Wednesday, June 16, 2010

He was the right man at the right time

God does not give every pastor the same kind of ministry. Some pastors serve in well known churches and receive a great deal of attention. Most pastors serve small congregations and receive little or no attention or praise. Some pastors serve faithfully. Others fail tragically. Some pastors seem to come along at just the right time. This was the case with James Montgomery Boice who served as senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death from cancer on June 15, 2000. Dr. Boice was the model of the pastor/theologian. He was a man of books with a heart for ministry. He was committed to God's glory and his city. There are few men whose preaching and ministry I admire as much as that of James Boice.

Over at Ref21 Rick Phillip has written a fitting eulogy for his pastor and mentor.

In my opinion, the reason for James Boice's influence and legacy is seldom understood. What was it about him that drew so wide an audience of pastors and laypeople? The answer is that as a Reformed theologian, James Boice was a Christian first. That is, the issues for which he stood were Christian issues: the inerrancy of Scripture, the gospel of faith in Jesus, the sin-cleansing power of Christ's blood, and the Christian witness for the salvation of the lost. It is true that Boice served this Christian and evangelical cause from a distinctively Reformed perspective, but his cause was simply that of Christ and his gospel. It is in this way that Boice so ably advanced the credibility of Reformed theology within evangelicalism, by showing that it is only the Reformed doctrine that can consistently uphold Christian distinctives. Boice taught, proved, and defended Calvinism by teaching, proving, and defending the Bible. On a personal level this Christ-centered priority was also true for James Boice. While Boice was a Calvinist through and through, his passion was for the person and work of Jesus Christ, and his labor was offered in personal service to his living and reigning Lord and Savior. Calvinism was ever the servant of Boice's passion for Jesus and never the master.

I think that James Boice's ministerial career can be seen in three phases. The first phase of his career, from the mid-1960's to around 1980, involved the defense of evangelical doctrine against liberal assaults. These were the years when Boice was wrapping up the education he received in liberal institutions like Princeton Seminary and the University of Basel. In his John commentary, dating from these early years, one will frequently read Boice defending the Bible from the interpretations of liberals like Rudolf Bultmann. These were also the years when Boice was ordained in the liberal United Presbyterian Church, so that the context for his ministry was that of opposition to liberal attacks on the Bible. It is no surprise that Boice's chief concern during these years was to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, as seen in his leadership of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).

The second phase of Boice's ministry took place from around 1980-- when Tenth Presbyterian Church left the liberal UPC and eventually made its way into the evangelical Presbyterian Church in America -- until 1993. This phase of Boice's ministry focused on the teaching of Reformed theology within an evangelical context. Boice believed that the evangelical movement could only maintain its doctrinal moorings (and therefore its spiritual vitality) by standing on the foundation laid by the Protestant Reformers (and the apostles before them). The crowning achievements of this period of Boice's ministry were his four-volume commentary on Romans, which not only lays out the biblical basis for Reformed doctrine but also shows the necessity of these doctrines for Christian faith and life, and his lay-friendly systematic theology, Foundations of the Christian Faith.

The final phase of Boice's ministry can be dated from the publishing of David Well's book, No Place for Truth, in 1993, which uncovered the looming danger of worldliness in the faith and practice of evangelical churches. These years saw Boice emphasize not merely the inerrancy of the Bible but also the sufficiency of Scripture for the church's evangelism, holiness, guidance, and cultural impact. It was around this time, 1994, that Boice (along with Michael Horton) founded the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals, which carries on his work to this day. One of Boice's final and best books issued this clarion call to reformation, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? a book which retains every bit of its relevance today and will continue to be relevant for decades to come.

Read the entire peice HERE.

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