Archive for November, 2009

The second section in Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel is called Religion is a Headache. I couldn’t agree more.   The idea that our relationship with God is dependent upon us, and our works, is not only burdensome but untrue.

The nature of justification is that it is an act of God’s free grace in which He imputes the righteousness of Christ to all who receive Christ as He is presented to us in gospel.  It is not increased nor decreased by our works, good or bad.

The trouble is, Farley never defines justification.  Farley never defines sanctification, and never distinguishes between the two.  This is at the root of the problem.  Like Roman Catholicism, he does not distinguish between the two.  Unlike Roman Catholicism which then declares that faith AND works are necessary for justification, he says that the law has NO role in our sanctification.

He continually makes two appeals.  The first is that “legalism” as he defines it, makes Christianity look unattractive to non-Christians.  Our lack of joy and satisfaction resulting from our misunderstanding of Christianity drive people away.  The second is to say that if we are to follow the Law we must follow ALL of it, and how absurd it would be for us to follow the 600+ laws given in the Pentateuch.


Read Full Post »

An acquaintance asked me if I’d read The Naked Gospel: the Truth You May Never Hear in Church by Andrew Farley.  Read it, I hadn’t even heard of it.  He provided me with a copy so he could get my impressions of the book.  The packaging was a bit different, and fairly cool.

In the first few pages I knew that danger was ahead.  Sometimes I think pastors should not write books.  They assert things without demonstrating how they are true.  This book suffers from this problem in spades.  Sorry I’ve already shown you my cards.

It starts provocatively with a quote from Arthur Bury, whose 1691 book entitled The Naked Gospel was burned by the church of his day.  This sort of sets up a martyr complex of sorts if he too is rejected.

“The naked gospel [is] discovering what was the gospel which our Lord and his apostles preached; what additions and alterations latter ages have made in it; what advantages and damages have thereupon ensued.”

That is a noble and desirable task.  I have never heard of Arthur Bury, but other influences of note are Hannah Whitall Smith (author the The Christians’ Secret to a Happy Life which I read decades ago) and Andrew Murray (a devotional writer).  They are advocates of Christian passivism often portrayed as “let go and let God”.  Pastor Farley is very excited about discovering this view.  Sadly he bases his theology on the work of devotional writers.  There is no evidence of research into the work of any respected pastor-theologians or respected theologians past or present.  This lack of exegetical depth beneath the popular treatment is sad.

In some ways I don’t blame him for his excitement.  His description of his life before this discovery of “the naked gospel” was one of intense legalism and frustration.  He was laboring under a serious misunderstanding of the gospel.  He believed he must do certain good things to maintain God’s acceptance.  Sadly, I fear he went to the opposite extreme though he denies being an antinomian.  But he uses his own unsatisfactory definitions of both legalism and antinomianism rather than the usual theological definitions.  This is proof positive of why studying the Marrow Controversy is so important to us today- it addresses the very issues at play here.

Many Christians still walk in Old Covenant bondage.  Regarding the law as a Divine ordinance for our direction, they consider themselves prepared and fitted by conversion to take up the fulfillment of the law as a natural duty. – Andrew Murray

So, any use of the law as a guide is legalism in Farley’s mind.  This is far different from relying on the Law for your initial or continuing acceptance from God.  Farley defines antinomianism is as being against the law, not a theological, exegetical or practical view that the law has no place in the Christian’s life.  But we get ahead of ourselves.

Here is a quiz he offers, answer whether or not each statement is true.

  1. Christians should ask God to forgive and cleanse them when they sin.
  2. Christians struggle with sin because of their old self within.
  3. We should wait on God even before making everyday decisions.
  4. When we sin against God, we’re out of fellowship until we repent.
  5. Old Testament law is written on Christians’ hearts so we want to obey it.
  6. The Bible tells us that Christians can obtain many rewards in heaven.
  7. Christians will give an account for their sins at the great white throne.
  8. Christians should tithe at least 10 percent of their income to the church.
  9. God gets angry with us when we repeatedly sin against him.
  10. God looks at us as though we’re righteous, even though we’re really not.

He says the answer to each one is false.  His book then sets out to show why.  And we’ll examine that in posts to come.

Read Full Post »

The 4th chapter of Roger Parrott’s The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders gave me plenty to ponder.  I’ve been mulling over it for a few weeks now.

It is entitled Vulnerability May Get You In, but Humility Keeps You There.  He there outlines some of the differences between transparency and humility which can greatly affect one’s ability to lead a group of people.  I’m part of that transitional generation when transparency began to be advocated after generations of a lack of transparency from leaders about their shortcomings and mistakes.  Parrott writes some things to challenge this.

“But (a pastor) exposing himself in order to demonstrate vulnerability diminishes his ability to be sought after as a counselor who can be looked to for advice.”

At first I am thinking, they need to know I’ve struggled and God has been faithful.  They can’t see me as impervious to sin or above struggling with things.  I’ve talked about my struggles to put unrighteous anger and selfishness to death.  But there are struggles I’ve not shared publicly.  I may share them in private ministry, but not for everyone’s ears.

“While pride is an unattractive quality in leaders, humility is a strength that compels others to follow.  In an effort to be seen as humble, many leaders have wrongfully substituted vulnerability for humility, and in doing so turned a self-centered spotlight on themselves, laying the groundwork for leadership deterioration.”

This is the key thing, substituting vulnerability for humility.  They are not the same thing, and sometimes vulnerability is driven by pride.  Either pride in wanting the spotlight, or in manipulating others to follow through the sharing of secrets.  Parrott notes that many a vulnerable pastor had bigger secrets that lead to a public moral collapse (think Jim Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart).

“Leaders who purposefully expose their liabilities limit their sphere of influence and often forfeit their long-term viability. … Humility and vulnerability are two different things, and the first must be established without offering the second.”

Vulnerability makes you vulnerable, in the wrong way.  You are not merely accessible to others, but leave the gates open for the hordes to attack and oust you.  I’ve experienced this as some people have turned the table on my transparency.  They hide behind the claim that I will get angry and yell at them, without any prior evidence for this.  I have been yelled at many times- no one seems to be afraid to yell at their pastor.  As leaders, we must remember that people are not basically good.  Some people will use the truth against you.

Humility is the most important element of leadership.  Humility means being willing to listen readily instead of thinking you have all the answers.  They think about, and talk about others more than they think and talk about themselves.  But this humility is combined with an “intense professional will”.  This person keeps others focused on the organization and its goals, and how they fit into the plan rather than how the leader fits into the plan.  Most often, effective leaders are able to influence people without direct confrontation and exercising power.  As Mark Driscoll talks about, control and influence are inversely correlated.  The more control you exert, the less influence you will have.

One way in which humility fits in here is the teachable spirit.  A teachable spirit, a willingness to listen to one’s critics, minimizes power differentials.  Unteachable leaders maximize the power differential and reduce their influence over others.  This fits well in the longview.  To remain longterm, you must be humble and teachable.  This means you will learn to work with others in light of eternal perspectives rather than using powerplays to achieve short-term victories.

Read Full Post »

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on Christ our Hope to kick of Advent season.  I’ll hit Matthew 1:1-14, discussing the hope(s) the Israelites had due to God’s promises to Abraham (Gen. 12) and David (2 Sam. 7).  I’ll talk about the seemingly interminable delay in the fulfillment of those promises.

As is often the case, my mind went back to The Shawshank Redemption.  It is one of my favorite movies.  The movie is essentially about hope, and its ability to sustain a suffering man.  Their hope had nothing to do with Christ, but ours does and is much greater and more powerful (Paul focuses on hope often in Romans).  I’d play this edited clip on Sunday, but there is an inappropriate word near the beginning.  Includes the exchange about hope between Andy and Red after Andy’s time in solitary, and the ending when Red discovers that hope is not as dangerous as he thought, but is really- the best of things.

Read Full Post »

Life being like it is these days, CavWife gifted me with a tiny book by Mark Driscoll for my birthday.  It was from his A Book You’ll Actually Read series.  This little book is On Church Leadership.

Here is how they describe it:

Cheap, simple, and you can read it in an hour. Mark Driscoll will guide you through the 6 important areas of church leadership with clear Biblical teaching and a raw sense of humor. You’ll explore the topics eldership, deacons, members, and women in leadership—with plenty of surprises along the way.

What is lost in Mark’s sense of humor.  His personality is submerged, for the most part.  His personality is part of what makes reading his books so enjoyable for me (and I recognize what that says about me).  But Mark’s insight and experience remain, which is what makes this book still worth reading.  It would make a good book to give to officers (present and potential).

He explains a nearly-Presbyterian form of church government tweaked to be more effective in this day.  In some ways he is a tad too pragmatic, but we Presbyterians are too “traditional”.  The form of government, which I believe to be biblical, is unchanging but how we apply it should be adjust for time and place.  So, I can appreciate what Mark is doing but I just can’t go with him everywhere he goes.  That’s okay, though.

In his introduction he faces the reality that even church people have what NBA great Bill Russell called “little red wagons”.  They have agendas other than Jesus and His kingdom.  He talks about this in other books.  Here he applies it to church government.  He’s also honest about our struggle with authority, and how people’s refusal to submit to proper authority almost killed Mars Hill in the early days.

“Their varying demands quickly sidetracked the mission of our church to love our city and see it transformed by the power of Jesus.  Our internal church strife quickly overshadowed our external cultural mission.”

So he starts with Pastor Jesus, a brief reminder that Jesus is the Head of the church.  The first chapter is incredibly brief, perhaps too brief.  I wish he could have included more thoughts like this:

“And it is ultimately Jesus who closes churches down when they have become faithless or fruitless.  Therefore, it is absolutely vital that a church loves Jesus, obeys Jesus, imitates Jesus, and follows Jesus at all times and in all ways, according to the teaching of his Word.”

He moves on to  Elders.  He affirms the plurality of elders.  He dares to say what needs to be said.  He reminds us that the qualifications for elders are primarily those of a mature Christian man.  The first part of that is vital- mature Christians.  It is too common for churches to nominate popular or powerful men.  Businessmen will run the church like a business.  But mature Christians, tested as family men, will run the church like a family, seeking to lead others to maturity.  And they are men- in accordance with Scripture- which is not a popular statement today.


Read Full Post »

Another painful phone call

Back when I worked for Ligonier ministries, I often talked with the “Born Again Guy”.  This was my name for someone who often called to discuss what it meant to be born again.  I did not like talking with him.  He was convinced that his novel ideas were true, and refused to ground those ideas in a sound, reasonable interpretation of Scripture.  I had many a painful, pointless conversation with him.

I wish I had a copy of Finally Alive then, because I could have sent it to him.  Perhaps John Piper would have made more progress with him than I did.  In his recent book , John Piper sets out to explain and apply the doctrine of regeneration.  He has a valid concern that the term “born again” has been removed from its biblical moorings.  There is a great ignorance about the biblical concept, and this misunderstanding has lead to many problems within the church.  It is at the root of much of the church’s problem with sin.  Piper’s desire is for this book to clear the air and restore the glory of God in regeneration.

Don't judge it by the cover!

Piper approaches this subject by exegeting and explaining the key passages that this subject.  The key passage is John 3, and this takes up much of the book.  He also spends significant time in 1 John and 2 Peter as he unpacks the implications of this significant doctrine.

The chapters in the book are short.  This is not a bad thing.  I was able to read a chapter during my 30-minute lunch break each day, slowly working through the book.  So while the material is not easy, John Piper provides enough for people to digest at each sitting.  He does not overwhelm people with lengthy chapters.

There are far too few books that cover this material.  I agree with 98% of what Piper says in this book.  The one thing I disagreed with him on was the meaning of “water and the Spirit”.  He thinks the “water” is a reference to the cleansing we receive (of which baptism is a picture) in regeneration (he argues this point from Ezekiel’s promise of the New Covenant).

I take an approach more akin to Leon Morris’ in that it refers to physical birth.  I think this due to the parallelism I see between verses 5 & 6.

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

To be born again, we must be born the first time, in the flesh.  Jesus is speaking of water and birth.  The interpretation that makes most sense to me is water referring to birth, being born of the flesh.  This is insufficient for us to see, or enter, the kingdom of God.  We are powerless, but utterly dependent upon the work of the Spirit to give us life in Christ.

This difference is fine tuning, and has little/no difference in application.  But this text and others are clear to both of us that regeneration precedes faith rather than follows faith.  Piper labors to show the truth and significance of this truth.  Scripture teaches the regeneration is a significant change that produces faith in us, grants us the power to resist temptation and so please God.  It does not just produce a relational change, but also a spiritual, moral change.

Regeneration is mysterious, but that does not mean it is irrational.  Scripture connects it with the ministry of the Word.  As Calvin often noted, Word and Spirit are joined together.  The Spirit grants us new life through the ministry of the Word so that we then believe the Scriptures.  We then begin to obey the Scriptures as well.

Not only that, but we begin to make the Scriptures known that others may be born again.  Scripture is clear that God’s appointed means for faith is hearing the Word, through others.  We are responsible to engage in evangelism.

John Piper’s book is theology at its best.  By that I mean:

  • It is Scriptural.  It seeks to understand Scripture in a cohesive way.  He’s not proof-texting, but seeking to examine texts in their context.
  • It is gospel-centered.  All sound doctrine is in accordance with the gospel.  This means it is connected, in some way, shape or form, to the gospel.
  • It is practical.  He shows the implications and applications of the doctrine.  As John Frame has oft said, we do not truly understand a text until we apply it.  Piper does just that.

Once again John Piper has written a book that many won’t like but need to hear.  It is not just about theological minutia, but reminds me of Charles Simeon’s criteria for a sermon: Does it humble the sinner?  Does it exalt the Savior?  Does it promote holiness?  This book achieves all three of these goals.

Read Full Post »

I’m slowly working my way through The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders.  It is a book I wish was written years ago, I could have benefited from it.  I have been busy, and actually read the chapter Applause Lasts for a Moment, but Leadership is for a Lifetime last week.

The chapter carries over some ideas from the previous chapter on ego.  One aspect of that is hogging all the credit.  Some leaders, or people in leadership positions, are driven by ego and want all the credit for success.  They want the applause.  But this ultimately undermines a leader’s ability to lead.

“giving away the credit never hurts a leader in the long run, but hoarding credit always does.  Good leaders share or better yet totally give away credit for the positive things that happen, knowing it will circle back around to strengthen their own worth to the organization.”

What often gets in the way is our insecurity and need for recognition.  This drives away others, particularly those who helped make us successful.  This insecurity also refuses to accept any blame for failure.  Insecurity dumps blame on those it refused to honor for success.

“Your coworkers will become more committed and more mission focused when their leader values them as God values them and doesn’t weigh them down with the burden of blame for their mistakes.  … The motivation, creativity, and commitment of workers increase dramatically when they feel they are valued.”

My mind went to a work situation I endured.  The organization was shifting directions and models every few years.  There was not a stable, consistent vision or process.  At one point they brought in a new CEO who looked good on the outside (he talked a good game) but was what I called “a small man”.  He was insecure.

During a called organizational meeting he yelled at 2 departments for what certainly sounded like uncharacteristic mistakes.  Those departments had been very busy lately, but there had been no word of thanks for handling the extra workload.  I made the mistake of going to his office to encourage him to encourage them for the hard work they have been doing since they were all discouraged after his tongue-lashing.  He wasn’t there but the message was passed on.

Soon there was another meeting in which any unhappy employees were invited to place their resignation letters on his desk by 5 pm.  The organization was walking on eggshells for quite some time.  People were demotivated.  I couldn’t wait to get out.

This person was driven by his insecurity: he was not able to share credit or blame.  He took all of the first, and none of the second.  He was a poor leader.

“It is remarkable to me how many ministry employees say about their supervisor, ‘If you’re waiting to be thanked, you’ll wait a long time.'”

I’ve also been in organizations where some departments were seemingly invisible.  The leaders spent all their time with other departments, neglecting others.  It created a great sense of disconnect, envy and discouragement.

But another person came to my mind.  That person was Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady.

Brady has always shared his success with his teammates.  Not just privately, but publicly.  This past weekend was no exception, he talked about how the offensive line worked hard to give him the time to find the receivers who worked hard to get open.  The team worked for that win.

This is also evident in the nationally run commercials he has done.  Unlike other star QBs, he includes the members of the offensive line.  He honored them with some of the spotlight (and some extra cash).  Don’t you think they are extra-motivated to protect him?

Earlier in the year the Patriots were struggling, particularly on offense.  Tom Brady took the blame.  He didn’t throw anyone else under the bus.  He said he needed to work harder and make adjustments.

Tom Brady is a secure leader who remains successful because he takes the long view.  He needs everyone else to succeed.  So he consistently shares the credit and accepts the blame.

Roger Parrott lays out 6 principles to help guide leaders in this:

  • Be Purposeful– if you don’t periodically set time aside to do this, it will get lost in the busyness of leading.  Check yourself by spending a day thinking of each act of appreciation you offered.  You’ll find you miss many opportunities in any given day.
  • Be Poignant– it must be from the heart and be credible.  Hollow credit undermines your leadership.
  • Be Personal– regular awards are rather impersonal.  Instead personalize it, and offer it when it is not expected (before the project is done, perhaps).
  • Be Pure– don’t do it for publicity, or a photo op.  People will see through that, and it undermines your leadership.  Join in the tough jobs, not just the visible ones.
  • Be Prerequisite-Free–  Yes, no strings attached.  You aren’t trying to obligate people to you.  Give of yourself, not just things.  Gifts can often “accentuate(s) the power differential between the leader and others.”
  • Be Prayerful–  This will help you see them, and their needs, more clearly.  Respect their boundaries, neither purposely making a show of it in the hall or by summoning them to your office for a private word of prayer.  Offer to pray with and for them where & when they are comfortable.

He also gives some direction for delivering bad news- direct, disclosing & discreet.  How we share credit and address failure will greatly impact our ability to influence others as leaders.  Too often we are driven by our insecurities or the tyranny of the urgent.  Both of those problems can be addressed, and solid leadership can develop.

Read Full Post »

Considering Swearing

In the past we considered whether cussin‘ is as evil as some think, or as innocuous as others.  Pretty much depends what you say and why you say it.  But we pondered this for free.

One British researcher got paid to discover if swearing increases your pain threshold.  In other words, does it help when you whack your thumb with a hammer, or are injured in an accident?  Interesting, a “therapeutic” value to swearing?

Just a thought you know.  Adrenaline helps in muting pain, and a good scream might accomplish the same thing.  Just some strange news from the internet.  And why do governments/universities feel compelled to spend money on such things (see, it isn’t just in America)?

Read Full Post »

Boston.com reports that John Henry cut 1/4 of the staff of his Florida investment firm.  He has taken some big losses in the market (most of us have, except my friend in prison who has been able to make money).

This makes me wonder about the Red Sox payroll.  In recent years they have not kept up with the Yankees’ payroll.  They have tried to integrate young talent, and have made some good deals to keep young talent at reasonable prices.  But where the Yankees have continued to expand their payroll the Red Sox have not.  The Red Sox no longer have the 2nd highest payroll, but are slowly sliding down the scale.

Our New LF?

As the Red Sox sought to extend Jason Bay, they just couldn’t seem to get it done.  They didn’t offer the money he wanted, and possibly the number of years.  Now that he is on the market, they probably won’t be able to afford him with suitors like the Yankees (unless they get Holliday), Mets and Giants interested in adding a big bat (4 teams, 2 big bats, you do the math).

Josh Beckett has approached the Red Sox about an extension.  But Peter Gammons notes that he may want Sabathia-type money, which the Red Sox are loathe to give a pitcher over 30.  If they can’t compete in 2010, they may trade him (or trade him to compete in 2010).  Otherwise, they may have to let him go and use the compensatory picks.

John Henry’s financial troubles may mean some cost-cutting down on Yawkey Way.  It may mean that the Red Sox can’t compete with other big market teams for top free agents and international players for a few years.  It just makes we wonder, is our ride of success just about over?

Case in point- Jeremy Hermida.  His role on the 2010 Red Sox was not defined in the press conference.  They talked about his potential, the potential that has had them interested in him for years but which has not turned into reality.  Of course, in Florida he has not been surrounded by good to great players that offer any protection (Hanley Ramirez’ stats truly are amazing in THAT line-up).  Truth be told, I was one of those sucked in by his “potential” a few years ago, drafting him in a fantasy league.  It was supposed to be his breakout year.  Theo is hoping this turns into his breakout year in a park suited to this swing and a team that might need him to swap sides of the field.  Yes, the Sox may still spend money since they generate so much money, but they may not be willing to spend the $18-20 million/year necessary to bring back Bay or lock up Holliday.  So Hermida may be a low-cost option in LF.  He might not, but he might.  Then again, he might be trade bait, as Harold Reynolds thinks.

The key signal to which way the Red Sox go is not just the free agent market, but whether they can get the Padres to trade Adrian Gonzalez.  He would be a monster, people think, at Fenway.  But after the uncertainty of whether or not ownership will use him to rebuild, there is the price to be paid and whether or not a suitable deal can be made.  Keep watching.

Update: MLBTradeRumors speculates that the Red Sox sign Jason Bay, oft-injured Rich Harden, Mark Scutaro, and Cuban hurler Aroldis Chapman.  I’m not sure I see them spending that much money, but I’d welcome most of those moves.

Read Full Post »

Matt Redman has a new album out, We Shall Not Be Shaken, focusing on the sovereignty of God and its stabilizing effect in times of trouble.  Bob Kaufman takes some time to review the album.

I first met Matt Redman in 1997 when I was over in England for a worship conference. In a few minutes of conversation a few things stood out to me. He was a young man passionate about impacting his generation with worship songs that communicated biblical truth about God and not simply emotional responses. He was theologically aware and gospel-focused. He was articulate. And he was humble. … After listening to his latest album, We Shall Not Be Shaken, I found myself thanking God once again for Matt’s faithfulness to serve the church with his songwriting gift.

Overall, it sounds like another collection of songs worthy to be sung in our congregations.

After a quick listen, one might easily dismiss this album as just one more of the hundreds of modern worship offerings released each year. Don’t do it. While Matt’s lyrics may not always contain the breadth, precision, and theological depth of some modern writers (think the Getty’s and Stuart Townend), his songs are biblically faithful, cross-centered, poetically fresh, and God-glorifying. In addition, his melodies and harmonic progressions are consistently above standard fare.

He also takes some time to interview Matt.  This time around all the songs have co-writers.

Themes of God’s sovereignty pervade the songs on this album. Why did you choose to make that focus for this album?
I had a sense that many people right now need re-assurance that God is in control in their lives. So many recent events, particularly economic ones, have reminded us that much of this life and this world is fragile, temporary and changing. We’ve heard so many statistics about mortgage payments defaults and unemployment – but these aren’t just facts and figures – this is real people’s lives. So into this environment I wanted the songs to inject some truth – that in contrast to all of this, God is unchanging, unfailing, unshifting and unshakeable. Jesus is the solid ground and firm foundations we can build our lives upon.

If there any song that has a unique story behind it?
Maybe the opening song, ‘This is how we know’. It’s based on John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 – so easy references to remember! I tried to finish this song for 3 months or so but had no chorus. My wife Beth came into the songwriting process, and 45 minutes later the song was finished!

Bob ends with some thoughts on song writing brought to light in the interview.  I think those thoughts apply beyond songwriting to life in general.

You don’t have to have songs being sung around the world to benefit from Matt’s example. Sometimes songs come quickly, sometimes they come slowly. But unless we’re faithful to write, you can be pretty sure they won’t come at all.

Unless we are faithful to apply, we can be pretty sure we won’t get one.  Unless we are faithful to befriend others, we can be pretty sure we won’t have friends.  Unless we are faithful to share the gospel, we can be pretty sure no one will come to faith.  In other words, God also ordains the means.  He establishes our responsibility.

Read Full Post »

The Marrow Controversy is one of those obscure questions that appears on the ARP examinations.  Many a student has little knowledge of this controversy that involved, among others, the Erskine brothers.  As a result of the Erskine brother connection, the ARP holds to the “free offer of the gospel”.  The Marrow Controversy shaped the groups that would one day shape the ARP.

I heard of the Marrow Controversy while in seminary, but it was not discussed or examined in any great detail (I can think of a few guys who were examined in Central Florida Presbytery who wish it had so they could answer R.C. Sproul’s questions about evangelism as Calvinists).

One of my favorite Puritans, Thomas Boston, was central to the Marrow Controversy.  The Controversy involved The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  Thomas Boston witnessed its censure by the Church of Scotland and saw this as an attack on the gospel itself.  He and the Erskines were among “the Marrow Men” who believed Fisher’s book defended true Christianity against both anti-nomianism and legalism.

Phil Ryken’s introduction to a recent (and needed) reprinting of this book is helpful to put some of this together.  This new edition includes Thomas Boston’s explanatory notes.  Even more helpful is Sinclair Ferguson’s lectures Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  It has 3 lectures that examine its history, the twin problems of license and legalism, and their resolution in the free grace of God.  In many ways, Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God is a modern defense of free grace against license and legalism.  It is the Marrow Controversy applied to today.

“Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in The Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself.”– Sinclair B. Ferguson


Read Full Post »

Tim Keller has begun blogging.  One of his first posts is on the balance between time preparing a sermon and other pastoral tasks.  His point is that in Reformed circles, we can often think that great preaching cures a multitude of ills.  But meaningful ministry is far more than that (not less though).

He brings up the pattern of John Calvin who taught and/or preached almost every day.  But he also spent Thursdays in the consistory counseling with people about their sins, temptations.  He spent the better part of a day each week shepherding the people.

It is then that Keller says something surprising:

I pastor a church with a large staff and so I give 15+ hours a week to preparing the sermon. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. When I was a pastor without a staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon.

I suppose I would expect Tim Keller to give 15 hours to sermon prep.  He has a lifetime of learning upon which to draw.  I probably spend about 15 hours on sermon preparation.  Much of that is sorting out how to communicate the text: structure, application, illustration.

I try not to spend too much time in commentaries.  They can become redundant and you have a law of diminishing returns (so choose wisely!).  You can also get too many good ideas and feel the burden of trying to say everything.

I wanted to spend more time in shepherding.  But in a small congregation there are only so many problems people can have.  Or is that people who have problems (and actually want to deal with them).

A younger pastor will probably need more time to prepare a sermon since he is still learning how.  He does not have a lifetime of learning upon which to draw.  He needs to put in a bit more time in study.  I’m not sure 6-8 hours are enough time for a young pastor to properly prepare a solid, applicable sermon.

This does not mean a young pastor shouldn’t spend time with people.  When I started, I had lunch most Sunday afternoons with congregants.  I would meet people for lunch, did some counseling etc.  A small church pastor can devote 10-15 hours to sermon preparation and have adequate time to spend shepherding and leading.

So, I agree with Keller that pastors much do more than study and preach or teach.  Shepherding and leadership need to be regular, significant parts of their week (administration as well).  I guess we just have different estimates of who much time a young man needs to adequately prepare a sermon

Read Full Post »

“I’m just a big ego, and everywhere I  go

people know the part I’m playing…”

So went the lyrics on a spoof on David Lee Roth’s cover of Just a Gigolo.  It fit since he was often said to possess quite the ego.  I read an  interesting chapter on ego in leadership.  I started a new book, The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders today.  It is written by Roger Parrott, the President of Belhaven College.

The first 2 chapters were great.  The first was on the challenge to take the longview, or to make decisions as if you will never leave.  He finds (with support from many business studies) that what is wrong with business (and the church & parachurch) is that decisions are made only for the short-term to get quick results so you can move to the next position.

As I read this chapter I was convicted.  At a particular point I started thinking of my next position, and sort of checked out.  I probably made lousy decisions at that point.  And that is Parrott’s point- when you are treating the position as temporary it shapes your concerns and choices.  You want to look good NOW, with little to no regard for what will happen after you leave.

One reason people look toward the next position instead of taking the longview is ego.  They want bigger and better.  They view the current position only as a stepping stone to the next step up the corporate or church ladder.  This is why I didn’t go into youth ministry.  I knew I would only treat it as a stepping stone.  (Don’t worry, my pride showed up in other ways like the self-righteousness of not playing the “game”).

Because ego-driven leadership must be continually fed, it demands that immediate needs are always more important than the longview results, thus stifling opportunity for ministry of lasting value.


Read Full Post »

ByFaith Magazine interviewed Michael Horton about his recent book Christless Christianity.  The subtitle is The Alternative Gospel of the American Church.  Dr. Horton is assessing a growing problem in the American Church which his book The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World seeks to answer.

Rather, it’s motivated by a concern that there’s this creeping fog of what sociologist Christian Smith called “moralistic-therapeutic-deism.” This has turned God into a tool we can use rather than the object of our faith and worship. I’m concerned that the gospel is being taken for granted, that Christ is a sort of life coach, but not the Savior. With the general shallowing within the culture, there is a shallowing of Christian faith and practice. We don’t really know what we believe and why we believe it.

I see this problem in a number of different ways.  You see it in the Word Faith movement and the related Prosperity (false) Gospel.  A minor theme of Scripture is treated like the main theme of Scripture at the expense of the real main theme of Scripture (redemption & restoration).  Jesus helps you get what you want rather than does whatever it takes to make you like Him.


Read Full Post »