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Posts Tagged ‘legalism’


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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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We struggle to love God. We struggle with knowing what it means, or looks like to love God.

I wonder how many Christians avoid the Old Testament. I wonder if they avoid it because they don’t understand what Sinclair Ferguson calls “gospel grammar”. They read it as law, isolated from gracious realities. In their minds they still hear the law’s loud thunder.

Here is what I read to begin my personal devotions this morning:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. Deuteronomy 11

Love for the Lord involves warm & fuzzy feelings. It isn’t less than that, but it is far more. Love does something. If I love YHWH as my God, as my Father, it means I’m moving toward obedience. It doesn’t mean I perfectly obey, because in this life I can’t. But God is restoring me and that reveals itself in obedience.

“Wait!” some may say. “What about the Gospel? Be done with this talk of obedience.

When we read Deuteronomy 11, we should hear the voice of Jesus in John 14.

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

And His disciple John in his first letter.

Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2

Love for God will produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. Love moves us down the road of sanctification so our inner experience and our outer actions become increasingly aligned. They also become aligned with God’s law as a reflection of God’s character. Love is not vague, shapeless, obscure, hard to pin down.

When Paul nailed it down he brought the Roman Christians, and us, back to the law.

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13

This discussion is missing something so far. Why do we love God in the first place? The answer is the same in the Old and New Testaments: because He first loved us. Now we’ve recovered Gospel grammar if we behold this.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers,Deuteronomy 7

Why were they holy, or set apart, or devoted to God? Because God chose them as his treasured possession. Why did he choose them or set his love on them? Because he loved them. It all goes back to God’s love, a love we can’t explain, nor can he really explain to us. But it is a love that revealed itself tangibly in redemption. There is no understanding the law properly for the Israelite apart from Ex. 20:1 and Deut. 5:6. He redeemed them from Egypt!

Gospel grammar means that we understand the commands of Scripture in light of what God has done for us. Obedience is a response to God’s love and acceptance, not the cause for God’s love and acceptance. A grace that doesn’t result in growing obedience would be a counterfeit or cheap grace (Edwards & Bonhoeffer respectively). Which is the whole point of 1 John. Union with Christ changes us. Calvin speaks of the “double grace” received in our union with Christ. In justification our status is changed. In sanctification we are changed, progressively. We receive both because we receive the whole Christ in our union.

Egypt was intended to pay the way for the greater Exodus from sin.

10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4

God loved us => we love God in return => we grow in love & obedience => experience more love

“Wait, where’d you get that last bit?”

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15

If we aren’t careful, we can lose sight of the gospel grammar here. Jesus is not to be understood as earning God’s love and acceptance. We see the distinction between union and communion here. United to Christ we are loved and accepted. United to Christ we have power & desire to grow in obedience. As we grow in grace we grow in our experience of communion or fellowship with God. We experience more of his sweet dew and sunshine as one hymn puts it. We grow in assurance, for instance. We subjectively experience more of what we have objectively through our union with Christ.

We see this all the time in other relationships. My wife and I are married. We are united whether we like it or not at any given moment. Our communion, intimacy with one another, fluctuates depending on how we treat each other. Our union is not changed. It is static. Communion is dynamic.

The gospel holds these together. If we let go of union we fall into legalism, constantly feeling the need to gain approval. If we let go of communion, we fall into license where our love doesn’t matter and grace is cheap. The gospel is that we are united to Christ by grace through faith and fully loved and accepted by God who has taken us as his children. Growing in my love for God as I grow in my understanding, I grow in obedience. I’m not more or less loved and accepted, but I know more of the Father’s pleasure. All of this is love that is reflected in a human father’s love. They are always my children, but sometimes they experience my pleasure and others my displeasure. They never cease to be my children, even the adopted ones. As they mature and understand the many ways I’ve loved them, their love to me grows and changes them.

What does love to God look like? Growth in obedience (which includes engaged worship). How does love to God grow? By remember how God loved and loves me. Gospel facts (indicative) leading to gospel implications (indicatives or commands). Love and law are not opposed in gospel grammar, but have their proper place. If we reverse the grammar, we really mess things up.

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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.

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It took me over 2 years to read Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture by David White. It should have taken me 14 weeks. Unfortunately while I was reading it my eyes were growing weaker and I never brought glasses to that room until just recently. Yes, that is pretty lame.

When you read the blurbs by men like Paul Tripp, Tim Keller and Ed Welch you are tempted to think “they have sexual issues??!!” You can understand Stephen Brown but those guys seem, like holy. The fact of the matter is that we all have sexual issues. It is just a matter of degree. Really. We are all sinners, and our depravity extends to every part of our being which includes our sexuality. So, I can safely say that EVERY man (with the sole exception of Jesus) has sexual issues, an element of insanity. (Don’t worry, there is a book for women too!)

As a result, there are times when I am tempted toward self-righteousness because I’ve never done that or struggled with this. But I have enough of my own struggles. Some of what he talks about will be outside of your frame of reference. But it will be part of other readers’ frame of reference. People struggle with some very hard things.

I was reading another book recently and the author gave the example of bucks. Usually you don’t see bucks. They tend to avoid people. But during rutting season (aka mating season) when they smell a doe they become single minded, seemingly ignoring people and cars in the road.

We can be like a buck during rutting season. When our testosterone levels are high we are prone to do stupid, and sinful things. We need help to regain our sanity.

This book is intended to help us in this endeavor. This means it is a painful book at times. We are confronted with the idols that drive our sexual insanity. Forsaking our idols, and our sin, can be quite painful.

In light of that, this book is intended to be read as part of a group. This is the sticky wicket for many men. We (rightfully?) have a great deal of shame around these issues. We think we are alone in struggling with these things. It is hard to open up. The fear of rejection is real at times.

If you are a pastor it is harder. It isn’t just about image management. Some people can’t differentiate between those who know their problems and wish they didn’t have those problems and those who sin gladly. So you aren’t sure who you can trust to walk with you instead of point the finger at you.

David White reminds us that our enemies are the flesh, the world and the devil. We have an internal bent toward sexual sin, the world encourages and facilitates sexual sin, and the devil will first plant sinful suggestions and then condemn you for them and any sin you may have committed.

At times I wish he’d remind us it wasn’t simply about obedience more often. Toward the end he talks about pride. This may sound strange, but God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than our external obedience. He wants obedience from the heart. To humble us, we can have thorns in the flesh. We will not be 100% sexually sane until we are glorified, but we can grow.

This book does not want us to settle for the status quo, but to press on toward greater holiness. When our sin is about something so central to who we are, our sexuality, progress is slow and painful.

I would recommend this book (based on what I can remember over the course of two plus years). Yes, there are passages that struck me as a bit legalistic (the idea we must be in accountability groups even though this is not mandated in the Scriptures). The general tenor of the book, however, is to drive us to Jesus and the gospel. When we are honest about our sexual sin and struggles, our need and desire for Jesus should grow.

 

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In my devotional reading these days I’m in Deuteronomy. Since all Scripture is useful to admonish, correct and train the righteous person to live uprightly (2 Timothy 3) we can learn lessons here about obedience.

Let me say that all of this must be understood in light of being a justified person, one who has experienced the redemption from sin just as Israel experienced redemption from slavery. This should not be seen as an attempt to gain life. The blessing of obedience for Israel was not eternal life, but remaining in the land. Gross apostasy would result in exile. For us it results in excommunication. Gross apostasy reveals a heart that was not transformed by grace.

While we are talking about obedience to the law, let us not think (as many erroneously claim about any such discussion) that we are sanctified BY the law. Just as the law has no power to justify (Rom. 6-7), it has no power to sanctify. The Law is the sign showing us what a sanctified life looks like. The power of sanctification is the Spirit who works in us to apply the work of Christ for us. Read the following in light of that or you will grossly misunderstand what I say.

Deuteronomy is the giving of the law to the generation that was going to enter the land. The last of the adult “rebels” who left Egypt has died for their unbelief and refusal to enter the land out of fear. Moses lays out God’s commands for them before he dies, unable to enter the land for his own unrighteous anger earlier.

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. (5:1)

This is the process of discipleship which we must follow for ourselves and teach to those under our spiritual care. There is a progression here that we must keep in mind.

Hear => Learn => Do

We cannot do unless we first learn and we cannot learn unless we first hear. The end or goal is to grow in obedience to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. If you think that is an OT thing, recall the Great Commission includes “teaching them to obey all I have commanded you.” That command is not limited to faith and repentance. Love is vague and Paul reminds us that the Law actually shows us the dimensions of loving God and others (Rom. 12). A desire to obey God rooted in faith, love and gratitude is NOT legalism.

To achieve this final goal, we need to recall the lessor goals or intermediate goals. Hear it! Read the Scriptures and listen to the Word preached and taught. There is no other way to hear.

Don’t “just” listen, but learn. Seek to understand the meaning of the law, what it does and doesn’t require or prohibit. Begin to store it in your heart (and memory) so you have a practical use of it. The Law is not for our times of ease, but the times of temptation. That is when we need God’s moral guidance. There will probably not be a Bible in the back seat of the car when needed, or the corporate boardroom or wherever you find yourself under temptation and in need of God’s moral guidance. You have to learn it.

Then of course apply it, by faith. Work it out knowing that God is at work in you to will and work according to His good purpose. You are not alone. When you struggle, cry out for help.

“Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments.” (5:29)

“that you may fear the LORD your God … by keeping all his statues and his commandments…” (6:2)

There is another ingredient to the obedient life. A healthy fear or reverence for God. At the moment they expressed such a heart, a sincere desire to obey God in all things. Such mountain top experiences don’t last. We obey what we fear (either positively or negatively) most. Obedience is a heart issue, as I recently reminded my children. They didn’t listen to their mother because they didn’t respect her as they ought. They ignore her far too often. They tend to fear missing out on some thing they think better than obedience. We do that too. Or we fear other people, and the list could go one for some time. We are to fear God above all. The measure of that fear appears to be obedience. Reverence isn’t just about showing up on Sunday to sing songs and pray. Reverence is about wanting to please Him all week long: worship thru service.

“And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, …” (6:24)

Moses returns to the question of obedience, and therefore fear. But see what He adds. God’s laws, and our obedience, are for our good. Sin is self-destructive, and often destroys others including the ones we love. Sin destroys relationships. Obedience only destroys relationships when others don’t delight in righteousness. It often takes a great deal of faith to believe this. God doesn’t give me moral guidance to destroy me but to protect me and do good to me. The Law, as Paul said, is good and holy. The problem is always me, or my sinful nature.

We can’t make others fear God. But we can pray God to grant them this fear, and this knowledge that God intends all this for our good. We should walk the path of obedience and talk to others about it. We should also talk about how to return to the path when we wander from it (which we will do). I’m not talking about perfection, but progressive sanctification. While we do not arrive in this life, we make progress as the Spirit teaches us to say “no” to ungodly desires (Titus 2) and “yes” to godly ones. The good purpose God works in you to will and work is faith in Christ, and a faith accompanied by faithfulness or obedience.

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If you are looking for the definitive description of how Pentecostals view and approach sanctification you may want to keep looking. Or maybe this is right on the mark. I hope not.

Russell Spittler’s chapter in Christian Spirituality is largely descriptive, not prescriptive. By this I mean he describes a number of common Pentecostal practices that are viewed as manifestations of the Spirit which have no apparent connection to sanctification (as far as I can tell). He doesn’t mention how they further the sanctification process. I have had Pentecostals tell me that speaking in tongues helps them avoid sin, but never how.

He begins by noting historical developments and their roots in a second blessing theology similar to Methodism. Instead of entire sanctification this is viewed as baptism in the Spirit. It is rooted, again, in a two-stage understanding of Christian experience. This takes the progress of redemptive-history as normative for us. Not in the sense that we should receive the baptism in the Spirit, but that it lags after justification/conversion and is necessarily accompanied by speaking in tongues. He provides very little theological justification for this view or the various manifestations he will describe beyond a few proof-texts. There is no attempt at any systematic understanding of anything.

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Last week we looked at a Lutheran perspective on sanctification by Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. We (this would be the imperial we if no one reads this) also noted some of the responses, particularly the one by Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson is the next to present his view of sanctification, a Reformed perspective on this doctrine.

It should not surprise anyone familiar with Sinclair Ferguson to know that his presentation is not polemical, but well-reasoned (polemics can be well-reasoned, but often aren’t) and interacts quite a bit with Scripture (not just tossing out a reference proof text). As a Reformed pastor, I have a strong affinity with this presentation. Since it pretty much represents my view (recognizing that in 20 pages you can’t say all there is to say about sanctification) I can see no weaknesses or faults to discredit this view. The other authors obviously pointed out some they perceived (and in some cases imagined).

“A necessary connection between biblical doctrine and holy living is fundamental to the biblical and apostolic way of thinking. That is why Scripture is so full of moral imperatives logically derived from doctrinal indicatives…”

Instead of starting with justification like Forde did, Ferguson starts with the profound and oft-neglected doctrine of union with Christ. As Christ is our justification, so He is our sanctification: thru our union with Him. United to Him in His death, burial and resurrection (though I could add more) we are justified and sanctified (the double blessing of union that Calvin notes).

“Christ himself is the only adequate resource we have for the development of sanctification in our own lives.”

He shares His resources with us. So, Ferguson notes that sanctification is neither accomplished by divine fiat or self-exertion. Christ has provided all we need, and by virtue of our gracious union with Christ we are able to draw on these resources. It is not like a Matrix download where Neo instantaneously gains skills. By faith we drawn His resources and trust His Spirit to work in us. We participate but are utterly dependent.

“Faith involves trusting in and resting on the resources of Christ as though they were our own.”

At this point Ferguson walks through Romans 6 to understand how our union with Christ effects our sanctification. In Christ we have died to sin (via His atoning death) and live to God (via the resurrection) which is the essence of our sanctification. Death to sin does not mean we don’t sin (see Romans 7) but our sin no longer condemns us (Romans 8:1). We are no longer under its authority. Our life is no longer determined by our past, but Christ’s past. The verdict has been passed and Christ’s vindication means we are alive to God, and live for God. Because we are united to Christ we are a new creation. We are no longer the old man in Adam but the new man in Christ. Sanctification can be understood not as getting used to our justification, but as growing into our new identity in Christ.

This new man encounters oppositions from the world, the flesh and the devil. Spiritual warfare, in Scripture, is about the struggle between them and the Spirit. They seek to undermine our new life in Christ like old drinking buddies. They use guilt, shame, temptation and more. This is the context of Paul’s statements on the subject in Ephesians 6. Our sanctification is not an easy thing but one met with great resistance: internal and external.

“All that is true for me in Christ has not yet been accomplished in me by the Spirit.”

This is close to Frame’s perspectivalism. Christ’s work for us has already taken place and I already benefit from it. I have imputed righteousness, for example. Christ’s work in my by the Spirit (and His work thru me by the Spirit) is not been fully applied. Some of it is not yet, or not completely. Imparted righteousness has begin but is not complete. It won’t be until glorification. Romans 7 and Galatians 5 are two places that introduces us to this painful tension we must live with and in.

One aspect of sanctification is called mortification, the putting to death of sin aka the practices of the old man in Adam (Ephesians 4; Colossians 3). This imperative follows the great indicative of our union with Christ. We begin to live in accordance with our new identity in Christ (called vivification which Ferguson does not explicitly mention). We do not work to earn a new status or identity in Christ. Christ is restoring His image in us by His sanctifying grace.

Ferguson then moves to discuss the means of grace essential to our sanctification. These do not merit grace, but are the ordinary means by which God gives us grace as we seek Him by faith. He mentions the Word, God’s providences (often affliction or prosperity which reveals our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as sins that need to be confessed), fellowship and the sacraments. You will notice much of this is found in the Church. The Church is one of Christ’s essential means of grace for our sanctification. There we hear the Word, receive the sacraments and enjoy fellowship (including rebuke and encouragement).

The controversial aspect to this is the Law and the Christian’s relationship to the Law as part of the Word. It should not be controversial in light of 2 Timothy 3’s view of Scripture. The third use of the law, as a guide for Christian living, is often accused of being legalistic. But we are not trying to establish or maintain our status through obedience. We have these by grace. The Law shows us what it looks like to live as the new man in love. We don’t say, as we are often accused of saying, that the Law has the power to sanctify us. The power comes through our union with Christ in the power of the Spirit through faith and love.

The Responses

Ferguson said very little about the Law (just about 1 page), but Forde sees this as overplaying the role of the law in our sanctification. He puts words in Ferguson’s mouth about the law “producing holiness.” He is allergic to the law and misinterprets Ferguson as a result. In some sense Forde underestimates the “already” aspects of our salvation such that we still interact with the law as if non-Christians. I can read the Law and say “this is who Christ is and who He wants me to be- help me to be like You.” Forde agrees with Ferguson’s description of sanctification (though it differs greatly from his own chapter) but faults him on implementation. Perhaps because there is so little implementation in Forde’s scheme (to borrow his phrase).

Wood, the Wesleyan perspective, agrees with much of what Ferguson says but claims that the intention of the heart is what is decisive. That is rather subjective in practice. He takes this to briefly introduce Wesleyan perfeectionism. It is not sinless perfectionism but we’ll get there next time.

Spittler calls himself a “Reformed Pentecostal” and sees much to affirm in Ferguson’s presentation. He would not share Ferguson’s high view of the sacraments. He also thinks there is too much focus on controlling behavior.

The Contemplative response, by Hinson notes that Ferguson makes too little of prayer in his discussion of the means. I suspect Ferguson would agree with this oversight. He then lapses into a great misunderstanding of the Puritans which seems to imply that Ferguson wants to coerce obedience from people, even non-Christians. I really didn’t follow this line of reasoning because it was quite irrational as well as historically inaccurate.

Bottom Line: Sanctification by being united to Christ and appropriated by the means of grace.

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“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.

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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.

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There are few subjects guaranteed to raise a ruckus like that of modesty. This subject tends to bring out the worst in us. We often act immodestly when discussing modesty.

There have apparently been many books written on this subject. Many of them very bad. Or so I hear since I’ve only read one other book on the subject, Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. As a result, I am no expert on such books. I decided to read Tim Challies and R.W. Glenn’s book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel precisely because it seemed to take a gospel-centered approach (which it does).

What they have done is write short, but important, book on the subject at hand. They begin with the obvious, and the most common objection to such a book.

“Discussing modesty among Christians is challenging because the subject typically has not been handled well. … And when a man is the speaker or the author or the discussion leader, women brace themselves, fearing an assault on their fashion sense and wondering if they are about to be blamed for all male struggles with sexual lust. Does he think I have to be ugly to be godly?

This is not like many of the books I’ve heard about: there are no lists, calls for the ruler, blaming of women etc. They recognize that many calls for modesty are not motivated by the gospel, but legalism. This has led to, in many circles, a neglect of the subject. Or a very narrow view of the subject, making it all about women’s clothing when it encompasses far more than that.

“When we build theology without clear reference to the gospel, we begin to take refuge in rules. … Indeed, in this particular area, the regulations become our gospel- a gospel of bondage rather than freedom. … Modesty without the gospel is prudishness.”

They then begin the hard task of defining modesty. They note the dictionary definitions. But they then do something that may surprise some people, they talk about one’s situational context. Modesty is partially a function of your circumstances. They give the illustration of a bathing suit. Appropriate by the pool or beach, but not appropriate for a worship service or funeral (and maybe even Wal-Mart). It would be modest in one context, but immodest in another. Your situation matters.

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Ever feel like you are missing something? It can happen when big names, wise men, hail a book. People you know find the book life-changing. Self-doubt begins to creep in, “Am I missing something important?” Perhaps I had erroneous expectations.

The book is Tullian Tchividijian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

The big names include guys like Paul Tripp, Scotty Smith, Matt Chandler, Gene Edward Veith, Michael Horton, and Steve Brown.

Scotty Smith called it “a faithful and fresh exposition of Colossians.”

I began to read the book because I’m preaching on Colossians. I had heard his sermon on the subject at hand, and thought it was very good. So I thought this would be a great book.

“Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize the God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.”

My expectations were off. I expected an exposition of Colossians. What I read was a polemic against legalism. Don’t get me wrong, we need polemical material against legalism. And he said some really good things.

“The gospel is the only thing big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings- both now and forever.”

Where I struggled was that was the vast majority of the book. It did not seem to move linearly. It was more like progressive parallelism. It looked at legalism from different perspectives. And there was no exposition of Colossians.

“Even as believers, we don’t adequately realize how Jesus is enough to meet our deepest needs, so we’re always pursuing an add-on approach- Jesus plus something.”

Colossians can be summed up by the formula that Tullian presents for us. The problem in the Colossian church was multifactorial, to steal a line from Ben Cherington. There seem to be a few different things added to Christ to find fullness. Tullian just hits legalism. So, it seems a bit reductionistic to me.

“The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we’re something that we’re not.”

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If we ignore the imperatives of Scripture, there is a Hole in Our Holiess. This is the premise of the 4th chapter in Kevin DeYoung’s book.

By and large, we hate commands. We don’t like being told what to do. Kids don’t like to listen to the parents or teachers. As adults we don’t like to listen to our bosses. We don’t just “question authority” we undermine and resist it.

“God cares enough to show us his ways and direct our paths. … Divine statues are a gift to us. God gives us law because he loves us.”

While others may try to lord it over us, God’s intention is good. It is evidence of love, but we read it as hate. The problem is not with Him, but us. Even as Christians, there is resistance not only to particular commands at particular moments, but to the Law period.

The Church has wrestled with the Law for quite some time. Scholars have landed in various positions. Among Calvinists, this is one of the many practical differences between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. Historically, Reformed Theology has had a 3rd use for the law. We hold to a 3-fold distinction in the law that NCT rejects. We recognize the moral law, the civil law and the ceremonial law. They cannot ultimately be separated from each other. But they are distinguished and have a different relationship to Christ. The moral law reflects the character of God, and transcends all administrations of the covenant. The civil law is the application of the moral law to the nation of Israel as a theocracy, and includes the punishments for breaking particular laws. The ceremonial law is about the removal of guilt and pollution from breaking the moral law. It is also about maintaining the separation between Israel and the nations.

“Typically, this has meant that the moral law (e.g., the Ten Commandments) is directly normative, but the civil and judicial aspects of the law point to what is true for all people at all times.”

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In the second chapter of his new book, The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung addresses the reason(s) for our redemption. He does not think there is only one biblical answer. He mentions God’s love and God’s glory. I would say that with respect to God himself, the reason is His love. He redeemed us because He loved us. With respect to creation (including humanity) He redeemed us for His glory, to receive glory for His grace. Both of these are prominent in Ephesians 1. There is something else that is significant in Ephesians 1, as DeYoung notes: holiness. With respect to us, God redeemed us to make us holy.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

I am not sure why so many think holiness is optional. Wanting to be a Christian with wanting to be holy is like wanting a hamburger without wanting the hamburger patty. Biblically it just does not make any sense. In Ephesians, it sets up the call to sanctification that flows out of justification. Sometimes in response to a works-centered religion, people can so press justification by faith alone, that they forget or ignore that such a faith is never alone. Sometimes in our pushback against the legalists in various holiness movements we forget that obedience is not the problem. As Paul stresses in Titus 2, grace teaches us to obey God. It is not an excuse to disobey God, or be careless about how we live.

God is passionately committed to your holiness, even if you don’t seem to be so at the moment. The Scriptures tell us this. Christ died with this goal in mind. DeYoung notes this as an emphasis in both covenants: Exodus 19:4-6; 1 Peter 2:9;  Eph. 2:8-10; 5:25-27; 2 Tim. 1:8-9; 1 Thess. 4:7.

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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.

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As a movement, the “Young, Restless & Reformed” crowd has some issues.  They are, after all, young.  They are on the road to maturity.  Technically I’m a tad too old, I think, for the moniker but I appreciate what most of them are trying to do.

John MacArthur is not so appreciative.  As part of the generation before mine, he’s been quite critical of them in a series of posts.  Some of them have made the circuit.  I’ve stayed out of it.  I don’t want to contribute to a blog war- see, I’m getting older and maybe even maturing.  (comments have been closed, so I can’t respond there.)

I am not writing to defend the YR&R movement.  I’m not even going to point out the inconsistencies of John’s argument (a blogger friend who was unjustly singled out has done a good job of these things).  What I want to do is address his selective use of Scripture.  JM, in writing this critique of the movement, is also acting like a role model of sorts.  How he handles the Scriptures is VERY important.  He deeply cares about the Scriptures and expositional preaching has been a hallmark of his lengthy ministry.  But here he does not handle the Scriptures well, and we need to help see why.

Taking Texts Out of Context

Contrary to the current mythology, abstinence is no sin—least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4; Luke 1:15). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to the influence of alcohol or to bedeck one’s reputation with deliberate symbols of debauchery. As a matter of fact, drunkenness and debauchery are the very antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (Ephesians 5:18)—and men who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.

JM rightly notes that abstinence is not a sin.  At times it may be wise, but that doesn’t mean it is always wise.  His claims go beyond the text however.

 8And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. Leviticus 10

It was not an absolute prohibition.  They were just not to drink on the job.  In light of the recent death of Aaron’s 2 sons, you have to wonder if abusing alcohol was one reason they offered up “strange fire”.  But JM speaks of abstinence.  They were not required to abstain for drinking wine, except while serving.

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,  it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, 5lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Proverbs 31

Once again the encouragement is not absolute.  But when the king is working, making decrees or deciding cases, he should not be under the influence of alcohol.  JM overstates his case.  Oddly enough, see what the next verses say:

6Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,  and wine to those in bitter distress; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Proverbs 31

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When I first saw Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man by Lee Burns and Braxton Brady, I wondered if I should read and review it.  Since we don’t technically have a youth group, I thought it might be a helpful resource for our teenage boys.  So I requested a copy.

The book was developed as a curriculum at a private boys school to assist them in those difficult years.  It covers most of the topics I could think need to be covered to prepare them for manhood.  As is the case in all books of this type, the purpose is not to be exhaustive as it covers each topic.  There remains plenty to be said, but it is intended to get the conversation and process started.  Each chapter has discussion questions to further this process.

There are plenty of pictures of planes, which my friend who is a pilot found fascinating.  There are also a number of very interesting stories about pilots and flights used to illustrate the message of the book.  I am sure CavSon will also find these stories and pictures very interesting as well (when the time arrives).

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A Treasure Chest of Grace

As I continue to read Letters of John Newton, I am just amazed that so few people have sought these out and fewer cherish them.  His pastoral care is a balm to my soul as he tenderly applies layer after layer of the gospel.  His letters to Rev. Barlass, in particular, focus on our on-going struggle with sin.  Rev. Barless was a minister of the Secession Church of Scotland.  Sounds to me like he was one of the Seceders or Associate Presbyterians from whom the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has come.  As such, he had defended the free offer of the gospel and tried to free the church from patronage among other things.  But this man also knew his own sin, and sought out Rev. Newton to guide him.  Young pastors, have YOU found an older man experienced in all the ways of the gospel?

First, Newton sets his heart at ease in that he is not different from us.  We are “like coins from the same mint.”  But, due to his calling, Rev. Barless had greater experiental knowledge of his own sinfulness.

“They that go down to the sea in ships, and do their business in great waters, experience hardships, and likewise see wonders, which people who live on the shore have no idea of.  Many of the Lord’s people are comparatively landsmen; others are mariners, and are called to conflict a great part of their lives with storms and raging billows.”

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A web site I visit had mention of the new book by John MacArthur, Slave, based on his sermon series on the topic.  Grace To You has a free offer, if you join their mailing list.  Here is the trailer.

It always concerns me when someone thinks there is a ‘hidden’ word or some sort of conspiracy.  I’m not sure why it took him so long to realize ‘doulos’ means ‘slave’ not servant.  I agree that we need to reckon with this since it is Scripture.  Paul, at times, called himself a slave, to emphasize the reality that he had no rights.  Iain Duguid in his book on Abraham, calls a covenant a relationship marked by submission in which one party surrenders their rights.  That would be us, not God.

We also need to remember that in Philippians Jesus became a slave, obedient unto death to deliver us from slavery to sin (see, you are a slave to something as Bob Dylan sorta sang).

But it obviously is not the only identity we have (as MacArthur mentions in the trailer).  We don’t stop being ‘slaves’ though we are ‘sons’, as the trailer seems to imply.  We are both (like we are both righteous and sinners at the same time, just not in the same sense).

Richard Pratt used to tell us you need to go the the biblical medicine cabinet and choose the right medicine for the personal problems people have.  This requires discernment.  Is it a justification issue?  Don’t talk about sanctification issues, or they will end up legalists.  Sanctification issue?  Don’t address it as a justification issue or they will become antinomians.  Paul does this in the Scriputres.  If people are acting entitled (for instance making too much of their Roman citizenship, or suffering from an over-realized eschatology) he takes out the ‘slave’ pill so they know this is part of their identity.  If they are wrestling with a sense of worthlessness and abandonment, he breaks out the ‘son’ pill so they know and experience the freedom and acceptance of God’s adopted children.

I fear that a popular book like this tends to polarize things.  This should transform some people’s experience because they have a strong sense of entitlement.  They don’t grasp that whole obedience thing.  They think Christianity sets them free from all obligation to pursue all their desires.  This is a huge problem here in the land of the televangelists and consumerism.  But many of the people who would be drawn to a book by MacArthur would have the opposite problem.  I suspect they would need to know of God’s love and acceptance because they are prone to a legalistic spirit.

All this to say, know to whom you recommend this book.  It could be a helpful medicine to their sin-sick soul.  Or it could be deadly, because it is the wrong biblical medicine

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