Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘antinomianism’


We as an assembly wanted not simply theological clarity, but also pastoral wisdom as we engage with a massive cultural shift. At least that is what I wanted. I felt like I was ill-prepared to lovingly engage people who struggle with same-sex attraction. I’ve had friends who suffered secretly, until they left their spouses. Some of them I suspected, and some I didn’t. I’ve only had one congregant “come out” to me as bisexual. I should have engaged this person more on how it impacted marriage for them. I didn’t want to open a can of worms I felt ill-prepared to handle.

The Report notes that such pastoral care requires special consideration. We do need to communicate that all people are made in the image of God, and all Christians are being renewed in that image. Our various struggles are not a denial of this, but part of the process. Faithful discipleship is possible, even if people struggle with same-sex attraction. Life is about more than sexual attraction, though the world seemingly wants to reduce us to our sexual desires. The Spirit produces the fruit of character in our lives which impact how one experiences and expresses sexual attraction.

The Report addresses two common errors as we consider sanctification. These two errors reflect the “Already-Not Yet” tension that we live in as Christians. There are elements of our salvation that we have already received and experience. There are other elements that our salvation that we have not yet received and experience. When we push too much of the “not yet” into the “already” we have an over-realized eschatology (expectations set too high). When we deny too much of the “already” and delay it for the “not yet” we have an under-realized eschatology (expectations set too low).

The error of some Christian approaches to same-sex sexual desire has been to tie faithfulness to the elimination of homosexual temptation (or even the development of heterosexual desire) as though if Christians really did enough therapy, had enough faith, or repented sufficiently, God would deliver them in some final and complete way, changing their orientation. This perspective reflects a sort of over-realized eschatology—a view that what we will be finally and fully in the new creation will be realized in that way in the present life. Against such a view, our Confession reminds us that even in the regenerate, the corruption of sin remains in this life (WCF6.5). The task for believers is to pursue faithfulness and obedience in this life, holding in view our new creation selves into which we are progressively, though often with many fits and starts, being conformed.

Some expect same-sex attraction to end or at least become so rare as to be seemingly insignificant. This is often stated with the other side of the coin, the development of heterosexual desire. God can and does do this. But He doesn’t do it for every person who repents and believes. Have all your temptations been removed? I doubt it.

This is a push back on the Exodus International model of ministering to homosexuals. Revoice was also a push back, but not as tempered as this one. They seem to have gone to the other extreme (an under-realized eschatology that expects little/no change). Whether or not a person continues to experience same-sex attraction is largely under the providence of God. What a person does with those desires is a matter of their personal sanctification. Corruption of all kinds remains in us, and we are to pursue faithfulness in the midst of that.

The Report then pushes back on Revoice’s pessimism regarding change. It really is hard to maintain balance, and that only through the gospel. We are not to lapse into legalism to fight pessimism. Nor are we to lapse into antinomianism to fight the unrealistic expectations of an over-realized eschatology.

The error of other Christian approaches to same-sex sexual desire is to treat it as a sort of fixed reality that has no malleability or capacity for change whatsoever. In its most extreme forms, this reflects our broader culture’s notions of one’s sexual orientation being a completely fixed reality—contending that there is no sense in which sexual desires can meaningfully change over time. The problem with this under-realized eschatology is that in its attempts to push back against views of change that overstate the Christian’s sense of having “arrived,”it suggests that there is no journey to take at all and no progress to be expected. However, the Biblical perspective is that the Holy Spirit uses repentance with the ordinary means of grace to advance Christian understanding, godly desires, and Biblical obedience. If a believer struggles with habitual sexual sin, we should expect to see real meaningful change in their behaviors as they repent and mortify their sin, and pursue holiness in aggressive, practical ways. If believers are routinely tempted along similar lines over the course of life, they should expect that the less they give in to that temptation and establish deep habits of holiness, over time the pull of their hearts toward that sin should lessen, or even be drowned out by the expulsive power of a greater affection for Christ.

We are to repent of on-going sin. Making use of the ordinary means of grace we should expect to see some measure of growth. A lack of growth (not perfection) MAY be a sign of a lack of godly disciplines. But the flesh is stubborn and does oppose all attempts at godliness.

Pastors should regularly communicate the Already-Not Yet tension clearly. It is not just for people struggling with same-sex attraction. While there is generally no immediate deliverance, such sinful desires need to be mortified, starved. The goal, unlike that expressed by some I’ve talked with, is not heterosexuality, but Christlikeness. We will become like Christ, when He appears. Until then we purify ourselves. We have not arrived, and will not in this earthly life.

While all this seems obvious, it would not seem so based on the conversations PCA pastors were having on this issue with regards to sanctification. The Report gives us good counsel.

Biblical Identity

We all have a sense of who we are, who we believe ourselves to be. The Report points us to the redemptive-historical narrative to understand our identity. We have an ontological identity as being made in the image of God by God as dependent upon Him. We are made male or female, which means these are not simply cultural constructions (we can, and do, socially/culturally construct what being a man or woman means). In footnote 53, referencing Ryan Peterson they say “we have both created identities which are indelible, central, and come from God, and constructed identities, which are our more malleable attempts to interpret our particular experiences and relationships in the world.”

We also have a phenomenological identity, how we experience ourselves as sinners in a sinful world. We should be honest about our sin and misery, the ways in which the Fall is part of us. This is our identity as sinner (alcoholic, glutton etc.) and sinned against (sexual abuse survivor/victim, oppressed minority …). These are real, but not our primary identity.

Our primary identity as Christians is our teleological identity received through our union with Christ. Who we are “in Christ” is the most important part of our identity. This doesn’t over-ride our phenomenological identity, as if we were no longer sinners but is of greater importance and therefore should be our emphasis.

The Report notes its limitations in scope in unpacking what it means to be in Christ. It makes some summary statements. We are justified in Christ, receiving His perfect righteousness as our very own. We also receive the other half of the double grace, sanctification. We don’t get one without the other but receive the whole Christ and the wholeness of salvation despite the reality of the already-not yet tension.

Sexual Identity

The Report asks how we are to think of our sexual identity in light of the redemptive-historical identities. Regardless of our sexual identities, we are ontologically made in the image of God and under His authority. All people have dignity and should be shown respect as image bearers. The Report rightly declares there should be no second-class citizens based on particular struggles. While acknowledging the reality of intersex, they affirm that we should not otherwise deny the reality of gender as rooted in creation.

However, we must also acknowledge the ways in which our sexual identities are shaped by the sins of others against us as well as the ways in which the Fall has shaped our biological and social development. Some experiences of sexual desire may come unbidden as a result of sins committed against a person, and while sinful, should be treated with great pastoral care for the person who has been victimized and sinned against. The origins and development of sexual desire remain complex and, in many ways, mysterious. It is possible to conceive of the experience of same-sex attraction as simultaneously a part of the remaining corruption of original sin as well as the misery of living in a fallen world, one of the ways our bodies themselves groan for redemption (Rom. 8:22-23; WCF6.6; WLC17-19). For many of these Christians, the burden of shame is already great and what is especially needed from pastors and mature believers is our preaching and living out of the grace of the gospel that frees us all from guilt and shame.

The sins of others against us can shape us profoundly, including our sexual identity. They are not saying that everyone who is homosexual has been sexually abused, or neglect. They are saying that how such experiences interact with our original corruption is not uniform and therefore mysterious. These can form and distort our sexual identities. Our original corruption also forms and distorts our sexual identities. There is, therefore, no one cause fits all understanding of homosexuality and same-sex desire in all its permutations.

Pastors need to keep this in mind in their preaching as well as in their pastoral counseling. Dealing with these issues touch on issues of great shame. We need to interact in a way that is shaped by the grace of God for sinners in Christ.

Terminology

They move from identity into a discussion of terminology and articulate four principles:

  1. “The language we use to describe reality matters. Our language and terminology should seek to faithfully and helpfully articulate the truths of our doctrine.”
  2. “Language itself is a secondary issue relative to the doctrine it expresses. We can disagree about particular language.”
  3. “We must recognize that the meaning of terms changes over time and that definitions may not be shared across different groups of people.”
  4. “Issues surrounding sexual identity… cannot be reduced to language alone.”

The Report is pushing us to make sure we understand one another instead of relying on the use, or avoidance, of key words and phrases. We should seek to understand how they are using the words or phrases instead of importing our understanding on them, typically with judgment involved. We should remember “how persons express themselves is not finally determinative of their identity.”

Moving into particular terms they apply these principles. “Gay” and “gay Christian” can be used with different meanings, and may be appropriate in some settings. The Report notes that “same-sex attraction” is usually associated with the “ex-gay” movement and puts up unnecessary barriers in evangelism to homosexuals. The Report doesn’t see the term “gay” as neutral, however, and ordinarily cautions against its use. We need to be aware of our audience if/when we use it.

As a result, the term “gay Christian” is open to a number of interpretations. In terms of identity, this would not be clear or precise in expressing our understanding as Reformed people. But a mission-minded person may identify as gay even as they affirm the Lordship of Christ over their sexuality. The risk of syncretism is noted. Here is the wise conclusion:

Given this conclusion, how should we respond to fellow believers in our churches who may use such language? First, we ought not start from the assumption that they are being unfaithful or living in active rebellion to God. Rather, in the context of established relationships, pastors and leaders in the church ought to ask questions and seek to understand each individual’s story. Why do they use that language? Have they thought through the relative benefits and dangers? Noting the range of possible meanings of terms like gay and gay Christian, we would do well to seek understanding before imparting advice. In practical and plain terms, the issue of terminology is more likely a matter for shepherding in wisdom, and not in and of itself grounds for discipline.

This paragraph has the strong echo of John Newton, and others who seek to preserve the unity of the Church. It is hard not to see Keller’s influence here.

The Report moves to the language of orientation. It notes that “insofar as the term orientation carries with it a set of assumptions about the nature of that experience that is unbiblical, then the terminology may require qualification or even rejection in some circumstances.” Use of the term seems to be a capitulation to those who seek to normalize sin.

Singleness, Friendship, and Community

Many who experience same-sex attraction have not found churches to be particularly hospitable places. The words may not be directed at them specifically, but how we preach about it can make a person feel unsafe in revealing their temptations. Sometimes we chase them into a more welcoming community that begins to affirm their sin instead of proclaiming the gospel to them.

Those who stay in our churches can feel incredibly lonely, and this can crush them further. There is a challenge here for us to be clear on sin, but also compassionate to sinners; to be communities that welcome sinners of all kinds. This means not simply welcoming them to sit and watch, but to be active and important participants in our communities. Here we hit a statement many will find controversial.

“Insofar as such persons display the requisite Christian maturity, we do not consider this sin struggle automatically to disqualify someone for leadership in the church.”

This does not sit well with those who think that homosexuality automatically disqualifies one from office. This can take two forms. One that I’ve seen in a number of forums is that if they were truly repentant they wouldn’t experience same sex attraction anymore. As The Report noted earlier, this is distorted and anti-gospel view of repentance. The other form I’ve seen is that to be “a one woman man” rules out one without heterosexual attraction.

This sentence has been brought up as evidence that the PCA is sliding down the slope. This sentence is met with angst on the part of those who want to see pastors and elders (and deacons) who experience same-sex attraction removed from office.

We must note that the persons in question “display the requisite Christian maturity.” They evidence genuine faith as far as we can tell. Due to self-control, they are not controlled by their same-sex attraction but live a faithful, chaste life before the face of God. Leading a gay lifestyle would in fact disqualify one from office. Experiencing same-sex attraction should not. Sin actual, not original, is the proper subject of church discipline. Transgressions, not corruption, is the proper subject of church discipline. This is not 1984 and we are not the “thought police”. To deny the sinfulness of homosexuality would be a proper subject of church discipline since that is false teaching. This is not Minority Report, and there are no precogs letting us know you’d sin (transgress), if you could.

This subject, however, is dynamite that could create not simply discussion but dissension. I don’t want to underestimate that potential. I’ve seen people within and outside of the PCA quote this sentence. If anything is going to prove controversial in The Report, this is it.

So, in light of the fact that people with same-sex attraction who are maturing should contribute to the life of the church we should expect them to cultivate healthy relationships. Unfortunately, some connected with Revoice are proposing “celibate partnerships” in an attempt to affirm the biblical sexual ethic and also experience exclusive, romantic relationships. This is most unwise. You cannot scoop fire into your lap and expect to not be burned. The Report notes these proposed relationships to “be unwise and inconsistent with the depictions of deep same-sex relationships in Scripture, which are instead case in the context of familial or philial relations.” Jonathan and David were like brothers, not lovers. Let us not think it was some Brokeback Mountain kind of thing. The Report notes they make a category mistake: “it seeks to have aspects of romance or marriage without its fullness, instead of rightly rooting this type of deeply caring, same-sex relationship in its proper category of family or friendship.”

We should be providing family to people who are single, and people who are same-sex attracted. We shouldn’t see them as people to be fixed but as people who need to love and be loved in healthy, biblically appropriate ways.

The Report than addresses vows of celibacy. WLC 139 warns against such things. Such vows are entangling and limiting for future options. No one knows what the future holds, and a person may develop sufficient attraction to marry a person of the opposite sex. In this way it pushes back against the “vows of celibacy” some have made and some churches encouraged for membership.

WLC 138 informs us that people who pursue chastity may be considered continent. They certainly have an indefinite, and possibly lifelong call to singleness. This pushes back against the opposite notion that the “cure” for same-sex attraction is heterosexual marriage (or biblical marriage). This seems to not “give proper regard to the rights and dignity of both parties in the marriage relationship.” No one wants to be a beard, and wonder why their spouse displays so little sexual interest in them. I’ve had friends live this, and wish it on no one. As Christians, we have a higher view of marriage than that.

So we find that in terms of pastoral care, this Report continues to pull both sides toward the middle. It offers counter-balance to both sides recognizing that controversy tends to move us farther from truth and toward extremes.

Addendum: Here is a Christopher Yuan lecture on temptation, sanctification & identity.

 

Read Full Post »


A Christian's Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness: Understanding SanctificationThis year at GA I went to the RTS Alumni and Friends luncheon. They gave those who attended a gift box that included some books by professors at the various campuses. One book was by J.V. Fesko, Growing in Holiness: Understanding Sanctification, which is part of the Christian’s Pocket Guide series by Christian Focus.

This is the first installment of the series I’ve read, and I’m encouraged to read more. This is a succinct volume on the subject of sanctification that should appeal to those in our congregations who aren’t big readers. It is a mere 3 chapters and 64 small pages. I read it in 3 sittings of less than an hour each.

Fesko does a good job in laying out the material. The 3 chapters are Sanctification Defined, Sanctification Applied and Sanctification Undermined. At the beginning of each chapter he charts the course for the chapter. He interacts with Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The one thing lacking is the use of illustrations from everyday life. This results in a more abstract book than some may be comfortable reading.

But what he does is provide a theologically rich summary of the Reformed understanding of sanctification.

Fesko begins with, and often returns to, union with Christ. This is the distinctive view of Reformed Theology. This is rooted in Paul’s theology, not just Calvin. He does explain the “double grace” of justification and sanctification that we receive in union with Christ. We actually receive all spiritual blessings in union with Christ, but these two in particular complement each other and were the focus on the dispute of the Reformation.

Fesko defines each and distinguishes them from one another. But we can’t one without the other. Logically, justification comes first and is the foundation for our sanctification (wherein He make those He has declared positionally righteous personally righteous as well).

Image result for justification and sanctification

(chart source)

Union with Christ is the ultimate basis of sanctification as Christ works in us by the Spirit to make us like He is. This means that like justification, sanctification is by grace alone through faith alone. In Christ we have a new identity that we begin to live out.

In living out that new identity, Fesko discusses the two parts of sanctification: mortification and vivification. Big terms he defines. We put to death that which is associated with Adam our old covenant head because it is corrupt. Sanctification is more than putting sin to death, it is also giving life to virtues or godly character. Both putting the old man to death and bringing then new man to life done in the power of the Spirit. It is a work of God’s free grace, not man’s ceaseless effort.

In Sanctification Applied he goes more fully into the “nuts and bolts” of how this happens. He lays out the means of grace, and therefore the centrality of the body of Christ. Prominence is given to God’s Word: read, preached and in the sacraments. In other words, the church offers us the Word spoken and sacramental. He discusses how we are to pray for God to work so we will understand, believe and obey the Word as revealed in the worship of the church.

In temptation we flee to Jesus in prayer, recalling the Word in its promises and warnings pertaining to our particular need. We are active, not passive, in sanctification. But it is always God who works first: for us and then in us.

In Sanctification Undermined, Fesko identifies the predominant false views of sanctification. He does this briefly, indicating how each of them leads us in the wrong direction. He begins with self-renewal which is rooted in Pelagianism but popularized by Charles Finney as one of his many errors. Sins are habits and we can just stop through the power of our will. It is rooted in self, not grace through faith and our union with Christ. Sanctification without Christ is no sanctification at all.

He then highlights imitation of Christ, particularly the mystical form of Thomas a Kempis. This looks in, not out to Christ. Meditation seems to be separated from the Word of God. (I’m not sure he’s entirely fair to a Kempis, but it has been a number of years since I’ve read him.)

He then outlines Roman Catholicism which has a very different understanding of grace and how that grace is received in the sacraments. Grace is mystical and magical, received through the simple receiving of the sacraments rather than the Reformed understanding of received by faith in the promises of the sacraments.

He then moves to legalism which rightly sees a place for the law, but wrongly depends on the law. This is his opportunity to begin introducing the proper place of the law. But he also shows the weakness of the law. While it reveals, it contains no power in itself. It reveals my sinfulness but cannot change it. I need to be united to Christ!

It’s evil twin is antinomianism which in its various forms indicates that the law has no significant place in our lives after conversion. It is a neglect of the law’s role in revealing righteousness to God’s children. It provides guard rails for us as we grow in Christ. How we lives does matter. The Holy One is making us holy ones.

He includes some book recommendations for further reading. He’s includes some important ones including Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Walter Marshall The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification and Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity. I also recommend these great books for better understanding how the gospel is at work in our sanctification.

Fesko provides us with a clear, succinct volume to help us understand sanctification. This could be a useful book to share with new(er) Christians and to aid conversation about this great work of God in us.

Read Full Post »


Image of the works of John newtonThe second volume in The Works of John Newton is even a little more varied than the first volume. The first had a biography, then his memoirs in letter form followed by more letters. This volume begins with the remaining letters of Cardiphoia, followed by some collections of sermons, then his ecclesiastical history and then the Olney Hymnbook. There is clearly plenty of material here.

In one of his books Jerry Bridges talks about the pool hall, and that his parents warned him to not go to the pool hall. He thought there was something wrong with playing pool. As it turned out, the concern was the gambling and unsavory characters associated with that pool hall (and some others).

I wonder if something similar happened with Newton and the playhouse. The first series of letters is to a Miss TH***, and they include his rebuke about her attendance at a playhouse. “I am well satisfied, that if there is any practice in this land sinful, attendance on the play-house is properly and eminently so. The theatres are fountains and means of vice…”.

I agree that the gospel is “a source of purer, sweeter, and more substantial pleasures.” We are invited into communion with God, but does that preclude our viewing stories told on TV, movies and stage? He is helping her wrestle with the impact of holiness on entertainment. Like most I’m probably quick to point out the shows I choose not to watch on account of their content but overlook the ones I do. In seminary one professor recommended I watch Seinfeld and another lamented the horrible choices students were making by watching such shows.

These letter grapple with living one’s faith in their circumstances and choices. They point us to Christ, not just for holiness but also for pardon. “Our sins are many, but his mercies are more; our sins are great, but his righteousness is greater.” He helps people wrestle with God’s providence in light of God’s character. This includes his famous paraphrase of Romans 8:28- “All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds.” He’s also very aware of the weakness of the flesh and that hard circumstances draw forth our corruptions.

He also interacts with men in ministry or considering ministry. At times they are men of different opinions than Newton. He tries to gently instruct, and provides a model for such discourses (rather than polemics). Polemics is for books, though even there winsomeness can help, not for personal relationships. He also covers topics like the length and volume of sermons, when to leave a church and more.

He writes about assurance of salvation to William Wilberforce’s aunt. There are letters on “backsliding”. He speaks of the pain of friendship and placing our hope in God alone. He also notes “it is merciful in the Lord to disappoint our plans and to cross our wishes.”

There are also some odd events, adding to the personal character. He writes of a lion they had in town and a discussion with its keeper. He writes of his own frustrations in some of the doctrinal debates, how he doesn’t fit perfectly in any one camp: “I am sort of a speckled bird among my Calvinist brethren … the Dissenters (many of them I mean) think me defective … neither do my dimensions fit exactly with them (Methodists).” So, one will find sorts of things of interest and help.

The sermons begin with a series of discourses that he intended to preach but apparently did not. They cover the deceitfulness of the human heart, Jesus and salvation, the name “Christians”, all things being given to us with Christ, and searching the Scriptures. In some ways they are an introduction to the Christian life. There is much that is very good in these discourses. In the last discourse he seems to discourage the expositional preaching through books. One finds subjects or themes to preach upon. So John and I could possibly have a lengthy discussion on this topic.

“None are so bad but the gospel affords them a ground of hope: none so good as to have any just ground for hope with it.”

Next are 20 sermons preached in Olney. He begins a series of sermons on Matt. 11:25 on the lack of success the gospel ministry may meet due to the mysteries of the gospel being hid from many. He preaches 4 sermons on that text before moving on to verse 26. There he begins to assert the sovereignty of divine grace. In the 6th sermon he moves to the person of Christ in vv. 27. That includes authority. This means that the glory and grace of God are revealed in Christ. After these 3 sermons on vv. 27, he moves to vv. 28 to discuss our labor and heavy load what it means to come to Christ and the rest he provides. Yes, 3 sermons on that before addressing vv. 30. This may be why he didn’t generally preach thru books- he would have died before he finished one with so many sermons on individual verses.

This is, in my opinion, one of the weaknesses of Puritan preaching which he seems to emulate here. The themes can be subtly removed from the context of the larger passage and book if one is not careful. We can be so focused on a word or phrase that we miss the overall meaning of a text.

Newton then moves to Romans 14 to discuss liberty and misconduct. The next sermon offered concerns the 3rd commandment out of Exodus 20. These sermons and those which follow are all disconnected from one another. He then jumps to 1 Cor. 9:24 and running the race. Then he jumps back to Micah 6:6-8 and James 2. You get the point. These were not preached, I imagine, sequentially.

They are good sermons and there are plenty of helpful statements in them. There is often encouragement to be found in them.

His Review of Ecclesiastical History is not quite what I expected. Generally such works begin after the time of the Apostles. His pretty much ends there. He’d hoped to write more volumes, but that is all he got to write. He was a busy many, as his many apologies for delays litter his letters.

“The history of all ages and countries uniformly confirms the Scriptural doctrine, that man is a depraved and fallen creature, and that some selfish temper, ambition, avarice, pride, revenge, and the like, are, in effect, the main-springs and motives of his conduct, unless so far, and in such instances, as they are corrected and subdued by Divine grace.”

His introduction focuses on the resistance of the human heart to the truth and the spread of persecution. He was thankful that the law of England limited the persecution of the church. He begins with the ministry of Jesus.

“We may describe the gospel to be- A divine revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, discovering the misery of fallen man by sin, and the means of his complete recovery by the free grace of God, through faith, unto holiness and happiness.”

He breaks this definition down, phrase by phrase. Then he returns to the subject of opposition, in particular by the religious leaders in Israel. The particular groups represent the basic types of resistance: legalism/self-righteousness, liberals or the self-wise, the worldly-wise or compromising. Newton then contrasts the disciples before and after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. He focuses on the influences of grace, however imperfect.

The second period of Christianity was the work of the Apostles. He retraces much of the Acts of the Apostles. This section is almost like a little commentary with some helpful words on the biblical book. He tries to focus on the needs of his time as he edits the vast history. As he goes he gives the supposed date of the events and the emperor at the time.

As he reports the advice of Gamaliel, I wonder how often we should heed that. Many fads in theology have come and gone, but each time we act like this one is the end of the church as we know it, only for the controversy to die down and the movement or false doctrine to die out (like the emergent church, open theism etc.).

Newton shifts his attention to Paul’s character as an example for ministers. He was a self-righteous and moral man who’s need for a Savior was revealed. Paul was concerned for doctrinal purity as relates to the great doctrines of the faith. He was discerning about which deviations were deadly to the gospel and which weren’t.

“Self is too prevalent in the best men, and the tendency of self is, to exact submission, to hurry to extremes, to exaggerate trifles into points of great consequence, and to render us averse to the healing expedients of peace.”

Paul derived the circumstantials and essentials of religion from the same source- the Scriptures. Newton explains the differences between them. Paul’s zeal was matched by his humility.

Newton moves on to the irregularities and offenses of the Apostles’ days. He brings us to the letters of the Apostles’ (and Acts) to see some of the most important problems they experienced. He addresses the public worship of Corinth, for instance. He still doesn’t give an answer to the supposed contradiction between chapters 11 and 14 on women speaking i the service. One persistent problem was the attachment some Jewish converts had to the law of Moses. We also see early forms of Antinomianism.

The hymnbook contains only titles and lyrics. It provides the text that influenced particular hymns. At times we can see how the form we have now is much different- verses missing or added (particularly with Amazing Grace). There are many hymns whose words should prove of interest to those who update the music of hymns.

I’m finding The Works of John Newton to be worth the investment of my time this year. They would likely be worth your investment too.

Read Full Post »


I’m not wild about books about preaching. I often feel overwhelmed; how can I fit all that into a sermon? I already feel like I’m trying to do too much in my sermons.

But I know I can become better at my craft. This year during study leave, I decided to read some books on preaching. One of the books was Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller. I want to do a better job of reaching those who aren’t “fully on-board” in addition to communicating the Reformed faith to those who already believe. I think Tim Keller is pretty good at that.

This book is not so much about the nuts and bolts of sermon preparation (there is an appendix that addresses much of that). It focuses on the bigger issues of preaching- how to communicate with people.

The introduction talking of the three levels of the ministry of the Word. The ministry of the Word is not the exclusive province of pastors. The ministry of the Word extends far beyond the sermon. Every Christian should have a ministry of the Word in that they should be able to communicate basic Bible knowledge and teaching to others. This is a very informal level of ministry. If the Word dwells richly in us, this is doable.

In between this informal ministry and formal ministry is those who have a gift of teaching but who are not ordained to preach. It is a formal setting, but doesn’t entail formal education or an office. Small group leaders, SS teachers, personal exhortation, counseling, and evangelism are examples of this second level of teaching. This book would be helpful for people in the 2nd and 3rd levels of ministry.

In the midst of this, Keller defends preaching from the attacks of those who want it done away with in our day. While God transforms churches through all three levels of the ministry of the Word, preaching is still an important part of that transformation. We see preaching as normative in the New Testament. It should be normative for us as well. He positively quotes Adam in saying the gospel ministry should be “pulpit-centered, but not pulpit restricted.”

Good preaching is faithful to the text, and the people to whom God calls you to preach. Great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the preacher and the listener. Later he’d refer to Martyn Lloyd-Jones talking about “logic on fire”. I recently watched the documentary on him and can identify with those moments during preaching when you are caught up in the truth you are preaching. A shift takes place in you as you preaching becomes worshipful, for lack of a better term. You are lifting up Christ to them, and yourself.

“Spiritual eloquence should arise out of the preacher’s almost desperate love for the gospel truth itself and the people for whom accepting the truth is a matter of life and death.”

Great preaching preaches Christ to the cultural heart. The preacher connects with the heart of the culture to challenge its conclusions and point to Christ for the fulfillment of its legitimate aspirations. Keller is an advocate of redemptive-historical preaching, connecting each text with the central message of the gospel for the justification and sanctification of those who listen.

He starts with preaching the Word. He explains the difference between expository and topical preaching. He advocates for focusing on expository preaching. He doesn’t think you should never do a topical sermon, but that it should be the exception, not the rule. He cautions against some forms of expository preaching which spend so much time in one text that book studies take 5+ years. The people will not hear the whole counsel of God this way.

“Preaching is not only explaining the text but also using it to engage the heart.”

I am generally an expository preacher. I have one text and preach it. During Advent, Lent or Reformation Day I may do some topical or thematic sermons. My goal is to preach the text, and point them to Christ through that text. I’ve spent about 2 years in a book like Genesis or John, but I try to balance that out with shorter series like Esther, Jonah or a summer series in Psalms. In my 7, nearly 8, years at my current congregation I’ve preached on Genesis, James, Colossians, John, Esther, 1 Peter, and Jonah. In addition to the summer series on Psalms, there have been series on the sacrifices, Advent Songs in Luke, the dreams in Matthew, prophecies of the Messiah and others I can’t recall at the moment.

I pick series based on my perception of the congregation’s needs. Expository preaching will drive us to preach on difficult texts and subjects we’d prefer to avoid as well as keeping us from our hobbyhorses and pet issues.

In the second chapter he focuses on our need to preach the gospel every time. We need to connect our text with the context (paragraph, chapter, book, Testament, whole Bible). We don’t want to merely provide moralistic “biblical principles” or generally inspire them. We need to show them Jesus because He is the One they need generally and in the particulars of their lives. I’ve heard too many sermons that never get us to Jesus.

Keller talks about law and gospel. He relies much on William Perkins who doesn’t divide the Bible or texts into law and gospel. It is more helpful to see law and gospel as uses of texts rather than categories of texts. Therefore we use the text to reveal the law and therefore need for the gospel, and how Christ fulfills that need. In this context he points us to Ferguson’s work (from the Marrow Controversy) on legalism and antinomianism. Both have the same root in the lie of the serpent that God is not good but withholds good from us. If you read only one chapter in this book, this is the chapter to read. This should filter into our preaching so that we bring the gospel to bear against both legalism and antinomianism. Both miss God’s loving grace, the loving grace we need to present to them each week. We can trace their idols down to these roots and show that Christ is the real answer.

Keller, without really saying it, indicates what gospel-centered preaching isn’t. He mentions two dangers to avoid. I have actually heard sermons that said “gospel” 50 times but never actually explain the gospel. Such a sermon is NOT gospel-centered preaching. Keller warns us to avoid preaching without preaching the gospel. You can mention Jesus frequently without mentioning His substutionary obedience, death, resurrection and ascension. You can mention Him without talking about imputed righteousness, union with Christ, His humiliation and exaltation etc. We can also preach Christ without actually preaching the text. Spurgeon did this sometimes. We need to know the main point of the author and spend time with it and going from their to Jesus. Spurgeon tells a story of a Welsh pastor telling a young pastor that every city in England had a road leading to London. Not every road led there, but one did. Every text has a road to Jesus (sometimes more than one), find it and go down that road with the people.

In the next chapter, he spends some time showing how to do this.

The section I really had interest in was about preaching Christ to the culture. This had much to do with proper contextualization so you are connecting too as well as challenging the culture. This is a hard balance. Antinomians accommodate the culture and legalists tend not to connect to the culture because they are overly critical. While culture is the produce of sinful humans, it is also the product of people made in God’s image and necessarily has some remaining connection points.

“We adapt and contextualize in order to speak the truth in love, to both care and confront.”

He notes a shift in Edwards’ preaching after he left Northampton. He took the Native Americans’ experience of suffering into consideration in his preaching. He used more narrative as well. He adapted his preaching style in order to connect with a different culture, a different audience.

“If you over-contextualize and compromise the actual content of the gospel, you will draw a crowd but no one will be changed. … You will mainly just be confirming people in their present course of life.”

He advocates for using respected cultural authorities to strengthen your thesis. Just as you may drop a few Calvin quotes for a Reformed audience, you may want to consider quotes from non-Christians or others who are generally respected by the non-believing members of your audience. Additionally you want to demonstrate you understand doubts and objections. Address the resistance instead of simply ignoring it and plowing through it. He brings up “defeater beliefs” people hold, that if true Christianity can’t be true. Acknowledge them and address them or people will just tune them out if they have those beliefs. He advocates affirming cultural narratives in order to challenge them. Often the aspirations are good but the means are not biblical. Affirm them as on the right track, but point them to Christ and His work as the real means to fulfilling those aspirations.

In the next chapter Keller addresses preaching to the modern and late modern mind. He talks about the impact of individualism, the web of secularity and the borrowed capital used by atheists. He tries to help pastors move from the cultural narratives into idols and true freedom and fulfillment in Christ.

Keller than addresses preaching to the heart. You preach the text (normative), addressing the culture (situational) and the heart (existential). We have to exegete all three and preach to all three. Each of us finds one of these easier and another harder. Tim is great at the culture in my opinion. The text must impact the heart of the pastor to help him impact the hearts of the congregation. He again draws on Edwards and his work on the affections. Truth produces holy affections. We are passionate and imaginative when we address the heart. We want to show them that Jesus is greater than the things they love. This is gospel motivation; more love to Thee.

One of the keys is getting out of the echo chamber. He doesn’t use that term, but we need to listen to a diversity of opinions. That can come from friendships, social media, sources of information and more. But don’t just listen to people you agree with. This will help you have broader understanding of the application of texts.

The book ends in discussion the demonstration of the Spirit and power. This includes the call to holiness. Giftedness will get you only so far. Holiness is essential to great long-term preaching. We are more convincing if we actually find Him to be great, not just assert He is great.

This is a very good book for covering the big picture of preaching which affect how we say it more than what we say. It is a challenging and encouraging book. I’d highly recommend this contribution to the science of preaching.

 

Read Full Post »


Sometimes “life” just gets in the way of all good intentions.

A few years ago I read Antinomianism by Mark Jones and when discussing the doctrine of assurance he mentioned Anthony Burgess (the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange). While reading The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson the subject and Burgess came up again in the footnotes. So I bought a copy of recently released version of Faith Seeking Assurance (FSA) by Burgess in the Puritan Treasures for Today.

While I finished reading the book in December, I went on vacation and returned to a crazy schedule that included preparing for a church trial, and presbytery meeting. I came down with “the” cold (I’m still coughing 4 weeks later), experienced a pastoral crisis or two, helped interview a church planter and we hosted a financial seminar. I think I am returning to normalcy and this review is still waiting for me.

That is how my brain works. I need to clear this out so I can move on to the next review of a book I just finished.

The doctrine of assurance is one of those neglected doctrines these days. Recently we’ve seen a spat of books about the Trinity and union with Christ which had been neglected for a long time. Maybe this doctrine will experience a literary resurgence. But until then … we pretty much have this book. Thankfully it is a very good book, but since I just worked thru this subject in the Westminster Standards for a SS class- there is more to be said.

FSA is a typically Puritan book in its style and structure. If you aren’t familiar with the Puritans, one way to describe them would be a dog with a bone, chewing, chewing, chewing. I’d say a cow chewing its cud, but that sounds too “gentle”. Perhaps another way of putting it is drilling down deep into a doctrine, looking at it from a variety of angles.

“… ecclesiastical discipline being to the church what the sword is to the Commonwealth.”

The assurance of which we speak is assurance as a reflex action- the assurance that we are saved by knowing we have believed and depend upon the merit of Christ. As a direct action, faith believes that God actually saves sinners. In this way, following Calvin, assurance is an element of faith.

“In his reflex acts of faith, the confidence that a believer has of the truth of grace wrought in him comes more from God’s Spirit removing his slavish fears and disposition and supporting the soul than it does from the excellence and beauty of grace within him.”

He begins with the necessity of assurance by bringing us to Corinth and Paul’s letters to them. Professing Christians can be quite content in their lusts. Paul advised them to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith rather than continue to exhibit presumption. In this way we differ from Roman Catholicism in which only those who receive a secret revelation can have such knowledge (think the saints, not ordinary Christians). But Scripture indicates we can know, and God generally wants His children to know that they are in fact saved.

Its advantage is likened to the man who has actually tasted honey and knows its sweetness experientially instead of simply theoretically. It provides a security in affliction, rather than a false security in our guilt. It also helps us to enjoy the sweetness of the sacraments, ceasing from useless arguments with others and focusing on your own heart (warning: we can be overly introspective however, and we are supposed to be looking outward to Christ who is our salvation), focusing on obedience and service. What gets in the way? He notes self-love, carnal confidence and the temptation to unbelief. We can also use false standards to determine whether or not we are saved.

“… some Christians rest in knowing the doctrine of the gospel and in the outward use of ordinances without ever feeling the weight of sin.”

From these introductory matters he spends time addressing the reality of hypocrites. Some have an historical faith: “They have the kind of historical faith that the devils possess. It is no real faith at all, but, at most, only a human assent.” There is intellectual agreement of a sort, but no resting in Christ. There are also those, like in the parable of the sower, who are temporary believers. They are part of the visible church, seem to be filled with joy, but eventually return to their sin and unbelief.

True Christians: “These Christians are incorporated into Christ’s body and so receive a vivifying influence from Him as a living branch in the vine or a living member in the body.”

One of the more interesting obstacles to gaining assurance that Burgess mentions is that we can resist the ministry of the Spirit to provide it. The basic notion is that the flesh resists all motions toward holiness, and all reception of spiritual blessings. Other obstacles are guilt over sins committed, temptations experienced and the Evil One who wants to destroy the joy of our salvation since he can’t actually destroy our salvation.

This means a believer may actually be saved, but not have assurance. They may have doubts and fears. But gaining assurance gives us greater peace and joy in our salvation.

Thomas Goodwin spoke of a father and son walking on the road. The father picks up the son, holds him and kisses him. The son was just as much his son when he was standing by the father, or even running from him. But his experience of being a son was better, more nurturing when the father held and kissed him. Assurance is like being held and kissed, our experience of salvation is sweeter. But we may still be saved even when we don’t experience this.

Burgess provides remedies for carnal confidence and directions for those who lack assurance. While God generally wants us to have assurance, it is not all He wants for us. He also wants us holy and humble. If assurance will make you proud or slothful at a given point in time, God may choose to withhold assurance for this greater good.

“We should not so gaze upon ourselves to find graces in our hearts that we forget those acts of faith whereby we immediately close with Christ and rely upon Him only for our justification.”

Assurance starts with the simple question, do you believe in Christ? If you don’t you have no ground for assurance. In seeing if you truly believe or have a counterfeit faith (see Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits), you look to sanctification and whether common graces are at work in you. You aren’t looking for perfection, but progress. And in this someone else may help for often we see the sin, not the progress. In terms of common graces, is there a desire for worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship etc. These are faith at work. The desire for them is a work of the Spirit. The one who has never and doesn’t currently desire them has no grounds for assurance. There can be dry spells, and during them we generally don’t have assurance.

This is not a perfect book. It is a good and worthwhile book. For those who are not familiar with the Puritans, there is a learning curve. There is much to discover here, but I did find myself wanting more when I was done. Sadly, I can’t recall exactly what that more was. At this time, this and the chapters in The Whole Christ are the primary works on this important and often misunderstood subject.

 

Read Full Post »


One of the things I appreciate about Sinclair Ferguson is how he combines astute theological thinking with pastoral wisdom. This characteristic is what makes his latest book, The Whole Christ so good, so timely and helpful.

It is also what makes reviewing this book so difficult. I started to review it, describing many of the great insights, distinctions, historical issues etc. that are in this book that the review was becoming a tome. It would be easy to have a short review that just doesn’t do the book justice, that doesn’t really give you a clear idea as to why you should read it. And you should!

The story of the book began decades ago when Ferguson delivered a number of messages on pastoral reflections of the Marrow Controversy at a conference. Over the years people have asked if he would put them in book form (I hadn’t seen him since I heard the lectures, so I just hoped and prayed). As he noted, and I have also discovered firsthand, it is much harder to adapt messages than to just write a book. The last person to ask him was Tim Keller. Ferguson’s retirement provided the opportunity. Having heard the lectures, I am thankful that it has come to pass. Having read the book, I am even gladder he did.

Ferguson brings us back to the Marrow Controversy that troubled the Church of Scotland in the 1700s. It was a controversy prompted, in part, by The Marrow of Modern Divinity by E.F. But it was really a disagreement about legalism, antinominanism and assurance in the Church of Scotland.

He necessarily interacts with the book, written years earlier but discovered by Thomas Boston, and how the controversy played out in the Church. He brings The Westminster Confession of Faith, various Puritans and John Calvin into the fray. Most importantly, Ferguson also writes about the human heart since these are not simply abstract theological ideas, but issues that plague us.

For instance, he resolves an alleged conflict between Calvin and the Westminster Divines on the subject of faith and assurance. Calvin wrote of assurance being essential to faith which is contrary to the Confession. But Ferguson shows that Calvin meant we must believe that Christ is able to save. This differs from assurance of salvation, meaning that Christ as saved a particular sinner. In other words, they were discussing two different kinds of assurance. This is a very helpful distinction, with pastoral implications. The first is an issue of one’s justification, the other is an issue of their subjective confidence before God. You have to identify the proper problem so you give them the proper instruction, otherwise you can do spiritual damage.

This book is rife with such pastoral implications whether for our preaching or our counseling. This is what makes the book so excellent, and a must-read. He gets to the heart of legalism and antinomianism, and presents us Christ and the gospel as the resolution for both (and the issue of assurance as well).

Ferguson asserts that both legalism and antinomianism severe the law from the character of the law Giver. They do it in different way, but come from the same root. He brings us to Eve and the original temptation. Satan got her to doubt God’s goodness and love. She developed a legalistic spirit, which hardened her heart towards God, which resulted in her antinomianism, or rejection of God’s law to the original couple.

He unpacks how both legalism and antinomian manifest themselves. They also appear in how we think of assurance. They also affect how we preach, and how we hear the gospel, or shall I say mishear.

Much of what Ferguson does is bring us back to the gospel and the character of God. Law then finds its appropriate place, and assurance seen aright.

What started this mess that divided the Church of Scotland, and many Christians today. The controversy started over a Presbytery creed that rejected “preparationism”, a form of hyper-Calvinism that taught that the gospel only for those who showed signs of grace, who have repented (yeah, confusing). One thing that becomes evident is that theses Scots wrote questions in a very convoluted fashion. One man had his license to preach the gospel removed by not affirming the creed. The General Assembly reversed the decision and condemned the creed. One frustrated member of the Assembly sat next to Thomas Boston who recommended The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Some have taken issue with the book. The controversy over the book is not the issue so much as the views of the Marrow Men. The controversy spiraled out of control, and wider.

The first issue was the free offer of the gospel, contra preparationism. The Marrow Men held to limited atonement. They also believed that the gospel was to be freely offered to all sinners. There are no qualifications that must be met before the offer of Christ, and pardon in Him, is made to sinners.

“The fallacy here? The subtle movement from seeing forsaking sin as a fruit of grace that is rooted in election, to making the forsaking of sin the necessary precursor for experiencing that grace. Repentance, which is the fruit of grace, thus becomes a qualification for grace.”

The Marrow Men rejected the notion of separating Christ from His benefits. We receive all of them in Christ, not in isolation from Him. They upheld a robust theology of union with Christ. “This, to use an Augustinian term, is totus Christus, the whole Christ, the person in whom incarnation has been accomplished and in whom atonement, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly reign are now realized.”

In the midst of this, Ferguson sneaks in an application regarding the New Perspectives on Paul. Yes, he says, the Pharisees believed in grace. It was a conditional grace, however. This was the error of preparationism. It is similar to a conversation I had with some Mormons. We obey, and grace covers what lacks. Ferguson brings us back to the nature of God as good, gracious, and loving. This is what the Enemy seeks to keep from us via a legalistic spirit.

From here he discusses the various forms of legalism which essentially sees God as “He-whose-favor-has-to-be-earned.” Just as in preparationism, where repentance is separated from Christ, in legalism the law is separated from God, from “his loving and generous person”, and “not as the wisdom of a heavenly Father.” The solution is not in rejecting the Law, but embracing God as our delight (see WSC #1). He brings John Colquhoun in to remind us of “what the heart hears”. We can mis-hear solid gospel teaching because of our legalistic hearts. “But it is also all too possible to have an evangelical head and a legalistic heart.” This is important to remember in pastoral counseling. But it means that some hear the offer of free grace as antinomianism.

From there Ferguson moves into the “order of grace”. He touched briefly on the ordo saludis before, but now spends more time there. Faith is the instrument of justification. Repentance does not occur before faith (preparationism), nor after faith, but “within the context of faith’s grasp of God’s grace in Christ.” Further, “while we cannot divide faith and repentance, we do distinguish them carefully”. He also moves to the implications of free grace, a life seeking joyful obedience. Grace produces obedience, and not the other way around. The Mosaic Covenant is to be seen this way, not as a republication of the covenant of works that undoes the Abrahamic covenant. Many preachers, sadly, focus on the law’s exposure of our sin to drive us to Christ with a stark law-gospel distinction. For those justified, it shapes our salvation. It provides direction …

Do you see what I mean?

How we think about law and gospel matters. The default of our hearts matters in terms of how we hear discussions of law and gospel. Where we look for our assurance matters. Why we want to obey matters.

This is a book that can have a profound effect on how a pastor, elder or ministry leader goes about ministry. This is why I find this a book that should be in the hands of pastors, elders and ministry leaders. I want them to bring gospel wisdom to the people they serve: not legalism, not cheap grace. But to do so they have to embrace, and preach, the whole Christ.

Read Full Post »


During the sanctification debate that arose last year I read many articles and posts, as well as interacted with a number of people on the subject. There was plenty of heat, and some light. A problem quickly became evident to me.

I’ve long held that the more ardently you argue you position the more likely you are to become more extreme, and say extreme things. You tend to treat one doctrine at the expense of other doctrines. A similar debate, years ago, was the Lordship Salvation question among Dispensational teachers like MacArthur, Hodges and Ryrie. One of them unwisely postulated the “unbelieving believer” in advocating a “once saved always saved” viewpoint (this is NOT the same as the Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints).

In the midst of the sanctification debate among Reformed people I heard/read things like: God doesn’t love you more or less based on your obedience or lack thereof; that a Christian can’t please God, and similar statements.

When we champion on doctrine over another (in this case justification over all others) we flatten the teaching of Scripture, remove biblical tensions and end up having to ignore particular texts or pull a Thomas Jefferson and remove them.

Here ares some texts we have to reckon with:

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. John 10

Wait! The Father loves the Son perfectly from all eternity. How, then, can Jesus say the Father loves Him because of His death and resurrection?

21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. … 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14

This is similar, but refers to Christians. We only love Him because He first loved us. But if we love Him, we’ll obey Him and He will love us. What? Doesn’t He already love us?

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12

Note the context, the love of the Father for His adopted sons. He disciplines us. Wouldn’t discipline imply He is less than pleased with our conduct, while loving us? Doesn’t this passage teach that God wants us to grow in personal righteousness and works to accomplish this in our lives? Are we to think that God’s responses to us are binary? Either love or hate, and not a love that can be also be angry with the beloved due to disobedience? Are we to think that justification trumps all, or can we have greater nuance that doesn’t deny justification but argues for a more dynamic relationship with God?

10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Ephesians 5

18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4

10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4

See also 1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 5:4; Hebrews 13:16, 21.

Are we to think that Paul lied and that God wasn’t pleased with that sacrifice or we can’t walk in a way that increasingly pleases God?

During the antinomian controversies of earlier centuries, the Puritans wrestled with these texts and issues. We would be unwise to ignore them. In his book Antinomianism (ebook), Mark Jones pays attention and helps us to recapture a way to understand God’s love for His people that is both steadfast and dynamic. This also helps us to remember and honor the reality of both imputed (justification) and imparted (sanctification) righteousness.

Before I go further let me affirm a statement Steve Brown made at the 1991 Ligonier Conference. My obedience or disobedience cannot add to or subtract from my salvation. I am not more or less justified on the basis of my obedience or disobedience.

The love we experience, and receive, in election and justification was called by Puritans like Samuel Rutherford the love of benevolence. Like all God’s love for creatures, this love is voluntary (He doesn’t have to love them in this way).

“According to this outward, voluntary love, there is a threefold distinction: (1) God’s universal love for all things, (2) God’s love for all human beings, both elect and reprobate, and (3) God’s special love for his people.” Mark Jones, pp. 83.

He notes that this 3rd is called the love of benevolence. It does not arise out of any good in us, but out of God’s own nature and counsel. It is unconditional, and the root of unconditional election and all the benefits of salvation that flow out of that unconditional election. There are no degrees to this love, and it is enjoyed to its fullest by all God’s people. We are completely justified, positionally holy and pleasing to the Father as a result of this love.

But there is another love they argued for in light of the texts we have above. That is the love of complacency, “God’s love of delight or friendship, whereby he rewards his people according to their holiness.” (pp. 84). This is not in place of His unconditional love, but seen in addition to it. God’s people experience both.

If God is our Father and we are His sons we can think of this like an earthly father and son. I love my sons, who were both adopted, unconditionally and conditionally. They will never stop being my sons, and I will love them and want the best for them no matter what they do. This is precisely why their sin breaks my heart. They are not my sons by degree. Neither is more my son than the other. But at times I delight in one more than the other, or delight in one son more at some times than others. When they are persisting in rebellion I am not pleased with them. I still love them! Because of this love I discipline them. When they are obedient I delight in them.

This is what Rutherford and Charnock, and therefore Jones, is trying to get at.

“God’s benevolent love is logically prior to his complacent love. It could hardly be otherwise, because God’s love of benevolence is the fountain of election and all blessings the elect receive. The love of complacency delights in the good that is in his elect- but that good is only there because of his benevolent love.” Mark Jones (pp. 85)

This threefold distinction is similar to the discussion of the degrees of sin. We can affirm one aspect of the truth over and at the expense of the others. The wages of sin is death, yet we see in the OT that some sins were punished more severely than others, for good reason. All sin is rebellion, but some are a greater attack on the image of God in others (murder, sexual sin) while others involve property rights. If we think all sin is equal then there should be no difference in our response between stealing a candy bar and brutally murdering a person. We have to honor the Scriptures in both cases, love and sin. This means making proper distinctions.

“The threefold distinction in God’s love for his people means that justice can be done not only to texts that speak of God’s election of his people (Eph. 1:4-5) and his justifying acts (Rom. 4:5), but also to texts that speak of love in the context of ongoing communion with God and Christ (John 12:21-23; John 15:10; Jude 21). … The twofold love of benevolence and complacency is only possible in Christ and our threefold union with the Mediator.” Mark Jones (pp. 86)

It is right to emphasis the love of benevolence. We rightly tell people that God’s love is unconditional. We don’t want them to live in an ungodly fear, and uncertainty with regard to their status before God. I need to often remind my children I love them, even when I’m not delighting in them (in other words, when I’m angry with them). But the person who treats their children in the same way with no regard to their behavior will raise a psychopath. God is bringing us to a healthy maturity in Christ, not one that thinks nothing of our behavior. Growing in Christian maturity (sanctification and discipleship) is similar to maturing as a person. We need to experience both kinds of love, as well as understand them to properly interpret our experience.

This reflects even the Father’s love for the Son. We referenced John 10 above, and how the Father loves the Son because of His atoning death for the flock. Thomas Goodwin references John 15:10 to understand this. The Son was to remain in the Father’s love by obeying the Father’s command or charge (Jn. 14:18). The Father promises the sheep to the Son on the condition of His death on their behalf.

“Again, this love has to do with the ad extra will of God with respect to the God-man in his role as Mediator. God delights in his Son, not only necessarily, because he is his Son, but also voluntarily, because Christ obeys the Father perfectly and this brings delight to the Father.” Mark Jones (pp. 88)

In other words, we see this as we see this passage in Luke. Jesus’ favor with God was not static, but growing.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2

Our theology, however true it is, should not be imposed on Scripture to flatten it out, but arise from Scripture to honor its tensions. The recent sanctification debates, in my opinion, have revealed how some teachers flatten the teaching of Scripture with a justification-centered interpretative method which results in a form of antinomianism whether they realize it not.

“I’ve never met an antinomian who called himself an antinomian.” R.C. Sproul (Lectures on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Sanctification, part 2)

A healthy theology which helps us engage in healthy discipleship is one that holds our particular doctrines in a biblical tension, and which makes proper biblical distinctions. In the sanctification debate there are two ditches we can fall into, one on either side. The gospel (not the reductionistic version that emphasized only justification) keeps us from falling into the ditch on either side of the road. Unconditionally loved by the Father and declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness, we seek to obey and please the Father our of filial love and experience the Father’s joy and delight as we grow in Christ likeness, or His loving discipline as we cling to our sin.

Read Full Post »


Most bloggers focus on the best books of the year. I’m not competent to rank books I haven’t read. I am often a little behind as I read based on needs not just desire. So I focus on the books I read in the last year. It was a light year as I spent more time than I wanted reading my own book to edit it. So, here we go!

The Creedal Imperative (ebook) by Carl Trueman. This is the first Trueman book I’ve read. Okay, only one so for. It was a very good book arguing for the use of creeds and confessions. It is not a very big book but it covers some important territory.

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. It starts off a bit dry and philosophical as it examines the ways various cultures have trying to answer the problem of suffering. He then argues that only Christianity has a satisfying answer to this problem. Then he goes into proactive mode in addressing how we can prepare the spiritual reserves, so to speak, to survive pain and suffering.

The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame. I started this book in 2012 or 13 but finished it in 2014. It is an extremely long book, but I thought an extremely helpful book I will return to as I consider various ethic issues (I recently returned to his material on the Sabbath in light of a discussion in Presbytery). I appreciate how Frame looks at things.

Against the Gods (ebook) by John Currid. This is another short book . This one focuses on the relationship between biblical material and ANE material. Currid argues for a polemical approach to understand similarities. It is helpful for helping to defend the faith from attacks based on archeological findings.

Antinomianism (ebook) by Mark Jones. I think this is a very important book that helps us make some important distinctions as we think about both grace and law. Jones focuses on the strains of antinomianism that arose during the age of the Puritans. He does make some modern application.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith by Rosaria Butterfield. The best part is the story of her conversion as a lesbian “gay theory” professor. There is much to learn about how homosexuals view the Christians. She found many of those views to not be necessarily true as Christians loved her and she read the Word. She also had to face how much life would change. I could do without the argument for exclusive psalmody, but there is much to benefit from otherwise.

Taking God at His Word (ebook) by Kevin DeYoung. This is a short, solid defense of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. It is quite accessible to the lay person. Well worth reading, and keeping on hand to let others borrow.

Song of Songs by Tremper Longman III. I read this commentary for an upcoming series in Sunday School. It was a very helpful commentary on a quite, at times, confusing book.

Rooted by Raymond Cannata and Joshua Reitano. This is a great little book on the Apostles’ Creed designed to either be read alone or with a group. What is distinct about this book is the missional bent of the material. They don’t just want to help you expand your knowledge and understanding to to see the call to bring these truths into the world to the glory of God.

unPlanned by Abbey Johnson. This is one woman’s story about life as a Planned Parenthood director who comes face to face with the truth about Planned Parenthood. It is a very interesting story from a former insider. Part of the story involves the love she experienced from the majority of the pro-life protesters she saw on a regular basis. This is in stark contrast to the paranoia and fear so many PP people had when thinking about them. Eventually the dissonance grew to great after operating a sonargram during an abortion.

The Closer by Mariano Rivera. This was a very interesting book about the Hall of Fame (future) reliever. You can clearly see the providence of God. His faith is often in the background, but it is a great story even if you are not a Yankees’ fan.

Resisting Gossip (ebook) by Matthew Mitchell. There are not many books about the sin of gossip. This is one of the few, and it is a good, gospel-centered one. This book deserves a reading.

The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life by Ralph Davis. The former OT professor looks at Psalms 1-12. Excellent material with a very practical focus.

The Good News We almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung. This is another excellent book by Kevin DeYoung. This time he tackles the Heidelberg Catechism. It is accessible for younger Christians and filled with pastoral wisdom.

Parcells: A Football Life by Bill Parcells and Nunyo DeMasio. This is a very interesting book about Parcells’ life, football and the many people he worked with. It is fascinating from a leadership perspective, and will build most people’s understanding of football and how teams should be built.

The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (ebook) by Gregory Beale. This is another important book addressing a contemporary problem. It is far more technical than DeYoung’s. It is geared more to pastors, but well-read lay persons would appreciate it.

Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch. This is an important subject for Christian growth. Shame is experienced by all, but can be crippling to many. It is a hidden root for many symptoms. Welch unpacks the gospel to show the ways it moves us from shame to honor.

Read Full Post »


“Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification, is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. … Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. … Our sanctification consists merely in being shaped by, or getting used to, justification.”

At first glance you’d think I culled this from Tullian Tchvidjian’s blog. These are the words of Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. The first view that is examined is the Lutheran view. I’m not sure Luther himself would fully embrace this view, but it is built on many elements of his teaching (perhaps taking them farther than he intended).

Much of Forde’s chapter is largely rhetorical and polemical rather than putting for a clearly articulated understanding. In this way it also sounds like much I hear from the previously mentioned PCA pastor on the subject of sanctification.. I am left wondering with whom he is arguing for the views argued against do not reflect those of my own theological heritage. He is obsessively concerned with legalism, but offers no concern about antinomianism. As a result (or perhaps I’ve got the causality backwards) the focus is almost completely on justification.

I agree, we need to begin living as justified people who are fully accepted in light of the righteousness of Christ. Sanctification is to be pursued as justified people. But in his Lutheran logic (which often trips me up in many areas of theology) any view of progressive sanctification (righteousness imparted, not a self-improvement project) is antithetical to and undermines the free grace of God in justification. It is as if he thinks one could lose one’s justification for not being sanctified enough.

I see him making a similar error to that which Roman Catholicism make though in the opposite direction. Both end up conflating justification and sanctification. For Roman Catholic theology you cannot be justified unless you are sanctified; or, your sanctification is your justification. In Forde’s expression of Lutheran theology, your justification is your sanctification.

In Reformed Theology we make distinctions, almost to a fault, to best understand the dynamic quality of Scripture. We recognize initial or definite sanctification (which is positional, like justification) and progressive sanctification. The latter is rooted in the former. In relating texts about sanctification, Forde refers to all those about definite sanctification and ignores those about progressive sanctification.

“Doesn’t the Bible follow the declaration of grace with certain exhortations and imperatives? So the protestations go, for the most part designed to reimpose at least a minimal conditionality on the promise.”

Here is evidence of polemics, and bad polemics at that. He doesn’t deal with the biblical data (all those imperatives in Paul’s letters to CHRISTIANS), but an ad hominem attack. Obviously anyone who wants to deal with God’s commands wants to undermine God’s grace, in his mind. Rather, as a new creature in Christ I now want to please God (before I was primarily concerned with pleasing myself). As a justified man the law no longer condemns me. It still shows me where I fall short of God’s glory, but also points me to God’s glory and what it means to imitate the Father. He writes as if we only hear the law as the old man, not the new man. The law, obviously doesn’t provide any power. The Holy Spirit provides that. According to Paul the problem was never with the law, but with us as sinners. But the legalistic strawman grows wearisome quite quickly. He repeated talks about “the scheme”. of sanctification which is presented in an obviously negative light.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Publishing is an odd thing. Some topics are flooded with titles and other topics are almost impossible to find. When a book like Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is published you have to take notice because books on this subject are exceedingly rare in this day and age. Think perhaps for any other title on this subject published in the last 50 years? You can think of plenty on the subject of legalism, but its mirror image antinomianism is quite rare.

Mark Jones doesn’t quite lay out the book as some people might hope. That can breed some minor frustration. For instance, he really doesn’t try to define antinomianism, or better the types of antinomianism until the end of the book.

“Antinomianism must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., “against the law”). There is some overlap, of course, but the historical debates focused on more specific areas of the Christian life.”

This is not a systematic theology, but a volume on  historical theology. The primary focus on his research is the antinomian movements in Puritan England and in 1640’s New England. The reason is two-fold. First, these were disputes among people laying claim to the Reformed heritage. Second, there is a revived dispute among those laying claim to the Reformed heritage in our day. Most people I would consider to have an antinomian theology deny having such a view, usually based on the etymological meaning of the term. But when you look at the strains of antinomianism you can begin to see more clearly that some who claim they aren’t really are.

Jones works through a variety of topics in which historically antinomians have departed from mainline Reformed thinking and formulations. Jones’ main point though is not that antinomians’ error comes primarily with regard to the law but their Christology. This is similar to how Sinclair Ferguson addressed these twin errors of legalism & antinomianism in lecturing on the Marrow Controversy. The answer to both errors is the gospel in its fulness.

“Discussions and writings on holiness often lack a strong Christological basis and center.”

Part of me is tempted to expand more fully on some of the topics that Jones works through. I may “think” through a few here. But for now I will be content to lay them out very briefly.

Jones begins with the imitation of Christ. Peter notes that Christ, in addition to being our Savior, is an example to us. Much of what is written in the gospels is there for our imitation. Jesus models for us how to live by faith as fully human. Jesus lived in the power of the Spirit as an example to us as well (here Jones is similar to Sinclair Ferguson in his series Who is the Holy Spirit?). The way of holiness, Jones notes, is that is pursued by faith and in the power of the Spirit. Many of the antinomians, as Jones and Packer in his brief but excellent forward assert, limited our activity in sanctification. They essentially make sanctification monergistic like justification is. As a result they talk about Christ not only obeying for us, but in us. They sound like some hyper-Calvinists I’ve talked with who limit the use of our will. Both groups don’t have much room for Philippians 2:12-13 in their theology. There we see God works so I will will and work resulting in obedience. Both God and I will and work: synergism! In other words, Christ does not act immediately but mediately. Jones is careful to guard the difference between Christ’s impretration (redemption accomplished) and impartation (redemption applied). We see here, and elsewhere that antinomians tend to conflate justification and sanctification.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


It has been awhile since I have blogged through a book. But, based on the amount of red ink I used underlining things in the first chapter of Kevin DeYoung’s new book, The Hole in Our Holiness, I thought it might be a great time to do that.

“Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all.”

The first chapter is about the gap in our holiness. He builds an analogy in the beginning. He doesn’t like camping. Just didn’t grow up in a camping family, doesn’t talk about camping and has no interest in camping. What would happen if we thought that way about holiness? Some people do think this way, as though holiness is an optional recreational activity.

“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has save us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.”

What is particularly disturbing to DeYoung (and should be for us) is that this holiness gaps in a time of gospel-centeredness. We are rightly enthused about forgiveness and justification. We are not as enthused about sanctification.

He brings up 3 questions from Packer’s Rediscovering Holiness (a great book!). These questions should alert us to a problem.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Author & Pastor Andrew Farley

This summer I had a blog “debate” of sorts with Andrew Farley, the author of The Naked Gospel, about the relationship of the Christian to the moral law.  I come from the perspective of Covenant Theology  which sees a connection between the various covenants in the Bible.  While apart from Christ, the moral law serves as a manifestation of the covenant of works (do and live, don’t and die).  With regard to justification, it is Christ’s obedience that is imputed to us.  So, in this respect, we are dead to the law.  We are not to rely on the law to gain acceptance with God.  As a Christian, we are sanctified by grace such that we increasingly obey the moral law.  It is in the context of sanctification that Paul affirms a relationship with the law (as does James & Peter).

Andrew comes for the perspective of a New Covenant Theology that is similar to hyper-dispensationalism in some ways.  For instance, he thinks that the commands of Jesus given prior to His death and resurrection are not for us.  He says we are not under the moral law of the Old Testament, but are under the Royal Law or the Law of Perfect Freedom (this is why he says he’s not an antinomian).  He takes these out of context (the context is James 1-2 in which James then quotes from the 10 Commandments).  He says the content is: Love the Lord with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Never mind that these are both given in the Old Testament and mentioned by Jesus long before His death and resurrection.

Thomas Boston

I guess I now have 2 questions for anyone who has a view similar to his which thinks that in sanctification we are not led by the Spirit to fulfill the moral law (see Romans 12 for instance).  I could not help him understand that we (Reformed guys like Thomas Boston, John Owen and Sinclair Ferguson) do not think we are sanctified BY the law.  We are sanctified by the power of the Spirit, who applies the work of Christ to us, SO we obey the law.  Jesus said if you love me you will obey me.  We only love Him because He first loved us and have His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.  (Hmm, what commands did He have in mind in the upper room when He said that?  oops, 3rd question)

Okay, first question.  This came to me in the shower the other day.  I’m not sure why.  But I pondered the man that Paul told the Corinthians to discipline for incest.  This clearly violates the moral law.  But how does this violate the “royal law”?  What particular sin, as defined by the “royal law” has this man committed?

In my view, the moral law defines what it means to love God and my neighbor.  This is seen because Jesus said all of the law and the prophets hang on them.  It is also clear from Romans 12 where Paul uses the moral law to define what it means to love my neighbor.  But when you gut them of the moral law, what command is it breaking and WHY?

2nd question relates to the Great Commission.  This is given by the resurrected Jesus, so it is binding on us.  The discipleship process is described as baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that He has commanded them.  So what precisely is the all He has commanded us?  When did He do this since we have no record of Him giving any commands to the disciples/apostles after the resurrection except for this one?

Had I been wiser & quicker I may have asked these questions.  Or are these questions merely more evidence that I am foolish and slow?

Read Full Post »


The Book at the Center of it All

Here are my notes from the 3rd lecture by Sinclair Ferguson on The Marrow Controversy.

Antinomianism

This controversy enables us to see marks in our hearts and ministry of where we are with relationship to the grace of God.  We must exegete those great passages dealing with law & gospel.  It is one of the hardest notes in all divinity for us to untie.

The Marrow Men were accused of Amyraldianism, Arminianism, antinomianism.  But they held to a particular, not universal, atonement; free grace, not free will; and the law as a rule of life.

The 2nd part of the Marrow of Modern Divinity is an exposition of the place of the law of God in the life of the believer.  Wherever natural hearts, or gracious hearts bound by a legal spirit, hear of the grace of God they hear “shall we sin that grace may abound?”  We are in danger of legalism in response to this.

Wherever free grace is fully preached, the accusation of antinomianism has ever arisen.  Israel called John the Baptist a legalist and Jesus an antinomian.  The gospel is ever under attack.

Often it is a false conclusion from a true premise.  Grace does abound all the more where sin abounds.  But we do not sin that grace may abound.  We must affirm the true premise that grace is greater than sin.

The Nature(s) of Antinomianism– it wears many faces

The historical use of the term arose in the days of Martin Luther.  He emphasized free grace.  About 1537, one of his friends drove this to unbiblical, but logical, conclusions.  This friend taught we were free from the law as a rule of life.  Luther began to correct his friend.

Antinomianism existed long before the name was given to it.  The WCF teaches that while the law is not a covenant of works to the believer, it remains a rule of life to the believer.  We are bound to the law as a rule of life.  Antinominism denies this in a variety of ways.

We must not dispute about mere words, but instruct with gentleness.  We should not use it as a cuss word, condemning others needlessly.  We often attribute the worst possible theological conclusions to adherents of a particular view point, conclusions they do not hold.  We need the wisdom of Solomon and the meekness of the Son of Man.

It is a pastoral and theological duty for us to distinguish from the forms of antinomianism.

Doctrinal Form- the absolution of the law as a rule of life is the result of a theological premise.  Some Puritans emphasized the free grace of God that any question of law was opposite to the grace of God.  Justification was eternal, and emphasized immediate assurance apart from the Word of God.  Since we are justified, we have no need to know our sin.  It was associated with hyper-Calvinism at times.

They ignore the indicative-imperative pattern of Scripture from beginning to end.  They focus only on the indicative, rending asunder what God had joined.

The Brethren and their concern for the purity of the church, similar to hyper-Calvinism, drew similar concerns.  Darby called the covenant of works as a mischievous fable.  He could see no place for the 10 Commandments in the life of the believer.  In his full-blown dispensationalism, it was confined to the OT.  This has lead many Brethren to fill the void with tradition, looking for decisions instead of obedience as a fruit of grace.  This is like Ryrie’s “unbelieving believer.”  Easy believism rejects the place of the Law in our life as a rule.  When Christianity is more a matter of decision than living, grace becomes an excuse of licentiousness.

Exegetical Form- it is commonplace now for theologians to take a view of the law is like the position adopted by hyper-Calvinists and dispensationalists.  They think Jesus did away with the law.  They think Paul makes no distinction between the end of the ceremonial law and the continuation of the moral law.  This does not mean these men are immoral.  They often affirm all but the Sabbath since they are repeated in Paul.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Here are my notes from Sinclair Ferguson’s lecture on Legalism in the Marrow Controversy.  As an interesting aside, I’m currently reading Costly Grace which is a modern application of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.  Many of the formulations there sound much like the conditional grace which plagued the Pharisees and the Church of Scotland.  That bears more thought.

Legalism

Robert Trail:  men who take a middle way have more kindness toward that extreme toward which they move than that from which they come.

John Simpson has been accused of propogating Arminianism.  He would later teach Arianism.  He was merely warned not to grant too much to natural reason.  The General Assembly had been moving away from free grace and toward legalism.  They were kind to this halfway house to full blown legalism.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


This Sunday I’m sort of preaching on the Ten Commandments since it is 10/10/10.  What I’ll be doing is grappling with Law and Gospel.  I want my people to understand the nature of their relationship to the law because of the gospel.

I’ve had a few of those conversations on the internet lately.  It is a difficult issue to grasp and we tend to head toward the extremes of legalism and antinomianism.  They are the 2 ditches on the side of the road.  And both ditches are deadly.  I don’t advise falling into either.

So, I started to listen to Sinclair Ferguson’s Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  Here is a short history of the Marrow Controversy.  I thought my notes might help a few people to understand what was going on, whetting the appetite about this pastorally important theological controversy.

The History of the Marrow Controversy

1717- the Presbytery of Auchterarder examined a candidate for ordination, William Craig was asked a question unique to that Presbytery.

“Do you subscribe to the following: I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”  Craig hesitated and they refused to grant him ordination.  This brought the Auchterarder Creed before the General Assembly.

It was condemned by the Church of Scotland “as unsound and detestable doctrine.”

Thomas Boston was there, and he was quite disturbed by the proceeding.  He saw this as an attack upon the gospel of grace, falsely accusing it of antinomianism.  In 1700 Boston had discovered The Marrow of Modern Divinity which enabled him to grasp the relationship of law and gospel.  He recommended it to James Drummond who gave it to James Hog who ended up reprinting it.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


I’ve finally begun to read The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  It is the newer edition with Thomas Boston‘s notes.  So, you get 2 Puritans for the price of 1.  Hard to hate.

I am finding it a tough go at times.  Perhaps I’ve been slack in my reading of the Puritans lately.  Perhaps it is the layout.  The longer notes by Boston are laid out together, but cover a few different pages.  Since I don’t want to continually flip back and forth I sometimes lose the context.

The books starts with a few historical questions.  It briefly recounts the Marrow Controversy in the Church of Scotland and Thomas Boston’s involvement in that Controversy.  It also examines the identity of E.F. and which Edward Fisher probably wrote this important book that discusses the Christian’s relationship with the law.

The book is like Cur Deus Homo? in that it is in the form of a dialogue.  But instead of 2 characters, there are 4 to represent 2 erroneous views (legalism and antinomianism), the proper view and the new Christian who is caught in the crossfire.

One of the interesting aspects for me is that occasionally Boston disagrees with Fisher on finer points.  There are quite a few finer points I disagree with one or both on due to how they are using Scripture in particular instances.  These are non-essential to the arguments, however.  Boston does not require that Fisher agree with him on everything to recommend him as beneficial.  Sinclair Ferguson (his Pastoral Lessons on the Controversy are excellent!)and Philip Ryken also recommend the book (as well as a few other prominent Puritans like Burroughs) which goes to the point that a recommendation does not entail approval of every jot and tittle.  They agree with the main point, not every rabbit trail.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


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.

(more…)

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 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

(more…)

Read Full Post »


My sister-in-law commented that she’s been enjoying my study questions on the Westminster Confession of Faith.  It’s been awhile since I put some material up here.  So today I’m covering the Law of God and Christian Liberty.  Some good things to consider (the same caveats apply- I’m not arguing with anyone: if I misrepresented a position let me know).

Chapter XIX: Of The Law Of God

194. Demonstrate that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.  Jesus said that the Law and Prophets hang upon the commands to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself. (Mt. 22)”

195. Recite for us the Ten Commandments. No gods before me, not take the name of the Lord in vain, no graven images, keep the Sabbath, honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness & don’t covet.

196. What the three “uses” of the law?  To restrain sin, to expose our sin & drive us to Christ, and reveal God’s character which pleases him.

197. What is the proper use of the Law for the life of the Christian?  To expose our sin that we might live lives of repentance, and direct us that we might please God.

(more…)

Read Full Post »