Monday, January 30, 2006

A Primer On Election - Part 5

This is the final post in our primer on election. I look forward to moving on to other theological issues as we continue to look at some of the most important sermons and artciles available. At the end ogf this post there is a link to a free PDF of the book "This Great Salvation" which I recommend you read if you are interested in pursuing this topic further.

Who Makes The First Move? (continued)

#8: Changed by God

Before starting this blog, did you realize how much God had done in you and for you? You have been totally transformed! Once you were dead in sin and doomed to eternal destruction. Now you’re alive in Christ and destined to spend eternity in the glorious presence of God. That’s no small change, as the Bible explains: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).

Most Christians are happy just to know God has taken away their sins. But that’s only half of the good news. Not only has something been taken away—something has been added as well. Because you are now united with Christ, his divine nature is in you.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

That’s what you call CHANGE! Since we’ve covered a lot of ground in this first chapter, let’s close with a quick review. Before God had even created the world, he chose you to be his child. He was intimately involved in creating you according to his own unique design. But your condition alienated you from God; you were dead in sin, unable to save yourself or even seek God. Then, in an act of infinite, undeserved mercy, God called you to himself by the gospel and made you spiritually alive through regeneration.

You responded to his call through conversion when you put your trust in Christ (faith) and began a life of submitted obedience (repentance). Now you are in Christ, united with him forever. God has justified you and cleansed you from the stain of sin. And because of God’s work in you, you have been dramatically changed. You are a new creation!

Once you were spiritually dead; now you are spiritually alive. Once you were an enemy of God; now he has made you his friend. Once you were incapable of pleasing God; now his divine power is at work in you, helping you triumph over sin. At every point God has taken the initiative to accomplish your salvation! Remember that the next time you sin. Remember that when life’s waves crash against you with pulverizing force. Remember that and be at peace, knowing your Creator and Savior holds you eternally in his hand.

Recommended Reading: This Great Salvation by C.J. Mahaney and Robin Boisvert is available for free download on my website

A Primer On Election - Part 4

The primer on election is wrapping up, only one small part remaining in my next post. We are working our way through the "Eight C's of Salvation" in regards to God's plan of redemption for mankind. Perhaps in future posts we'll consider other points of the doctrines of grace (commonly referred to as the 5 points of Calvinism). Election is a common stumbling block for many people and as such I wanted to openly discuss it first. I thank God for your patience as we work together through these posts.

Who Makes The First Move? (continued)

#6: In Christ

As if regeneration and conversion didn’t adequately express the riches of his grace, God has done something more. See if you can piece it together from this passage:

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

God has chosen you, created you, called you out of your sinful condition, and enabled you to cooperate with his work through repentance and faith. In addition, he has united you with his Son, Jesus Christ. You are now able to say, like the apostle Paul,

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Jesus Christ—the One who triumphed over sin and death—now lives in you. And as Romans 6 makes clear, this has enormous implications for your spiritual life. In Christ your old, sinful way of living has been crucified and you have been resurrected with him into a new life. You don’t have to be preoccupied any more with things you did in the past. You have been set free from slavery to sin (verse 6). You have received a new nature which enables you to overcome sin. In Christ you are dead to sin and alive to God (verse 11). No longer does your heavenly Father see you in the tattered rags of your own sinful rebellion. Instead he sees you “in Christ.” Your identity now springs from your living union with the Son of God.

“We haven’t been eliminated in this union,” writes Robin Boisvert, “but Christ has been added…We haven’t been handed a guide book and told to find our way to heaven. Instead, we’ve been given a Guide who will escort us there personally.”

Why is God delighted to be with you during your daily devotions? Because you are in Christ. Why does he forgive you when you sin? Because you are in Christ. Why will he never leave you nor forsake you? Why has he taken responsibility to lead you in his good and perfect will? Why does he bless you with every spiritual blessing? Why can you rest securely in his love? Because of the initiative he has taken to unite you forever to his perfect Son, Jesus Christ!

#7: Cleansed by God

If I were reading Paul’s statement in Romans 6 for the first time, I can pretty well predict the response I would give at this point: “Freed from sin? Me? Remind me of that the next time I slice my first shot off the tee, or get rear-ended in traffic. I’m not exactly perfect, you know.”

How true. Even though our union with Jesus gives us power to overcome sin, we still wallow in plenty of muck.That’s why it’s so important that we understand the gracious fact of God’s forgiveness:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:21-22)

One of the first Bible verses I memorized as a new Christian was 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” By his death on the Cross, Jesus purchased your forgiveness. He has paid the price for all your sin—past, present, and future. Take confidence in your merciful God, who says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25)

In addition to being forgiven, you have been justified by God. This is a very important word, so think hard with me for a minute. Justification means God has declared you righteous, just as if you had never sinned. He’s thrown away all your old files. All of them. He has canceled your debt. As incredible as it seems (and totally undeserved), he now sees you the same way he sees his Son.

Through justification, God has imputed the perfect, spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ to you. How can he do that? Why would he view you as righteous even though your actions are still “shot through with sin”? For one reason only—because you are in Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Primer On Election - Part 3

It is late Sunday evening and I couldn't wait another moment to post to the blog. Part 2 of the primer on election really left you hanging as if you were dangling over the fires of hell by a tiny string of self-righteousness. This part brings us what God did so that men do not have to perish for all eternity in the tormented depths. As an evangelist, my heart races reading messages on God's great salvation! Even if you are not as pumped about this as I, it is still a valuable topic for this blog.

Who Makes The First Move?
by Steve Shank
#4: Called by God

One day when I was a boy I saw my neighbor’s cat get hit by a car. Though I didn’t care much for cats (and this one was no exception), I felt a twinge of sadness as it flew into the bushes. So I helped my neighbor look for it. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called. Meanwhile I was thinking, If this cat comes to me now after all the abuse I’ve given it, it must really be hurt.

When we finally found it, the poor cat was as dead as Julius Caesar. No amount of calling could have brought it to life. I could have called “Here kitty, kitty, kitty” all week long without getting any response from that flattened feline.

Before you became a Christian, you were spiritually in the same state as my neighbor’s cat: dead as a doornail, incapable of any response. Don’t take it personally. The Bible says the same about everyone who has yet to be converted: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live” (Ephesians 2:1,2). Your spirit wasn’t merely comatose or unconscious. It wasn’t sickly or sluggish. It was dead. Even though God had chosen you and created you, your sinful condition separated you from him.

The story would have ended there, were it not for God’s mercy. Do you realize what he did? “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ” (Colossians 2:13). Why? “Because of his great love for us…it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Had you done anything to deserve this? “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

One day, in his own perfect timing, God touched the cold, dead center of your spiritual being and brought it to life. You were born again. (Theologians call this event regeneration.) The new birth is the greatest miracle you will ever experience. While you were still spiritually dead, incapable of responding to God and awaiting judgment for your sin, God called you to himself through the message of the gospel, and that call produced life, faith, and repentance. (Something my “kitty, kitty, kitty” never could have done!) God’s life-giving call, which some refer to as his effective or effectual calling, is “that mysterious, divine, and humanly inexplicable act of God through the Holy Spirit, which brings us into living fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Dead cats don’t come crawling out of the bushes when you call them. But when God’s call penetrated the deadness and darkness of your soul, it rang with the life-giving power of regeneration. You have been brought from death to life, not by your own effort, but through a miraculous and merciful work of God.

#5: Cooperating with God

Of all the billions of babies ever born, not one has been able to take credit for its own conception. Likewise, no Christian can claim responsibility for his or her own regeneration. Only God could have brought your dead spirit to life. But once he did that miraculous work, you then needed to cooperate with him through conversion.

Theologian Wayne Grudem defines conversion as “our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation.” A genuine conversion involves two responses: faith and repentance. Let’s look at these responses separately.

Faith requires believing what God’s Word says about your sin and Jesus’ sacrifice. By faith you admit that your condition is hopeless, that you are unable to please God, and that your sin has provoked his holy anger. But faith also enables you to accept Christ’s death on the Cross as the full, final, and free payment for your sin. Faith is a fascinating thing. It is both a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) and an act of your redeemed will. In other words, God gives you faith, but you are responsible for exercising it.

When he regenerated you God opened your heart, planting the seed of faith by which you trust in Jesus as God’s only hope for sinful humanity.

Faith alone is an insufficient response; repentance is also required for conversion. Repentance simply means change. It begins with a change in your view of God. He is now to be your Lord, the ruler of your life. Repentance also involves a change in your view of sin. Instead of doing whatever makes you feel good, you now pass your actions through the filter of God’s Word to see if they measure up with his expectations. Finally, repentance requires a change in your view of yourself. Once you exalted yourself and lived for your own pleasure; now you are laying down your life to please the One who created you, died for you, and calls you to obedience.

Baptism in water should be one of your first acts of obedience as a new follower of Christ (Matthew 28:19). Being baptized publicly in water is a bold testimony to all who witness it that two changes have occurred in your life: first, that God has mercifully regenerated you, and second, that you have consciously turned away from your former way of life. It is “a symbol of beginning the Christian life,” writes Wayne Grudem. Please note, however, that baptism does not save you; you have been saved by the sacrificial work of Jesus. Nor does water baptism remove your sinful nature or regenerate your soul. Rather, baptism is a sign of your allegiance to Jesus, a declaration that you have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. Jesus commanded it, the early church modeled it, and you will benefit immeasurably by it. If you haven’t already been baptized in water, ask your pastor how you can experience this powerful event.

Faith in Christ and repentant submission to Christ—these are the only appropriate responses to God’s merciful initiative on your behalf. They are not mere flags stuck in the soil of your heart to commemorate a one-time event. Instead, they are the twin pillars supporting your new Christian life. You are to live every day cooperating with God by cultivating habits of faith and ongoing repentance.

A Primer On Election - Part 2

In the last post I began an article by Steve Shank that opened up the topic of divine election. It ended with the beginning of a discussion on the "Eight C's of Salvation". Today we'll continue to look at two more of those C's in the second part of our Primer on Election.

Who Makes The First Move?
by Steve Shank

#2: Created by God

God is the author of life. Over and over the Bible tells us each life comes from him. “Your hands shaped me and made me,” said Job, a prominent character in the Old Testament (Job 10:8). “All things were created by him and for him,” wrote the apostle Paul (Colossians 1:16). Probably the most well-known and intimate account of God’s role in creating life was penned by King David in Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. (Psalm 139:13-16)

God decided which cell from your mother’s body and which cell from your father’s body would unite their unique genetic codes to create the one and only you. Had two other cells been involved, you wouldn’t have turned out as you did. You would look like someone else, think like someone else, feel like someone else, be someone else. You are you for one reason only: God wanted to make you this way.

No life is a mistake, even if the circumstances surrounding its beginning seem disastrous. I once heard about a young woman who crumpled in the aisle of her church, sobbing uncontrollably. Years of doubt, years of guilt couldn’t pour out of her eyes fast enough. You see, she had spun her self-image around a horrible fact: her mother had been brutally raped. And though urged to have an abortion, her mother had made the difficult decision that the child inside her would live. Now that child needed to know she wasn’t a mistake. She needed to be assured there was a reason and plan for her existence.

I’ve heard it said there is no such thing as an illegitimate child, only illegitimate parents. There are aspects of God’s plan that remain shrouded in mystery. However, we can cling to the truth that God is completely trustworthy. He reigns in sovereign power. And regardless of the circumstances surrounding your conception, God was in control, creating you for his pleasure. He reaches down into even the most devastating situation and redeems it for his glory and your good.

Knowing God created you should bring tremendous security and peace. However, it also brings humility. Had you merely evolved from an ape or a clump of algae, you would be free to do whatever you want in life. But you are the handiwork of your Creator. To borrow an illustration from the prophet Isaiah, you are a pot in the hands of the Master Potter. He is entitled to shape your life in the way he sees best. And in his mercy, he has fashioned you for a noble purpose (Romans 9:21).

#3: Our Condition

Most people misunderstand their condition before God. They would admit they are sinful, but only in a relative sense. They think in terms of “big” sins and “little” sins. If all they have done is cheat on their income tax or lie to a supervisor, they consider themselves superior to the person who goes out and commits cold-blooded murder. In other words, they assume God will be satisfied with anyone who is basically a “good person.”

Such thinking shows a serious ignorance of God’s Word. We are not sinners because we sin; the Bible says we sin because we are sinners. Our sin is an inherited condition. The moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin polluted humanity’s gene pool. Every child born on this planet, with the exception of Jesus Christ, comes fully equipped with a warped, sinful disposition. It’s there from the moment of conception. All of our sinful conduct—lying, hatred, jealousy, anger, pride, lust, selfishness, and murder stems from this condition theologians call “original sin.” Here is a biblical diagnosis of the human condition:

Hopelessly separated from God (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21; Romans 6:23). There is simply no way we could ever make ourselves acceptable to the holy and Almighty God.

Spiritually dead (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13).

Hostile toward God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21). Left to ourselves, all of us shake our stubborn fists at the King, Lord, and Ruler of our lives.

Blinded and enslaved by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Powerless to overcome sin (Romans 1:28-32, 5:6; John 8:34).

Unable to understand the things of God (Proverbs 14:12; Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Incapable of living a spiritually fruitful and meaningful life (John 15:4-6).

That’s a pretty bleak picture, isn’t it? The Bible doesn’t rank sins the way we do. It doesn’t grade on a curve. It lumps tax evaders and serial killers together as sinners. Anyone who considers himself or herself “basically a good person” is terribly deceived. Apart from Christ we’re all dead, lost, powerless, ungodly, helpless, blind, and enemies of God.

Scripture’s assessment may seem depressing, but it is meant to set you free. Once you see your true condition before God, you’ll stop doing what my daughter Janelle did. You’ll stop trying to hang onto God, and you’ll realize how completely dependent you are on him to hang onto you. Your only hope—and what a sure and certain hope it is!—rests on the fact that God devised a way to deliver you from your lost and sinful condition.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Primer On Election - Part 1

Explaining the doctrine of election to another person is usually very difficult for me. My analogies are grossly inadequate and my exegesis of Scripture leaves much to be desired. I can safely leave it up to those who do the topic justice and point others to their articles. Steve Shank covers divine election in a portion of his book "First Steps of Faith".

First Steps of Faith, written primarily for the new Christian, uses vivid images and personal illustrations to lay a simple yet solid foundation for a lifetime of spiritual growth. But don't be misled — in its clear presentation of the timeless truths of Scripture, this book contains plenty of meat for the mature Christian as well. In the next few posts we'll move through Chapter 1 as the author explains the "Eight C's of Salvation"

Who Makes The First Move?
by Steve Shank

My family and I live twenty minutes from the ocean. Several times each year we’ll gather up our sand pails, plastic shovels, boogie boards, sunscreen, towels, chips, sodas, and six pairs of flip-flops and head off to play in the sand and surf.

The younger children love playing in the waves with me. With Daddy, big and brave, they can venture out farther than they ever would alone. (Little do they know that Daddy, big and brave, is really Daddy, chicken and paranoid, when it comes to young children and the ocean.)

One day my daughter Janelle and I edged out to meet the incessant, rolling swells. Having done this with her many times before, I wasn’t surprised when she began her ritual, high-pitched squeal/scream combo—right in my ear. “No, Daddy, let’s go back. Daddy, we’re toooo faarrr!!! Oh, here comes a wave. Daddy, it’s too big. I’m scared!!! No!! NO!! EEEEEKK!!! … Wow, Daddy, that was neat! Let’s do it again!” And we did, over and over and over, with Janelle shrieking hysterically each time (and loving it).

After a few minutes, however, I noticed another routine in my daughter’s behavior. Just before getting slammed by a wave, Janelle, who at the time was seven years old and 40 skinny pounds, would pull her wrist from my grasp and insist she hang on to me. Each time I got a fresh grip, she pulled away in order to grip me. It quickly became obvious that she had more faith in her ability to hang onto me than in my ability to hang onto her.

Now I happen to be six and a half feet tall. My long, bony fingers can almost encircle Janelle’s waist, let alone her wrist. But in the face of danger, my little girl felt more secure holding onto my slippery, lotion-smeared fingers than she felt when being held by her Daddy. As I thought about this, the Lord gave me an insight. “Son, many of my children relate to me the same way. They trust in their ability to hang onto me rather than trusting that I am holding onto them.”

Splashing in the waves with Janelle illustrated a critical truth for me. As fallen creatures, we tend to think we’re responsible for hanging onto our Heavenly Father. If we have successfully fought the waves of temptation and trial, we feel at peace with God. Our relationship with him seems secure. But when we fall short of God’s standards, we can feel distant or even cut off from him. The question boils down to this: Who is hanging on to whom? Are we hanging on to a reluctant God who will turn in disgust the moment we mess up? Or is he hanging on to us?

The night I submitted my life to Christ, I assumed I was the one who had made the first move. I thought I had reached out and grabbed God’s hand. Like many new Christians, I thought I had “found the Lord.” I didn’t even consider the fact that perhaps God had reached out and found me. And yet a careful study of the Bible reveals that God makes the first move in bringing people to himself. He sent his son Jesus to die on the Cross for your sin. It is his gracious activity on your behalf that led you to the point of salvation, and it is his hand that holds you securely now. Though you responded to his initiative, even that response was made possible by what he had already done in your life. God deserves all the credit.

Who is hanging onto whom? Answering that question is of foundational importance for your new life in Christ. It could make all the difference between whether you are secure in God’s love or striving for his acceptance. That’s why these first few pages of this book will explore the events underlying your conversion—the “Eight C’s of Salvation.” By the time we’ve finished, I hope you are encouraged to rest in the loving grip of God.

#1: Chosen by God

The first step of your salvation occurred ages before you were born:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

Think about that for a minute. Long before you were conceived, God looked down the corridors of time and saw your life. He set his affection on you before you took your first breath. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” wrote David (Psalm 139:16). Before your grandparents were born—before Adam and Eve themselves were created—God saw the day you would exist and chose you to be his child.

Why did God choose you? It wasn’t because you showed potential. It wasn’t because your parents presented you to God at the altar while you were an infant. It wasn’t because you frantically cried out for help from under the garbage of your sinful life, nor was it a reward for anything you had done. In fact, as we’ve just seen, God chose you before you or anyone else influenced his decision in any way. Scripture says God “saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…” (2 Timothy 1:8-9, emphasis added).

It would be nice to think our own wisdom or insight caused us to follow Christ, but it just isn’t true. “As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God’” (Romans 3:10-11). Human hearts don’t naturally seek God or submit to him. Quite the opposite. So even though it may be a little hard to swallow, please understand: your longing to know God and be reconciled to him didn’t originate in your own heart. It originated with God. It is wonderful evidence that he had chosen you and pursued you, long before you even thought of searching for him.

In his infinite mercy, God chose you for himself and set in motion the events leading to your conversion. As Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Allow your mind to bask in the truth that before time began, the Sovereign God of the universe graciously hand-picked you to be one of his children.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Importance of Church History

This blog is an extension of my website which contains some of the most important audio messages I think people need to hear. I have recently updated that website by adding the 49 part Church History Series by seminary professor and renowned apologetic debator Dr. James White.

It is essential for Christians to know the history of our faith! Studying church history is an important investment we need to make as disciplined followers of Christ. Within the realm of church history we find out many of the things God did to bring us to this present age. We find out why we hold to certain traditions. We also found out heresies and mistakes that have been made throughout the years by church leaders, cults, and politicians.

We really don't see our faith clearly and don't know what we believe (or if our theologies are correct) if we box ourselves into this present time. Current cultural commentary will not show us what we need to see. Headline news won't tell us either. We are naive if we think that God has only been active in the lives of mankind within the pages of Scripture and within the pages of our local newspaper. We can't miss out on all the happenings of in between then and now and have a clear picture. Without church history we are trying to appreciate the Divine Light of scripture while looking through a dirty mud puddle.

In response to the lack of resources concerning Church History, I am posting the Church History Series here as well as on my website. Dr. James White can be described as a scholarly expert in the field of Christian History. Within these 49 parts is a testimony of much of what God has done from the Bible to now. Please take the time to listen to these messages and/or download them to your computer. Thanks, Jeff Fuller.

"Church History Series"
in 49-parts
Alpha and Omega Ministries
(This series is in WMA format.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mohler, Mahaney, Duncan, and Dever Blog Together!

The T4G Blog is an ongoing public conversation between Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and Albert Mohler. Together For The Gospel can be viewed at

Here's a specific post from the blog that I'd like to share here:

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogs
by Mark Dever
One reason that I've been reluctant to enter the blogosphere is that I am concerned that blog-writing and reading only adds to a bad tendency that we today already have--a fascination with the newest, latest, and most recent. And the newest and latest also often means that which is of only immediate value, that which is passing. That is opposed to that which is enduring, and which has in fact endured and lasted. We write words here which crawl along electronically and leap out through your fingers and eyes to take precious minutes and hours that the Lord has entrusted to us. Could these small things we write really be that important?

On the other hand, I had a wonderful time today at the South East Gospel Partnership in London. Here, I met friends old and new, and discussed Reaching, Building and Sending in the Local Church. Simon Smallwood (minister at Dagenham), Peter Jensen (Archbishop of Sydney) and a number of others spoke. Then I had the treat to have dinner with William & Janet Taylor (William is the minister of St. Helen's Bishopsgate here in London), Dick Lucas (who was the minister before him) and Peter & Christine Jensen. The conversation was wonderful, encouraging, instructive and enjoyable. As I came home, I thought that perhaps through a blog like this, we can share something that will be enjoyable, instructive and edifying. Maybe we can model, encourage, and even partially provide that kind of fellowship.

Having said that, I am concerned that we not neglect reading more important things. Even beyond the Bible, there are 2,000 years of Christian reflections in print before we get to blogs. (Now let's see if Al really reads these blogs!) I was reading recently about an earlier president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, John R. Sampey, and a "lightening" that was happening in theological education a century ago! Sampey recalled, “The course in ‘Special Theology,’ which was the successor of the course in ‘Latin Theology,’ was changed to ‘Biblical Theology.’ Under Dr. Boyce this course was limited to the reading of Latin; under Dr. Kerfoot and Dr. Dargan some reading of Latin was still required; Dr. Mullins gradually reduced the readings from Anselm and Turrettin, until in 1904-1905 only textbooks in English were studied.” (John R. Sampey, Memoirs, p. 109).

So be sure and set aside some time to read more substantial things. Commune with the saints that have gone before. Give some time to reading Anselm and Turretin, Samuel Rutherford's Letters or John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. And if you still have some time, you can have some other food for your soul--side dishes--snacks--by reading this blog.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Churches Dumbing It Down: This Is Not Funny

by Todd Friel

A lady walked into her pastor’s office and announced, “I’m leaving my husband to live with my lover.”

The pastor calmly asked what led her to that decision.

The woman confidently proclaimed, “Ephesians 4:24 says we are supposed to ‘put on the new man.’”

Now, you might think that is just a joke, but it was told as a true story by the pastor. That makes this story the opposite of a joke. That makes it a tragedy.

Five centuries ago, Erasmus (who laid the egg that Luther hatched) argued with Dr. Luther about translating the Latin or Greek Bible into the vernacular of the peasantry. Erasmus warned there would be no end of misapplication of the Bible if regular folks were allowed access to the sacred text. Erasmus was right.

Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? My answer is the same as Martin Luther’s. The ability for lay people to read the Bible far outweighs their often ridiculous interpretations.

That leads us to the big question, “How do we help people understand how to read their Bibles correctly so they don’t end up ditching their spouses?”

It seems to me the answer to that question lies in another question. Are people stupid or not?

According to modern day, seeker sensitive models for church growth, the answer is a resounding, “People are morons.” Why do I believe that is their answer? Look at their programs.

Youth programs: Bye-bye catechisms…hello fun.

Adult programs: So long theology…hello self help.

Sunday sermons: Adios teaching…hello inspiring.

“Dumb it down” is the battle cry of the modern seeker sensitive movement.

Contemporary seeker sensitive leaders encourage us to entertain visitors in the hopes they will become regular attenders. The last thing they want to do is challenge people in the pews to use their noodles. Learning is not fun and visitors won’t come back. These churches are entertaining the masses so people can go to hell happy and make bad decisions along the way.

Let me argue: people are not stupid. They have diplomas, read manuals, run computers and follow instructions at work. Can we agree that they can handle being taught multi-syllabic words?

Consider the book of Romans. It is loaded with big thoughts, heavy theology and gasp, big words. Paul was writing to plain old people, not a bunch of theologians. Unless people today are dumber than the Romans, can we start respecting their intelligence?

Look out; here comes a big word right now: HERMENEUTICS.

If people can understand the rules of driving a car, can’t they learn the rules of interpreting Scripture? Here are just a few principles. As you read these, ask yourself, “Could the average church-goer grasp these?”

Understand “progressive revelation.” God’s message has been revealed in stages. Many messages were given to a certain people at a certain time for a certain reason. For instance, God told David to go slay a neighboring country. We would not take that verse and attack Canada. If doctrinal teachings are not re-iterated in the NT, be careful not to formulate theology based solely on O.T. writing.

Understand Literary Context. Don’t just read a single verse without reading at least the paragraph in front and after it.

Interpret unclear verses in light of clear verses.

We should understand the meaning of a word by the way it is used in a sentence, a sentence by the way it is used in a paragraph, a paragraph by the way it is used in a chapter, a chapter by the way it is used in a book. Hold on, there’s more. Understand a book by comparing it with other books (especially by the same author) and one Testament with the other Testament. That is how you interpret Scripture with Scripture.

What is the author’s meaning? Don’t ask, “What does this verse say to me?” Instead ask, “What does this verse say and how does it apply to me?”

Distinguish cultural customs from trans-cultural principles. Is the teaching culture bound (eating meat offered to idols) or of a permanent nature? Is there a trans-cultural principle easily observed? (greet with a kiss vs. a handshake) Is the custom reported or taught in Scripture (polygamy)?

Now how difficult was that? Let’s stop treating people as if they don’t have the ability to learn principles like these. Let’s respect them, teach them, challenge them and talk up to them. Then we won’t have women leaving their husbands to “put on the new man.”

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Marks of a Healthy Church

Starting Over
by Mark Dever, Author/Speaker

New models are a dime a dozen. But is there really anything new under the sun? We actually think we need to return to an old, neglected model and recover it for today. If the church is to fulfill her mission, she must again become distinct from the world (John 13:34-35).

9Marks is committed to helping local churches pursue, develop, and maintain nine of the most important marks of any healthy church. In identifying and promoting these nine, we are not intending to lay down an exhaustive or authoritative list. There are other significant marks of healthy churches, like prayer and fellowship. We want to pursue those ourselves as well, and we want you to pursue them with us. But these nine are the ones we think are most neglected in most local churches today, with the most damaging ramifications. So we think it is wise for us to concentrate on these nine and let other parts of the Body universal promote other important marks of a healthy local church. Here's a brief summary of what we mean by each of the nine marks.

1. Expositional Preaching This is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing God’s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.

2. Biblical Theology Paul charges Titus to "teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Our concern should be not only with how we are taught, but with what we are taught. Biblical theology is a commitment to know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News The gospel is the heart of Christianity. But the good news is not that God wants to meet people's felt needs or help them develop a healthier self-image. We have sinfully rebelled against our Creator and Judge. Yet He has graciously sent His Son to die the death we deserved for our sin, and He has credited Christ's acquittal to those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus' death and resurrection. That is the good news.

4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion The spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself in godly fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion.

5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism How someone shares the gospel is closely related to how he understands the gospel. To present it as an additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is spiritual life, and that new life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and leave the converting to God.

6. Biblical Understanding of Membership Membership should reflect a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer and service; otherwise it is meaningless, worthless, and even dangerous. We should not allow people to keep their membership in our churches for sentimental reasons or lack of attention. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home.

7. Biblical Church Discipline Church discipline gives parameters to church membership. The idea seems negative to people today – “didn’t our Lord forbid judging?” But if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how he or she should live? Each local church actually has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and even of its members, particularly insofar as either could compromise the church’s witness to the gospel.

8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth A pervasive concern with church growth exists today – not simply with growing numbers, but with growing members. Though many Christians measure other things, the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovering true discipleship for today would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.

9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership What eighteenth-century Baptists and Presbyterians often agreed upon was that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church. This plurality of elders is not only biblical, but practical — it has the immense benefit of rounding out the pastor’s gifts to ensure the proper shepherding of God’s church.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Theology Matters... Huh?

In response to this important question as to whether or not Theology really matters I am posting the following article for your guidance.

by Brent Detwiler

Does doctrine matter in the Christian life? Should Christians continually pursue an ever deeper and more detailed understanding of the comprehensive truth of Scripture, so that we may grow in holiness, in knowledge and enjoyment of God, in dedication to the local church, in compassion for the lost, and in love and service toward one another? Do you realize that these two questions are basically the same? You can't say "Yes" to one but "No" to the other! Yet today many Christians, even within evangelical churches, dismiss doctrine and its application as an area of primary concern.

Not so with Paul the Apostle. Paul knew that any Christian who denies the centrality of sound doctrine harms himself, his family, the church, and the reputation of our Savior. He earnestly exhorted Timothy, a man of exceptional gifting and maturity, "watch your life and doctrine closely" (1Ti 4:16). If Timothy, who had already been working with Paul for some 15 to 18 years, needed to be reminded to pay close attention to his life and doctrine, how much more do we?

But what are many Christians and Christian leaders paying close attention to today? They're paying close attention to dreams, visions, and prophecy; to conferences, reports of revival, and unusual physical manifestations. They're paying close attention to trends, marketing techniques, and principles of church growth. They're paying close attention to the size of their church, budget, staff, and building. They're paying close attention to sociology, psychology, and psychiatry. They're paying close attention to the latest hot Christian band. But they are not paying equally close attention either to their lives or their doctrine.

Because we daily absorb unbiblical influences from both the secular and Christian cultures, each of us will gradually de-emphasize the issues of life and doctrine that Paul declared to be central - unless we purpose and act to keep them central. Here are a few guidelines for obeying the scriptural command of 1 Timothy 4:16.

Attention to Your DoctrineBecause your life and doctrine are intertwined, start with squarely facing and continually reminding yourself of the truth about yourself.

Understand the doctrine of Pervasive Depravity. God has done a wonderful work — he has given us his Holy Spirit. Every Christian has a new heart and a new nature; we have been recreated in his image. And yet there remains in us something evil that will not be eradicated or annihilated until we are with the Lord. I speak of indwelling sin — our sin nature, the flesh.

Our flesh is ever seeking to seduce, influence, exert itself, and deceive us. Simultaneously, the Spirit of God working through our new nature is ever seeking to influence, inspire, lead, guide, direct, and promote greater godliness. Scripture makes clear that the Spirit of God is the far superior combatant, yet the combat is real and constant. The battle against sin is waged every day of our lives. It's a war we can surely win, but it's a war we must fight. If we don't fight using the weapons God provides, we can't win.

Remember that the heart is exceedingly deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9). I wonder how the greatest scientists of our day would respond to the question, "What is the most difficult problem to solve?" Scripture provides us the definitive answer: the deceitfulness of our hearts. What phenomenal power and ability is within the human heart to deceive us!

Our self-righteousness (a product of our sin nature) continually seeks to assure us that this is not the case. But, rather than buying that lie, we would be well-advised to heed Jeremiah and simply expect that at every opportunity our own hearts will do everything possible to deceive us into committing sin. We should regularly ask God by his grace to help us pay close attention whenever we are faced with a temptation to be selfish, possessive, resentful, bitter, or anything else. And when you see that temptation, often with the help of others and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, you can identify that sin, repent of it, and walk forward in the Lord.

Also, because of the deceitfulness of our hearts, we must ever be suspicious of our own motives. Why do you do what you do, and say what you say? To serve, or to be served? To glorify yourself, or to glorify God? Pay close attention to these things.

Don't overestimate your own maturity. Years ago, when the men on the PDI leadership team began in our messages to regularly say things like "I am capable of any sin," I'm sure a lot of folks were somewhat shocked. But over the years, by God's grace through teaching, prayer, and study, a great many more of these shocked listeners have come to see how true this is — of themselves and indeed of every believer. A popular saying in the Charlotte church these days is a variation on that idea: "The seeds of every man's sins are in my heart." It's something of which we must all continually remind ourselves and one another. The person who declares any given sin to be impossible for him or her has just increased the likelihood of committing it.

Attention to Your LifeArmed with a clear understanding of the daily battle we face, we can begin to wage that battle wisely.

Pay close attention to your words. Listen to what you say. Your speech reveals something about your heart. Imagine if the Lord recorded for you, each day, everything you said. And then at the end of each day you could play back the tape. You'd be amazed, I'm sure, at how much you complain and grumble, how unkind and impatient you are. Well, we can't do that, but we can listen to ourselves, be accountable to one another for our words, and ask God to help us be more sensitive to both the content and the manner of our speech — what we say and how we say it.

Pay close attention to your actions, especially when someone sins against you. Do you, in turn, report the offense to others so that they, too, will take up your offense against that individual? Such gossip and slander — seemingly innocent activities to those who do not yet grasp the depth of their own sinfulness — are primary ways by which relationships and even entire churches are quickly destroyed. (See James 3:3-8)

Instead of a temptation to gossip, perhaps you tend to become bitter and resentful when sinned against. Suddenly you find yourself pulling back a little, distancing yourself from the person who offended you. The next time you see him or her, you just sort of drift to another part of the room, maybe without even realizing it. Why? You're not paying close attention to your life.

A third possibility when you are sinned against is to react in pride, self-righteousness, and anger. But there are only two biblical responses to being sinned against. First, we may often overlook the offense. In light of how frequently you have sinned against others, this is usually a small matter. In cases of more serious sin or a pattern of sin, however, we are called to go — in love and in great humility — to serve that fellow believer to help him or her see the sin. (But as you do so, remember to examine your own motives.)

Pay close attention to your thoughts and feelings — about your spouse, pastors, small-group leader, boss, relatives, friends, neighbors, and others. Do you see any jealousy or selfish ambition at work? If so, repent ind root it out. Again, remember how loosely your thoughts and feelings can be tied to your sin nature, your deceitful heart, and your suspect motives.

Identify the areas of greatest temptation in your life. What better way to know where you must exercise the greatest prayer and caution? The primary source of temptation in the Christian life is not Satan or worldly education (as real as both those things are), but our own sin nature (Gas 4:1-3). What are your favorite idols? What areas are most difficult for you? In an effort to humble yourself, enlist help, and seek accountability, have you told anyone about these areas of weakness?

Puritan pastor John Owen wrote, "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you." To the extent that we faithfully obey the command of Scripture to pay close attention to our lives and our doctrine, we will be far better quipped to heed John Owen's wise exhortation.