Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pray Joshna home!

I want to take a second with all y’all who read my blog (thanks, BTW), and introduce you to Joshna Jones, daughter of Chip and Betsy, sister of Ellie.  Some of you know the Jones family, some of you may not.  I want to invite y’all to join many of us throughout the day, today, in praying for the Jones family.  Three members of the Jones family live here in Nashville, one of them is still in India.  We want to pray that all four members of the Jones family can be together, SOON.

You see, the Jones are adopting Joshna.  As those of you who have adopted children can relate, it has been a long, and at times, confusing process.  As my fellow pastor, Ryan Doyle, says, “The birth pangs of adoption are different, but still painful.”  God is Lord of the process, to be sure.  But, now it is time for us to intensely and intentionally surround this covenant child with prayer.  The God who predestines the ends, predestines the means to those ends.  He works especially powerfully in concert with the prayers of his people.

So, read below to see how you can pray.  Maybe, you will want to pray at 30,000ft. for the whole list.  Or, you could drill down on one or two specific areas throughout the day.  Pray.  Just pray.  This little girl is the Lord’s.  This little girl is the Jones’.  Let our prayers be Johsna’s.  I say that because, while Joshna is a great gift to Chip and Betsy, there is no family I know who could be such a gift to a little girl, like the Jones.

So, read below and be sure to check Betsy’s blog (linked at the bottom).

Today our daughter, Joshna, turns 3 ½.  It also marks the 3 ½ year mark of the first paperwork we submitted to our first agency.  The adoption of Joshna into the Jones family has reached a critical point.  In May, the Chennai courts close for an extended time due to the heat and monsoons.  In June, our approval from the United States government to adopt Joshna expires.  If our case is not heard and approved by the time the Chennai courts close, we will need to complete another home study, fill out a new application, pay another $1000, wait until we have further approval from the US, and wait until the courts reopen in Chennai.  Our daughter needs to come home!  We need your prayers!  God can move mountains…and the Chennai courts!

Here are specific ways you can pray:

For the Scrutiny Hearing in Chennai to happen quickly (they review our case file and give a recommendation to the judge) and for a favorable review

For the case to move quickly from there to the court

For the judge to show up when our case is scheduled to be heard

For a favorable review from the judge within six weeks

For Joshna’s passport to be issued quickly

For travel to be scheduled within the next eight weeks

For Joshna to be prepared to leave the only life she knows with her primary caregiver

For the primary caregiver to be prepared for the separation with Joshna

For quick bonding for Joshna with our family

For the adjustment Ellie will be facing as we add another family member

For good health for everyone throughout the process

For our trust to be in God and not our own plans

For encouragement and peace for all four of us as we wait

For all of the unknowns of how to pray

Thank you all for your prayers and support during the very lengthy process.  We are grateful God has placed you all in our lives, and we look forward to the day we can announce the news that Joshna is home!

-The Jones Family



Pilgrim’s Progress, Chapter Two Progress Points, Pt. 4 – An Excursus on the Iron Cage

You know, the whole scene of the man in the iron cage, while disturbing, even distressing, should not be all that surprising.  I say this because, if you will recall, we began our study of Pilgrim’s Progress: Ancient Journey, New City by reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils (Mt 13:1-9).  You know how the story goes.  Some seed falls on the path.  This is hard ground from the beginning.  Paths in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry would have been worn down and virtually concretized from years of treading.  Seeds hit that surface and sit on that surface, and become a bird buffet.  Some seeds are tossed on rocky ground.  Like some places here in Middle Tennessee, there is a thin layer of soil barely covering a rocky terrain.  Seeds can sprout, but not develop roots deep enough to protect from the scorching sun.  With similar effect, some seeds landed on soil full of weeds and thorns.  If you have ever noticed a plot of land with thistle plants, you know how other plants have a very difficult time competing for water and nutrients.  In relative short order, they whither.  Finally, some seed fell on nutrient rich, receptive soil.

Obviously, this is a picture of the gospel going forth.  One of Bunyan’s concerns in Pilgrim’s Progress is to warn Christian and the rest of us of the dangers of being in one of the two middle categories.  To be sure, we quickly run into an example of the first kind of soil in Obstinate.  No one had any misconceptions about whether or not he was interested in the gospel.  However, there are a number of examples, thus far of the two middle types of soil: Pliable, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Formalist. Hypocrisy, Timorous, and Mistrust.  These are all characters who appear in some ways to be on the heavenly highway.  However, they are not true believers.  The aged Apostle John laments this reality in the lives of false teachers among the community of the faith in Ephesus, when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, the would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1Jn 2:19, ESV).

The man in the iron cage is a picture painted with the colors of Heb 6:1-4.  Like the shallow ground “believer” or thorny ground “believer,” his impressive show of faith was, in the end, simply a show.

You see, Heb 6:1-4, 1Jn 2:19, the parable of the sower and the soils, and passages of this sort, do not in any way teach that a saved person can ever lose their salvation.  However, the scene of the man in the iron cage does cause us to wonder about assurance of salvation, the role of repentance, faith, good works, etc.

Now, the WCF is part of our constitutional standards in the Presbyterian Church in America.  The WCF is not infallible or inerrant; only the Bible can claim that.  The WCF is not the Bible, but it gives us insight and explication on what the Bible teaches, and the Bible is the standard by which we judge the accuracy and helpfulness of the WCF.  And the WCF, Ch. 18 is so very helpful when it comes to the doctrine of assurance or certainty of salvation.  So, here’s something I would like for you to do.  Take a moment to read and reflect on the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646-7) in its section on assurance of salvation, Ch. 18.2:

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope;[1] but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation,[2] the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made,[3] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God,[4] which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.[5]

[1] Heb 6:11, 19; [2] Heb 6:17-18; [3] 2Pe 1:4-5, 10-11; 1Jn 2:3; 3:14; 2Co 1:12; [4] Ro 8:15-16; [5] Eph 1:13-14; 4:30; 2Co 1:21-22

Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it…

See if you can locate in this portion of the WCF the three things upon which our assurance or certainty of salvation are founded.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin unpacking these three precious gifts, same time, same channel.  Well, I may not post at exactly the same time of day tomorrow as this one.  But, it will be the same channel – right here at TLR.


Pilgrim’s Progress, Chapter Two Progress Points, Pt. 3 – An Excursus on the Iron Cage

First, allow me to say how excited we all are at the energetic response we have seen across the various small groups, as we embark on our time together as a church in Pilgrim’s Progress.  There is great enthusiasm for the story, for the community we are experiencing, and, thankfully, for how it exposes us to gospel verities.  After all, the purpose of Pilgrim’s Progress is really to get us thinking about the Bible.  In fact, Charles Spurgeon, who confessed to having read Pilgrim’s Progress over one hundred times, said, “Next to the Bible the book that I value most is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress…it is a book of which I never seem to tire, but then the secret of that is, that [it] is the Bible in another shape. It is the same heavenly water taken out of this same well of the gospel.”

From what we are hearing, there is great discussion bubbling up in the small groups, such that, sometimes our leaders have to pick and choose which morsels they will serve up from a given chapter of Pilgrim’s Progress.  The reality is that there is so much in the storyline, that there is no way to treat every detail in, well… detail.  This makes each small group unique, as it hones in on the various aspects of the story and study guide that best meet the needs of the group that night.

Ch. 2 is full, dramatic, telling, and trajectory-setting for the rest of the journey.  From his opening encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman whose council of self-reliant legalistic moralism (is there any other kind of moralism?) led Christian up a treacherous mountain, to the ever-timely Evangelist pointing him to the cross and the gospel, the reader can sense this is no simple nursery rhyme unfolding.  The next thing we know, Christian is snatched “roughly” through the narrow (wicket) gate by Good-Will (a picture of Christ), who then sends him on his way to the Interpreter’s house.  Historians believe that Bunyan had in the back of his mind his experience of going to the church house in Bedford, where faithful Pastor John Gifford showed him Bible truths he would need for his own journey.  Here, Christian was taken into a museum-like setting and shown several things that represented biblical truths regarding the Christian life – things of encouragement, instruction, and warning.  First, the picture of a very grave person (the gospel minister), to a dusty parlor (a lesson on law and gospel), and so forth.

One item that has seemed to occasion fairly common interest and curiosity across our small groups is a strange, even disturbing scene at the Interpreter’s house.

Who can forget it?

A man in an iron cage.

It is a dark, grim, morose image.  Christian, himself, was distressed at the sight.  That’s why Interpreter showed him this sad figure, to get his attention.  Christian, you might imagine somewhat timidly, asks him who he is, why he is in that iron cage.  The man replies that he was once possessed of an impressive profession of faith, both in his own eyes and the eyes of others.  He cannot get out of the cage.  He is full of gnawing despair and hopelessness.  Christian attempts to minister words of gospel truth to him about a merciful Savior “full of pity,” and invites him to fresh repentance.  But, the prisoner of doubt, remains unmoved (pp. 53-55).  Interpreter’s aim is that Christian would be warned.

Now, I would imagine there are a number of thoughts, questions, maybe even worries as to what exactly is going on, here.  What are we to make of this poor, miserable figure?  What is his condition and what does this mean in the larger context of the story of Pilgrim’s Progress?  More importantly, what is this supposed to teach us about our own journey?  Where are the biblical moorings to tether ourselves to, as we try to make sense of this picture?

Bunyan is giving us an allegory.  As such, we have to realize that not every picture is going to have an absolute and only tight and tidy meaning that leaves no room for discussion or debate.  With that said, neither is Bunyan’s classic like a piece of modern art hanging in a gallery, indistinguishably void of any authorial intent, merely waiting to be infused with any number of readers’ subjective interpretations.

Now, some reading this blog may be thinking, “David, just cut to the chase and tell me in twenty-five words or less what the image means.  That’ll be good enough for me.”  Others, may be more interested in how this man in the iron cage has been interpreted in the history of Bunyan scholarship.  Still, some may be wrestling with this at a more visceral level.  For the first person, I’ll say that the core of this image is that the man in the cage has made an idol of his sin, which has led to him making an idol of his unrepentance, unbelief, and doubt. There, I think that is twenty-five words.  More eloquently, yet more loquaciously, the editor’s notes in the back of your book describe the iron-caged man thusly:

“The iron cage is a warning to all who would make light of God’s promises.  This man has made an idol of remorse, despair, and bitterness, never truly crying out to the Lord for mercy because he has decided that God will not hear him or respond to him favorably.  He worships his sorrow and has elevated his unbelief above the promises of God.  He cannot truly repent because God withholds His mercy from those make an idol out of unbelief” (E.N. 15.6, 228).

Secondly, most Bunyan interpreters (no pun intended) see this as a clear allusion to Heb 6:1-6, which is a warning passage about those who appear to be true believers, but through persistent sin and unrepentance, finally prove they were never believers to begin with (cf., 1Jn 2:19).  That this is reasonable is seen in the fact that some of the dialog between Christian and the man in the iron cage is taken from the very words of that Hebrews passage.

I want to spend some time pressing in over the next few days with the more visceral, personal place, where we are trying to figure out how Pilgrim’s Progress helps us understand and live the Christian life.  You see, this whole scene in Pilgrim’s Progress raises a number of questions, such as doubting our salvation, assurance of our salvation, perseverance and preservation, easy-believism, hardness of heart, the nature of true repentance, conviction of sin, and the like. Can a person appear to be a believer, yet turn out not to be?  And, what do we do in those times when we feel like an iron cage is clenching its cold clutches around us?  Can a true believer struggle with doubt?  More than that, can we even at times fall into making an idol of our doubts and fears, to the point that it becomes life-dominating and brings us to places of despair and great distress about our own spiritual condition?  Is there comfort for us if this happens?

While I don’t intend on blogging a dissertation on these subjects over the next few days, I must, nonetheless, give it proper service by drilling down with some clarity and depth in some of these issues four three or four blog posts.  I say this because the doctrine of salvation is so pastorally pertinent.  Personally, I have found this to be one of the, if not the most frequent need the sheep have, in terms of teaching, reminding, and comfort.  So, we are going to take a biblical excursus from Pilgrim’s Progress by looking at the “three-legged stool” of assurance over the next few days.

Finally, I want to thank and commend y’all for jumping in so readily.  Thank you to the congregation for expressing such appreciation for the effort everyone involved has made to bring this small group ministry to fruition.  Thank you to the leaders, hosts, and participants!  J. Gresham Machen described Bunyan’s classic, as “that tenderest and most theological of books.”  Yet, I want to thank all of you for reading a book that, admittedly, is of a sometimes demanding written style.  Old, classic books make us stretch and feel the burn at times (but, see my previous post on Old Books).  So, as Bunyan might have said so seventeenth centurily, “Hangeth in there, good readers.”

Old Books

I, like many of you, love books – new ones, old ones.  Some of my co-laborers (i.e., partners-in-crime), the Buz Grahams and Doug Powells of this fair city, have turned their love of McKay’s book hunting into a contact sport.  Other compatriots, such as Hank Stuart, especially like really old ones – not just reprints of old books, but books with some age and wear on them – books that could tell a story, along with the story on their pages.

I have a few old books, actual antiquarian specimens.  I have a very cool old Latin edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, made even more special because my dear friend, Pastor David Cassidy of Redeemer PCA in Austin, who gave it to me as a gift.  I have a couple of first editions of Spurgeon sermon collections.  I even have a 1790 Scottish edition of JE’s 1746 Freedom of the Will.  I have a first edition of Charles Hodge’s 1873 Systematic Theology I picked up in London many years ago, along with a couple of other first edition pieces from the Old Princeton theologians.  Sometimes, these books make me sneeze – allergies.  Maybe, I’ll add some posts about these down the road.

Not my allergies.

The old books.

All this is to say that, whether in antiquarian original editions, used copies, ornew reprints, we can really be helped by old books.  I could say more about that, but why me when you can have C.S. Lewis?  Below is a link to Phil Johnson’s site, where the entire text of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation can be read online.  Included is Lewis’ excellent and famous preface, that is a classic in its own right…

On the Reading of Old Books

Allow me to draw out a few morsels (my favorite is the last one), followed by the link to the whole:

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books.”

“This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.”

“Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet.”

“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

“For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others.  I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

By the way, if you want a quick overview of the life and impact of Athanasius, click below to go to an article I did for Reformation21 a few years ago:

Lest things get too hoity-toity around TLR…

So far, this blog has been mainly posts about theology, classes I’m teaching, and the like.  Lest we get too hoity-toity around here, I thought I would give you a glimpse into life in the Filson family.  Here we have quality family time taking place.  We have drunk the Mac Kool Aid.  There’s Luke, who now has charge of my old first generation (as in first month they shipped back in 2006) MacBook Pro.  Lydia has Diane’s white MacBook of similar vintage.  And I, well, I now commandeer a 17 inch MacBook Pro.  This scene just naturally developed and Diane snapped a picture.  Luke and Lydia were playing Club Penguin.  I was trolling theology blogs.  What is most important to note in this shot is my Tennessee Titans plaid pajama pants, green t-shirt that makes you want to shout “Freebird!”, and brown dress socks.  Not just anyone can pull this look off.  That’s right… some things you just can’t unsee.

Pilgrim’s Progress, Chapter Two Progress Points, Pt. 2

Our Pilgrim, doubtless exhausted from his harrowing experience on that dreadful mountain where he was told to try to earn his salvation comes to a crucial resting place on the journey (Crossway edition, pp. 43-46).  Here, he meets the wonderful Good-Will, who quickly and forcefully snatches him in through the narrow gate.  Bunyan tells us this shocked Christian.  However, it was a act of grace on the part of Good-Will.  Why was Good-Will so forceful in pulling Christian through the narrow gate?  What took place for our Pilgrim at this very moment in the story?  What does Christian still have on his back at this point?

In preparation for our small group meetings this coming Sunday night (Mar 6th):

Read Jn 6:37. How do Jesus’ words comfort you as to his heart toward you?

Look up Eph 2:4-5 & 2Co 5:17. How do these vv. apply to Christian at this point in the story?

Pilgrim’s Progress, Chapter Two Progress Points, Pt.1

Now, Christian is on his journey.  He has encountered two rather suspect characters in Obstinate and Pliable.  Each one tries in his own way to dissuade our Pilgrim from his path.

In your reading for Chapter Two: The Way of the World or the Narrow Way, (Crossway edition pp. 31-35), we happen upon yet another unsavory figure.  He is smoother and much less abrasive than Obstinate, yet more sure of himself than Pliable.  Nonetheless, he is singing the same song of deception and misdirection.

Once you have these first few pages of Chapter Two, in preparation for our small groups this Sunday night, Mar 6th:

Look up Philippians 3:1-11.

How do Paul’s words safeguard us against the slick schemes of Mr. Worldly-Wiseman and his approach to personal peace and assurance via moralistic self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping?

On pp. 36-41, Christian, having followed the advice of Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, is now frightened of the prospect of earning his own salvation.  Once again, he is aided by the timely Evangelist.  With pastoral sensitivity and urgency, he points our Pilgrim to the cross of Christ.

Read Romans 8:1-4. How did God accomplish “no condemnation” for us in these verses?