Tuesday, January 29, 2008

7 Things You Might Not Have Known

Tokyo Jennifer tagged me with the 7 disclosures meme. So, I think I'm supposed to give 7 things you might not know about me. Here goes:

1. There was a time that I wanted to be an interior designer. You can't tell it by looking at our place these days, but I do like design. And on many nights, a good date with me and the wife is a long night watching HGTV. Which reminds me... DO BETTER WITH DATE NIGHTS!

2. Related to the above (maybe this is cheating), there was I time I also wanted to be a fashion designer. I'm no clothes horse, but I like nicely cut suits and a well-built shoe. I'm not a real fan of "What Not To Wear," however. Most of what they recommend is either too trendy or too immodest.

3. If I were not a pastor, my career of choice would be high school basketball coach. I was an assistant for 3-4 years and I loved it. There was nothing quite like the opportunity to mold those young fellas into better men and basketball players.

4. I'm actually quite shy. Really!

5. I like to read (okay, binge on) Dee Henderson romance novels about once every couple of years. I really enjoyed the O'Malley series. I thought the concept was great... seven orphans who band together to make their own family, all of whom have fabulously exciting careers, each novel focusing on one of the family member's conversion, including some major apologetic theme running alongside the action of the story. Good stuff. No Fabio nonsense.

6. Related to the above, I once accidentally took my wife's multi-vitamins for about a 2-week period. During that time, I had an uncontrollable urge to rent "chic flicks" and cried at everything. I was an absolute mess! Then, one day, straining to see through teary eyes, I looked down at the vitamin bottle I was trying to open only to realize that they were her vitamins.

7. I like country music. Now, that will get a brotha's ghetto pass revoked. But, hey, what can I say? It's good story telling. I also love the blues for the same reason.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Jerry Bridges on Four Ways to Love

A new friend and fellow laborer, Kurt Gebhard, sent me a copy of Jerry Bridges' The Crisis of Caring: Recovering the Meaning of True Fellowship. I've enjoyed working through this Christ-centered, pastorally helpful resource. I was struck particularly by a little section called "Union with God." Bridges outlines four possible ways a Christian can approach the Christian life."There are basically four ways to live the Christian life. The first way is to attempt to do it entirely on our own, by our own effort and willpower. This way is doomed to failure. Jesus stated very plainly, "Apart from me you do nothing" (John 15:5). If we attempt such a solo effort, some meager expressions of the life of Christ will remain in us, for, after all, we are still in union with Him. But in our daily spiritual life we will experience mostly failure, frustration, and, very likely, unsatisfactory relationships with other people. The fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.--will hardly be visible. Instead of growing vigorously in our lives, those gracious qualities will be stunted and withered. We may have lots of Christian activity and even apparent Christian success, but we will possess little genuine Spirit-produced fruit. Most of us have probably tried this solo approach to the Christian life and found it wanting.

"The second way to live the Christian life is frequently a reaction to the first. Having experienced the futility of the self-effort way, we go to the other extreme, deciding to do nothing at all. We just 'turn it all over to the Lord' and allow Him to live His life through us. We decide, perhaps because we have heard or read it some place, that any effort on our part to live the Christian life is 'of the flesh.' We conclude that we should not work at living the Christian life, but simply trust God, who does the work for us. Many of us have tried this approach and, if we are honest with ourselves, have discovered that this, too, is not God's way.

"A third way is the 'Lord, help me' approach. The chief characteristic of this way is a partial dependence on the Lord: the unconscious but nevertheless real attitude that I can of my own self live the Christian life up to a point but that I need the Lord's help after that point. It is the assumption--unconscious, perhaps, but very real--that there is a certain reservoir of goodness, wisdom, and spiritual strength within my own character that I should draw on for the ordinary duties of life, but that beyond that, I need the Lord's help. This may be the attitude of some people who like to quote the saying, 'Lord, help me remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can't handle.' Sadly enough, this is probably the most common approach among sincere Christians today. It is the approach used by thousands of Christians who pray a prayer for God's help at the beginning of the day, but who proceed from that point onward as if it all depended on them--unless they meet a crisis situation. It is the attitude most of us fall into at various times if we are not watchful.

"But as the great Puritan scholar John Owen wrote, 'We do not have the ability in ourselves to accomplish the least of God's tasks. This is a law of grace. When we recognize it is impossible for us to perform a duty in our own strength, we will discover the secret of its accomplishment. But alas, this is a secret we often fail to discover.'

"The fourth approach to the Christian life is the abiding-in-Christ way. the believer who practices this approach knows that the self-effort approach and the 'let go and let God' approach are both futile. He has also learned that he needs God's help not just beyond a certain point but in every aspect of life. He doesn't pray for hep just during crises or stressful times. Rather, his prayer is, 'Lord, enable me all day long, for without You I can do nothing.' To illustrate, let's imagine that God has asked him to lift a heavy log (perhaps the log symbolizes a difficult circumstance he must go through, or just the day-to-day demands of the Christian life). This believer doesn't say, 'Lord, I've got a log that's too heavy for me to lift. If You will take one end, I will take the other end and together we will lift this log.' Instead he says, 'Lord, You must enable me to lift this log if I am to do it. To all appearances it will seem as if I am lifting this log, and I truly am, but I am doing so only because You have given me all the strength to do it.' This is what Paul was saying in Philippians 4:13: 'I can do everything through him who gives me strength.' The log in that instance was the challenge of contentment in the midst of changing circumstances. Paul was able to meet that challenge, not with God's help (God and Paul sharing the load) but with God's total enabling.

"John Owen again expressed this attitude of total reliance on Christ when he paraphrased Galatians 2:20: 'The spiritual life which I have is not my own. I did not induce it, and I cannot maintain it. It is only and solely the work of Christ. It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me. My whole life is His alone.'

"So the difference between 'Lord, help me' and 'Lord, enable me' is a matter of partial trust in our self-effort versus total reliance on Christ."

Personally, I was found out on the third approach. How easy it is to slide into a 50-50 approach to living the Christian life, to confuse imperative with indicative, or look to the imperative while losing sight of the indicative. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ living in me. What wonderful truth that is!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Carefulness in Treating Sin

I'm enjoying Mark Lauterbach's book, The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. It's a rich and full treatment of this important aspect of our corporate life in Christ. Chapter 4 is called, "For What Sins?" Mark attempts to help us with spiritual diagnosis and triage, with determining how to treat various cases before us. Below are several quotes that helpfully guide us in thinking about the sins we may be called on to address as fellow members of the Body of Christ and as pastors/leaders. They're offered as coaching based on years of experience applying God's word to the lives of God's people.
The General Need for Relationships
"Over the years, I have observed that the worst cases of sin in the church have always been in believers who lived a life isolated from the intimacy of sharing the things of God with their brothers. No one knows them. They have no spiritual friends. I believe every believer needs a friend in Christ who knows them and watches over them. I also believe that believers need to be encouraged to go to their overseers when they face troubled consciences or habits of sin they cannot stop." (p. 83)

"We need to cultivate in our churches the expectation that people have a few spiritual friends, who keep an eye on them and vice versa! Then we need to coach them in how wisely to address a concern when they feel a drifting in someone's heart and a change in their behavior.

Seven Principles to Apply
"Let's look at a few more principles. First, it should be evident we are dealing with sin, not violation of church taboos or traditions. We must be careful not to go to a brother or sister for 'sin' for which I have no biblical basis. This takes great care." (p. 85)

"Make sure that the sin you are seeing in the other can be addressed by reading a verse of Scripture, without commentary. for example, perhaps you think a sister you know is becoming greedy. The proof of this is her purchase of a nice car. So, what verse reproves her? Is it 1 John 2:15 'Love not the world'? Will she see the application without any comment from you? Even if you make the connection of this to her car, are you certain of her motive?" (p. 86)

"Second, I must guard the church against an atmosphere that is always pointing out sin. I think the Scripture speaks to this on two fronts. It addresses the danger of a judgmental spirit, and it speaks of love's making kind judgments of others (Matt. 7:1-5)." (p. 86)

"Third, the general tone of the New Testament is encouragement. This does not mean there is no place for reproof. We build character and godliness by listening to reproof. However, we wear people down by constant reproof." (p. 88)

"Fourth, there is the sin that is the normal lapse of the believer in their state of remaining corruption. The first question to ask is simple: Is this sin I am seeing part of the ordinary stumbling of the Christian? If so, then I need not speak to it immediately. Is it hardening their hearts or are they judging themselves? If the latter, I may forbear." (p. 89)

"Fifth, we must take into account the work of the Spirit. He is wisely shaping us into the likeness of Christ in his sovereign love. Rather than expose all our corruption at once, he is gentle. To see ourselves as God sees us would undo us. He points out one thing at a time. As I intend to reprove someone or speak to them of my concern for them in sin, I must be aware of this." (p. 90)

"Sixth, where the believer is judging his sin and admitting it, I have no reason to be harsh. They, like me, are seeking help and encouragement to keep on fighting the holy war. It is not helpful to rub salt in a wound." (p. 92)

"Seventh, sometimes we must intervene quickly. Look at Paul's concern in 1 Corinthians 5 with public sin. Some transgressions are private. Others are public. The list given seems to deal with a believer who has a reputation for these things. Moreover, the sins are evident to others. Immorality, adultery, greed that is evident, idolatry, or swindling and slandering--these are often public offenses." (p. 92)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Discussing "The Decline" with Dr. Al Mohler

Yesterday, the Lord granted the great privilege of spending some time with my brother and friend, Dr. Al Mohler. We had a great time on his radio program discussing The Decline. I pray it's encouraging for any who decide to listen. Let me know what you think.

While you're there, check out the Mohler Show archives. A lot of worthwhile listening available there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Good Words on Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, and Pride

"Humbled for past unworthiness, let elders work on steadily and prayerfully, looking for and expecting the blessing. There will be fruit of our sowing, for that is promised; and usually we shall see fruit, though that is not promised. Some men have passed away from their work to their reward thinking that they had been of little or no use in the world, when it was found that much good had been done by them. With others, again, there is a tendency to exaggerate in their own minds what they have been enabled to do. While it is very encouraging to know that the Lord has blessed our work, it requires much grace for ourselves to safely see much fruit. Everyone is not led to say, or at least to feel, as Dr. Chalmers did when told of a conversion under his preaching, "That is very humbling."

"Then we are apt to forget a great principle of God's Word: "One soweth and another reapeth" (John 4:37). In the rescue of a drowning man, one person might give the alarm, a second might bring a rope, a third might throw it to him, and a fourth might draw him to shore. It could be said truly of all these four that they were instruments in saving the man from death. So it is in the salvation of souls, as proved by the history of individuals. God works all in all, but he often uses several different instruments for the ingathering of his elect, "that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Cor. 1:29). How often would our poor hearts try to get credit for being the only instrument in the salvation of a sinner! Now, we can be of much use, and I believe often are of much use, where we see no necessary connection between our own work and the salvation of men. It is, in one sense, a humbling view. It excludes all boasting in ourselves. It is well for many that the good they do is hidden from them till they are able to bear it. And yet it is very encouraging too, for though we may not be able to do any great thing, we can yet do many little things. Let us rejoice to be even the smallest and humblest link in that chain of love and grace by which Jesus is drawing sinners to himself. How well for us and the souls we care for that, from first to last, "salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9)!"

From David Dickson (eds. George Kennedy McFarland and Philip Graham Ryken), The Elder and His Work, P&R, p. 126-127.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pride Goes Before A Fall

A dear fiend... I mean "friend"... called me last Saturday after my beloved Wolfpack took a beating at the hands of the then-#1 ranked UNC Tarheels.

Ah... but my turtle-loving brethren North of the Mason Dixon had our backs.

Hey Pete...
Fear the turtle!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Virtue and Its Impostors

Three things confuse a Christian;
Yeah, four confound any man.

Unbelief masquerading as wisdom,
Enthusiasm presenting itself as faith,

Fear pretending to be patience,
and permissiveness claiming to be love.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mutual Belonging As Local Church Membership

Some time back, the good folks over at NA (check out the new look) had an interesting conversation going regarding the universal and the local church and church membership. A couple of us had been asked to write a post explaining how we would counsel someone who says they don't feel they need to join a local church because they are members of the universal church (see here and here). How can we persuade such Lone Rangers that the Lord calls them to participate in His body and that they and the body need each other? What are now posted as "articles" were originally blog posts that sparked a lot of comments and interaction. Since that time, I've been noodling on this a little bit, trying to work out the family metaphor as a way of addressing the universal--local tension.

Some generalizations:
First, the universal church should not be set against the local church as though they were exclusive categories, or as though one could nullify the need for the other.

Second, interpreting the doctrine of the universal church to permit spiritual individualism leads to an insufficient view for explaining the family and one another passages of the New Testament, or for sustaining healthy spiritual life.

Two illustrations: The Human family
Every person ever born is a member of what we call the human family. That is, they are instantly a part of a large, innumerable collection of other human beings.

But, being born into a human family does not make a person a member of the family called "Jones" that lives on Main Street. Not everyone born into the human family can make a claim on the love, resources, and care of the Jones family. Imagine you're in the mall and a little fella you've never seen before in your life comes running up to you with a Nintendo Wii and an arm full of video games saying, "Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Mommy/Daddy please buy this for me. Please can I have it?! It's only $800."

Obviously, the little fella is confused. You don't accept this kind of begging from your own children. He's a human sure enough, a part of that larger family. But he's not an Anyabwile or a Jones or a Smith (as common as those names are). You'd politely direct the tike to find "his real parents." You might go so far as to help him look for or walk him to the nearest help desk or security counter. But you wouldn't regard him as a member of your family and entitled to your family's ongoing resources and love.

For that to happen, something else must occur. There's a switch that must be flipped. There must be a common ownership or commitment, where members of the Jones family give themselves to the child and the child gives itself to the care of the Jones family as a participating member. Whether this "switch" gets flipped by a natural birth or by adoption, there must be the recognition of mutual belonging.

Now such mutual belonging in a particular family doesn't mean the child is no longer a part of the human family. He certainly is. The categories are not in contradiction. The Jones family is a particular of the general.

Moreover, belonging to the family Jones is what ensures that the child will remain a part of the human family. Let me try to explain that with another family illustration.

Imagine you're not at the mall, but taking out the garbage. You approach the can and there you see an infant wrapped in a blanket. Someone has left them there to be discovered. What would you do?

Well, if we're a part of the human family we'd recognize the humanity before us. We would likely temporarily take the child into our care and notify the proper authorities. That's the only humane thing to do. We recognize that unless that child receives the care of a surrogate family or some agency acting in that capacity, he will not survive. He will perish alongside that garbage can. What's necessary for their survival is participation in a particular family where mutual belonging is experienced. We would not wish to leave the child abandoned or see them orphaned. We would recognize that for a member of the human family lack of belonging to a particular family is unhealthy or abnormal or less than ideal .

Church Membership
Mutual belonging. That, I think, is the key to understanding church membership and why it's important. It's also the key to understanding why arguing "I'm a member of the universal church and therefore don't have to join a local church" is finally to wrongly put in opposition two things that belong together and to deny the kind of ongoing care necessary to the spiritual life of Christ.

At bottom mutual belonging in a family (or, local church membership if you will) rests on three things:

1. Recognition of a person's new humanity (being a part of the universal church, or the "human family" to use the language of the illustration) by a credible testimony of faith and conversion;

2. Recognition by the family (the local church) of a desire, responsibility, and commitment to care for an individual as one of its own in a continuing relationship; and

3. Recognition by the individual of a desire, responsibility, and commitment to care for and participate in the life of the entire family (the local church).

When these things are present, we can say the "switch" of mutual belonging has been flipped. Membership in the Jones family or the Second Baptist family has just occurred. We give expression to our universal spiritual life by our belonging to a particular spiritual family.

Making Mutual Belonging Clear to All
Now, one last thing to consider. The strength of this mutual belonging depends in part on how clearly that mutuality is established. In other words, we may have informal members of our families (like "uncle" Bernie, who really isn't a blood relative but a friend of the family) or more formal/clearly identified members of the family. Though we love "uncle Bernie" and may treat him like family, the designation "like family" indicates a difference in degree between true members and informal members.

The clarity and strength of this mutual belonging is bolstered when a local church has a clear process for taking in and seeing out members. The process can take any number of forms. Form isn't necessarily the critical thing. The critical thing is how explicit the process is in aiding the three recognitions we mentioned earlier: credible profession of faith; commitment of the church to the individual; and commitment of the individual to the church.

Being unclear at any of those points will have weakening effects on the local church and perhaps the individual. This is why claimants who say "we can do these same things with our friends down the street and not join the church" almost always drift toward spiritual decay rather than spiritual vibrancy.

But being careful and clear, helps each member of the family to grow in its relationships with the other members and with Christ Jesus. Just as we need the Jones, Smith, Anyabwile, Carter, and Johnson families to be strong... we need the First Baptist, Third Presbyterian, Fourth Apostolic Succession, and even the Ever-Abounding-Higher-Life-Now families to be strong. Of course, there is more to being strong than clarifying membership... but strong local church membership practices help.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Calvinists Who Don't Know They Are, 2

Yesterday we posted part 1 of a quote from J.I. Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, in which Packer helps us see that in giving God thanks for their salvation many folks think of conversion like Calvinists even if that is not their conscious creed, so to speak. Today's quote provides the second reason Packer thinks many folks may be "Calvinists" and not know it.

"There is a second way in which you acknowledge that God is sovereign in salvation. You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God's power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God's own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God's own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus, by your practice or intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God's grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.

"There is a long-standing controversy in the Church as to whether God is really Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not. What has been said shows us how we should regard this controversy. The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it. What causes this odd state of affairs? the root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church--the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see that the Bible teaches man's responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions. They are not content to let the two truths live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures, but jump to the conclusion that, in order to uphold the biblical truth of human responsibility, they are bound to reject the equally biblical and equally true doctrine of divine sovereignty, and to explain away the great number of texts that teach it. The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it. Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute. The irony of the situation, however, is that when we ask how the two sides pray, it becomes apparent that those who profess to deny God's sovereignty really believe in it just as strongly as those who affirm it.

"How, then, do you pray? Do you ask God for your daily bread? Do you thank God for your conversion? Do you pray for the conversion of others? If the answer is 'no,' I can only say that I do not think that you are yet born again. But if the answer is 'yes'--well, that proves that, whatever side you may have taken in debates on this question in the past, in your heart you believe in the sovereignty of God no less firmly than anyone else. On our feet we may have arguments about it, but on our knees we are all agreed. And it is this common agreement, of which our prayers give proof, that I take as our starting point now."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Calvinists Who Don't Know They Are, 1

Labels are used for convenience, but sometimes prove themselves to be quite inconvenient. As an amateur historian, I appreciate labels when they're used with some precision. They help us to make contact with the people and ideas and history that came before us. So, they can be useful. But they can also, when used sloppily or dishonestly, do more to occlude than elucidate. "Calvinist" and "Arminian" are two such labels. They're helpful when understood and used appropriately, but terribly harmful when called upon without understanding or precision.

But J.I. Packer helps us in understanding the label "Calvinist," and in so doing makes it clear that there are more "Calvinists" in the world than we'd suspect. In fact, many may be "Calvinists" and not know it. From Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

"Nor, again, am I going to spend time proving to you the particular truth that God is sovereign in salvation. For that, too, you believe already. Two facts show this. In the first place, you give God thanks for your conversion. Now why do you do that? Because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it. You did not save yourself; He saved you. Your thanksgiving is itself an acknowledgement that your conversion was not your own work, but His work. You do not put it down to chance or accident that you attended a Christian church, that you heard the Christian gospel, that you had Christian friends and, perhaps, a Christian home, that the Bible fell into your hands, that you saw your need of Christ and came to trust Him as your Saviour. You do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense. Perhaps, in the days when you were seeking Christ, you laboured and strove hard, read and pondered much, but all that outlay of effort did not make your conversion your own work. Your act of faith when you closed with Christ was yours in the sense that it was you who performed it; but that does not mean that you saved yourself. In fact, it never occurs to you to suppose that you saved yourself.

"As you look back, you take to yourself the blame for your past blindness and indifference and obstinacy and evasiveness in face of the gospel message; but you do not pat yourself on the back for having been at length mastered by the insistent Christ. You would never dream of dividing the credit for your salvation between God and yourself. You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God's. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to. This is the way in which, since you became a Christian, your heart has always led you. You give God all the glory for all that your salvation involved, and you know that it would be blasphemy if you refused to thank Him for bringing you to faith. Thus, in the way that you think of your conversion and give thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge the sovereignty of divine grace. And every other Christian in the world does the same.

"It is instructive in this connection to ponder Charles Simeon's account of his conversation with John Wesley on Dec. 20th, 1784: '"Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?" "Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed." "And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?" "Yes, solely through Christ" "But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you now somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?" "Now, I must be saved by Christ from first to last." "Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?" "No." "What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?" "Yes, altogether." "and is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?" "Yes, I have no hope but in Him." "Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; fir this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."'"

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reading on Evangelism for 2008

A couple posts back, I mentioned that my personal focus this year is on evangelism and doing the work of an evangelist. Throughout the year, Lord willing, I want to consistently read something that focuses me on evangelism, the gospel, and the lost. Brother Quincy requested the reading list, so here it is as it stands. My aim isn't necessarily to read through all of these, as if the goal were to "finish." Rather, these are books that have caught my interest for one reason or another, some of which I've read before, and that I want to spend some time however slow or fast working through. If I only read a couple of them well, I'd be quite encouraged and I trust the Lord will use that.

In no particular order:

Jerram Barrs, The Heart of Evangelism (Crossway)

Bruce J. Nichols, Contextualization: A Theology of Gospel and Culture (Regent College Press)

C. John Miller, Repentance and 21st Century Man (Christian Literature Crusade)

Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O'Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (IVP)

Cornelius P. Venema, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ (Banner)

Peter Jones, Gospel Truth--Pagan Lies: Can You Tell the Difference? (Spring Arbor Distributors)

Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Reflections on the Heart of the Gospel (Ligonier Ministries)

Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (P&R)

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Eerdmans)

Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Crossway)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Leeman on Hybels on REVEAL

Jonathan Leeman over at Church Matters has started a series of posts reacting to Bill Hybel's REVEAL. Should be an interesting ride. Here are the first three:

I particularly enjoyed the excursus.

The Bible and Races

Apparently, today's posts are all about books. But if you're like me, those are the best kinds of posts.

I read with great interest and delight "Enlightened Racism: Not from the Bible," CT's review of Colin Kidd's book, The Forging of Races:Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000.

The central premise of the book is captured in these paragraphs from the review:

Colin Kidd's well-researched, wide-ranging, and insightful book, The Forging of the Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600-2000, demolishes such assumptions when it comes to the issue of race. Kidd's persuasive and learned monograph is no gloating work of Christian apologetics. If anything, he seems slightly embarrassed by how well orthodox Christianity comes out in his narrative, trying to tone it down with mitigating statements calculated to make the accounts look more balanced than they actually are. What are in fact the obvious conclusions from his evidence repeatedly appear coyly as questions. Kidd also has a habit of using refracted or muted language.

Nevertheless, there is no effective way to offset the decisive direction in which his evidence takes us. Even the Old Testament—that vast, stagnant pond in which all manner of offensive viewpoints are supposed to lurk—offers no support to racists. Kidd admits this candidly: "the Bible is itself colour-blind with regard to racial difference." Racists have often quoted Scripture when expounding their views, but Kidd observes that they imported these racial readings into the text rather than finding them there. The New Testament teaches unequivocally that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26 KJV). In traditional scientific terms, this is a denial of polygenism and an assertion of the monogenesis of the human race (thus all homo sapiens should consider each other as part of their extended family). Monogenesis is by no means a self-evident hypothesis. Traditional cultures uninfluenced by the biblical narrative—in China and Japan, for example—assumed polygenesis. As Kidd puts it, "Scripture has the benign capacity to render racial Otherness as a type of cousinage or remote kinship."

Moreover, far from this being the incidental implication of a few verses, orthodox Christians have consistently recognized the solidarity of the human race as a core theme of both the biblical narrative and formal Christian theology: the image of God in humanity, the Fall, and original sin are predicated on the understanding that all human beings are bound together in a single, common origin, lineage, and family. The Christian tradition has consistently discerned that this doctrinal teaching has substantial implications when it comes to the issue of race. To take a typical example, the 18th-century conservative biblical scholar Nathaniel Lardner averred: "all men ought to love one another as brethren. For they are all descended from the same parents, and cannot but have like powers, and weaknesses, and wants … . For notwithstanding some differences of outward condition, we have all the same nature, and are brethren."

I'm very much looking forward to getting a copy of this book and slowly considering its pages. We need more scholarship of the sort that takes seriously the biblical teaching on identity and applies it to our current thinking and behavior. Thansk JT for passing on the article.

Spiritual Discernment Blog Tour

Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, is on a blog tour. He's guest blogging on a number of blogs, answering questions, and discussing things with folks who leave comments. This is an excellent idea. Check him out on tour at:

January 7 Evangelical Outpost
January 8 Tall Skinny Kiwi
January 9 A-Team
January 10 Sharper Iron
January 11 Gender Blog
January 14 Jollyblogger
January 15 Between Two Worlds
January 16 TeamPyro
January 17 Michael Spencer
January 18 Church Matters

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ed Welch on Eph. 3:14-19

"This brings us to our second point, which is that this beautiful prayer in Ephesians is for us. The "you" Paul is praying about is clearly "you" plural--"you-all." He is speaking to the body of Christ in Ephesus. The knowledge he prays for is held "together with all the saints," and the result of that knowledge is taht we "reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph. 4:13). We mirror Christ most clearly when there is unity among God's people (Eph. 2:19-22). Such unity is achieved not when we are psychological cups, but when we are God's servants.

"Of course, this assumes that individuals must know the love of Christ. But the same individuals must realize that, by themselves, they do not constitute the body of Christ. It takes the entire church to provide a vague imitation of the glory of God. This has been the message throughout Scripture.

"According to Ephesians, what do we really need? We need to be a corporate body, smitting with the glory of God, committed to the unity of the church, deluged by his love, and faithful as we walk together in obedience to him, even in our suffering. We need to need other people less and love other people more."

Edward T. Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), p. 166-167.
And One to Grow On...
"Self-serving needs are not meant to be satisfied; they are meant to be put to death." (p. 162)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

In the City of Compton...
Our brother holdin' down West side... in the city of Compton... Ken Jones... has put his sermons on line. You can hear them here. (HT: Carter)

2008 with the Puritans
Timmy Brister has an outstanding idea and a special offer from Reformation Heritage. We should all join him. (HT: JT)

Pastoral Priorities for 2008
Nathan Finn gives us a look at Andrew Fuller's pastoral priorities.

The Lord has burdened me afresh to "do the work of an evangelist." So, I'm thankful for every post that's useful on the subject, like this one: Practical Steps for Personal Evangelism.

Gethsemane and Our Sin (HT: Irish Calvinist)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Ramblings After Too Much TV

Last night, my wife and I stayed up well past our bedtimes watching television. We were gripped with three programs--all at once, since I'm a guy and control the remote.

On CNN, we watched the Iowa caucus results as they came in, the punditry, and the candidates' remarks. On BET, we watched parts of a show called "Crank Dat Year Back," the customary highs and lows of 2007 viewed from the perspective of BET. And over on TBN (I know, our viewing went from bad to worst), we watched parts of an interview with Creflo Dollar (Jan. 3rd).
Can I just say that we went from proud to be an American, to feeling totally out of touch with some aspects of youth culture, to aghast at the state of the church. We were tossed to and fro as we watched what we believe to be a historic moment--an African American presidential candidate winning in an almost entirely white state--and as we watched the unregenerate world laughingly celebrate all kinds of debauchery as entertainment--and as we listened to a "pastor" announce his plans to create 500 satellite churches across America! We were exhausted by the time we went to bed.

But here is what I'm rejoicing in this morning.

1. The Lord God, Maker of heaven and earth, is sovereign over all things and He will be glorified in the salvation of sinners and the judgment of the wicked. Nothing threatens His glory. Just good to start the day remembering that glorious truth.

2. A moment long-awaited in American history may be upon us. I wrote earlier about Andrew Sullivan's piece on Sen. Obama, where Sullivan heralded the Sen. as the only candidate who can do this. I was pessimistic, but Iowa may be with Sullivan. It may be the case that significant numbers of Iowans have done what the country most needs--to judge a man by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin. Can we be on the brink of an American dream?

I don't know Sen. Obama's character. So, I'm not saying "the best man won." But I am greatly impressed that he has run a campaign for the highest office in American civil society--a campaign surrounded by land mines of "race" on all sides--and he has done so with the dignity of imagining that "race" doesn't matter the way we think it does and that an African-American and white Americans--all Americans--can make this tremendously important decision without bowing to the altar of race and racial stereotype. And politics aside... his speech bordered on brilliant with its allusions to hope and a transcending objective.

3. In other caucus news, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee--after making some unwise comments in recent weeks--went on to win the Iowa caucus on the Republican side. I didn't catch his speech, but the reports after were about as glowing for Huckabee as they were for Obama. Apparently, both men struck deeper chords of hope. Which may signal what the average Joe has known for a long time: people want something to believe in beyond petty, partisan politics.

Now, here's the interesting thing about these developments from my perspective. Imagine a presidential race between Huckabee and Obama (premature, I know, but a guy can daydream can't he). Imagine that race. The interesting factor in my mind is not will African-Americans vote for Obama (of course they will). The interesting thing isn't will Huckabee carry sizable chunks of the white evangelical vote (of course he will). Experience isn't the issue... both men have limited experience and if the Iowa vote is any indication, a referendum on experience has been called and it's a weak factor.

The interesting thing will be the public's reaction to each candidate's Christian self-understanding and belief. Huckabee will and does alarm a sizable portion of the electorate made uneasy by the labels "evangelical" or "former Southern Baptist pastor." His recent comments stir that uneasiness.

People will be more alarmed at the value system at Trinity United Church of Christ where Sen. Obama worships. It is explicitly Black Nationalist in character and, interestingly, introduces "race" in a way that Sen. Obama, to this point, has not. Already several pundits have picked up on this issue and began to discuss it (see here).
One great irony would be if it were finally the weakness of the African-American church that effectively destroyed the first viable presidential bid of an African American. So many people tout the African-American church for its historic role in promoting justice, but few have seen the connection between sound theology and any true effort at justice. In a sad turn of events, it may be by God's hand the Sen. Obama campaign that forces global light on the damnable heresies and errors, the counterfeit Christianity present in so many churches.

What will they do? Will we see these two men move further away from their heretofore explicit comments and opinions regarding faith? And will Obama be painted into a "race" corner by his previous church affiliation? How will the cause of Christ be advanced or hindered--for these men personally and for the church generally--by the respective stances they must develop in the crucible of democratic elections? There may be far more done to them personally than to the church, but the signal effects of this discussion will tell us a lot about the hostility or hospitality of the American public to Christ and His gospel.

But, then again, we may learn a great deal more about the state of the church by observing the franchising of pastors through so-called "satellite churches." Using electronic media as part of a church-planting strategy is one thing; saying explicitly as Dollar does that we need to dispense with training pastors and simply beam him and his prosperity gospel into 500 "churches" across the country is another. One may be a wise, temporary use of technology. The other is, in my opinion, the next step in the unravelling of the local church, an unraveling that has steadily crept forward with the explosion of televangelists severing pastor and people.

But the Lord is still sovereign, and His church shall prevail. Glory to His name.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Evangelism, Conversion, Revival, and Prayer

My reading project this year is personal evangelism. So, Lord willing, I'll be working through a year's worth of reading on the topic, exploring it from various angles, with the hopes of developing and implementing a personal plan for doing the work of an evangelist.

FBC holds about 700-750 folks in a service. Currently, we're running about 300 on a Sunday morning. My fervent prayer this year is to see the remaining 400-450 seats filled with newly converted Christians. I'm asking the Lord to save at least 400 people through the preaching, witness and ministry of FBC. And of that 400, I'm praying that more than a few would be used of the Lord as pastors to His people. And of the 400, I'm praying the Lord would be pleased to save and use another Paul or Augustine or Calvin or Haynes or Stott or Sproul or MacArthur or Priscilla or Lydia or Elliott or Moon or Susannah or Aylward.

First up in my reading is Ian Murray's little book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. In the first chapter, a short bio of Spurgeon setting his debate against hyper-calvinism in context, Murray penned these helpful words:

This book is not about Calvinism and Arminianism. Our concern in the following pages is to deal with the error that lies on the side of Calvinism furthest from Arminianism. But one point needs to be made here on the manner in which Arminianism affects the understanding of revival. Special times of blessing which we call revival are times which see an enlargement of the Spirit's normal work. That being so it must follow that, when the church's understanding of the Spirit's normal work is wrong, her understanding of revival will also be wrong. Is it the normal work of the Spirit to convert sinners whenever they decide upon it? Can men be born again by their own resolutions? If the answer is 'Yes', and if that is how we are to understand Scripture, then it follows that we will look upon revivals simply as times when many make that choice. It was because such a deduction was based upon a wrong understanding of conversion in the last century that people began to see no differences between evangelistic campaigns and revivals; they became regarded as synonymous and capable of being organised by the same means. But if we believe the work of conversion is a work beyond all human ability, and that it requires an act of creative power giving life to the dead, then times of revival will be seen as times which can no more be 'promoted' than can the conversion of a single individual. Certainly the church must labor at all times for the salvation of the lost but whether in the case of one or of hundreds, 'the increase' belongs finally with God (1 Cor. 3:6). (Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching, Banner of Truth, 1995, pp. 28-29)
It's a good reminder. My part is to pray, preach, and proclaim the Good News. And it's encouraging to remember that my petition is really for an enlargement of the Spirit's normal work of conversion. It does not depend finally on me but on the sovereign blowing of the Spirit in regenerating men (John 3). If anything, my request is too small. Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.