Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Jerram Barrs strikes again!  His book The Heart of Evangelism is a fantastic look at evangelism that truly gets to the heart of the matter.  He brings the same humble, gracious style to the subject of prayer with The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us.  He addresses topics that often seem to be guilt-inducing.  But he recognizes the internal and external obstacles to both evangelism and prayer.  He writes as a fellow struggler sitting at the feet of Jesus instead of as an expert practicioner.

Jerram focuses on Jesus’ teaching on prayer, so this book serves as a nice counterpart of D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation, which focuses on Paul’s prayers.  These 2 men are very different, and both books are excellent though different.  This book is very accessible to lay people.  He tackles issues like public and private prayer, fasting, persevering in prayer, and Jesus’ prayers for His people.  He includes an appendix on mysticism.

This is an encouraging book.  It is also a humbling book.  That is a great combination.

Read Full Post »

I’ve come across Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community via the internet.  A growing number of church planters are utilizing the concept.  Steve Timmis, one of the authors of the book, is the new director of Acts 29 Europe.  The San Diego Church Planters’ Boot Camp, hosted by Kaleo, was on Total Church.  I’ve begun to listen, and just borrowed the book from a friend.

The concept is intriguing to me.  The church is a gospel-formed community of people being gospel-shaped.  They have a community-centered understanding of the gospel, which runs counter to the individualistic mindset of most Christians and churches today.  I’d like to consider the relationship between the gospel, community and mission more thoroughly.  It seems less like the “latest, greatest program” or method, but an attempt to return to the power of the gospel, and the emphases of the gospel.

Here is an interview with Tim Chester on Desiring God Ministries blog:

DG: Tim, what do you and Steve Timmis mean by the title Total Church?

Tim Chester: The phrase is actually adapted from the world of football (or soccer in the States!). “Total football” was a style of play associated with the Dutch international side in the 1970s.

“Total church” is our way of capturing the idea that church is not one activity in our lives. Church isn’t a meeting you attend or a building your enter. It’s our identity, our community, our family.  It’s the context for the totality of the Christian life.

DG: How would you summarize the message of the book?

TC: Total Church argues for two core principles: We need to be gospel-centered and community-centered.

Being gospel-centered means we’re word-centered (because the gospel is a message; it is good news), and it means being mission-centered (because the gospel is a message to be proclaimed; it is good news).

I think most conservative evangelicals are strong on this. But we also need to be community-centered. The Christian community is the biblical context for evangelism, discipleship, pastoral care, social involvement, and so on. That doesn’t mean meetings. It means the shared life of the community.

One of our catchphrases is “ordinary people living ordinary life with gospel intentionality.” It means doing the chores, having meals, watching sports, and so on with an intention to talk about Jesus, to pastor one another with the gospel, and to share that gospel with unbelievers.

DG: At several points in the book, you mention the value of hospitality. Do you see this virtue as lacking in the church today, and is there is an especially significant need for it in the 21st-century church?

TC: Here’s what I think is the key issue. In the book, we tell the story of a young man who invited us to do some street preaching with him. When we said it wasn’t really the way we did things, he clearly doubted our courage and commitment.

We began to talk instead about a whole life lived in mission and community, in which we were always looking to build relationships and always looking to talk about Jesus. By the end of the conversation, he admitted he wasn’t sure if he was up for that.

He wanted evangelism you could do for two hours on a Saturday afternoon and then switch off. Tick. Job done for the week. He didn’t want a missional lifestyle.

I think that’s the issue with hospitality. People want to put church and evangelism into a slot in the schedule. But we need to be sharing our lives with others—with shared meals and open homes. That can be demanding, but it’s also wonderfully enriching.


Read Full Post »

I consider Proverbs to be “preventative grace”.  It was initially written to prepare young men for adulthood by providing practical wisdom.  It was to help them avoid the pitfalls of life’s choices rather than get out of them.  So, when I saw Anthony Selvaggio’s A Proverbs Driven Life, I was interested.  When I was offered a copy for free to review- I was estatic.

Before Selvaggio gets into the various topics that Proverbs covers, he wants to orient people to what Proverbs are, and aren’t.  Since Proverbs is a book about wisdom, it is about everyday life.  It is not about laws & precepts (he hits that again in a later section) but more like signposts.  Proverbs are generalisms that help us to make good choices by cluing us in to the typical outcomes. 

We need this book because, as he says, “people make a lot of short-sighted, self-centered decisions.”  And those decisions bring lots of misery to them and others.  We are a people who profoundly lack wisdom.

Proverbs offers us future-oriented wisdom and guidance so we can make wise decisions and live in ways that please and exalt God.


Read Full Post »

In Galatians 1-2 one of the dominant themes is the fear of man.  Paul, in lovingly yet boldly confronting the Galatians, and exposing the false teachers was living in the fear of God rather than the fear of man.  He was not accomodating the gospel to please anyone, recognizing the divine origin of that gospel.

On the other hand you have the account of Peter in Antioch.  He, again, succombs to the fear of man (his besetting sin, and lest you’re too hard on him- you’ve got some too!).  He shrunk back from fellowship with Gentile Christians and hypocritically followed the dietary laws out of fear, not conviction.  And Barnabas joined him.  Two important Christian leaders fell victim to this sin- and Paul displayed gospel boldness by confronting Peter publicly.

While not referring to these events, Milton Vincent talks about gospel boldness in A Gospel Primer for Christians.

“Boldness is critical.  Without boldness, my life story will be one of great deeds left undone, victories left unwon, petitions left unprayed, and timely words unsaid.  If I wish to live only a pathetically small portion of the life God has prepared for me, then I need no boldness.  But if I want my life to bloom full and loom large for the glory of God, then I must have boldness- and nothing so nourishes boldness in me like the gospel!


Read Full Post »

One of the controversies that has sadly plagued those who embrace Calvin as one of the more astute and faithful theologians concerns the “free offer of the gospel.”  Some followers of Calvin, a minority of them, reject the free offer of the gospel.  They believe, erroneously, that the gospel is only to be offered to the elect.  While listening to a former PCA worship leader lament Calvinism at the recent John 3:16 Conference, he described this strain of Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism.

While preparing for last week’s sermon on Psalm 16, I didn’t find Calvin to be particularly helpful.  This is a rarity.  But he did say something that should set the record straight on what John himself believed Scripture to teach.

“It would be of no advantage to us for God to offer himself freely and graciously to us, if we did not receive him by faith, seeing he invites to himself both the reprobate and the elect in common; but the former, by their ingratitude, defraud themselves of this inestimatable blessing.  Let us, therefore, know that both these things proceed from the free liberality of God; first, his being our inheritance, and next, our coming to the possession of him by faith.  The counsel of which David makes mention is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, by which we are prevented from rejecting the salvation to which he calls us, which we would otherwise certainly do, considering the blindness of our flesh.  Whence we gather, that those who attribute to the free will of man the choice of accepting or rejecting the grace of God basely mangle that grace, and show as much ignorance as impiety.”

Calvin himself holds to the “free offer of the gospel” to all.  God truly offers Himself to the elect.  Notice how he phrases that- God offers Himself, not just salvation.  As John Piper noted in his book, God is the gospel.


Read Full Post »

Buy this book, you all.

Buy this book, you all.

I mentioned the Reformissionary’s Big 5 Books series before.  I thought I’d cover evangelism.  Steve McCoy limited it to evangelism- so I can’t put down any books on apologetics.  I’m in trouble.

This doesn’t count, but it does have evangelism in the title: Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer.  He defends Calvinism from the various charges that it stifles evangelism.  What stifles evangelism in the sinful hearts of those called to evangelism.  Also not counting because the author is considered to be fuzzy on justification, but it is a book I found helpful is The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism by Norman Shepherd.  Reminds me that as a Presbyterian, making disciples started with my children’s baptism (Mt. 28).

Books on My To Read List:

If you have any recommendations- put them down.  I obviously don’t know everything, which extends to every worthwhile book.

Read Full Post »

This morning I was reading Colossians 4, and saw this:

2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  (NIV)


First, I was convicted by the encouragement to be thankful in prayer.  I’m (by both nature and nurture) a glass half-empty guy.  Paul wanted them to be thankful as they prayed.  They were to have eyes that saw the good around them, not just the sin & misery.   They were to look for grace & mercy that were already there and thank God for it.

Second, they were to pray that God would open doors for the message of the Gospel.  God is in control, and he must open doors for the Gospel.  I was reminded to pray for the 3 mission teams I know of that are heading out in the next few weeks to Russia, LA and MS.  I want God to open doors for the message.  As I preach this Sunday, I want him to open hearts since he’s opened a door to preach the message.

Third, he asked them to pray that he would speak it clearly.  God is sovereign, even in salvation, and he alone grants faith and repentance- even to unlikely people.  But Paul was responsible to speak clearly.  He recognized this- and we need to recognize this as well.  God’s sovereignty in salvation does not mean we can be lax in either looking for open doors or in how we speak when we have one.

But Paul also recognized that he needed grace from God to speak clearly.  He was dependent on God to fulfill his responsibility.

So, because of the gospel …….

  1. Are you watchful for evidence of grace & mercy, and expressing gratitude?
  2. Are you praying for open doors for the message?
  3. Are you praying that God would help you be clear when you have an opportunity to present the message of grace?

Sadly, all too often I’m not- but I want to be.  I am responsible to be- may God help me to fulfill my responsibility.

Read Full Post »

Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

Read Full Post »

The final section of Dan Allender’s The Healing Path calls us out of our individual journey to embrace the redemptive community.  Though God works in us as individuals, he also brings us into relationship with one another so we can growth through mutual ministry, and engage in mission.  We are not on the healing path for purely selfish reasons, but to love God and love our neighbor as Jesus has loved us.  This last section calls us out of our narcissism.  This is a message far too many of us need to hear.

“A radical life begins with the premise that I exist for God and for his purposes, not my own.  … A radical life has eyes and ears for the deepest purposes of God.  Yet to live for his purposes it not to forsake the passions and burden of our daily life; rather, we are to give them to him for his glory.”

The first is Christianity, as well expressed in the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catchism; Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  The second is the kingdom of me, where God exists to fulfill my agenda.  And when we are suffering, it easily becomes all about our agenda.

I often talked about this in my ministry at Good Shepherd/Cornerstone.  God is not asking us to add more to our list of things to do so much as seeing those things as part of his purposes to redeem people.  We purposefully & creatively engage the people with whom we interact that we might enter into their stories.


Read Full Post »

Sunday afternoon I sat on the back porch to continue reading The Reason for God while enjoying a rainstorm.  The chapter, Religion and the Gospel, that I read first is probably one of the best chapters of a book I have read in some time.  No, he didn’t say anything new, but the way he expressed it was fresh.  It didn’t hurt that he illustrated all this with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which I’ve been wanting to read for some time) and Les Miserables (one of my favorite stories, the musical excepted).

The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me.  This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.  It undermines both swattering and sniveling.  I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone.

This is the existential reality that should be produced as we more fully grasp the objective reality of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.  I am humbled because it has nothing to do with any merit on my part, quite the opposite actually.  But it also frees me from the game of “one up-manship” that frequently gets played out.  We no longer have to validate our existence and prove ourselves.  We become free from the clamoring of our flesh (sinful nature) which wants to be validated and glorifed, to prove its worth and superiority over other people.

His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to every save myself through my own effort), yet is also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance).

It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion.  Grace is only a threat to that illusion that we are free, autonomous selves, living life as we choose.

The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record.

Keller explained biblical and theological concepts in everyday language.  He did not use the language of theology.  He never said “justification” and yet he proclaimed and explained it.  He never said “substitution” or “imputation” and yet proclaimed and explained them.  He is not speaking to “us”, the church so much as those who are not in the church, or who are trapped in religion without realizing it.

These are the things we need to preach to ourselves everyday that we might be both humbled and lifted up.  We are humbled because we continue to wander from God and cannot save ourselves from the slightest sin.  We are lifted up because Christ is more than able to save us and restore us.  We need not fall into despair but look to a Great Savior of big sinners.

Read Full Post »

This will be my final post on Revival & Revivalism, I think.  Although this is a very long book, clocking in at about 400 pages, it is a very good book that blends historical narrative and theology to tell the story of a major shift in American Evangelicalism.  It was more than a pragmatic shift, but a theological shift.  Iain Murray also notes some of the cultural shifts that paved the way for the other shifts.  Christianity is not isolated from the surrounding culture, but often begins to echo it, sometimes in very negative ways.

In the 12th chapter Murray follows the Baptists in Transition.  Their experience was quite different from that of the Presbyterians and Methodists.  The Presbyterians experienced some difficulties and conflict with the new measures and new theology.  But many of those for the new measures and theology ended up leaving for a less confessional expression of the church.  The Methodists easily embraced the new measures and didn’t agree with the old theology from the get go.  The Baptists prior to this time were largely Calvinistic.  This transition left Baptists in America largely Arminian and often supportive of the new measures popularized by Finney.

One of the things that struck me about the early American Baptists was there “catholicity of spirit”.  They emphasized common ground with other Christians, rather than the differences.  Murray notes that a Presbyterian minister preached at Richard Furman’s funeral, and no one batted an eye.  Or that J.P. Boyce wasn’t attacked for calling the Westminster Confession “our confession”.

The thing that shouldn’t surprise any of us is that they arguments used against Calvinism then are the same as those used to argue against the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC today.

1. Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism were confused and considered as one.

2. Calvinism was viewed something that stifled evangelism and revival.

The first is a sign of either ignorance or an uncharitable spirit.  The ‘strawman’ argument is unloving to the brother with whom you disagree.  The second argument is clearly disproved by history, as Murray repeately shows in his book.

With regard to the new measures, the conflict was not regarding the use of means, but which means.  The old theology, largely Calvinistic, argued that God appointed the means to evangelism and revival in His Word.  We are to use those means and trust Him to fulfill His purposes in our generation.  The effectiveness of those means is under His control, not our.  The new theology, supporting the new measures, placed the efficacy of means under our control, not His.  The new measures also used new means that are not mandated by Scripture.  There is nothing inherently wrong with many of those practices, but to mandate them, or use them as the signposts of revival is wrong.  To rely on them rather than God to produce revival (or treat them like magic, God will send it if we do these things) is wrong.

These new measures led to some other new practices from which Baptistic groups like the SBC today have been unable to entangle themselves despite the best efforts of their Calvinistic contingent.  They took a low view of membership, often baptizing people immediately upon walking the aisle.  People were not well instructed and examined to see the validity of their profession of faith.  Many soon wandered away after the excitment was gone.  It is not uncommon today to find SBC churches (and some Presbyterian churches too, to be fair) with rolls that far exceed attendence.  Low expectations of membership runs rampant today.  These are human problems, not Baptist problems.  But they find a welcome home in many Baptist churches because of this transition in both theology and practice.

Read Full Post »

I have been making my way through The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller since Saturday.  I’m only through part 1 in which he looks at the objections commonly raised against Christianity.  Keller utilizes a kindly Van Tillian approach.  Greg Bahnsen, for instance, would often use a scorched-earth, win at all costs, type of approach that made many Christians rejoice, but left unbelievers feeling totally minimized and victimized.  Keller models a kind hearted manner, one which is willing to acknowledge where those he disagrees with have a valid point.  He also models a method of gently showing them their own “defeater beliefs”, beliefs that are just as unproveable as those they criticize (self-defeating) or that borrow intellectual or moral capital from Christianity (or at least theism).

The chapters are relatively brief, but have plenty of footnotes.  One interesting thing he often does is bring in the ideas of other unbelievers to undermine the ideas of the most scathing skeptics.  Keller’s goal is always engagement to lovingly persuade.  He wants people to examine their own beliefs (especially their presuppositions) and see if they measure up the criteria of proof they demand of ours.  His goal is not to pummel people into submission.

Toward the end of the section a light bulb went on.  I felt like saying, “Steve, you fool.”  Tim Keller talks about a Stepford God who will never say anything that upsets your intellectual or moral applecart.  It is built on an idea found earlier:

“For sake of argument, let’s imagine that Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God.  If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect.  If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting our thinking at some place.”

In thinking about culture and Christianity before, I noticed that our cultural discomfort points to the cultural idols.  What I mean is that when a Christian is uncomfortable with an aspect of culture if often points to an idol of that culture.  For instance, I am uncomfortable with sexual immorality (I pretty much endorsed it before becoming a Christian), and it points to how our culture has made an idol or savior of sexual immorality.  Freedom is said to be found in freedom of sexual expression.

In talking to someone about Christianity, their discomfort with a particular biblical teaching (or their misunderstanding of it) reveals their idols (this was the lightbulb moment).  God is not a Stepford God, affirming all their progressive and civilized notions.  Rather, He insults them and they are truly offended.  Rather than face the fact that they might have wrong notions, they argue that the Bible is wrong, misguide, archaic and out-dated.  John Frame, in his more technical Apologetics to the Glory of God, calls this the flight from accountabilty.

These flights from accountability show where that person is seeking life.  For example, some people really find complementarianism (male headship) offensive and somehow demeaning to woman (when used to abuse and dehumanize women it is evil).   They have revealed that they seek life in the modern notion of ‘equality’ not just of essence but of function.  So when God talks about authority figures, which impinges on our functional equality, they become angry.

We should not do battle on that particular issue, but deal with what Keller calls the “deep end of the pool”.  We are not trying to convert them to a particular belief of Christianity, but to Christ Himself.  Should they be so converted, they may begin to realize that they have been enslaved to falsehood.  But we can contextualize our discussion by affirming the fact that God made men & women together in His image.  Both have dignity!  We have met them halfway as far as truth is concerned.  Now let’s look at the Creator and how He seeks to restore what we have destroyed by our rebellion.

Tim Keller consistently models this approach.  More Christians need to read this book, perhaps we might more consistently ensure that the Cross is the offense they find, not a peripheral view or how we try to whack them over the heads as verbal opponents.  And if we cannot do that (yes, we are sinners) perhaps offering them the book would be helpful.

Update: Joshua Harris also liked the Stepford God idea.

Read Full Post »

My copy of Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Yes, I am a bit behind on new books. This happens when you don’t have a book allowance anymore. I had to pick up some resources to do some pre-marital counseling and decided to pick it up.   WTS Books has a reader’s guide available on PDF.  I am looking forward to spending some time learning from someone with far more experience than me in this area (among others).

I have to travel out of town for business next weekend. Flight time should give me some time to read good chunks of it. So I hope to have some thoughts about it when I get home.
I also need to go buy a notebook/journal. I want a place to put down my thoughts on ministry & more. I want to make some of my responses to things like Keller’s work on contextualization, gospel incarnation & communication, and thoughts from various sermons & sermon lectures. I have these ideas stuck on post-it notes in my office. Not quite the most efficient way. And I don’t want it on computer. I have too much on computer and would like to spend LESS time on the computer. It is too easy for me to feed my spirit of procrastination on the computer. A handy notebook could go with me anywhere to get those brilliant and not-so-brilliant thoughts down.

Read Full Post »

The laptop is in the shop, so my on-line time is limited to office time.  While I’m in the office the next few weeks I’m working on sermons.  I’ll be preaching on the “presbyterian” son, actually the 2 ways to run from God (yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller as I’ve driven to supply pulpits the last 3 Sundays).  I see Winter Haven as an older son kind of town.  People are generally good and decent and this obscures their perception of any need for Christ and His righteousness.  But we tend to preach as if they are all reckless, rebellious sons.  Perhaps this is why the Reformed churches here are not bearing a whole lot of fruit (in addition to the consumer-mindset-satisfying churches).  There are a few other projects I’m working on as well, which limit my time in the office.  One of these days I’ll replace the resistor for the A/C fan in my car too.

Posts will come, as time permits for the next week or so when the Geek Squad either fixes the laptop or decides to replace it.  I say “Praise God for extended warrenties!”

Read Full Post »

The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church booklet by Mark Dever (the link is for the expanded edition, here’s the table of contents and introduction) has been kicking around my office for some time.  I think the pastoral intern left it behind.  So yesterday I read it at lunch.  It was a worthwhile read, and would be particularly helpful, in booklet form, working with leadership to get and keep a congregation on track.  I’ll interact with this some, affirming most of it and mentioning a few omissions or small problems.

I’ll start with one complaint.  I know you can’t have 54 marks of a healthy church, but I was shocked that prayer was not one of the marks of a healthy church.  I think a vibrant, balanced corporate prayer life (not just the pastoral prayer) is essential to a healthy and growing congregation.  Okay, the 9 marks Mark mentions.

1. Expositional Preaching–  I like that he is not talking about style, but overall approach.  He affirms that different pastors will have different styles of preaching, but all should be submitting to the text for the message as they explain it and apply it to the life of the congregation.  What I think he missed in the process is that expositional preaching should also be redemptive-historical preaching.  You have to keep the text within the context of all of Scripture, placing it in its proper place in the history of redemption (and its progress), connecting it with the work of Christ and maintaining a grace-orientation.  As a seminarian I was trying to be expositional, and since I wasn’t also balancing that with a redemptive-historical approach, texts often become moralistic rather than gospel centered (Christ and Him crucified)

2. Biblical Theology- I don’t think he is using the technical term, as opposed to systematic theology.  Rather he is saying a theology in harmony with the Bible.  He’s not really addressing the means of getting there (see my post on According to Plan by Goldsworthy).  But Mark is right, sound doctrine is essential to a healthy church.  This is the word that Paul uses in the Pastoral Epistles- healthy doctrine.  To build on what I said above, sound doctrine is in accordance with the gospel: it is gospel centered!  Unhealthy doctrine leads to an unhealthy lifestyle- one of sin.

He recognizes that you can’t/shouldn’t make every doctrinal point a hill to die on.  The closer it is to the heart of the gospel (like the Trinity, justification, substitutionary atonement, etc.) the more important it is to have unity as a congregation.  There are also some issues that though not essential doctrines (mode & subjects of baptism, for instance) it is good to have agreement or at least a willingness to disagree, and some issues (like eschatology) upon which there can be various positions taken.  He also distinguishes the person with honest questions, and the contentious person who continues to deny biblical teaching after much instruction (see 1 Timothy).


Read Full Post »

I spent the last few days reading Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching by Iain Murray.  It was well worth the $4.72 I paid for this book at WTS Books.  It was yet another solid read by Iain Murray.  He’s done us a great service again, though this book is quite short (under 160 pages).

Why might someone want to read this book?  Well, for a few reasons.  One the one hand it can be used to refute Arminians who think that Calvinism itself hinders evangelism.  It shows this by putting forth Spurgeon as a very evangelistic, historical Calvinist.  It shows that Hyper-Calvinism (which does hinder evangelism) is a deviation which should not be confused with the real thing (all those people in the SBC who are afraid of Calvinism should read this).

With the resurgence of Calvinism among young church leaders, we may see a resurgence of Hyper-Calvinism as well.  It was this that led Murray to write the book in the 1990s.  I have only met a few Hyper-Calvinists by doctrine.  However, sometimes we can inadvertantly be Hyper-Calvinists in practice.  I felt that conviction as I read the book.  I have not been as zealous in pleading with people as perhaps I should have been.

Murray begins with a very brief historical sketch of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to set the stage.  He began his ministry at a time when Arminianism was beginning to spread among English Baptists, and part of the reason was that Hyper-Calvinism had infected many of the English Baptist congregations.  The two controversies of Spurgeon’s early ministry were against these to sub-biblical theologies.  By and large they attacked him, though he recognized some indiscretion on his part as he looked back in latter years.

Murray turns to the Combatants and the Cause of the Controversy.  It began in earnest when a well-meaning publisher wanted to show other Hyper-Calvinists that Spurgeon was a man whose ministry they could welcome, even if he wasn’t “fully onboard”.  This draw the ire of the leading Hyper-Calvinists who began exchanging letters to the editors and articles on the matter with some who defended Spurgeon.  Spurgeon himself never entered the fray via the periodicals.  Most of his responses were in the form of instructing his people from the pulpit.

Murray then moves into The Case Against Spurgeon.  They claimed he was touched by an Arminian spirit (attitude, not a ghost or something).  But many of their arguments had a problem- they were refuted by numerous honored Puritan pastor-theologians like Richard Sibbes, John Owen, Thomas Boston and the other Marrow Men.  They argued that non-elect people could not be told to repent and believe since they were unable to do so.  They called the practice of so doing “duty-faith”, quite derisively to make it sound like a work.  The Hyper-Calvinists fell into the same trap as the Arminians, though it took them in a different direction.  For God to command something of people implied they had the ability to fulfill the command.  Arminians accepted this, and believed all people had the ability, not just the duty, to repent and believe.  Hyper-Calvinists, believing non-elect people lacked the ability, also lacked the duty.  In this they were trying to be logically consistent.

The problem is that duty is not connected to ability.  God’s commands are reflective of His nature, not our ability.  As such they reflect our responsibility, what we are to do.  All people are commanded to obey God in all things, though only regenerate people have the ability to actually do that.

Murray turns to Spurgeon’s Fourfold Appeal to Scripture.  As noted above, most of this is culled from his sermons.


Read Full Post »

I began reading Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: the Battle for Gospel Preaching yesterday.  Just the introductary material to give some background on Spurgeon.  Here are a few things to chew on.

“We are only at the beginning of an era of mingled unbelief and fanaticism.  The hurricane is coming.  Men have ceased to be  guided by the word, and claim to be themselves prophets.”

“Let us hold fast, tenaciously, doggedly, with a death grip, to the truth of the inspiration of God’s Word … Everything in the railway service depends upon the accuracy of the signals: when these are wrong, life will be sacrificed.  On the road to heaven we need unerring signals, or the catastrophe will be far more terrible.”

“The only real argument against the Bible is an unholy life.  When a man argues against the Word of God, follow him home and see if you can discover the reason of his enmity to the Word of the Lord.  It lies in some form of sin.”

Referring to the doctrinal battles he fought (and believed he needed to fight) “The fight is killing me.”  Like Paul he contended for the faith once delivered to the saints though he paid a great personal cost.

“”The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul”; nothing else but the living Word of God will convince, convert, renew and sanctify.  He has promised that this shall not return to Him void; but He has made no such promise to the wisdom of men, or the excellency of human speech.  The Spirit of God works with the Word of God … All his paths drop fatness; but man’s paths are barrenness.”

“If we are to obtain a revival we must go directly to the Holy Ghost for it, and not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker.”  These were not the words of a bitter man, but one who was used greatly during the great London revival of 1859.

Read Full Post »

I’m looking forward to Tim Keller’s new book, and so are all the PCA & SBC guys who make an idol of him (just a joke flowing from a previous post). 

Here is a short, early review from Publishers Weekly:

“In this apologia for Christian faith, Keller mines material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. Written for skeptics and the believers who love them, the book draws on the author’s encounters as founding pastor of New York’s booming Redeemer Presbyterian Church. One of Keller’s most provocative arguments is that “all doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.” Drawing on sources as diverse as 19th-century author Robert Louis Stevenson and contemporary New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, Keller attempts to deconstruct everyone he finds in his way, from the evolutionary psychologist Richard Dawkins to popular author Dan Brown. The first, shorter part of the book looks at popular arguments against God’s existence, while the second builds on general arguments for God to culminate in a sharp focus on the redemptive work of God in Christ. Keller’s condensed summaries of arguments for and against theism make the scope of the book overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, it should serve both as testimony to the author’s encyclopedic learning and as a compelling overview of the current debate on faith for those who doubt and for those who want to reevaluate what they believe, and why. (Feb. 14)”

(HT: Reformissionary)

Read Full Post »

I went to a seminar on church renewal a little over a week ago.  My Presbytery worked with our denominational board covering church planting and renewal to put this together.  Ken Priddy, a pastor and church consultant, has taken a part-time position with our denomination to assist in the revitalization of many of our congregations through United Front Ministries.  Ken graduated from RTS the year before I did.  Unlike Dr. Nicole, he recognized me.

Why did I go?  Statistics indicate that 80% of churches in America are either in recline or decline.  As a result, 80% of the churches I talk to about a new position will be in one of those positions.  So, I’ve got an 80% of leading a congregation in either recline or decline.  I thought it prudent at this juncture to add some more tools to my toolkit so I can be more effective.

Why Do Churches Go Into Recline & Decline?

– Recline is the bull’s eye that most pastors and congregations aim for.  This is an extension of the empty nest and retirement mentality.  We long for the time when we don’t have to work in the fields very much.  We forget that the rest awaits us (Hebrews 4:9ff).  Right now Jesus is building His church, through us.

– Our default mode is inward, not outreach.  We don’t have to spend much time advocating nurture (though we do need to instruct on what gospel-oriented nurture is).  But we must continually advocate outreach & evangelism.  We must fight to keep evangelism a focus.


Read Full Post »

Thomas Boston is one of my favorite Puritan preachers.  When I saw that his sermons on repentance had been published as Repentance: Turning from sin to God: What it means and why it’s necessary, I had great interest.

The sermons found here were delivered at both the beginning and end of his ministry in Ettrick, Scotland.  He was dismayed at the carelessness the people gave to their walk, or relationship, with God.  It sounds like it was a difficult situation to continually preach the gospel.  The introduction notes that it was also personally difficult.  He lost a son during his first year there.  This was not a man living in an ivory tower.

But like most Puritans, he was a man who spent time thinking about these texts and their consequences for us.  For those of us in a microwave society, suffering from cultural ADHD, it can easily seem laborious.  But he was carefully laying out the implications of these truths.  So, it is not easy reading for the unacquainted.  But it is fruitful reading.

The topics covered include:

The Necessity of Repentance.  He explains this as well with the observation of afflictions that call us to repentance.  He calls true repentance an abiding grace, not a flight of fancy, and a wound that bleeds till glory.  As  Puritan he believes this is a work of God’s Spirit accomplished through the Word of God.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »