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Posts Tagged ‘John Gerstner’


It started with an ad in Discipleship Magazine. I was a relatively young Christian and noticed the ad from Ligonier Ministries for a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series on VHS. Yes, this was the late 80’s.

I really didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with “Reformed Theology” was “Reformed” or Liberal Judaism. I was still a bit frightened of that word ‘holiness’. As many discovered, it was a great series. I began to buy books and tape series for my cassette player in the car. R.C. taught me a whole lot of theology before I went to seminary. He didn’t just introduce me to Reformed Theology but also (along with John Piper) to the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards.

When I was looking at seminaries the ad for RTS caught my eye. Jackson, MS? Me? Perhaps it was too many viewings of Mississippi Burning on the Movie Channel, but I didn’t see this Yankee doing well in Jackson, MS.

Later there was a new ad for a new campus with R.C. as one of the professors. I could handle Orlando. I was looking to get away from the snow. When I got information from RTS they offered a prospective student offer that included free admission to the 1991 National Conference in Orlando. So I made a call, booked a flight and discovered Orlando was the place for me. Somehow at one session I ended up in the front row talking to Vesta.

While I was there I had R.C. for Systematic Theology III (Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology) and a seminar on The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. For one class, John Gerster was in town and led our discussion for his former pupil. Most of the time, there was Vesta sitting in the back with his soda while R.C. taught.

It was not all bliss. There were some conflicts on campus. It was a little like Corinth at times. It was mostly the students, but it was apparently there was some friction in the faculty. Somehow I didn’t get very caught up in that (I’m often loyal to a fault).

After seminary I ended up working for Ligonier Ministries. I was in the phone room during the era when they wanted seminary trained people answering the phone to answer theological questions as well as take orders. In many ways it was a great time. I worked with some people I knew from seminary, and some other great folks. I got to travel to Memphis, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit to work conferences. I have fond memories of frisbee golf, a rotating restaurant in St. Louis, meeting John Piper, sharing an elevator with R.C. and going to the occasional taping. R.C. would warm up the crowd with baseball trivia. Before they built the studio on site, they recorded at Greg Rike Studios where I discovered the signatures of Deep Purple’s members since they recorded Slaves and Masters there.

I had the privilege of writing some articles and reviews for Tabletalk Magazine while I was there. I also had the privilege of preaching at the chapel for the 25th anniversary of Ligonier Ministries.

Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to be in pastoral ministry. I decided to go to seminary for a Masters in Counseling to increase my skill set. Having recently joined a PCA church, I came under care of the Central FL Presbytery. This was the meeting when R.C. requested to “labor outside of bounds” for the new church called St. Andrews. It was a politically charged meeting due to some controversial statements and the fact that he wasn’t physically present.

Shortly thereafter there was a change in philosophy regarding my job description. I had reservations but didn’t get to find out how it would go as I was laid off that afternoon. I’d made the wrong guy angry (not R.C.).

R.C. was very personable, but not very accessible. Keep in mind, I was nobody. Still am. He was a very busy man and I think he still worked at the golf club at the time. It can be hard to meet your heroes. He was a man who needed Jesus, just like me. The sanctifying grace of God was at work in R.C.. Years later I discovered that he and the other professor had reconciled and did some work together. The last time I saw him I wondered if he would recognize me. There was no “hey, Steve” but that’s okay. I was not an important person in his life. He was already on oxygen and likely distracted with his own limitations.

If you listen to his sermons and audio series you’ll learn a lot of theology, and a lot about his life. Perhaps that is one reason I use personal illustrations. There are some issues I disagree with R.C. on, like apologetics. But on the main issues we are in sync.

The church owes him a great debt. He was one of the main figures in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He made theology accessible to ordinary people. He was one of the key figures in the revival of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in the American church. He was greatly used by God.

I owe R.C. a great debt. I’m trying to pay it forward like I should.

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I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming things at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated for the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

Well, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

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In the 3rd chapter of Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark tackles the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience.  In this chapter he addresses inroads of mysticism into Reformed practice.  It was here that I learned that I am part of the problem.  He lays much of the problem at the feet of … Jonathan Edwards.  As a result, people like Tim Keller, John Gerstner and R.C. Sproul (under whom I studied the Theology of Edwards’ Sermons in seminary) are unduly influenced by this quest and part of the problem.

But first, he mentions Reformed people seeking God’s moral will through listening for the “still small voice.”  It seems illegitimate to make a crisis out of a few people who might do this.  I’m more familiar (though not supportive) with people “listening” for God’s will in matter upon which Scripture does not speak: this person as a spouse? this job or that one?  I would disagree that this is a widespread problem in Reformed Communities.  There are no data to substantiate his view of the “crisis”.

“If someone asks, ‘What is God teaching you these days?’ one has the sense that the expected answer is not to be a summary of this week’s sermon or reflection on the significance of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, but an insight derived from a special experience or private experience.”

This troubles me.  First, because it unfairly represents the person who asks this question.  Second, it neglects one of the ordinary means of grace- personal reading of the Scripture (I also find prayer conspicuously absent from his discussion).  He bases his criticism on what “he feels”, subjectivism.  From my subjective experience, when I ask someone this question, I mean “what is God teaching you from His Word.  When someone asks me this, that is how I answer.  As we read God’s Word, the Spirit is at work.  Themes emerge from Scripture that we need to pay attention to.  This is not private revelation, but the illumination of the Scriptures (which we see in WCF I).

He then lets his personal agenda take control regarding the worship service.  Since the Scriptures contain 150 Psalms, there should not be a problem with a church that wants to sing to God (I’ve never been anywhere where there was not some introduction, Scripture or liturgical element to break up the songs).  Is there something wrong with Power Point in a context in which people don’t read music?  Must we cling to the form of hymn books and paper when the point is to actually sing?

Where are all these Reformed churches with dramatic presentations?  Where is the liturgical dance?  Have they happened?  Yes, these examples happen.  But I find no reason to think that they are now common place among Reformed Churches.

While I agree that the quest for an unmediated encounter with God is illegitimate, I’m not convinced how prevalent this is in our community.  But that is because of how differently we view revival.  He seems to  equate revival with revivalism.

I have been influenced by Iain Murray’s book Revival and Revivalism ( which Clark criticizes).   Murray argues that revivalism is grounded in Pelagianism and the use of illegitimate means for coerce a “decision” and the focus on the subjective experience.  Many people, like Murray, use “revival” to describe what Clark terms reformation.  Revivalism is a technical term for a movement which has been, and should continue to be, rejected by the Reformed community.  But Reformed Communities have witnessed, and affirmed, revivals.    Clark’s unfortunate use/change of terminology clouds the issue.  But he also takes issue with how a large segment of the Reformed Community, through Jonathan Edwards, has seemingly been bewitched into holding a type of mysticism.

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