For all those who asked our heavenly Father to help me while I was on writing leave, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I felt supported in every way. So I would like to give you an update on what I did and what you might look for in a few months.
I worked on two books and was able to bring both to completion—at least at the first-draft state. The first I hope to call Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. This will be volume 4 in the series of short biographical studies called The Swans Are Not Silent. That series title is based on a great story from the life of Augustine. When he retired as the bishop of Hippo his replacement said in his speech, “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.” There have been many “swans” in the history of the church and, if we tell their stories often enough and well enough, they will not remain silent. That is what I try to do for Athanasius, Owen, and Machen.
These “swans” were lovers of Christ and contenders for truth. In fact, one burden of this book is that they go together. Here is the way the Introduction begins:
Some controversy is crucial for the sake of life-giving truth. Running from it is a sign of cowardice. But enjoying it is usually a sign of pride. Some necessary tasks are sad, and even victory is not without tears—unless there is pride. The reason enjoying controversy is a sign of pride is that humility loves truth-based unity more than truth-based victory. Humility loves Christ-exalting exultation more than Christ-defending confrontation—even more than Christ-defending vindication. Humility delights to worship Christ in spirit and truth. If it must fight for worship-sustaining truth, it will, but that is not because the fight is pleasant. It’s not even because victory is pleasant. It’s because knowing and loving and proclaiming Christ for who he really is and what he really did is pleasant.
Indeed knowing and loving the truth of Christ is not only pleasant now, it is the only path to everlasting life and joy. That’s why Athanasius (298-373), John Owen (1616-1683), and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), took so seriously the controversies of their time. It was not what they liked; but it was what love required—love for Christ and his church and his world.
The second book I worked on might be viewed as my own “contending for my all.” It will, I hope, be called God Is the Gospel: Meditations on the Love of God as the Gift of Himself. It is not focused on anyone’s distortion of the gospel. It is focused on what I see as the highest, best, and final good of the gospel that makes it good news. It is mainly a reflection on the meaning of biblical texts. I ask whether justification by faith, or forgiveness of sins, or the removal of the wrath of God, or redemption from guilt and liberation from slavery to sin, or salvation from hell, or entrance into heaven, or eternal life, or deliverance from all pain and sickness and conflict are the highest, best, and final good that make the gospel good news.
I answer no. These blood-bought gospel gifts are precious beyond words, but there is a reason they are precious that is not yet mentioned in any of them. There is something beyond them that makes them good because they are means to this other thing. When this other reality is missing, none of these things is good news. The highest, best and final good that makes the gospel good news is the revelation of the glory of God in Christ for us to behold and embrace and enjoy increasingly forever. The central text of the book is 2 Corinthians 4:4-6, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. . . . For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In other words, as the gospel events of Christ’s death and resurrection unfold in history and in the gospel, they reveal a glory that we were made to see and enjoy as the highest, best, and final end of our existence and of the gospel. Therefore, justification is good news because it makes us stand accepted by the one whose glory we want to see and savor above all things. Forgiveness is good news because it cancels all the sins that keep me from seeing and enjoying the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Removal of wrath and salvation from hell are good news because now in my escape from eternal misery I find eternal pleasure beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ. Eternal life is good news because this is eternal life, Jesus said, that they know me and him who sent me. And freedom from pain and sickness and conflict are good news because, in my freedom from pain, I am no longer distracted from the fullest enjoyment of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.
My plea is that everyone who cares about the proclamation of the gospel keep this final good of the good news in view and lead others to treasure “the glory of God in the face of Christ” above all things.
Thank you again for praying. I would deeply appreciate that you pray without ceasing for me and the ministry of Bethlehem and Desiring God, that all of us would contend for our all—the glory of Christ—but mainly that we see and savor and show him to all.