Friday, February 20, 2015

I don't know the minister who published this so I cannot endorse him but the video will make you think hard about your own hunger for God's word!

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3 ESV)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Confidence and Need to Persevere

"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." (Col 1:21-23 ESV)
If it is true that the saints will persevere to the end, then it is equally true that the saints must persevere to the end.  Peter T. O'Brien, Colossians, Philemon, WBC, p. 69

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Most Effective Way to Learn to Pray

Here is a great quote from a book Bonhoeffer wrote on the Psalms.  Don't passover it quickly!  
“The child learns to speak because his father speaks to him. He learn the speech of his father. So we learn to speak to God because God has spoken to us and speaks to us. By means of the speech of the Father in Heaven his children learn to speak with him. Repeating his own words after him, we begin to pray to him.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, February 13, 2015


From Ray Ortlund . . .

In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own imperfections and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  The light of God does not stream in unfiltered by us.  To some extent, we even block it out.  We are sorry for that.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The real work of God is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:
One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.
Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.
Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.
Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.
Satan not only wouldn’t produce such outcomes, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the distractions we inevitably introduce.
Biblical, fairminded discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also frees us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work.  Indeed, that is the real purpose of discernment — not to fasten on whatever is wrong, but to rejoice in and promote whatever is right.  After all, God is at work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


The passage I was preaching recently on a passage that includes the idea of love,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, (Col 1:3-5 ESV)
and stumbled upon this article on the Gospel Coalition blogs . . .

What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since I think it is edifying to remember, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished—“I read my Bible, pray, and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”
God would show me what was so hard about it within 18 months. We began attending a church that emphasized fellowship and the “one anothers.” In no time I was getting on people’s nerves, and they were returning the favor. Life in community with sinners doesn’t fit on a Hallmark card. It’s messy and pride-exposing. It is anything but easy.

Love Is Hard 

The difference here is simply the word love. Christianity was easy when I was taking, but it became real when I had to start giving. The difference is love. Love always gives, it rarely takes.
It is not surprising then that God would challenge us to be faithful in our love. When we read any number of passages in the New Testament we end up with that tilted dog reaction to a strange whistle. “Wait, what?”
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32–36)
The kind of love that God models and requires is not natural. It’s not easy. The pagans can do the self-congratulating love. Who can’t love the lovely people who love you? It’s not that hard.
On the other hand, God also wants us to love the unloving and unlovely people. This is the kind of love that reflects Christ’s love in the gospel. The gospel is our model and motivation for love (cf. 1 John 4:7-11).
A friend of mine likes to put things succinctly. He said recently, “You don’t even have a real friend until they have annoyed you. Until they’ve gotten under your skin you’re still in the realm of the superficial.” You haven’t had to love them . . . you just kinda like them.

Difficult Love of God 

Think about what God has done: he has lavished us with his love and then surrounded us with a group of people who are just as needy of that love, and then said, “Go and love one another and show this love to the world around you.” This community should be especially sensitive to this love because they should know how unlovely and unloving they were. They should know and esteem God’s love so highly that they itch to show it to others.
Sadly, this is often not the case. We settle for the kind of love that comes easy and miss out on the kind of love that takes sweat (and grace). The love that God requires from the church is not natural; it takes work and it looks different. It is not the stuff that you hear in the intercom at the supermarket, read in a magazine, or pick up in a romantic drama. Instead of being self-referential, it is self-denying.
If you think that Christianity is easy, then maybe you are not loving people very well. Perhaps you are not living closely to other believers. Perhaps you are not frequently applying the gospel. Perhaps the person and work of Jesus is not the model and motivation for your love. When we examine the Bible and what God requires of us as Christians we see that it is neither easy nor natural. It is hard work that would be impossible without grace. Go ahead, dig in; get your hands dirty—there are plenty of opportunities.

Editors' note: This article was originally published here.
Erik Raymond is the lead pastor at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He blogs at Ordinary Pastor.

Monday, February 9, 2015


Here is part two of the book review from Trevin Wax . . . 
Yesterday, I summarized The Skeletons in God’s ClosetJoshua Ryan Butler’s book that claims the doctrines Christians are often shy about (hell, judgment, and holy war) are truths we should instead be proud of. Rightly understood, these truths point not to a capricious and hateful deity but to a God who is good, and whose judgment reflects His holiness, mercy, and good intentions for creation.
The strengths of Butler’s work are many. Butler combines profound theological reflection with accessible and memorable explanation. Throughout the book, he incorporates biblical analysis, voices from church history, and personal stories that help the reader grasp his overall construction, one building block at a time.
Today, I am following up that summary by adding a few takeaways from this book. I hope my commending words will lead you to pick up the book, even if some of the latter takeaways include caveats.
1. Tap into humanity’s longing for the world to be made right (through judgment).
Butler does well in accomplishing his big goal – making the realities of hell, judgment, and holy war to seem not just plausible but desirable. And the moment you begin to think, Yes, God’s judgment is good! he puts you in the dock, positioning you under that judgment unless you side with Jesus through His atoning sacrifice.
In the past, whenever I have worked with college students and twenty-somethings, I have adopted this same method: stir up a person’s God-given sense of justice, and then surprise them by showing how that justice condemns us, apart from the intervening grace of God.
2. Show the Bible is not only true, but also good.
I love how Butler gets personal. Interspersed in the book are brief conversations with people Butler has counseled, people with significant doubts who openly wrestle with the theological truths in these chapters.
Most apologetics books go to the Bible to prove the “Christian viewpoint.” Butler goes further. He goes to the Bible to show the Christian story is better. His appeal is not just to the mind (“The Bible says this”), but to the heart (“The Bible says this and here’s why it’s good”).
3. Make sure judgment offends religious people and skeptics alike.
Butler challenges “religious followers” and “skeptics” alike. He removes any reason a religious Christian should feel superior in their knowledge about heaven, hell, and who’s going where. But he also challenges the skeptic to submit to what God has revealed in Scripture, and thereby receive a story that is even more satisfying than sentimental visions of God. Butler challenges the religious and the skeptic at the same time.
4. In showing the shalom-destroying aspect of sin, don’t miss the outrageous offense of our sin against God.
Throughout his book, Butler focuses more on God’s anger toward sin because of the harm it does to His image-bearers and His good creation than on God’s anger toward sin because of its idolatrous affront to His glory. Now, as an apologetic strategy, Butler’s method is effective because he paints a picture of sin waging war on God’s shalom, and he invites the reader to react with horror to the sinful things humans do to each other and our world. And to be fair, Butler never denies that our sin is also directed personally toward God; it’s just that he assumes this view without ever explaining it.
Here’s an example:
“God doesn’t just have a problem with [Gehenna] because he’s personally offended; he has a problem because he loves the world and its powers seek to destroy” (38).
True and right, but by the end of the book, I wanted Butler to, at some point, switch those around, and say “God’s problem with sin isn’t just because it damages the world; it’s also because it is a strike against Him personally.” Or to go beyond saying “sin wages war on God’s shalom” to saying “Sin wages war on God… full stop.”
Why does this matter? Because the Christian is most likely to run from sin when we feel how it stabs the heart of God. Psalm 51 is a good example. After David sins against just about everyone, he is undone when he says, “Against you and you only have I sinned.”
5. Be careful not to overplay the “mercy of God” in describing judgment.
For me, it is confusing categories to describe hell as “God’s mercy,” no matter how rhetorically surprising it may be. If the existence of hell is for the protection of heaven on earth, I suppose we could make the case that God’s consignment of people to hell is an act of mercy for the people in His new world of love.
But Butler goes further, following C.S. Lewis’ lead, in that he makes hell an act of God’s mercytoward the rebels. Thus hell is the ultimate tribute to human freedom. God will not heal those who refuse His love, so hell becomes like a tourniquet on the wound, a containment of the poison that limits “the harm they can do to themselves” (61).
Butler makes good distinctions between torment and torture (affirming that hell is a place of everlasting torment, but denying that God is torturing people there), but his mixing up of mercy and punishment clouds the issue rather than clarifies it. I don’t see how God’s containment of rebels in hell can be both punishment and mercy.
6. Recognize you can’t avoid the difficult questions altogether.
Butler tries to avoid some of the thorny issues in the traditional viewpoint, but these questions come up from behind. For example, what happens to an unbeliever at death (before the final judgment)? Butler never addresses that question, one that is certainly relevant for pastors today.
On a similar note, any time we wonder about who will be in God’s kingdom we are confronted with questions regarding exclusivism, inclusivism, and universalism. Butler rejects universalism and annihilationism, and he makes a case for God’s judgment upon all religions and ideologies opposed to Scripture. So the weight of his treatment leans toward exclusivism.
But the door appears to be cracked ever so slightly toward seeing Jesus’ light in people who don’t know Him (166), or wondering if Jesus’ sheep outside the fold refer to non-Christians who will be part of the people of God (156). Furthermore, Butler quotes Lesslie Newbigin favorably, who toward the end of his life, wanted to dismiss the inclusivism/exclusivism debates altogether. (I love Newbigin, but I think his exasperation was problematic for his overarching missiological vision.)
Unless we face this question head-on, we can unintentionally minimize the need for personal evangelism and the impulse toward foreign missions. If there is the possibility that people who do not know Christ will be saved, we remove a major impetus for our worldwide missions.
7. A biblical view of hell should always lead us to more urgency in evangelism, never less.
By the end of the book, I was wanting to hear how Butler engages in personal evangelism. He is clear on the need to call people to repentance and faith, and he is prophetic in his call to reject worldly ideologies and religious facades. But what does this look like in practice? In the midst of Butler’s commendable ministry in foster care, human trafficking, and homelessness, how does personal evangelism take place?
I have no doubt Butler is active in leading people to Jesus; I just wanted to see him in action, especially since many people can hardly conceive of evangelism apart from the heaven/hell dichotomy and urgency. Perhaps I can suggest he tackle this in his next book!
Overall, I found The Skeletons in God’s Closet to be a stimulating book full of insights and biblical truth. Butler has done an excellent job placing difficult doctrines into the overall story in which they receive their fullest and most glorious meaning. If you’re a pastor or church leader, wondering how to deal with some of these common stumbling blocks, you’ll find this book to be a helpful guide.

Friday, February 6, 2015


I read this book several months ago and found it thoughtful.  Here is a review by Trevin Wax . . . 
In Western society, if you talk to an unbeliever about a judgmental God who consigns people to a place called hell, you’ll likely encounter a raised eyebrow and a dismissive wave of the hand.Give us a god who approves of our way of life, who reserves punishment for only the worst of offenders, or who tolerates and forgives everyone!
The problem for Christians is that the Bible doesn’t comply with this image of God. The Old Testament describes God commanding His people to destroy nations and occupy their land. The New Testament ends with God’s fiery wrath being poured out on the world. Even “Red Letter Christians” must deal with Jesus’ parables and statements that warn against judgment. If you were forced to pick the New Testament character who most resembles a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, you’d probably have to go with Jesus.
It’s no wonder Christians are tempted to set aside these difficult texts and only address them when necessary. But Joshua Ryan Butler believes we are missing an opportunity and a blessing. Hell, holy war, and judgment may seem like “skeletons in God’s closet,” according to the title of Butler’s book, but it’s God who wants us to see His goodness on display in these realities. Butler writes:
“When properly understood, these are not just pieces of the Christian faith we can learn to live with; they are profound plotlines in the story of the whole we (literally) cannot live without” (xxviii).
The Skeletons in God’s Closet is an ambitious work of apologetics. Butler isn’t satisfied with simply defending traditional Christian teaching; he wants to show how these unpopular, controversial doctrines are actually good news for the world.
Butler’s method is, first, to address the caricature of the Christian position. Next, he articulates the traditional doctrine within the overall framework of the Christian story (in order to give us the proper lens of interpretation). Finally, he makes an emotionally compelling case for hell, judgment, and holy war. Each chapter builds on the next, as Butler carefully dismantles popular-level distortions of biblical teaching and then constructs a robust, biblical viewpoint in their place.
Today, I want to summarize how Butler handles each of these three points: Hell, Judgment, and Holy War and tomorrow I’ll add some thoughts and a few caveats to Butler’s proposal.


The caricature of hell is that God has created an underground torture chamber for all non-Christians. The Christian story is about heaven and hell; the gospel is news about how to get into the former and avoid the latter.
Butler counters the caricature by placing hell within the Bible’s bigger story of heaven and earth.Christians believe heaven and earth were created by God, torn apart by human sin, but are now destined for reconciliation through the work of Christ (8).
Seen within the bigger “heaven and earth” story, hell is not just a place, but also a power. Hell was unleashed in our world through human sin, but God, through the atoning sacrifice and victorious resurrection of Jesus, has promised to rid the world of sin and death and hell. He will kick hell out of the garden city He is coming to restore.
“The King is returning to liberate the capital, establish his good kingdom, and cast all its stubborn opponents… outside the city” (46).
Within this framework, the punishment of hell is that it is a place of containment, a way of protecting God’s new world from all the forces of evil and the humans who remain in rebellion against God. Humans who reject God’s offer of salvation receive their wish – a world without God, a world of torment (not torture) in which the destructive power of sin leads to everlasting ruin.   


The caricature of heaven is an elite country club in the sky for people who believe the right doctrines about Jesus. Butler counters this portrait by showing how God’s judgment brings surprising results, and how His ultimate goal is to rescue the nations from sin’s ruin and restore people to Himself and to one another.
Relying on Jesus’ parables and John’s vision in Revelation, Butler speaks of heaven as a wedding feast to which all are invited. But God passes judgment on the “wedding crashers” who want to intrude upon His celebration.
Seen in this light, God’s judgment is never divorced from His love. In fact, our understanding of real love is deepened once we recognize God’s opposition to human sinfulness. Butler writes:
“God stands against our injustice because he identifies in love with those we violate. God’s love is more than a comfort; it is a confrontation. God’s love has teeth” (159).
God’s posture is for people of other faiths, but His kingdom stands against all that is wrong in other religions, including Christianity and the ways even Christians compromise with the world by adhering to false ideologies. “The hope of the world is the death of ideology in the life of Christ,” he says (182).

Holy War

The caricature of holy war is that Israel, in need of land, raids and destroys the people who inhabit the idyllic countryside of Canaan.
Butler counters the caricature by showing how Israel was a ragtag band of slaves in the shadow of Canaan. “Israel marches in like ants under elephants’ feet,” he writes (213). The Old Testament holy war is a story of God rising up on behalf of the weak against the tyranny of the strong. And the coming holy war at the end of time is when God will reduce human empires to rubble and establish His reconciled world.


Tomorrow, I’m going to make a few observations about Butler’s methods and conclusions, in hopes of continuing the conversation his book begins. For a summary that goes into more detail, check out Derek Rishmawy’s review.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Though all of us in the West have ben tainted by the prosperity gospel, I hate it and fight against it.  Here is a great article from the Gospel Coalition blog . . .

I have a confession. 
When I was in college, I read a book by a prominent megachurch pastor. The author told me to live like a child of God. He told me God wanted to bless me. He also mentioned that if I only believed, God would give me the nicest house in the neighborhood. That seemed to make sense.

The author explained that he once wanted the nicest house in the neighborhood, and God gave it to him. Here was a man with evidence. Not only did he have the story about the house, and other anecdotes, he also had a very nice set of white teeth (Ah, supernaturally white, I thought). 
This was my first introduction to what is popularly called the “prosperity gospel” or the “health and wealth” gospel. At the time, the logic seemed airtight: “If it worked for him, why shouldn’t it work for me?” 
If I had dug a bit deeper, though, I would have seen the actual reason it worked for him and not for me. It’s because the prosperity gospel is a pyramid scheme. 

What’s a Pyramid Scheme?

Here’s how pyramid schemes work.
Step One: A snazzy entrepreneur wants to make a lot of money. Said snazzy entrepreneur tells two little old ladies that if they sell his “Wow-What-A-Sham 3000,” they can make some dough to pay off their cat-sitting bills. That will cost them a startup investment of $401.76. And yes, Wow-What-A-Sham 3000 is a gimmick. But that’s okay, it’s not really about selling the product anyway; it’s about recruiting more salespeople.
Step Two: These two little old ladies recruit more little old ladies, and give them the same spiel. 
Step Three: At some point, people realize no one wants to buy the Wow-What-A-Sham 3000, and no one is actually selling any Wow-What-A-Sham 3000s. All the buy-in money is funneling straight up to the top. Meanwhile, snazzy entrepreneur is up in his office, cackling, and swimming in wads of cash.
That’s a pyramid scheme. 

3 Ways the Health and Wealth Gospel Fits the Pyramid Scheme

What does this descrption have to do with the book by the prosperity pastor? Everything. Because the prosperity gospel is strikingly similar to a pyramid scheme in at least three ways.
1. It’s based on the deceptive success of the guy at the top. 
I was bamboozled by the prosperity pastor’s ploy in the same way people are fooled by pyramid schemes. They see the success of the guy at the top, and think: It’s working for him, isn’t it? 
Yes, it is. And that’s because someone paid for that pastor’s house. Me. I paid, when I bought the book. So do millions of others, when they bring truckloads of seed-money to his doorstep each weekend. The people who fund the prosperity pastor’s success, in other words, are the people at the bottom of the pyramidOf course it works for him. He’s at the top.
2. It’s a lie told to desperate people. 
Like a pyramid scheme, the health-and-wealth gospel feeds on the down and out. My friend Vallerian Mganga tells me that in Kenya, the health-and-wealth message is the only version of Christianity most people ever hear. My father-in-law, who mentors prisoners, tells me that he runs into this teaching routinely in the prison system. Why? Because the health-and-wealth gospel preys on people desperate for relief. 
Missiologist Paul Borthwick tells of a trip to Ghana, where he witnessed a 300-pound preacher appeal to his body as proof that God had blessed him, and would bless his listener’s seed-money as well. “When you live in poverty” the missionary with Borthwick said, “you don't want to feel loved. You want God's power to make you prosper. . . . [T]hey have been taught [that] money is the way to release the power.” 
The prosperity gospel isn’t just bad theology. It’s a form of oppression.
3. It feeds our idolatry. 
Like the pyramid scheme, the prosperity gospel doesn’t necessarily require financially desperate people. It just needs people who are sufficiently idolatrous. We don’t fall for pyramid schemes because we’re stupid. We fall for them because we want to fall for them. We want the money, health, and esteem they offer—and we want it quick. We want to believe it can all happen with the flick of a “faith” switch in our brains. We want it desperately. 
I’ll never forget the time I challenged my friend’s health-and-wealth notions with the life of the apostle Paul. She replied, “Well, Paul didn’t have enough faith.” That’s what pyramid schemes do: they compel us with our idols. Then they blind us to anything—no matter how obvious—that tells us we’re being conned.

Real Promises of Jesus

Don’t get me wrong: I believe wholeheartedly God wants to bless me. I believe God favors me. I believe he wants me to have the best possible life. But I also believe the good news of Jesus is far better than the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel climbs over people; Jesus descends to pick us up. The prosperity gospel oppresses the poor; Jesus identifies with the destitute. The prosperity gospel fuels our idol factories; Jesus smashes them with a vision of his glory.
The truly good news is this: Jesus’s dreams for us are weightier than the pursuit of health, wealth, and personal success. Jesus doesn’t offer self-esteem; he offers the esteem of God when we give up self-estimation (Matt. 5:3). He doesn’t offer positivity; he offers God’s profound comfort when we’re brokenhearted by sin (Matt. 5:4). He doesn’t offer the nicest house in the neighborhood; he offers hope in the resurrection when we forego personal power (Matt. 5:5). And he doesn’t offer “supernatural favor” from others, but instead offers God’s eternal favor when we’re despised on his account (Matt. 5:10-12).
In short: Jesus is a better God, a weightier God. He’s not a huckster standing on the top of the pile promising us worldly wealth. He’s a God who climbs down to the bottom of the pyramid. He lays himself flat in the dust and stretches out his arms at the cross, where health, wealth, and abundance are nowhere in sight, and he offers us his riches.
Nicholas McDonald is associate pastor at Carlisle Congregational Church, and is completing his MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is author of the forthcoming book, Faker (The Good Book Company, 2015), and blogs on art, culture, writing, and Christianity at

Monday, February 2, 2015


Another article from Gospel Coalition . . .
 "Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)
In his oft-cited work The Religious Life of Theological Students, B. B. Warfield begins,
A minister must be both learned and religious. It is not a matter of choosing between the two. He must study, but he must study as in the presence of God and not in a secular spirit. He must recognize the privilege of pursuing his studies in the environment where God and salvation from sin are the air he breathes. He must also take advantage of every opportunity for corporate worship. . . . Ministerial work without taking time to pray is a tragic mistake. The two must combine if the servant of God is to give a pure, clear, and strong message. 
Thus Warfield addresses what is perhaps the pastor's single most pressing spiritual question: What is the connection between my ministerial duties and the practice of my faith?

Prep the Mind, the Heart, or Both? 

This article addresses one element of the question—the connection between study of Scripture for personal edification and the study of Scripture for proclamation. Some advocate the greatest possible separation of the two. Others say it is neither possible nor desirable to separate personal and public reading. The argument for separation claims that the preacher must leave aside his interests and first read Scripture analytically. Then he can assess its meaning for the church. If a pastor reads Scripture with his needs in mind, some say he blinds himself to its whole message.
Krister Stendahl said interpreters must keep application, for oneself or others, distinct from exegesis: "When the biblical theologian becomes primarily interested with the present meaning, [he] loses his enthusiasm . . . for the descriptive task." It is better to retain a sense of "the distance and the strangeness of biblical thought," and accept "that our only concern is to find out what these words meant," using methods agreeable to "believer and agnostic alike." When interpreters refrain from mingling the two phases the Bible can "exert the maximum of influence."
Whether this is desirable or not, hardly anyone can practice this approach. Pastors perceive the spiritual value of a passage as we go. When we see possible applications, we focus our exegetical work and examine a passage more closely to see if a hunch is valid or not. More importantly, Jesus linked interpretation and edification. Jesus rebuked Jewish leaders for reading Scripture without seeing its significance. He asked them "Have you not read?" even though he knew they read Scripture. He meant: If a reader can't apply Scripture to the issues of life, he hasn't really read it (see Matt. 12:1-519:422:31).
John Frame wants to erase the distinction between interpretation and application. He said, "The meaning of Scripture is its application." Proper reading of Scripture always seeks faithful practice. We understand Scripture when we know how to use it. Take "You shall not steal." Suppose someone reproduces copyrighted music and cheats on taxes. We could say he failed to apply the commandment, but we could also say he didn't understand it.
Frame and Warfield agree, therefore, that the faithful believer should never study Scripture in a detached way. I wonder if a sensitive reader could turn off interest in godly practices, even if he or she wished. Suppose a seminary professor tells his students, "Many a doctrinal deviation, many a heresy, began with an ill-advised quest for originality in a thesis." Wise students will ask, Am I guilty of such a foolish quest? One can hardly comprehend the words without beginning to apply them. If that holds as we hear lectures, how much more when we read Scripture?
So then, leaders ought to read the Bible with an eye to apply it both for the church and also for themselves. How is it, then, that Warfield had to exhort his students to read spiritually? How do pastors grow dry, at least occasionally, as they study to teach and preach? We may find an answer if we consider the timeline of a believer with Scripture.

How Passionate Believers Read Scripture

As a new Christian, the future pastor's reading is naïve and devotional. He devours Scripture, underlining virtually every word in his new Bible. He feels that God speaks directly to him.
After a few years, the budding leader's reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. He still feels that God speaks to him in Scripture, but he has learned to read texts in their contexts, to attend to genre and more. He reads Bible dictionaries and commentaries. He knows the translation strategies of Bible versions and may use that knowledge to get at the original text.
The future pastor decides to go to seminary, where he becomes a technical reader. He studies Greek, Hebrew, and scholarly sources. He respects the distance between his world and Scripture's. But as technical skill grows, edification declines. The Bible used to read him, now he reads it, even dissects it, grammatically and linguistically. As seminary students gain technical skill, as they should, a shift occurs. As they master the text, the Author's mastery of them fades. The sweet simplicity of devotional reading, of hearing God's message "for me, today," ebbs away.
Eventually, the future pastor remembers that he aims to edify the church. He continues to read technically, but now shares his findings with believers. He becomes a technical and functionalreader. His reading may be rather detached personally, but he treasures and organizes his discoveries so he can teach others. While this is an improvement, the student still doesn't profit personally from Scripture.
A wise pastor wants to become a technical, devotional reader. Every technical skill remains, but he reads like a child, letting the Word speak directly to him again. He gains what Paul Ricoeur called a "second naiveté." He is both technically astute and meek. He both receives God's Word and also expounds it. He grows in faith and godliness again. Suppose he reads Matthew 5:22: "Anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca' is answerable to the Sanhedrin." The pastor will explain what "Raca" meant: "'Raca' expresses contempt for the mind—You brainless idiot!'" He will apply this to his people several ways, but he will see his temptation too. Pastors typically have a graduate degree. As intelligent, trained adults, as knowledge workers, pastors are especiallytempted to despise the ignorant. He tells others how they can express contempt, and he watches himself too.
Questions remain. Should a pastor try to read Scripture devotionally every day, apart from his teaching for the church? Some will say that is edifying, others will say it's impossible to read Scripture and block out the needs of the flock. When pastors study before preaching, should we look to appropriate it personally at the start, or should we try to wait till the basic exegesis is complete? Each of us will have to answer these questions privately. But Warfield is right, we should "recognize the privilege of pursuing his studies in the environment where God and salvation" are in the air we breathe.
Dan Doriani serves as vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology at Covenant Seminary. He teaches two core courses for the master of divinity program—ethics and Reformation and modern church history—as well as some elective courses on exegesis and church life. He previously served as senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri.