Tuesday, July 31, 2007

T.D. Jakes is a False Teacher

The folks at Fide-O have posted a great reminder (FIDE-O) that the church is awash with false teachers. We must call them what they are. Jeremiah did. The apostle Paul did. Jesus certainly did. These men lead untold thousands into tragic error and harden the hearts of many others who are harmed by their antics. May God purge his church of these charlatans.

Why Protestants Preach

Protestants preach because God uses His Word as the means by which He calls together His people under the saving work of Christ. Preaching is the means by which God’s unfolding plan of redemption is declared to all those who have ears to hear. Preaching is a community conditioned activity. That is, it helps avoid the chaos of private interpretation. Preaching helps us remember that Scripture is interpreted in the context of the gathered people of God. There are no lone rangers when it comes to a right interpretation of God’s Word. Faithful preachers will spend hours each week reading good commentaries and researching what the church has historically affirmed about a given text of Scripture. This helps both preacher and hearers to have confidence that what is being preached is not the latest fad or the result of a “newly enlightened” interpretation.

In an article in the March/April issue of Modern Reformation magazine Michael Horton writes:

“The Word of God is not only a canon that regulates our beliefs and practices, but…it is actually alive, accomplishing everything God intends. While upholding the reliability and authority of Scripture, conservative Evangelicalism has tended to reduce God’s Word to a sourcebook for timeless doctrinal and ethical laws, missing the crucial point that the Bible itself underscores from Genesis to Revelation: namely, that God’s speaking is acting, and this acting is not only descriptive but creative. God’s Word is authoritative not only because of what it is (God’s utterance), but because of what it does (God’s utterance).
“The Word of God written and preached is not simply legally authoritative and binding, but is the primary means of grace, through which the Spirit ordinarily creates communion with Christ and therefore the communion of saints: ekklesia. In other words, in this conception, the Word is not merely something that stands over us us. It is also “the implanted word” (James 1:21) that “abides in you” (I John 2:14), and is to “dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:16).”

Protestants preach because we still believe I Peter 1:23-25:
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable see, through the living and enduring Word of God. For ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower fails, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.’ That word is the good news that was announced to you.”

That Word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Christ and His Gospel as the source of our unity

Baptist Press recently reported on an important messgae delivered by Dr. Tom Ascol at the Southern Baptist Founders Conference in late June (Baptist Press - Gospel is focus of SBC unity, Ascol says - News with a Christian Perspective). I would hope all Southern Baptists, indeed all those who call themselves evangelicals would take Dr. Ascol's words to heart.

Spurgeon on Faithfulness

Thank God for the good reverend Spurgeon. Check this out (Pyromaniacs: Encouragement for the "Narrow-Minded Bigot").

Beckwith Back to Rome

I have been asked my opinion both on this blog and in other conversations about the recent announcement by Frank Beckwith.

Dr. Francis Beckwith’s conversion, better yet, reversion to Rome was very interesting to me. For those of you who don’t know, Francis Beckwith is a well-known scholar, professor, and president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He resigned his position as president of ETS a few months ago when he declared that he had become a communicant in the Roman Catholic Church, the religion of his childhood.

In the letter explaining his return to the Roman Church Dr. Beckwith writes:
“During the last week of March 2007, after much prayer, counsel and consideration, my wife and I decided to seek full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. My wife, a baptized Presbyterian, is going through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This will culminate with her receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation. For me, because I had received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation all before the age of 14, I need only go to confession, request forgiveness for my sins, ask to be received back into the Church, and receive absolution.”

I am saddened by the language of Dr. Beckwith's letter. This goes to show that smart men can make large errors. How sad it is for a man who once affirmed Sola Scriptura to now embrace a religious system that rejects the sole sufficiency and unique authority of the Bible. What is also tragic is that he has rejected Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and man and now seeks forgiveness of sins and “absolution” from the Roman Church.

Further on in his letter Beckwith writes:
“The past four months have moved quickly for me and my wife. As you probably know, my work in philosophy, ethics, and theology has always been Catholic friendly, but I would have never predicted that I would return to the Church, for there seemed to me too many theological and ecclesiastical issues that appeared insurmountable. However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible. Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries. Moreover, much of what I have taken for granted as a Protestant—e.g., the catholic creeds, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the Christian understanding of man, and the canon of Scripture—is the result of a Church that made judgments about these matters and on which non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, have declared and grounded their Christian orthodoxy in a world hostile to it. Given these considerations, I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”

Well, we could argue all day about whether or not Rome is a more faithful interpreter of the early church fathers. For now I will say that it is my conviction that the Protestant Reformers were far more faithful to the likes of Athanasius and Augustine than were leaders of the Roman Church during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. However, what is most important is that the Protestant Reformers were faithful to the Scriptures. As much as they respected Augustine, for instance, the Reformers would always side with Scripture over any man, or council, or tradition. This is one of the most, if not THE most important dividing line between Protestants and Catholics. If we cannot agree on the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture then we can agree on little else. I am also astonished by his language that he has chosen “to err” on the side of Rome.

Dr. Beckwith posted some 300 email responses to his reversion on his webpage. One, from Dr. Dale Davis said:
Dr. Beckwith,
I find it very sad you've chosen to "err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians" instead of staying with the Christians who are the most faithful to the very first generation of Christians, the authors of the New Testament.
The more I've studied the history of the Reformation, the more I am thankful for the work of the Reformers--rejected, excommunicated and utterly repudiated by your Church, if not burned alive.
May you influence the Church of the Bishop of Rome for the Gospel--and help reform that body.
Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, Soli Deo Gloria!

I am glad that Dr. Beckwith stepped down from his position with the ETS. With the blurring of lines these days it would not have shocked me if he and others saw no problem with a Roman Catholic leading an evangelical organization. Anyway, in that case at least, he did the right thing.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Paris Hilton and the Meaning of Life

I agree with Bernard Goldberg who named Paris Hilton’s parents among the people who are ruining America. His point is that the impact of parents upon their children is beyond calculation. Where were they when young Paris needed to learn that life was about more than money and Gucci and parties? It makes one wonder how parents who had the means to raise their daughter with the best advantages could produce, and continue to finance a young woman who is so inconsequential and narcissistic. Nevertheless, the continuing media saga that is Paris Hilton can give us a moment to ponder our lives and what kind of legacy we are leaving to the world.

The following is a letter to the editor in this month’s National Review magazine:

“If [Paris] does slide alone into the dark night like Willy Loman, it is worth remembering that all but a few of us will find our rest in relative obscurity, without a Nobel prize or world-changing company to our name. It isn’t how Paris will die, but how she can afford to be “utterly pointless” during her life, that so fascinates us. In a broader sense, because she represents a cultural evolution affecting a growing portion of America, she is very instructive.
“The affluence of American society has shifted more and more people away from a ‘work is life, life is work’ ethos. Some choose pointlessness: drugs, liquor, and sex. Others adopt ‘religions,’ be they health and dieting, global warming, Darfur, etc. Some, out of boredom, contrive crazy adventures full of risk. Is this all there is to life, we ask?
“At the heart of it all remains our uncertainty about meaning in life. Are there things that possess meaning and purpose external to our assigning them meaning and purpose? In other words, are there things assigned meaning and order by God?
“In an age when Americans are rightfully fascinated by Paris Hilton – though they may not know why – the meaning of meaning is obscure. It is the frustrating yet beautiful question we all must ask and hope to answer. I am inclined more often than not to believe that only God could have created a being who asks such questions.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Darkness of Depression

On Albert Mohler's radio program Dr. Russel Moore has a very helpful discussion with David Powlison on the topic of depression (The Darkness of Depression).

The Spirit of Charles Finney

"Old Truth" has an interesting post (Bait And Switch "Festival Evangelism") on some of our not so modern approaches to evangelism. What we are seeing is the sad but enduring legacy of Charles Finney's pelagianism.

I Still Must Protest (2)

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI approved the release of a statement that has caused a minor stir among watchful Protestants and even some Catholics. The statement declares that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. To be precise the Vatican’s wording asserts that the Church of Rome is the only form in which the Church of Christ subsists, which is simply a more cautious way of saying that the only true church is the one whose leadership resides in the Vatican.

I am not calling attention to this because I am angry. Actually, it bothers me not one whit because it comes as no surprise. This is the position that Rome has always held. I and all my Protestant brethren were officially consigned to hell long ago by Popes and Councils of the Catholic Church. Now, in recent years the Church of Rome has moderated its language in an effort to be ecumenical. It even seems to hold forth that non-Catholics can actually be Christians. Unfortunately, they believe that sincere believers in all religions will be welcomed into heaven. The problem is that Rome has never officially repudiated all the anathemas declared in years past against Protestants. For instance, according to official Catholic teaching I am bound for hell because I deny such doctrines as transubstantiation and papal authority. What is more, I am also hell bound because I administer the Lord’s Supper and am not an ordained priest in the Catholic Church. I could go on and on.

Rome is in a bit of a Catch 22, however. It cannot repudiate the declarations and anathemas from the Council of Trent, for instance, because of its doctrine of revelation. Revelation is the theological word for how God makes himself and his truth known. In the Roman system, Popes and Councils hold equal authority as Scripture. And, as a practical matter, when Popes and Councils have differed from Scripture (and they often have) guess which source of authority is subordinated? (That was a rhetorical question. I assume you know that it is the Scriptures which get the shaft in such situations.) Anyway, if Rome were to say that Trent was wrong or is no longer relevant then what would that do to their entire doctrine of revelation? It would fall like the proverbial house of cards. “If Trent was wrong then what else was wrong? Perhaps our position on Mary is wrong. Perhaps our doctrine of purgatory is wrong.” You can imagine how confusing that could be. I will deal further with Rome’s opposition to Sola Scriptura in a future article.

The Vatican document on the church is quite brief. Its title is “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” It was released on June 29th by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Defense of the Faith. According to the statement the Roman Catholic Church is the only legitimate church because of apostolic succession. It reads in part, “This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.” If you don’t already know, the Catholic Church believes that Peter was the very first Pope and so there has been an unbroken chain linking the Catholic Church directly to Jesus. Never mind those pesky historical inconveniences like the times when there were multiple popes leading a divided church or when there were decadent and unconverted popes.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church refers to the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy as “Churches” because they too claim apostolic succession. However, Protestant churches, or those churches born out of the years of reformation are the “red headed stepchildren” of the body of Christ and are referred to in the Vatican’s document as merely “ecclesial communities.”
“According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”

Again, this does not bother me in the slightest. Benedict XVI is a true theologian. He is a stalwart against liberalizing forces within the Catholic Church. Recently he has made controversial comments about Muslims and has advocated evangelizing Jews. These are not popular positions in our world. This recent statement on the church merely reminds Catholics and Protestants how important the issue is of Papal authority. I appreciate the fact that Rome is willing to reassert its historic position that any church which denies the authority of the Pope is no true church. It seems that Benedict understands what is at stake in this issue. I would be equally appreciative if my fellow Protestants understood the importance of this issue and were willing to assert that any church which bows to papal authority and infallibility is no true church.

I was watching EWTN, the global Catholic network, on Monday evening. (Incidentally, Catholic TV is much better than “evangelical” TV which is populated mostly by goofballs. Most of Catholic TV is filled with pretty stout teaching programs. They actually believe that doctrine is important). Anyway, Father William Stetson, Director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C. was on to explain the Vatican’s document on the church. He was coy to say the least. His basic message was, “This statement on the church is a precise theological statement and the average person need not worry about it. Many Protestants will be saved because God will have pity on them for not being enlightened about such issues as the Mass and confession.” If you think I am exaggerating then go to EWTN’s website and check out the July 23rd “The World Over” program. Anyway, something tells me that Benedict XVI would not agree with Fr. Stetson that this it is not that big of a deal; that the average Catholic shouldn’t worry about it.

Many of our Protestant ancestors were mercilessly burned on wooden stakes until their fingertips and abdomens burst into the flames because they opposed papal authority and infallibility. We both dishonor their sacrifice and trivialize Scripture if we do not see this issue as one worth dividing over. Rome certainly sees it in those terms.

Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky wrote recently, “I actually appreciate the Pope’s concern. If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Of course, I am convinced that he is not right – not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right on the church.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Good Reverend McCheyne

Robert Murray McCheyne died when he was only 29 years old (1813-1831). His was a comparatively short life but what awesome things God was pleased to accomplish through this particularly weak vessel. The illnesses and frailty with which he struggled became the very means by which God filled him with such strength. He wrote, “I have been too anxious to do great things. The lust of praise has ever been my besetting sin; and what more befitting school could be found for me than that of suffering alone, away from the eye and ear of man?”

Supremely, McCheyne was a pastor. It could be said of him that he was a pastor among pastors. His skills as a biblical expositor were matched by the tender care he exhibited toward the flock entrusted to him by God. He understood the synthesis between the holiness of the pastor’s life and the blessedness of his ministry. One of his contemporaries wrote of him, “He gave out not merely living water, but living water drawn at the springs that he had himself drunk of; and is not this a true gospel ministry?” Almost two hundred years after his birth, McCheyne stands as an enduring example for pastors everywhere to follow.

God took the young Robert to pastor a once large parish in Dundee Scotland. The church’s name was St. Peters and its glory days were long over. It was not the kind of church a young pastor whose reputation as a great preacher was already being established would want to go. A young man like McCheyne would want to go to Glasgow or Edinburgh but not the blue collar town of Dundee! Shunning his pride, Robert followed his Lord’s leading.

McCheyne’s preaching, which was always a careful exposition of Scripture, was marked by reverence and sobriety. A man who heard him preach frequently wrote, “Before he opened his lips, as he came along the passage, there was something about him that sorely affected me.” One of his biographers writes, “It is difficult to convey to those who never knew him a correct idea of the sweetness and holy unction of his preaching…His rule was to set before his hearers a body of truth first – and there always was a vast amount of Bible truth in his discourses – and then urge home the application.”

The Lord was pleased to bless St. Peter's Dundee with a fresh wind of revival. The once nearly empty church was now filled to overflowing. They were blessed to see many notorious sinners come to faith in Christ. Knowledge of God in the Scriptures became a growing joy for the people of the parish. It was a work of God that spread through large parts of Scotland. Robert approached the whole period with humility and faithfulness. He depended not on emotional experiences or manipulation but rather leaned all the more on those ordinary means by which God works to bless His people.

In the final two years of his life his sinking health did not seem to interrupt his activity for the Lord. He labored until the ravages of weakness overcame him. He died as a pastor, a preacher, and a missionary. His loss was sorely felt among his beloved flock in Dundee. “His people were that evening met together in the church, and such a scene of sorrow has not often been witnessed in Scotland. It was like the weeping for King Josiah. Hundreds were there; the lower part of the church was full; and none among them seemed able to contain their sorrow. Every heart seemed bursting with grief, so that the weeping and the cries could be heard afar off. The Lord had most severely wounded the people whom He had before so peculiarly favored; and now, by this awful stroke of His hand, was fixing deeper in their souls all that His servant had spoken in the days of his peculiar ministry.”

I commend to your reading Memoir and Remains of R.M. McCheyne, the most widely read biography of the pastor from Dundee, written by his friend Andrew Bonar. It has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since its publication in 1844. Charles Spurgeon wrote of it, “This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published. The memoir of such a man ought to be in the hands of every Christian, and certainly every preacher of the Gospel.”

“Oh, then, that I might lie low in the dust, – the lower the better, – that Jesus’ righteousness and Jesus’ strength alone be admired!”
- R.M.M.

Monday, July 23, 2007

We Need the Gospel

Michael Spencer over at "internet monk" wrote this very timely and insiteful article (internetmonk.com » Blog Archive » Message to Tom Ascol: Write the Book). It is a plea for Tom Ascol, an SBC pastor in Florida and president of Founders Ministries, to write a book calling pastors and churches to return to the centrality of the Gospel. Check it out!

Dever on the Atonement

In the May 2006 issue of Christianity Today Mark Dever wrote this excellent article (Nothing But the Blood Christianity Today A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction) on the substitutionary atonement of Christ's work on the cross. Dever is the pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Through his writing, preaching, and ministry of church health (9 Marks Ministries) Dever has become highly influential among younger pastors. This is a good thing. Dr. Dever is a model of the pastor / theologian. His book "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church" ought to be required reading for all Christians. In his article for Christianity Today Dever reminds us of how important it is to guard the biblical doctrine of Christ's penal substiution on behalf of sinners. It is all the more important as this doctrine which resides at the heart of the Gospel is under attack within evangelical circles.

Read and be blessed!


I Still Must Protest (1)

I am a Protestant. There is no getting around it. And since “evangelical” has lost all meaning in the church today I find myself turning once again to that word birthed in the religious and political turmoil of the 16th century: Protestant. The Protestant Reformation was a movement of protest. It was a protest against the moral squalor and theological error that had come to characterize the Roman Catholic Church. The selling of indulgences to finance the new and extravagant St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, widespread immorality and biblical illiteracy among the highest levels of Church leadership, and of course the tragic departures from biblical doctrine were the sparks that ignited the fires of reformation.

From those early years of reformation was birthed the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Baptist denominations. It led to the founding of new institutions of higher learning, new political movements, fresh missionary zeal, and the colonizing of the New World. There were also an untold number of martyrs offered in the fires of the Roman Church. From England to France to Italy Protestant “heretics” were burned to death. The roots of resentment ran deep and the divide seemed insurmountable.

In recent years however there has been renewed interest among certain evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders to forge a new unity between the long divided churches. At the forefront of this movement is a group called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Its leaders are serious heavyweights like Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and Richard John Neuhaus a former Lutheran turned Roman Catholic priest. I respect both of these men a great deal. In fact, I am an enthusiastic reader of First Things, the magazine edited by Fr. Neuhaus. The purpose of ECT is to achieve as much unity as possible between Catholics and Protestants. They seek to maximize the emphasis on those points in which the two groups agree while not denying where differences persist. Their goals are, in my mind, noble. I support efforts to bridge whatever gaps are “bridgeable.” However, I believe the efforts to bring a deep and lasting unity between Protestants and the Roman Church are na├»ve.

Don’t misunderstand. I love unity. More importantly, our Lord loves the unity of His people and even prayed for it. “The glory that You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” (John 17:22). The implications of this prayer extend far beyond local congregations. The unity of the church universal is a lasting concern of our Lord. In the Apostle’s Creed we rightly confess our belief in “one holy catholic church.” Evangelicals not raised in a confessional church are often made squeamish by those words. But the little “c” catholic in the creed is not a reference to Rome. “Catholic” means universal. To say that one believes in the one holy catholic church is to affirm that God has filled His world with worshipping communities of Christ-followers. It is to affirm that the church extends far beyond our own little local body of believers. This is a source of encouragement. God will not be without a witness. He will spread His church to the utter most parts of the world. For this reason, Christians are happy to recognize true churches wherever it pleases the Lord to raise them. It also grieves Christians when the church universal becomes divided.

The divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals is lasting testimony to man’s fallen state. The proliferation of denominations among Protestants is almost mind boggling. In fact, Rome points to the number of different denominations as proof that the Protestant Reformation yielded nothing but division within Christ’s body. However, sentimental notions of unity should not keep thoughtful Christians from asking whether the existing divisions represent necessary doctrinal fences or are merely pointless quarrels. The fact is, doctrine divides at least as often as it unites. Even in the Roman Church there are deep divisions and various factions. There are liberal Catholics, charismatic Catholics, feminist Catholics, fundamentalist Catholics, “Vatican II” Catholics, and those Catholics that insist that the Latin Mass is the only legitimate mass. So for all Rome’s boasting in their unity, theirs is a house divided.

Please understand that I am not “anti-Catholic.” I have no doubt that there are many sincere Christians in the Roman Church. I also believe that we can and should cooperate with one another as much as possible. However, to do so without also acknowledging why we differ is to deny that such vital issues as the sole sufficiency and authority of Scripture, Justification by faith alone, and the imputed righteousness of Christ are not important.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Augustine on the New Life in Christ

N.R. Needham, a wonderful church historian has written a very fine book called The Triumph of Grace: Augustine's Writings on Salvation. Follow this link (Link: Augustine on the New Life in Christ) to a chapter from that book that deals specifically with God's grace in the conversion of sinners. The church today needs to rise above its Pelagian leanings and reassert a robust, God-centered theology of salvation. Take your time and read Needham's chapter carefully. You will be blessed by high thoughts of God's extraordinary grace.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Journey Through Job

Mining For Wisdom is a great devotional book that takes the reader through the book of Job. The author, Derek Thomas is a world-class authority on Job. I highly recommend it. You can order the book through my recommended reading list. Go to the "devotional" section and you will find a connection to Mining for Wisdom.

Job's Unsettling Question

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” This stunning question was offered up by Job in the aftermath of that dark day when his children, his wealth, and his good name were taken from him. Later, even his health would be shattered and his mind tortured. Job’s question reflects an understanding that God is sovereign in all things including human suffering and the actions of Satan. Sadly, this robust and thoroughly biblical doctrine is often rejected by many evangelicals. Indeed, the thing that disturbs so many of the readers of Job is the realization that what lies behind the suffering of Job is the hand of God. This is the unsettling truth that boils below the surface of the entire book: Job’s suffering is ultimately God’s doing.

Going back to the beginning of the book of Job we observe a mysterious exchange between God and Satan. The ancient serpent comes before the courts of heaven to report on his comings and goings. How it must gall Satan that God requires him to give a report, as it were, on what he has been up to (1:6-7). By the time verse eight rolls around things get really strange. God actually initiates the trials of Job: “Have you considered my servant Job?” says God to Satan. There is something in us that wants to cry out, “God, what are you doing? Job doesn’t deserve this!”

So, back to Job’s question: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10). Job understands that even things that are “evil” and calamitous come ultimately from the hand of God. Take a deep breath. This is the clear testimony of Scripture. In I Samuel 16:14-15 we are told that God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. Another example of this unsettling truth is when David took a census in order to number the people of Israel. This was a sin against God that Joab warned David not to commit. But David persisted in his plans and took the census. Afterward, “David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly’” (I Sam. 24:10). So far so good, except for the fact that it was God who incited David to take the census. “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (I Sam. 24:1). God used David’s prideful census taking as the occasion to judge Israel. And the inspired text affirms God’s sovereignty over David’s decision while at the same time not excusing David from responsibility.

The most supreme example of this seeming contradiction is the cross of Christ. Jesus’ death upon the cross as our substitute was preordained by God (Acts 2:23a; 4:27-28). Yet this particular moment in history which went exactly according to God’s sovereign design required that certain men commit particular evil acts (Acts 2:23b; 4:10). The texts which proclaim God as ultimately sovereign over all things are unfamiliar to many Christians because pastors won’t touch them with a ten foot pole. But in so doing they rob God’s people of a faith that is strong enough to sustain them in the most troubling times.

We must not ignore the “hard truths” of Scripture. However, we certainly must be careful. We know that God does not do evil. He is not wicked in even the remotest sense of the word. He in no way ever sins. God is pure righteousness and always acts righteously. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). And yet, there is a way in which God can send evil and calamity our way and still be completely free of evil and wrongdoing. It almost makes one’s head spin. But we must surrender some of our logical categories to the revelation of Scripture. And what Scripture reveals is that God is completely sinless and good but is ultimately sovereign even over the evil that comes our way. If we try to fully reconcile this reality we risk falling into error either by calling into question God’s goodness on the one hand or denying His sovereignty on the other. Our inability to fully comprehend the mystery of God’s total sovereignty should not result in our dismissing it. The Westminster Confession of Faith wisely states the truth without trying to figure it out completely:
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin…”

In his classic work The Providence of God, Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer writes:
“In the confession of God’s almighty power, the personal, living God is confessed. Responsibility is not crowded out by His power; neither is the meaning of guilt and punishment. We are deeply conscious of the impossibility of our discerning the relation between the Divine activity and ours, but we are able to see in Scripture that the incomparable enterprise of God is in its Divine character so great and majestic that it can embrace human freedom and responsibility within itself without being thereby assaulted or even limited…
“Even in his most apostate acts man cannot break out of the sovereign concern of God. Divine revelation does not let us penetrate the mystery of this consonance, this harmony. The living God rules here!...The Scriptures show us God’s work. Then, in history, we are shown how unparalleled that work is. It is striking, for example, that Scripture does not speak of God as being at work in leading Judas down the road to the act of betrayal. It says that Satan filled Judas’ heart. He who sees this well will not look on this work of Satan and Judas’ betrayal as one side of a dualism, independent and detached from God’s work, but will bow before the power of God which is present even in the acts of extremist sin, and will stand speechless at the wisdom and mystery of His ways.”

It is his grasp of this very truth that allows Job to worship God in the midst of his loss. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (1:20-21). It simply will not do for Job to say that God passively “allowed” these calamities to befall him. We often resort to this in an effort to get God “off the hook” for human suffering. But God does not want to be let off the hook. Job rightly understands God to be the One who took away from him just as surely as He gave to him in the first place. The writer is careful to point out twice that in attributing his suffering to the hand of God “Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22; 2:10).

What are we to do with a God who gives and takes away? How are we to respond to a God who sends his people both blessing and calamity? What is more, what happens if this God chooses to offer us no answers? In those unsettling and confounding moments may we say with our tutor Job:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Monday, July 16, 2007

John Piper on suffering and God's sovereignty

This is a great messagae on God's sovereignty in suffering ( The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God :: Desiring God ). It was a message delivered by John Piper at the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. The text, audio, and video of the message are available by following the link. Be blessed!


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Meet the Puritans

Here is a great resource for information on and writings by some of the great Puritans (Monergism :: Puritans ). Enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Horton on Grace (2)

More good stuff from Michael Horton’s article in the most recent issue of Modern Reformation Magazine:

“We work very hard today to make grace normal rather than utterly disorienting. We bend over backward backwards to show how Christianity is ‘practical,’ how it conforms to our common sense and moral intuitions. ‘Practical Christianity’ (deeds, not creeds) is touted, although the actual practice of Christians is, according to the statistics, indistinguishable from that of non-Christians. The ‘righteousness that is by works’ looks for somewhere to go and something to do, while ‘the righteousness of faith’ receives Christ as he comes to us in the gospel (Rom. 10:1-13)…

“Sharing a common heritage in the revivalism of Charles Finney, mainline and evangelical Protestants have trouble being recipients of grace. The church becomes an army of activists – social engineers, moral reformers, event planners, life coaches – rather than a theater of grace where God has the lead role. As a result, the focus is not on how God gets to us (the logic of grace) but on ‘inducements sufficient to convert sinners with,’ as Finney put it, following his basically Pelagian view of the moral ability of fallen people. Finney’s Systematic Theology explicitly denies original sin and insists that the power of regeneration lies in the sinner’s own hands…”

This, by the way is not far from the common conception held by many evangelicals, particularly Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, and Southern Baptists. Many of us grew up learning from well meaning pastors that being born again (regeneration) comes about as a result of something we do. But this is remarkably different from the teaching of Jesus. In answer to Nicodemas’ inquiry on how to gain eternal life in heaven Jesus said, “You must be born again” (or, “from above”). What a wonderful metaphor for regeneration! Is there anything with which we have less to do than our birth? Jesus is assaulting Nicodemus’ “can-do” approach to salvation; an approach that many evangelicals share. To further drive home the point that the miracle of regeneration is an act entirely of God’s free will, Jesus added, “The wind (a reference to the Holy Spirit) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Horton goes on:
“American evangelicalism seems at least in its most popular forms today to be a version of spiritual technology – almost magic, with every new movement and best-selling author offering his or her own ‘Ten Steps’ to harnessing God’s power. In this context, grace is less God’s favor shown to sinners on account of Christ than the opportunity God has provided for greater spiritual and moral power if we cooperate properly, using our free will. John Newton the slave trader may indeed have been a ‘wretch,’ but surely not I…

“Grace can only be recognized in the face of Christ, for there the strangeness of God, of ourselves, and God’s method of redemption converge. Counter-intuitive, disruptive, and unsettling, the grace defined by Golgotha requires an entirely new set of presuppositions about God, ourselves, and how the relationship works. Yet the measure of the sheer gratuity of God’s grace is that it even gives us those new presuppositions in the very act of being given. Grace is God’s refusal to allow us to define ourselves or to have the last word. Rather, it is the surprising announcement that salvation is ‘not the result of human decision or effort, but of God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:16).”


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Being Gospel-Centered

The Strategic Ministry Planning Team at Metro East has spent time during our work talking about what it means to be a Gospel-Centered or Gospel-Driven church. I found this article ( GospelDrivenLife: The Gospel must be everything ) today on Mark Lauterbach's blog that says it quite well. Please take the time to read it.

Confessions of a 'Numbers' Pastor

Jim over at Old Truth has an interesting article ( Confessions of a 'Numbers' Pastor ) on the modern church's obsession with numeric success. Check it out.

Horton on Grace (1)

Michael Horton has written an excellent article in the July/August edition of “Modern Reformation” magazine (http://www.modernreformation.org/). The title of the article is “Grace: How Strange the Sound.” As I read it I was reminded once again how easy it is for Christians to have shallow or otherwise misguided notions of just how radical grace truly is. We sing “Amazing Grace” but we adopt ideas that reduce grace to God’s passive response to our initiative. In a sense we come to see grace as a power that is made effective only inasmuch as we allow it to be effective. While we may say that grace is “amazing” what we are truly amazed by is the power of our own sovereign will that, in the end, even overcomes the very purposes of God. This unfortunate, but common way of thinking is why one prominent theologian speaks of the “pelagian captivity of the church.”

Horton writes:
“We work very hard to make God user-friendly. That’s why the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, terrified by God’s voice, decided to make a golden calf that they could manage more safely. Instead of trembling in God’s presence, they ‘sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play’ (Ex. 32:6). We hear people talk today about their personal relationship with God as if he were a locker room pal or even a romantic interest. However, when people were actually confronted with God’s presence, they always came apart at the seams. Even Moses trembled with fear (Ex. 19-20; Heb. 12:18-29). Isaiah was all set to go on his mission to announce the woes (curses) on everybody else until he received a vision of God in his sanctuary, with seraphim and cherubim calling to each other, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.’ Isaiah could only respond, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Nevertheless, one of the seraphim brought a glowing coal to the prophet and, touching it to his lips, said, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for’ (Isa. 6:3-7). Peter, hardly known for a reverent temperament, responded to the amazing catch of fish at Jesus’ command, fell on his knees and said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8).

“To confess that God is holy is to say that he is not only quantitatively but qualitatively different from us. In other words, he isn’t simply better than we are, nicer, friendlier, more knowledgeable, more powerful, more loving. He is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unsearchable. We can only have access to him because he has willed to be our God, revealing himself by speaking ‘baby talk’ – accommodating to our frail capacities. Grace is God’s willingness not only to condescend to our creaturely finitude even to the point of assuming our flesh, but to give his life for us ‘while we were still enemies’ (Rom. 5:10).

“God is intolerant of sin, but just as infinite in his love and long-suffering. God is just and righteous, unable to let bygones be bygones, and yet he is free to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. To have mercy on the wicked, however, God cannot suspend his justice. God’s justice did not require the salvation of anyone, so his grace is totally free. When God is gracious toward sinners, it is not because his justice is sacrificed to his love, but because he has freely found a way to be ‘just and the justifier of the ungodly’ (Rom 3:26). At the cross, not only God’s love but his strangeness – his utter difference from us – is most clearly displayed…”

“[G]race is not an impersonal substance; it’s the personal attitude and action of God in Jesus Christ toward those who deserve the very opposite. Without the phrase ‘who deserve the very opposite,’ grace is nothing more than God’s warm wishes that make us feel better as we suppress the truth about ourselves…Only when we actually encounter God as he truly is do we finally know ourselves as we truly are – and only then can grace be truly grace. Grace is not self-esteem, moral uplift, or therapeutic recovery. It is nothing less than God’s favor on account of Christ: a new Word (justification) that generates a new creation (sanctification and glorification).”

Monday, July 9, 2007

What Revival Looks Like

George Whitefield knew a thing or two about revival although, I suppose, no man is an expert. Under his preaching untold numbers of men and women were moved to repentance and faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. His ministry had taken him on the long journey to the American colonies more than once. He had established an orphanage in Georgia and preached throughout the New World. He preached with unusual power. Benjamin Franklin, who was quite fond of Whitefield, once estimated that the preacher’s voice could be heard outdoors by 30,000 souls. During his ministry in the colonies, more people had heard George Whitefield speak than any other person. He may well have been the most famous person in the English speaking world.

In 1742 while Whitfield was preaching throughout Scotland his influence was strongly felt in the regions of Cambuslang and Kilsyth. For decades, these parishes had been experiencing a spiritual drought. A pastor from Kilsyth described the spiritual condition of his parish:
"Former strictness as to holiness and tenderness of life was much relaxed…a formal round of professional duties was the religion of the professors…and as to the multitude they were visibly profane…Things were become so bad with us that there were few that we, the ministers of the word, could comfort as believers in Christ…when we found them a-dying."

Then God began to move in ways that had not been witnessed in those regions for generations. Evangelical pastors serving there were fired by the inspiration they received from Whitfield as he preached in Glasgow. The Reverend William McCulloch of Cambuslang, writing nine years after the work of revival began, described it this way:
“This work…embraced all classes, all ages, and all moral conditions. Cursing, swearing and drunkenness were given up by those who had come under its power. It kindled remorse for acts of injustice. It won forgiveness from the vengeful…It bound pastors and people together with a stronger bond of sympathy. It raised an altar in the household…It made men students of the Word of God and brought them in thought and purpose and effort into communion with their Father in heaven.”

This is what revival looks like. It is not about trembling bodies and ecstatic experiences. It is not something we conjure up or create by wearing down people’s inhibitions. It is the sovereign work of God granted to whom He pleases when He pleases. But God uses means. And history testifies that revival is accompanied by 1) a recovery of God’s Word in the pulpits 2) a renewing of the centrality of the Gospel 3) a common commitment to prayer and 4) a renewed reverence for God in worship. In reading about revivals in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, these four traits appear with unwavering regularity. In fact, I have been amazed at how the accounts of genuine revival all seem to read the same. So when we see the church recovering the Scriptures and the Gospel, praying with fresh fervency, and gaining a deeper reverence for God then look up and give thanks, for God is blessing His people.



Friday, July 6, 2007

Toys 'R' Us and the Destruction of Manhood

Okay, the title might be a bit of an exaggeration but stick with me. My experience today was confirmation that Western society as we know it is changing for the worse. Just a few hours ago I took my two sons (ages 9 and 7) to the famous supplier of toys with one goal: to buy two cap guns. I love cap guns. As far as inventions go, they ought to be spoken of in the same breath as the internal combustion engine and the light bulb. Growing up, cap guns helped transform my back yard into an imaginary battle field. At various times they turned me into a Green Beret, a cop, Jesse James, and James Bond. So when my sons asked for cap guns last night I happily complied. This afternoon we piled into the car and made our way to the toy superstore.

And this is the point in the story where everything goes south. It seems that Toys R Us has joined the battle against the scourge of developing masculinity in young boys. I suppose it has been too long since I’ve been to Toys R Us because I immediately tried to find the aisle where they keep all the toy guns. Not finding any, I consulted a collection of three employees. I asked innocently, “Where do you keep the cap guns?” The reply came but it was too unsettling to fully process at first. It was disorienting. It was like finding out that you have just been awakened from a long coma and Bill Clinton is president again. “We don’t carry cap guns.”

We did find a few water guns and other things that shot out nerf balls. None of these fanciful plastic and brightly colored monstrosities could ever be confused with a gun. I can’t believe I am actually going to write this. They were the kind of “guns” that a girl might design.

This has not weakened by resolve however. If I have to get on Ebay I am going to find two cap guns and my boys are going to shoot them at each other. They are going to play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, and war. What is more, I won’t have to teach them to do this because they are, after all, BOYS!

They are going to learn that sometimes the good guys have to use force against bad guys. They are going to learn that Jesus never told a soldier not to serve as a soldier. They are going to learn that the state is at times used by God to put down evil in the world. They may be called upon one day to intervene with force against hostile aggressors. On that day I don’t want them to wonder why their gun does not light up with bright colors and emit an array of bleeps and blips.

Press On


Monday, July 2, 2007

Signs of Life

One of the best books I have read on the Gospel and the nature of salvation is John Ensor’s The Great Work of the Gospel. In a chapter entitled “The Great Work Enjoyed” Ensor writes:

Those whom God declares righteous, he makes righteous: “You shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:25-27). The New Testament word for this is sanctification (II Thess. 2:13). It refers to God’s ongoing work of God’s Spirit to make us holy, as He is holy… The grace that pardons always purifies…

The grace that brings salvation goes on to train us to live a godly life. A sanctified life is not optional to salvation; it is standard equipment. Other things may be called grace, but they are not saving grace…

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning because he has been born of God” (I John 3:9). This seed is God’s gift of holiness. It asserts itself against our naturally disobedient and self-centered tendencies so that we wrestle against the evil behavior we used to relish. God’s grace lays siege against those sins fortified by habitual practice. Conviction strikes and intensifies. A healthy fear of God and a growing love of God bang away at the habit. The Word of God teaches us the value of repentance and prayer and brotherly accountability, all of which are part of God’s continuing grace to free us from habitual sins…

God has put into our hearts a new principle. It is a love for righteousness, and as it grows it nudges old habits till they drop. Over many years we can see this governing principle in the changed life it produces. Or, we will not see it, and thus will rightly call into question the reality of our repentance and question whether we really are under the grace of God.