December 15: Exodus 15:11; Psalm 66:2; Psalm 69:30; Psalm 86:12–13; Isaiah 43:21; Jeremiah 33:8–9; Hebrews 13:15; Revelation 15:3; Job 1:8; Job 40:3–4; Psalm 51:5; John 3:6–7; Acts 13:22; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Timothy 1:13; Titus 3:3
Give to him glorious praise!
“The people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”—“I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth.”—Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.—I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.—“Who is like you, O Lord,… majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”—I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.—And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!”Exodus 15:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 66:2 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 69:30 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 86:12–13 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 43:21 (Listen)
(ESV)Jeremiah 33:8–9 (Listen)
8 I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. 9 And this city1 shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.Footnotes
 33:9 Hebrew And it
(ESV)Hebrews 13:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 15:3 (Listen)
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!1
 15:3 Some manuscripts the ages
(ESV)Evening: Job 1:8; Job 40:3–4; Psalm 51:5; John 3:6–7; Acts 13:22; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Timothy 1:13; Titus 3:3
By nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.—“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.”—And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.—“David,… of whom he testified and said,… ‘A man after my heart, who will do all my will.’”
Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy.—“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”Job 1:8 (Listen)
(ESV)Job 40:3–4 (Listen) Job Promises Silence
(ESV)Psalm 51:5 (Listen)
(ESV)John 3:6–7 (Listen)
(ESV)Acts 13:22 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 2:3 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Timothy 1:13 (Listen)
(ESV)Titus 3:3 (Listen)
December 14: Isaiah 61:3; Acts 20:32; Ephesians 2:20–22; Philippians 1:11; Philippians 1:28; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 2:6–7; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:1; Psalm 62:12; Isaiah 26:12; Matthew 6:3–4; Matthew 25:19; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 3...
Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.—Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.—Oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.—Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”—Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Fight the good fight of the faith.—And not frightened in anything by your opponents.Isaiah 61:3 (Listen)
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.1
 61:3 Or that he may display his beauty
(ESV)Acts 20:32 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 2:20–22 (Listen)
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by1 the Spirit.Footnotes
 2:22 Or in
(ESV)Philippians 1:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Philippians 1:28 (Listen)
(ESV)Colossians 1:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Colossians 2:6–7 (Listen) Alive in Christ
(ESV)1 Timothy 6:12 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Timothy 2:1 (Listen) A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus
(ESV)Evening: Psalm 62:12; Isaiah 26:12; Matthew 6:3–4; Matthew 25:19; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 3:14–15; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10
For you will render to a man according to his work.
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ…. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.—For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”—“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.”
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.—O Lord, you will ordain peace for us; you have done for us all our works.Psalm 62:12 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 26:12 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 6:3–4 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 25:19 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 3:11 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 3:14–15 (Listen)
14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
(ESV)2 Corinthians 3:5 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Corinthians 5:10 (Listen)
Boy Scouts face bankruptcy: What does this tell us about an institution that once represented the mainstream of American culture?
- Wall Street Journal (Katy Stech Ferek) — Boy Scouts of America Considers Bankruptcy Filing Amid Sex-Abuse Lawsuits
Cannabis, Inc.: When you’re looking at a moral revolution, the money isn’t far behind
Unprecedented political bargains on both sides of the Atlantic as Theresa May and Nancy Pelosi hold onto leadership posts
- New York Times (Stephen Castle) — Theresa May Survives Leadership Challenge, but Brexit Plan Is Still in Peril
- New York Times (Julie Hirschfeld Davis) — Pelosi and Dissident Democrats Reach Deal to Limit Her Speakership to 4 Years
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100: A look at the man who did more than any human being to bring about the fall of the Soviet Union
“We often approach the topic of sex through the lens of truth, which is foundational. So we often are going, ‘What does the Bible say about sex?’ I don’t want to undermine what’s foundational, but I do want to supplement it, pointing out that God’s vision for sexuality is actually beautiful and good as well.” — Joshua Ryan Butler
Date: October 17, 2018
Event: TGC West Coast Conference 2018, Los Angeles, California
Quick, can you name the 10 Commandments?
Some of you who attended Bible drills as children might have your pneumonic at the ready. But many Christians are vaguely familiar with the commandments at best. Others who didn’t grow up in the church—like myself—may have never given a thought to memorizing such a list. After all, didn’t Christ come to fulfill the law? What does Sinai have to do with us?
Into this scene comes pastor and prolific author Kevin DeYoung with his new work, The 10 Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them. DeYoung isn’t interested in shaming the church for our lack of knowledge. Nor is he interested in a memorization challenge. He’s interested in equipping us for holiness and mission. He does so by clarifying points of confusion, using up-to-date examples, and pointing to the deep realities beyond the outward simplicity of the statements.Not Our Instagram Vibe
But first, DeYoung wants to frame the larger “why” at play in studying the Decalogue. The church isn’t ignorant of the 10 Commandments because we’ve tried hard and failed. No, there is a type of apathy involved. Along with that, we have a cultural allergy to authority and rules. Thunder, lightning, a booming voice, and chiseled tablets aren’t exactly our Instagram vibe right now.
This makes the introduction of this book more important than usual. DeYoung thoughtfully meets the culture by prodding us to see that we all care about morality, even when we say we don’t. We feign open-mindedness and tolerance, while establishing new rules that are right in our own eyes. Because of this, we need universal laws—a code that is transcendent, timeless, and wise. We need to see that these laws aren’t oppressive but good, because they were designed by Someone Good. DeYoung poignantly asks, “Have you ever thought about how much better life would be if everyone kept the Ten Commandments?” (21).
Yet even more, we need the gospel. Being convinced of the law’s goodness might fool us into thinking we actually can create the type of order they describe—if not in the whole world, then perhaps in our individual lives. As Tim Keller is fond of noting, we humans tend to ping from irreligion to legalism as quick as a pinball. DeYoung is just as quick to correct this tendency: “The Ten Commandments are not instructions on how to get out of Egypt. They are rules for a free people to stay free” (24).
Thunder, lightning, a booming voice, and chiseled tablets aren’t exactly our Instagram vibe right now.
From here, DeYoung takes us chapter by chapter through each of the 10 commandments. It’s clear that this work is written by a seasoned pastor: there’s always a structure of questions, exhortations, or examples to keep the audience on track. It’s a strength that DeYoung doesn’t use the same framing for each chapter. Like a good exegete of both Scripture and culture, he anticipates the particular confusions of each commandment and plans his treatment to engage them. This is an eminently practical book.
A particularly strong example is the way DeYoung clarifies and translates the second commandment. On first blush, a 2018 reader might not understand what making graven images has to do with her life. It sounds so far away and implausible. But DeYoung shows that the heart behind this law is “against worshiping God in the wrong way” (42). We begin to see that this happens today, just in different forms.
Yet in an age of individual expression, we still need to be walked through the “why” of the second commandment. Isn’t sincerity of intention enough? Here DeYoung exposes what is at stake in keeping this word: the glory of God in the world. The reader is invited to and coached in theological reflection, which adds a depth and richness to the faithful life that rote obedience could never achieve. Such moments happen frequently through 10 Commandments, and are its chief strength.Reclaiming Treasure
In order for an even wider audience to be able to relate to the book, I wish DeYoung had included more examples beyond the nuclear family. And given the book’s strong beginning, a more robust epilogue that reiterated how God’s good law relates the gospel would’ve been appropriate. Nonetheless, DeYoung’s book is a helpful entry into the current climate. Personal moral failings and terrible atrocities continue to fill our screens and timelines. The church and the world are hungry for true righteousness, even if they don’t realize it.
What better time for us to rediscover and reclaim the treasure of the law, rightly understood in relationship to the gospel of grace?
God knows everything (1 John 3:20). God knows himself and all things exhaustively, eternally, and unchangeably. He knows his own perfections, plans, actions, and goals (Ps. 147:5; Isa. 46:10; Acts 15:18). He knows the billions of angels in light (Dan. 7:10), every corner of hell (Prov. 15:11), all of our sins (Ps. 69:5), every hidden thought (Ps. 139:2), every ounce of our suffering (Ps. 56:8). He proves his deity by infallibly knowing the past, present, and future, including all possibilities and contingent events (1 Sam. 23:10–13; Matt. 11:21), from the tiniest detail (Matt. 10:29–30) to the fact and timing of our salvation (Rom. 8:29; 2 Tim. 1:9). As the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus Christ possesses the fullness of deity, including the attribute of omniscience (Phil. 2:6; John 21:17).
How, then, are we to reconcile the comprehensiveness of Jesus’s divine knowledge with Matthew 24:36, where the divine Son of God declares to his disciples that there is something he didn’t know? “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:26; cf. Mark 13:32).
How could that be, and why did Jesus say it?What Did Jesus Not Know?
Nearly all commentators agree that in Matthew 24 Jesus is foretelling two “judgments”—one on Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 (cf. Matt. 23:38; 26:61), and another at the end of the age with his second coming (parousia) (cf. Matt. 24:3, 14, 23–27). While scholars widely disagree over which verses refer to which event, how the two judgments are related, and what it all means for Christians today, nearly all agree that Jesus’s reference to “that day or hour” describes the timing of his return to judge the living and the dead (cf. Matt. 25:31–34).
Yet the question remains: How could the One who will enact worldwide judgment be ignorant of when that day will be? Apparently we’re not alone in our trouble: likely in an effort to avoid the doctrinal difficulty, some manuscript copies of the New Testament omit the words “nor the Son.” Such redactions don’t alter the fact, though. Jesus said it. How are we to understand it?What the Father Knows, the Divine Son Knows
The doctrine of the Trinity implies that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all possess the same singular being, mind, and will. The three persons don’t constitute a kind of social committee, in which one member could conceivably withhold information from another. Instead, what one person knows the other two likewise know, exhaustively and eternally, as the one God—yet without blurring or denying their identities as distinct, mutually related persons.
Therefore, whatever Matthew 26:37 means, it doesn’t mean the second person of the Trinity is or ever has been ignorant of anything. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and the full scope of biblical revelation preclude any such notion. As the infinite and immutable source of all knowledge, God never learns anything. This goes for the Son as much as for the Father and the Spirit.Jesus Grew in Knowledge
Yet even as the second person of the Trinity (the Logos) never changes, out of free grace he became man two millennia ago by assuming to himself “a true body, and a reasonable soul” (Westminster Larger Catechism #37)—both of which are capable of change. Now and forever, two completely different natures (divine and human) are united in the one Son of God. As a man, then, the Son “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). And like any human being after the fall, he became hungry (Matt. 4:2), grew tired (John 4:6), felt distress (Matt. 26:38), and, yes, was amazed at what he learned (Matt. 8:10; Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6; cf. Luke 2:46). Jesus could only have experienced such changes in his human nature.
By seeing the genuine limitations and temporal changes in Jesus’s human nature, albeit with no limitations or changes in his divine identity, we can further see that when he says he didn’t know the timing of his return, the eternal Son of God was speaking with a human mouth, out of a human soul, with limited knowledge as a man, in perfect submission to his Father’s salvation plan.
Even if Jesus’s self-reference to “the Son” is short for “the Son of God” (a common name for the divine Logos) and not “the Son of Man,” this is not an insurmountable problem for the view presented here. Scripture sometimes ascribes human attributes to the person of the Son incarnate while also identifying him according to his divine nature (e.g., Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8). Therefore, limited knowledge (a human attribute) may well be ascribed to Christ’s divine nature insofar as such knowledge belongs to the person of the Mediator as a man. In that carefully understood sense, then, we can say, “The divine Son was ignorant of the day of his return,” even as we affirm that the divine Son knows everything (John 21:17).
Whew! Are we done? Not quite. Jesus didn’t speak these words just to give us a theological conundrum. The really important question about Matthew 24:36 is not, “How could Jesus not know when he would return?” The most important question is why.Jesus Was Helping Us
The context of Matthew 24 reveals that Jesus’s declaration in verse 36 is designed to restrain our vain curiosity, to bind us to his Word, and to stir us up to be vigilant and eager to meet our Lord face-to-face (Matt. 24:42, 44; 25:13, 46).
If the angels, so near to God (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:5) and surpassing man in power and wisdom (2 Sam. 14:17, 20), cheerfully obey him while remaining ignorant of when Christ will return, how much more should we trust him in all things? If the incarnate Son of God went to the cross looking forward to his exaltation without knowing the time of its consummation, how much more should we receive in faith whatever degree or length of suffering God has planned for us until Christ brings us home to glory? Most of all, how joyfully should we welcome each day, knowing it could be the day we’ve been waiting for ever since God welcomed us in Christ?
God’s Word tells us all we need to know about Christ’s return. He will come from heaven, on clouds, in the flesh, with glory and power, suddenly, visibly, audibly, at the end of the world, with angels and saints at his side, as Christians rejoice and unbelievers weep at his sight. Where, and especially when, this glorious event will occur, no one knows—no one, that is, except the Father, the Spirit, and now the ascended Son, our Redeemer, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (Matt. 28:18). Maranatha.
Early on a Tuesday morning in April 2007, I got on my knees and confessed to God that my walk with him was too comfortable. I asked him to show me a way my husband and I might stretch the limits of our comfort zone, to be better contributors to his kingdom.
When I finished praying, I switched on the radio and immediately heard a woman making a plea for homes to host French students visiting America for one week. A fast answer to prayer! I talked to my husband, made the call, and, two weeks later, Celine came into our life. Two months later, we hosted Axl for three weeks, and by the start of school, Su Ying joined our family for an entire year.
Our time with these vibrant students was stretching, joyful, and a tremendous blessing. “Ask and it will be given to you” indeed (Matt. 7:7).
Opening our home to international students, however, was mere groundwork for the culminating answer to that prayer. Five months after we asked God for a mission, Jacqueline fell into our lives.Answer to Prayer
I first saw her in the hallway of the school where I taught. She had a gigantic binder tucked under her arm as she walked to her third-grade classroom with an air of utter confidence and control. I was captivated by her impossibly huge dark eyes, wavy pixie cut, full cheeks, and tiny frame.
The next time I saw Jacqueline, she was screaming, being carried hand and foot down the hallway by two disheveled teachers who’d asked her to stay in from recess to finish her homework. Her reaction was unexpected, a response to past trauma.
On good days, Jacqueline would receive the privilege of coming into my classroom to read to Dudley, our therapy dog. On bad days, she was relegated to her own classroom, stripped of all privileges.
Eventually, we learned that Jacqueline’s hard circumstances necessitated an adoption plan. Her needs and our desire to help coincided in a way that seemed a clear answer to our prayers.
Jacqueline came into our home in the summer of 2008 and officially became our daughter one year later. She left our home in hostility in the summer of 2016 and hasn’t returned.Didn’t We Pray?
Our experience with Jackie couldn’t have been further from our hopes, leaving us devastated and confused. Though there were times when we were optimistic about our daughter, the aggression, social-service investigations, police visits, hospitalizations, endless counseling sessions, stealing, running away, and chaos that often pervaded our home during the nearly nine years she lived with us ultimately left us with more questions than answers.
God, we wondered, did we not ask for success with our daughter? Did we not seek your face at every turn when we were raising her? Did we not desperately pound on the door of your grace with every challenge and crisis we faced?
The daughter God blessed us with rejected us at every turn, and ultimately left our home without looking back. We wondered if God’s promises had failed.
When my husband and I prayed over and for our daughter, we boldly asked God to save her from the trauma and turbulence of her formative years. We were specific. Lord, please give us the wisdom to help Jackie bridle her temper. Father, please give Jackie good success in school. Abba, please be with us in today’s counseling session, because it’s going to be a rough one.
We had a hopeful expectation that God would fulfill the words of Matthew 7, but we felt instead like we had asked and not been given, sought and not found, knocked and encountered only a barrier between us and our daughter.
Were we mistaken that Jackie was an answer to my prayer all those years ago?
J. I. Packer, in his marvelous book Knowing God, addresses our tendency to “feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all his ways with us . . . and to be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us in the future.” He writes:
And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret counsels is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted.
We thought we knew what God was doing. The painful results of our failed adoption, however, reminded us that God is God, and we are not.Unexpected Answers
In the two years since our daughter left, God has graciously shown us that the thing we asked him to grant—success with Jackie—wasn’t ultimate. The ultimate answer to our prayers was God himself.
In his kindness and love, he gave himself freely and abundantly. When counseling sessions loomed and police lights flashed outside the front door, we knew our weakness and his faithfulness in a way we’d never known it before.
Over time, he has enabled us to see that our consummate desire, our highest request, the objective of our seeking, the only door to eternal life, is delight in the Father through his Son and the fellowship we enjoy with his Spirit.
Elsewhere in Knowing God, Packer writes: “[God’s] ultimate objective is to bring [people] to a state in which they please him entirely and praise him adequately, a state in which he is all in all to them, and he and they rejoice continually in the knowledge of each other’s love.”
It is good and right to ask God to provide needs and wants. But ultimately, our prayers must be for his glory and his will. All other prayers—for provision and healing and safety and peace—must remain subordinate to the desire for God himself.
Whatever our circumstances, the Spirit enables us to better know God, rejoice in his plans, love what he loves, and delight in fellowship with him. Understanding that our ultimate good is knowing and enjoying God keeps us from debilitating disappointment and doubt when his provision isn’t provided in the way we expect.
We love our daughter. And we trust that God is working for good in her life and in ours, no matter what the end of our story may be. We continue to pray and hope that Jackie, like the prodigal, will return and receive the love and benefit of belonging to our family. But though currently the answer to that prayer remains a “no,” we’re grateful for the sweet comfort we have come to know from our gracious and loving Savior.
December 13: Psalm 27:14; Isaiah 35:3–4; Isaiah 41:10; Zephaniah 3:15; Zephaniah 3:17; Revelation 21:3–4; Exodus 14:15; 1 Chronicles 19:13; Nehemiah 4:9; Isaiah 35:3–4; Hosea 6:3; Matthew 7:21; Matthew 26:41; John 7:17; Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 16:13
The Lord, is in your midst.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.—Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”—The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.—Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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.”Psalm 27:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 35:3–4 (Listen)
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
(ESV)Isaiah 41:10 (Listen)
(ESV)Zephaniah 3:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Zephaniah 3:17 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 21:3–4 (Listen)
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place1 of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,2 and God himself will be with them as their God.3 4 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.”Footnotes
(ESV)Evening: Exodus 14:15; 1 Chronicles 19:13; Nehemiah 4:9; Isaiah 35:3–4; Hosea 6:3; Matthew 7:21; Matthew 26:41; John 7:17; Romans 12:11; 1 Corinthians 16:13
“Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”
“Be strong, and let us use our strength for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.”—And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”—“If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God.”—“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord.”
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”—Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.—Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!”Exodus 14:15 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Chronicles 19:13 (Listen)
(ESV)Nehemiah 4:9 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 35:3–4 (Listen)
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
(ESV)Hosea 6:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 7:21 (Listen) I Never Knew You
(ESV)Matthew 26:41 (Listen)
(ESV)John 7:17 (Listen)
17 If anyone's will is to do God's1 will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.Footnotes
 7:17 Greek his
(ESV)Romans 12:11 (Listen)
11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,1 serve the Lord.Footnotes
 12:11 Or fervent in the Spirit
(ESV)1 Corinthians 16:13 (Listen)
Why a compromise on gender identity, however well-intended, is a disaster for religious liberty
- World News Group (J.C. Derrick) — Boards back SOGI compromise
- New York Times (Laurie Goodstein) — Utah Passes Antidiscrimination Bill Backed by Mormon Leaders
When every kid has a smartphone, odds are they aren’t doing smart things with it
- USA Today (Edward C. Baig) — 'Fortnite' survey shows kids are playing in class. So what can parents do?
Teen Vogue, in article surrounded by ads trying to sell you something, declares capitalism must be ended
- Reason Magazine (Zuri Davis) — Turns Out the Internet Has Something to Say About Teen Vogue Trying to End Capitalism
What is more evident on the pages of the Gospels than the miracles of Jesus? Of course there are miracles in the Old Testament too—the miracles of Moses and Elijah. So what do we do with these miracle stories, especially as we teach people who are often desperately seeking a miracle from God in their own lives? How do we determine the main emphasis of the various accounts?
I posed these questions among others to Jared Wilson, author of The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles. Wilson is director of content strategy for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, managing editor of For The Church (and host of the FTC Podcast), and director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
You can listen to the episode here.
Books by Jared Wilson:
- Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life
- The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together
- Gospel Wakefulness
- The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables
- The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles
Composers have been adapting and setting Scripture to music for centuries. The more poetic passages, such as from the prophetic books and the Psalms, are the most common sources. But narrative passages, too, have inspired grand works, like the Passion oratorios of Bach. As for treatments of whole books, some admirable examples from the last decade are The Book of Jonah by David Benjamin Blower and The Lamb Wins and The King Dreams by the Lesser Light Collective, musical retellings of the books of Revelation and Daniel, respectively.
What to my knowledge has never been attempted is a systematic musical adaptation of an entire epistle—that is, until Psallos came onto the scene in 2015 with their first full-length album, Romans, which was followed up in 2017 by Hebrews.Music Interpreting Scripture
A collective of musicians associated with Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, Psallos exists to help “clarify Scripture through music” that is both “artistically excellent and theologically rich.” The group is led by Cody Curtis, a doctor of musical composition and the writer behind all the songs. Curtis’s approach is not “let’s take these words and put pretty music around them” but rather “let’s use music to exegete these dense passages in an imaginative way.”
Psallos exists to help clarify Scripture through music that is both artistically excellent and theologically rich.
The notes are not just ornamenting the words but actually interpreting them, drawing out their meaning—as are the other musical tools like tempo, rhythm, style, mode, and timbre.
Hebrews is a 90-minute art music composition for vocals, folk rock band, and chamber orchestra (listen on Spotify). The overall feel is of a Broadway musical, as the album draws listeners into a dramatic world with a lush orchestral score that moves through different moods. Strings, winds, and brass combine with piano, guitars, and drums to accompany lead singers Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Edgren, who show amazing versatility, pulling off both quirky and grandiose. While the predominant musical style is orchestral folk, the 27 tracks also encompass bluegrass, hot jazz, rock, slow hip-hop, Irish dance, minimalism, and electronic. And then there are moments when the music gives way to sounds of live theater, such as introductory remarks, ambient noise, and spoken dialogue.
Discerning the form of the biblical letter was the first step to composing Hebrews, Curtis said, as that would determine the musical structure. He then spent time studying the book’s themes and literary features, with the aid of a New Testament professor at Union. The author of Hebrews, Curtis found, uses the rhetoric of argument and debate as well as exhortation, with theological exposition running throughout. The quality is thus sermonic. The key themes—Christ is better, the old is gone, the new has come, endure in faith—are all underscored musically. The first song, “Heaven and Earth,” swells and then bursts on the words “Son” and “better,” and it ends on an unresolved musical phrase: “Christ is better than the.” This anticipates the final song, where a list is given of all the people and things that Christ is better than: the angels, the prophets, Moses, the Levites and their offerings and prayers.Eclectic Yet Cohesive
One of the hallmarks of Hebrews is its simultaneous eclecticism and cohesiveness. Connectivity between tracks is established through recurring musical motives and reprises. For example, there are five warnings, all scored with the same beating piano and agitated strings, suggesting a severe tone. Some of the titles bear further clues of linkage, like “Wandered” and “Wondered,” which each sets an Old Testament citation, the one bleak (“They shall not enter my rest,” 3:11), the other hopeful (“I will be merciful toward their iniquities,” 8:12). “Peace on Earth . . .” is reprised in “. . . For Heaven’s Sake” because these two texts function as bookends, framing the central narrative about Jesus as high priest and offering; the anthemic “hold fast our confession” is doubly present (4:14, 10:23).
One of the main musical themes, and perhaps my favorite, is “Before the Throne of God Above.” Charitie Lees Bancroft’s 19th-century hymn text is known today mostly from Vikki Cook’s congregation-friendly tuning of it, which is beautiful in itself, but the Psallos tune is grander, more elevated, transporting. It glimmers faintly at the end of the second warning and is then progressively developed, instrumentally, until the album closes with a full voicing.
These aren’t the only familiar hymn lyrics that appear. “Angels We Have Heard on High” receives a lyrical revision, and “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” is likewise adapted, in a jarring manner, in “The Old.”Incarnation, Ascension, and the Triumph of the New
Among the several theological doctrines the album explores are the incarnation and the ascension. The song “Ex Paradiso” quotes Fauré’s Requiem, a mass for the dead, but changes In paradisum deducant te angeli (“May angels lead you to paradise”) to Et perducant te angeli ex paradiso (“And angels lead him out of paradise”). Whereas the musical source pertains to the ascent of the souls of believers into heaven, Psallos marries that majestic tune to Hebrews 2:5–18, making it about Christ, who descended to earth so that we can ascend to heaven. At the end, a spoken word in Christ’s voice: “Goodbye, heaven! Hello, earth.” Then, nine tracks later, we hear “Goodbye, earth,” which tags the beginning of the next track: “Hello, heaven!” Here Jesus returns to his exalted position on high (8:1).
The climax of Hebrews is “Two Mountains,” a reference to Sinai (representing the old) and Zion (representing the new). The “long ago” theme from the beginning returns, dark and shadowy, but it builds and then breaks; the shadows lift, and the Zion theme enters, bright, triumphant.Contemporary Masterpiece
I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say Hebrews is a contemporary masterpiece. The level of sophistication and intentionality executed on such a large scale is astounding. Curtis employs a musical vocabulary that’s much wider than what most Christian artists employ, and it serves the biblical text so well.
Listening to the book sung in such an intricately crafted manner enhances our understanding and appreciation of its truths.
My small group has been studying Hebrews, and we’re doing so in conjunction with this album. Listening to the book sung in such an intricately crafted manner enhances our understanding and appreciation of its truths, which, having settled into our ears and hearts, we won’t soon forget. What a gift to the church.
Although I’ve never had the opportunity to plant a church, I’ve always been passionate about it. Church planting is nothing less than the practical outworking of the Great Commission.
God has placed me in a number of ministry assignments where I’ve been able to help connect an existing congregation to a church-planting work. Of the number of existing churches I’ve seen get involved in church planting, not one has regretted it. In fact, it has always been to their benefit.
This has led me to a simple and serious conviction: every church—regardless of size or development stage—should be involved in church planting in some way. It would be naïve (and perhaps foolish) to say that every church must plant another church; there are simply too many variables for that to be mandated. But every church should be connected to the work of gospel multiplication through church planting.
Whether it’s joining a church-planting network, starting a residency, partnering with an existing church plant, or simply committing to pray for church planters in your context or around the world, existing churches would benefit from getting involved in church planting for at least seven reasons.1. Aligns with the New Testament pattern
In the New Testament, the Great Commission is fulfilled as churches are planted. The church in Antioch caught this vision in Acts 13. Thus they set apart Paul and Barnabas and commissioned them to plant churches, which had a far-reaching effect on both the church and the world. We see this pattern repeated throughout Paul’s epistles; he continually reminded churches of other works around the ancient world, highlighting needs and opportunities for partnership.
Want your church to be more like the early church? Get involved in church planting.
I love what Ed Stetzer said on this topic. “When the apostles and disciples heard the Great Commission, we might consider what they did in response. They did not just evangelize. They congregationalized. When the disciples heard the Great Commission, they planted churches. So should we.”
Want your church to be more like the early church? Get involved in church planting.2. Sharpens missional edge and evangelistic zeal
Church plants have a unique opportunity to spark evangelistic zeal. It’s well documented that new gospel works do a better job of reaching the lost than established churches do. So, new churches—or even the idea of potential new churches—can serve existing congregations by getting them thinking about how to more effectively evangelize in their own context.
Every time we’ve helped someone to plant, or played any role in the preparation, they have brought energy, enthusiasm, and missional wisdom to the existing church. Successful church plants study their context feverishly and pursue the lost with fervor. Existing churches could use a lot more of that energy, regardless of their context.3. Brings focus on generosity and leanness to budget
Church budgets can be a lot like personal budgets. They begin with dreams of generosity and simplicity before properties, staffing, liabilities, and distractions come crashing in. At some point, money stops flowing toward mission and starts to stagnate around survival.
A great way to kickstart some financial vibrancy and deeper fiscal dependence is to start channeling some of those precious funds away from ourselves and toward others—whether they be in different parts of the city, country, or world. If we’re going to teach people about sacrificial generosity in their own finances, then we have a great opportunity to model it in the finances of our churches.4. Broadens the horizons of your people and lifts their heads to bring faith
Sometimes our church ambitions are too small. Some of us need to ponder the well-known words of William Carey: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” In the churches I’ve pastored, few things have built faith in God’s people like hearing about gospel advance in diverse contexts around the world.
This will spur gospel witness in your own context, too. It really does enliven the faith of the people I serve to have them pray for church plants in Turkey, or Malawi, or Thailand, or anywhere else for that matter.5. Creates environments of multi-church unity, diversity, and family
With so many denominations in the global church, it can be hard for believers to have a sense of multi-church family and meaningful belonging. Church-planting networks create a unique opportunity for churches with different contexts, styles, congregational dynamics, and even some ministry philosophies to link arms together for a common cause.
A while ago, I took some leaders from the church I was pastoring in Johannesburg to an Acts 29 Global Gathering in Nashville. The impact was immense as our leaders experienced a diverse, global family of churches. This sense of a diverse family both brings comfort and also fosters courage as people see gospel siblings engaged in the same work in different places.6. Brings opportunity for boldness in prayer and reliance on the Spirit
Small needs yield small prayers. But when needs seem enormous, even impossible, prayer becomes mandatory. Antioch’s church had a deep sense of the Spirit’s work in them as they deployed Paul and Barnabas for church-planting endeavors. If you want to experience the Spirit’s power in and among a group of people, get them involved in a work that they cannot possibly accomplish on their own.7. Rouses unused gifting and servant leadership
Many churches have, in their seats, an abundance of dormant gifting. Some of that is due to people’s resistance to serve, but a lot of it has to do with the way we structure our churches. When we only offer opportunities to serve in the parking lot, at the coffee counter, or in the nursery, we do our people a disservice. Those are all marvelous roles, but they don’t force us to develop leaders and unearth potentially dormant gifting.
Demand almost always outweighs supply in church planting, so leaders must be developed, and gifting must be recognized and leveraged.
Highlighting a church-planting team’s needs might surprise you; it might awaken the desire to serve in some of the least likely people. Demand almost always outweighs supply in church planting, so leaders must be developed and gifting must be recognized and leveraged.
So, come on existing church. Find a way to get involved. What feels like a distraction from your mission might actually help you to sharpen it. What feels like a sacrificial cost might actually bring about tremendous generosity. What feels like it might be a further burden for your people may actually be the very thing that lifts their heads and bends their knees.
Imagine approaching someone at church, looking her over, and telling her which sin patterns you think she’s stuck in—based solely on her physical appearance.
As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s not an uncommon experience for the overweight Christian.
I was 25 when a respected older woman in my church invited me to participate with her in a Christian weight-loss program. She promised this “biblical” diet (it wasn’t) would help me give my sin to the Lord and shed unwanted pounds. She thought mutual accountability would be good for both of us. Wouldn’t I like to join her?
Ouch. And no thank you, I would not.
Her invitation was presumptuous. Why had she assumed I was actively a slave to food-related sin? Of course, I knew the answer: I was overweight. Neither of us was fit and slim like many of the other women in our church, and she wrongly assumed both our problems were the result of sin.
At that point in my life I was over my ideal body weight—a postpartum, busy pastor’s wife with a sluggish thyroid—but I was not living in ongoing, unrepentant gluttony or sloth. What I needed in that season was a cup of coffee, a listening ear, and a friend who understood what I was and was not struggling with.
Too often, instead of helping Christians who are overweight, we unintentionally hurt them and create guilt and shame. We can do better.Truth About Obesity
In the recent Huffington Post article “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong,” Michael Hobbes reports:
About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity” than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and HIV put together.
Hobbes states that the medical system has failed to offer patients a range of resources, support, and compassion. Rather than considering emotional, physical, and socioeconomic contributing factors, doctors simply blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we’re told, is a personal failing: just stop eating Cheetos and take a walk! But condescending and cursory suggestions offer little tangible help and rarely result in lasting change.
Inside the church we can take this callous attitude one step further—assuming that the more overweight someone is, the more sinful he or she is. Extra pounds become scarlet letters, marking saints as idolaters, gluttons, and sluggards.
Extra pounds can become scarlet letters, marking saints as idolaters, gluttons, and sluggards.
As a Christian who’s struggled with my weight all my life, my chief goal should be gaining holiness, not losing pounds. And while pursuing a healthy body as a means of stewardship is part of my progress in holiness—that I must choose to take up every day—my weight isn’t a measuring stick for my growth in godliness.
As someone who’s been hurt by well-meaning Christians who simply don’t know how to help, I concur with Hobbes’s conclusion that often “the biggest problem is our [negative] attitudes toward fat people.”
In the church, I’m afraid we’re often no more cautious or compassionate than the medical system when it comes to shepherding the growing demographic of overweight saints and sufferers in our midst.Loving the Christian Who Is Overweight
As an overweight Christian, here are some helpful ways I’d like to see church members, lay leaders, and pastors engage with people who are overweight or obese:
- See me, not a sin. My extra weight may or may not be tied to indwelling, unrepentant sin. Don’t assume.
- Ask yourself if you are the right person to help. Weight is a sensitive subject. Just because you can see my extra pounds doesn’t mean you’ve been invited to speak into a problem. Consider your relationship with me and the role you’ve been called to play in my discipleship or accountability.
- Listen and learn. Avoid the temptation to “fix” physical problems with spiritual answers, or spiritual problems with physical answers. Listen first, pray for discernment, then ask how you can help.
- Don’t shame me. Encourage me. If I am struggling with habitual sin, shaming me isn’t the best way to help. (Yes, I know my body is a temple, but thoughtlessly tossing Bible verses is hurtful.) Remind me of the gospel and that my worth isn’t based on what I look like. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).
- Appreciate the burden. Grieve the trial. Understand that sin involving food is complicated in ways that differ from drugs or other addictions. We all must continue to eat daily. Every time I enter church, nourishment and temptation sit on a table near the welcome desk. Show me grace, understanding, and compassion by comforting me in my affliction (2 Cor. 1:4).
- Help me not to stumble. By design, food will always be a part of church. Communion, fellowship meals, and celebratory feasting are all part of our life together. And yet, not all church events need to be an opportunity for over-indulging. Be sensitive in considering which ministry events need food, and eliminate the distraction of food from events where it isn’t integral. Not every Bible study meeting requires punch and cookies. Consider contributing delicious healthy options for those trying to exercise self-control at the potluck. If you know I’m attempting to abstain from something, don’t lead me into sin by telling me “it doesn’t matter” or offering permission to indulge. It is “wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats” (Rom. 14:20). Protect me by encouraging my self-control.
- Be patient. Don’t expect my lifelong struggles to be solved immediately because of one conversation. Or a few conversations. I may wrestle against this part of my flesh for years to come. The key to helping me is encouraging me to remain engaged in the fight for holiness and to not give up. Point me to God’s forgiveness when I fall, and encourage me when I stand against temptation.
To be clear, this isn’t a request to overlook sin. It’s not a bid for “body acceptance” at the cost of holiness. This is simply a plea to see people, not their pants size. The obesity “crisis” in our neighborhoods and churches is growing. Let’s be prepared to respond with countercultural empathy and compassion.
December 12: Matthew 18:6; Matthew 25:40; Romans 14:16; 1 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 8:21; Galatians 5:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:22; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 4:15–16; Isaiah 60:1–2; Luke 12:35–36; Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6–8; 1...
So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.
Abstain from every form of evil.—We aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man.—For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.—But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.—“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”—“As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”Matthew 18:6 (Listen)
6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,1 it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.Footnotes
 18:6 Greek causes . . . to stumble; also verses 8, 9
(ESV)Matthew 25:40 (Listen)
40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,1 you did it to me.’Footnotes
 25:40 Or brothers and sisters
(ESV)Romans 14:16 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 8:9 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Corinthians 8:21 (Listen)
(ESV)Galatians 5:13 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Thessalonians 5:22 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Peter 2:15 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Peter 4:15–16 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Isaiah 60:1–2; Luke 12:35–36; Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6–8; 1 Peter 1:13
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.— So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.—“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master.”Isaiah 60:1–2 (Listen) The Future Glory of Israel
60 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
(ESV)Luke 12:35–36 (Listen) You Must Be Ready
35 “Stay dressed for action1 and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.Footnotes
 12:35 Greek Let your loins stay girded; compare Exodus 12:11
(ESV)Romans 13:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 5:14 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Thessalonians 5:6–8 (Listen)
6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
(ESV)1 Peter 1:13 (Listen) Called to Be Holy
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action,1 and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.Footnotes
 1:13 Greek girding up the loins of your mind
What happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe: Why Americans need to pay close attention to political unrest across the Atlantic
The progressive, cosmopolitan future Macron envisioned for France is confronted by reality in the streets of Paris
- New York Times (Editors) — Paris Burning
- Wall Street Journal (Joseph C. Sternberg) — Macron’s Warning to America’s Ascendant Left
British parliament considers Brexit options but one big question remains—will the British people get what they voted for?
Voyager 2, launched in 1977, reaches interstellar space. But completion of the mission will take 30,000 more years.
“He has spanned eternity to come among us, to be born as one of us, and now he calls us to come close to Jesus Christ. . . . God is calling us to turn away from every self-salvation project and to enter into this salvation by bowing to him as Lord. ” — David Short
Text: Luke 2:8–20
Preached: December 24, 2013
Location: St. John’s Vancouver Anglican Church
You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.
- Just Drop the Blanket (Jason Soroski)
- Tired Just Thinking About Advent? Slow Down and Savor Christ. (Adam Ramsey)
- Have Yourself a Subversive Little Christmas (Dave Harvey)
During the recent funeral of the late President George H. W. Bush, all the former presidents and their wives stood and recited the creed while President Donald Trump and his wife, Melanie, stood in silence. This sparked a minor controversy that exposed the confusions many Christians—especially evangelicals—have about the Apostles’ Creed. Here are nine things you should know about this ancient statement of faith.
1. The text of the Apostles’ Creed has minor differences based on the traditions that use it. The following is a commonly used version produced by the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) in 1988:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
[he descended to the dead.]
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
2. A medieval legend claimed that each of the 12 articles was written by one of the 12 apostles. For example, Rufinus of Aquileia (345–411) wrote,
So they [i.e., the apostles] met together in one spot and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, compiled this brief token . . . each making the contribution he thought fit; and they decreed that it should be handed out as standard teaching to believers.
Despite its title, there is no evidence the Apostles’ Creed was actually written by the apostles, and the legend was largely abandoned by scholars by the time of the Renaissance.
3. The Apostles’ Creed is a variant of an ancient baptismal confession known as the Old Roman Creed (also, Roman Creed or Old Roman Symbol). The Old Roman Creed is believed to have been created in accordance with Jesus’s command in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
4. Several Christian traditions—including some Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists—use an interrogative form of the Apostles’ Creed in their rites of baptism.
5. Although many Protestants consider the Apostles’ Creed to be merely a creed (that is, a formal statement of Christian beliefs), some traditions, such as Catholicism, also consider it to be a form of prayer.
6. Several Reformation catechisms, such as the Heidelberg Catechism and Luther’s Small Catechism, use the creed as a way of articulating the basics of the Christian faith. For example, question #22 in the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What, then, must a Christian believe?” and answers, “All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.” The answer to question 23—“What are these articles?”—is the text of the Apostles’ Creed. Similarly, the Apostles’ Creed forms the answer to question #31 of the New City Catechism.
7. A common misunderstanding among evangelicals is the line that states, “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church.” In this creed the word catholic means “general, universal, concerning the whole” and does not refer exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church. (To avoid the confusion some churches say “holy Christian church.”) As the Southern Baptist theologian Timothy George explains, “When we say that we ‘believe in the holy catholic church,’ we are confessing that Jesus Christ himself is the church’s one foundation, that all who truly trust in him as Savior and Lord are by God’s grace members of this church, and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.”
8. The most contested line in the creed is “[Jesus] descended into hell.” The basis for the line is 1 Peter 3:19, which states that Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” As R. C. Sproul said, “People are making a lot of assumptions when they consider that this is a reference to hell and that Jesus went there between his death and his resurrection.” And as John Piper notes, “there is no textual basis in the New Testament for claiming that between Good Friday and Easter Christ was preaching to souls imprisoned in hell or Hades. . . . For these and other reasons, it seems best to me to omit from the Apostles’ Creed the clause, ‘he descended into hell,’ rather than giving it other meanings that are more defensible, the way Calvin does.”
9. The Apostles’ Creed, as Don Carson explains in this video, “very ably summarizes the gospel itself in just a few sentences.”
Other posts in this series:
George H. W. Bush (1924–2018) • Religious Freedom Restoration Act • Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre • Out-of-Wedlock Births • Bethel Church Movement • Christian Hymns • Hurricanes • Infertility • The STD Crisis • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) • Russian President Vladimir Putin • Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders • Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease • Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State
With apologies to my Southern Baptist friends, I recommend readers here consume The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure like a good bourbon. Drink it too quickly and you’ll only get an irritating burn. Sit with it a bit longer, and you’ll discover a more flavorful nuance.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote Coddling as an expansion of their 2015 Atlantic article. They critique the climate of higher education and examine factors contributing to that climate. There’s plenty of burn in Coddling, including legitimate concerns about challenges to free expression on campus, like violent protests at Middlebury, Berkeley, and Evergreen.
Lukianoff and Haidt also highlight less-known examples of stigmatizing and silencing, like the skewering of untenured philosophy professor Rebecca Tuvel for an article that provoked her disciplinary gatekeepers. We might also worry about more subtle pressures. As a tenured professor, I have a great deal of latitude to speak my mind and share my opinions. But I’ll admit there are some issues I don’t bother raising, because the predictable outrage isn’t worth enduring. The academy falls short of its own aspirations more than it should.
Still, readers shouldn’t content themselves with the burn of Coddling. The real payoff will come for those who linger for the nuance. We owe part of that nuance to the authors’ perspectives. Lukianoff and Haidt combine a wealth of knowledge and experience in and out of higher education. Haidt is a social psychologist whose book The Righteous Mind [read TGC’s profile of Haidt: ‘An Unlikely Ally’: What a Secular Atheist Is Teaching Christian Leaders] remains a must-read for anyone concerned with increased political polarization. Lukianoff is a lawyer who directs the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which defends speech and expression on college campuses. Coauthored books don’t always work well, but in this case the authors’ blended expertise enhances their argument.Social Justice Issues
Lukianoff and Haidt don’t stop with a critique of free-speech constraints in today’s higher education landscape; they also make an effort to discern what underlies the impulse to limit speech. Part of their story focuses on the formation of students before they arrive at college. But just as important is the authors’ discussion of substantive issues underlying campus unrest: “The interest and activism of teens have far more to do with social issues and injustices than with purely economic or political concerns, and the 2010s have been extraordinarily rich in such issues.”
It would be hard to overstate the significance of social justice to the formation of many of today’s college students. People can reasonably disagree about the scope and significance of any particular issue or event from the last decade. But the aggregation of these issues, amplified by a constant barrage of social media, is part of the deeply formative, lived experience of most undergraduates.
It would be hard to overstate the significance of social justice to the formation of many of today’s college students.
Lukianoff and Haidt helpfully critique vague invocations of justice-sounding words that too often mask contestable policy preferences. Christians should strive for clear and careful thinking in our words and arguments, and we should recognize that not every claim of “victimhood as moral theory” comports with a biblical framework. But Christians should also realize that some social justice aims are entirely consistent with gospel aims, such as addressing the ongoing costs of generational and structural injustices against people of color and recognizing the power dynamics and groupthink that too often underlie membership in a comfortable majority.
And this is where I most appreciate Lukianoff and Haidt’s effort toward nuance. They recognize that the problems in higher education aren’t entirely due to systemic and structural injustices, but neither are they simply the result of progressive assaults on free speech. One need not agree with every Slate and CNN story on Ferguson, #MeToo, and gay rights to recognize that the modern university isn’t exactly an idyllic haven for students of color, women, and LGBTQ students. Campus communities, much like the broader communities that surround them, are complex social environments. We will only begin to address their shortcomings when we can accurately name those shortcomings in all of their complexity.Embrace the Complexity
I worry that some of this complexity will be lost if Coddling is read through a certain conservative Christian lens. My sense—and I would gladly be proven wrong—is that this lens will amplify Coddling’s free speech anxieties and downplay its social justice concerns. That kind of oversimplified narrative leads too many Christians to conclude that the “secular university” is beyond repair—a place where Christian faculty hide in anonymity and where Christian kids go to lose their faith.
To be sure, I know of Christian faculty who have faced serious challenges from their institutions. I know of Christian students like Isabella Chow who have been vilified by their peers. And I’ve witnessed bigotry against Christians by university faculty and administrators that wouldn’t be tolerated against any other demographic. These are serious problems, and they need to be addressed by Christians and non-Christians alike, including people like Lukianoff and Haidt. But it would be a mistake to conclude that they define the university.
I teach at what is by any measure a fairly liberal and secular university. I teach courses in criminal law (including classes on sexual assault and police shootings) and law and religion (including classes on Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop). These aren’t uncontroversial topics. And I teach these classes to bright students who are ideologically, religiously, and racially diverse. In my experience, most students are ready to engage in these issues with rigor and charity.
I don’t start my classes with a group prayer or a Gospel reading, but neither do I hide my Christian commitments from colleagues and students—I am, after all, writing for a review for The Gospel Coalition. And it turns out I’m not alone. Washington University has dozens of Christian faculty across a range of disciplines, some of whom have joined me to launch a new ministry called The Carver Project. You can also find Christian faculty at places like Harvard and MIT, Duke, Berkeley, Yale, and many other schools. Meanwhile, campus ministries and Christian study centers are flourishing around the country.
Like bourbon and books, institutions and people are usually more complex than our first impressions of them. Lukianoff and Haidt recognize the same is true of American higher education today, and Coddling captures the complicated landscape that includes both free speech challenges and social justice challenges, coddled students and courageous students, ideological extremism and principled conviction. These represent both challenges and also opportunities. Many Christians called to today’s colleges and universities will need to venture into unfamiliar and sometimes inhospitable places, to treat the people we encounter there as the image bearers they are, and to love even those who might not love us back. If we take those challenges seriously, we will discover a lot of nuance after the burn.
For many of us, Christmas isn’t quite what it used to be—the season has lost some of its luster. No, I’m not referring to the gradual disappearance of tinsel from our trees. Christmas has, like so many other subjects in modern America, become politicized and polarizing. Whether in business, government, education, or the media, referencing “Christmas” can almost seem more taboo than swearing. For Christian parents, this can be particularly unsettling. First prayer was expelled from the classroom; now in some corners of our land we’re not even sure if our kids are allowed to wish their schoolmates a “Merry Christmas.”
With this abrupt cultural transformation, believers wonder if they’ll soon be pushed clear to the edge of society or fenced out entirely. As such, the season of light is increasingly shrouded by thick blankets of shame, frustration, offense, and hesitation. But that’s not all. Even within the church, the typical Christian response to these challenges takes its own polarized form. Christians of the more conservative, aggressive stripe tend to volley arguments and defend their ground. They refuse any form of cultural concession. Meanwhile, other believers, those we might think of as progressive, may be willing to concede territory to the dominant, pluralistic society in an effort to be conciliatory. They desire to be peacemakers. What’s interesting is that these drastically different approaches are often born of the same goal: to advance the gospel and glory of Christ.
But are these approaches helpful to that end? I doubt so.
In the so-called War on Christmas (and any of the other “culture wars”), our Christian version of polarization seems to be part of the overall problem. The solution is neither passive retreat nor belligerent attack. Both further conceal the light. What we need, then, is to cultivate a more biblical method for our mission. In our increasingly hostile environment, we need to find a way of speaking the good news without being caustic, a way of being conciliatory without surrendering our voice.Humble Appreciation
When our family lived in Central Asia, our local friends were all Muslims. Every year they’d observe the fast of Ramadan for a month, punctuated each evening by elaborate family meals and culminating in the festival of Eid al-Fitr. They’d also commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son (Ishmael, according to most interpretations of the Quran) with their own day of sacrifice, Eid-al-Adha.
As Christians, we wanted to respect and honor their traditions without endorsing their holidays or religious observance. I didn’t accept the Quranic story of Abraham or its depiction of sacrifice. Nor did I approve of the Islamic way of fasting. So for me, wishing my Muslim neighbors and friends a happy and holy Ramadan (using the typical Muslim greeting) was uncomfortable and would’ve been insincere. I also didn’t want to further confuse them or the gospel by commending their faith. Which meant the best I could do was, with kind authenticity, offer the local version of “Good holidays.”
I learned this generic—and incredibly useful—phrase from my Muslim friends’ own greetings to me during Christmas. Instead of our “Happy Noels,” they usually opted for “Good holidays.” And I didn’t take it as a personal offense or an attack on my belief. I took it for what it was: a kind gesture toward someone of a different faith—a faith over which we clearly disagreed.
In our increasingly hostile environment, we need to find a way of speaking the good news without being caustic, a way of being conciliatory without surrendering our voice.
This is the perspective we need in the West where cultural Christianity no longer holds sway. When people in power or the neighbors next door don’t particularly want to celebrate our version of Christmas, when they can only nod and smile with a “Happy holidays,” our first response should be to humbly appreciate their kindness and affirm their honesty.
Our job isn’t to fight for what’s lost, to perform CPR on Christian nominalism and preserve the last breaths of a fading religiosity in our land. And we certainly don’t need to lambast individuals, governments, or institutions for not celebrating a Christian holy day. After all, this is the lesson of the Golden Rule. Putting the shoe on another foot, would we really want them to coerce us, much less our kids, to celebrate Diwali or Pride?Bold Proclamation
In our cultural moment, we should recognize the benefit of our nation’s fading allegiance to nominal Christianity. Now, more than ever, saying “Merry Christmas” means something. But saying it is also not nearly enough. Rather than conceding our losses and remaining silent, we need to actually explain to others—those who’ve perhaps never heard—the reason for the season by providing a defense for the hope in us. We’ll also need to differentiate the celebration of our Lord’s birth from other religious traditions and from the cultural clutter of Black Friday deals and “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” More than simply offering a throwaway Christmas greeting, we’ll need to declare the praises of our Savior.
More than simply offering a throwaway Christmas greeting, let’s declare the praises of our Savior.
There are many ways to do this: composing a Christmas letter, singing carols with dinner guests, rehearsing the Advent story, hosting a Christmas tea, taking cookies and a Scripture passage to neighbors. Doing these and more, we can leverage our holiday and use it to speak boldly—and winsomely—for Christ and his gospel. Meanwhile, when others—whether strangers on the train or shoppers in line—extend generic greetings, instead of being offended we can lean on the open door and ask if they too are celebrating any holidays this season. If they return the question, we might answer that we’re not celebrating Christmas per se—not in the vein of consumerist glut—but commemorating Advent. It might be the path to an unexpected gospel conversation.
The solution to a blurry and confusing season of light is neither aggression nor concession. We must repel the poles of fight or flight. This December, Christians shouldn’t shrink back in silence, ashamed of the gospel and pacifying opponents. But we also need not fight for naming rights or push for some kind of superficial social recognition. And we certainly need not argue for more religious nominalism in our land.
Instead, if we’re going to be offensive this Christmas season, let it be for the offense of the gospel itself. Let it be as we humbly explain our absurd hope in a virgin-birthed, flesh-wearing God. Let it be as we speak about the glory of a King come to die.
December 11: John 10:29; Romans 8:37–39; Colossians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:18; James 2:5; Psalm 119:45; John 8:32; John 8:34; John 8:36; Romans 6:18; Romans 7:2; Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1; Galatians 5:13–14; James 1:25
“No one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”
I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.—The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.—We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.John 10:29 (Listen)
29 My Father, who has given them to me,1 is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.Footnotes
 10:29 Some manuscripts What my Father has given to me
(ESV)Romans 8:37–39 (Listen)
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(ESV)Colossians 3:3 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 (Listen)
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
(ESV)2 Timothy 1:12 (Listen)
12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.1Footnotes
 1:12 Or what I have entrusted to him; Greek my deposit
(ESV)2 Timothy 4:18 (Listen)
(ESV)James 2:5 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Psalm 119:45; John 8:32; John 8:34; John 8:36; Romans 6:18; Romans 7:2; Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1; Galatians 5:13–14; James 1:25
The perfect law, the law of liberty.
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…. Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin…. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”—Having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness.—Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.
The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.—I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.Psalm 119:45 (Listen)
(ESV)John 8:32 (Listen)
(ESV)John 8:34 (Listen)
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave1 to sin.Footnotes
(ESV)John 8:36 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 6:18 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 7:2 (Listen)
2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.1Footnotes
 7:2 Greek law concerning the husband
(ESV)Romans 8:2 (Listen)
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you1 free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.Footnotes
 8:2 Some manuscripts me
(ESV)Galatians 5:1 (Listen) Christ Has Set Us Free
(ESV)Galatians 5:13–14 (Listen)
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
(ESV)James 1:25 (Listen)