11/16/2017

Perish

I read this chilling depiction of hell recently in Charles Octavius Boothe’s Plain Theology for Plain People (Bellingham: Lexham, 2017 [1890]), 37:

This fearful doom is set forth in the one comprehensive word, “perish.”  It means, in the case of a sinner, the end of everything that can make existence desirable.  It is total and final separation from God, the source and fountain of all true blessedness; the cessation of all those pleasing anticipations that have been wont to throw their brightness on the future toward which men are always advancing; the end of all those hopes that have been to them strength in weakness, help in difficulties, comfort in sorrows, and have made endurable long and weary hours of suffering.  It makes the heart sink to think of that perdition which sweeps men away from all that is bright and cheery, and leaves them no prospect to the future but what has been graphically described as the blackness of darkness forever.  How infinitely precious the salvation that delivers men from such a dark and terrible doom!

Advertisements
10/13/2017

The New Reformers

You’ve heard about the “old” Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Their recovery of core biblical doctrines paved the way for what we call Protestantism.

Those first Reformers certainly did not agree on everything, but when it came to the mysterious interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation, they all leaned toward prioritizing God’s role. This position has come to be referred to as ‘Calvinism’ or ‘Reformed theology.’

Yet from the earliest days of Protestantism there arose an alternate stream that tilted toward a greater emphasis on human free will. This camp is generally called ‘Arminian’ or ‘non-Reformed.’

Throughout the last 500 years of Protestantism, each of these traditions has enjoyed times of ascendancy and also experienced periods of decline in popularity. Even among Baptists, both strands have been present since the beginning, and continue to vie for influence today.

To the consternation of some and celebration of others, Reformed theology has been on the rise over the last several decades. In 2009, Time magazine even included the movement on its list of “10 ideas changing the world right now.” Here are some of the new Reformers who have been instrumental in Calvinism’s comeback:

JI PackerJ.I. Packer
Though he is British, J.I. Packer’s impact on late 20th- and early 21st-century American evangelicalism has been profound. Better known for his writing than his speaking, Packer’s books and articles have re-introduced the spirit of the Puritans to new generations. While displaying theological meatiness, genuine and lively piety also comes through in his works, like the best-selling classic “Knowing God.” And his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” seeks to dispel the idea that Calvinists do not have motivation to share the gospel.

 

RC SproulR.C. Sproul
Together with Packer, R.C. Sproul was a key figure in the “Battle for the Bible” in the 1970s and 80s that produced an articulation of inerrancy that continues to moor many evangelical institutions. In addition to being a popular author, Sproul is also a pastor in Florida and founder of Ligonier Ministries that spreads his teaching through multiple media. Countless people have been introduced to Reformed theology through Sproul and his teaching that if God is not sovereign, God is not God.

 

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the faithful ministry of John MacArthur plods on. He is best known for his expositional preaching ministry through books of the Bible. In almost 50 years at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Ca., he has preached on every single verse of the New Testament. His Calvinistic flavor is distributed through his radio program “Grace to You,” his conference speaking, and the school he founded, The Master’s Seminary.

 

John Piper

John Piper
Calvinism can be found in several different forms. Packer is an Anglican. Sproul is a Presbyterian. MacArthur is a non-denominational dispensationalist. The next, and arguably the most influential, of the new Reformers is a Baptist. John Piper left academia for the pastorate in 1980, serving at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis until he retired in 2013. His preaching passionately portrays a big and majestic God who is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper is known for re-applying the emphases of 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards to today, combining rigorous biblical thinking with white hot religious affections. Piper’s most famous book, “Desiring God,” became the name of his ministry which furthers Reformed theology largely through free online content. Now retired from pastoring, he is still a sought-after speaker and is chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, which he founded to further spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

 

Tim KellerTim Keller
If Piper is best known for directing attention to God’s glory, Tim Keller tries to help people see that the pinnacle of God’s glory is his grace in the gospel of Christ. Keller co-founded The Gospel Coalition, a broadly Reformed network of churches that advocates for gospel-centered ministry.

He has also done more than any other to highlight cities as strategic places for gospel ministry. Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the center of New York City in 1989. After seeing dynamic conversion growth over the last 20-some years, he has just recently retired from the senior pastor role there. Now he works with the church planting center that spun off from his church and has helped start 423 new churches in the last 15 years. Keller waited well into his ministry before publishing much, but now he is cranking out about a book a year, many of which model how to winsomely engage today’s secular city-dwellers with the gospel.

 

Al MohlerAl Mohler
Al Mohler has been the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) since he was 33 years old. In his book “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Collin Hansen called SBTS “Ground Zero” not only for the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), but also the upsurge of Calvinism. Mohler courageously led the seminary to return to the Abstract of Principles, its original doctrinal statement, which not only reflects a high view of Scripture but also the Reformed bent that some claim was held by the founders of the SBC. Under his leadership, the denomination’s flagship seminary now claims to represent the largest number of students training for pastoral ministry in one place at any time in the history of the Church.

 

Mark DeverMark Dever
Mohler teamed up with friend and fellow Southern Baptist Mark Dever and others in 2006 to start a conference called Together for the Gospel, which has fanned the flame of Calvinism via bi-annual conferences. Dever also has pastored the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., since 1994, overseeing its renewal. Out of that experience he wrote a book titled “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” that birthed a ministry by that name which seeks to build healthy local churches. Through materials, conferences, and internships, Dever has impacted many pastors seeking to reform the church.

While all the figures mentioned above are currently alive, they range in age from 57 to 91—not exactly young. Who will provide leadership for the next phase of this movement? Several new New Reformers have already crashed and burned.

Furthermore, there is a (white, male) elephant in the Reformed room—the list above includes no people of color or female voices. There are some signs Reformed theology is gaining traction in minority contexts, as seen in places like the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) led by Jemar Tisby. There are also Reformed conferences, blogs, and books popping up that are for and/or by women (e.g. Aimee Byrd’s “Housewife Theologian”).

In many ways, the future of the new Calvinism remains to be seen. But as a Calvinist would quickly remind you, “God knows, and he is in control.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

09/13/2017

Our Church Lawsuit

Here’s everything on our church’s lawsuit all in one place:

 

2/7 – The Press Release announcing the filing of our complaint

3/17 – The Illinois Baptist newspaper story (also here)

3/28 – The Baptist Press piece

3/31 – The coverage in SBC This Week

4/10 – The Let’s Talk radio interview of our attorney

5/5 – The Gazette article

6/7 – Update from the Illinois Baptist

6/14 – The SBC Convention interview with Russell Moore (audio; video)

9/12 – The Lawyers for Jesus podcast

9/13 – The ERLC feature

10/16 – Update from the Illinois Baptist

11/2 – Update from The Gazette

07/07/2017

FOMO

     One legitimate FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] cuts through all the other FOMOs of life: the fear of eternally missing out.  God’s wrath is real.  And apart from Christ, there is only eternal destruction.  The wealthy man in Jesus’s parable [of the Rich Man and Lazarus; Lk. 16:19ff] is a portrait of life’s greatest tragedy – a man filling his pockets, his belly, and his life with vain pleasures.  He bought Satan’s old lie to Eve, choosing the foolish path of God-ignoring self-sufficiency, and never embraced God as his greatest treasure.  He deadened the reality of judgment with the Novocain of self-indulgence, and by it he destroyed himself eternally.

In this condition of unbelief, the rich man faced the agony of the one most dreaded missing out, an eternal missing out, a weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth missing out.  ‘Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it’ (Heb. 4:1).  The fear of missing out on eternal life is the one FOMO worth losing sleep over – for ourselves, our friends, our family members, and our neighbors.

But if you are in Christ, the sting of missing out is eternally removed.  FOMO-plagued sinners embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he promises us no eternal loss.  All that we lose will be found in him.  All that we miss will be summed up in him.  Eternity will make up for every other pinch and loss that we suffer in this momentary life.  The doctrine of heaven proves it.  The new creation is the restoration of everything broken by sin in this life; the reparation of everything we lose in this world; the reimbursement of everything we miss out on in our social-media feeds.

Lazarus learned this blessed truth: heaven is God’s eternal response to all of the FOMOs of this life.  Heaven will restore every ‘missing out’ thousands of times over throughout all of eternity.  Therefore, the motto over the allurement of the digital age is set in the slightly altered words of the apostle Paul: I count every real deprivation in my life – and every feared deprivation in my imagination – as no expense in light of never missing out on the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for all eternity.

Tony Reinke, Twelve Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 160-61.

06/28/2017

What Is Theological Liberalism?

This is a helpful definition from someone who identifies with that tradition:

Fundamentally [Liberalism] is the idea of a genuine Christianity not based on external authority.  Liberal theology seeks to re-interpret the symbols of Christianity in a way that creates a progressive religious alternative to atheistic rationalism and to theologies based on external authority.  Specifically, liberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.

Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), xxiii.

 

 

05/09/2017

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I gather monthly with a group of like-minded pastors for fellowship and to discuss pastoral ministry.

 

Lately we’ve been reading together Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford UP, 2013).  This is from the Epilogue:

 

The task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts off ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’  The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.

Manetsch then provides four final observations and insights for pastoral life today gleaned from its practice back then.

(1) “The vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one.”   “Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith.”

(2) “The importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work.”  “Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.”

(3) “The leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.”

(4) “The ministry of pastoral care.”  “In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.”

04/27/2017

Pastor Moses

I’m finishing up Deuteronomy this Sunday and coming to the end of 10 years in the Pentateuch.  It’s actually kind of emotional.

 

In the conclusion of his commentary on Deuteronomy, Dan Block draws several lessons for pastoral ministry from Moses’ life:

The pastoral ministry of Moses is paradigmatic.  All who are called to divine service should surely emulate his passion for the agenda to which God has called them, his determination to preach only in accordance with the revealed will of God, his plea for gratitude for the grace of God in salvation and providential care, his call for wholehearted and full-bodied obedience to God’s will as the proper response to divine grace, his realistic view of his congregation, his vision of the church in God’s program of salvation for the world (Deut. 26:19), his refusal to erect monuments in his own honor, and his confidence in God to do his work by his means.  The flavor of ministry that arises from these commitments differs greatly from the self-serving, egotistical, and pandering paradigm of ministry that drives so much of the evangelical world.

Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 817-18.

03/21/2017

The Loneliness of Leadership

From Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 373:

[Deuteronomy 31:]23     After addressing Moses in the tent, the Lord then speaks to Joshua, who was soon to assume the office held for so long by Moses.  Be strong and be courageous – see also vv. 6, 7 (above).  The words that would be the source of continuing strength to Joshua come at the end of the verse: I will be with you.  Of the forms of loneliness that a man can experience, there are few so bleak as the loneliness of leadership.  But Joshua assumed his lonely role with an assurance of companionship and strength.  God’s presence with him would be sufficient to enable him to meet boldly every obstacle that the future could bring.

03/06/2017

Congealed Divine Oral Communication

Here’s a gem of a quote from a commentary that might not make it into a sermon, but needs to be shared and is too big for a tweet:

This written document represents not only a written transcript of Moses’ pastoral addresses but also congealed divine oral communication.  Since Yahweh’s voice is expressly identified with a written text, in the Torah of Moses Israelites of all generations have access to the divine voice.

Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 699; commenting on Dt. 30:9-10.

03/01/2017

The Five SOLAS Five Hundred Years Later

 

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out.  One of the questions is – “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?”  We strongly believe that these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

 

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States.  His assessment of the religious scene here was – “Protestantism without Reformation.”  This critique still largely holds true.  We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th Century Europe be present in 21st Century Evangelicalism?  I am afraid so.

 

The Five Solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

 

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – I think that there are many churches who say that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God on paper, but in practice you cannot tell.  Scripture does not saturate their worship services.  The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God.  The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks.  Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis.  And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

 

Sola Fide (faith alone) – If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with a True or False question – “People get into heaven by doing good” – I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE.  But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.  We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do… to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families… instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family.  The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

 

Sola Gratia (grace alone) – We like grace… when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk.  The polls are heart-rending which show the number of Christians who think that the quote – “God helps those who help themselves” – comes from the Bible.  Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace?  If so, then we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

 

Solus Christus (Christ alone) – We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up?  We live in a highly pluralistic society.  Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ?  Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share the gospel with them of what Christ has uniquely done?  Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ.  Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ.  We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

 

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone) – Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand.  We like to take the credit for our successes.  Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness among our culture which has seeped into our churches.  We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs.  Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around.  We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the Triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit about from this to that fad so easily.

 

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket.  But they truly represent our only hope.  We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible!

This article appeared in the February 27th issue of the Illinois Baptist.  It can also be found here.