Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The final session of the Gospel Growth Conference is over. It has been a good time to reflect once again on the centrality of the Gospel in the life of the church.
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church (the conference hosts) gave a very thoughtful address this morning on the nature of evangelism. I have been impressed for some time at the goings on at CHBC. It was, by all accounts, a dead church when Dr. Dever arrived with his young family to be their pastor in the late 90's. It had declined numerically every year prior to that time for over 40 years. There were about 100 people left in the congregation and the median age was, I believe, over 60 years.
Capitol Hill Baptist has been around since the 1850's. It was and is an urban church just six blocks from the U.S. Capitol. It is surrounded by lovely streets and historic brownstones. There was absolutely nothing about CHBC that was "relevant" or "new." There are not many men who would agree to go to such a church. The work in such a place is simply too hard. It is rare that an urban church with a decade's long reputation of decline is brought back from the brink of death. And yet, that is the story of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. It is now a thriving and influential church. It is populated with many young families and students. Interestingly, it is still not very "relevant" in the sense that the church growth gurus define that term. It is simply a church committed to such core distinctives as expository preaching, discipling relationships, evangelism, and meaningful membership. Indeed, I love their reckless disregard for the rules of church growth.
Thanks to Mark Dever and the folks at Capitol Hill for an enjoyable time. Thanks most of all for your continued example of faithfulness.
Thanks also the people of Metro East Baptist Church who make it possible for the pastoral staff to escape to events such as these for refreshment and challenge.
The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was driven along by two very important doctrinal commitments. These two doctrines came to form the core of what it would mean to be evangelical. The first was the doctrine of justification which is rightly understood as the material principle of the Reformation. Justification deals with how sinners are reconciled to God. The second elemental doctrine of the Reformation, sometimes called the formal principle, was the doctrine of Scripture. These two doctrinal commitments were forged in the midst of crisis. The church, having become corrupt, perverted the biblical understanding of justification. In addition, the church had pronounced as infallible, sources of authority other than Scripture. Popes, councils, and church tradition were believed to speak with equal authority as the Bible. From that crucible was forged several battle cries. Commonly referred to as “the solas,” they were to act as a kind of compass guiding the church out of its self-imposed exile in the darkness.
Led by reformers like Knox and Latimer in Great Britain, Luther and Melancthon in Germany and Calvin and Beza in Geneva the infallible authority of the papacy and the pronouncements of councils was being aggressively challenged. It was Luther who became the theological pit bull of the movement. His feverish writings, lectures, and sermons led to the declaration of “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture alone.” At the heart of Sola Scriptura is the belief in the inspiration, infallibility, and clarity of the Bible. In other words, the origins of Scripture are divine, its content is without error, and its meaning is clear. Practically speaking Sola Scriptura upholds the sufficiency of Scripture. All the truth we need to attain to salvation, grow in faith, and guide the church is found in the Bible.
The Bible is not merely a theological source book. It is instrumental both to govern our doctrine and also to instruct us in godliness. As much as God rules over us (and delights to do so) His intention is also to walk with us in loving fellowship. But a close relationship can only happen when those involved know each other. God knows us even to the extent of having our hairs numbered. The means He has given us to know Him is His Word for we can know nothing of Him unless He tells us. J.I. Packer has written, “God sends His Word to us in the character of both information and invitation. It comes to woo us as well as to instruct us; it not merely puts us in the picture of what God has done and is doing, but also calls us into personal communion with the loving Lord Himself.” Sola Scriptura is good news because it affirms the Bible’s sufficiency for both our need to know about God and to know God. Any doctrine of Scripture that fails to deal with this instruction / intimacy dialectic is inadequate.
Sola Scriptura is under attack in our day (it probably always has been). Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that in evangelical circles the doctrine of Scripture is undergoing a steady softening. Not long ago I was reading a book by the leading pastor/writer/speaker in the “emergent church” movement which is a very influential force within evangelicalism. He wrote that the solas of the Reformation are “dangerous” because they are “too restrictive.” He has also written that he is uncomfortable calling the Bible “The Word of God” and yet he maintains that he has a very high view of the Scriptures. It hasn’t helped that our congregations are increasingly biblically illiterate and that pastors are seeing the Bible as increasingly impractical for preaching. These are prime times for pastors to return to the Bible in their preaching. It will require a humble tenacity. “Humble” because, though Scripture is infallible, we are not. “Tenacity” because the spirit of the age will constantly tell us that as long as we uphold Scripture in all our preaching and worship we will be hopelessly irrelevant.
I conclude with Luther’s famous words before the Diet of Worms where he was condemned as a heretic. The authorities demanded that Luther recant his writings. He refused.
“Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive tot eh Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The fires of reformation swept across Germany into France and Great Brittan. Men like Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Zwingli came to see that the Church had not only failed to be faithful stewards of God’s Word but had lost the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of God’s free grace in Jesus had been muddied and defaced by a superstitious and works-driven religion. The Reformation began then with the cry, “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone!” It was a Bible movement. Like all genuine revivals going back to the Old Testament, the Reformation was driven by a passion to recover the Word of God and place it once again at the center of the lives of God’s people.
The remainder of this article is drawn from the wonderful book by Stephen Nichols aptly titled The Reformation:
“The things that matter most to us all center on the gospel. The church simply can’t afford to forget the lesson of the Reformation about the utter supremacy of the gospel in everything the church does…It is far too easy to forget, especially when forgetting eases our conscience. History, however, compels us to remember. In studying the Reformation, we remember what the church is all about, and we remember how easy it is for the church to lose its grip on the gospel.
“If he said it once, Martin Luther said it a hundred times: ‘The church’s true treasure is the gospel.’ Luther lived at a time when this true treasure had been traded for something worth far less. As a monk, he stood in a long line of succession that stretched back through centuries of theologians and churchmen who had heaped up layer upon layer of extra-biblical teaching and practice, obscuring the church’s true treasure of the gospel. Like scaffolding that surrounds and hides the beauty of a building, these layers needed to be torn down so the object that mattered could be seen without hindrance and without obstruction. Luther, with a little help from his friends, tore down the scaffolding, revealing the beauty and wonder of the gospel for the church once again. Luther called his own (re)discovery of the gospel a ‘breakthrough’.
“In the process he brought about an entire revolution of church life, practice, and doctrine. Many of the doctrines that we Protestants take for granted find their crystallized expression in the thought of the Reformers. Theologians speak of the Solas, from the Latin word sola, meaning “alone.” Usually we list five Solas:
1. Sola Scriptura, meaning “Scripture alone”: The Bible is the sole and final authority in all matters of life and godliness. The church looks to the Bible as its ultimate authority.
2. and 3. Sola Gratia, meaning “grace alone,” and Sola Fide, meaning “faith alone”: Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. It is not by works; we come to Christ empty-handed. This is the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, the cornerstone of the Reformation.
4. Solus Christus, meaning “Christ alone”: There is no other mediator between God an sinful humanity than Christ. He alone, based on his work on the cross, grants access to the Father.
5. Soli Deo Gloria, meaning “the glory of God alone”: All life can be lived for the glory of God; everything we do can and should be done for his glory. The Reformers called this the doctrine of vocation, viewing our work and all the roles we play in life as a calling.
“These doctrines form the bedrock of all that we believe, and the Reformers gave these doctrines their finest expression. In addition to the doctrines we routinely believe, the Reformers also laid out for us many of the practices of the church that we take for granted. The church had lost sight of the sermon, celebrating the Mass instead. The Reformers returned the sermon to the church service. In the case of the Puritans in England, they returned it with a vengeance.
“Congregations didn’t sing in the centuries leading up to the Reformation. In fact, Jan Hus, one of the pre-Reformation reformers, was condemned as a heretic for, among other things, having his congregation sing. Luther and the other Reformers restored congregational singing to the church. Knowing this should humble us every time we sing in church. We should offer our heartfelt thanks to Luther, and we should remember what Hus gave for the privilege.”
It’s very hard for a man to believe that God is gracious to him. The human heart can’t grasp this.
- Martin Luther
The Reformation by Stephen Nichols – Very helpful and fun to read history
The Reformation by Owen Chadwick – More comprehensive than Nichol’s book.
Here I Stand by Roland Bainton – Classic biography on Luther
The Case for Traditional Protestantism by Terry Johnson – Excellent study of the 5 Solas.
Monday, October 29, 2007
During the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther wrote a little book that was highly controversial. It was a massive critique of the Roman Catholic sacramental system, entitled The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Luther likened the oppressive regime of Rome in the sixteenth century with that of Israel’s blight while held captive by the rivers of Babylon.
I have often wondered how Luther would assess our own age and the state of the church today. I suspect if he wrote for our time his book would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Church. I suspect this would be the case because Luther considered the most important book he ever wrote to be his classic magnum opus, The Bondage of the Will (De Servo Arbitrio).
This work focused on the issue of the enslaved will of man as a result of original sin. It was a response to the Diatribe of Desiderius Erasmus, of Rotterdam. In the translator’s introduction to this work it is said that Luther “saw Erasmus as an enemy of God and the Christian religion, an Epicurean and a serpent, and he was not afraid to say so.”
I think Luther would see the great threat to the church today in terms of Pelagianism because of what transpired after the Reformation. Historians have said that though Luther won the battle with Erasmus in the sixteenth century he lost it in the seventeenth century and was demolished in the eighteenth century by the conquest achieved by the Pelagianism of the Enlightenment. He would see the church today as being in the grasp of Pelagianism with this adversary of the faith having a stranglehold on us.
Pelagianism in its pure form was first articulated by the man for whom it is named, a fourth century British monk. Pelagius engaged in a fierce debate with St. Augustine, a debate provoked by Pelagius’ reaction to Augustine’s prayer: “Command what thou will, and grant what thou dost command.” Pelagius insisted that moral obligation necessarily implies moral ability. If God requires men to live perfect lives then men must have the ability to live perfect lives. This led Pelagius to his wholesale denial of original sin. He insisted that Adam’s fall affected Adam alone; there is no such thing as an inherited fallen nature that afflicts humanity. He further claimed grace is not necessary for salvation; that man is able to be saved by his works apart from the assistance of grace. Grace may facilitate obedience, but it is not a necessary condition for it.
Augustine triumphed in his struggle with Pelagius whose views were consequently condemned by the church. In condemning Pelagianism as heresy the church strongly affirmed the doctrine of original sin. In Augustine’s view this entailed the notion that though fallen man still has a free will in the sense that he retains the faculty of choosing, the will is fallen and enslaved by sin to such an extent that man does not have moral liberty. He cannot not sin.
After this struggle passed, modified views of Pelagianism returned to haunt the church. These views were called semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagianism admitted to a real Fall and a real transfer of Original Sin to the progeny of Adam. Man is fallen and requires grace in order to be saved. However, this view says we are not so fallen that we are left totally enslaved to sin or totally depraved in our nature. An island of righteousness remains in fallen man by which the fallen person still has the moral power to incline himself, without operative grace, to the things of God.
Though the ancient church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vigorously as it had condemned Pelagianism, it never died out. In the sixteenth century the magisterial reformers were convinced that Rome had degenerated from pure Augustinianism and fallen into semi-Pelagianism. It was not an insignificant detail of history that Luther himself was a monk in the Augustinian Order. Luther saw his debate with Erasmus and Rome as a renewal of the titanic struggle Augustine had with Pelagius.
In the eighteenth century, Reformation thought was challenged by the rise of Arminianism, a new form of semi-Pelagianism. This captured the thinking of such prominent men as John Wesley. The split over doctrine between Wesley and George Whitefield focused on this point. Whitefield sided with Jonathan Edward’s defense of classic Augustinianism during the American “Great Awakening.”
The nineteenth century witnessed a revival of pure Pelagianism in the teaching and preaching of Finney. Finney made no bones about his unvarnished Pelagianism. He rejected the doctrine of original sin (along with the orthodox view of the atonement and the doctrine of justification by faith alone). But Finney’s evangelistic methodology was so successful that he became a revered model for later evangelists and is usually regarded as a titan of Evangelicalism, this despite his wholesale rejection of Evangelical doctrine.
Though American Evangelicalism did not embrace Finney’s pristine Pelagianism (that was left for the Liberals to do), it was deeply infected by forms of semi-Pelagianism to the extent that today semi-Pelagianism is far and away the majority report within Evangelicalism. Though most Evangelicals will not hesitate to affirm that man is fallen, few embrace the Reformation doctrine of total depravity.
Thirty years ago I was teaching theology in an Evangelical college that was heavily influenced by semi-Pelagianism. I was working through the five points of Calvinism using the acrostic tulip with a class of about thirty students. After giving a lengthy exposition of the doctrine of total depravity, I asked the class how many of them were convinced of the doctrine. All thirty students raised their hands in the affirmative. I laughed and said, “We’ll see.” I wrote the number 30 in the upper left hand corner of the blackboard. As we proceeded to the doctrine of unconditional election several of the students balked. I counted their number then went to the board and subtracted that number from the original thirty. By the time we got to Limited Atonement the number was reduced from thirty to about three.
I then tried to get the students to see that if they really embraced the doctrine of total depravity that the other doctrines in the Five Points were but footnotes. The students soon discovered that they didn’t really believe in total depravity after all. They believed in depravity, but not in the sense of total. They still wished to retain an island of righteousness unaffected by the Fall whereby fallen sinners still retained the moral ability to incline themselves to God. They believed that in order to be regenerated they must first exercise faith by the exertion of their wills. They did not believe that the divine and supernatural work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit was a necessary precondition for faith.
Erasmus had won. Again the authors of the introductory essay of The Bondage of the Will assert:
Whoever puts this book down without having realized that evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain. The doctrine of free justification by faith only, which became the storm- centre of so much controversy during the Reformation period, is often regarded as the heart of the Reformers’ theology, but this is hardly accurate. The truth is that their thinking was really centered upon the contention … that the sinner’s entire salvation is by free and sovereign grace only. … Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome … and a betrayal of the Reformation. … Arminianism was, indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.These are strong words. Indeed for some they are fighting words. But of one thing I am sure: They mirror and reflect accurately the sentiments of Augustine and the Reformers. The issue of the extent of Original Sin is tied inseparably to our understanding of the doctrine of sola fide. The Reformers understood clearly that there is a necessary link between sola fide and sola gratia. Justification by faith alone means justification by grace alone. Semi-Pelagianism in its Erasmian form breaks this link and erases the sola from sola gratia.
Here is a companion video to this article called “The Palagian Captivity of the Church” by R.C. Sproul.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
So my question is: does the Bible teach that God’s human creatures have free will? At the risk of sounding like a coward I will answer by saying, “yes and no.” It all depends on what we mean by “free will.” If free will means that somehow our will is unencumbered by any forces external to us (libertarian free will) then, no, the Bible does not teach free will in that sense. Observations from our own lives confirm that we are constantly being acted upon by things as varied as the weather and the actions of others. Even traffic has an impact upon the choices we make. If a choice I make is impacted by, say, the weather then was my will truly “free”? It might be a good exercise to consider how many choices you make that are completely “free” from any force beyond yourself.
Consider, also, internal forces. Would a chemical imbalance render someone’s will less than free? Does depression hinder free will in any way? Does one’s upbringing, past abuse, or fear of failure make one’s will less free? Most importantly, does God, through the influence of the Holy Spirit have an impact on free will? Is this not, after all, why we pray for God to change someone’s heart? For those who believe in a libertarian idea of free will it seems inconsistent to pray for God to change someone’s heart if He never “messes” with free will.
My standard questions for the evangelical that accepts the idea that we have truly free will are:
1. Was mankind more free prior to the fall?
2. Was the will of God’s human creatures impacted by the fall? If so, to what extent?
3. Does unregenerate man have the power of will to do anything that pleases God?
4. Will we be able to sin and rebel against God in heaven?
5. Since there will be no possibility of sin and rebellion against God in heaven then doesn’t it follow that we will only be robots and unable to truly love God?
The fall was a radical disruption in the nature of mankind. No part of our humanity was untouched by the fall. This includes, of course, our will. In the garden man possessed the freedom of will to remain sinless and in perfect communion with God. Since the fall, however, we do not possess the ability to live sin-free lives. We are sinners both by nature and choice. We are not born neutral in regard to God. We are born separated from Him. We are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2). That means that apart from an act of grace we will not choose God.
Jesus said in John 8:34 that the one who sins is a slave to sin. Jesus’ statement is radically inclusive for we all sin (Rom 3:23). A slave is anything but free. How can we imagine our wills being entirely free while at the same time enslaved to sin? Clearly we are predisposed to sin. We are bound and we cannot free ourselves.
Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” If we need God’s grace and power to give us the will to obey Him do we not also need His grace and power to give us the will to choose Him in the first place?
Interestingly, John Wesley, perhaps the most famous arminian absolutely rejected the idea of libertarian free will and held the Reformed and biblical doctrine of total depravity and man’s inability. He believed rightly that we are born with sinful wills rather than free wills and that no one chooses God unless God changes something fundamental about the condition of their heart (prevenient grace).
None of this means that our decisions are not meaningful or “free” in any sense. Indeed, we choose to do just exactly what we desire. We act with as much freedom as our nature allows. This is why Protestant theologians and even the Baptist Faith and Message refer to man’s free moral agency instead of free will. The term free agency is a more specific term meant to communicate the reality that man acts in accordance with his nature and desires and is therefore always responsible for his actions. God does not force us to take actions against our own willing desire. Even the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace denies that God makes man choose something against his will. Rather, irresistible grace asserts that God so thoroughly triumphs over sinful man’s stubborn will that he now willingly and gladly turns to Christ in faith.
The vital question is, outside of Christ do we truly have the desire and the ability to “choose God”? The Bible answers with a resounding “No!” The following passages teach total depravity and man’s inability.
· John 3:19-21
· Romans 3:9-11, 18
· Romans 7:18
· Romans 8:5-9
· Romans 14:23
· I Cor 2:13-14
· Eph 2:1-5
· Col 1:21-22
· Hebrews 11:6
The idea of free will that is prominent in much of popular evangelicalism is not drawn directly from Scripture. It is an extrapolation based upon certain a priori assumptions. One of those assumptions is that the only way for a choice to be meaningful is if it is “free.” However, as discussed already every choice we make is impacted by internal and external forces. We are always being acted upon. Why is it that so many believe that God does not act upon the hearts of certain sinful people in such a way that will guide the choices they make? Has God surrendered the outcome of His eternal purposes in salvation up to the independent whims of sinful people?
Another assumption is that since we are called to repent and believe, then we must have the power and moral clarity to do so. How many of us have been told that “God will never command us to do something that we do not have the ability to do”? This sounds nice and logical. But the Scriptures have many examples of commandments that we cannot possibly live up to. “Be perfect therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” “Be holy because I am holy.” “Pray without ceasing.” “Be joyful always.” Do you know anyone who is literally always joyful? What about the law of God? Did God think that the Israelites would perfectly obey His law? Of course not. But their inability was no cause for God to lower His standard. God requires that his law be kept wholly, perfectly. We are lost because we are born into Adam and have fallen short of God’s standard. This reality did not force God to change His previous expectation. Incidentally, our inability to keep the law is what makes the active obedience of Christ imputed to us such a glorious doctrine.
Let’s be careful not to be so committed to asserting the free will of man that we diminish the sovereign and free will of God.
Friday, October 26, 2007
One of the most basic things that the gospel does is change prayer from mere petition to fellowship and the praise of his glory. Galatians 4:6-7 teaches us that when we believe the gospel, we not only become God's children legally, but we receive the Spirit in order to experience our sonship. The Spirit leads us to call out passionately to God as our tender and loving Father. The Spirit calls out 'Abba' (4:7). In the very next verse Paul refers to this experience as "knowing God" (4:8). We do not just know and believe that God is holy and loving, but we actually experience contact with his holiness and his love in personal communion with him.
No one had a deeper insight into the gospel and prayer than Jonathan Edwards. Edwards concluded the most essential difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian obeys God out of the sheer delight in who he is. The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of contemplation of God. Without the gospel, this is impossible. We can only come and ask for things- petition. Without the gospel, we may conceive of a holy God who is intimidating and who can be approached with petitions if we are very good. Or we may conceive of a God who is mainly loving and regards all positively. To approach the first "God" is fearsome; to approach the second is no big deal. Thus without the gospel, there is no possibility of passion and delight to praise and approach God.
There are two fairly common distortions of prayer that arise from a lack of orientation to the gospel in our prayer lives. We touched on them above. Here is a more practical description.
1. On the one hand, our prayer can have "light without heat."There can be long lists of things that we pray for, and long lists of Bible verses we read, and long lists of things we thank him for. Yet there is no fire. Why? If we lose focus on the glory of God in the gospel as the solution to all our problems, then we devolve into a set of "grocery list" prayers, made rather desperately. When we are done, we only feel more anxious than before. The presence of God is not sensed because God is really just being used – he is not being worshipped.
Instead, we should always remember that the first thing we need is a new perspective on our needs and problems. We should always intertwine with repentance over our unbelief and indifference to God's grace. On the one hand, we must "pray into" ourselves that the thing we are asking for is not our Savior or God or glory! But, (on the other hand) after we repent and refine our desire, we should "pray into" ourselves that God is our Father and wants to give us good things, so we can ask in confidence. Also, intertwined with our petitions should be praise and marveling that we are able to approach God, and be welcomed in Christ.
This is gospel-centered prayer, rather than anxious petitioning. Our desires are always idolatrous to some degree, and when we pray without dealing with that first, we find our prayers only make us more anxious. Instead, we should always say, in effect, "Lord, let me see your glory as I haven't before, let me be so ravished with your grace that worry and self-pity and anger and indifference melt away!" Then, when we turn to ask God for admission to grad school or healing of an illness, those issues will be put in proper perspective. We will say, "Lord, I ask for this because I think it will glorify you – so help me get it, or support me without it." If the overall focus of the prayer is on God's glory and the gospel, our individual petitions will be made with great peace and confidence.
2. On the other hand, our prayer can have "heat without light."Unlike the "light without heat" prayer, focused on anxious personal petitions, there is a kind of prayer which is its direct opposite – "heat without light." This is prayer with lots of "fire" and emotion. It focuses on boldly claiming things in Jesus' name. A lot of military and conflict imagery is usually used. Often the prayers themselves are said (either in your head or out loud) in a very unnatural, dramatic kind of voice and language.
Now, if (as stated above) prayer focuses on the gospel and glory of God, and if by the Spirit's help, that glory becomes real to us as we contemplate it, there will be passion, and maybe strong and dramatic emotion. But "heat without light" prayer always begins with a lot of drama and feeling automatically. I think that many people who pray like that are actually reacting against the very limp kind of prayer meetings that result from anxious personal petition. But they respond by simply trying to directly inject emotion and drama into prayer.
This kind of prayer is also not gospel-centered. Just as the anxious-petitioning is often legalistic and fails to base itself on God's grace, so the bold-claiming is sometimes legalistic and fails to base itself on God's grace. There is a sense that "if I pray long and without any doubts at all then God will surely hear me." Many people believe that they must suppress all psychological doubts and work up tremendous confidence if they are to get answered.
In addition, often personal problems are treated abstractly. People may say: "Lord, I ask you to come against the strongholds of worry in my life." Or "Lord, I claim the victory over bitterness," instead of realizing that it is faith in the gospel that will heal our worry and bitterness. Ironically, this is the same thing that the "anxious petitioner" does. There is no understanding of how to "bathe" the needs and petitions in contemplating the glory of God in the gospel until the perspective on the very petition is combined with joyful yet profound repentance, e.g. "Lord, I am experiencing such fear – but you are the stronghold of my life. Magnify your name in my sight. Let your love and glory ravish me till my fear subsides. You said you will never forsake me, and it is sheer unbelief that brings me to deny it. Forgive and heal me."
So, ironically, we see that "heat without light" prayer and "light without heat" prayer both stem from the same root. They come from works-righteousness, a conviction that we can earn God's favor, and a loss of orientation with respect to our free justification and adoption.
How can we very practically move toward a gospel-centered prayer life that aims primarily at knowing God? Meditation and communion.
This essential discipline is meditation on the truth. Meditation is a "crossing" of two other disciplines: Bible study and prayer. Meditation is both yet it is not just moving one to another – it is a blending of them. Most of us first study our Bible, and then move to the prayer list, but the prayer is detached from the Bible you just studied. But meditation is praying the truth (just studied) deep into your soul till it catches "fire." By "fire" we mean – until it makes all sorts of personal connections – with YOU personally, so it shapes the thinking, it moves the feelings, and it changes the actions. Meditation is working out the truth personally.
The closest analogy to meditating on the truth is the way a person eagerly reads a love letter. You tear it open and you weigh every word. You never simply say, "I know that" but "what does this mean? What did he or she really mean by that?" You aren't reading it quickly just for information – you want to know what lies deep in the clauses and phrases. And more important, you want the letter to sink in and form you.
Augustine saw meditation, "the soul's ascent into God," as having three parts: retentio, contemplatio, dilectio.
First, retentio means the distillation of the truths of Scripture and holding them centrally in the mind. This means study and concentration on a passage of scripture to simply understand it, so you see its thrust. "Retentio" is thus learning what a passage says. The many books on Bible study and interpretation can help us here.
Second, contemplatio, means "gazing at God through this truth." It is to pose and answer questions such as:
what does this tell me about God; what does it reveal about him?
how can I praise him for and through this?
how can I humble myself before him for and through this?
if he is really like this, what difference does this particular truth make to how I live today?
what wrong behavior, harmful emotions, false attitudes result in me when I forget he is like this?
how would my neighborhood, my family, my church, my friends be different if they saw it deeply?
does my life demonstrate that I am remembering and acting out of this?
Lord, what are you trying to tell me about you, and why do you want me to know it now, today?
Above all, the purpose of contemplatio is to move from a kind of objective analytical view of things to a personal dealing with God as he is. It is to deal with God directly, to stretch every nerve to turn this "knowing about" into knowing – to move from knowing a fact about him to actually "seeing" him with the heart – to adore, to marvel, to rest in, or to be troubled by, to be humbled by him. It is one thing to study a piece of music and another to play it. It is one thing to work on a diamond, cutting and polishing it; it is another to stand back and let it take your breath away.
Third, dilectio means delighting and relishing the God you are looking at. You begin to actually praise and confess and aspire toward him on the basis of the digested and meditated truth. If you have moved from learning to personal meditation, then, depending on your spiritual sharpness, the circumstances of your life at that time, and God's sovereign Spirit, you begin to experience him.
Sometimes it is mild, sometimes strong, and sometimes you are very dry. But whenever you are meditating ("contemplatio") and you suddenly find new ideas coming to you and flowing in, then write them down and move to direct praising and confessing and delighting. That is (as Luther would say) the "Holy Spirit preaching to you."
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It may surprise many Christians to know how many of their fellows do not believe in the necessity of faith in Christ if one is to be saved. But it is common among Chritsians to believe that there are other ways to salvation for those who never hear the Gospel. But is this what the Bible teaches? The idea is that it would be unfair of God to judge in hell those who never hear the Gospel. But long before a person is responsible for denying the Gospel they are guilty before a holy God because they are sinners. People go to hell because they are separated from God, dead in their sins and trespasses whether they hear the Gospel or not.
If the only thing that makes a person responsible to God is conscious rejection of the gospel then the cruelest thing we can do is world missions. As soon as we share Christ with someone they become responsible. I they reject Christ then they risk hell fire. If they remained ignorant then all will be well. It would be better by far to simply leave them be.
Very troubling. I have been aware of Billy Graham's evolving theology for years. In this unfortunate episode he makes it quite clear where he stands.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Wiesel’s answer to the question is, “I hope so. And if it doesn’t, it is up to us to give it one.” We can understand, I think, the hesitancy of one who has seen and experienced personally the worst of human evil. Read his “Night” trilogy to get a deeper understanding of the human depravity that flourished in Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s.
In his essay, Wiesel writes, “Why the world? Why people? Why did God consider it useful or even good to introduce them into his universal plan?...Confronted by their creator, are people condemned to remain God’s adversary, or even his enemy? Perhaps his prisoner? His orphan? The Jewish tradition in which I base my thoughts defines it unambiguously – we are his partner. To put it plainly: Though God created the world, it is up to people to preserve, respect, enrich, embellish, and populate it, without bringing violence to it…”
As sympathetic as we may be toward Dr. Wiesel’s history of suffering, we nevertheless cannot approach the question of a purposeful universe in a sentimental way. This is a question that requires the firm application of truth. The fact is, if the universe is godless, if it is without ultimate purpose and moral coherence then we cannot provide these things ourselves. We will only be whistling in the dark. Christian de Duve, biochemist and Nobel Prize winner, answers the question of a purposeful universe with a firm “No.” He explains that “a purpose presupposes a mind that conceived it, as well as the ability to implement it…So the question really deals with the belief in a Creator who enjoys almost infinite power and freedom…” With the exception of de Duve’s “almost” I agree wholeheartedly. For the universe to be filled with purpose means not only that God created all that is but that this Creator possesses all the power and freedom necessary to carry out His purpose. In this sense, this atheist has a better understanding of the nature of God than many evangelicals who have concocted a god whose power and freedom is limited to whims of sinful mankind.
Wiesel simply cannot conceive of a God who is powerful enough (sovereign) to have stopped the evil of the Holocaust but for His own reasons did not. He simply has no category for a God like this. Therefore God, while functioning as creator, is not the sovereign sustainer and ruler of creation. He depends upon us, his partners. And if things go south then it is a result of this partnership. Ironically, this is the god proclaimed in many evangelical pulpits across America every Sunday. “God cannot do a thing unless we allow him!” “God is a gentleman. He never violates our free will.” “God wants to bless you but he can’t unless you let him.” These ideas have a stranglehold on the American church. Our theological categories are simply too narrow to contain a truly sovereign God who exercises his power and freedom to overrule his creation. This theological narrowness is due to the tragic lack of systematic biblical instruction in most evangelical churches. We would be rightly indignant at a NASA scientist whose knowledge of astronomy was limited to the words, “Twinkle, twinkle little star…” However, much of American evangelicalism has contented itself with just such a shallow knowledge of the doctrines of Scripture.
I wonder how my faith would stand up to an experience in Auschwitz? I wonder how I would hold up if I lost my family? I do not criticize Eli Wiesel. He is wrong in his understanding of God. The God he looks to is not the one who has revealed himself in Scripture. That God, the good and sovereign God, is our only help and hope in the face of evil and suffering. When loss pays a visit to our family or when we are in the hospital bed it is a robust theology that we need. We need a faith that has made room for a God whose good purposes, mysteriously to us, include horrible things. God’s plans included the scatterings of people. His plans have included a duplicitous liar named Jacob as well as Joseph’s wicked, murderous brothers. His plans included Paul’s imprisonments. What is more, God’s good purpose included the greatest evil ever perpetrated: the crucifixion of Jesus.
Monday, October 22, 2007
In this new paradigm we learned that people don’t want doctrine. They want experience. They want excellence and better stage lighting and funny dramas. They want video and professional musicians and sermons that are (say it with me) “relevant.” And so, since the late 80’s church’s have made it known that they will not “bore” people with the eternal oracles of God. They will not present anything that is complex or mysterious. They will certainly make no demands. They will not declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Rather, they will courageously say, “Have it your way!”
Ironically, in the last few years, George Barna’s voice has been among those warning about the problem of biblical illiteracy and lack of basic Christian worldview among professing Christians. To Barna I would like to say, “What did you expect? For twenty years evangelical pastors have faithfully followed your advice about how to make their church’s bigger.”
Accurately diagnosing the problem with the modern “seeker-sensitive” movement David Wells writes:
The idea at the heart of this experiment was always rather simple. If Coca-Cola can sell its drinks, if Lexus can market its cars, why can’t the church, using the same principles, the very same techniques, market its message? After all, this is the language that all Americans understand because all Americans are consumers. And so it was that the seeker-sensitive church emerged, reconfigured around the consumer, edges softened by marketing wisdom, pastors driven by business savvy, selling, always selling, but selling softly, alluringly, selling the benefits of the gospel while most, if not all, of the costs were hidden. Indeed, it got worse than this. Sometimes what was peddled was a gospel entirely without cost, to us and apparently also to Christ, a gospel whose grace is therefore so very cheap. And it has gotten worse. Just as often, the gospel has vanished entirely and been replaced only by feel-good therapy. The message has been about a God without wrath, bringing man without sin, into a kingdom without a judgment, through a Christ without a cross…all that we might feel good about ourselves and come back to “church” next week. This, actually, is how Niebuhr described the old, defunct Liberal gospel! But, never mind. Buoyed by George Barna’s statistics and flushed with success, seeker-sensitive pastors have sallied forth into the consumer fields in ever more inventive and extraordinary ways to bring in the harvest now ripened, now ready to be gathered and fetched into their auditoriums.
But to what are these seekers coming? Gone are all the signs of an older Christianity. Churches that once looked like churches, symbols of a message transcendent in origin, have now been replaced by auditoriums, and some of them might even be mistaken as business convention centers. Indeed they might even pass as showrooms – boats and home appliances on display during the week and Jesus on the weekend. And why not? Gone after all, is the transcendent message, and what remains, really, is quite this-worldly. And this is subtly broadcast visually. Pews have been replaced by chairs, the pulpit by a stage or, maybe, a plexiglass stand, the Scripture reading by a drama group, the choir by a set of sleek writhing singers who could be straight out of a show in Vegas, and everywhere the Jumbotrons, the technology, the wizardry of a control so complete that it all comes off as being super-casual. This church stuff is no sweat; it’s fun! It is to this that seekers are coming. Indeed, far more frequently than we might wish to know, it is only to this they are coming.
Barna, at least, is now dismayed. His assiduous polling, which initially launched his experiment in how to “do church,” has now been following behind it and churning up some truly alarming findings. You see, none of this pizzazz and glitz has made an iota of difference to those who have been attending. They have been living on our postmodern “bread,” on technology and entertainment alone, and not on the Word of God. The result is that they are now living no differently from those who are overtly secular, he says. They have no Christian worldview, they exhibit no Christian character, and they show no Christian commitment. Their pastors, he says, measure their own success by the number of attendees and the square footage of the building, but the people who attend, those who are born again, show none of the signs of the radical discipleship that Jesus demanded. Am I just old fashioned when I wonder to myself whether there might be a causal connection between this flagging discipleship and the abandoned biblical concerns about truth, the irrelevant orthodoxy, in these seeker-sensitive churches?
David Wells from By Faith Alone
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
Just in case my call for Joel Osteen to repent was not clear enough, here are some important observations from Mark Driscoll.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
This is great! As far as I know Taylor Mali makes no claim of being a Christian (although he may be). What I find fascinating however is that he seems to give a spot on diagnosis of what is wrong in much of Christian leadership these days. In the immortal words of emergent church leader Brian MacLaren: "Certainty is overrated."
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
In his introduction to the timely and important book “By Faith Alone” David Wells writes:
In the sixteenth century, Luther stood his ground where Paul, many centuries earlier, had done so. Despite the light that the New Perspective claims to have cast on Paul’s doctrine, I am still persuaded that Luther actually got it right and that Paul thought about justification as the church, following Luther, has always judged that he did and not as the New Perspective now imagines. The Judaizers then and the medieval in Luther’s day alike thought that by the keeping of the law, salvation could be merited. Paul first, then Luther later, rejected this, and Luther rejected it because Paul had done so. The reason, quite simply, was their far deeper, far more realistic, and, indeed, far more biblical reckoning with the depths of human sin, its pervasiveness, and the innate corruption it has wrought throughout human nature. How, then, are humans to render up an obedience to the law which is not itself corrupt? The apple of our best works, while rosy and attractive on the outside, is always inhabited by a worm that has destroyed it from within.
So it was that Paul, and indeed the New Testament, led us to see that we contribute nothing ot our salvation except, as Archbishop William Temple would later say, the sin from which we need to be redeemed. We are as paupers who stand empty-handed and gratefully accept whatever kindness is offered to us. That kindness comes in the form of Christ’s substitution on our behalf, in our place, dying the death that we deserve, bearing in himself God’s righteous judgment for our sin, and clothing us in a righteousness not our own. That is the New Testament gospel. That is what Paul calls God’s ‘inexpressible gift,’ one received by the empty hand of faith alone, and that has always been the evangelical message. Believing this gospel, believing in its New Testament formulation, is what evangelicalism has always been about.
In the last few decades however, a second church constituency has been emerging, first in America, and now, like so many other things American, it is being exported overseas. It is made up of a generation of pragmatists, initially Baby Boomers but now spilling out generationally, who have lived off this reformational understanding as does a parasite off its host, separate but surreptitiously using its life and slowly bringing about the death of its host. These pragmatic entrepreneurs, these salesmen of the gospel, may not always deny reformational understanding overtly, but even if they do not, they always hide it from view. They shuffle off this orthodoxy into a corner where they hope it will not be noticed. To the seekers who are so sensitive and who are their target audience, this orthodoxy would be quite incomprehensible, not to say off-putting. So, it is covered up because it is judged to be irrelevant to what is of interest to them and to those who are in the business of selling Christianity; it is likewise judged to be irrelevant to their work.
From “By Faith Alone” Gary Johnson & Guy Waters editors
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
Joel Osteen, a drop out from Oral Roberts University, was the director of the television ministry for Lakewood Church which was founded by his father John, a former Southern Baptist pastor. When John died Joel stepped into the pulpit of Lakewood which then had an attendance between seven and nine thousand. Since then the growth has been nothing short of phenomenal. Current attendance is recorded at about 42,000 in weekend services. After a $100 million renovation Lakewood now meets in the former home of the Houston Rockets basketball team.
I have a copy of his first book “Your Best Life Now.” A friend sent it to me as a joke. It worked. I laughed. If listening to Joel Osteen “preach” is frustrating, reading him is downright maddening. If he were not the pastor of America’s largest church, there is no hope that anyone would publish his sophomoric drivel. He is a bad Robert Schuller impression. It is reported that his second book, “Become a Better You” earned him an advance of $13 million. Sadly, it is more of the same therapeutic, God is your genie, religious humanism that was peddled in his first book.
When it comes to his responsibility and qualifications as a teacher Joel seems to want it both ways. On the one hand he says of his books and teaching, “It’s all backed up by the Bible.” In other words, “I know the Bible so well that I can formulate an entire system of life improvement while rarely having to refer to specific Scriptures.” But as soon as someone begins to point out his many errors Osteen gives his best “awe shucks” look and says that theology and biblical precision aren’t his “giftings.”
If a surgeon at the local hospital were treating cancer patients by sprinkling chicken blood on them you can be assured that the outrage from the other physicians would be palpable. There would be no cries of, “But he is so nice and sincere!” Astonishingly, many ministers of the Gospel and leaders in the church approach Osteen and his ilk with a “Well, it’s not my cup of tea” kind of response. “As long as he is helping people, who am I to complain?”
Christians are impressed with Osteen’s beguiling smile and oozing sincerity. I have heard his errors excused by appeals to his seeming kindness as if distorting the Gospel of Jesus Christ is okay so long as you are nice about it. Osteen may indeed be sincere. He may be the nicest pastor in Houston. Frankly, I don’t really care. But his inability or unwillingness to clearly articulate the Gospel is a chasm too great for his pearly whites to bridge. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul made it clear that given a choice, he would prefer the scoundrel who preaches the Gospel right to the nice fellow who gets it wrong (Phil. 1:15-18).
The only reason I care about what Joel Osteen teaches and writes is because he does so under the auspices of the church of Jesus Christ. Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Choprah can spout all the Christ-less paganism they like. They are not my fellows in Christ. But Joel Osteen claims the name of Christ and has been given the role of pastor. His errors, and they are significant and many, must not be ignored by the church. He is, whether he knows it or not, accountable to the body of Christ. It is, therefore, the church’s responsibility to call him to repentance.
Scripture is clear that few should assume the role of teacher for they will receive a particularly strict judgment before God (James 3:1). Paul warns us in Galatians that anyone, whether man or angel, who preaches another gospel, that is, any Gospel that differs from what the apostles preached, is under God’s curse (Galatians 1:6-9). The call for Joel Osteen to repent is not only for the good of the church but for the good of his own soul. On that awesome and awful day will Joel Osteen grin, flutter his eyes, and say to God, “I left all that Bible stuff to other people. My calling was to help people”?
Lakewood Church and all of Joel Osteen’s millions of adherents are living embodiments of Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (4:3). When listening to Osteen it is impossible not to think of God’s chastising of the unfaithful shepherds of Israel. “Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the Lord…from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (8:7, 10b, 11). What Joel Osteen calls “lifting people up,” I fear God considers false cries of “peace, peace” when there is no peace. When we ignore sin under the pretense of being positive we are actually healing the wound of God’s people as if it were not serious. Osteen’s preaching does not point sinners to repentance by showing them the terror of God’s holy law. He therefore cannot rightly show them the true glory of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. The diminished view of sin he offers leads inevitably to a diminished salvation. The preacher who refuses to use the words sin, sinner, hell, and judgment can only produce happier pagans.
So, it is time for Joel Osteen to repent. I’m not kidding. I’m not trying to be ironic or funny. I am deadly serious. He regularly fills the minds of people with false gospels and happy delusions of God-sent success and “promotion.” He must turn away from his false teachings and step down from his position as pastor. He has not studied to show himself approved. Rather than proclaiming God’s word he has taught the inventions of man. But God is gracious. As long as there is breath in Joel Osteen’s lungs then God may still grant him repentance.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Be sure to read Gene Bridges' comments posted on the link.
Also, Campolo's assertion that the "religious left" (a term he refuses to use) are not driven by a political agenda the way the "religious right" (a term he relishes) are is simply ridiculous.
If you are wondering at the term “biblical theology” I certainly understand. What, after all, is theology if not “biblical”? But biblical theology is a technical term associated with a particular approach to understanding the central themes of the biblical text. James Barr has written, “Biblical theology is concerned with the vital central ‘message’ of biblical texts.” This, he writes, is to make possible “a composite and yet unitary ‘witness’ to ultimate theological truth.” Gerhard Hasel writes that the task of biblical theology “is to provide summary explanations and interpretation to the final form of these blocks of writing[the books of the Bible], with a view to letting their various themes emerge, to indicate their dynamic interrelationship, including their continuities and discontinuities with one another, and to expose the progressive revelation of divine matters.”
Waltke understands the Kingdom of God to be the central unifying theme of the Bible. He seeks to establish that “the center of the Old Testament, the message that accommodates all its themes, is that Israel’s sublime God, whose attributes hold in tension his holiness and mercy, glorifies himself by establishing his universal rule over his volitional creatures on earth through Jesus Christ and his covenant people”
Certainly, the central theme of Jesus’ preaching was the Kingdom of God. His perfect obedience was a model of the moral perfection and holiness of the King. The miracles, including those over nature, sickness, and demonic forces, showed off the supreme power of the King. The teachings of Jesus communicated, to those who had ears to hear, the nature and values of the King and His Kingdom. Jesus declared that he summed up the Kingdom of God; that he was the very in-breaking of the Kingdom.
In the model prayer Jesus instructs us to petition God: “Your kingdom come.” That petition, Walkte writes, “entails that God establishes his rule over his elect covenant people through the kingship of Jesus Christ, who by the Holy Spirit places God’s imperative rule upon the hearts of those whom Christ has freed from the slavery of Satan, sin, and death. This center entails that the God of the Old Testament is the Father of Jesus Christ in the New Testament; that he world is in rebellion against him; and that to fulfill his purposes he acts in history according to his inscrutable elective purposes, choosing when, where, how, and with whom he breaks in, without necessarily explaining why. He is the ruler of creation and of history, the two themes that dominate the praise psalms in Israel’s psalter”
The point that God works within history must not be missed. Certainly, God is over and above history. He is not subject to the limits of time or special dimensions. However, God uses means to establish his kingdom and he does so progressively. In other words, it is true that in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom had come. And yet, there is a “not yet” reality to the Kingdom of God. While his rule and authority are unassailable and ultimate the final consummation waits to be established. “The holy and merciful God continually irrupts into history to establish his kingdom for the hallowing of his name…In this he will not fail because of the faithful, unsullied obedience of Jesus Christ, to whom every knee will one day bow.”
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Next, Goligher takes us on a tour through the fall narrative in Genesis three. It was in that dark day of rebellion and loss and judgment that God nevertheless took pity on his human creatures and promised that one would come who would finally crush the enemy. This promise made to Eve is often called the “protoeuangelion” or the first Gospel. It was the very first announcement of the good news; that salvation would come through a God-sent deliverer.
On through Genesis, Exodus, even Leviticus we go. Goligher calls attention to The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur described in Leviticus. This is particularly helpful for Christians who often do not understand the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant festivals and regulations.
“What is the problem? God is holy. And the book of Leviticus is about how that problem is resolved. How do unholy people visit God in his home, the tabernacle? Leviticus 1 is the transition point. The Lord called to Moses from the Tent of Meeting, He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them whenever any of you bring an offering to the Lord…’ They can visit God in his home and bring an offering. Literally, the Hebrew reads: the offering is what brings you near. The sacrifices unite us to God. The people cannot enter into God’s house but they can draw near on the basis of sacrifice.”
Goligher then turns to “the scandal of forgiveness” through an examination of David’s cry of repentance in Psalm 51. “God knew what would cover David’s sin. That’s why God said to him through Nathan the prophet, ‘You will not die.’ David is saying, ‘I don’t know how you did that. I don’t know what this sacrifice that covers blood guilt is.’ The New Testament answers David’s cry. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin…This is what the hyssop does. It cleans me through the blood of Christ and it brings joy and gladness (v. 8) back where the bones have been crushed.”
As the progressive revelation of Scripture continues we are helped to understand the coming sacrifice for sin clearer through Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53). “Isaiah 53 takes us one step nearer the final truth; only someone sent by God who is pure and has no sins of his own to answer can take our place and bear our punishment…The Servant will not only be humbled, he will also be exalted (v. 13). This parallels the story of Jesus, who is raised in his resurrection, lifted up through his ascension to heaven, and highly exalted when he sits down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven.”
After the overview of the Old Testament Goligher takes us to what he calls “the main event.” We see how Christ is revealed as the One who will uphold the righteousness and mercy of God and justify sinners. The Gospel of Mark, Romans, 2 Corinthians, 1 John, 1 Peter, Hebrews and Revelation provide a rich and highly textured understanding of Christ’s cross work. We are comforted by the intercession of our Great High Priest and the news of our release from the condemnation of sin.
Like all good theology, Goligher’s book is both doxological and practical. There are numerous occasions for worship as we read of God’s burning holiness and his tender mercy. There are clear calls not only to believe the Gospel but to be conformed to the righteousness and love that are on display in Christ’s cross.
“The Jesus Gospel” is also a timely warning against the recurring and often fashionable attempts to redefine the Gospel. I think particularly of men like Brian MacLaren, Doug Paggit, and Rob Bell who have devalued and even denied the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement – the very heart of the Gospel itself.
I commend “The Jesus Gospel” to your reading. Not only will your heart be thrilled by the truth but your mind will revel in a greater understanding of Scripture’s great plot. You will also find yourself better equipped to be one who proclaims well the greatest news in the universe.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Monday, October 8, 2007
“Both the Pharisees and Jesus use the word “sinner,” but in slightly different ways. The use in either case is jarring to the modern ear, so highly trained are we never to think negatively of ourselves. Hopefully we are past that obstacle by now. Not only are we not offended by it, we are glad to number ourselves among the sinners. It means that Jesus has us in view in the rescuing work that he came to do. When he says he did not come to call the righteous, he means that he did not come to bring the self righteous into the grace and mercy of God. They admit to no wrongdoing that needs the cure of mercy. And when he says that he came to call sinners, he means he came to deliver self-confessing sinners in to the grace of God…
“Jesus is called Savior because ‘he will save his people from their sins’ (Matt 1:21). Jesus is our great Rescuer because he rescues us from the penalty of our sins and from the enslaving power of sin. What a cruel joke it would be for God to forgive sinners and leave them habitually sinning. Blaise Pascal wrote in his famous Pensees, ‘It is unworthy of God to unite himself to wretched man, yet it is not unworthy of God to lift man up out of his wretchedness.’ This is what Jesus does as our Rescuer. Jesus ‘saved us and called us to a holy calling’ (2 Timothy 1:9). To get a true and accurate vision of Christ as our Rescuer, we must see that he rescues us from the heartfelt desire to habitually sin.”
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Friday, October 5, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
In his book God’s Prophet, God’s Servant John Goldingay, one of the world’s foremost Old Testament scholars, offers a penetrating study of the book of Jeremiah and Isaiah chapters 40-55. Goldingay demonstrates how the ministries of Jeremiah and Isaiah were preludes to the ministry of Jesus Christ. What is more, Jesus’ ministry provides the model for all of those who are called to speak God’s words to God’s people.
In the section titled “What being a prophet costs,” Goldingay points out some lessons learned from the life of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. To be a prophet, he writes, is “to be as hard as a rock on the outside even while you are being torn apart inside.” The author goes on to comment on verse nine chapter of twenty quoted above:
“Robert Davidson put Jeremiah’s position more briefly in the question, ‘If he had never said, ‘I’ll forget Him’ would he ever have affirmed so positively, ‘I can’t’?” So Jeremiah, though outwardly resolute, is inwardly torn apart by humiliation. He is torn apart by fear…”
I have heard many people whispering –
There is terror on all sides.
“Report him, let’s report Him!”
All my friends are watching for my downfall.
“Perhaps he can be persuaded and prevailed over,
then we can catch him and take vengeance on him.
- Jeremiah 20:10
Curse the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me never be blessed!
Curse the man who brought the news to my father,
“It’s a boy! You have a son!”,
making him glad.
May that man be like the cities
that Yahweh overthrew without pity,
may he hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me at birth,
so that my mother would have become my grave,
and her womb would have been enlarged forever.
Why did I come out of the womb,
to see trouble and affliction
and end my life in disgrace?
- Jeremiah 20:14-18
“Why is there recorded in Scripture the personal and private agonizing of the man of God with God? One reason may arise out of the fact that it is obviously not easy to be hard as a rock outside when you are being torn apart inside. The tension between the outward proclamation and the inner scream itself threatens to rend the man apart. The scream, indeed, cannot finally be stifled or repressed. It has to receive expression. So writing it down helps to give expression to it in the only way that is possible. It gets it out of the system. That may be the reason why Jeremiah put it in writing…
“I remember once noticing a poster on Nottingham Railway Station: ‘There is a religion which sees life as a challenge to be met, not as a cross to be born.’ If there is, then it is not the religion of Jeremiah, nor of Jesus. Nor is it a religion I am very interested in. Because a religion that is worth following has to be able to cope with the fact that life is not always a thrilling challenge; it is sometimes an experience of crucifixion. And being a prophet, or being any kind of faithful servant of God, is not always a thrilling challenge. Sometimes, the experience of the cost, in isolation and opposition, in the loss of any right to run one’s own life, in being torn apart even as one is as hard as a rock outside, is rather an experience of crucifixion.”
…always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our moral flesh. - II Corinthians 4:11
1. The Extent and Gravity of our Sin
“It has been said that the doctrine of sin is the one doctrine you can prove empirically, yet we all tend to minimize it…The struggle to accept our exceeding sinfulness is everywhere in the church of Christ. We accept the doctrine of total depravity, but when we are approached about our own sin, we wrap our robes of self-righteousness around us and rise to our own defense…
“Why is this perspective so essential? Only when you accept the bad news of the gospel does the good news make any sense. The grace, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, patience, power, healing, and hope of the gospel are for sinners. They are only meaningful to you if you admit that you have the disease and realize that it is terminal.”
2. The Centrality of the Heart.
“The average Christian defines sin by talking about behavior.” But, the authors write, “beneath the battle for behavior is another, more fundamental battle – the battle for the thoughts and motives of the heart…Lasting change always comes through the heart. This is one of Scripture’s most thoroughly developed themes, but many of us have missed its profound implications. We need a deeper understanding of Proverbs 4:23, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’”
3. The Present Benefits of Christ
“The Christian hope is more than a redemptive system with practical principles that can change your life. The hope of every Christian is a person, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom behind every biblical principle and the power we need to live them out. Because Christ lives inside us today, because he rules all things for our sakes (Eph. 2:22-23), and because he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet (I Cor. 15:25-28), we can live with courage and hope.”
4. God’s call to Growth and Change
“It is so easy to coast! We have been accepted into God’s family, and someday will be with him in eternity. But what goes on in between? From the time we come to Christ until the time we go home to be with him, God calls us to change. We have been changed by his grace, are being changed by his grace, and will be changed by his grace.”
5. Lifestyle of Repentance and Faith
“God has blessed you with his grace, gifted you with his presence, strengthened you with his power, and made you the object of his eternal love. Because we belong to him, we live for his agenda. And if change is his agenda, then repentance and faith is the lifestyle to which we have been called.”
With the emphasis that Metro East is placing on being a “Gospel-Driven Church” I recommend “How People Change”. It is not a self-help book. It is a book about real change based upon the objective and glorious truth of the Gospel.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Often times “Christian Counseling” is nothing more than humanistic psychology done by a professing Christian. For years pastors and counselors have lacked the training to bring the witness of Scripture to bear upon such issues as depression, anger, divorce, child-raising, abuse, addiction, etc. It is far deeper than simply quoting a verse to someone and sending them on their way. Rather, their approach to counseling seeks to apply the healing, correcting, encouraging, and instructing power of God’s Word to the complexity of the human mind and heart.
In “How People Change,” Lane and Tripp explore the biblical patterns for life change. They do not offer simple answers or legalistic patterns. Rather, the authors seek to explain how God is always at work in the lives of His people to affect deep and lasting change. This book is a great example of applied theology done well. Mark Dever writes about this book: “In sixteen short and well-illustrated chapters, the wonderful prospect of change for the good is held out for the reader. We are called to consider our circumstances and our responses to them, and beneath that to examine our hearts’ desires and to turn afresh to Christ’s cross.”
One of the most helpful aspects of the book is that from the very beginning, Lane and Tripp call attention to the central place that the Gospel holds for the life of every believer. The Gospel is not confined to some corner at the very beginning of the Christian life. Rather, the Gospel is the controlling reality of the Christian’s life.
In the first chapter, titled “The Gospel Gap,” the authors write, “Often there is a vast gap in our grasp of the gospel. It subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God. This gap undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others. Yet we live blindly, as if the hole were not there.”
Appealing to I Peter 1:3-9 the authors point out that the lives of Christians are to be characterized by “peaceful, loving relationships, a sweet, natural, day-by-day worship of the Lord, a wholesome and balanced relationship to material things, and ongoing spiritual growth.” Unfortunately, many Christians “leave a trail of broken relationships, a knowledgeable but impersonal walk with God, a struggle with material things, and a definite lack of spiritual growth.”
According to Scripture a lack of deep and lasting change happens when a person is “nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from past sins” (I Pet. 1:9). This is “the Gospel Gap” to which the authors refer. When the Gospel is missing as the central and controlling reality of our lives we will inevitably replace it with something else. “The result is a Christianity that is mere externalism. Whenever we are missing the message of Christ’s indwelling work to progressively transform us, the hole will be filled by a Christian lifestyle that focuses more on externals than on the heart” (p. 8).
Specifically, the authors point to seven types of externalism that are common among Christians.
“Formalism allows me to retain control of my life, my time, and my agenda. Formalism is blind to the seriousness of my spiritual condition and my constant need for God’s grace to rescue me. Formalism reduces the gospel “to participation in the meetings and ministries of the church.”
“Legalism completely misses the fact that no one can satisfy God’s requirements.” It focuses almost entirely upon what we can do for God rather than drawing strength and encouragement from what God in Christ has already done for us. “Legalism ignores the depth of our inability to earn God’s favor. It forgets the need for our hearts to be transformed by God’s grace. Legalism is not just a reduction of the gospel; it is another gospel altogether [see Galatians], where salvation is earned by keeping the rules we have established.”
Too many Christians believe that the key for deep and lasting change will be a particular experience that they associate with God’s presence. This is why there are so many within the church who are “consumers of experience” rather than functioning members of the body of Christ. “The danger of mysticism is that it can become more a pursuit of experience than a pursuit of Christ. It reduces the gospel to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences.”
There is no question that Christians ought to stand up for what is right. Indeed, there are issues in society to which the church must speak the truth. However, for many the Christian life is more about activism and political influence than a joyful walk with Christ. It is more about “turning America around” than the lasting pleasures of Christ-likeness. Activism can also easily turn into an ugly judgmentalism. “Whenever you believe that the evil outside you is greater than the evil inside you, a heartfelt pursuit of Christ will be replaced by a zealous fighting of the ‘evil’ around you…The gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes.”
Christians ought to be students of the Word of God. In fact knowing and regularly meditating upon God’s Word is absolutely necessary for deep life change. However, we are guilty of “Biblicism” when we are known more for our knowledge of Scripture than our conformity to it. “In Biblicism, the gospel is reduced to a mastery of biblical content and theology.”
When the Gospel Gap is filled with “Psychology-ism” the real problems in life are redefined. “Rather than seeing our problem as moral and relational – the result of our willingness to worship and serve ourselves and the things of this world instead of worshipping and serving our Creator (Romans 1)” – the tendency of Psychology-ism “sees our problem as a whole catalog of unmet needs.” It is seeking Christ as therapist rather than as Savior.
One of the truly “gospel-ish” qualities of the body of Christ is the Communion of Saints. We are a people united in close fellowship through our common Lord. Through Christ we are called to community. We are called to be one. We are responsible to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. In fact, we cannot move toward Christ-likeness as we should without the fellowship of God’s people.
However, when Christ is removed from His rightful place of centrality and pre-eminence then even good and necessary things like fellowship become replacements for the Gospel. In this scheme, our dependence upon friends replaces our dependence upon Christ. The church becomes a spiritual social club. Like “psychology-ism” “social-ism” casts Christ and His church as “Need Meeter.”
In my next entry I will give an overview of “Five Gospel Perspectives” that give direction to the book.
Other excellent books from the men at CCEF:
Depression by Ed Welch
Seeing with New Eyes by David Powlison
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp
War of Words by Paul Tripp