Monday, April 30, 2012

The Constant Reader

P&R Publishing will soon be releasing a new title dealing with the trustworthiness of Scripture. It is entitled Did God Really Say? Affirming The Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture. The book is edited by Dr. David Garner who is also a contributor.

"Current discussion about the nature of Scripture circles around a plethora of topics, each of them painfully complicated. Here a handful of scholars tackles seven of them -- including the nature and development of the canon, the place of Warfield, God's relation to language, and the views of N. T. Wright. With firmness and fairness, not to say remarkable simplicity, these writers identify the fundamental issues and bring clarity to their joyful confessionalism.
- D. A. Carson

"Just when the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture seemed matters of agreement among conservative theologians, along comes a new day and calls everything into question again. Kudos, then, to David Garner and his panel of writers for addressing the doctrine of Scripture again. Did God Really Say clears away the rubble of contemporary error and prejudice making way for clear thinking and orthodox confession on an issue of vital importance. Nothing could be more vital for our times and we are in their debt.”
- Derek Thomas, Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, RTS

Here are a few more titles dealing with the trustworthiness of Scripture:
Christ And The Bible by John Wenham
Jesus And The Eyewitnesses by Richard Baukham
The Historical Reliability Of The Gospels by Craig Blomberg
On The Reliability Of The Old Testament by K.A. Kitchen

Sunday, April 29, 2012

If we must offend, let it be for the right reasons...

I have posted before (here & here) about my concern over claims made by some that they died, went to heaven, and were miraculously returned to earth. Evangelicals love this stuff. A recent article in The New York Times by Maud Newton, although misguided in many ways, illustrates the heart of the problem with such tales. There is no source of authority for such claims outside of the person's subjective experience. This, unfortunately, is becoming normative within evangelicalism. Books that rest on internal claims of authority are all the rage. A woman goes into the woods, Jesus dictates a book to her and it sells a gajillion copies. And how do we know Jesus dictated the book to her? Because she says so. Oh, she's careful to point out that what Jesus dictated to her is somehow less authoritative than the Bible, and certainly not inerrant. But one wonders, why? Why should Jesus' direct revelation to her be less authoritative than his direct revelation to Paul? But I digress. 

If we must offend let it be on account of the gospel which is a stumbling block. Let it not be because of fanciful claims and false promises.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Pastors Ought To Be Doing

Great counsel from Doug Sweeney on how pastors can best serve God's people:
1. Our churches and our world desperately need pastors to lead and teach theologically.
We clearly can't rely on families to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (though a minority of them are doing so). We can't rely on television or radio preachers to feed us (though, again, some are trying). We shouldn't assume that people are finding theological nourishment in their local Christian bookstores. Our pastors truly need to give themselves far more fully to a ministry of the Word that is profound and systematic, as well as personally, ecclesially, and socio-culturally relevant.
2. Not all pastors are able to function as big-hitting theologians (serving the church and world at large).
Some don't have the time. Many are serving churches that won't allow this kind of stewardship. Some don't have the intellectual gifts or writing skills. Many pastors in large churches have assignments that include very little preaching and teaching. So let's be honest about this: the kind of theological leadership that the world so desperately needs is not for everyone engaged in pastoral ministry.

3. All pastors should lead and inform their people theologically.
Not everyone can be a great theological leader. Not everyone can write books or make a splash in the media. But ordained clergy are called to the sacred ministry of the gospel and the eternal Word of God---not to motivational speaking, popular psychology, folk wisdom, life coaching, or marketing the faith (though we often engage these other things in ancillary ways).

4. Some pastor-theologians should recognize that God has called, prepared, and equipped them for the serious, sustained, theological leadership of their own congregations, denominations, and the Christian church at large.
This wider ministry often requires strong encouragement from those who know us well. People who fit this description are often tempted to believe that insofar as they serve the Lord in trans-congregational ministry they are shirking their main duty to their local congregations. Sometimes this is true; but it is not always true. It is possible to serve well in a local congregation and to serve the church at large. And people called to both assignments are actually sinning against the Lord if they neglect the larger church.

5. We will always need schools for the training of ministry leaders.
There are many churches one can serve with little or no advanced training. But it would be difficult today to become a theological leader without the benefit of a solid theological education. Seminaries, especially, offer such a rich and varied menu of specialized studies in fields related to Christian ministry---ancient languages and history, church history, philosophy, psychology, hermeneutics, intercultural studies, and so on--that it is impossible to replicate what they do outside the academy. History teaches that reformation in the church is usually led by intellectuals---people who understand the past and know how to chart a different course for the people of God moving forward. One doesn't need much education to maintain the status quo. But to reform and improve the church one needs to understand its problems and have access to the tools by which we can solve them.
Read the rest HERE.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Church by Mark Dever

The first chapter of Mark Dever's important book The Church is available on-line HERE.

"I’m not sure that I know anyone who has read more on ecclesiology, from the whole breadth of Christian tradition, than Mark Dever. So, his exegesis is not done in isolation but in conversation with twenty centuries of Christian thinking. As a Presbyterian, I would encourage non-Baptists and non-Congregationalists to read and engage with Mark's work, not only because it is so well done, biblical, and helpful, but also because of a huge evangelical blind spot the book addresses. Ecclesiology is indisputably one of evangelicalism’s great weaknesses, in part because of subjectivism, individualism, and pragmatism. Mark offers a robust corrective to this, and even where you may disagree you will find yourself edified and instructed. Mark approaches this subject not simply as a skilled historical theologian and systematician, but also as a local church pastor who has fostered a vital and healthy embrace of biblical polity in his own congregation, with happy results. He is no ‘dry-land sailor’ or impractical theoretician but a faithful shepherd. The growth and life and fruitfulness of his flock testify to this."
- Ligon Duncan, Senior minister, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi

A Church "Rescue" Plan

 Ray Ortlund offers a sure fire way to "rescue" your church in only three weeks:
Week One:
Walk into church this Sunday and think about how long you’ve been a member, how much you’ve sacrificed, how under-appreciated you are. Take note of every way you’re dissatisfied with your church now. Take note of every person who displeases you. Take note of all the new people whose presence is changing your church.

Meet for coffee next week with another member and “share your heart.” Discuss how much your church is changing, how you and others are being left out. Ask your friend who else in the church has “concerns.” Agree together that you must “pray about it.”

Week Two:
Send an email to a few other “concerned” members. Inform them that a groundswell of grievance is surfacing in your church. Problems have gone unaddressed for too long. Ask them to keep the matter to themselves “for the sake of the body.”

As complaints come in, form them into a petition to demand an accounting from the leaders of the church. Circulate the petition quietly. Gathering support will be easy. Even happy members can be used if you appeal to their sense of fairness – that your side deserves a hearing too. Be sure to proceed in a way that conforms to your church constitution, so that your petition is procedurally correct.

Week Three:
When the growing moral fervor, ill-defined but powerful, reaches critical mass, confront the elders with your demands. Inform them of all the woundedness in the church, which leaves you with no choice but to put your petition forward. Inform them that, for the sake of reconciliation, the concerns of the body must be satisfied.

Whatever happens from this point on, you have won. You have changed the subject in your church from gospel advance to your own negativity. To some degree, you will get your way. Your church will need several years to recover. But at any future time, you can do it all again and keep your church exactly where you want it. It only takes three weeks.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Constant Reader

P&R Publishing has a proven track record of publishing great books. Recently I spent time in three of their newer titles.

Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry An Entertainment Culture by Brian Cosby
Giving Up Gimmicks is a celebration of the ordinary yet powerful means God has given his church to win the lost and makes disciples. I wish this book had been available to me as a young youth pastor. Although Cosby's views of the sacraments are from an historic Presbyterian perspective, I would encourage every baptist youth pastor to read this book carefully.

"For more than a generation now we have sought to attract and entertain our precious youth rather than nurture them by grace. The majority have responded by turning their backs on the church. Brian Cosby has listened to their heart and is offering us the best biblical guidance we could ever hope to receive."- Michael Card, Award-winning Singer, Songwriter, and Author

7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind by Anthony Selvaggio
In this helpful book, Anthony Selvaggio examines 7 decidedly unchristian ideas that are commonly held by Christians. He takes us deeper than outward behaviors and helps us to focus on the ideas that fuel them. I think 7 Toxic Ideas is going to end up on my regular list of recommended books.

"By making good things ultimate things -- love becomes lust, rest becomes sloth, and so on -- we fall into what used to be called the seven deadly sins. We have a harder time spotting the seven modern idolatries that Anthony Selvaggio outlines for us, but the process is similar: individuality becomes individualism, equal opportunity becomes egalitarianism, and so on. Seven Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind helps us to spot those current tendencies and, with God’s grace, contain them."- Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-chief, WORLD

Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life by Sam Allberry
It is an unfortunate reality that the resurrection of Jesus is a subject that has inexplicably been neglected compared to other important doctrines. Sam Allberry has written a book that seeks to help the reader understand the present power of Jesus' resurrection in the lives of all those who believe. Don't make your consideration of the resurrection of Jesus something that is confined to one Sunday in the Spring. Allberry helps us to understand how our joy, hope, assurance of salvation, and transformation are all tethered to Jesus' resurrection.

"Sam Allberry has written a wonderful book on the significance of the resurrection. Full of great images, clearly organized, encouraging, humorous, biblical, insightful – I could go on. Reading this little volume on a central but neglected topic will benefit your life. If you would like more assurance, transformation, hope and purpose, this book shows you how we get all that from the resurrection of Christ."
- Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why the Bible will not allow me to say, "God simply allows..."

From an excellent post by Kevin DeYoung on the meaning of God's providence:
The God of the Old Testament (and the New Testament for that matter) is a God with absolute power and sovereign sway over all things. “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the people” (Psalm 33:10). “He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses” (Psalm 135:7). He shuts the mouths of lions to preserve the righteous (Dan. 6:22) and unleashes lions to judge the wicked (2 Kings 17:25). He hardens hearts (Exodus 14:17; Joshua 11:20).

God cannot sin. He is not the author or actor of evil. But we mustn’t say he simply allows for certain events to take place, even events full of sin and suffering, as if God had nothing to do with the cross (Acts 4:27-30) and has nothing to do with most of what transpires in our world. The sovereign will of God is more all-encompassing that we might imagine.

• ”God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem” (Judges 9:23).
• ”Now the Spirit of the Lord has departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14).
• ”I am the Lord and there is no other. I form the light and create disaster; I bring prosperity and create disaster; I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7).
• ”When disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it” (Amos 3:6).

Even death is in the Lord’s hands.

• ”The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6).
• ”There is no other god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life. I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).

From the big pictures to the tiniest details, the Old Testament teaches that God guides all our steps.

• ”The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33).
• ”A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” (Prov. 20:24).
• ”I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his step” (Jeremiah 10:23).
• ”All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

Our God, Daniel says, “does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). And in Isaiah the Lord declares: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God ant there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa. 46:9-10). God is God because he has the power to do what he wants, the wisdom to carry it out, and the sovereign authority to immutably appoint whatsoever shall come to pass.
Read the entire post HERE.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where Pastors Need To Grow

Excellent post from Brian Croft over at Practical Shepherding:

What are 5 areas in which a pastor should be growing each year?
Pastors are instructed to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3). The pastor can feel a bit overwhelmed when considering the implications of that instruction. Because of this, we can lose sight of the need to mature and grow for the sake of our own personal sanctification, not solely because others are looking to us. In light of this temptation, here are a few areas that pastors need to double-check to make sure there is annual progressive growth. These revolve around the pastor’s soul and the longevity of his ministry:
1) A closer walk and intimacy with Christ. Pastors should honestly evaluate whether they feel closer to Christ and the fellowship of his spirit is sweeter now than a year ago. The power behind a pastor’s ministry is how closely he walks with God every day, relies upon Christ, trusts in his Word, and grows in holiness because of it.

2) A greater love and appreciation for his wife. Every year a pastor completes, he not only survived another year of pressures and demands of ministry, but so did his wife. Additionally, she walked through the pressures and demands with him and cared for him through them. Pastor, if you find you are not growing in love and appreciation for your wife, it is an indictment you have lost sight of the unique treasure she is to you, your children, and your ministry.

3) A greater resolve to shepherd and invest in his children. Time with our children is flying by. One more year means they have had one more year of the world to mold their character and form their thinking, or you have by teaching them God’s Word and modeling that Word before them. Time is ticking. Other things can wait. Do not waste one year with them.

4) A heightened sense of his expendability. I have been saying for a while now that I want the mantra of my ministry to be “Expendable, but Appreciated.” If we see ourselves as more expendable every year, then we will be leading, delegating, and shepherding in such a way that will not build the church around us. It is good for the pastor’s soul to remember God does not need us, but allows us to participate in this kingdom work.

5) An increased appreciation by others for his labors. This is the one that is more out of our control as we cannot control what others think of us, nor should we try. However, if we are making ourselves more expendable, then hopefully the affection of our people towards us comes from appreciation for our labors, not because we are essential to the church’s survival. This should not be difficult as we have had one more year to do what we do. One more year of praying and ministering the Word with our folks. One more year of them sitting under our public preaching. One more year to be in their homes and visiting them in the hospital. One more year to be with them and guiding them when tragedy strikes.

There are certainly more, but these are the ones I think are most important when thinking about essential annual growth of the pastor. Out of all that could be chosen, I pray you see the strategic nature of this list. Steady, annual growth in each of these areas are essential for a long, fruitful ministry.

Excellent Stuff From 9Marks

WTSBooks is running a special on some excellent new resources from 9Marks. Anyone interested in the health of the church, elders, pastors, and ministry leaders particularly would benefit from these resources.
First, there are the 9Marks "Building Healthy Churches" booklets. These are brief books each explaining a particular area of church health. Highly recommended.
Second are the "Healthy Church Study Guides" also from 9Marks. These are designed for group study and would be very helpful for Christians seeking to have a deeper understanding of what the church is and why it exists. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 14 in our current series through Philippians. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spurgeon's response to slander

From a letter to his father in 1855 responding to public criticism of his ministry:

DEAR FATHER,—DO not be grieved at the slanderous libel in this week's Express. Of course, it is all a lie, without an atom of foundation; and while the whole of London is talking of me, and thousands are unable to get near the door, the opinion of a penny-a-liner is of little consequence.

I beseech you not to write: but if you can see Mr. Harvey, or some official, it might do good. A full reply on all points will appear next week.

I only fear for you; I do not like you to be grieved. For myself I WILL REJOICE; the devil is roused, the Church is awakening, and I am now counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake... Good ballast, father, good ballast; but, oh! remember what I have said before, and do not check me.

Last night, I could not sleep till morning light, but now my Master has cheered me; and I "hail reproach, and welcome shame." Love to you all, especially to my dearest mother. I mean to come home April 16th. So amen.

Your affectionate son, C. H. SPURGEON.

Piper on Spurgeon

When you get a chance, listen to this excellent address on the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon delivered by John Piper in 1995. If you are a pastor you absolutely must listen and read the manuscript. If you are not a pastor but would like to better understand your pastor and be edified simultaneously then take time to listen.

Some beautiful gems from Spurgeon:
"I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable ... Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister's library."

"This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord's richer benison."

"It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this 'heavy clay', but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while."

"I have found it utterly impossible to please, let me say or do what I will. One becomes somewhat indifferent when dealing with those whom every word offends. I notice that, when I have measured my words, and weighed my sentences most carefully, I have then offended most; while some of my stronger utterances have passed unnoticed. Therefore, I am comparatively careless as to how my expressions may be received, and only anxious that they may be in themselves just and true."

"You never met an old salt, down by the sea, who was in trouble because the tide had been ebbing out for hours. No! He waits confidently for the turn of the tide, and it comes in due time. Yonder rock has been uncovered during the last half-hour, and if the sea continues to ebb out for weeks, there will be no water in the English Channel, and the French will walk over from Cherbourg. Nobody talks in that childish way, for such an ebb will never come. Nor will we speak as though the gospel would be routed, and eternal truth driven out of the land. We serve an almighty Master ... If our Lord does but stamp His foot, He can win for Himself all the nations of the earth against heathenism, and Mohammedanism, and Agnosticism, and Modern-thought, and every other foul error. Who is he that can harm us if we follow Jesus? How can His cause be defeated? At His will, converts will flock to His truth as numerous as the sands of the sea ... Wherefore be of good courage, and go on your way singing."


Ligon Duncan: “The Gospel Preaching of the Cross”

Ligon Duncan is one of my favorite preachers and it is not just because of his amazing voice. Dr. Duncan has a peculiar gift of combining exegetical precision, doctrinal depth, and pastoral warmth in all his preaching. His message at Together For The Gospel this year is a wonderful example of this.

1 Corinthians 1:17-31:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

            “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

                        and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

            Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

            For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Paul explains here how, why, and to what end he does ministry. This is why Paul endured countless discouragements in his life. Paul is aware that what he is giving himself to looks foolish and weak to so many. So Paul explaining why, considering the reaction, he continues to do what he does.

1. The activity of preaching (the how of Paul’s ministry)

The Lord sent Paul to preach, not baptize (V. 17). Paul wants the Corinthians to understand how God uses the preaching of the cross in the lives of his people.

“Preaching entails a word-mediated encounter with the living God."

Paul contrasts preaching with:
a) Baptism

Paul is not denigrating baptism. However, this is a death blow to all sacerdotalism (a priestly theology of baptism).

Sacraments are always confirmatory of the Word, not primary over it. Apart from the preaching of the Word, sacraments are empty. The Word is always primary.

b) Eloquent rhetoric

It is clear that some among the Corinthian believers wanted a sort of “sacred rhetoric” from Paul. There were those who had a very low opinion of Paul’s skills as a preacher. So he is letting them know that his task is not to achieve recognition for eloquence.

The method and means of preaching was chosen by God to highlight His own power. Preaching is proclaiming what God has done in Christ Jesus. Preaching points to God’s activity. It magnifies His power and glory.

To the mind boggling challenge of billions of lost men and women in the world, the risen Jesus says, “Preach the cross and I will build my church.” The method seems so silly and weak. There is no boasting in this method. Only God can use such a weak means to accomplish such a grand goal.

Preaching is explaining an event that has claims upon every soul.

“A sermon is an applicatory declaration spoken in God’s name and for his praise in which some part of the written Word of God delivers through the preacher some part of its message about God and godliness in relation to those whom the preacher addresses.”
- J.I. Packer

Ezekiel 37 – The vision of the valley of dry bones which is a picture of Israel having no hope because of their sin. God asks the prophet, “Can these dry bones live?” Ezekiel replies, “You know Lord.” Indeed He does. So God calls the prophet to preach to the bones. In response the Spirit of God so moved that the dry bones were brought to life and built into a mighty army. It is through the preached Word of God that the Spirit of God brings His people into an encounter with the living God.

How can we know God? The answer is, however God determines that we will know him. God makes himself known through the preaching of his Word (Romans 10).

Pray for your preachers not to lose confidence in preaching.

2. The message that Paul is called to preach

The Word of the cross is the power of God (v. 18).

Doctrine is more important in Christianity than in any other religion because all religions save Christianity are interested primarily in offering good advice for self-improvement. But Christianity is about the truth of who God is, who we are, and what God has done to save us. Therefore we need doctrine to understand what we must know. We must look outside ourselves for the answers we need.

Romans 8:32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

a) The Father’s love

b) The cost which the Father has born for our salvation

c) The preciousness of the Son

d) The Father has offered His precious Son for us

Romans 5:6, 8, 10:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

3. The effect of the preaching of the cross in the lives of those who are saved

Vv. 26-31:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Through the cross God deals with the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the presence of sin.

PCRT 3 - "The Gospel Power of God"

Sinclair Ferguson...

Romans 1:16-17:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The Christian community at Rome lived at the epicenter of world power. If you were to ask the residents of Rome to define “power” they may well have answered with one word: Rome. In comparison to Rome, these small Roman house churches would have been the very embodiment of weakness. But not only for the smallness of their size, the church in Rome was weak internally as well. There were fractures in their unity and love for one another. There were tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians. They were almost certainly fearful of the powerful empire under whose heavy hand they lived. And how does Paul seek to address their weakness, fears, and flaws? He points them to the powerful gospel.

From what does the gospel save us?

1. The gospel saves us from the wrath of God. Outside of Christ, our chief problem is the wrath of God (Eph 2).

What do I do when my conscience condemns me? It is in those times that we must remember that God is greater than our hearts.

We must not forget that Jesus has taken upon himself the wrath of the Father. “No condemnation now I dread.” Do we live as a people who are deeply aware of the fact that the Father has delivered us from his wrath? This is the magnificence of the work of Christ.

God’s gospel saves us from God’s own wrath, through God’s own Son, for God’s own glory.

2. The gospel saves us from our sin.

Our sin goes down, down, down. But where sin abounded grace has abounded all the more. There is more grace in Jesus Christ than there is sin in me. However deep my sin goes, God’s grace goes down deeper.

We may well be satisfied with a message that there is enough grace to match our sin. But God is much more gracious than we imagine him to be. God does not give enough grace to match our sins. He gives grace that is greater than our sin.

In Romans 6 Paul writes that we have come to be united to a Christ who died to the dominion of sin. He bore the guilt of sin and entered into that world where sin expressed its dominion in his death. But Jesus was raised. And, as we learn in Romans 4, in His resurrection in our justification for in Christ we are set free from the dominion of sin.

In Christ we have been transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of light. Sin is surely present and will be till the day we see our Lord. But even now sin’s reign over us has been broken.

Years after his conversion, Augustine was approached on the street by his former paramour who, recognizing her former lover said, “Augustine it is I.” To which Augustine said, “Yes I see. But it is no longer I.”

In Christ we are no longer what we were. We are now in Christ, not in sin.

This is not to say that the Christian no longer sins. We know better than that. The Christian must still fight to be sure. Just as there was much fighting in Europe between D-Day and V-Day so there is much fighting with sin until we are finally delivered from this fallen world.

3. The gospel saves us from the devil.

“The God of peace will soon crush satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20).

Satan knows his end. He knows he cannot destroy a Christian or snatch him from the Father’s saving grace. So satan fights to make the Christian miserable.

Romans 8:31-35:
            What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Who is the “who” of Romans 8? Without mentioning his name, Paul accurately describes the tactics of satan. It is Satan who threatens and condemns and frightens.

So how do we know that God is for us when satan does his worst against us?

We know, says Paul, because the for our salvation, the Father did not spare his own beloved Son. So if the Father has given us his best, most precious treasure, what then will he withhold from us?

If God has given his own son for us then we can be sure that he will stop at nothing to bring us all the way home.

PCRT 2 - The Gospel Remedy For Bad News

Harry Reeder, the pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama was the speaker for the morning session. I was immediately struck by his deep southern accent. Quite a contrast to Dr. Ferguson's Scottish brogue.

Romans 3:9-26:
            What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
            “None is righteous, no, not one;
                        no one understands;
                        no one seeks for God.
            All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
                        no one does good,
                        not even one.”
            “Their throat is an open grave;
                        they use their tongues to deceive.”
            “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
                        “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
            “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
                        in their paths are ruin and misery,
            and the way of peace they have not known.”
                        “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

            Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

            But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

There are many things being named “gospel” that are not the gospel. If we get the gospel wrong, we get everything else wrong. The gospel is the “matter of first importance” (1 Cor. 15).

There will be no spiritual awakening apart from a revived church. And there will be no revival apart from the recovery and proclamation of the biblical gospel.

Every religion in the world save one offers a self-engineered salvation. The “good news” of these religions and systems is that man is good enough to behave his way into salvation. Only Christianity tells man that he is hopelessly sinful and therefore completely unable to save or even help himself. The bad news of man’s inability is unique to Christianity. But it is absolutely essential to understanding the good news.

1. What is our situation?

We are not born morally neutral. We are born sinners which explains why we sin. Our actual sin is the result of our sinful nature.

Sin is an attempt to assassinate God’s glory. We are born as truth-suppressors. We are not born sin-sick but sin-dead.

Therefore we need a Savior who can deal decisively with our deadness. Our need is not for a heavenly life coach. We do not need to be made better. We are dead and need to be brought to life.

We are under an indictment by a holy God who refuses to ignore sin. Because of his justice, God is bound by his own perfect character to punish sinners.

2. God’s Solution

Romans 3:21-22 – “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

Romans 3:23-25 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”

All of this was to show God’s righteousness. The Father sending the Son, far from diminishing his righteousness, vindicates his righteousness (Vv. 25b-26).

The gospel is not an invitation to “give your heart to Jesus.” The gospel is the good news that Jesus, by his death and resurrection, gives you a new heart.

Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

On the cross Jesus met the demands of God’s holiness. This is the way in which God is both just and justifier.

Jesus became all that he hated (sin) and drank the full cup of the Father’s wrath that we might receive what we did not deserve (grace).

3. Our Salvation

The salvation that was purchased for us through the substitutionary death of Jesus is appropriated by sinners through the means of repentance and faith. And it is only by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit that sinner will turn in faith to Jesus.

“May our churches be a safe haven for sinners but a death trap for sin.”
The salvation we have in Jesus is not an expression of "unconditional love." This is a common error of sentimentality and it ultimately an insult to the cross. Jesus died to meet the holy and just conditions of God's gracious love.

Friday, April 20, 2012

PCRT 1 - The Gospel of Great Joy

For this boy from Houston, Texas, raised in a contemporary Southern Baptist mega-church, it is a moving experience to enter the beautiful old sanctuary of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia to the sound of trumpet, horn, and organ reverberating through those grand arches.

The theme of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology this year is The Gospel: What, Why, and How?

The PCRT is a ministry of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and was the vision of the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice, long-time pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church.

The service began with the singing of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Following, the choir and orchestra presented Beethoven’s Hallelujah! from Christ on the Mount of Olives.

Hallelujah unto God’s almighty Son!
Praise the Lord, ye bright angelic choirs in holy songs of joy.
Man, proclaim His grace and glory. Halleluja!

Yes, friends, the Protestant faith is historic, reverent, and beautiful.

The message was delivered by Sinclair Ferguson. The title of the message was “The Gospel of Great Joy” and was taken from Luke 2:8-14:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
          “Glory to God in the highest,
                    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

There was something quite moving about hearing this text read and preached in April. As Dr. Ferguson noted: “Many people are probably too exhausted at Christmastime to rejoice in the gospel.”

In Jesus’ upper room discourse he explained to his disciples that his desire was that their joy would be full. When a pregnant Mary encountered a pregnant Elizabeth, the latter’s baby leaped for joy in her womb. Jesus is a joyful Savior, His gospel is a joyful message, and it is His desire for his people to be a joyful lot. Indeed, the gospel produces joy in the hearts of God’s people.

The angelic announcement to the shepherds in their fields is the proto-euangelion (first gospel announcement) of Luke’s Gospel. And this particular event helps us to understand why it is that the gospel is a message of “great joy.”

1. The great joy of the gospel lies in the identity of the baby.

The baby’s identity is a message of great joy because he is a Savior.

It is likely that the sheep that the shepherds were caring for were raised for the purposes of temple sacrifice. If this is so, then the message of a Savior from heaven would have been particularly relevant for them. They knew about sacrifice. Could it be that they also knew that the blood of these animals over which they watched could not truly forgive their sins? Could it be that they understood that not a single lamb under their care could be their savior?

How marvelous that the angel would say, “a Savior has been born to you.” It would make sense if the angel had said that a Savior had been born to Mary and Joseph. But this Savior was for those humble shepherds. The Savior who was born was for men and women of every nation, tribe, and tongue.

2. There is great joy seen in the wonder of the sign that will point them to the baby.

The baby was to be laid in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. The practice at that time was to bind fast a newborn because of a belief that their limbs would be deformed otherwise. It is a striking thought to consider that the incarnate God was, from the time of his birth, bound for our sake. It is a humble image. It is the sign of the one who humbled himself by “taking the form of a slave and becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

The baby bound in swaddling cloths would become the crucified Savior bound in burial cloths.
When we consider what the Savior has done for us, the lengths to which he reached how can we not have a deep, robust, and enduring joy?

3. There is great joy that comes to the shepherds as recipients of the good news.

How extraordinary that this angelic announcement would come to common men. God is not a respecter of persons. The announcement of the Savior is meant to be heard by all. Certainly the shepherds outside Bethlehem did not think themselves great.

4. The impact of the Savior’s coming on the angel’s joy

How joyful must this have been for the angels! They have no greater joy than to praise their King. The One who the maker of the angles has stooped to be made a little lower than the angels that He might save for Himself a people. They are witness to this unfolding drama of God’s redemptive work.

There can only be glory and joy in the highest when there is peace with God among His people. And there will only be joy on earth when there is glory to God.

Paradise has become a wilderness. It is full of violence and shame. And into this disordered and fallen wilderness the Savior comes to do what Adam failed to do by his perfect obedience. The Savior comes to accomplish what countless lambs and priests could only signal.


I have been asked by the Alliance Of Confessing Evangelicals to live blog the Philadelphia Conference On Reformed Theology. The conference begins this evening with a message from Sinclair Ferguson. More to come...

Thursday, April 19, 2012


So you are interested in dating my daughter...

Absolute brilliance from Jared Wilson:
1. You must love Jesus. I don't care if you're a "good Christian boy." I was one of those too. So I know the tricks. I'm going to ask you specific, heart-testing questions about your spiritual affections, your daily devotional life, your idols, your disciplines, and the like. I'll cut you a little bit of slack because you're young and hormonal and your pre-frontal lobe isn't fully developed yet, but I'll be watching you like a hawk. I know you. I was you. You will think you can fool me, and you likely have fooled many other dads who didn't pay much attention to their daughters' suitors, but I will be on you like Bourne on that guy whose neck he broke. Which guy was that? Every guy. So love Jesus more than my daughter or go home.

2. You will install X3Watch or Covenant Eyes on your computer and mobile devices and have your regular reports sent to me.

3. I will talk to your dad and tell him I will hold him responsible if you don't treat my daughter like a lady. If he thinks I'm a crazy person, you fail the test and won't get to date her. If he understands what I'm saying, that bodes well for you.

4. You will pay for everything. Oh, sure, every now and then my daughter can buy you a Coke or something and a gift on your birthday and at Christmas. But you pay for meals, movies, outings, whatever else. Don't have a job? I'm sorry, why I am talking to you again?

5. You will accept my Facebook friend request.

6. If it looks like you need a belt to hold your pants up, I will assume you don't have a job. See #4.

7. Young people dating are putting their best face forward, so if you appear impatient, ill-tempered, or ill-mannered, I know you will gradually become more so over time. I will have no jerks dating my daughters.

8. If I am not your pastor, I will talk to the man who is. If your pastor is a woman, why I am talking to you, again?

9. You don't love my daughter. You have no idea what love is. You like her and you might love her someday. That's an okay start with me, so put the seatbelt on the mushy gushy stuff. Don't profess your undying love, quote stupid love song lyrics to her, tell her you'd die for her, or feed her any other boneheaded lines that are way out of your depth as a horny little idiot. A lady's heart is a fragile thing. If you play with hers, I will show you yours.

10. If you ever find yourself alone with my daughter, don't panic. Just correct the situation immediately. If I ever catch you trying to get alone with my daughter, that would be the time to panic.

11. It may sound like I'm joking in threatening you harm, and while I might not physically hurt you if you offend my daughter or violate her honor, when I am addressing the issue with you, you will not be laughing.

12. You may think all this sounds very legalistic. That's fine. You can be one of the many antinomians not dating my daughter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More Helpful Books on the Doctrine of Scripture

Last week I posted a list of books dealing with the Scripture's inerrancy. Here are a few more titles that are quite helpful:
Understanding Scripture, Grudem, Collins, & Schreiner editors
Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger
Scripture and Truth, Carson & Woodbridge editors
Inerrancy And Worldview by Vern Poythress

The Best Sermon On Missions I Have Ever Heard

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Any Discouraged Pastors Out There?

I so appreciated Ligon Duncan's message at T4G. His text was 1 Kings 19 which describes Elijah's seemingly inexplicable fear and despair after seeing God's mighty work on Mount Carmel. How easily we give in to discouragement and fear! Take time to listen to this wonderful sermon: