Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This could get interesting...

The latest Mortification of Spin is now online and it may get a bit bumpy. Carl and I talk to Frank and Dan of Pyromaniacs about such things as cessationism and the sufficiency of God's Word.
How sufficient is God's Word? Do the charismatic gifts have a place in the church today? Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt are joined via satellite by the Pyromaniacs themselves - Dan Phillips and Frank Turk. The group discusses the cessationism of the charismatic gifts. God has given us all we need in his own, true, infallible word. Listen to the Mortification of Spin to hear their insights on this hotly debated topic.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 5 in our series through Ruth. It is entitled "The Purposes of God and the Plans of Man" and can be listened to HERE.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Who is watching the Watchmen?

Carl Trueman offers some necessary food for thought related to a recent dustup on the Janet Mefford show. For those of you who do not know, Janet Mefford recently interviewed Mark Driscoll on her syndicated radio program and it got a bit heated. Miss Mefford took Driscoll to task over large passages in his new book that she identifies as plagiarized from Dr. Peter Jones. I don't know if it is true or not. I do know that Janet Mefford is no dummy and she was quite specific with her charges. And while I was cringing when I first listened to the program, it was later revealed that Driscoll's people requested that Miss Mefford interview him about his new book. That changed everything in my mind. However, there are some who have come to Pastor Driscoll's defense. And this, Trueman argues, raises some serious concerns about the lack of accountability among the celebrities of evangelicalism.
The Mefferd-Driscoll controversy points to another aspect of celebrity culture: celebrities are routinely allowed to behave in ways which would not be tolerated in ordinary mortals.  For example, being drunk on the job and hurling abuse at an employer would make one unemployable in the real world.  Not for Charlie Sheen. A conviction for rape would be enough to have you characterized as a monster in the real world who had forfeited the right to sympathetic media exposure.   Not for Mike Tyson or Roman Polanski (just ask that champion of women's rights, Whoopi Goldberg).   In short, normal rules do not apply to celebrities in the same way as they do to others. 

The same is true in the celebritydrome of the evangelical subculture.   Driscoll is a classic case in point. For example, he has claimed that God gives him explicit images of the sexual sins of other people.  He has embraced prosperity teacher and denier of the Trinity, T. D. Jakes, as a brother. He has written an explicit book on sex. Most recently, he engaged in a cringe-inducing publicity stunt unworthy of a spoiled teenager. For most of us, any one of these things would have ended in church discipline and (in the Jakes' case) removal from office.  Yet in all of this, the fan base and those with a vested interest in capitalizing on his success grant him free pass after free pass. 
Read the entire post HERE.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Word of God kinda"

From Doug Wilson:
Last night I recorded a discussion with Adrian Warnock on cessationism. It will be available this coming Saturday — Premier Christian radio site will stream live on Saturday at 9:30am ET or 2:30pm UK.

As I hope the discussion will make clear, I know and understand that responsible continuationists affirm the doctrine of sola Scriptura. What I do not yet know, despite repeated questioning, is why they do.

My trouble is this. I have no category in my mind for prophecy lite, or Word of God kinda, or deutero-God-said.

If Henry Smith says, “God said x, y, and z to me,” that claim is either true or false. If it true, then what is the distinction in authoritative status between what God said to Henry Smith and what God said to Jeremiah? What possible basis could I have for taking one of them less seriously?

It is a serious question, and while I believe we had a robust and charitable discussion, I don’t believe it was addressed.
These are precisely my questions when I hear people claim, "God said to me," or "I felt God telling me..." Is Scripture not clear and sufficient? Has God promised to add to his authoritative and unerring word, a less authoritative, unclear, and possibly erring word?

You may want to read my thoughts on Sarah Young's Jesus Calling.

Talking up the Church Fathers

The latest edition of Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit is now online. Carl and I discuss the continuing relevance of men such as Athanasius and Augustine.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 3 of our series through Ruth. It is entitled "There Is A Redeemer" and can be listened to HERE.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why I Ran To Confessionalism

From the end of 2008 to 2013 I was the lead teaching pastor of a large non-denominational church in the northeast. During my time there I was told by various elders to lead the church in a more “broadly evangelical” direction. By others I was encouraged to lead the church to become more narrowly Reformed. I was told that our theological “tent” was too big and that it was too small. In those few years I understood the wisdom of the words of Dirty Harry, “A man has to know his limitations.” There are a few things I can do. There are other things I could probably learn to do. But one thing I will never know how to do is lead a church in two opposing directions simultaneously.

During that sojourn I came to the conviction that the entire project of “big tent” evangelicalism is failing. Whereas broad evangelicalism used to mean John Stott, now it encompasses Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Gregory Boyd. The tent pegs of evangelicalism’s big tent have been moved out too far. It can no longer support the weight of its own contradictions.

So, in August of 2013 I ran to confessionalism. Specifically my ordination was transferred to the Presbyterian Church in America and I became the Lead Pastor of a PCA congregation. The experience has been like finding an oasis in a desert. It has been like discovering a GPS after meandering blindly through an unknown country. Too dramatic? It does not feel that way to me. It is nearly impossible to effectively put down error and nurture unity within a church whose minimal statement of faith is only able to identify the grossest of heresies.

A church needs something more than a statement of faith that encompasses mere Christianity. As one of my fellow pastors put it recently, “a church’s confession needs lots of words.” Indeed. For example I know of an Old Testament professor who rejects much of the Bible but nevertheless insists on affirming inspiration. What he means by “inspiration” is radically different from what the church has historically affirmed. For this reason, a church which desires to maintain a biblically faithful and historically orthodox doctrine of Scripture must now be careful to use “lots of words” in explaining it. A church desiring to be doctrinally conservative can no longer state that they believe the Bible to be “inspired, truthful, and authoritative” and expect to properly guard its doctrinal boundaries. It sounds ridiculous perhaps. But such is the state of mere evangelicalism.

There are at least three reasons why I joyfully fled to a confessional church and denomination.

1. Only confessionalism is able to adequately guard a church’s doctrine.
Paul writes to Timothy that the church is the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15). Elsewhere he tells his young apprentice to “guard the pattern of sound words that you heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13). One of the essential qualifications of the elder is that he must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). What is more, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). I argue that a comprehensive confession of faith is what makes this possible. “No creed but the Bible” is simply not realistic. It fails to reckon with the fact that most Christians do not know the Bible well enough to have a properly formed system of doctrine which can defend against error. An excellent confession of faith, like the Westminster Confession of Faith or London Baptist Confession, properly summarizes Scripture thus equipping the church with not only a tool for instruction but a buttress against error.

2. Only confessionalism is able to adequately guard a church’s unity.
A church is not simply an umbrella organization for various individual’s ministries and hobbies. A church is not a convention hall for loosely connected groups of evangelicals. Confessions of faith act as a remedy against the balkanization of a local church. Essential to a church’s unity is agreement in doctrine and not just of the merest sort. A church cannot limit its statement of faith to that of the average para-church ministry and expect to maintain its unity for the long haul.

A few years ago I explained in a staff meeting why our leadership would not be endorsing a particular book. The book in question was then, and continues to be, enormously popular. The issue was discussed in three consecutive staff meetings with plenty of push back from several. My perspective was backed up by two other pastors on staff as well as some of the elders. But there was nothing in our rather mere statement of faith that spoke to the particular errors of the book in question. As a result no consensus was ever reached, no final decision made, and division rose as a result. Paul makes clear in Romans 16 that those who cause division in a church are not those who guard sound doctrine but those who seek to undermine it.

Without a clear confession of faith a church will a) be ruled by whoever has the most influential voice or b) break into various camps holding mutually exclusive positions on important matters. What it will not have is durable unity.

3. Confessionalism is properly aspirational.
I owe this insight to Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative. Confessions of faith are not first and foremost defensive. Rather they represent the aspirations the church holds for its members. Trueman writes: “[Confessions of faith] represent that which the church aspires to teach its members…If a church has a six-point creed or confession, she essentially communicates to her people that these six things, and only these, are important. Everything else is so minor that it forms no part of its identity” (177, 178). A church ought to desire something more for God’s people. A church ought to desire its members to be mature and maturing in their knowledge of God’s powerful and profitable Word. A church ought to aspire to more than simple agreement on the broadest possible doctrinal categories. It ought to aspire to greater things than simply “majoring on the majors.” Again, Trueman writes: “A good confession becomes not a stick with which to beat people…but an exciting map of the territory of biblical truth and something to which to aspire” (180).

None of this means that confessional churches are safe from the machinations of the enemy and the sins of its own members. We are still south of heaven after all. Confessional churches can and do struggle mightily. However, a confessional church within a confessional denomination is far better equipped to deal with the inevitable threats that arise.

The Constant Reader

On my Christmas list this year is From Heaven He Came And Sought Her.

The book even has its own website!

One of the most beautiful doctrines in Scripture is that of Christ's substitutionary and definite atonement (You cannot have one without the other!). When Christ died he did more than make salvation a potentiality. When Christ died, atonement was gloriously accomplished for all the elect. And yet even though the doctrine of Christ's definite atonement is quite clear in Scripture it is routinely rejected. This volume seeks to accurately explain and winsomely defend what the Bible teaches about the question: For whom did Christ die?

From the publisher:
Includes contributions from Michael A. G. Haykin, Paul Helm, Lee Gatiss, Carl R. Trueman, Paul R. Williamson, J. Alec Motyer, Thomas R. Schreiner, Donald Macleod, Robert Letham, Stephen J. Wellum, Henri A. G. Blocher, Sinclair B. Ferguson, John Piper, and more.

There is a palpable sense of confusion—and sometimes even embarrassment—with regard to so-called limited atonement today, pointing to the need for thoughtful engagement with this controversial doctrine.

Incorporating contributions from a host of respected theologians, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her stands as the first comprehensive resource on definite atonement as it examines the issue from historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral perspectives.

Offering scholarly insights for those seeking a thorough and well-researched discussion, this book will encourage charitable conversations as it winsomely defends this foundational tenet of Reformed theology.
 “I cannot imagine that this book could have been published twenty-five years ago: there were not at that time enough well-informed theologians working in the Reformed heritage to produce a volume of such clarity and competence. Whatever side you hold in this debate, henceforth you dare not venture into the discussion without thoughtfully reading this book, which, mercifully, makes argument by stereotype and reductionism a great deal more difficult. Above all, this book will elicit adoration as its readers ponder afresh what Jesus achieved on the cross.”
—D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“For whom did Christ die? This volume makes a fresh and impressively comprehensive case for definite atonement as the answer true to Scripture. It shows convincingly, through multi-authored contributions, (1) that the issues of the extent of the atonement and its nature cannot be separated—penal substitution, at the heart of why Christ had to die, stands or falls with definite atonement; and (2) how definite atonement alone provides for a gospel offer of salvation from sin that is genuinely free. In engaging various opposing views on this much-disputed topic, the editors seek to do so in a constructive and irenic spirit, an effort in which they and the other authors have succeeded admirably.”
—Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A daughter lost

Over at Credo (one of my favorite online resources) Fred Zaspel offers a deeply moving reflection on the life and recent death of his beloved daughter. Please take time to read it and pass it along.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is the meaning of sex?

On this week's edition of Mortification of Spin, Carl and I interview Dr. Denny Burk about his new book What Is The Meaning of Sex? Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quoting Jesus?

A few of my thoughts on Sarah Young's mega-seller Jesus Calling have been posted at Ref21.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 2 in our series through Ruth. It is entitled "Grace In The Dark Places" and can be listened to HERE.

Place For Truth

Check out the newest addition to the online presence of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is called Place For Truth and is well worth checking in on regularly. As you may already know the Alliance sponsors Mortification of Spin and the excellent Christward Collective and Reformation21.

Keep attending church

Gloria Furman has written a terrific piece over at the Gospel Coalition on the importance of attending the church's corporate worship. This is a timely correction to the hyper-individualism characterizing much of evangelicalism and the "I like Jesus but not religion" mantra. Miss Furman offers ten reasons why not forsaking the weekly public gatherings of the church is vital to your spiritual health.

Gloria Furman is a pastor's wife living in Dubai. She is also the author of Glimpses of Grace. Watch for an upcoming episode of Mortification of Spin where my pals and I interview Gloria on life and church in Dubai.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The University and the Death of Dissent

It has become clear that the university is no longer a place to think much less dissent from the wisdom of our cultural and academic betters. Do so and you may find yourself investigated by the BIRT (that's the Bias Incident Response Team for the uninitiated).
The next scene of our story occurred last month at the University of Mississippi, where 125 persons, including freshman students in a theater appreciation course, sat through a production of The Laramie Project. About 20 of the students were freshman football players probably taking the course after being told they could pass it easily: You just have to go sit in a theater, what could be hard about that?
Apparently, given the particular play, it was hard. Students became restless. Two New York Times investigative reporters learned about “giggling, inappropriate coughing and burping,” and the possible use of a derogatory term for homosexuals. One 20-year-old, Ashley Kozich, wisely said, “It was a bunch of teenage boys being stupid.”
But no one could leave it at that. Officials came to the theater and told the athletes to apologize, but Ole Miss theater department head Rene Pulliam said they did not seem to “understand what they were apologizing for.” Then the university’s “Bias Incident Response Team” swung into action and said students who attended the play should attend an “educational session.”
With Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones warning that disciplinary action could range from a public apology to expulsion, the students showed up and learned to keep their thoughts to themselves or—better yet—not have any negative thoughts about homosexuality in the first place. Val Ross, assistant dean of students for multicultural affairs, announced that “students will have multiple opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate LGBTQ groups on campus.” It looks like EDHE 105, a freshman-level class that introduces Old Miss freshmen to college life, will also include more propaganda.
Read the entire story HERE.

On Preaching and Preachers

Recently Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia hosted their annual preaching conference. The guest speaker was Harry Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church. The following are two of the addresses delivered; one from Dr. Reeder and the other from Carl Trueman.

The Apostolic Foundation for an Effective Pastoral Ministry from Westminster Theological Seminary on Vimeo.

Why is Good Preaching so Rare? from Westminster Theological Seminary on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Big Time Pastors and Unaccountable Elders

The latest Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit is now online. Aimee Byrd and I talk about rich pastors of their great big houses. Specifically we talk about the dangers of pastors being treated as rock stars and elders unaccountable to the congregations they serve.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

John Frame's Systematic Theology

The long awaited Systematic Theology from John Frame has just been released and it is currently 50% off at wtsbooks.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I began a series of messages through the book of Ruth. The first message, entitled "The Road to Nowhere" is available HERE.

I am a single issue voter

To be a single-issue voter is often sneered at as being too simplistic or overly confined to an ideology. However, I would suggest that all of us are single-issue voters. Each of us have a line, that if crossed by a politician renders them unworthy of our vote. For some that may be tax policy. For others that issue is welfare spending. While those are vitally important issues and are connected to the health and prosperity of our nation, abortion is, for me, that issue that separates the candidates above all else. I simply cannot cast a vote for anyone who believes that abortion is a good worth defending by the power of the state.

I am often confounded by those voters who are interested in "justice" but enthusiastically cast votes in favor of those who advance the greatest injustice of our time - the taking of life in the womb. The unborn are the weakest and most vulnerable among us. How can we tolerate legislation that allows them to be killed and cast aside like so much waste? Abortion is a breathtaking evil and any man or woman who desires to protect it as a right is unworthy of my vote.

Over at the Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter has written a helpful post on this very theme.

Take heed lest you fall

Sad news has come from Vision Forum in recent days. But, as David Murray points out, the resignation of Doug Phillips carries with it a sobering lesson for all of us.

Overplaying the grace card?

I appreciate David Robertson's review of Tullian Tchividjian's new book One Way Love. Robertson gives voice to many of my own concerns about what I believe is a rising tide of antinomianism within the church, especially among the neo-Reformed.

Robertson writes:
One Way Love?  But it’s not just a problem of perception.  It’s also a problem of theology and emphasis.  I like reading the early Church Fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans and 19th Century Scottish theologians.  Maybe I am not reading them right, but I don’t see any of them writing in the general and sweeping terms that the grace-lit books do.  Maybe I need the second blessing before I get really grasp what they are saying!   But some of the statements just don’t make biblical sense to me.  For example:
“Grace is love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved.  It has everything and only to do with the lover.”  Try as I might I just don’t get that.  Of course Gods love for me has something to do with me!  Of course Gods love for me is not only to do with him.  The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me!  I know I don’t deserve it, but there is no need to mangle the English language and render it meaningless.  Whilst such sound bites might sound as though they magnify grace, I think they are superficial, trite and ultimately undermine the whole teaching about grace. 
Grace -Complaints? “Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives.  And from our vantage point it always gives to the wrong person.”  Again this does not really make sense to me.  Is not take up your cross and follow me a demand?  Go sell all that you have and give to the poor, is that not a demand?  If you love me you will keep my commands?    And is it always the case that grace gives to the wrong person?  I honestly don’t think that God giving grace to so many of the people in St Peters is giving to the wrong person; except insofar as I am an old fashioned Scottish Calvinist who believes in total depravity and that no-one is the ‘right’ person for grace.  That’s kind of the point.  There is none righteous, no not one.  If I believe that, why would I ever look and say “Lord, you are giving grace to the wrong person”?!
I encourage you to read the entire review. There is much worth considering.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Those Rascally Calvinists

I have been encouraged by the resurgence of Reformed doctrine within the Southern Baptist Convention. I say "resurgence" because Calvinism in the SBC is nothing new. In fact the Doctrines of Grace are woven within the founding documents of the denomination and its first seminary. I wonder how many Southern Baptists realize that the Baptist Faith and Message teaches unconditional election and monergistic regeneration? The founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were baptistic Calvinists. These are the facts. However the rise of revivalism, anti-intellectualism, and too few denominational safeguards led eventually (inevitably?) to an almost full-scale rejection of Calvinist soteriology.

However, in recent years, the reformation of Southern Seminary, the influence of 9 Marks Ministries, and the desire for a more biblically grounded faith, the Doctrines of Grace have not just escaped the executioner's sword but have been revived in the SBC. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about this. In an open letter, one SBC pastor in Alabama expresses the sentiments of many within the denomination about the rising influence of Calvinism.

The writer decries the Calvinist criticism of such practices as the altar call and sinner's prayer without ever asking if those practices are biblical. For him, such practices are a matter of Baptist tradition. What he does not appreciate is that this is precisely what the rising generation of Calvinists are concerned with. To them, Charles Finney's man-centered pragmatic religion had come to characterize SBC churches and they want nothing to do with it. Am I painting with a broad brush? Perhaps, but not too broad. Having grown up in Southern Baptist churches I can testify that Finney-esque semi-Pelagianism had displaced the convictions of the founders of the denomination.

I wonder if the pastor who wrote the open letter realizes that the very first Southern Baptist statement of faith is the Abstract of Principles which is a derivative of the Westminster Standards. It affirms the Doctrines of Grace. The Abstract Of Principles is the statement of faith of the very first Southern Baptist institution: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (the largest SBC seminary). So Calvinists within the SBC do not represent an insurgent mob of barbarians at the gate. Indeed, they represent the original Southern Baptists.

One interesting point in the above mentioned letter is that he criticizes the SBC's endorsement of James MacDonald (MacDonald's church has elders). Apparently MacDonald's books can be purchased through Lifeway stores. This has far more to do with lack of discernment within the SBC than any supposed problems with Calvinists or Presbyterians. MacDonald's Harvest Bible Chapel does not practice Presbyterian church government. Without getting into details concerning recent problems at Harvest Bible Chapel, I will simply suggest that truly Presbyterian church government could have saved them much grief.

The growing number of SBC churches that are now governed by a plurality of elders does not indicate a desire of those pastors to become Presbyterian. Rather it speaks to their desire to be biblical. That very same desire is what has fueled the revival of the Doctrines of Grace in SBC churches.