John Gresham Machen was one of the most colorful and controversial figures of his time, and it is doubtful that in the ecclesiastical world of the twenties and thirties any religious teacher was more constantly in the limelight. Machen was a scholar, Professor at Princeton and Westminster Seminaries, church leader, apologist for biblical Christianity, and one of the most eloquent defenders of the faith in the twentieth century. He went home to be with the Lord on January 1, 1937.
The three articles contained in this series were actually radio addresses which Gresham Machen broadcast on the radio to the popular audience on the three consecutive Sundays before his death on January 1, 1937.
Labels: Other Resources
As scholars continue to examine the impact of America's homegrown religious figures, a panel of historians has placed both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on its list of the 100 Most Influential Americans of all time.
The list is the cover story in the December issue of Atlantic magazine, and ranks Joseph Smith — "the founder of Mormonism, America's most famous homegrown faith" — at No. 52, and his successor as LDS Church president — Brigham Young — at No. 74.
Well, I thought I'd seen it all, but I wasn't expecting this.
'80s metal band Twisted Sister has recently released a new Christmas CD: "A Twisted Christmas." I never thought I'd hear Twisted Sister singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," but there it is. What can I say? My words are failing me.
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Labels: Christianity and Culture
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Hello again! As you saw in my previous letter, the Lord recently blessed me by serving Him on a mission trip to Belize over the summer. I simply loved the privilege of teaching and preaching on biblical discernment and cults, especially in a place where the need for such ministry is so great.
Amazingly, He is providing another opportunity for service. The Centers for Apologetics Research (CFAR) has asked me to go to Uganda in East Africa from January 13-25. Currently they have no ministry in that part of Africa, but our Savior appears to be opening doors. Uganda even seems to present my family with the chance to serve there long-term after graduation. Could God be preparing my ministry there after I graduate from seminary in May?
In January I hope to find out. CFAR director Paul Carden and I are preparing to meet with Christian leaders to assess the potential for a regional base for countercult and discernment ministry. Additionally, we anticipate opportunities to teach and minister in churches and Bible colleges (and to visit the national headquarters of cults like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses). Obviously, I'll also need to spend a lot of time in prayer, seeking to understand whether my family should move to Uganda and how we could transition to living in Africa.
But I can't leave you out of my plans. You are essential! My family desperately needs your prayers. This decision involves a life-changing commitment, one that we can't make lightly. What does the future hold for us? Only God knows. But we desire to faithfully serve Him and to do His will.
We also need to raise the necessary funds to cover my trip in January. While travel to Africa isn't inexpensive, a gracious donation of frequent-flier miles has kept my planned budget down to $1,500. Additionally, the generosity of those supporting my trip to Belize has led to $675 already being raised. But I still have $825 to raise in a little under two months. I realize the difficulties. Christmas is just around the corner. For those of us who are Southern Baptists, we are already planning on giving to international missions through our annual Lottie Moon offering. Honestly, I don't want you to sacrifice in either of these important events, yet I believe this opportunity is an important one. I'm trusting the Lord to bring people forward who will support me prayerfully and financially. May you be one of them?
The Apostle Peter instructs believers to "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). My desire is to better equip Christians in Uganda to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ and boldly proclaim His truth to those who need to hear His good news there.
Because of His grace,
P.S. If the Lord leads you to give, please send a check made payable to CFAR with the note "Uganda" on the memo line. (And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.)
because of thy righteous judgments”—Psalm 119:62.
DOCTRINE 1: ONE SPECIAL DUTY WHEREIN THE PEOPLE OF GOD SHOULD BE MUCH EXERCISED IS THANKSGIVING. This duty is often pressed upon us: “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, which is the fruit of our lips” (Heb 13:15), giving thanks unto His name. There are two words there used, praise and thanksgiving. Generally taken, they are the same; strictly taken, thanksgiving differeth from praise. They agree that we use our voice in thanksgiving, as we do also in praise, for they are both said to be the fruit of our lips. What is in the prophet Hosea, “calves of our lips” (14:2), is in the Septuagint, “the fruit of our lips.” And they both agree that they are a sacrifice offered to our supreme Benefactor or that they belong to the thank-offerings of the gospel. But they differ in that thanksgiving belongeth to benefits bestowed on ourselves or others; but in relation to us, praise [belongs] to any excellency whatsoever. Thanksgiving may be in word or deed; praise in words only.
Well then, thanksgiving is a sensible acknowledgment of favors received or an expression of our sense of them, by word and work, to the praise of the bestower. The object of it is the works of God as beneficial unto us, or to those who are related to us, or in whose good or ill we are concerned, as public persons [or] magistrates: “I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority” (1Ti 2:1, 2); pastors of the church: “You also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf” (2Co 1:11); or our kindred according to the flesh or some bond of Christian duty: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice” (Rom 12:15).
1. The necessity of being much and often in thanksgiving will appear by these two considerations:
[1.] Because God is continually beneficial to us, blessing and delivering His people every day and by new mercies giveth us new matter of praise and thanksgiving: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah” (Psa 68:19). He hath continually favored us and preserved us and poured His benefits upon us. The mercies of every day make way for songs which may sweeten our rest in the night; and His giving us rest by night and preserving us in our sleep, when we could not help ourselves, giveth us songs in the morning. And all the day long we find new matter of praise: our whole work is divided between receiving and acknowledging.
[2.] Some mercies are so general and beneficial that they should never be forgotten but remembered before God every day, such as redemption by Christ: “He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered” (Psa 111:4). We must daily be blessing God for Jesus Christ: “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2Co 9:15), [which] I understand [to be] of His grace by Christ. We should ever be thus blessing and praising Him; for the keeping of His great works in memory is the foundation of all love and service to God.
2. It is a profitable duty. The usefulness of thanksgiving appeareth with respect to faith, love, and obedience.
[1.] With respect to faith. Faith and praise live and die together: if there be faith, there will be praise; and if there be praise, there will be faith. If faith, there will be praise, for faith is a bird that can sing in winter: “In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me” (Psa 56:4); and verse 10, “In God I will praise his word, in the Lord I will praise his word.” His word is satisfaction enough to gracious hearts; if they have His word, they can praise Him beforehand for the grounds of hope before they have enjoyment. As Abraham, when he had not a foot in the land of Canaan, yet built an altar and offered sacrifices of thanksgiving because of God's grant and the future possession in his posterity (Gen 13:18). Then, whether He punisheth or pitieth, we will praise Him and glory in Him. Faith entertaineth the promise before performance cometh, not only with confidence, but with delight and praise. The other part is, if praise, there will be faith; that is, supposing the praise [is] real; for it raiseth our faith to expect the like again, having received so much grace already. If I have found Him a God hearing prayer, “I will call upon him as long as I live” (Psa 116:2). Praise doth but provide matter of trust, and [it] represents God to us as a storehouse of all good things and a sure foundation for dependence.
[2.] The great respect it hath to love. Praise and thanksgiving are acts of love, [which] cherish and feed love. They are acts of love to God; for if we love God, we will praise Him. Prayer is a work of necessity, but praise a mere work of duty and respect to God. We would exalt Him more in our own hearts and in the hearts of others: “I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more” (Psa 71:14). We pray because we need God, and we praise Him because we love Him. Self-love will put us upon prayer, but the love of God upon praise and thanksgiving; then we return to give Him the glory. Those that seek themselves will cry to Him in their distress; but those that love God cannot endure that He should be without His due honor. In heaven, when other graces and duties cease, which belong to this imperfect state, [such as] faith and repentance, yet love remaineth. And because love remaineth, praise remaineth, which is our great employment in the other world. So it feedeth and cherisheth love, for every benefit acknowledged is a new fuel to keep in the fire: “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength” (Psa 18:1); “I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications” (Psa 116:1); “That thou mayest love the Lord, who is thy life, and the length of thy days” (Deu 30:20).The soul by praise is filled with a sense of the mercy and goodness of God, so that hereby He is made more amiable to us.
[3.] With respect to submission and obedience to His laws and providence.
(1.) His laws. The greatest bond of duty upon the fallen creature is gratitude. Now grateful we cannot be without a sensible and explicit acknowledgment of His goodness to us. The more frequent and serious in that, the more doth our love constrain us to devote ourselves to God: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1). To live to Him: “For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead, and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2Co 5:14, 15). And therefore praise and thanksgiving [are] greater helps to the spiritual life than we are usually aware of; for working in us a sense of God's love and an actual remembrance of His benefits (as it will do if rightly performed), it doth make us shy of sin [and] more careful and solicitous to do His will. Shall we offend so good a God? God's love to us is a love of bounty; our love to God is a love of duty, when we grudge not to live in subjection to Him: “His commandments are not grievous” (1Jo 5:3).
(2.) Submission to His providence. There is a querulous and sour spirit which is natural to us, always repining and murmuring at God's dealing and wasting and vexing our spirits in heartless complaints. Now this fretting, quarrelling, impatient humor, which often showeth itself against God even in our prayers and supplications, is quelled by nothing so much as by being frequent in praises and thanksgivings: “The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). It is an act of holy prudence in the saints, when they are under any trouble, to strain themselves to the quite contrary duty of what temptations and corruptions would drive them unto. When the temptation is laid to make us murmur and swell at God's dealings, we should on the contrary bless and give thanks. And therefore the Psalmist doth so frequently sing praises in the saddest condition. There is no perfect defeating the temptation but by studying matter of praise and to set seriously about the duty. So Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Shall we receive so many proofs of the love of God and [yet] quarrel at a few afflictions that come from the same hand and rebel against His providence when He bringeth on some needful trouble for our trial and exercise? As we receive good things cheerfully and contentedly, so must we receive evil things submissively and patiently.
3. It is a most delightful work to remember the many thousand mercies God hath bestowed on the church, ourselves, and friends. To remember His gracious word and all the passages of His providence; is this burdensome to us? “Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely” (Psa 147:1); and “Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant” (Psa 135:3). No profit [is] so great as spiritual; [it] is not to be measured by the good things of this world or a little pelf or the great mammon, which so many worship. But spiritual and divine benefit, which tendeth to make us spiritually better, more like God, more capable of communion with Him, that is true profit. It is an increase of faith, love, and obedience. So for pleasure and delight—that which truly exhilarateth the soul [and] begets upon us a solid impression of God's love—that is the true pleasure. Carnal pleasures are unwholesome for you . . . but this holy delight that resulteth from the serious remembrance of God and setting forth His excellences and benefits is safe and healthful and doth cheer us, but [does] not hurt us.
Means or directions: Heighten all the mercies you have by all the circumstances necessary to be considered. [First, consider] the nature and kind of them: spiritual, eternal blessings [come] first. The greatest mercies deserve greatest acknowledgment: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3)—[i.e.], Christ's Spirit, pardon of sins, heaven, the way of salvation known, accepted, and the things of the world as subordinate helps. "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luk 10:20). Then consider your sense in the [absence] of mercies: what high thoughts had you then of them? The mercies are the same when you have them and when you want them; only your apprehensions are greater. If affectionately begged, they must be affectionately acknowledged; else you are a hypocrite either in the supplication or gratulation.
Consider the person giving: God—so high and glorious! A small remembrance from a great prince—no way obliged, no way needing me, to whom I can be no way profitable—a small kindness melts us: a gift of a few pounds, a little parcel of land. Do I court him and observe him? There is less reason why God should abase Himself to look upon us or concern Himself in us: “Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!” (Psa 113:6). We have all things from Him.
Consider the person receiving: so unworthy: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant” (Gen 32:10). “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? (2Sa 7:18).
Consider the season: our greatest extremity is God's opportunity. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (Gen 22:14), when [Abraham's] knife was at the throat of his son. “We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust, that he will yet deliver us” (2Co 1:9, 10).
Consider the end and fruit of His mercy: it is to manifest His special love to us and engage our hearts to Himself: “Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption” (Isa 38:17), or “Thou hast loved me from the grave.” Otherwise God may give things in anger.
Consider the means by which He brought them about, when unlikely, weak, insufficient, unexpected in themselves. The greatest matters of providence hang many times upon small wires: a lie brought Joseph into prison, and a dream fetched him out; he was advanced, and Jacob's family fed. Consider the number of His mercies: “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (Psa 139:17)—the many failings pardoned, comforts received, dangers prevented, deliverances vouchsafed. How He began with us before all time, conducted us in time, and hath been preparing for us a happiness which we shall enjoy when time shall be no more.
In three days Thanksgiving will be here, and with our newly glutted bellies we’ll be catapulted full force into a season of consumer frenzy, summarized best by the mantra “X shopping days left 'til Christmas.” (Funny, Advent used to be about anticipating a Savior). Already my inbox and mailbox are stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys with “Special Holiday Offers,” and I’m wishing there were Tums to tame that horrible feeling of ambiguity that churns in my stomach around this time of year when I long to savor a true spirit of thankfulness without choking on the gluttony of the season, when I yearn to anticipate the Savior without dreading the frenetic, consumeristic clamoring of Christmas. Sigh……. Ay me.
So I’m taking a deep breath as I pause on this holiday precipice. And I’m basting my mind and heart in the things I want to remember this Thanksgiving and Advent season.
Labels: Christianity and Culture
In recent months, a spate of atheist books have argued that religion represents, as "End of Faith" author Sam Harris puts it, "the most potent source of human conflict, past and present."
Columnist Robert Kuttner gives the familiar litany. "The Crusades slaughtered millions in the name of Jesus. The Inquisition brought the torture and murder of millions more. After Martin Luther, Christians did bloody battle with other Christians for another three centuries."
In his bestseller "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins contends that most of the world's recent conflicts - in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Northern Ireland, in Kashmir, and in Sri Lanka - show the vitality of religion's murderous impulse.
The problem with this critique is that it exaggerates the crimes attributed to religion, while ignoring the greater crimes of secular fanaticism.
Labels: Christianity and Culture
In the summer of 2005, Hilary Renaldy rode her bicycle through Idaho and Montana. Renaldy, a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had no idea that the Lord would bring her back the following year. While Renaldy fell in love with the beauty of the landscape, God prepared a mission for her in that very area.
"I had never been out west before that summer," she said. "Traveling through that region and seeing a need out there for churches gave me a desire to go there and minister."
Having arrived at Southern Seminary in the Fall of 2005 with a desire to pursue a Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling, Renaldy also knew that the Lord was increasing her passion for evangelism. That passion is what led her to meet with George Garner, missions and leadership development consultant of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention.
As a result of their meeting, Renaldy spent her summer working with the state convention on its new pilot program Youth Evangelism Saturation Project (YES teams).
Today, I am posting another question and answer from my Systematic III class. I hope that you find my answer edifying.
Read Hebrews 6:4-6 and John 10:27-28. Consult one or two scholarly commentaries on each passage. In light of the debate between eternal security and apostasy, how do these two texts relate to each other? What would you say to a church member who comes to you and tells you that he is sure his father is saved, even though he has shown no evidence of salvation since the time of his “conversion experience” twenty years ago?
Are followers of Christ eternally secure or can they apostatize? Throughout history, Christians have answered this question in opposite ways. Those who hold to eternal security often quote as proof the words of Jesus in John 10:27-28, while those who advocate the possibility of apostasy will frequently turn to Hebrews 6:4-6. Which side of the debate is right? To solve this dilemma, one must understand what these passages mean as well as how they relate to each other.
John 10:27-28 is a clear affirmation of eternal security. Jesus states, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." Using the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep, Jesus here speaks of the relationship he has with his disciples. Jesus knows them and they follow him. As Leon Morris says, "It is the knowledge Christ has of the sheep that is important, and accordingly it is this that receives the emphasis. The result of this knowledge is that they follow him, the present tense denoting a habitual following." Therefore, following Christ is an ongoing reality once a believer is united to him. This biblical text also teaches that this union with Christ can never be severed. In Jesus, Christians have eternal life and can never perish. D. A. Carson notes the strength of this bond: "The consequence of his gift of them to eternal life is that they shall never perish. It could not be otherwise, if they have eternal life. . . . To think otherwise would entail the conclusion that Jesus had failed in the explicit assignment given him by the Father, to preserve all those given to him." Genuine followers of Christ can never truly fall away from their Savior.
If eternal security is true, then how should an individual understand Hebrews 6:4-6? "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." This passage appears to contain two elements: 1) true believers ("those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come"), and 2) apostasy ("if they then fall away"). But putting these two components together seems to contradict the doctrine of eternal security presented in other parts of Scripture. Do these texts contradict? Or can they be reconciled?
Since the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, it cannot contradict itself. With this truth in mind, Christians maintaining eternal security have proposed two solutions. First, some deny that this text describes true believers. While they appear to have faith in Jesus Christ, their conversion is temporary and false. John Calvin takes this approach, saying, "But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace. . . . There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up." Second, others deny that this text teaches apostasy will actually occur. In essence, the biblical author is giving a hypothetical argument. Donald Guthrie says, "It must be borne in mind that no indication is given in this passage that any of the readers had committed the kind of apostasy mentioned. The writer appears to be reflecting on a hypothetical case, although in the nature of the whole argument it must be supposed that it was a real possibility." Notice that either interpretation is compatible with eternal security.
Nevertheless, which one is correct? I believe the second position is more persuasive. The description of the individual apostatizing appears too strong to be referring to a false convert. The Bible uses the word taste to describe participation in and enjoyment of something (Psalm 34:8, 1 Peter 2:3), which hardly expresses the reality of false faith. Additionally, sharing in or being made partakers of the Holy Spirit expresses having true faith (see also Hebrews 3:14). Another reason to accept this explanation is to recognize the conditional nature of the argument. Verse 6 begins with an if: "if they then fall away." Therefore, this falling away does not actually ever have to occur. The biblical writer is using this argument as a sincere warning to believers about the danger of forsaking their faith. At the same time, God uses this argument as an effective means to keep these believers in the faith. An example of this kind of effective warning is seen in Acts 27. In verses 21-25, the Apostle Paul reveals a divine promise—no one will die. Later, as some try to escape their difficult situation, Paul warns them in verse 31 that death will come if anyone leaves. Essentially, God uses this warning to insure his promise that no one will die. This same relationship occurs between the promise of eternal security and the warnings of apostasy. Jesus will loose none of those who are his.
Holding to the doctrine of eternal security has important and practical implications. How would I respond to a church member who comes to me and tells me that he is sure his father is saved, even though his father has shown no evidence of salvation since the time of his "conversion experience" twenty years ago? As we have seen in our discussion of John 10:27-28, following Christ is an ongoing reality once a believer is united to him in faith. When one follows Christ, he or she produces fruit. Jesus says in Matthew 7:16-20: "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." If all a member's father has done is had a "conversion experience" twenty years ago, then there is no reason to understand his conversion as genuine. As an unbeliever, he still needs to repent of his sins and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. He would not have apostatized since he was never a genuine believer in the first place. Therefore, Hebrews 6:4-6 does not apply to him, where it would be impossible for him to be restored again to repentance. His father needs to hear and respond to the gospel. Through repentance and faith, he would be united to Christ, never having to face the punishment he deserves again.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 463.
D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 393.
John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, trans. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 138.
Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 145.
Labels: "Weird Al" Yankovic
The Gospel and the Christian faith to which it leads are true and rational. Only those whose zeal is to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:21ff) will be able, faced with the facts of personal experience, historical reality, and Biblical exegesis, to maintain otherwise.
One of the common prayer requests I hear, and issues brought up to me as a pastor, concerns a person’s “quiet time.” This is the time a Christian spends alone with God (often in the morning) reading Scripture and praying. People call this a “quiet time,” or “devotions;” the puritans called it “private worship.” I wanted to share a few thoughts on the subject, but this turned out to be a bit longer than I thought, so I will blog on it in a few different parts.
Before we get into the common questions I get, the how-to of beginning, reclaiming and maintaining a quiet time, I want to issue a warning. Not only do many struggle with making this a consistent part of their lives, even more have an unhealthy perspective on this habit that can erode one’s walk with Christ. As important as this sort of formative discipline is, your quiet time is not the measure of your spiritual life, nor is it the measure of your standing before God. We need to be careful to avoid these false assessments by keeping the cross at the center of our lives. God loves us and accepts us because of Christ alone. Jesus is our confidence before God, not our performance. And yet, it seems that on some level, at least some of the time, we do not believe this. To put it plainly, many Christians have bought into a cleansing rite they believe washes away sin and guilt and enables them to approach God. Let me explain.
Labels: Other Resources
If you want to learn what your spiritual gifts are, the best place to begin would be with reading the Bible and praying. Allow God to speak to you through His Word, showing you where He has gifted you. Ask Him to give you a passion for your gift and to provide desire and opportunity for you to exercise this gift. And having done that, ask your Christian friends and family, your pastor and elders, what they think your gifting is. I believe this may be a far more valuable means of assessment, and probably a more accurate means of assessment, than a spiritual gift inventory.
Labels: Other Resources
Today, I found an article by John MacArthur that provides further insight into church discipline: "Let 'Em Know or Let It Go?" In this brief piece, he answers the question: "How do we know when we to confront and when to quietly forgive and forget?" MacArthur provides six helpful guidelines for a Christian to know whether to quietly forgive or to lovingly confront.
Labels: Personal Ministry
You are the new youth minister in an urban church. You decide that you will spend the first few Wednesday night sessions talking about salvation, explaining what it is, how one gets saved, and so forth. About the fourth week a young man who is faithful to the program and who is quite moral raises his hand. “I don’t understand all this stuff about repentance, faith, justification. I have always been a good kid, my parents are leaders in this church, I have lived a moral life, as my parents taught me to. I have practiced WWJD since I was in grade school. Isn’t that what it means to be a Christian?” Based on Paul’s discussion of such issues in Romans 1-4 and Ephesians 2, how would you reply? Do you think that his understanding of the gospel means that he is probably lost? Why? How would you deal with him next?
Today, many youths do not understand the basic truths of the Christian faith, including the gospel message. Therefore, if I were a youth minister, I would certainly teach about salvation and related issues. In the midst of teaching these truths, what would I do if a young man told me that he was a good and moral person? Especially if he thought that living an upright life was what Christianity was all about? These questions deserve a thoughtful response.
First, I would turn to Scripture. Because the Bible is God’s revelation to us, believers look to it alone as our complete, sufficient, and accurate guide in matters of our faith and practice. Two sections of Scripture directly dealing with the issues this young man raised are Romans 1-4 and Ephesians 2. Therefore, I would begin by sharing with him God’s Word from these passages.
Romans 1-4 is foundational to our understanding of salvation. After an extended introduction, Paul begins talking about the human condition in 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Even though God has always made himself known to his creation, fallen humanity refuses to acknowledge and submit to him. As a result, we are natural idolaters that are given over to our sinful passions. All of us are born in rebellion against our creator and face his wrath for rejecting him. In chapter two, Paul shows that humanity is in the same condition whether we have the Law or not. This truth would be difficult for the Jews to accept. The Jews thought that they were different from the rest of mankind because God had given them the Law. However, they were incapable of keeping the Law, so they continued to bring God’s judgement upon themselves. Paul concludes in chapter three by showing that both Jews and Greeks alike are under sin. There are no exceptions; all will face God’s wrath.
At this point, Paul turns to the good news, starting with 3:21-22: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” Being justified, or counted as righteous in God’s sight, comes through faith. It comes apart from the Law. Nothing we can do changes our standing before our just and holy God. We can never do enough good works to deserve salvation. It only comes through faith. In chapter 4, Paul illustrates this truth with an appeal to Abraham. Abraham was justified because he believed in God. Therefore, Abraham’s true descendents are those who have faith. Striving to keep the Law (or trying to live a good, moral life) brought wrath, and simply being a physical descendent of Abraham (or having the right parents) did not make a person one of God’s people. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be justified.
Ephesians 2 teaches the same truth. Verses 1-3 speak of our natural human condition: we are dead in our trespasses and sins. However, verses 4-10 go on to share what God has done for us. These verses close with a classic summary of salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (vv. 8-10). The rest of the chapter shows that this is true for both Jews and Gentiles—both become one through faith in Christ. What does this chapter tell us? We cannot satisfy God’s demands by anything we do. We are opposed to him. But God gives us the gift of grace and faith in salvation, which leads us to do great things for God. Good works do not bring salvation; they are a result of salvation.
With these scriptural truths in mind, do I think that the young man who thought he was living an upright life is probably lost? Yes I do. He is like the Jews that were trusting in their ability to keep the Law. He is trying to please God through his good works. He does not have an understanding of the gospel and is still dead in his trespasses and sins.
Because of this man’s spiritual state, how would I deal with him next? The same way Paul gave the gospel in Romans 1-4. This young man needs to understand the bad news before he can appreciate the good news. The bad news is that he is living in rebellion against God; he is a sinner deserving God’s wrath. To convince him of his standing before God, I would turn to the Law as Jesus did with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16ff), because the Law brings conviction of sin (Romans 3:20). Having parents as leaders in a church does not make one a Christian, and neither does living a good moral life and practicing WWJD.
Once he understands his separation from God, I would proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work. He lived the perfect life we could not live. He died on the cross, taking all of the punishment and wrath we deserve upon himself. Then he was raised from the dead, showing that his sacrifice was accepted by God. I would plead with the young man to turn away from his sin and embrace Jesus Christ as the one who saves us from hell. By believing in Jesus Christ, this young man’s sins would be forgiven, and he would be reconciled with his creator. What a wonderful day that would be if this youth was saved. Then he would know what it means to be a Christian.
- Stephen Marshall
- Robert Harris
- Edmund Calamy
It seems to me that the blogosphere reaction to the Ted Haggard scandal is breaking two ways. On one side are those who utterly denounce the man and see in him a glaring example of everything wrong in popular evangelicalism today. On the other side are those who want to stress that we are all rotten sinners "just like Ted Haggard" and that the only evangelical response is to mourn over one's own sin. As usual, there is something good and something troubling about both positions.
Labels: Christianity and Culture
To begin responding, I admit up front that I am in the process of understanding how Christianity relates to culture (especially pop culture). To be honest, this is an area where I do not have firm answers. At the same time, I do believe that this issue is an important one to address. Some Christians (even with the same fundamental theological commitments) disagree. For example, compare Doug Phillips' recent post "The Horror Genre" with Brian Godawa's article "A Theology of Horror Movies" (in PDF format). Both are Reformed presuppositionalists, but they come to opposite conclusions.
I do tend to lean toward Godawa in his thoughts, believing that horror movies can be profitable and have redeeming value. (I also confess that his book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment, has been sitting on my shelf far too long. I hope to get around to reading it soon!)
Often, critics will compare horror movies to porn films. But I don't think this direct association is valid. What is the purpose of porn? To titillate one's sexual desires. However, has there also been nude art which does not strive to titillate? Of course, and we do not consider it porn. Porn, by definition, is rooted in its sinful goal. So, I would say that porn is a narrower form within the larger umbrella of nude art.
Let's turn to horror movies. Is the inherent purpose of horror movies to titillate one's sinful desires? Maybe. But it depends on the movie, doesn't it? While there is a subgenre of horror films which glorifies violence, those well known "slasher flicks," other horror movies treat evil as serious, tragic, and even sinful. With this in mind, I make a comparison more like this:
- Genre: Nude Art, Subgenre: Porn
- Genre: Horror, Subgenre: Slasher Flicks
- Why do I want to see this movie?
- What witness do I give by seeing this movie?
- Will this movie cause my heart to desire sin, or will it lead me to contemplate the reality of evil and Christ's triumph over it on the cross?
Labels: Christianity and Culture
If we look to Ted Haggard as a representative of all that is wrong in Evangelicalism, I think we miss the most important lesson. The lesson we need to learn is that we are every bit as sinful and fallible and willful and depraved as Haggard; perhaps more so. It is only the grace of God that, like a spider being held over the flame by a nearly-invisible web, prevents me from giving in to all the sin that is in me and being dragged down by it. Oh, that He would continue to extend this grace! And oh, that I would take heed lest I, too, fall, for what is in Haggard is in me
Labels: Christianity and Culture
Contrast the two views: Unconditional election over against election based on foreseen faith. Using Scripture, build a case for the view which you believe is most biblical. Read the section in Erickson on this topic. How does he argue for his own position? Do you agree with him? Why or why not? Suppose a church member comes to you with doubts about whether she is truly a Christian. Using your own understanding of the doctrine of election, what might you say to her?
Throughout the history of the Christian faith, two contrasting views of election have been articulated and defended. Some believers have argued for conditional election, where God chooses those he will save based upon their foreseen faith. In essence, God chooses us because we will choose him. Election is conditional, dependent on the exercising of faith. Other followers of Christ have maintained unconditional election. Proponents of this position believe that God chooses those he will save apart from anything in them. Therefore, there are no conditions in election; a person is chosen based solely on God's purposes. Which understanding is biblical? Let us turn to Scripture for our answer.
First, God does have an elect people whom he has chosen. In the Old Testament, God chose the corporate nation of Israel: "Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day" (Deuteronomy 10:14-15; see also Psalm 33:12, 65:4, 106:5; Amos 3:2; and Haggai 2:23). Whereas in the Old Testament election was corporate, in the New Testament God has chosen individuals to be his people (Ephesians 1:3-14; Revelation 13:8, 17:8).
Second, whether corporate or individual, God's choice was not based on any reason in his chosen people. The election of Israel was solely because of God's promise to their forefathers: "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). New covenant election was also not based on any reason in its members: "So then it [God's choice] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Romans 9:16). Jesus himself said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16).
Third, faith is the result of God's election, not the cause or ground of his choice. Acts 13:48 refers to how Gentiles came to faith: "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." The Apostle Paul also wrote: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29).
The main biblical text which causes contention is Romans 8:29-30: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." Often called the golden chain of salvation, these verses begin with foreknowledge and end with glorification. Those who hold to conditional election point out that foreknowledge comes before predestination in this chain. Thus, they argue that God foreknows the future faith of an individual, and on the basis of this knowledge he predestines or elects them. However, their reasoning assumes a certain understanding of foreknowledge. What does this word mean in the Bible? When taking into account Romans 11:2, 1 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 2:19, John 10:14-15, etc., foreknowledge clearly means to prefer or to love specially. Also notice that this text does not say that God foreknew something about particular individuals (such as what they will or won't do), but that God foreknew the individuals themselves. There is simply no biblical support for conditional election.
I am not unique in holding this view—Millard J. Erickson also defends unconditional election. He begins his argument by showing that Scripture speaks of election in different senses. As a result, he takes a close look at the vocabulary of election. Next, he suggests that logically prior to God's election of some to eternal life, the falleness of humanity is presupposed. Thus, due to the total depravity of all mankind, no one would respond to the gospel without a special action by God. Here, he rejects the Arminian concept of prevenient grace. This theory is simply not explicitly taught in the Bible. Consequently, he does embrace unconditional election. He continues quoting and examining various biblical texts to prove his case, and then demonstrates that foreknowledge is not an advance knowledge of what someone will do, but is an affirmative choice of that person. I am in complete agreement with Erickson. I find his utilization and exposition of relevant passages compelling. His rejection of conditional election is sensitive but firm.
Nevertheless, how does this issue apply in practical church life? If a church member came to me with doubts about whether she was truly a Christian, what would I say to her? To begin with, I'd commend her for questioning her salvation. As the Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:10a: "Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure." We are not to presume that we are elect. But if this is the case, then how do we make our calling and election sure? We find the answer in the rest of verse 10: "for if you practice these qualities [given in vv. 5-7] you will never fall." Essentially, true believers in Christ bear fruit. When we bear spiritual fruit, we demonstrate that God has chosen us and that his Holy Spirit resides in us. Thus, I would have this church member examine herself with these qualities and the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24) to assess her spiritual condition.
If she is a believer that needs encouragement, I would then point her to how Peter begins this passage, where he states the following glorious truth for all of God's elect: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." Our salvation is not dependent upon us, but on God. And he is the one who gives us divine power to bear fruit as we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Unconditional election is a glorious biblical teaching with important practical implications. As Christians, our salvation is not dependent on our will or our efforts. These may fail. We are saved because God loves us and has chosen us to be united to Jesus Christ. Through his redemptive work, our eternal life is secure.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 936-940.
I won’t deny that sometimes my mind works in mysterious ways. The other day, I don’t know why, but I was thinking about the movie the Karate Kid. As I was, I began to think of it as an extended analogy of Philippians 1:27. Let me (try to) explain.
Labels: Christianity and Culture
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Baker Books is preparing to publish An Emergent Manifesto of Hope in April 2007, and they’ve posted a PDF excerpt from it online which includes the table of contents, Tony Jones’ introduction, and two chapters (one from Barry Taylor and one from Sally Morgenthaler).
Other books in the new Emersion imprint of Baker include Kester Brewin’s Signs of Emergence (July 2007) and Will and Lisa Samson’s book Justice in the Burbs (August 2007).