Ecclesiastes: A Dangerous Book

Posted in Books, Ecclesiastes, Robert Johnston on September 4, 2013 by kevinwilkening

Useless Beauty book image“It is significant that the transcendent vision of life in both Ecclesiastes … comes without reference to the church of the synagogue, without reference to traditional religion. This is perhaps why the medieval church saw Ecclesiastes as a dangerous book. Although Qoheleth … knew the law (the story of God’s gracious provision for his people at the Red Sea and at Mt Sinai), he chose not to use it in his argument until the final coda.”

~ Robert K. Johnston, Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes Though the Lens of Contemporary Film

Outline for the Book of Ecclesiastes

Posted in Doug Wilson, Ecclesiastes on August 26, 2013 by kevinwilkening

EcclesiastesContrary to popular belief, Ecclesiastes is not a book about despair in the midst of existential meaninglessness. Rather, the Book of Ecclesiastes is a book about profound joy. Not a silly joy. Not a trite joy. Not a shallow joy. Not a superficial joy. But a joy which thinks deeply, and allows God’s people alone to enjoy the vanity which surrounds us on every side.

Ecclesiastes has four basic division. These divisions will helps us understand what the author is trying to accomplish as we study through this book together.

First Division: Ecclesiastes 1:2-2:26 – Satisfaction cannot come from anything within man’s power.

  • Subdivision 1: Ecclesiastes 1:2 – 1:11 – Nature repeats itself again and again and again.
  • Subdivision 2: Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:11 – Empty experiences show Solomon that experience is empty.
  • Subdivision 3: Ecclesiastes 2:12 – 2:26 – Wisdom is better than foolishness, but only God knows why.

Conclusion to First Division: God is the one who gives things, and God is the one who gives His people the power to enjoy things.

Second Division: Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 5:20 – God is sovereign over everything. Thus, Solomon answers objections to God being sovereign over everything.

  • Subdivision 1: Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 3:15 – God sovereignly puts everything in its place.
  • Subdivision 2: Ecclesiastes 3:16 – 4:16 – Solomon addresses six objections to God’s sovereignty.
  • Subdivision 3: Ecclesiastes 5:1 – 5:20 – Practical applications and cautions to God’s sovereignty.

Conclusion to Second Division: The basis for our joy is God’s divine sovereignty.

Third Division: Ecclesiastes 6:1 – 8:15 – Solomon applies the doctrine of sovereignty to show that God alone gives enjoyment in the midst of vanity (incomprehensible repetitiveness).

  • Subdivision 1: Ecclesiastes 6:1 – 7:15 – We must evaluate our outward condition properly.
  • Subdivision 2: Ecclesiastes 7:16 – 7:29 – We must evaluate humanity properly.
  • Subdivision 3: Ecclesiastes 8:1 – 8:15 – The sin of powerful men can sometimes block our view.

Conclusion to Third Division: The fact that sinful men wield their power unrighteously gives us occasion to enjoy life with others who have been given God’s gift of wisdom.

Fourth Division: Ecclesiastes 8:16 – 12:14 – Various obstacles to our joy (discouragements) are addressed and removed.

  • Subdivision 1: Ecclesiastes 8:16 – 9:9 – Remaining incongruities must not diminish our joy.
  • Subdivision 2: Ecclesiastes 9:10 – 11:6 – We must work hard and be sensible despite the remaining incongruities.
  • Subdivision 3: Ecclesiastes 11:7 – 12:12 – We must prepare for our journey through old age and into eternity.

Conclusion to Fourth Division: Fear God by keeping His commands for this is the whole duty of man.

*This outline was taken from Douglas Wilson’s Joy at the End of the Tether: The Inscrutable Wisdom of Ecclesiastes. I have made small structural and wording adjustments. However, Doug Wilson’s main content remains intact.

Books on Ecclesiastes

Posted in Books, Ecclesiastes, Literature, Reading on August 26, 2013 by kevinwilkening

bibleMany at CHBC have asked what I have been reading over the past several weeks to prepare for preaching through the Book of Ecclesiastes. Thus, I have compiled a list of the books that I have currently read (in whole or in part). I have placed them in alphabetical order by author (not by order of preference or value).

A few words about the books you will find here: First, you will notice that the writers are from diverse backgrounds. It is important that you read widely. Second, you will notice that you will not agree with every author. It is important that you be discerning readers. Third, you will notice that I have listed twelve books and two sermon series. You should not try to read all of these books. Nor should you try to listen to all of the sermons. We cannot read everything, nor should we try. Lastly, if you have recommendations of books that I should add to my growing list, then please send your recommendations. Better yet, just send me the books. LOL.

Barrick, William D. Ecclesiastes: The Philippians of the Old Testament.

Bollhagen, James. Ecclesiastes (Concordia Commentary).

Chandler, Matt. Beyond the Sun: A Study in Ecclesiastes (16 Part Sermon Series by Matt Chandler at The Village Church in 2006 no longer available online).

Driscoll, Mark. Ecclesiastes (12 Part Sermon Series by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in 2003 available online).

Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes (Foundations for Expository Sermons).

Johnston, Robert K. Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes Through the Lens of Contemporary Film.

Keller, Tim. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

Kidner, Derek. The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature.

Kidner, Derek. The Message of Ecclesiastes (The Bible Speaks Today).

Longman, Tremper. The Book of Ecclesiastes (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament).

Murphy, Rolan. Ecclesiastes (Word Biblical Commentary).

Pearcey, Nancy. Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning.

Ryken, Philip Graham. Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Preaching the Word).

Wilson, Douglas. Joy at the End of the Tether: The Inscrutable Wisdom of Ecclesiastes.

Wright, J. Robert. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture).

The Complete Series: Ten Basic Facts About the New Testament Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize

Posted in Doctrine, Michael Kruger, New Testament, theology on August 26, 2013 by kevinwilkening

Michael KrugerCHBC: Several months ago I began republishing Dr. Michael Kruger’s series on Ten Basic Facts About the New Testament Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize. This series was designed for a lay-level audience and  could prove helpful in a conversation one might have with a skeptical friend. However, I fell behind in posting his series (no surprise there). So, here it is in full. Enjoy.

#1: “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess”

#2: “Apocryphal Writings are All Written in the Second Century or Later”

#3: “The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”

#4: “Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”

#5: “The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century”

#6: “At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of our 27 NT books”

#7: “Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings”

#8: “The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council”

#9: “Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books”

#10 “Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books were Self-Authenticating.”

Dr. Kruger is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a Professor of New Testament. He is an expert on the issue of the New Testament canon. You can follow his blog here.

Ten Basic Facts about the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize: #4: “Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”

Posted in Doctrine, Michael Kruger, New Testament, theology on March 27, 2013 by kevinwilkening

Michael KrugerCHBC: Dr. Michael Kruger is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a Professor of New Testament. He is an expert on the issue of the New Testament canon, and he is continuing this series on his blog.

Note: This is the forth installment of a new blog series announced here.

One of the most controversial issues in the study of the New Testament canon is the date when these books were regarded as Scripture.  When were these books first used as an authoritative guide for the church?   Critical scholars will argue that these books were not written to be Scripture and were not even used as Scripture until the end of the second century.

But one of the most basic facts that Christians should know is that some New Testament writers actually quote other New Testament writers as Scripture.  This demonstrates that the concept of a new corpus of biblical books was not a late development, but one that seems to be present in the earliest stages of Christianity.

The most obvious example of this phenomenon is 2 Pet 3:15-16 where Peter refers to Paul’s letters “Scripture” on par with the books of the Old Testament.  It is noteworthy that Peter mentionsmultiple letters of Paul, indicating that he was aware of some sort of collection. And, even more importantly, he assumes his audience is aware of this collection as well.  There is no indication that the scriptural status of Paul’s letters is a new or novel idea—Peter mentions it quite casually and naturally.

The implications of Peter’s statement should not be missed.  It shows that apostolic letters (in this instance Paul’s) had a scriptural status in early Christianity.  If so, then it hard to imagine Peter would not have expected his own letter to be received with the same authority.  After all, just a few verses earlier Peter made it clear that the teachings of the apostles were on par with the Old Testament itself (2 Pet 3:2).

Another example of this phenomenon is found in 1 Tim 5:18 which says: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain’ and ‘the laborer deserves his wages.’” While the first quote comes from Deut 25:4, the latter quote is an exact match with Luke 10:7.  Although one might suggest that Paul is citing oral Jesus tradition, that option is precluded by the fact that he introduces the saying with “the Scripture says.”

Although Paul might be citing some unknown apocryphal gospel (that just happens to have the exact same wording of Luke 10:7), why should we prefer an unknown hypothetical source over a known source?  We know that Luke actually was used as Scripture in the early church—the same cannot be said of this hypothetical apocryphal gospel.

Of course, because these two passages seem to cite other NT books as Scripture, scholars have argued these books are forgeries, having a late date probably around the turn of the century (c.100).   We cannot delve into these academic debates here, but it should be noted that these debates are by no means settled.  Moreover, even if one concedes the late date for these books (for the sake of argument), that still puts the date of the canon at a remarkably early time.

If the NT writers were citing other NT writers as Scripture, then that suggests the canon was not a later ecclesiastical development, but something early and innate to the early Christian faith. And that is a basic fact that all Christians should know.

Ten Basic Facts about the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize: #3: “The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”

Posted in Doctrine, Michael Kruger, New Testament, theology on March 27, 2013 by kevinwilkening

Michael KrugerCHBC: Dr. Michael Kruger is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) and a Professor of New Testament. He is an expert on the issue of the New Testament canon, and he has begun a new series on his blog.

Note: This is the third installment of a new blog series announced here.

One of the most basic facts about the New Testament canon that all Christians should understand is that the canon is intimately connected to the activities of the apostles.

Jesus had commissioned his apostles “so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority” (Mark 3:14–15).  When Jesus sent out the twelve, he reminds them that “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt 10:20).  Thus, he is able to give a warning to those who reject the apostles’ authority: “If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words…it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matt 10:14).

In sum, the apostles had the very authority of Christ himself.  They were his mouthpiece.  As such, their teachings, along with the prophets, were the very foundation of the church.  Paul describes the church as “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph 2:20). If the church wanted to know the true Christian message, they would always need to look back to the teaching of the apostles.

But, the apostles didn’t just teach about Jesus orally.  At some point—a very early point—the apostolic message was written down.  Often it was written down by the apostles themselves.  At other points it was written down by companions of apostles who were recording their message.  Either way, the authoritative apostolic message found its way into books.

For obvious reasons, the church would value apostolic books over and above other type of books. And this is exactly what happened.  The books that the church regarded as apostolic were the books that were read, copied, and used most often in early Christian worship.  These are the books that eventually became the New Testament canon.  The canon is the byproduct of the ministry of the apostles.

In fact, the church’s overt dependence on apostolic writings is precisely why we see a proliferation of “apocryphal” books in the second century (and later) that were named after apostles.  We have theGospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of John, and even the Gospel of the Twelve!  Rather than raising doubts about the apostolic nature of the New Testament, these apocryphal writings actually serve to confirm it.  They show that the early church valued apostolic books so much that forgers had to try and mimic the genuine ones in order to get a hearing.  For more on the late date of these apocryphal writings, see prior post here.

Of course, some modern scholars dispute the apostolic authorship of some of the New Testament books, claiming they were written by later authors only pretending to be the apostles.  However, these claims are by no means proven, and many other scholars dispute them.  Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the early church was in a better position to ascertain the authorship and origins of these books than are modern scholars two thousand years later.

In the end, the New Testament canon exists because of an early Christian belief that the apostles spoke for Christ.  That belief led Christians to value apostolic books.  And those apostolic books eventually formed the New Testament that we know today.

God Our Help in Ages Past and Years To Come

Posted in Books, Grace, Heaven, John Bunyan, Mercy, Puritans, Suffering, The Pilgrim's Progress, Valley of Vision on March 15, 2013 by kevinwilkening

This has been a particularly difficult couple of weeks. My best friend’s father passed away. A good friend’s mother passed away. Yesterday, my sister-in-law’s father suffered a severe stroke and it looks like he may not make it through the day. In addition, last night the Neely’s one-month old son passed away. All of this sorrow and heartache has once again reminded me of The Pilgrim’s ProgressThe Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory that was written by John Bunyan, and published in February 1678.

I was thinking particularly of a couple sections. First, when night is falling, and Christian has entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian finds himself in the middle of the valley amidst gloom and terror, but then he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Christian makes it through the night trusting that God is with him. Then, he leaves valley as the sun rises on a new day.

The second is when Christian and Hopeful, having just visited Vanity Fair, are traveling along a particularly rough section of road. They leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow. However, there is a rainstorm that forces them to spend the night, and in the morning, they are captured by Giant Despair who takes them to his Doubting Castle where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant Despair wants them to commit suicide, but they endure his misery until Christian realizes that he has a key called Promise, which will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key, they escape. Eventually, Christian and Hopeful come upon some shepherds in the Delectable Mountains. And the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land.”

What a helpful allegory for the Christian life! I love The Pilgrim’s Progress for many reasons. However, the reason screaming most loudly to me this morning is: our lives are all pilgrimages, or journeys, or voyages. And all pilgrimages, journeys, or voyages have real danger, and put us in real peril. However, for the Christian, the peril is never experienced apart from God’s grace and His enabling power. Oh, for more grace!

Here is a Puritan prayer entitled “Voyage.” I pray this for my friend, and to my God!

O Lord of the Oceans,

My little bark sails on a restless sea, grant that Jesus may sit at the helm and steer me safely; suffer no adverse currents to divert my heavenward course; let not my faith be wrecked amid storms and shoals; bring me to harbour with flying pennants, hull unbreached, cargo unspoiled.

I ask great things, expect great things, shall receive great things. I venture on thee wholly, fully, my wind, sunshine, anchor, defense.

The voyage is long, the waves high, the storms pitiless, but my helm is held steady, thy Word secures safe passage, they grace wafts me onward, my haven is guaranteed. This day will bring me nearer home, grant me holy consistency in every transaction, my peace flowing as a running tide, my righteousness as every chasing wave.

Help me to live circumspectly, with skill to convert every care into prayer, halo my path with gentleness and love, smooth every asperity (harshness) of temper; let me not forget how easy it is to occasion grief; may I strive to bind up every wound, and pour oil on all troubled waters. May the world this day be happier and better because I live.

Let my mast before me be the Saviour’s cross, and every oncoming wave the fountain in His side.  Help me, protect me in the moving sea until I reach the shore of unceasing praise.

In the words of the great hymn writer, Isaac Watts, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.” ~ O God, Our Help in Ages Past ~ by Isaac Watts, 1719.

My friends, may our faithful God grace you on your pilgrimage, and shelter you in the midst of your current storm.

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