Learning Leadership from Tom Kirkman

I’m a bit relieved that ABC did not renew Designated Survivor for a third season.  The plot intrigue fizzled out fairly fast.  The storylines got too far-fetched and predictable as the second season went on.  But Andrea and I were hooked on the character of Tom Kirkman (played by Kiefer Sutherland).  He is decent, a trait absent in most real life politicians.  Kirkman definitely wasn’t Jesus, but I think he bore resemblances that attracted viewers to him.  I learned a lot about leadership from watching him.  This scene in the series finale sums it up.  Michael J. Fox’s character (Ethan West) concludes his investigation into Kirkman with these words:

West: Everyone’s working an angle.

Kirkman: And you’re just realizing that now?  How long have you been in Washington?

West: Long enough to recognize someone who’s not working an angle… and that’s you.  You don’t scheme.  You serve.


May pastors and other Christian leaders be decent, honorable, principled, and not be scheming, but simply serve God and others.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you.  Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves'” (Lk. 22:24-27).


Radio Interview

Dan Ehrman recently interviewed me for Leading the Church on AM 1160.  In it I share my story of coming to faith, call to ministry, coming to Chicago, and some lessons learned along the way.  You can listen to it here –



Jew and Greek and Black and White

I heard an interview recently with acclaimed author Jan Morris. In it Morris talked about being on a quest for unity and reconciliation. I listened on with interest.


Jan Morris used to publish under the name James Morris, that is, before a gender reassignment surgery in 1972. Having lived as a man and now as a woman, Morris prefers transcending both sexes instead of being part of just one, and recommends the advantages of androgyny.


As Christians, we share the noble urge for unity and reconciliation. Yet we find Morris’s approach sadly misguided. We understand that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him [singular]; male and female he created them [plural]” (Genesis 1:27).  The designed unity of the human race was not contradicted by the diversity of the sexes. The creation of distinct men and women was, in fact, very good. Disunity only came at the Fall with the entrance of sin, idolatry, and confusion.


We also know that in Christ, God is creating a new humanity out of the wreckage of the Fall. Here we are told “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). But we do not read this verse as advocating androgyny. To be in Christ, one does not have to cease to be decidedly male or female or find some way to transcend both in pursuit of unity. Rather, each person brings his or her created and redeemed maleness or femaleness into the community and uses it to glorify God and serve others. Gender is still there, but it is not an identity that puts us at odds with the opposite sex.


What does this have to do with racial reconciliation in the church? Consider the other categories in Galatians 3:28. Racial/cultural and social/economic distinctions are less fixed and more fluid. For example, ethnic markers can morph over time, and one’s social station can shift. But recognizing these realities is not inherently wrong. Neither are they radically removed when someone is in Christ. Rather, these various demographics are reconciled through Christ. The Body of Christ is more beautiful because not everything is bulldozed. The wall of hostility? Yes! But not the basic marks of differentiation.


Yet, when issues of race are brought up today, some (usually white) Christians will say with frustration, “If there is neither Jew nor Greek, then why are we still making a big deal about black and white?” This is like asking, “Why are we still noticing if a person is a man or a woman?”


Just as androgyny is not the way to biblical unity, neither is colorblindness. And sometimes our attempts at racial unity are the equivalent of asking people to have sex-change operations—expecting black people to change who they are and conform to the majority culture, or making white people feel ashamed of the good or neutral aspects of their cultures.


Black and white (along with other distinctions) must be acknowledged in the church. We need to repent of ways that we have dismissed or minimized others’ individual or collective experiences. Instead we must love those who are different from us, listen to their stories, lament with those who lament, and learn to celebrate the best of different cultures. Not merely for the sake of diversity, but in a shared pursuit of the glory of Christ, who is “all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Until we can do this more, Sunday morning at 11:00 will remain the most segregated hour in America.

This originally appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper and can be found here.


Fighting False Guilt with True Guilt

Here’s one of my favorite sections of David Murray’s helpful book titled Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017).

It’s actually from a letter that sent to Murray from someone named Stephen:

I came to the point where I realized I had to fight false guilt with true guilt.  I wrongly felt guilty because I couldn’t be everything to everyone all the time.  Instead, I needed to feel guilty for trying to be God.  I needed to feel guilty for not submitting to the limits he placed me under.  My problem was basically the same as someone living beyond their financial means.  I was overspending.  I had convinced myself God wanted me to.  I had made his yoke hard and his burden heavy. (176-77)

When driven, type A’s feel guilty for not doing enough, very likely they should instead feel guilty for the pride of trying to be God.  Then, of course, after learning what we should truly feel guilty for, we then need to repent and re-experience the grace of the gospel all over again, covering even that sin, and empowering us to live in freedom.


Election in Hymnody

I’m preaching through Romans 9 now.  There’s too much good stuff to fit in the sermons.  So here are some hymn lyrics I found that beautifully encapsulate the doctrine of election:


‘Tis not that I did choose Thee,

For, Lord, that could not be;

This heart would still refuse Thee,

Hadst Thou not chosen me.

Thou from the sin that stained me

Hast cleansed and set me free;

Of old Thou hast ordained me,

That I should live to Thee.

‘Twas sovereign mercy called me

And taught my op’ning mind;

The world had else enthralled me,

To heav’nly glories blind.

My heart owns non before thee,

For thy rich grace I thirst,

This knowing, if I loved thee,

Thou must have loved me first.

– Josiah Conder, “‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee.”


Sons we are through God’s election
Who in Jesus Christ alone
By eternal destination
Sov’regin grace we here receive
Lord thy mercy, Lord thy mercy
Does both grace and glory give

Ev’ry fallen soul by sinning
Merits everlasting pain
But thy love, without beginning
Has restored thy sons again
Countless Millions, countless millions
Shall in life through Jesus reign
Pause, my soul, adore and wonder
Ask, O why such love for me?
Grace has put me in the number
Of the Saviour’s family
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Thanks, eternal thanks to thee!

Since that love had no beginning
And shall never, never cease
Keep, O keep me, Lord from sinning
Guide me in the way of peace!
Make me walk in, Make me walk in
All the paths of holiness

When I quit this feeble mansion
And my soul returns to thee,
Let the pow’r of thy ascension
Manifest itself in me
Through thy Spirit, through thy spirit
Give the final victory!

When the angel sounds the trumpet
When my soul and body join
When my Saviour comes to judgment
Bright in majesty divine
Let me triumph, Let me triumph
In thy righteousness as mine.

When in that blest habitation
Which my God has fore-ordained
When, in glory’s full possession
I with saints and angels stand
Free grace only, Free grace only.
Shall resound in heav’n’s land

– Unknown, “Sons We Are Through God’s Election”


Consider the Poor

Psalm 41:1 – “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.”

Spurgeon on this verse:

Many give their money to the poor in a hurry, without thought; and many more give nothing at all.  This precious promise belongs to those who ‘consider’ the poor, look into their case, devise plans for their benefit, and considerately carry them out.  We can do more by care than by cash, and most with the two together.

From C.H. Spurgeon, Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith: Daily Readings by C.H. Spurgeon (Christian Focus, 2009), 22.


Eden and Gethsemane

I love learning of connections like this.  And I’m always finding new ones!

From Mark J. Jones, Knowing Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2015), 96 –

Adam was led away from the garden in captivity and under the sentence of death.  Here Jesus, like Adam, was taken from Gethsemane as a captive headed for death.  The great German Reformed preacher F.W. Krummacher (1796-1868), in his profound work The Suffering Saviour, noted:

The voice which resounded through the Garden of Eden cried, ‘Adam, where are you?’  But Adam hid himself trembling, behind the trees of the garden.  The same voice, and with a similar intention, is heard in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The second Adam, however, does not withdraw from it, but proceeds to meet the High and Lofty One, who summons him before him, resolutely exclaiming, ‘Here am I!’

It’s details like these that have to make you wonder if the Bible might have a Divine Author.



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!


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.


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

12/22 – Update from Mauck & Baker