Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘R.C. Sproul’


Sometimes the people you read champion a book that was influential on them. You make note of the book. You buy it and eventually you read it.

Because of R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer and John Piper I began to read the Puritans. Due to Tim Keller I began to read John Newton. Newton has been very helpful for me.

Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching GraceBecause of Keller, and some others, I picked up Harvie Conn’s Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. It was foundational for them in advocating for what I think is a healthy balance of seeing justice as an implication of the gospel. Transformed people will want to see their world transformed. As we grow in personal righteousness (sanctification) we will act justly and seek to love our neighbors. I seemed like I needed to read this little book when I found it in the internet “discount bin”.

Were my expectations too high? Would it exceed my expectations?

One important thing about when I read a book is how much red ink I use. That could mean either a great book with lots of “money quotes” or big ideas I want to keep track of. Lots of ink could also mean it is a book I take great exception to, as the writing in the margins argues against the authors point.

I didn’t use much ink in this book before I gave up in the midst of his chapter on prayer. It was meh to me. I was underwhelmed and found it too bound to its time.

In his preface he notes that it is not a “how-to” book. “Rather, this is an effort to look at the relation between evangelism and social questions as two sides of the same coin.” He uses the terms holistic evangelism and Lordship evangelism to describe this balance and interdependence. It was written as the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelism was doing its work.

Time can prove that many of our fears and expectations are unfounded. History takes unexpected turns. He brought up the United Presbyterian Church’s steep decline in membership. If such trends continued, he anticipated one priest (?) for each communing member by 2000. Well, they were part of the formation of the PC (USA), which while continuing to bleed churches and members still has a fair amount of money and more members than pastors.

He does address the need for contextualization, “how to communicate the relevance of the gospel.” He faults, to a degree, the seminaries’ focus that has seemingly resulted in homogeneous churches instead. We forgot to be all things to all men while presenting the one message in a way those people can get. The doctrine of accommodation should teach us that we must shape our message to the people who are listening.

In his day (and more so ours) there is a skepticism to our message and the stories of those who bear it. Conn notes that Corrie Ten Boom is seen as a “woman with high ideals who showed remarkable resiliency under pressure” rather than recognizing the triumph of grace in her life. You see the times in the skeptical views of reports of the conversions of Charles Colson, Larry Flynt and Eldridge Cleaver. Clearly the 2nd proved false. I chose not to bring up his false conversion in a sermon, thinking it was a bit too edgy. Conn mentions plenty of such things in this book.

IHardcore Postern the context of accommodation and the message he refers to the movie Hard Core about the daughter of a pastor whose daughter leaves home and enters the porn industry. Oddly, I’d recently heard an interview with the writer & director, Paul Schrader, who also worked on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, 1st Reformed, American Gigolo, and Mosquito Coast. He grew up on the Reformed Faith and sees himself as a preacher, but not of faith though the “failures” of faith often show up in his movies. We speak into this skepticism, failure and scandal, whether we realize it or not. If we do, we can speak to it as well.

In the second chapter he moves to what we are calling people to: incorporation, humanization, celebration and justice. Our words should also be backed up with actions. We speak of love, and should show love.

“Evangelism must become gospel show-and-tell, showing mercy and preaching grace.”

This can be difficult for smaller churches, like the one I pastor. I agree there is an evangelistic aspect to diaconal ministry. But our first priority is to our members. With limited resources to help the household of God, the evangelistic bent to diaconal ministry gets lost.

10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5

He then moves into justice; setting things right as part of evangelism. “The doing of justice becomes the distinguishing mark of the people of God before the world.” Instead, we seem to either be afraid of doing justice lest we become social justice warriors, or go so far as to justify the injustice. Yes, there is a real threat to devolve in to a social gospel, which is not gospel at all.

As I think about things, I struggle with the whole concept of the culture war. Doing justice isn’t about embracing or resisting worldly agendas. We shouldn’t be either SJWs or oppressors/defenders. Our marching orders are from the Scriptures, not culture. We should be walking a tightrope instead of moving toward the extremes which tends to demonize people who commit one sin while excusing others. We need to hear the call to “love mercy and act justly” instead of thinking they are opposed to one another.

One way he puts this is in talking about publicans. Among the people we meet are those who sin and those who are sinned against. Actually, every person we meet is both a sinner and someone who has been sinned against. We should address both sides of that coin.

“A gospel that does not address people as sinned-against pose a lot of problems for the publican, the sinned-against. Either he rejects the gospel or sees it as an opiate.”

The prostitute is not simply a sinner, though we want to reduce her to that. She likely has been sinned against as a child. She is likely being oppressed in the present, a slave to a pimp, as well. (The same is true for male prostitutes though we don’t speak of them often).

We can’t turn a blind eye to past and present oppression of the black community in America. The gospel is often seen as a way to placate them and keep them in submission instead of offering freedom and hope. Doing justice opens the door for the message.

He then discusses a two-dimensional spirituality. We are to obey both the cultural and evangelistic mandates. We are not to pick and choose between them. Love for neighbor means not only proclaiming the gospel but also doing no wrong to our neighbor by our actions (or inaction). Into this he returns to the Lausanne Covenant. It speaks of “sacrificial service evangelism”.

He doesn’t want us to pick one, but to see them as “two stages in God’s covenant relationship with man.” Having failed in the cultural mandate, we now have the added evangelistic mandate. Continuing to fail in terms of the cultural mandate means that those fallen social, economic and political structures hinder evangelism.

At times, this chapter is less than clear. He uses terms without always defining them. Snooze at any point and you get lost. But here are a few parts I underlined:

“This kind of spirituality does not equip us for evangelism by taking us out of the world. It puts a new world into us, the world of the spiritual, that new lifestyle caused by the Holy Spirit, centered in the Holy Spirit, and possessed by the Holy Spirit.”

“Living in the Spirit is not an evangelistic escape from history, but a participation in the new reality of history brought by the redemptive work of Christ and the applying work of the Holy Spirit.”

I’d been trying to read this book alone with my sermon series on Mark. It seemed to fit the idea of following Jesus in terms of what it looks like to submit to the authority of Jesus. We act justly and preach grace. But this short book always seemed to get lost in the shuffle, and was far more theoretical than practical.

And so I started to read the chapter on prayer and gave up. His writing style was less then helpful to me. Perhaps I’m too dull to get it, but I lost my patience for the book. It was time to move on for me. There are other books crying for my attention, and it is time to heed those calls.

I was disappointed. Perhaps it is this particular juncture in my life and ministry. Perhaps it was just bad timing. I don’t want to write off the book as utterly unhelpful, but it was not as helpful as I’d hoped. Conn’s approach seems meandering at times, lacking focus. At least I coudn’t always tell where he was going, and the process of getting there was roundabout-ish.

There is it. Hopefully you get a few good thoughts to move you forward in thinking about justice and grace in the work of the church. Biblically, they are not opposed though we often move toward extremes of either the social gospel or spirituality of the church. This is a conversation worth having as we see the rise of the social justice warriors and their mirror reflection in conservative culture warriors. Jesus, I think, would distance Himself from both.

 

Read Full Post »


We previously looked at the rationale for the overture from Metro NY Presbytery to amend the Book of Church Order to permit local sessions to determine if their congregation may have women deacons.

The underlying disagreements center on ordination and authority. Those opposed to women deacons regularly cite these issues. First that ordination is only for men. I’m not sure I buy into this presupposition. It is an argument of “good and necessary consequence” and therefore you have to make sure the initial statements are true. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do  we see that only men may fulfill the offices in view and therefore only men can be ordained? Or do we see that ordination is limited to men and therefore only men can fulfill the offices?

IfImage result for deborah and barak we look at the messianic offices of prophet, priest and king I think we have the picture of ordination or appointment to office. Priest and king were, in fact, limited to men. There was a queen mother who usurped the throne after the death of her son the king. But she was an illegitimate authority who would finally be overthrown and executed.

But we see women prophets operating in Israel as well as the NT church. One of them, Deborah, also functioned as a judge since Barak was cowardly. As prophets, however, we see one of the messianic offices filled by women (even in a vibrant NT assembly) even though no books of the Bible were written by them. On this basis, I’m not so convinced that ordination is limited to men. We need to think a bit more deeply about ordination.

Image result for r.c. sproulR.C. Sproul in his older audio series on the Westminster Confession of Faith said that he generally believed in women deacons. Based on the authority granted to deacons in the PCA, however, he stated that there should not be women deacons in the denomination to which he belonged.

This issue of authority is one that is not really settled in the PCA. From the PCA Report on Diaconal Ministries we read:

E. The Authority of the Diaconate.
The BCO gives specific direction regarding the authority level of the diaconate and its relationship to the session of the church.[35] The specific wording is open to interpretation; however, as to the extent to which the deacons, both in authority level and practical function, are to be directed by the session and how much they are to function in a separate sphere close to the level of the session but nevertheless ultimately subordinate to it. The range of viewpoints on this issue is made clear in the following statements.

Coppes (OPC) defines a role of direct subservience of the diaconate to the session: “We conclude, therefore, that the deacons are assistants to the elders. The deacons are part of the ruling office in the New Testament, a subordinate and yet ‘separate office raised up by our Lord.’ “[36] Furthermore, “To them (New Testament Church) a deacon , although an officer in the church, was a servant to the elders. He was not someone who functioned on a par with the elders.”[37] Lee (PCA) reflects a perspective almost at the opposite extreme: “Toward the session, the diaconate is subordinate in ultimate government control but coordinate in ultimate importance… The work of the diaconate is just as important as is the work of the session. The diaconate is ‘sovereign in its own sphere’ of ministering mercy–even over against the session.”[38]

Coppes also addresses the relationship of women to the diaconate. “Women were used (in the church) probably in an auxiliary capacity to the deacons. They were not ordained, but there were stringent requirements to be met before they could be so employed.”[39]

While they may possess authority, as a Body they are under the authority of the Session. I see this as similar to a wife who has authority over children and any servants or contractors employed by the family, even as she is under the authority of her husband. She’s granted authority to discharge or implement the actions approved by her husband. The diaconate is not free to whatever they want, but are to operate under the direction of the Session. I’m not sure the diaconate can decide to help a person or family that the Session says they should not. While the diaconate prepares the budget, it is approved by the Session for the diaconate and treasurer to implement. We don’t want two bodies tearing the Body apart.

We also see that Coppes notes that women were not ordained as deacons, but served to support them. Perhaps, as I noted in the earlier post, this is the solution to our conundrum: shifting from assistants to the deacons to deaconnesses who serve the women of the church under the authority of the deacons. In this way, the widows and single., poor women are not taken advantage of by particular deacons, or form overly intimate mutual relationships (we see this type of protection advocated, I believe in Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5).

These questions need to be  addressed in the Overture, or they will continue to sabotage discussions. Controversy will be stirred up and no resolution found.

Let’s look at the changes to BCO 5, 7, 9 17,  24 and 25 (a whole new chapter). They forgot to mention 5-9 in the initial therefore even though it appears as the first two emendations.

 

  • THEREFORE, be it resolved to amend BCO 7-2, 9-3, 17-3, chapter 24, and add a chapter 25 in order to allow local sessions to decide whether women are allowed to serve as deacons [Proposed deletions are shown below by strikethrough, and additions are underlined]:
    • 5-9.c. When the temporary government determines that among the members of the mission congregation there are men who appear qualified as officers Elders, the nomination process shall begin and the election conclude following the procedures of BCO 24 so far as they may be applicable.
    • 5-9.i (1) The organizing commission shall ordain and/or install ruling elders and/or deacons according to the provisions of BCO 24-6, and/or install deacons according to the provisions of BCO 25-6 so far as they may be applicable.
    • 7-2. The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders and deacons. Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders. The office of deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only the office of elder is open to men only.
    • 9-3. To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men members of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.
    • 17-3. As every ecclesiastical office, according to the Scriptures, is a special charge, no man member shall be ordained unless it be to the performance of a definite work.

Cav Commentary: Many of the changes are shifting from the general language of officers to the specific language of elders. What is currently being said about church officers is now being largely directed to or limited to elders in these paragraphs.

In a quick read 5-9 it seems to be indicating that we would no longer ordain deacons. This would be an important move. It would take some of the obstacles away. One of the big impediments is “ordaining women”. The language of ordination is a deal-killer for some people. No longer ordaining deacons change at least some of the geography upon which this debate takes place.

This interpretation is rendered null and void by 17-3 however. It extends ordination to members, not simply men. 7-2 still treats deacon as an office in the church. The office of elder is open only to men, but the office of deacon is open to members. But said offices are apparently ordained.

5-9i was not as clear as it could and should be. A more thorough reading indicates that the earlier mentioning of ordain is to be understood as also pertaining to deacons due to the “and/or”. All that changes is the chapter of the BCO in which we find the provisions for ordination of deacons. Ordination is a loaded term in the PCA, and while this is used of all deacons, I don’t see this or any overture passing. But let’s move on to BCO 24.

CHAPTER 24

Election, Ordination and Installation of Ruling Elders and Deacons

Election

24-1.       Every church shall elect persons to the offices of ruling elder and deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  After the close of the nomination period nominees for the office of ruling elder and/or deacon shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the office. Each nominee shall then be examined in:

  1. his Christian experience, especially his personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9),
  2. his knowledge of Bible content,
  3. his knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, discipline contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO Preface III, The Constitution Defined),
  4. the duties of the office to which he has been nominated, and
  5. his willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination. (BCO 24-6)

If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections.

If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting on the above procedure. The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation.

24-2.       The pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of congregational meetings. If there is no pastor, the Session shall appoint one of their number to call the meeting to order and to preside until the congregation shall elect their presiding officer, who may be a minister or ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in America or any male member of that particular church.

24-3.       All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election.

24-4.       The voters being convened, the moderator shall explain the purpose of the meeting and then put the question:

Are you now ready to proceed to the election of additional ruling elders (or deacons) from the slate presented?

If they declare themselves ready, the election may proceed by private ballot without nomination. In every case a majority of all the voters present shall be required to elect.

24-5.       On the election of a ruling elder or deacon, if it appears that a large minority of the voters are averse to a candidate, and cannot be induced to concur in the choice, the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further; but if the electors are nearly or quite unanimous, or if the majority insist upon their right to choose their officers, the election shall stand.

Ordination and Installation

24-6.       The day having arrived, and the Session being convened in the presence of the congregation, a sermon shall be preached after which the presiding minister shall state in a concise manner the warrant and nature of the office of ruling elder, or deacon, together with the character proper to be sustained and the duties to be fulfilled. Having done this, he shall propose to the candidate, in the presence of the church, the following questions, namely:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of ruling elder (or deacon, as the case may be) in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to the Session?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

The ruling elder or deacon elect having answered in the affirmative, the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him?

The members of the church having answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall then be set apart, with prayer by the minister or any other Session member and the laying on of the hands of the Session, to the office of ruling elder (or deacon). Prayer being ended, the members of the Session (and the deacons, if the case be that of a deacon) shall take the newly ordained officer by the hand, saying in words to this effect:

We give you the right hand of fellowship, to take part in this office with us.

The minister shall then say:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a ruling elder (or deacon) in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

After which the minister or any other member of the Session shall give to the ruling elder (or deacon) and to the church an exhortation suited to the occasion.

24-7.       Ordination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either the office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a ruling elder or deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.

The ruling elder or deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the ruling elder or deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.

24-8.       When a ruling elder or deacon who has been released from his official relation is again elected to his office in the same or another church, he shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination.

24-9.       When a ruling elder or deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his office, his official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation.

24-10.    When a deacon or ruling elder by reason of age or infirmity desires to be released from the active duties of the office, he may at his request and with the approval of the Session be designated deacon or elder emeritus. When so designated, he is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis, if requested by the Session or a higher court. He may attend Diaconate or Session meetings, if he so desires, and may participate fully in the discussion of any issues, but may not vote.

Editorial Comment:  The General Assembly explicitly provided that those Elders and Deacons granted emeritus status prior to June 22, 1984, retain the privilege of vote. (By order of the Fifteenth General Assembly 15-83,III, 31).

Cav Commentary: Essentially all this does is scrub deacons from the chapter. It now only pertains to the elder. This is to maintain, however, the masculine language of the material pertaining to elders. This is because Scripture permits only men to serve as elders as is clear from 1 Tim. 2-3 and Titus 1. They necessarily teach and exercise authority. As a Session they evaluate the doctrine and exercise church discipline.

CHAPTER 25

Election, Ordination and Installation of Deacons

Election

25-1.       Every church shall elect persons to the offices of deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3. While the Church shall not neglect the raising up of qualified men to serve in this position, particular sessions may determine whether women can serve as deacons in their own particular congregation. After the close of the nomination period nominees for the office of deacon shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the office. Each nominee shall then be examined in:

  1. His/Her Christian experience, especially their personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
  2. His/Her knowledge of Bible content,
  3. His/Her knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, discipline contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO Preface III, The Constitution Defined),
  4. the duties of the office to which he/she has been nominated, and
  5. His/Her willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination. (BCO 24-6)

If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections.

If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting on the above procedure. The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation.

25-2.       The pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of congregational meetings. If there is no pastor, the Session shall appoint one of their number to call the meeting to order and to preside until the congregation shall elect their presiding officer, who may be a minister or ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in America or any male member of that particular church.

25-3.       All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election.

25-4.       The voters being convened, the moderator shall explain the purpose of the meeting and then put the question:

Are you now ready to proceed to the election of additional deacons from the slate presented?

If they declare themselves ready, the election may proceed by private ballot without nomination. In every case a majority of all the voters present shall be required to elect.

25-5.       On the election of a deacon, if it appears that a large minority of the voters are averse to a candidate, and cannot be induced to concur in the choice, the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further; but if the electors are nearly or quite unanimous, or if the majority insist upon their right to choose their officers, the election shall stand.

Ordination and Installation

25-6.       The day having arrived, and the Session being convened in the presence of the congregation, a sermon shall be preached after which the presiding minister shall state in a concise manner the warrant and nature of the office of deacon, together with the character proper to be sustained and the duties to be fulfilled. Having done this, he shall propose to the candidate, in the presence of the church, the following questions, namely:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of deacon in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to the Session?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

The deacon elect having answered in the affirmative, the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother (or sister, as the case may be) as a deacon, and do you promise to yield him/her all that honor and encouragement in the Lord to which his/her office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him/her?

The members of the church having answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall then be set apart, with prayer by the minister or any other Session member and the laying on of the hands of the Session, to the office of deacon. Prayer being ended, the members of the Session and deacons shall take the newly ordained officer by the hand, saying in words to this effect:

We give you the right hand of fellowship, to take part in this office with us.

The minister shall then say:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a deacon in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he/she is entitled to all encouragement and honor in the Lord: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

After which the minister or any other member of the Session shall give to the deacon and to the church an exhortation suited to the occasion.

25-7.       Ordination to the office of deacon is perpetual; nor can such office be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from the office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a deacon may have reasons which he/she deems valid for being released from the active duties of the office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him/her and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his/her resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him/her and the church.

The deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his/her official capacity to a majority of the church which he/she serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.

25-8.       When a deacon who has been released from his/her official relation is again elected to the office in the same or another church, he/she shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination.

25-9.       When a deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his/her office, his/her official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation.

25-10.    When a deacon by reason of age or infirmity desires to be released from the active duties of the office, he/she may at his/her request and with the approval of the Session be designated deacon emeritus. When so designated, he/she is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his/her office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis, if requested by the Session or a higher court. He/She may attend Diaconate meetings, if he/she so desires, and may participate fully in the discussion of any issues, but may not vote.

Editorial Comment:  The General Assembly explicitly provided that those Elders and Deacons granted emeritus status prior to June 22, 1984, retain the privilege of vote. (By order of the Fifteenth General Assembly 15-83,III, 31).

Cav Commentary: This new chapter pertaining to the election, ordination and installation of deacons is essentially the same as the previous chapter pertaining to elders, but with both masculine and feminine pronouns used. 25-1 grants local sessions the right to determine whether women are permitted to serve as deacons in their congregation. It expressly states we should seek to raise up men for this office. It should not degenerate into a body comprised of women, but either men alone or a mixed body.

One question that emerges for me is whether this would require a separate service since now each paragraph indicates a sermon warrant and nature of the offices as well as the character necessary to perform them. I’m assuming that the separate votes can take place at the same meeting. Presumably the sermon could concisely state the necessary information for both offices, but some may quibble and follow the letter of the law.

One significant and meaningful change is the vow of the congregation. Obedience to the deacon-elect is removed. The authority of the diaconate is lessened, but how much is not clear. This is an important change, reflecting that “the office is one of sympathy and service” (9-1).

The pronouncement also removed obedience,and therefore lessens the authority of the office.

While this overture deals with the question of authority (though perhaps not as clear as it should), it does not deal with the issue of ordination (what it is really?) and particularly the powder keg of women’s ordination.

The better routes would be to either no longer ordain deacons or to create the role (not office!) of deaconness to work with the diaconate among the women in the church. Perhaps this means we get rid of the assistant to the deacons. For the foreseeable future I see this issue continuing to churn and frustrate both sides. Perhaps we will continue to deal with issues like this until we learn a better way to handle them, and begin to treat each other better when we disagree.

 

Read Full Post »


Recently new of the overture from Metro NY Presbytery has been burning up the internet and PCA pastor & elder groups on Facebook. I assume the same is true on Twitter and other social media.

Image result for phoebe in romansFor many this is a very controversial request for the General Assembly to consider this June in Dallas. The issue of women deacons has been churning since before I entered the PCA back in 2010. The issue has more layers than an onion, and just as many presuppositions that drive the (lack of) discussion. Sadly, the discussion quickly degenerates into accusations of being feminists or egalitarians, modernists, progressives etc. and people are told to leave for a denomination that permits women deacons. It is kind of wearisome for me as I grow older (wiser?) and read more John Newton. It is wearisome because we never really get to the root of the issue (those presuppositions) like the nature of ordination and authority, particularly in connection with the office of deacon.

My first decade in ministry was spent in the ARP, which allows each Session to decide if they will have women deacons. As a result, much of this overture is familiar with me. It is not forcing women deacons on churches, but permits those having that conviction to exercise it. This does not affect the courts of the church since women elders are not (and should not) be up for discussion. The issue of the courts of the church is precisely why most of these ‘women deacon-loving’ guys don’t go into denominations like the ECO and EPC as advised by some.

To the overture!

 

  • WHEREAS there has long been a sincere diversity of views among Reformed churches as to what Scripture says about the role of women in diaconal ministry…
  • WHEREAS conservative, complementarian scholars differ in their understanding of biblical texts that touch on the role of women in diaconal ministry, specifically 1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1…
  • WHEREAS there seems to be strong evidence that the word διάκονον in Romans 16:1 is used in a technical manner to describe an office Phobebe holds rather than in a general descriptive manner…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession does not specifically address the office of deacon…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession 20.2 does speak of Christian liberty and not unnecessarily binding the consciences of men…
  • WHEREAS it is in line with the historical spirit of the PCA to be a grassroots denomination and to defer to the judgment of local sessions in decisions regarding congregational ministry…
  • WHEREAS several conservative, reformed denominations within NAPARC allow women to serve as deacons (i.e. Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ), and The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America)

The rationale for the overture begins with acknowledging that for quite some time there has been a diversity of opinion in the PCA and Reformed churches as to what the Scriptures teach regarding this issue. That is a key point, “what Scripture says”! This is not about culture, but about trying to rightly divide the Word.

The WCF in the first chapter recognizes the following:

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

This is an issue that is not as clear as whether or not women may be elders. To me that is crystal clear. Deacons is far less so, which to me means we should be less dogmatic. This is a topic that is not necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. This hits the well-being, not the essence of the church. It is important we put this in the right compartment so we don’t treat those with whom we disagree as heretics or unworthy of our fellowship. This isn’t the hill worth dying on. But we can discuss it, challenge each other and see this in the ‘reformed and reforming’ category as opposed to the ‘faith handed down by the saints’ category.

Image result for r.c. sproulConservative complementarian scholars do differ on this question. Some live in some sort of denial on this issue. John Piper is surely not a feminist. R.C. Sproul was not a liberal (though he thought the PCA should not have women deacons because of its views of deacons and authority). There are others as well. For instance, you can read the OPC Minority Report on this issue. You can’t get more conservative and complementarian than the OPC (yes, it was a minority report and was not approved, but some there held to that view).

TImage result for john calvinhe rationale brings up Phoebe in Romans 16. It mentions that she may have held an office rather than merely being a servant of the church. This is because of a lack agreement in gender; Phoebe being feminine and the word for deacon being masculine. That great liberal egalitarian John Calvin (tongue firmly in cheek) says about Paul’s mention of her: “he commends her on account of her office, for she performed a most honorable and a most holy function in the Church…” (Commentary on Romans, chapter 16, verse 1). Chrysostom, according to the footnote, considered her a deaconess (as did Origen which isn’t so great).

In his practice, Calvin did have a separate order of deaconness to assist the deacons. Through most of church history they were separate, with the deaconnesses helping the widows, poor women and quite early instructing female catechumens prior to baptism. Some have mentioned this, and perhaps this is a better option that will result in less upheaval.

The PCA currently has provision for assistants to the deacons (9-7), both male and female to be appointed by the Session. I wonder how many churches utilize this provision. I suspect not many do. When I mentioned this as an option for our congregation, I heard crickets. It seems to be another layer of bureaucracy. And it reminds us of Dwight Schrute and Michael Scott going round and round about assistant to the manager vs. assistant manager.

Women deacons, this rationale asserts, is not contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith. We are not violating our confessional standards if we do this. We are merely changing our BCO which while is also part of our constitution is about how we enact our polity, not the system of theology to which we subscribe. As a result, while there are theological presuppositions at play this is a polity shift, not a move to reject our Confession of Faith, or Scripture (as noted above). This is a different category of disagreement.

The issue of binding the consciences of others is important. Currently, those congregations which believe the Scriptures permit women deacons are not able to practice their beliefs and convictions. Unlike issues like paedocommunion, this is not a confessional issue and perhaps more leeway and charity ought to be practiced. A solution similar to that of the ARP “principled compromise” may be a good way to move. Congregations opposed to women deacons don’t have to have them. Their freedom of conscience is preserved, though that of an individual may not. This argument can cut both ways, and should be only a supporting and not a main argument.

Because this issue is not directly related to the courts of the church- who gets to exercise judicial authority- it is about how a local congregation goes about its ministry (women elders necessarily affect the higher courts and aren’t simply about how a local congregation functions), it should be handled as a local matter. If your church has women deacons, it doesn’t affect mine unless people shift from one to another on the basis of that decision. As a grassroots denomination, this may be best made a local decision.

While not addressing the ‘slippery slope’ argument explicitly, they do by mentioning other NAPARC denominations which have women deacons. Those denominations have not slipped down the slope. Those that did previously rejected the authority of Scripture (for instance the CRC which rooted their decision in the giftedness of women despite what Scripture said) or just jumped off (the PC(US) which permitted both women deacons and elders at the same General Assembly). Yes, there are some in the ARP and RPCNA who would like to get rid of them.  Not too long ago, however, the ARP affirmed their ‘compromise’. We cannot know what will be, but only what has been and is. And those denominations have had women deacons for decades without slipping down that slope.

That is the rationale for the requested changes to the Book of Church Order. I’ll address those changes in future posts.

 

 

Read Full Post »


Sometimes the question of whether or not we should use unleavened bread in communion arises. Our Session addressed the question recently.

Here are some of the common reasons given for using unleavened bread in communion.

  1. “Unleavened” bread is mentioned 62 times, not exclusively in connection with Passover aka the Feast of Unleavened Bread. No leavened bread was to be used in the Passover.
  2. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the Passover, using unleavened bread, when the Lord’s Supper was instituted.
  3. Tradition may have overridden God’s Word in permitting leavened bread to be used.
  4. Scripture never says to use leavened bread.
  5. No teacher or pastor promotes partaking of leavened bread.
  6. Leaven has a negative symbolical overtone. Since it seems to symbolize sin how can we use it to celebrate the Lord’s Table.

 

In Response:

  1. Leavened Bread was Only Prohibited During Passover

Leavened bread should not be seen as a symbol of sin. It was permitted to be eaten 51 weeks a year. It is okay for us to sin 51 weeks a year?

The bread of the Presence, set on the table in the Tabernacle (Ex. 25) is not said to be unleavened. If it was a symbol of sin, would such leavened bread be permitted to serve as the bread of the Presence?

In Exodus 29, recounting the ordination of the priests, it is unclear if the bread mentioned in vv. 23 (one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the Lord) is the same as that mentioned in vv. 2 (unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil). Both include bread, cakes and wafers. But vv. 2 indicates all of them are unleavened. In vv. 23 only the wafers are. Only bread, unqualified, is mentioned in vv. 32 & 34. This is clarified in Leviticus 8:26 which again mentions both.

26 and out of the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord he took one unleavened loaf and one loaf of bread with oil and one wafer and placed them on the pieces of fat and on the right thigh.

In Leviticus 7, thanksgiving offerings include unleavened bread, BUT peace offerings include leavened bread (vv. 13).

In Leviticus 23:17 bread baked with leaven is used in during the Feast of Weeks.

17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.

 

  1. Leaven is Not a Symbol of Evil

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13 c.f. Luke 13:21

In this passage, we see that leaven is used positively in describing the kingdom of heaven. While many of the uses of “leaven” are negative, the overall use is figurative to indicate how a little of the matter at hand spreads to permeate the whole of a body. This is how it is used; sometimes negatively and sometimes positively. Therefore, leaven itself is not to be seen as evil. Its presence would not necessarily make the bread “unclean” for the purposes of the Lord’s Table.

 

  1. We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not the Passover.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 indicates that Christ has fulfilled the Passover for us. It was a type of Christ. The shadow of Passover has been fulfilled and abrogated as part of the ceremonial law which governed worship in the Old Testament. Paul’s use of leaven/unleavened in the context is figurative rather than literal: malice & wickedness vs. sincerity & truth. He speaks not of the bread used, but of our attitudes in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (not Passover).

In 1 Corinthians 10:14ff we see Paul using the general word for “bread”. The flight from idolatry is also the flight from syncretism. His focus is on our unity in Christ as depicted in the Lord’s Supper.

In Luke 22:7 we see there is a word for “unleavened bread”. Paul could very well have used this in his letter to the Corinthians to clarify matters for these Gentile Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 11:23ff the general word for “bread” is used again in reference to their celebration of the Supper. Paul does not clarify this for his largely Gentile audience. Paul may have implicitly intended them to use unleavened bread as in the Jewish festival. However, he has previously told them the Passover was fulfilled in Christ. Paul once again seems less concerned with the elements used than how they celebrated it (the point of the passage is corrupt worship in Corinth).

 

  1. Our Confessional Documents Simply Say “Bread”

WSC Q 96: What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.

 

WLC 168: What is the Lord’s Supper?

A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship with each other, as members of the same mystical body.

 

WLC Q. 169: How has Christ appointed bread and wine to be given and received in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper?

A: Christ has appointed the ministers of his Word, in the administration of this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, to set apart the bread and wine from common use, by the word of institution, thanksgiving, and prayer; to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants: who are, by the same appointment, to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.

 

  1. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation. WCF, XXIX

 

  1. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before. WCF, XXIX

 

  1. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries. WCF, XXIX

 

It is noteworthy that only one of the commentaries on the Westminster Standards and Heidelberg Catechism addresses this issue. Those not mentioning this include A.A. Hodge, Robert Shaw, R.C. Sproul, and Kevin DeYoung. G.I. Williamson does not address it in his volumes on the Shorter Catechism. In his volume on The Westminster Confession of Faith he writes:

“It is our conviction that when the Lord instituted the sacrament he used unleavened bread and fermented wine. … And with this evidence agrees the known practice of the ancient Church, in which unleavened bread and fermented wine were used.

“However, we would not argue that the sacrament cannot be valid without unleavened bread and fermented wine. We can readily envision circumstances under which it might be necessary to use either leavened bread, or grape juice, or even both. Though technically irregular, we would not maintain that the sacrament may not be observe under such conditions. Even those who ordinarily use leavened bread and grape juice out of mere convenience we will not condemn. But if the decision to use grape juice instead of win is based on the influence of the Temperance Movement, we must regard this as seriously unbiblical.” (pp. 222)

 

  1. Response from Church History:

Since church history was mentioned we thought it pertinent to include the views of Martin Luther and John Calvin, two of the most influential Reformers. Their views are not authoritative, but rather helpful for us.

One of Luther’s objections to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation was that they no longer served bread and wine. Luther held to the view that we should use bread and wine in obedience to Christ’s institution of the Supper. In culture where bread and/or wine are available (like ours, but not some islands in the Pacific for instance) they should be used. We should not celebrate it with pizza (though it includes bread) and Coke. Luther did not specify that unleavened bread should be used.

“According to Luther, the miracle is that Christ, in his human body and blood, becomes present in, under, and through the bread and wine. There is not a change of elements, but an addition to them.” R.C. Sproul[1]

Shifting to Calvin:

“Furthermore, Satan, to deprive the church of this inestimable treasure, has long since spread clouds, and afterward, to obscure this light, has raised quarrels and conflicts to estrange the minds of simple folk from a taste for this sacred food, and also has tried the same trick in our own day.” John Calvin, Institutes IV, XVII, 1.

Calvin, in the above quote, warns about quarrels and conflicts which estrange people from the Table. Satan, he believes, often tries to keep people away due to secondary matters. Calvin affirms that the signs are bread and wine. He does not qualify them at this point. They are bread and wine, not rice cakes and sake or any other combination. (IV, XVII, 1, 3)

“Thus, when bread is given as a symbol of Christ’s body, we must at one grasp this comparison: as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the life of our body, so Christ’s body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul.” John Calvin, Institutes, IV, XVII, 3)

Calvin notes that the Supper sends us to the Cross, not to Passover except as much as Christ is the Lamb slain for us. The “thing signified” is of far greater importance for Calvin than the sign. As a result, he did not focus on the type of bread that is to be used.

Another aspect of church history we should consider is the practice of the church. It is not authoritative, but illustrative. Both John Hammett and Robert Letham note that the early church used leavened bread. Eventually the Roman Catholic Church began to shift to unleavened bread. Letham connects this with the development of transubstantiation. Leavened bread would create crumbs, and they did not want the physical body of Jesus to fall on the ground. The Anglican Church is the only Protestant church to continue to use unleavened bread. All of the others used leavened bread like the Eastern Church has for over a thousand years.

 

 

In his book Given for You, Keith Mathison, mentions a controversy involving Baptist theologian Stevens regarding the use of grape juice versus the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper. Stevens notes that this is similar to whether to use leavened or unleavened bread. Mathison rightly responds that leavened bread is still bread while grape juice isn’t wine (nor is wine simply juice). The Scriptures and our confessional documents simply say “bread” without any clarification or limitation.

Conclusion:

In light of the above reasons, we believe it is wise to affirm the view expressed by John Calvin.

“But as for the outward ceremony of the action- whether or not the believers take it in their hands, or divide it among themselves, or severally eat what has been given to each; whether they hand the cup back to the deacon or give it to the next person; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; the wine red or white- it makes no difference. There things are indifferent, and left at the church’s discretion.” Calvin, Institutes, IV, XVII, 43

Our conclusion is that we will continue to use leavened bread but also make an unleavened, gluten-free option available for those whose conscience holds that it should be unleavened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Research:

 

Does Scripture Demand Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper? By John S. Hammett

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-scripture-demand-unleavened-bread-in-the-lords-supper/

 

“While evidence as to the early church’s practice isn’t abundant, ordinary leavened bread seems to have been the norm. A difference gradually developed between East and West, though, with the East continuing to use leavened bread while the West adopted unleavened bread- a distinction between Orthodox and Roman Catholics that endures today.”

 

Most Protestant churches used leavened bread while the Church of England continued to use unleavened bread.

 

Argues that in places that don’t grow wheat or have bread, a common staple food can be used.

 

This is not a question of novelty, introducing a new sign, but recognizing that bread would be novel for them.

 

Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper by Keith Mathison

“The bread used by Jesus was doubtless the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, as the wine he used was doubtless the fermented juice of the grape. But this does not mean that we must uof necessity use unleavened bread, nor does it mean that we cannot use the unfermented joice of the grape. … To insist on literalism would be tantamount to legalism.” Quoting William Stevens, pp. 306.

 

Response: “Finally, the comparison that Stevens makes between leavened and unleavened bread and wine and grape juice overlooks one big difference between the two. Leavened bread is still bread, but grape juice is not wine.” pp. 306

 

The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread by Robert Letham

“Following this, the evidence (such as we have) indicates the church in the early centuries universally used ordinary leavened bread. By the eighth century, the bread and wine had officially begin. To be identified with the body and blood of Christ. Since leavened breat was mor likely to crumble and so fragment the body of Christ, Rome required the use of unleavened bread. However, the East refused to follow, accusing Rome of Judaizing tendencies, and to this day it continues to use ordinary leavened bread.” pp. 54.

 

“However, the word consistently used in connection with the Lord’s Supper is the wider ranging term artos, meaning a small round loaf of ordinary bread.” pp. 54

 

“A.A. Hodge, in response to the question “What kind of bread is to be used in the sacrament …?” argues that this is not specified, nor rendered essential by the nature of the service.” pp. 54

 

“What is clear is that the elements to be used in the Last Supper are bread and wine (“the fermented juice of the grape … that wine and no other liquid is to be used is clear from the record of the institution”); but as to the exact brand of bread or wine we have no precise requirement.” pp. 55

 

 

[1] Sproul, Vol. 3, pp. 148.

Read Full Post »


My list differs in that I’m focused on books I actually read in 2017, not books released in 2017. I’ve got a variety of books in this list. It is not simply theology, Bible and ministry related. Perhaps there are some you will be prompted to read. I hope so, because you might benefit from them. So, here we go.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. This was probably the best book I read in 2017. Ferguson focuses on a series of texts that provide a framework for our sanctification. He does a great job of defining sanctification in terms of our devotion to God, and unpacking those texts. I highly recommend this book.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. Yes, another book by Sinclair Ferguson. This is an updated version of one of his earliest book. He addresses the authority of the Bible and how to benefit from reading it. Both novices and experienced readers of the Bible can benefit from it.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman. I’ve loved this series by Crossway. This is another impressive contribution by Trueman. He is not trying to repaint Luther to look like a 21st century evangelical. Luther places great stress on the Word of God in our worship and Christian living. It is an emphasis that should mark us more than it currently does.

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton. This  is another excellent volume in the series by Crossway. It is fairly theological, but not for theology’s sake. Like the Luther volume, we see the very different context in which the Christian live is lived. The church was close to the center of life for most people with services offered daily. Horton focuses on the story of redemption and how this shapes Calvin’s views. Not just a man of his times, Calvin was also a man ahead of his time.

Faith Seeking Assurance by Anthony Burgess. This Burgess is the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange. The focus of the book is assurance of salvation. Assurance is viewed subjectively (Calvin tends to view it objectively- assurance God saves sinners), meaning that God has saved this particular sinner. He holds to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards. In my review I note that this is not a perfect book, but that it is a very good and worthwhile book.

Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Love for God by John Flavel. Another Puritan volume worth considering. It is not long but focuses on maintaining our love for God in a variety of difficult circumstances that Flavel lays out for us. He notes the particular temptation of each set of circumstances and provides means to help us maintain our love for God in them. This is a very good little book.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness by David Powlison. This book is unusual in that it doesn’t frame anger as essentially wrong. He does address our anger problems, tying them back to what we love. Often our anger problems reveal love problems. This was a very helpful book.

Making All Things New by David Powlison. This is a short book focused on God’s plan to restore our broken sexuality. He addresses both the sexual sinner and sexual victims though it is weighted toward the sinner. He is realistic as he views this within the framework of our sanctification. Though brief, it was helpful by providing an overview of God’s goals and purposes.

Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins. If you haven’t read any of John Perkins’ books before, this is a great place to begin. He is an activist for civil rights as viewed through the framework of the gospel. He sees Christ as the only real hope for racial reconciliation. The books is full of stories compiled according to the themes he explores.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. This is a very good and accessible book on the subject of union with Christ. It doesn’t address all that it could. What it does cover, it covers quite well. It is written for laypeople so you won’t get lost in abstraction or in over your head theologically.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together by R.C. Sproul. I read the recently updated volume which was originally published in the 1990’s. Sproul examined and critiqued the controversial Gift of Salvation document which followed after Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Generally winsome and irenic, Sproul explores the reality of the communion of saints and its connection to the doctrine of justification. In the process, R.C. sheds light on a recent theological controversy as well as the one we call the Reformation.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I like Reeves’ books. He writes with a sense of humor, sense of history and wanting a doxological focus. This volume focuses on Christology and presents it in an interesting and accessible fashion.  This is a very helpful book for laypeople wanting to understand Christology.

Jonah (The Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament) by Kevin Youngblood. This was my favorite commentary while preaching through Jonah this fall. It has a very good blend of exegesis and application. It strikes a very good balance. Knowledge of Hebrew was not essential to benefit from his discussion of the Hebrew text. He talked about how each passage fits within the canon of the Bible. I’m looking forward to other volumes in this series by Zondervan.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. Holley has written a number of books about the New England Patriots. So far, all the ones I’ve read have been interesting. This book focuses on the staff, though it includes some material about key players and the draft process.

Read Full Post »


For quite some time I’ve been utilizing triperspectivalism to understand, apply and communicate the Scriptures and theology. I have wished that John Frame would release an introductory book for people. It is tough to invite everyone to read books like The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. His shorter systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, has a section on triperspectivalism. But a small book that I could hand out to those intimidated by big books would be great.

If you read that first sentence and thought “what in the world is triperspectivalism?” this book is for you.

“Triperspectivalism is simply a teaching tool to help us grasp some of the deep things in Scripture. It highlights a pervasive pattern of three-fold distinctions, or triads, in the Bible.” Don Sweeting from the Forward

Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance is incredibly short (about 90 pages) and each chapter has review questions to help people process the information. It is therefore a relatively quick read. Frame has chapters on:

  1. Perspectives
  2. Perspectives and the Trinity
  3. The Threefold Gospel
  4. Perspectives in All of Life
  5. The Normative Perspective
  6. The Situational Perspective
  7. The Existential Perspective
  8. What to Do with Perspectives

“A perspective, literally, is a position from which a person sees something. … Ultimately, all this knowledge comes to me through my own body- through my senses and the operations by which my brain organizes my sense impressions into knowledge.”

While Frame speaks of three perspectives on truth, these perspectives are distinguished but not separated from one another. They include each other. The normative has to do with authority. God possesses all authority and gives His Word to us as a source of authority. The Word does not simply give norms, but describes our situation and ourselves. God exercises His authority in controlling our situations (circumstances). These circumstances reflect both His norms and our influence as sinners. God exercises His authority and control as He is present in creation and with His people. He is not to be confused with creation, but is present. This provides a brief example of where John Frame goes with this.

“These are multiple perspectives, but they all are part of the general personal perspective that constitutes my experience and assessment of the real world.”

I will come back to blog on the Trinity and his understanding of God’s simplicity in particular. This has been the subject of a recent controversy. I will also come back to blog on apologetics and how he things triperspectivalism can rescue use from the tribalism that divides the church in terms of apologetics. He lamented this tribalism after the death of R.C. Sproul last week. He and Sproul were born in raised around Pittsburgh, had a love for philosophy and studied it, and both taught systematic theology. He expressed that the fact that he and R.C. were on different apologetic teams may have been part of why they didn’t become friends. The fact that spent most of their time teaching in different parts of the country (before the days of the internet) didn’t help either.

It is hard for me to fully judge this volume. I tried to suspend my knowledge and view it as one who doesn’t think triperspectivally. But I ultimately couldn’t. I enjoyed the volume and thought he communicated his material clearly. But I didn’t arrive to the book with contrary presuppositions or “innocence”. My presupposition was that he is on to something very helpful and illuminating.

So, if you aren’t familiar with triperspectivalism and read this let me know how clear it is. I’m not so much concerned with whether he convinces you but if you understand it when done with reading the book.

Read Full Post »


I’ve been reading Jared Wilson’s blog on and off since his days in TN. I’ve read some of his books and found them profitable. So when the opportunity arose to read & review his latest, The Imperfect Disciple, I took advantage.

Chapter 1 begins with a quote from John Newton which sets the tone for what is to come: “In short, I am a riddle to myself, a heap of inconsistence.” This book is a neo-Calvinist version of Yaconelli’s Messy Spirituality. As Wilson notes in his introduction, this is for the average Christian who just plain struggles and feels like a total loser when reading books on discipleship, if they ever dare to. The focus here is certainly not “try harder and get your act together”. The emphasis is that God works immeasurably beyond what you manage to do because He’s rich in grace and you are united to Christ. How’s that for a nutshell?

“A message of grace will attract people but a culture of grace will keep them.” This is at least the 2nd book he’s used this in. But it is a great quote.

Jared Wilson’s style is decidedly in the popular vein. It is conversational, and not concerned with sentence and all that jazz. Each chapter begins with “My gospel is…” followed by a story that generally doesn’t portray him in a positive light. He’s not looking down at you (us). He is not the Tony Robbins of discipleship (or the David Platt/Paul Washer intent on making you feel guilty for being an ordinary person).

He addresses many of the ordinary disciplines or means of grace from a different point of view than usual. He uses some unusual terminology at times. One of the strengths is that he focuses on the reality simul justus et peccator, at the same time we are just and sinners. We do not, and cannot get our act together this side of death or Jesus’ return. We will continue to struggle with sin (including sloth), temptation and spiritual drift. In talking about this in chapter 1, he addresses some people’s tendency to blame their spiritual problems on their church upbringing. This is particularly common among progressives who grew up in more fundamentalist or even evangelical churches. While our family and church backgrounds may have been messed up and wounded us, we were all born in Adam and are sinners. We are all messed up even with others messing us up more. We never escape Romans 7, yet we always have the hope expressed in Romans 8.

“So while the storm of Romans 7 rages inside of us, the truth of Romans 8 has us safe and sound. Within the spiritual ecosystem of God’s saving sovereignty, in fact, our struggle is like the little squall stirred up in a snow globe.”

In the second chapter he calls discipleship followship. We follow Jesus and help others follow Jesus. This is true, but we also learn and teach others and are therefore … disciples. Often we can make it difficult, he says, for others to follow Jesus by confusing wounds and sins. Both persist, but the gospel addresses them in different ways. We forgive those who wound us, and God heals us with the balm of the gospel. Sins, which sometimes flow from wounds, are forgiven and God calls us to repentance and self-denial at times.

The third chapter focuses on beholding Jesus glory as opposed to seeing Him as a life coach or self-help advisor. Jesus changes us as we behold His glory (though this is not the only way He changes us). We are on a quest to discover glory, often in the wrong places like porn, wealth accumulation etc. I look for glory in sports. Not my glory but the athletes’. So he encourages us to look to Jesus and His unchanging glory.

He then addresses time in the Scripture to hear the rhythm of the gospel. We are immersed in the rhythm of our culture and need to be renewed by the rhythm of the gospel in Scripture. It isn’t just the details, but beginning to grasp the big picture of Scripture. It took him some time to get to the point of the chapter, listening to the rhythm. This another way God transforms us as He renews our minds.

There is another rhythm he mentions next, that of spilling your guts: prayer. We live in a busy culture and often suffer from hurry sickness. We don’t have time to pray (or read, or …). Prayer is how we process His words to us, and our circumstances (hopefully in light of His Word). Even better, Jesus lives forever to intercede for us in order to save us to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).

Then Wilson discusses a much-neglected aspect of discipleship in our culture: community. While we are personally saved, we are joined to Jesus into a community, the Body of Christ. We need one another to grow into maturity. Sanctification is not a self-help, or do-it-yourself, project. Community is also where self-denial, humility, considering the needs of others becomes necessary as we follow Jesus.

“The Christian life must be walked within the encouragement, edification, and accountability of Christian community. … To abide in Christ necessitates embracing the body of Christ as God’s plan for the Christian life.”

In a strange turn of events, he puts forth “Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship”. He throws out some biblical imperatives that are part of healthy Christian living: be loving, be joyful, be peaceful, be patient, be kind, be good, be faithful, be gentle, and be self-controlled. This is a description of what Jesus is making you because it is a pretty good description of Jesus. These are also the fruit of the Spirit.

He then moves into our union with Christ. We are not who we will be, and still struggle with something of an identity crisis. There is much we don’t like about ourselves. Thankfully, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). In the midst of this he talks about idolatry via Genesis 22. We lay down all our idols to pick up Jesus. Our idols can’t make us what we want to be, only Jesus can. Our idols can’t give us life (they steal it), only Jesus can.

“You may see yourself as worthless and faithless, but God never has to look for your righteousness, because since you have been raised with Christ and since Christ is seated at God’s right hand, your holiness is also seated at his right hand.”

He then moves into a discussion of suffering. We often feel forgotten or abandoned by God when we suffer. Jared is honest about a deep, suicidal depression he experienced. There is no pit too deep for Him to reach us, but He also lifts us higher than any idol can or than we can imagine going. There is grace in the pit, and grace lifts us to God’s presence in heaven.

“It’s true that sometimes God doesn’t become our holy hope until God becomes our only hope.”

The final chapter, Lurv Wins, is rooted in a scene from Annie Hall and reminds me of Rob Bell’s book. He never mentions Bell’s book, and the content isn’t the same as Rob’s book. He’s not advocating “Christian Universalism” but talking about heaven. The point of heaven is Jesus. He’s not an add-on, a bonus or merely a means to the end. What we experience there will be more than words can express. In Scripture, when people go to heaven they are overwhelmed, struck down as if dead and filled with dread. Our hope is not an earthly hope, but one that can only be satisfied in the unmediated presence of God. Earthly hopes keep unraveling, but that one will be greater than we can imagine.

“Grace is all-sufficient for glory. Grace doesn’t just go all the way down to our weakness and suffering; it goes all the way up to our deliverance, all the way up to the throne of God, where our Savior is seated at the right hand of the Father and where, because we have been raised with him, and seated with him in the heavenly places, we also have a place.”

While this, and the book, is generally good, at some points this casual or conversational style makes for some “sloppy” theology. One is something I noticed in Unparalleled as well regarding justification. “It’s not just that God wipes our sinful state clean (justification); he also writes onto the slate of our heart the perfect righteousness of Christ (imputation). (pp. 166)” Actually the first is “pardon” and justification includes both pardon and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

He also hit one of my pet peeves: “He predestined this very circumstance. If I believe that, I can be patient.” (pp. 160) The word he wants is ordained. Predestination refers to salvation/damnation, not ordinary providence. Just one of those things that bugs me since technical terms exist for a reason and sloppy usage ends up changing the meaning and makes theological discourse more difficult (as Sproul notes in a book I am currently reading to review). While not an academic book, I’d hope he could communicate the proper use of technical terms.

He also makes a false distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant on page 122. “The old covenant was made with God’s chosen people, and the new covenant is made with God’s called-out people.” Was not Abraham called out in Genesis 12? Was not Israel called out of Egypt? Was not Israel called out from the nations to be a people of God’s own possession? Are not we chosen (Eph. 1, 1 Peter 1 for starters)? The word ecclesia, which he might be basing this on, is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, to refer to the assembly of the Israel. Israel was …. the church! The OT was largely written to the community of faith called Israel, which so often struggled to believe. The NT was largely written to the community of faith called the church which was grafted onto the vine of the True Israel- Jesus.

Another head scratcher was on page 40: “We are idiots when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount.” I won’t get into the nature of the beatitudes and the 3 uses of the law at this point (he could use some brushing up there too), but just the use of idiots to refer to us. It strikes me as contrary to another part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Being a Baptist, he also leaves out the sacraments as a part of the rhythm of grace God has given to us. Baptism begins our discipleship (based on the grammar of the Great Commission). But we are imperfect disciples, and that includes Jared. His book isn’t perfect but it is a very good and helpful book. It is worth reading and is accessible to those who are struggling with the fact they are quite imperfect.

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review.]

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »