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Timothy Paul Jones

Husband of one, father of two, author of several, professor at Southern Seminary, member of Sojourn Community Church, enjoyer of all things local, adopted by God, enthralled by the gospel

Posted 5/6/13 at 9:05 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Apologetics: What Are the Chances That Jesus’ Body Was Left On the Cross?

:: The Obscenity of the Cross in the Ancient World ::

With few exceptions, even the most skeptical scholars admit that Jesus was crucified—and with good reason. Not only Christian authors but also the Roman historian Tacitus mention the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s highly unlikely that first-century Christians would have fabricated such a shameful fate for the founder of their faith. In the first century A.D., crucifixion represented the darkest possible path to death.

It is almost impossible for contemporary people to comprehend the full obscenity of crucifixion in the ancient world. Beginning as early as the third century B.C., the very word “crucify” was a vulgarism that did not pass freely between the lips of cultured people. In one ancient document, a Roman prostitute hurled this insult—perhaps the lewdest curse in her vocabulary—at an uncouth patron: “Go get yourself crucified!” The Roman philosopher Seneca described what he witnessed at a crucifixion with these words: “I see the stakes there—not of one kind but of many. Some victims are placed head down; some have spikes driven through their genitals; others have their arms stretched out on the gibbet.” FULL POST

Posted 4/29/13 at 8:42 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

The Centrality of Preaching in the Ministry of John Calvin

Painting: Public Domain

Martin Luther wasn’t the only lawyer who became a leader in the Reformation.

In 1534 another lawyer traveled along another rutted road. His life had been shaken in much the same way that Luther’s had been—though not by a storm that drove him to call out to a saint. This lawyer was a Renaissance humanist fleeing the University of Paris.

His name?

John Calvin.

A few months earlier Calvin had helped a friend write a speech. They peppered the address with quotes from Luther and Erasmus. The speech angered the French government and forced Calvin to flee. Soon afterward, Calvin became a Protestant and a Christian.

Calvin fled first to Noyon, France, his home-town. From Noyon, Calvin turned toward Switzerland. There, he wrote the first comprehensive summary of Reformation theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion.

After the Institutes were published, Calvin headed for the Protestant city of Strasbourg, Switzerland. On the way, a military conflict forced him to veer east, taking a detour through Geneva. He intended to stay in Geneva for one night, concealed by the alias “Charles d’Espeville.” FULL POST

Posted 4/22/13 at 8:53 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Gospel-Centered Apologetics

So much can depend on the answer to a single question.

“Will you marry me?” “Did he get the job?” “Was I accepted into the program?” “Did she survive?” “Will you forgive me?”

Sometimes, everything comes together—or falls apart—in the shadow of a single question.

The Christian faith is that way.

In the case of Christianity, everything that matters depends on one single question: “What happened after Jesus died?” If Jesus returned to life after he died, there is every reason to entrust my entire existence to him. If Jesus is still dead, Christianity is the most far-fetched lie that anyone has ever believed.

In one sense, for those who accept this proclamation as true, Easter weekend is all about apologetics—the defense of the central claims of the gospel against other possibilities. This isn’t because the resurrection suddenly becomes more important in the spring; it’s because a significant number of people are suddenly more open to considering the historical foundations and implications of the resurrection of Jesus. FULL POST

Posted 4/8/13 at 8:55 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Prayer Meeting That Lasted One Hundred Years

Painting of Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf

On May 26, in the year 1700, Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf was born. While still in his twenties, Nikolaus became part of a prayer meeting that—through hundreds of men and women who took turns praying—continued twenty-four hours every day for more than one hundred years.

So how did this prayer meeting begin?

Well, in some sense, the foundations for the prayer meeting can be traced to the late 1600s. A man named Jacob Spener wrote a booklet entitled Pious Desires. The book urged Christians to pursue a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures; this pietistic impulse had a profound impact on Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.

In the early eighteenth century, several Roman Catholic princes were persecuting the Moravian Brethren, a small Protestant movement that had originated in the western regions of what’s now known as the Czech Republic. One rainy evening in 1722 a Moravian believer knocked on Zinzendorf’s front door. He asked if Nikolaus von Zinzendorf might shelter the flourishing Moravian movement. Nikolaus agreed and even helped the Moravians to found a community on his lands. They called their community “the Lord’s watch” (or “Herrnhut”). By 1725, nearly one hundred Moravians had made Herrnhut their home. FULL POST

Posted 3/25/13 at 9:28 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Family Ministry: In Praise of Inefficiency

I saw something beautiful the other day while walking down Breckenridge Lane. In a front yard not far from my home, a young mother was removing a layer of leftover leaves from the fall in preparation for planting spring flowers—an ordinary activity in the middle of an ordinary day.

What was extraordinary about this scene was what I saw beside this young woman.

A tow-haired boy, perhaps three or four years old, was attempting to assist her. His rake was man-sized, his movements were far from efficient, and he was leaving more leaves than he moved. Yet, as I passed this mother and child, I heard no criticisms. Instead, I heard a constant stream of encouragement: “Daddy will be so proud of your hard work! Can you try to get those leaves over there? You know, honey, it might work better if you turned the rake over.”

If this woman’s sole goal for the afternoon was leaf removal, her best bet would have been to plop her preschooler in front of a television to watch professionally-produced children’s programs that pretend to equip children with skills for life while leaching away their capacity for meaningful relationships. If this mother had chosen this option, she could have pursued the goal of planting spring flowers far more efficiently. FULL POST

Posted 3/18/13 at 2:13 PM | Timothy Paul Jones

Family Ministry: Gut Feelings, the Gospel, and the Big Lie About Nine-Out-of-Ten

“So, tell me,” I ask, “why do you want to transition your church toward family ministry?”

“Well,” the pastor begins “nine out of every ten kids are dropping out of church after they graduate, aren’t they? Evidently, what we’re doing right now isn’t working.”

“Mm-hmm,” the children’s director agrees. “Eighty-eight percent is what they said at the conference a few weeks ago. We just want to do so much better than that.”

“Is your church actually losing that many?” I ask.

Both of them look at each other before shrugging.

“I—I don’t really know,” the pastor replies. “I mean, most of them, we don’t see after they graduate. Sometimes that’s because they’re involved in another church or they’ve plugged into a college fellowship, I guess. Sometimes they move away. I don’t think the church has ever actually done a survey or anything like that. It just seems to me that a lot of them do drop out.”

The children’s director nods and continues, “What we thought is that, if we had some programs to teach parents how to grow their kids spiritually, we could stop the dropouts before they happen.” FULL POST

Posted 3/11/13 at 8:37 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Who Was Augustine and Why Does He Matter?

Photo: The Yorck Project - in the Public Domain
Portrait of Augustine of Hippo

As a young man in North Africa, Augustine traded the Christian faith of his mother Monica for the pursuit of personal pleasure and prestige. Yet the more Augustine chased after the things he thought would make him happy, the more God pursued him. It was in a garden in Italy that Augustine heard the voice of a child, singing a bit of rhyme, “Take up and read, take up and read.” When Augustine took up a nearby copy of the New Testament to read, the first verses to catch his eye were from Paul’s letter to the Romans, 13:11-14. Broken by the message of this text, Augustine finally recognized Jesus as Lord not only of the world but also of his own life. The year was 386.

Nine years later, Augustine was declared overseer of the church in the city of Hippo (modern Annaba, Algeria). In this role, he became a prolific defender of orthodox Christianity against false teachers such as the British monk Pelagius. Talents and personality traits that had once driven Augustine to seek his own glory became the very tools through which God worked to strengthen the faith of his people in the fifth century and beyond.

When the city of Rome was sacked in the year 410, many Roman citizens blamed Christianity. After all, the eternal city had never fallen during the days when Romans worshiped pagan gods! In The City of God—perhaps Augustine’s most important work, one that has shaped centuries of Christian political thought—the overseer of Hippo guided his readers to understand why no earthly empire, not even the Roman Empire, can last forever.

It is almost impossible to overstate Augustine’s impact on the history of Christian thought. In an outstanding article on the continuing relevance of Augustine, Nick Needham writes:

A. N. Whitehead once quipped that the history of Western philosophy was simply a series of footnotes to Plato. By a pardonable exaggeration, one might say that the history of Western theology is simply a series of footnotes to Augustine. The fifth-century African father towers mightily over the succeeding centuries…. We are sometimes fond of saying that we stand on the shoulders of the great Christians who went before us. In the case of Augustine, I suspect most of us may feel less a dwarf on his shoulders than an ant on his ankle.

Here are a few of my favorite words and ideas from the pen of Augustine…
* …his account of how he and his friends stole pears that they neither needed nor desired, simply for the thrill of the theft: Confessions 2:4-8.
* …his account of his conversion: Confessions 8:7-12.
* …his contrast between the City of God and the Earthly City or City of Man, summarized here by James K.A. Smith.
* …his unrelenting emphasis on the grace of God, summarized here by Tom Nettles.

And here is a whimsical and enjoyable, albeit amateur, video summary of the life of Augustine.

FULL POST

Posted 3/4/13 at 8:23 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

How Christians Settled An Argument About Election

:: Defenestration and Divine Election in Seventeeth-Century Europe ::

By the opening years of the seventeenth century, the Reformation had turned European Christianity into a conglomeration of conflicting sects. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent drew a firm line between Catholics and Protestants by declaring that Roman Catholic tradition represents the final authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

In 1618, a war between Protestants and Catholics broke out when some Protestants tossed two Catholic ambassadors out a second-story window. Fortunately, the ambassadors survived. Unfortunately, they survived because they landed in a heap of horse manure. Historians have named this foul-smelling event the “Defenestration of Prague,” which proves once and for all that historians have no sense of humor when it comes to naming events.

The Defenestration of Prague—or, as I prefer to call it, “The Great Stinky Second-Story Window Tossing”—was how the Thirty Years’ War began, though they didn’t call it the Thirty Years’ War then because they didn’t know how long it was going to last. In Central Europe alone, at least ten million people died during this conflict. Not a joyous occurrence, no matter how humorously the war began.

The year 1618 also marked a moment of theological conflict among Protestants in Holland. This conflict involved no windows and no excrement. In fact, by the early twentieth century, this conflict would be summarized by a flower—a tulip, to be exact. The conflict had to do with election. No, not a first-Tuesday-in-November democratic election. This conflict concerned divine election.

:: Dutch Difficulties from Dirck to Dort ::

According to Scripture, every Christian is “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2). This election isn’t based on any human choice but solely on God’s gracious predetermination (Romans 9:11)—or at least that’s what a long line of Christians throughout history have believed when it comes to divine election. Not everyone has accepted this viewpoint, of course—but a clear series of Christian thinkers stretching from the ancient church through the Middle Ages and particularly among the Reformers embraced this perspective.

In the late 1500s, a Dutch thinker named Dirck Cornhert—yes, seriously, that was his name!—came up with a radical suggestion for dealing with doctrinal differences: Until God sends a new apostle to tell Christians exactly what to believe, Protestants and Catholics should lay aside their distinctive doctrines and join together into one theology-free church.

One summary of faith that Cornhert specifically rejected was the Heidelberg Catechism, a statement that happened to be quite important to the Dutch Reformed churches. Not surprisingly, this recommendation didn’t go over well in Holland.

A young professor named Jakob Hermanszoon was enlisted to defend the teachings found in the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly the parts that had to do with election. But Hermanszoon lost the debate before it even began! As he studied for the debate, he became convinced that the Reformers had been wrong about the whole issue of election.

According to Hermanszoon, God has placed in every person just enough goodness and grace—he called it “prevenient grace”—to choose whether or not to trust Jesus. As a result, God’s election wasn’t really God’s choice at all; God simply noticed ahead of time who would choose him and then chose them back.

Hermanszoon died in 1609, but his followers continued to develop his ideas. His followers became known as “Arminians” because, whenever they called themselves “Hermanszoonians,” everyone around them politely replied, “Gesundheit.” (Okay, so I made that part up. Actually, the Latin form of the Dutch “Hermanszoon” is “Arminius” which is a lot easier to say than “Hermanszoon”—and that’s why, if you’ve heard of Hermanszoon before, it was probably under his Latinized name “Jacob Arminius.”)

Soon after Hermanszoon’s death, his followers published a document known as the “Remonstrance.” The Remonstrance spelled out five particular points where the Arminians disagreed with the theologians of the Reformation.

These five points resulted in a conflict that threatened to tear apart the Reformed churches of Holland. A Dutch prince tried to end the conflict by inviting Reformed pastors throughout Europe to gather in the city of Dort to draft a declaration of their beliefs. In 1618 and 1619, the Synod of Dort responded to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance with five points of their own. Their five responses became known as “the Canons of Dort.”

:: The First Point: Election ::

What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ … before the foundation of the world, … determined … to save … those who … shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end.” God’s election was conditional, based on foreseen human faith and perseverance.

How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, … God chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people. … This election took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith … but rather for the purpose of faith.” God’s election was unconditional; God chose not because he foresaw faith but because he planned to give faith as a gift.

Key Scripture texts: John 6:44; 15:16; Romans 9:10-16

:: The Second Point: Atonement ::

What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “Jesus Christ …died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all … redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer.” Jesus purchased redemption for every person. If anyone refuses to believe in Jesus, their refusal thwarts God’s work of redemption their life.

How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “This death of God’s Son is … more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. … It was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross … should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father.” The death of Jesus secured the salvation of all whom God in his grace chose before time.

Key Scripture texts: Job 42:1-2; John 10:14-15, 28; 1 John 2:2

:: The Third Point: Human Nature ::

What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “Man … of and by himself can neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good; … it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit.” Although fallen human beings cannot in themselves do good, God has placed “prevenient grace” in all people, so they can believe and be born again.

How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “All people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, … neither willing nor able to return to God.” Humans are, by nature, spiritually dead; humanity’s fallenness is so great that no sinner desires to trust in Jesus until he or she is made alive through the work of God’s Spirit.

Key Scripture texts: Psalm 14:2-3; 53:2-3; Romans 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:1-3

:: The Fourth Point: Operation of Grace ::

What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “As respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible.” Regeneration is God’s immediate response when a sinner chooses Jesus; sinners can resist, reject, and thwart God’s attempts to save them.

How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “Regeneration … is an entirely supernatural work. … All those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe.” Though people do resist the Holy Spirit up to the time when God brings about new life in them, God transforms the person at the time of the new birth—or regeneration—in such a way that the sinner desires to trust Jesus and, as a result, freely chooses faith.

Key Scripture texts: John 6:37, 44; Ephesians 2:4-6

:: The Fifth Point: Perseverance ::

What the Arminians said in the Remonstrance: “Those who are incorporated into Christ, … Jesus Christ assists them … and, if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling. … Whether they are capable … of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, … that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures.” Perseverance depends on the will and work of the believer; it is uncertain whether a believer can forfeit his or her salvation.

How the Reformed responded in the Canons: “God … does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does God let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification. … God preserves, continues, and completes this work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises.” Perseverance depends on God’s will and work; God works in the lives of Christians so that they persevere in faith to the end.

Key Scripture texts: John 10:27-28; Romans 8:29-39

Of course, the Synod of Dort didn’t settle this issue once and for all. To this day, Christians discuss and sometimes divide over the issues that the Arminians raised in the Remonstrance. Over time, the Canons of Dort became known as “the five points of Calvinism”—even though they didn’t emerge until decades after John Calvin was dead. Despite such difficulties, the five points do provide a helpful summary of the Reformed perspective on how and why sinners trust Jesus.

:: Troubled by TULIP? A Proposal for PROOF ::

What has been far less helpful for healthy discussions of Calvinism is a five-point acrostic that emerged in the early 1900s. This acrostic rearranges and renames the Canons of Dort to spell the word “TULIP.” In this reformulation, the five points become:

* Total depravity
* Unconditional election or universal sovereignty
* Limited atonement
* Irresistible grace
* Perseverance of the saints

TULIP has only been around for a century or so, and I certainly understand the appeal of the acrostic. It’s a Dutch flower, after all, and it makes the five points quite easy to recall. And yet, this memory device has grown to dominate discussions of Reformed theology in ways that have rarely been fruitful.

“Total depravity,” for example, gives the impression that unsaved people are as bad as they can be, which isn’t at all what any Reformed theologian has claimed; plus, “total depravity” sounds like some sort of cable television show that no Christian should be watching in the first place. The “L” in the TULIP doesn’t catch the qualification in the Canons of Dort that the death of Jesus was “more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.”

So here’s a proposal for a different memory device—one that’s truer to Reformed theology and far more helpful for discussions of Calvinism:

Daniel Montgomery and I are currently working on a book that unpacks this vision for theology.

In the meantime, here are some devotional guides on the five points as well as a children’s book that works through these doctrines of divine grace.

FULL POST

Posted 2/25/13 at 9:18 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Why No Baptized Lions Or Talking Crosses Made It Into Your Bible

From the first century forward, Christians viewed testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus as uniquely authoritative. The logic of this standard was simple: The people most likely to know the truth about Jesus were either eyewitnesses who had encountered Jesus personally or close associates of these witnesses. So, although Christians wrangled for some time about the authority of certain writings, it was something far greater than political machinations that drove these decisions. Their goal was to determine which books could be clearly connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus.

With this in mind, let’s look at a couple of real-life examples of how some writings ended up excluded from the churches’ collections of authoritative books.

:: The Gospel of the Talking Cross ::

In 199 A.D., a pastor named Serapion became the lead pastor of the leading church in Syria, the church in Antioch. As the leading pastor in Antioch, Serapion was responsible not only for his own church but also for several smaller congregations in the area. One of these congregations gathered in the village of Rhossus.

Within a few months, Serapion heard rumors that the church in Rhossus was on the verge of a rift. So, Serapion found himself trudging the stony coastal road that took him north of Antioch, toward Rhossus. FULL POST

Posted 2/18/13 at 8:33 AM | Timothy Paul Jones

Forgotten Hymn That Once Preceded “Amazing Grace”

While doing some research related to the writer of the lyrics now know as the hymn “Amazing Grace,” I ran across another set of lyrics that are equally powerful but far less familiar.

First off, a few little-known facts about “Amazing Grace”:

* The original title wasn’t “Amazing Grace” at all but “Faith’s Review and Expectation.”

* The words weren’t joined to the familiar “New Britain” tune until 1835, more than a half-century after John Newton penned the first version of the lyrics.

* John Newton and William Cowper wrote a new lyric almost every week for the church members who gathered weekly for prayer meeting in the village of Olney; “Faith’s Review and Expectation” was one of these hymns, penned as a poetic reflection on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.

* “Faith’s Review and Expectation” was first published in 1779 in Olney Hymns, six years or so after Newton wrote the original verses for a New Year’s Day prayer meeting.

* Hymn texts in Olney Hymns were arranged according to the biblical passage on which each hymn was based—an arrangement that, in my opinion, it would be helpful to recover. FULL POST

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