Fiction v. Scripture?

“Words are powerful things and none can be more injurious than many to be found in fiction. For the reason stated in the second part of the book, I believe the Bible is not fiction.”

From Iain Murray’s latest book, The Undercover Revolution (p. viii), his argument that, based upon the undermining of British ethics by fictional lit in the 19th and 20th centuries, fictional literature poses a danger to the non-fiction genre of Scripture.

All words, even fictional words, are powerful, mind-shaping tools—either powerfully bad (The Shack) or powerfully good (C.S. Lewis). Murray tips his hat to good fiction on the first page, but I don’t think this is enough. Few literary genres provide more untapped potential for the spread of the gospel in the 21st century than fiction. May the Church run towards the genre of fictional literature and celebrate those who use fiction to communicate eternal truth.

2007 Sermons of the Year

The end of December is an ideal time to reflect on God’s blessings from the past year. And today I am reminded of some specific memories from the Spring.

The Banner of Truth invited me to attend their minister’s conference in Grantham, Pennsylvania. To my surprise, when I landed in the Harrisburg airport I was kindly chauffeured to the conference in the same car as Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Dr. Derek Thomas. It was a memorable 45 minutes, as the two men laughed over funny pulpit experiences. Ferguson’s humor had me rolling the entire trip, like the time he bought some marmalade as a gift for his wife and attempted to bring it through airport security. The gift was confiscated. Apparently, he concluded, the United States is fearful of being attacked by marmalade. The story seemed especially funny with the punch line packaged in a thick Scottish accent.

The conference at Messiah College was sunny and hot. Derek Thomas took a chance of speaking without a jacket on, and his friends caught word over at Reformation21. Dr. Thomas took the brunt of some public correction and perhaps lost points with Mississippi Presbyterians and “British Lloyd Jonesites.” The heat was too intense for a jacket. I think I was wearing jean shorts.

At the end of the first night of messages I experienced the now-famous Ferguson walk through the conference bookstore. The bookstore was stuffed with onlookers, and Ferguson wove his way around the tables of Banner treasures, holding up specific volumes long enough to expound their value in the library of a “gospel minister” (another phrase that sounds great with the Scottish accent). Among others, he lifted Iain Murray’s 2-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, B.B. Warfield’s Faith and Life, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, J.C. Ryle’s The Upper Room, and Gerhard Vos’ Biblical Theology. Every book he mentioned was drastically cut in price and snatched up quickly. He began the walk through the bookstore with a memorable preface. When he graduated seminary, the really useful books printed by Evangelical publishers could easily fit on one shelf. In other words, we are blessed to have so many excellent volumes available today.

Overall, I had great roommates in the shared dorms. We shared a lot of laughs, ate some wonderful food, and met several new friends. The format of the conference was a bit more formal than I’m used to, but experiencing the Holy Spirit’s work in different settings and formats is always encouraging. And my time with Burlew was encouraging and edifying, especially the late drive from the conference to the Banner of Truth warehouse in Carlisle, PA. Because of a tight schedule, time allowed only a midnight tour of the Banner warehouse. It was a conference highlight.

These conference memories come back because last week (after I released my top books of the year), I received an email from a reader (Dean) inquiring about my list of favorite messages I’d heard this year. My “Now on my iPod…” on the sidebar spikes listener interest and some assume that I compile a lot of audio messages (which I don’t). But I like the idea, and off Dean’s advice I set out to complete a top-10 list of favorite messages from 2007. As much as I tried, the list never came together for me. Next year I’ll take note of favorite messages throughout the year (as I do in compiling favorite books).

Despite being unable to complete a top 10-list, there is no debate over my top two favorite messages from 2007. Sitting in an oak pew in the balcony of a hot Pennsylvania chapel, I remember frantically writing down notes in a Moleskine as I absorbed every word from Ferguson’s two messages. It was the first time seeing Ferguson in person, and his messages struck deep because he turned my attention to the Cross in a way I had not previously considered.

Taking his cue from Titus 2:11-15, Ferguson expounded how our sanctification is the purchase of the Cross. In other words, when we consider our personal growth in holiness, we should be reminded that Christ purchased this sanctification for us. It was a stirring message, and I left with a deeper appreciation for the Cross.

I could explain both messages in detail, but I’ve already written summaries and your time would be best spent listening to the audio for yourselves. Enjoy.

“Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase” (Titus 2:11-14)
by Sinclair Ferguson
May 29, 2007
Blog summary
Download MP3 (1:02:31, 35.8 MB)

“Our Holiness: Abiding in Christ’s Love” (John 15:1-11)
by Sinclair Ferguson
May 30, 2007
Blog summary
Download MP3 (1:07:52, 38.5 MB)

……………

Related: Transcripted excerpt from the first message titled Supporting the imperatives to holiness.

Related: Transcripted excerpt from the second message titled No such ‘thing’ as grace.

The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton

tsslogo.jpgLast week we played the game, Who is George Smeaton? To be honest, I had not heard of him until recently. Now I know more about the 19th century Scottish theologian and that’s all thanks to the input of TSS readers, the most knowledgeable blog readers on the planet (illustrated by the fact that many of them roast their own coffee beans). Helpful input came flowing from Scottish readers and Brazilian readers and really from readers all over. So thank you!

As you now know, Smeaton’s two books on the atonement serve as the foundation for Jerry Bridges’ new book, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Crossway: 2007). In the foreword, Sinclair Ferguson says Smeaton’s volumes should be on the shelves of every preacher. “They are treasure troves,” he writes.

Just yesterday in the mail arrived my copy of Smeaton’s 1870 work, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (the second volume, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, is currently out of print). As expected, the Smeaton volume was beautifully bound by the Banner in this 1991 reprint featuring a Smyth-sewn binding and cloth cover (remove the unsightly dust cover to see this delicious goodness). The text is a facsimile reproduction of the 1870 edition (see picture). There are brief Scriptural and topical indexes in the back.

To my pleasant surprise, the volume contains a lengthy appendix covering the history of the atonement from the first century through the Reformation period (pp. 479-544). Smeaton begins his historical study this way, “We find, when we make due allowance for erratic tendencies, either of individuals or of sects, through all this time, one harmonious testimony to divine justice and the judicial aspect of Christianity” (p. 480).

As time allows, I plan to write a fuller review, but this quote from the introduction to Apostles’ is a great one, illustrating the ever-present tendency within the church to neglect the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. The quote stresses our need to linger often at the Cross in our studies, never assuming the importance of the Cross. Written 130 years ago, it’s ever fresh today.

“The design of this work is mainly to demonstrate, in the only way in which this is to be done, the pure biblical doctrine of the atonement. But polemical references are by no means withheld; that is, applications, necessarily brief, of ascertained truth to germinant errors, especially to those subtle forms of error which, in an evangelical guise, and not seldom with exegetical appliances, tend wholly to subvert the elements of substitution and penal visitation, which constitute the very essence of the atonement. It is a remarkable fact that since the Reformation no article has been so much impugned in every variety of form. Till recently this was uniformly done by a class of men who had forfeited all claim to be regarded as either evangelical in sentiment or biblical in doctrine. Within recent memory, however, a new phenomenon has presented itself to the attention of Christendom — a sort of spiritual religion or mystic piety, whose watchword is, spiritual life, divine love, and moral redemption, by a great teacher and ideal man, and absolute forgiveness, as contrasted with everything forensic. It is a Christianity without an atonement; avoiding, whether consciously or unconsciously, the offence of the cross, and bearing plain marks of the Rationalistic soil from which it sprung; and it has found a wide response in every Protestant land.”

- George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth: 1870/1991), vi.