Honestly, I feel like I’m talking to someone who speaks Mexican. Whatev’s. I totes don’t get it.

ESV: Okay, okay, listen. Yes, I have been getting a lot of attention lately, and I did have a snazzy marketing campaign, but that doesn’t mean I’m bet…

MSG: Dude, can you talk a little quieter. My son, The Message Remix, is competing in the X-Games, and I’m trying to watch on my phone. He’s totes shredding the half-pipe.

Amplified Bible (AMP) [nervously rubbing hands together, perspiration forming on mustache]: I just want to say that I’m really grateful, excited, thrilled, jazzed, stoked to be here. I talk a lot, say a lot of words, run my mouth when I get nervous, anxious, stressed, worried, so please ignore, deny, pay no attention to me. Did I say too much?

KJV [speaking very loudly]: Translations these days have no sense of history, no sense of tradition. I wast commissioned by King James himself. I am practically royalty. Back in my day, there was no New Living Message Voice Remix. There were no glow in the dark covers or Bible XTremes. There was only the king’s English, and we liked it that way. Message, who doth commissioned you? Was it a President or Prime Minister?

MSG: Uhh, a guy name Eugene. He’s from Montana, I think. Wears Birkenstocks. Totes awesome dude.

Today is My Birthday

I’m taking the day off from blogging today since it is my birthday. I know, I know, this is a post. But it didn’t take much thought. I’m thankful to the Lord for 57 years. Some high and some low but through it all he’s been with me sustaining me with his grace and mercy.

Is There a First-Century Fragment of the Gospel of Mark?

By blog standards this is already old news. But I know a few of my readers don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs. I appreciate it that they spend any time at all on mine. So for the benefit of those who may not have heard there is a speculation that a fragment of the Gospel of Mark has been found that could date back as far as the first century. If this proves true it would be the earliest extant fragment of the New Testament. To date the earliest fragment is P52 which comes from the Gospel of John (also known as the John Rylands Papyrus #457). This fragment comes from the second century.

One of the more fascinating things about this recent find is that it was discovered in a mummy mask. For a cautious approach to this discovery see Larry Hurtado’s post here. Justin Taylor offers his own thoughts here.

Below is a YouTube clip from Dr. Craig Evans explaining the discovery in more detail.

“I Love Jesus but Hate the Church” – What would John Calvin Say?

It is always disastrous to leave the church.” The words are from John Calvin. The strong ecclesiology of John Calvin is hard to find in much of contemporary evangelical ecclesiology. It is more fashionable to hear that one hates the church but loves Jesus. “Who needs church?” is the question of the day. Here’s what Calvin said,

“Fanatical men, refusing to hold fast to it, entangle themselves in many deadly snares. Many are either led either by pride, dislike, or rivalry to the conviction that they can profit enough from private reading and meditation; hence they despise public assemblies and deem preaching superfluous.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.1.5)

Clearly, Calvin knew churches had problems. But he warns against leaving simply because there are problems.

“The pure ministry of the Word and pure mode of celebrating the sacraments are, as we say, sufficient pledge and guarantee that we may safely embrace as church any society I which both these marks exist. The principle extends to the point that we must not reject it so long as it retains them, even if it otherwise swarms with many faults. . . . But I say we must not thoughtlessly forsake the church because of any petty dissensions.” (4.1.12) He plainly says those who seek a church “besmirched with no blemish” are looking in vain (4.1.13) but we must remember that it “is no less true that the Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots” and from this “it follows that the church’s holiness is not yet complete.” (4.1.17)

It is true many evangelicals do not trace their heritage to Calvin directly but they are related to the Reformation in general as Protestants. I sometimes wonder what some Protestants believe are the necessary elements to a worship service. Indeed, are there any at all? For Calvin it was the preaching of the word and the proper distribution of the sacraments. Catholics have established guidelines in order for a Mass to be valid or invalid. (This is an interesting feature about Catholic liturgy. It is common to hear a Protestant say they were not being “fed” by a service/pastor/sermon but I’ve never heard one say their service wasn’t valid. The difference lies in the sacramental nature of the Catholic Church. Can Protestants learn something from this? Could it be said of a Protestant service that it is “proper” or “improper”?) I’ve been to numerous Protestant services where the sermon was omitted to allow for more singing or for prayer or for a special event. I’ve never been to a Protestant service where singing was omitted so maybe that’s the essential feature for some—there must be sung praise. The omission of the sermon is an intriguing phenomenon given the importance Protestants place on the Bible in general and preaching in particular. I’ve not seen the sermon omitted from a church that observes a liturgy. (Those churches include Presbyterian, Christian Reformed Church, Lutheran and Catholic.) Granted, it may happen but I’ve not seen it. Most of my experience has been with Baptist, Independent, Nondenominational, CRC, Evangelical Free, Charismatic, and Catholic churches.

This post is not intended to be a critique of any denomination. It is rather to stimulate thought on what constitutes the essential features of an evangelical church service. Are there any? Is it right to expect any?

But more important is the drift we’ve seen from the thought of someone like Calvin to what we see today. I think Calvin would be horrified at the sentiment expressed by “I love Jesus but hate the church.” What do you think?