Book of the Month/March 2015

As it happens, three years ago this month I began posting a monthly book review of books that I wanted to promote, and the book I selected to kick off this feature was The World-Tilting Gospel by Dan Phillips. As it happens, on the three-year anniversary of this salutary custom, the book I have selected is another book by Dan Phillips, this time his book on Proverbs called God’s Wisdom in Proverbs. I want to beat the drum for this book for three reasons.God's Wisdom

The first is that this generation of Christians needs the sanctified horse sense of Proverbs in the worst way. The grace of God is present in the miracles of Scripture, sure enough, but the grace of God is also present in the way the world usually runs. And nothing is better at describing how the world usually runs than the book of Proverbs. A little sleep, a little slumber, and you don’t usually win the lottery. It is not legalism when things fall down as you drop them. It is not binding the conscience to observe that wringing the nose bringeth forth blood. Describing the grace of God does not run contrary to the grace of God, and the book of Proverbs describes the ways and means of grace in a way that our cheap grace generation needs to hear. Whatever we can do to convince the general Christian populace that Proverbs actually is the Word of God would be a great blessing.

The second reason is that Phillips has done something that is very rarely done. He combines acute scholarship and interaction with the original text alongside with a discussion of the message of Proverbs that is accessible to the average layman. In other words, many writers try to make things accessible by writing in a pop style, and others try to make things seem learned by writing in a style best described as High Turgid. Archbishop Usher said it best when he said, “Ah, my brethren, how much learning it takes to make things plain.” This book accomplishes that high achievement in spades. An average Christian would be greatly benefited by reading this book, and a pastor preaching sermons on Proverbs to a congregation full of endoctorated brains with feet would be greatly helped. This book has range.

And third, Phillips writes the kind of pungency that the book of Proverbs itself represents. In other words, Phillips is an adept student, and has successfully imitated the heart of what he is studying. Too many  commentaries on Proverbs are nothing at all like Proverbs.

“What note does this strike? Does this sound like a cultured lady politely requesting another napkin in a fine restaurant?” (p. 117).

“The first envisions the man of the world, talking big and walking proud” (p. 101).

“Proverbs by definition are short and pointed. They burst in the front door, bang a cup on the table, have their say, and then exit with a slam” (p. 27).

Phillips is an interested reader, and therefore is an interesting and arresting writer. This book is the good stuff.

Surveying the Text: Song of Songs


As we consider the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, there is much of spiritual value that we can gather from it, even though we might not grasp the overall narrative thread. This intensely emotional and very erotic love poem is very much like the way of a man with a maid—everybody knows what is going on, and nobody quite knows what is going on

The Text:

“There be three things which are too wonderful for me, Yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; The way of a serpent upon a rock; The way of a ship in the midst of the sea; And the way of a man with a maid” (Prov. 30:18–19).

Literary Options:

Interpretations of this book are legion, but there are three main options to choose from. The first is to take the book allegorically. This is what the ancient rabbis did, and is part of the reason the book managed to be included in the canon of Scripture—that, and Solomon’s authorship. The rabbis waxed eloquent about Yahweh’s love for Israel, and Christians, not to be outdone, were fully their match on Christ’s love for the Church. But this, obviously, can sometimes get out of hand—consider the rabbi who thought that the Shulamite’s belly, compared to a heap of wheat, represented the Great Sanhedrin. Or the Christian interpreter who thought her two breasts represented the Old and the New Testaments. In 550 A.D., one church council forbade any interpretation that was not allegorical. But sometimes the best hermeneutical move is to put your head between your legs and breathe into a paper bag.

The Politics of Sodomy 3: Has It Come to That?

NB: This is the outline for the first service at Christ Church


Often we confront problems in our individual lives, or in our families, and after we have exhausted all the possibilities in our hunt for a solution, we ask others to pray for us. “Oh,” some might be tempted to think. “Has it come to that?” We must learn to begin where we are sometimes tempted to end.

Glory Gift

One of the central things that a place dedicated to worship should do is frame a space that is conducive to true worship, and to do so in a way that does not tend to draw “worship” to itself.

With regard to the first, we have to ask ourselves what a Christian worship service should be like. Contrary to the operating assumption of many Christians today, it should not be a breezy and informal affair. First, worship should be disciplined and orderly, as Paul commends the Colossians for having just a worship service. “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5). Not only must it be orderly, it should be attended with reverence and godly fear. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). The word rendered serve here is worship. This means that when churches strive to create a sense of casual informality, they are striving to do the wrong thing.

But the second task of a worship space is also important. In one sense the worship space is set aside for the congregation, and the congregation is the bride of Christ, formed as such by the Holy Spirit. One of the distinctive characteristics of the Spirit is that He draws attention to the Son, who brings us to the Father. The Spirit is not garnering attention for Himself, and neither should a sanctuary do so.

So if a worship space goes overboard in giving “too much” glory to God, the failure is seen in how the glory does not take you on to the worship of God. And this failure, of course, is not actually a case of too much glory to God, which is impossible, but rather a mistaken attempt to render the wrong kind of glory to Him, which winds up giving glory to the creature instead.

So let the stones cry out.

The Pebble and the Seed

The sun is 93 million miles away. It would be fair to say that the sun is distant. But for everyone who has eyes to see, the sun is very much present.

The Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is there, not here. As a true man, He is located in the heavenly places. And yet, God has established the kingdom of His Son in such a way that the radiance of the Son’s glory extends throughout that entire kingdom, which is done through the power of the Spirit.

That radiance of glory is not felt equally by all. If you were to bury a pebble in your garden and a seed in your garden right next to the pebble, you would get very different results from them. The seed contains life, and so can respond to the gift presented by the distant sun now present. The pebble contains no life, and is insensible to whether the sun is distant or present.

When the Word is preached to you, and when the bread and wine are presented to you, you are called to respond in faith to the felt presence of Christ. This is possible because the Spirit has quickened you—you are a seed, not a pebble. You are green shoot, struggling up through the soil, beginning a glorious journey for such a small plant. You are three inches tall and you plainly want to make a journey of 93 million miles.

The glory of grace is this—that distance is traveled, not by us, but rather by the sunlight. That gap is overcome by the power of the Spirit. The glory of grace is found in how it enlivens our lives here, how life is initially given and then turned into a life that is an abundant life. He comes to us, and we ascend toward Him.

So Christ is here. He is present. If you are alive in Him, you can feel the warmth, you can feel the strength, you can feel the glory.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.