For the building and decoration of the tabernacle, the Old Testament tells us God supernaturally blessed a man named Bezalel “with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft” (Ex. 35:31-33 ESV).
Artistic talent originates in God and for this reason the church has esteemed artistic expression throughout the centuries. French Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) wrote, “all the arts emanate from God, and therefore ought to be accounted divine inventions.” 
But this appreciation for art and its divine source does not contradict the church’s need to evaluate the value and limitations of art.
A century ago, Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) wrote the following concern.
Art cannot close the gap between the ideal and reality. Indeed, for a moment it lifts us above reality and induces us to live in the realm of ideals. But this happens only in the imagination. Reality itself does not change on account of it. Though art gives us distant glimpses of the realm of glory, it does not induct us into that realm and make us citizens of it. Art does not atone for our guilt, or wipe away our tears, or comfort us in life and death. …Granted, the two are connected. From the very beginning religion and art went hand in hand. 
Appreciating the arts and evaluating of the value of the arts is a balance the church must preserve in every generation. And this brings me to one of the many personal highlights from this most recent New Attitude conference in Louisville.
One Sunday session was reserved for an open question-and-answer session with Dr. Al Mohler where he fielded questions covering a wide variety of issues on the topic of Scripture. Particularly helpful to me were his answers to the final question on art. How do we as twenty-first century Christians evaluate and critique the value of the arts? What relationship do the gospel and the arts share? What role and service do the arts play in the church?
I recommend listening to the entire session (listen/download here) but what follows is a transcript of Dr. Mohler's comments on art and his challenge to a young generation of Christians to “learn to make art the servant of the gospel.”
Question: My question is this: For the Christian, what role should the Word of God play in our artistic and creative endeavors? And for the Christian, what role should our artistic and creative endeavors have within the culture at large?
Dr. Albert Mohler: Alright, let’s step back for a moment and talk about the arts. Where does art come from?
God has made us as the only being in his image. We are the only being who fabricates with design and intention and with aesthetic sense. Beavers build dams. Ants build anthills. But they don’t hire architects and so far as we know there is no aesthetic appreciation for them whatsoever. You’ve never met a dog that is a painter. There is something about being made in the image of God that produces what we call “cultural product.” …
The arts are very important and it seems that in this generation the arts are newly important. Now, when that happens it is promise and opportunity. For instance, if you look back at the history of Western civilization the Renaissance, in particular the High Renaissance, was an opportunity in which cultural production became a huge issue.
When I was a high school student there was a huge BBC presentation of humanity at its highest, Kenneth Clark’s Civilization. He went back particularly to the classical age and to the High Renaissance and said, “This is when human beings were at their very best because of this cultural production. Look at this: you have Bernini, and Rembrandt, and Rafael.” And you could just go through all of these and the cultural production in the art became the defining issue. The art reflected the Christian culture from which it had come, but the art became very quickly an issue of idolatry as well. And it was not true that where you found the highest art you always found the purest theology. To the contrary it was often very much otherwise.
So what we should learn from that is that ideally Christians should be involved in the arts. Absolutely! But we’ve got to learn to make art the servant of the gospel. And that is a tough challenge in every generation. If the artists of the Renaissance had been concerned that their art would be in the service of the gospel, it would be a very different art than it is. It would have all the same ability. You’d still look at, for instance, Rembrandt—you’d look at the lace collars and he would still have that ability to make you feel like you could touch it. But it would be telling a different story then in many cases what gets told.
And when you ask about the Scripture, well the Scripture is the food for our living on this earth. It is the light for our path as the Psalmist says. It is the authority by which we live. It is the sole sufficient guide for understanding all that we are and all that we hope for and all we trust in, in Christ. That had better be the substance of our art. That doesn’t mean that we only draw representations of Bible stories. It does mean that we test everything we do, not just by the cannons of art—which are truly culturally constructed and constantly negotiated and changed, an evidence of both human greatness in terms of ability and human depravity in terms of the morality and the rebellion against God that so quickly comes in and the idolatry that is our reflex.
And we use Scripture to ask, “How do we judge the good, the beautiful and the true—always to be necessary and necessarily linked? That which is good is beautiful—that which is true is good—that which is good is true. They’re all the same thing.
Modern art is in many ways a rebellion against the unity of the good, the beautiful, and the true. And one testimony you can give to the Word of God is saying that for the Christian the good, the beautiful, and the true are always one thing because in Scripture they are always one thing. And that is where you find our authority and our meaning.
For more on this topic, please read Philip Graham Ryken’s excellent book, Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (P&R, 2006).
 From Calvin’s commentary, Harmony of the Law, vol. 3.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic, 2003) 1:267.
The audio recording of C.J.’s second message at the 2008 Resolved Conference is now online.
The Cry From the Cross
Monday, June 16, 2008
Palm Springs, CA
1:02:39 run time; 28.7MB MP3
Pic by Lukas.
The audio recording of C.J.’s first message at the 2008 Resolved Conference is online.
God As Father
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Palm Springs, CA
1:15:23 run time; 34.6MB MP3
Pic by Lukas.
June 20, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: Joy | Pastoral ministry
Joy-filled pastoring is partially dependent upon joy-filled church members. So how can members of a local church help foster joy in their pastor? This topic is discussed in this third excerpt from the upcoming Sovereign Grace Leadership Interview podcast
(“The Pastor + Joy”).
: For non-pastors listening who are asking, “How can I be a joy to my pastors?”, what are ways they can be encouraging and boosting the joy of their pastors?
: Well, excellent question. In Hebrews 13:17 we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” [ESV]
So for all those who are listening, that is an excellent question to be asking. This is a biblical question: How can I make pastoring a joy for my pastor?
I think one would be wise to begin with a text like this and to recognize the priority of making it a joy to serve in pastoral ministry by your appreciation of those in pastoral ministry—your appreciation of their character, their care, their labor, their unique work on your behalf. So there is an appropriate responsiveness expected of you towards their leadership and service in the context of the local church that will make it a joy for them to pastor.
And it would be wise for everyone listening to ask another question: Am I a joy to pastor?
And don’t confine the evaluation of yourself to yourself. I would encourage everyone listening to approach your pastor and ask, “Am I a joy for you to pastor? And if not, why not? I want to be a joy to pastor. I want to bring you joy in pastoring.”
So I think Scripture is clear: By appreciating the character of their pastor and the labor of their pastor, by encouraging their pastor, by the member’s own participation in the local church, they can be a pure joy to pastor.
God wants happy pastors. Any other kind of pastor does not accurately represent God. Yet happy pastors are, to some degree, dependent on individuals who make it a joy to pastor.
June 17, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: Joy | Suffering | Trials
Rejoicing in the Lord is a lesson often best learned in trials. In this excerpt from the upcoming Sovereign Grace Leadership Interview Series podcast (“The Pastor + Joy”), C.J. describes a trial that God used to shift the ground of his joy.
Joshua Harris: C.J., I am wondering if there is a personal story in your own life where you experienced—whether it is a trial or a difficulty—a shift where God was helping you realize your joy wasn’t grounded enough in the work that he had done for you?
C.J. Mahaney: Many stories come to mind (and the lessons continue to this day). I wouldn’t want anybody to perceive me as some kind of compelling model of joyfulness on a daily basis. It is a fight I seek to wage on a daily basis. And I can certainly look back and discern instances, circumstances, and periods of time where there was a transfer underway in my life, helping me to shift the ground of my joy from created things to the Creator, a shift from temporary to the eternal.
A pronounced one for me was a ten-year period where I contracted a particular virus that had a debilitating effect on my body and mind on a daily basis. I am reluctant to speak of this and rarely do speak of this, because I don’t want to be misunderstood as I make reference to this period. Though it was challenging, there was nothing life-threatening about this, and I don’t even consider this experience to be suffering, per se. I know people who have suffered. I know people who presently are genuinely, severely suffering.
But for me it was prolonged. It was chronic. It was wearying. It was challenging. And it did remove any sense of happiness or joy, as derived from circumstances, from my life on a daily basis over those years.
So the fight was a particular challenge during that ten-year period. From the wonderful care I have received from my friends and fellow pastors, from the wonderful books that I have read in relation to suffering, from the wonderful examples that I have observed in and throughout Covenant Life Church over the years, and primarily from the clear teaching of Scripture, I was able to see, early on, the many ways God was working. This was intended to be a sanctifying work in my soul.
So one aspect of my sanctification was to be weaned from emotional dependence and weaned from any dependence on circumstances.
Throughout those numerous years, by God’s grace I was able to experience this transition from the ground of my joy being in any way a personality, emotion, or circumstantial, to an appreciation for the person and work of Jesus Christ on my behalf. And I would argue the trial left a purer form of joy.
June 13, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: Cross-centered life | Joy
The gospel is central to everything in the Christian life, including the cultivation of personal and pastoral joy. In this excerpt from the upcoming Sovereign Grace Leadership Interview Series
(“The Pastor + Joy”), Joshua Harris, Jeff Purswell, and C.J. discuss the connection between the gospel and the fight for joy.
I would love to just hear from you, Jeff and C.J., about what the fight for joy each day looks like in the life of a pastor. What are some key moments for you when it comes to cultivating that kind of joy? How is it expressed?
Your reference to the fight for joy is right—it’s a fight each and every day. So this is not a natural disposition that one possesses. Each day sin will be opposing the experience and cultivation of joy in our lives. I am personally very familiar with weariness and discouragement and, therefore, what I read in Scripture about the priority of joy and the experience of joy is very applicable to my soul.
And each day what I seek to do, from the outset of the day, is position myself as close to the gospel as possible so that I might experience the effects of the gospel. One pronounced effect of preaching the gospel to my soul is joy.
I am the worst sinner I know. And given the countless sins I have been forgiven of, as I contemplate the Savior’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for my sins, the effect of that contemplation in my life is joy.
So from the outset of each day I seek to “survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.” I seek to study the doctrines of grace. I seek to prepare my heart to discern evidences of grace throughout the day. And as I devote myself to those practices at the outset of each day and throughout the day, the effect upon my soul is joy.
Yeah, I think, C.J., what you started that with is so important. You quoted Psalm 100:2 a moment ago: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” It is just so critical to have the basis of that joy right.
Paul puts it in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord
.” Without that “in the Lord,” the command to “rejoice” would be an unreasonable command or a superficial command. But when it is rejoicing “in the Lord,” that is really what distinguishes it from mere happiness.
There are theological reasons for all commands in Scripture. There are theological reasons for the command to “rejoice in the Lord.” And in all the times in Scripture that speak of Christians being joyful, even in the Old Testament, they are rooted in God’s character and especially in his activity—his gracious activity towards his people.
And so, as C.J. was talking about staying close to the gospel, the inevitable and natural result of doing that will be a recognition of God’s gracious activity to us. We will be joyful. And that is the only way we can sustain joy.
Yes, if we assume the gospel, or neglect the gospel, or neglect to preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis, if we do not review and remind ourselves of the doctrines of grace, if we do not prepare our hearts to discern evidences of grace, all we will be left with throughout the day is an increasing awareness of sin and an increasing awareness of adversity.
June 10, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: Book reviews
The long-awaited ESV Study Bible is scheduled to ship in October. Here’s a sampling of what reviewers are saying:
“I can’t imagine a greater gift to the body of Christ than the ESV Study Bible. It is a potent combination indeed: the reliability and readability of the ESV translation, supplemented by the best of modern and faithful scholarship, packaged in an accessible and attractive format. A Christian could make no wiser investment for himself, a pastor could recommend no better resource for his congregation.”
President, Sovereign Grace Ministries
“From what I have seen so far, I believe it will be the world’s best complete single-volume resource for reading, studying, and teaching the Bible.”
-Dr. Philip G. Ryken
Senior Minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church (on the Ref21 blog)
“The ESV is a dream come true for me. The rightful heir to a great line of historic translations, it provides the continuity and modern accuracy I longed for. Now the scope and theological faithfulness of the ESV Study Bible study notes is breathtaking. Oh how precious is the written Word of God.”
-Dr. John Piper
Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church
35% Pre-Order Discount
From now until July 31, friends of Sovereign Grace Ministries are invited to pre-order the Study Bible at a 35 percent discount. Simultaneously, Crossway will donate five percent of these purchases to Sovereign Grace Ministries. These donations will be used to support families who are training at the Pastors College. The Pastors College exists to train men to serve, lead, and plant Sovereign Grace Ministries churches and to support men currently serving as pastors within Sovereign Grace.
To receive the discount—and support men in the PC—simply click on the following link. You will be directed to a customized webpage where you can see an overview of the Study Bible and place your order.
Click here for more: www.crossway.org/8sbsg
(Note: This offer does not apply to other Crossway products.)
June 6, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Book reviews | Sports
Albert Mohler is my very good friend. And the man is scary smart! If you happen to see Al today, ask him a question about, well, anything—politics, biology, British history, the history of stained glass, whatever. Ask him a question about any of these subjects (except sports) and he will answer you as if it were the subject of his professional expertise.
Besides wondering how smart Al could be if I’m one of his friends, you might also be wondering about Al’s recent recommended summer reading list. If you’re like me and you think of summer reading as synonymous with enjoyable
reading, you might find Al’s list somewhat intimidating (here
). I know I did.
Now, don’t misunderstand. For Al Mohler, this is enjoyable reading! But for those of us with average intelligence, this is difficult reading and not what we have in mind for the summer months (or any time of the year actually). So for those of you not eager to read a 600-page book on the rise and development of communism, or a 700-page book on America’s development between the years 1788–1800, and for those of you not looking to earn college credit this summer, I’m here for you with an alternative summer reading list.
As a public service to men of average intelligence, I present you with my less demanding—and more enjoyable—summer reading list:
(1) Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
by James L. Swanson. From the prologue to the final paragraph I was captivated by the storyline of this book. Didn’t want the book to end, so I read slower as the book was coming to an end.
(2) Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball
by George F. Will. The best book I have read on baseball. Read it and you will understand the genius involved in what appears to be a slow and boring game. Read it and impress your friends with your newfound insight.
(3) The Greatest Game Ever Played: A True Story
by Mark Frost. I think this is the best book about sports I’ve ever read.
(4) Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War against Nazi Germany
by Donald L. Miller. I’ve read a lot about WWII but I was ignorant of the air war. This book is simply stunning and unforgettable. There were evenings where I could only read two or three pages of this book because I was so affected by what I read.
(5) Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season
by Jonathan Eig. The most important event and year in professional baseball. If you love baseball you must get to know Jackie Robinson and the difference he made for the sport and our country.
(6) The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL
by Mark Bowden. If you love pro football this is really when it all started.
(7) Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas
by Tom Callahan. Favorite quote from the book: “That’s the thing sports will never get back. Once, the players were one of us. They lived right next door. They don’t anymore.” Learn about arguably the greatest quarterback of all time and a time in professional sports we will never see again.
(8) The Terrible Hours: The Greatest Submarine Rescue in History
by Peter Maas. Simply terrifying and thrilling.
(9) Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
by Jeremy Schaap. As you anticipate the Summer Olympics you must read about Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics.
(10) Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam
. Journalist David Halberstam was killed in a car accident last year. This volume is a superb collection of his best writings.
(11) This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
by James M. McPherson. If you are interested in the Civil War this is a fascinating must-read.
(12) For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
by James M. McPherson. I’ve always wondered why, and thanks to McPherson I now know.
Scripture calls parents to study their children, to identify and address sin patterns in their lives, to discipline, and teach them with the goal of raising them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 ESV). But what about when parents sin against their children? How should parents respond? Do parents excuse themselves because the child provoked the sin? Do they justify their sin because they have parental authority over the child? Do they simply ignore their own sin?
This second audio clip originates from the same setting as the first: an unplanned Q&A session with C.J. and Carolyn during a Sovereign Grace conference in Gilbert, Arizona (Nov. 2005). In it C.J. explains how parents may approach these situations, remain in authority over their children, yet do this with a humble heart informed by the gospel.
2. The gospel + parental sins (2:39)
Other clips in this series:
1. Gospel-Centered Parenting + Young Children (9:27).
June 4, 2008 by Tony Reinke
Categories: God's love | Joy | Legalism
The question “Do I love God?” is often overshadowed by a bigger question—“Does God love me?” This personal doubt of God's love has haunted Christians for centuries and remains a common question today. So it was not surprising to see the Sovereign Grace (e)mailbag receive a number of requests for more information on a particular quote C.J. shared at the end of his second New Attitude message.
Over a century ago a woman posed the same question to pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
I once knew a good woman who was the subject of many doubts, and when I got to the bottom of her doubt, it was this: she knew she loved Christ, but she was afraid he did not love her. “Oh!” I said, “that is a doubt that will never trouble me; never, by any possibility, because I am sure of this, that the heart is so corrupt, naturally, that love to God never did get there without God’s putting it there.” You may rest quite certain, that if you love God, it is a fruit, and not a root. It is the fruit of God’s love to you, and did not get there by the force of any goodness in you. You may conclude, with absolute certainty, that God loves you if you love God.
It was this succinct and biblically rich counsel C.J. shared in his second address at the Na conference.
Spurgeon’s entire sermon can be read online for free here. C.J.’s Na message—“God as Father: Understanding the Doctrine of Adoption”—can be downloaded here.