When Time Magazine Shows Us the Way

This came from the December 5, 2006 issue of PreachingNow, the newsletter of Preaching.com. If Christian leaders are reading this, and taking it seriously, do they realize that the same is true of adults? Clever video clips and Christian comics will not mature our people. God's Spirit has historically used Scripture to do that. There is no reason to think that our culture is so unique that we can jettison 2000 years of precedent and come up with a better idea.

Youth Ministry: More Substance, Please
Youth ministries are seeing a hunger for more Bible-based worship and teaching and less fun and games, according to an article in the Nov. 6 issue of Time magazine.

"Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment," according to the Time article. "But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugar-coated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early 90's, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all."

The move to more substantive programming is seeing results in growing numbers and changed lives. Time reports: "Bible-based youth ministries at churches around the country are enjoying a similar success. At Shoreline Christian Center in Austin, Texas, youth pastor Ben Calmer vetoed the purchase of a pool table because it didn't further his goal of increasing spiritual nourishment. Instead he started a class in which the young people wrestle with such difficult questions as, 'Why doesn't God answer all prayers?' No one seems to be suffering from the absence of the pool table. Youth membership has doubled, to 160, during the 18 months Calmer has been in charge. Similarly, teens at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., are embracing the big doses of Bible study youth pastors now recommend. Teen ranks have tripled, to nearly 600, since the mid-1990s." (Click here to read the full article.)

Wrapping Up 2006, continued - software

Logos Bible Software has become a staple of mine in study. When they upgraded to version 3, I sprung for the Scholar's package, which while duplicating some of the resources I already had, made enough sense because of what it added.

GreatNews is my blog reader. It is free, easy to use, does not crash, has not choked on any feed that I give it, and did I mention it is free? Great program.

With the cost of storage so inexpensive, and having been bitten by not having backups of my data in the past, two programs have been useful in my own backup strategy. I have two internal hard drives in my PC - one for programs and data (divided into a couple of partitions so that data is on a different partition than my programs) and one for backup. Then I have an external backup drive as well. I use SyncbackSE, a shareware program from 2BrightSparks. They have a freeware version, but I paid for the full program and am glad that I did. When I run SyncBackSE, it notes any changes to my files and copies the newer versions to my backup drive. I use this daily. When I want to back up my main partition, which includes only my operating system and program files, I use Acronis TrueImage. Many people use Norton Ghost, but I have been using TrueImage (now in version 10) through 4 incarnations. If I try out some freeware that I don't like, it takes me 3 minutes to restore my main partition. I've also created some baseline installations of my operating system (just basic, with drivers, with programs, etc.) so that in the event of major program changes I can restore to what is essentially a fresh install of my system. A little obsessive? Maybe, but lose your data and you'll wish you had been more obsessive.

Wrap Up 2006, Continued - Some Books, Part 2

Though I just began using it last week, Craig Keener's monumental commentary on Matthew is just fantastic. I am preaching on Matthew 1 and 2 for several weeks and his comments and research on the background to Matthew 1:18-25 were immeasurably helpful.

The Reformation Study Bible accompanied me many times this year to Barnes and Noble for my lunch 'n study sessions. The notes are helpful, and in the main do not ignore questions that arise in difficult passages. The RSB and a handful of photocopied articles/book chapters make quality study out of the office a lot easier.

DA Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey is a constant help in choosing books for purchase. It is now in its sixth edition.

I did not read either of these books, but listened instead to the audio versions. If you have an interest in church history, I would highly recommend The Reformation for Armchair Theologians and Calvin for Armchair Theologians. There are several other books available in this well-written, entertaining and often witty series. Up next on my iPod after Stephen Sears' book Landscape Turned Red (about the Battle of Antietam) is Luther for Armchair Theologians.

Wrap Up 2006, Continued - Some Books

I've been preaching through Romans since the beginning of the year, and will finish the book sometime in March. Two superb helps in the process are the commentaries by Douglas Moo (NICOT) and Thomas Schreiner (BECNT). Both commentaries are filled with top-notch analysis, and interact with other sources, but show a spiritual depth that sometimes is lacking in exegetical studies. Moo's commentary is one of three on Romans that he has offered, and each one is of value to the pastor and teacher.

I've also appreciated The Valley of Vision, and have been sharing portions of it with our church as an introduction to our monthly observances of the Lord's Table.

I am privileged to have a, uh, special room in my office. It's small and sparsely furnished. And this has been a helpful friend. I can't discern the meaning of a Hebrew word with it, but I can make a case that Ron Santo, who played 3B for the Cubs in the 60's, should be in the Hall of Fame with no question. :-)

Beginning to Wrap Up 2006

My blog-posting frequency is about one or two times per week, and as we work down through the last 5 weeks of the year, I'd like to focus my comments primarily on some things that encouraged, blessed, instructed, etc. me during the year.

Hands-down the highlight of the year was being able to attend the Together for the Gospel conference in April. There was not a weak message among the lot of them, and the conference left me with a renewed sense of commitment to "stay the course" and build my ministry around the exposition of Scripture as the primary means God uses to birth and build his people.

I am also grateful for the generosity that was displayed, shown by the fantastic selection of books that were given away to each participant.

One way in which the conference benefited our congregation is that it introduced me to some of the fine Sovereign Grace hymns which have become a regular part of the music of our congregation.

Spiritual Gifts

I've been preaching for the last several weeks on the subject of spiritual gifts as I make my way through Romans 12. I appreciated the post that Tim Challies had the other week, as his thoughts paralleled mine in several ways. I think that is a good thing, at least I hope so.

I had come up with a list of four questions about spiritual gifts that I wanted to answer in the course of the series-within-a-series. The first one related to the issue of the continuation of some of the miraculous gifts. I spent a Sunday explaining both the cessationist and continuationist positions and trying to explain the cessationist view that our church has held and the basis for it.

This past week I addressed the issue of the gift of prophecy, as it appears on the list of unusual (if I can use that word) gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, and also on the list of conventional gifts in Romans 12. But what was probably of particular interest - and generally is - to most of our congregation was the discussion of how we know what gifts we have and how they are to be used. I've concluded several things that might be helpful as I've tried to sort through the biblical data on this topic.

We must not treat spiritual gifts as a novelty. Often people are interested in what gifts they have much like they are interested in finding out what type of personality they fit into. It is cool to hear where you fit, but nothing much happens after that. In reality, we will give an account for the use of our gifts, since they have an important place in the life of the church.

We should be careful about splitting hairs when it comes to identifying gifts. There are four (perhaps five) lists of gifts in the New Testament. One is found in Romans, two lists are in 1 Corinthians 12, one is in Ephesians, and then possibly one in 1 Peter. Each list is different, including some gifts that are not found on other lists, and excluding some gifts that are found on other lists. I've seen books and articles that provide very precise definitions of the different gifts, but I'm not so sure we can do that, or that we need to. First of all, many of the gifts are simply mentioned. They are not shown in action, such as might be done in a narrative portion of Scripture where we have an illustration of their use. Therefore there has to be some humble uncertainty about being too fine in our definitions. For example, can anyone make a case that there is a fundamental difference between the gift of leadership (1 Cor 12) and administration (Rom 12), or that serving (Romans 12) is different than helps (1 Cor 12)?

I've encouraged our people to think more broadly, following Peter's discussion in 1 Peter 4. There are those who are gifted in communication and there are those who gifted in hands-on types of ministries. There are certainly more than two gifts, but here is a place to begin.

Many, but not all, of the spiritual gifts have corresponding character qualities. By this I do not mean that a gift is equal to a particular character quality, but rather that some gifts may involve the ability to excel in areas all should be obedient in. In Romans 12 Paul says that some are gifted to serve. Yet he also says in Galatians 5:13 that all of us are to serve each other. He identifies a gift of exhortation, but then tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 & 5:11 that we are all responsible for encouraging each other (same word). There is a gift of giving (contributing), but all of us are to give. There is a gift of doing acts of mercy, but Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful,” speaking about it in a way that applies to all of his followers. How does this relate to our finding out what gifts we have? It may be that as we practice the behavior of a Christian, we discover that there are certain capacities that seem to stand out, or are areas in which we excel.

The use of spiritual gifts requires involvement in more than just Sunday morning. This is a no-brainer, but unless a person is committed to the life of the church, which means that they are in some formal or informal sub-segments of the entire congregation, their gifts will not be able to be used. Most people cannot use their gift on Sunday morning.

Rather than finding out what our gift is through a survey or course of some kind, I'm inclined to suggest to our people that they need to:

1. Believe that they have a spiritual gift (or have gifts).
2. Be committed to serving the Body as servants of God (connecting Romans 12:1-2 with 12:3-8).
3. Participate in the life of the church.
4. Pursue Christlike character.
5. Look for opportunities in which they feel that they can serve and then observe how God blesses their ministry. This includes considering the desires that God places on their hearts.

While this is no magic formula, it seems to make the discovery process subordinate to getting involved in church life and making discovery about giftedness take place in the context of community.

Remember Those in Prison

It can be hard to watch television.

Do you remember the wall? The wall covered with pictures of men and women who disappeared in the span of a few moments when extremists directed two airplanes into the largest targets on the New York City skyline. There’s a picture of a man, sitting on the roof of his home. He’s lost everything but his life and the clothes on his back. There’s a picture of a child, flies buzzing around her face, looking at us through hollow, hungry eyes. Mother and father are gone, the victims of yet another military coup that brought death to streets where she once played. Here’s a woman carrying her dying child, looking in vain for food for herself and her baby, but the ground is dry, even the water is spoiled, and there is no food.

We feel helpless. So helpless. You feel so incredibly helpless that the only way to deal with the helplessness is to turn it off, turn away, try to forget.

This morning I want to show you a picture that I hope you will not forget. I hope that I will not forget. It is a hard picture to look at, but we need not feel helpless nor hopeless.

As the writer of Hebrews closes his letter, he tells his readers to pay attention to several areas of responsibility. In chapter 13, verse 3, he writes this:

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

What can we learn from this text that applies to what is going on in our world?

Christians around the world are in prison or suffer mistreatment because of their faith.

There are two special inserts in your bulletin this morning. I would like you to look at the map and note that it represents, as the title says, areas of the world where Christians are persecuted. This means that because a man, woman, boy or girl has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, they are in harm’s way. Look for a moment at that map.

Note that those areas which are highlighted are also earth’s most densely populated. Missionaries have talked to us about the 10-40 window, that area of the world most resistant to the Gospel. If you look at the shaded areas, you’re looking at the 10-40 window. And right at this moment, in those places, we have brothers and sisters in prison and who are undergoing mistreatment for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, persecution of Christians is not new. Persecution began as soon as the excitement of Pentecost had settled down, and we can read about it in Acts 4. Paul wrote several of his letters while in prison. Many of the Apostles died as martyrs, with apparently only John dying of old age, but even he was in prison for his faith.

In addition, there is no reason to expect that persecution will stop. Jesus told his followers that the world would hate them because it hated him (John 15:18-25). Peter wrote to address the difficulties that Christians were facing in 1 Peter 4:12-19.

We need to be fair. People acting under the banner of Christianity have been guilty of persecuting people of other faiths, though in most (but not all) cases this was less a matter of theology and more a matter of power, ambition and nationalism.

Who are we talking about? Who is being persecuted? We’re talking about shopkeepers, fishermen, farmers, mothers, fathers and even children. We’re talking about pastors and church leaders – people whose “crimes” are having faith in Christ and being faithful to him. Owning portions of God’s word. Sharing their faith with others. And their punishment includes being mocked and perhaps even disowned. It could involve being excluded from the business community. It might mean the loss of property, beating, prison, torture and even death. All because of faith in Christ the Lord.

Why? What makes this happen? Simply, the Gospel is a threat. It threatens the power structures of this world because it has room for no ultimate authority other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of God the Father. And people hate it.

So what do we do?

We are to remember those who are persecuted

In a first-century context, Roman law used prison as detention until punishment rather than as punishment itself; sometimes prisoners had to depend on outside allies for food.[1] To remember their brothers and sisters, then, meant providing for their sustenance, helping their families, making sure that they were fed and clothed. But we’re half-way around the world from most of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, so what can we do?

Before I answer that question, let me point out the reason that we need to care. The last few words of Hebrews 13:3 tell us that we are to remember these people “since you also are in the body.”

There are two ways to think about this. One way to see this is to acknowledge the fact that we are all vulnerable. And that is true. There is no guarantee that any of us will avoid persecution. So the idea is that we should realize that “there but for the grace of God go I.” But I think that misses something. I think that the best way to see this is that it is a reference to our inclusion in God’s family, as Paul has been telling us in Romans – we are all part of one body. We care because these people are our brothers and sisters. They have the same Father, they are indwelt by the same Spirit, they love the same Savior, they are fed by the same book. They are our family. How can you not care for family?

The question of course is, “What are we supposed to do?” The writer of Hebrews tells us only one thing: remember them. It is a word used only twice in the New Testament – both times in this book. It’s found also in Hebrews 2:6, where it is used in a quotation from Psalm 8, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him.” The word “mindful” and the word “remember” in Hebrews 13:3 come fro the same Greek word. It obviously means more than just “think about.”

So how do we remember? Well, you will notice that this is not the International Day of Protest for the Persecuted Church. Not that such activity is wrong. It is wholly appropriate for us to contact those in authority and urge them to act on behalf of those who are persecuted where possible. The media won’t herald their cause, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t.

I would suggest that we need to remember our brothers and sisters in two ways.

First, we need to remember their needs by making room in our lives to pray for them. If you haven’t already looked at the second insert in your bulletin, do so now. It is two sheets stapled together. This contains requests for 30 – count them, 30 – nations around the globe where Christian people are mistreated. Can you choose one country and pray for it once or twice a week? Can you take one country each day and rotate through this in a month?

What do we pray for?
· That they would be released (the church prayed that way for Peter in Acts 12)
· That they would be faithful to Christ and not deny Him.
· That where parents are in prison, especially fathers who earn the living, families will be provided for.
· That their witness will be effective.
· That the national church would grow strong. There are requests on this sheet for each of these 30 countries.

Second, we need to remember their example. It is simply time for us to wake up.

People are being put in jail and are tortured for the privilege of gathering as a spiritual family, and so many of us are quick to pass on going to church if something more entertaining or exciting comes along. That needs to stop. There may be reasons for you not to be here on a Sunday morning – and that includes staying to learn the Word of God in Sunday School – but there aren’t many good ones.

People are being mistreated because they have been found to have portions of Scripture in their possession. We have multiple Bibles and some of us never even open them up.

I could go on, but you get the point. Why are we so horribly casual with that for which others are willing to die? May God have mercy on them in their suffering, but may he also have mercy on us for our negligence.


I am aware that none of us can pray for and respond to everything. But I also know that more of us can and should be involved in this. I hope that this makes us aware of what is happening in our world, and gives us a desire to join together with these our brothers and sisters and stand with them as they go through their darkness. There may come a day when they stand with us through ours.

[1]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Heb 13:3). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

The Priesthood of All Believers, Part 2

Part 2 – Offering Spiritual Sacrifices

According to what we read in 1 Peter 2, we are a community of priests offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God. What kinds of sacrifices is Peter talking about? Let’s look at four places in the New Testament where this idea appears:

Romans 12:1-2 – the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.

Philippians 4:18 – speaks about the sacrifice of giving.

Hebrews 13:15 – speaks about the sacrifice of praise.

Hebrews 13:16 – speaks about sacrifices of good deeds and sharing. And that’s where this ties in with Romans 12.

Part 3 – Spiritual Gifts and the Priesthood of All Believers

Look back at Romans 12:3-8. It is our privilege and responsibility to minister to each other’s needs according to the way that God has uniquely gifted us. As I said last week, no one is exempt. Rather, we are to acknowledge that, as part of the body, as part of the fellowship of believers, we are to see ourselves as ministers of God.


- We don’t need a human priest to mediate between God and us the work of Christ, our great High Priest, gives us access to God (Hebrews 10:19-22).

- We don’t need a priest to interpret the Bible to us. John writes in 1 John 2:27 – “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.” That does not invalidate the need for pastors and teachers and elders who teach and guard the flock. God has gifted people to teach His Word. Nor does it mean that each person can decide for himself or herself what the Bible is saying (as if it means different things to different people). What it does mean is that you as a Christian person are capable of understanding truth because God’s Spirit lives in you and teaches you.

- We don’t need a priest to do the work of ministry. That is assigned to all of us. The gifts belong to the body, not a super-spiritual subset of the body. Some of us function vocationally in ministry responsibilities, but all we are all ministers. That means that while it is appropriate for pastors and elders to visit the sick and care for people’s needs, any of you can perform the same spiritual function. My prayers are no more or less effective than your prayers. Many of you are just as capable if not more so of providing counsel and direction. That’s why Paul says later in Romans (15:14) that “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” That word instruct means warn, admonish, exhort, counsel.

Catch this too – when the writer of Hebrews tells us that we have full and complete access to God on our own, he tells us to do two things. Look at Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Ministry. Believers helping other believers grow toward godliness.

Responding to God’s Word – Your Place in the Priesthood of All Believers

What is the best way to respond to what God says in his Word about our status as priests and ministers to each other?

One response would be gratitude. This is a doctrine that people died for.[1] I am not saying this to inspire guilt or pity, as our parents may have done when they got us to eat our vegetables by reminding us of all of the starving children in the world. But certainly those who died to provide us with the heritage that we have cannot be treated with indifference.

Another response would be prayer. Prayer for what? Prayer that the church would be the church. We should pray that what Paul says about God’s intent for the church would be a reality.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV)

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1988). Be what you are : 12 intriguing pictures of the Christian from the New Testament (67). Wheaton IL: Tyndale House. “The priesthood of the believer is a precious article of the Christian faith, the defense of which has cost many a life.”

If You Want Some Insight as to How the Culture Views Christianity (and some other unrelated stuff).

I read this last night before the election results were in. This forum was open to anyone, regardless of political persuasion. I find it telling. Do you?

I'm connecting this in my mind to Phil Johnson's dead-center, right-on-the-money, hit-the bullseye comments from last week.

Here's a good article on preaching the longer books, especially in the OT.

These two posts are helpful with regard to our devotional reading of the Bible. Old Truth warns against reading one Bible verse. Dan Phillips talks about having devotions from Leviticus.

Rick Phillips reflects on Scot McKnight's recent lecture at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia on the Emerging Church.

The Priesthood of All Believers

At the heart of the Protestant Reformation was a commitment to five key beliefs. We took several weeks last year to look at these doctrines, which are summarized by five Latin phrases:

Sola fide – by faith alone!
Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone!
Solus Christus – Christ alone!
Sola Gratia – through grace alone!
Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone!

The issues surrounding the Reformation were not just about the beliefs of the church – though that was the foundation. They were also about the practices of the church. These were also held up to the scrutiny of Scripture and found wanting.

As it became clear that Rome would not be changed, the Lutheran and later the Reformed movements began to wrestle with questions relating to the Church. The Roman Church service was organized around the Mass. The Protestant churches sought to root their understanding of “doing church” in the example of the New Testament. Church services began to be teaching times, and in addition Luther emphasized the inclusion congregational singing, believing that, as one writer says, “the vigorous singing of simple hymns could open the hearts and minds of God’s people to embrace the Word of God.”[1]

It would now be good for us to read two passages. The first is in 1 Peter 2:4-10. The second is just a few pages away, in Revelation 5:1-10.

Central to the changes that took place in what the church did when it gathered was a recapturing of biblical ideas about what the church was. It was out of the reformers’ understanding of passages such as the two we have just read that a concept known as the priesthood of all believers was taught. And this – like the five “sola” statements we looked at last year, was a radical departure from what Rome had been teaching.

The Priesthood in the Roman Church & The Protestant Response

The Roman church taught that there was a difference in status between those who were part of the church hierarchy and the common person. The priest stood between the people and God, acting as a mediator. He performed the Mass. He acted as confessor. He could proclaim pardon for sin. But Luther protested on the basis of Scripture:

“It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid of it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. Xii), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others.” [2]

Luther went on to say that all Christians are consecrated as priests, and this on the basis of what Peter and John had written in the passages we read earlier.

You can’t imagine how radical this was! And it still remains radical to the mind of the traditional Roman Catholic.[3]

The Implication of the Doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers

Part 1 – What the Reformers Intended

I need to clarify a few things. Luther’s protest against the division between church hierarchy and the layperson was not intended to introduce a spirit of individualism. In an article on the Priesthood of All Believers, Dr. Timothy George quotes Lutheran Scholar Paul Althaus:

“Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian's freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather he constantly emphasizes the Christian's evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.”

He then comments as follows:

Of course, Luther did believe that all Christians had direct access to God without recourse to "the tin gods and buffoons of this world, the pope with his priests." But for Luther the Priesthood of all believers did not mean, "I am my own Priest." It meant rather: in the community of saints, God has so tempered the body that we are all priests to each other. We stand before God and intercede for one another, we proclaim God's Word to one another and celebrate His presence among us in worship, praise and fellowship. Moreover, our priestly ministry does not terminate upon ourselves. It propels us into the world in service and witness. It constrains us to "show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Pet. 2:9).[4]

Luther saw from Scripture that the church was a community, and that while there are those who have specific responsibilities for teaching and oversight of the church, everyone who is truly a believer has a share in the work of the church. I like the way John Piper talks about this:

“The main thing here is that we as a church are meant by Christ to be a corporate dwelling of God in the Spirit. It's true that each of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). But there is more of God to be known and enjoyed than any one can know in isolation. We are being fitted together, Paul says, for a temple and for a dwelling of God by his Spirit. There is a presence and power and manifestation of the Spirit of God meant to be known in this gathering of worship that we do not know at any other time in isolation.

“We are not just isolated living stones. We are, verse 5 says, being built (by Christ—"I will build my church") as a spiritual house. The stones are meant to so fit together in this house called Bethlehem that something whole, something more than a collection of individuals comes into being—a temple, a dwelling of God by his Spirit.

“And O how jealous I am to see that happen more than it ever has.”[5]

I echo that feeling. How much good we could do, how much stronger we would be, how much more God would be glorified if all of us recognized our God-given responsibility to function as priests offering sacrifices to God.

(To be continued)

[1] http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/joh_barber/PT.joh_barber.Luther.Calvin.Music.Worship.pdf. Quotation is taken from page 2.
[2] Found quoted in numerous places on the Internet, from the opening paragraphs of Luther’s To the Christian Nobility.
[3] http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Eucharist/Eucharist_022.htm. This article or sermon identifies Luther’s ideas as heresy.
[4]http://www.founders.org/FJ03/article1_fr.html. Source for the quotation from Paul Althaus is found there as well.

Reformation Day 2006

Last year I presented a six-part series on the key doctrines of the Reformation. It is not always easy to measure the effectiveness of a sermon or sermon series (and you hate people telling you, "That was such a nice sermon!"), but as near as I could tell, it was both edifying and educational, which was what I hoped for.

I have spent my life in non-denominational churches, and one of the flaws of being an independent church or coming from an independent church background is that it can create a sense of independence on a variety of levels, one of which is a sense of independence from Christian history. I suspect that most Christians have an awareness of the early church that comes from the study of Acts and the NT epistles. But any sense of history ends there. As a result, "our" way of doing things is the only way of doing things right. "Our" kind of music is representative of how music ought to be done in Church.

My teaching through the five Solas of the Reformation last year made me realize several things afresh, and these have continued to motivate my ministry this year.

  1. The doctrinal issues that the Reformers fought for remain the main issues theologically and are at the root of a lot of practical issues that the church continues to face nearly 500 years later.
  2. Our people need to understand the significance of the things we believe. What does it mean, for example, to not believe in justification by faith alone? What are the implications of rejecting Sola Scriptura? I think it is easy for a layperson to assume that these things are often trivialities that have no bearing on "real life" but that theologians and scholars bandy about. Not so!
  3. Our people, especially those who were raised in an "salvation by grace through faith shown by a raised hand and then coming forward" environment need to hear these doctrines taught and taught and re-taught. And we don't need to go outside of the realm of regular systematic exposition of Scripture to cover them. They fill the pages of the New Testament letters.
  4. That teaching doctrine does in fact relate to life. The division between "doctrinal" and "practical" is artificial, misleading, thoughtless and . . . irrelevant.

I have deliberately exposed our people to more church history in the last year and plan to do so as an ongoing part of pastoral ministry. Who can listen to John Piper's sermon/lecture on William Tyndale and not be moved? Who can hear that believers were put to death for teaching their children to pray the Lord's Prayer in English - and not come to the conclusion that holy things have become too common for us and that we take for granted the rich privileges we have, even for things so simple as owning our own copy (in reality copies) of the Bible?

The Reformers were not perfect people, but that is not the point. We owe much to them, and much of what they worked for has been so watered down in our day that it needs to be regularly reviewed and taught afresh.

It is the clarity of the Gospel and its implications that will secure the church, not methods, visuals, skits, or attempts to be culturally relevant (while lacking clear biblical conviction). So to Martin, John, and the rest of you faithful men, here is one 21st century pastor's thanks. And thank you, Lord, for your grace which was shown to them, and through them to us.

Unnecessary Creativity

Maybe I'm just grumpy . . .

I received an email promotional (which means advertising) for a series of about a dozen video clips that can be played 2 minutes before the worship service starts to let people know that the service is, in fact, about to begin. They feature biblically focused, Christ-exalting, heart preparing activities such as ninja fighting, hamburger eating, etc. I wonder if after they get shown the Pastor of Comedy comes out to warm up the crowd a bit more.

I'm teaching on Romans 12:6-8 this week, and as I am considering spiritual gifts, someone sent me a copy of a church bulletin advertising someone who has a Gospel Trick Pool Shot ministry. I'm glad that I was able to learn about that before I confined myself to the somewhat drab list of gifts in the New Testament. I know, I know: all things to all men. Got it.

Tim Challies asked the other week for a definition of discernment. I don't have one to contribute, but I can pretty safely say that the exercise of such a quality might preclude using these kinds of things that get pushed at us.

But then I am thankful . . .

Sovereign Grace recently put out a CD of songs based on the Valley of Vision book of Puritan prayers and meditations. We have no record of the puritans having partaken of trick pool shots or comedy warm-ups, but they nevertheless appear to have been deeply spiritual and pretty effective. I would highly recommend the CD, available via Sovereign Grace or downloadable via iTunes. This is not so much news as a recommendation. It is both God-honoring and pleasant to listen to.

Influential Books

Christianity Today has a list of the 50 most influential books in the last 50 years on their website. Several bloggers have commented pro and con on the selection of titles.

During the early 1970's I worked in a large Christian bookstore that my church ran. What made it unusual then (and I think the standard holds true today) is that while they serviced the entire area, they carried only those books that fit the doctrinal beliefs of the church. They would order anything that was published by an evangelical publisher, but would only stock those books that fit the church doctrinal statement.

Based on that time and seeing what people were reading, I'd suggest a few other titles for the list as well. I'm not necessarily recommending any of them, but as I recall they shaped Evangelicalism in the 1970's in particular.

Harold Lindsell's The Battle for the Bible was a defense of biblical inerrancy.

Ray Stedman's Body Life was the book that unleashed a new understanding of how Christians should view their role in the local church, and created an interest in discovering and using spiritual gifts.

Jay Adams' Competent to Counsel was an effort to restore biblical counseling and exhortation to pastors and church leaders. Adams was wrongly chided for being simplistic and harsh, blaming everything on sin. But there is a whole movement that followed in his steps and refined his ideas.

Merlin Carothers' book Prison to Praise was a huge influence on the Charismatic Movement in the early 1970's. We (the bookstore I worked in) did not carry it, but we did tons of special orders for people who wanted it. I'm not charismatic, nor did I appreciate the way people who were charismatic felt the need to try to infiltrate non-charismatic churches at that time, but the book was nevertheless highly influential.

The Living Bible made CT's list, and it certainly made its mark. But surely any list that includes translations should include the New International Version. The NIV became almost THE standard text to preach from and was the foundation for numerous reference sources, both academic and popular in nature. The New American Standard Bible, while not enjoying the popularity of the NIV, was released at somewhat the same time and provided people with a choice other than the KJV and the RSV (which did not enjoy favor with American evangelicals).

Growing up in an independent church culture, I would have to suggest 1967's New Scofield Reference Bible as one of those books that shaped my part of the evangelical world. The New Scofield included updated notes, plus some changes in the wording of the KJV text. Most dispenationalists loved it, some KJV-only types saw it as a perversion of the truth. Regardless of your theological slant, the NSRB was THE study Bible until they began putting one out for every segment of society.

What books are influential depends on a lot of factors. These were books that shaped the evangelical world during a time of great change.

Luther and Preaching

I was listening to John Piper's talk on Martin Luther last night as I was going to bed. I was deeply impressed by Luther's prayer, and felt that it often reflects the need I feel as I prepare to preach:

Piper writes about Luther that: He was driven by a passion for the exaltation of God in the Word. In one of his prayers he says, "Dear Lord God, I want to preach so that you are glorified. I want to speak of you, praise you, praise your name. Although I probably cannot make it turn out well, won't you make it turn out well?"

This lecture is available at www.desiringgod.org as in both print and as an mp3 download. I have several of Piper's biographical talks on que for the next week or so.

News, Links and Resources

Thanks to the people who commented on the previous post. I appreciate their insight.

I've caught up with a few good articles, resources and books over the last few weeks. Here are a few worth looking at:

Led By the Spirit, by Jim Elliff, is a brief but very helpful booklet on how to discern the will of God. It is available via the publisher (www.joshuapress.com or via Amazon.)

A great article by John Piper on the will of God can be found here. Also, Dr. Piper had a recent article on the Pope Benedict remarks about Islam here.

An excellent online Bible program from the makers of the NET Bible is worth bookmarking.

Young, Restless, Reformed looks at the resurgence of Reformed Theology, and at conferences such as the Together for the Gospel conference that was held in April.

Do you do any research writing? Check out Ottobib - an online bibliography formatter.

The Missions Atlas Project has a great interactive site that might be helpful to those of you who do work with your church missions program. Thanks to Ron Smith, our Student Pastor, for pointing this out to me.

I was asked to point out a link to a site that provides information on retreats for Pastors. Maybe someone will find the opportunity to take some time aside from the demands of ministry.

Commentaries, Quotations and Sermon Preparation

I've been around computers long enough to remember paying $450 for a hard drive that would hold a whopping 50 megabytes of data. That's right. 50 megabytes. That hard drive ran WordPerfect, a database program, a spreadsheet and a few utilities on an MS-Dos (non-graphical) operating system. Plus it held the various data files that I created with those programs. I was thinking about the small capacity and huge financial outlay for that initial hard disk drive this afternoon when I picked up a 1 gigabyte memory stick for $16. Times have changed.

Many pastors and Bible students use an electronic library and/or the internet for their study. I have, over the last decade, accumulated a pretty substantial collection of books to use with my Logos Bible software. In fact, I've been able to purchase a few sets that have enabled me to pack up the hardbound editions and get them ready to be sent to pastors who lost their libraries in the hurricane last fall. Some may debate the wisdom of parting with a paper copy, and to be honest, the more empty spaces on the bookcases in my office are kind of hard to see, but it was hard to hang on to both paper and electronic versions of the same book when there are guys who are doing without. Plus, if the Communists ever do invade, I probably would be better of grabbing my laptop than trying to stuff a few choice volumes in a backpack as I ran for the hills.

But the fact remains that Bible study is done with both electronic and print resources. And I'm wondering what system or process other pastors use to pull info out of print-and-paper books. I am preaching from Romans still, and have 10-12 commentaries on Romans in print, plus several others in electronic format. Pulling a quote from an electronic resource is a piece of cake, but I'm wondering how other guys treat their printed resources. It is easy to underline, but of course, you need to be able to remember what you underlined. Do you type out or write out info that you find in a commentary or other reference? How do you keep track of information you've found so that you can go back and use it (directly or indirectly) in your sermon prep? I have a method, but I'm finding it kind of tedious.

Any suggestions?

Back at It

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks. Part of that time was spent at the New Jersey shore with my wife, my daughter and son-in-law and their two kids, who are the cutest grandchildren in the world. And then the inevitable return-to-action from a week off.

I began a series on Romans in the winter of 2005, and then what was a brief time-out from the book after chapter 5 turned into the full summer and fall. I picked up the series again in January, and had planned to finish Romans by Christmas this year. While I was away I spent a good amount of time in Romans 12, and it appears that we'll finish Romans 12 by Christmas. It is hard to apologize for walking so slowly through this great chapter when each phrase begs for explanation and application.

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I'm glad to see Jon Trainer back at it at Personal Trainer. I find Jon a good source for links and info, and read his site often. Jon took a break from blogging because of some carpal tunnel issues. He's a good guy and has lots to contribute.

Is there any more perversely enjoyable way to end the week than Purgatorio's Divine Vinyl that appears each Friday? I just can't get enough of this stuff.

The League of Reformed Bloggers has been updated. David Wayne at JollyBlogger keeps this list, and it can be found here. I haven't (just can't) read each of the blogs, but for those who are reformed in theology, it is a good base for both theological and practical material.

I think I owe Milton Stanley a tip of the cap for pointing to this series on Gospel Centered Congregational Worship. Good stuff!

D.A. Carson and Tremper Longman have their respective commentary surveys coming out in new editions. I find them invaluable.

Dead-center right-on hit-the-nail-on-the-head article by Dan Phillips on the issue of inerrancy. Those of us who are 40+ have seen what Philips is talking about actually happen.

The Shepherd's Fellowship (John MacArthur) has put their Pulpit Magazine and blog online for all to see.

A blog I recently discovered is one called The Shepherd's Scrapbook. Tony Reinke is in the middle of a series on studying the Puritans.

Good Reading

Here are a few links that I've marked that are worth passing on:

Tim Challies wrote a superb article entitled What It Means to Be Reformed, and followed it up two days later with a fine article entitled Credo.

Mark Dever wrote a piece on questioning professions of faith. What, you mean "I prayed a prayer" isn't sufficient??

Always helpful, Milton Stanley provides a link to an article on using Scripture more in worship. Milton's site is a fine source of good writing and thinking.

My problem with things Emergent is that it seems too similar to old liberalism in new clothes. Phil Johnson has some worthwhile insights.

Full Circle

I had blogged on June 21 about a lesson that I was learning. It came full circle this week, as the man I had written about has trusted Christ as his Savior. We've had good discussions about the Gospel, justification by faith compared to his previous catholic checklist system, and other biblical themes. He's been devouring Romans (with some help from Douglas Moo's excellent Encountering the Book of Romans . I actually shared with him yesterday what God had taught me about trusting in Him through the last month in regard to this issue.

I had a great time preaching through Romans 9 last week. It is a hard chapter, and the fact that we are an independent (non-denominational) church means that we have no "party line" in the area of Reformed theology. Some agree, some disagree, hopefully all found themselves appreciative of God's immeasurable goodness to us in Christ.

I had linked to a couple of sites a few months ago that provided good quality, free pictures for use in Powerpoint. Here's another one that I found. I thought it was pretty impressive and seems to have a good store of photos.

I finished what I felt was a helpful series on The Da Vinci code challenges. While the impact of the movie was overhyped, I was glad for the opportunity to discuss some theology and church history with our adults.

Among the many superb giveaways at the Together for the Gospel conference was a DVD by John Piper on William Tyndale. Available for $7, this 80 minute lecture was superb. We showed it over two weeks to our adults in Sunday School to a good response. In the last 9 months I've tried to expose our people to some significant areas of church history (a series on the Reformation themes, etc.) and as one older saint told me, "We've never heard some of this before." That is both tragic and encouraging! I'd highly recommend the DVD. The printed copy of the lecture (apparently abridged in some ways) is available free.

A Minister's Preaching

From The Valley of Vision, Banner of Truth, page 191:

A Minister’s Preaching

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

A Minister's Prayer

I read this yesterday in The Valley of Vision, published by the Banner of Truth Trust. I hope it will encourage you.

A Minister’s Prayer

O my Lord,
Let not my ministry be approved only by men,
or merely win the esteem and affections of people;
But do the work of grace in their hearts,
call in thy elect,
seal and edify the regenerate ones,
and command eternal blessings on their souls.
Save me from self-opinion and self-seeking;
Water the hearts of those who hear thy Word.
that seed sown in weakness may be raised in power;
Cause me and those that hear me
to behold thee here in the light of special faith,
and hereafter in the blaze of endless glory;
Make every sermon a means of grace to myself,
and help me to experience the power of thy dying love,
for thy blood is balm,
thy presence bliss,
thy smile heaven,
thy cross the place where truth and mercy meet.
Look upon the doubts and discouragement of my ministry
and keep me from self-importance;
I beg pardon for my man sins, omissions, infirmities,
as a man, as a minister;
Command thy blessing on my weak, unworthy labors,
and on the message of salvation given;
Stay with thy people,
and may thy presence be their portion and mine.
When I preach to others, let not my words be merely elegant and
my reasoning polished and refined,
my performance powerless and tasteless,
but may I exalt thee and humble sinners.
O Lord of power and grace,
all hearts are in thy hands, all events at thy disposal,
set the seal of thy almighty will upon my ministry.

I Stand Rebuked - Gratefully

I've done enough funeral services and weddings over the years to know that the Gospel is most often met with a yawn and polite indifference than glad acceptance. Being told that you are sinful, that you stand in a place of impending judgment before a holy God, and that nothing you can do in-and-of yourself makes a bit of difference does not go down well. I'm sure that is what has led to the efforts by some to repackage the message in less offensive ways. But the reality is that even when the cold, hard facts are presented with sweetness (and they should always be presented with love and grace) they are still cold, hard facts. And most of the world ain't buying.

Praying for the sermon I am going to be delivering is a regular part of my prayer life. I regularly remind myself that no matter how gripping my introduction, no matter how insightful my thoughts, and no matter how convincing my argument, it all falls apart without the work of the Spirit. And I gladly admit that - I don't want to be responsible for trying to change the hearts and minds of people. Certainly I play a part - as is true of any pastor and teacher - but God's work through His Word is what ultimately makes the difference.

Typically on Sunday mornings I take some moments before the service and again before the sermon to confess my own inadequacy and ask God for His empowering. But this past week I found myself being a bit faithless, and the lesson learned is worth sharing.

A younger couple visited us on Sunday morning for the first time. I was on my way to the front of the auditorium immediately before the service began and greeted them. The husband told me that they were looking for a church and had heard good things about ours. Afterwards, I saw them talking to a family in our church and came to find out that one of our teenage girls had extended an invitation to attend to this man, who was one of her high school teachers. (Bravo for her, by the way!)

I preached from Romans 8:18-25 on Sunday: Future Glory and Present Pain. I explained the Gospel, talked about our future resurrection, spoke about heaven, and felt that from my standpoint I had done a decent job of explaining and applying the text. But as I saw this couple leaving, I thought to myself that they probably wouldn't be coming back. I saw nothing in our service or in my sermon that would be attractive to people who, if they typical middle-class unchurched folks, were probably looking for more than biblical exposition.

For some reason this stayed with me and on Monday morning I felt a sense of rebuke. I was making an assumption not only about these people, but about the power of God to minister to them. We do have people who visit us and it is clear sometimes from their reactions that we're "not for them" (by their standards). But that's not a guarantee. While the road is narrow and there are few that find it, there are still those few, and in my quick response I had dismissed the very thing for which I pray each week.

It was a good reminder to me, and I determined that no matter what the outward response was, I still needed to trust in God's power. But my lesson-learning was not complete.

On Tuesday morning the man who had visited called our office and asked if he could stop by and pick up a copy of the book we had given out for Father's Day (Jerry Bridges' Transforming Grace). Marilyn, our secretary, told me about the call. I was somewhat surprised, as I had offered him a book at the end of the service and he had declined. He would be coming by at a time when I was out for a lunch appointment, but I was grateful that he was coming by.

When I returned from lunch, Marilyn told me that not only had he stopped by to get the book, but he was extremely positive and almost excited about the service, and in particular the fact that I taught from the Bible for 35 minutes. He gave Marilyn his name and address (I wrote him a letter thanking him for his visit and sharing some information about our church) and made it quite clear that he intended to come back.

So take that, Peter.

The passage I'll preach from this week includes that great chain of salvation's process, beginning with being foreknown and ending with being glorified. I'm praying that this couple comes to know Christ as their Savior. If God should have us be a part in that, I hope I get to baptize them. I might tell them - and our church - the lesson I learned about a sovereign God who, without telling me first, works in the hearts of people.

The application goes beyond just visitors and lost people, though. The same thing is true as we minister to our flock. Change and growth are invisible in the short-term. Only God knows what is going on inside the hearts of people when we preach. So let's continue to do our job of study and preparation, and let's continue to confess our own inability to change people. But let's remember that God has promised to honor His word. That came home very vividly to me despite my unbelief.

Monday Discoveries on Friday

Except it is Friday. Grrr to Blogger. I had a post with a pile of links and tried to "publish post" the other day and was given an error message. Nothing could be recovered. Oh well.

Do you use Powerpoint in your preaching and/or teaching? Indezine will give you about 300 free templates for your use, and Stock.xchng will give you free pictures to use as backgrounds. I use and recommend both. If you want to pay $99 per year, there are some excellent powerpoint templates at PresentationPro. Imagebank is another free photo source.

Monergism.com has links to a series of Adobe pdf sermons on Romans by Presbyterian pastor Tom Browning. You can also find mp3's of the sermons there too.

Check out the New Testament Hyperconcordance.

Recommended books for pastors? Check here. Make sure you read the article "Why Pastors Need Church History."

I love my iPod (a gracious gift from my brother). In addition to a multitude of music and an avalanche of audiobooks, I have a plethora of preaching. Old Truth has a post on How to Buy and Reform your MP3 Player. 9Marks interviews are all availablef for free download.

Speaking of 9Marks, founder Mark Dever had a superb post on the importance of gender roles at the TogetherfortheGospel blog.

Superblogger Tim Challies has a good post on reading that would be worth looking at. So many books and so little time. Tim's article will be helpful.

Love the guys at Fide-O. Here's one about expository preaching and the contention that it is harmful. Hello? Thanks for barking, guys!

Here's a problem that is becoming more and more prevalent. I was joking with our Associate Pastor, Ron Smith, the other day about going back to the old legalistic approach that if you don't come to church, you can't go to heaven.

Brad Hightower at 21st Century Reformation has a nice article on Discipleship.

Want to be encouraged? Read the article, Backdraft Preaching. I emailed this to the author: If I read nothing but "I feel like charred wood on cold ashes. But I don't worry about it. I know God will open the doors again, let the wind rush in", I would have been encouraged. I hope the same is true for you. Thanks to my friend Pastor Glenn Jago for the recommendation.

Wednesday Stuff: T4G

I would like to say I am somewhat amazed at the controversy this statement has caused. I was particularly struck by the words of David Warnock in his post in which he takes issue with the statement:

But it reinforces my views about how inappropriate the whole statement is. You cannot redefine the gospel to be the things that four friends agree on, ignoring the areas where you disagree and then tell everyone else that these things are now foundational requirements to be faithful to the gospel. This starts to move in the direction of the heresy of changing the canon, of deciding that the Bible should not include certain books because you can't agree on them.

I doubt seriously if the T4G folks seriously intended to write a new doctrinal statement for Christians. What it seems to be instead is to do what the conference itself did - issue a call back to the foundations on which historical, orthodox Christianity has stood for centuries. Personally, I rejoiced to read it. Reading my posts of two weeks ago will indicate why. The T4G statement focuses largely on doctrinal and practical issues that have been attacked or compromised in our day. By the response at the conference, there were 2800 church leaders who were glad to see it, and I suspect thousands more who are weary of the shifting doctrinal sands that exist within "evangelicalism" today.

I agree wholeheartedly with Adrian Warnock (no relation to David, if I am not mistaken), who wrote:

What keeps the gospel safe? I would argue two things predominantly- firstly an appropriate humble attitude to the bible itself, and secondly the presence within the church of men like Mahaney, Dever, Mohler and Duncan and many others today who preserve the apostolic foundation of doctrine through their teaching and direction of their own churches and those in relationship with them.

It would be of value to note Mark Dever's posting on today's T4G blog on the issue of complementarianism. While taking on a tough issue, he nevertheless (and I think correctly) identifies the problems that this generation faces.

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Why address the DaVinci Code? It appears that once again the Christian media has jumped all over the bandwagon. Books, videos, study materials are appearing almost daily. But this time I think there is good reason.
I'm not so much interested in countering the claims of a novel. That serves no good purpose. Rather I feel it is an opportunity to teach our people some things that they might not know. I saw a video clip by Josh McDowell in which he said that the issues of the DaVinci Code are not answerable by Scripture, but by Church history. I am sure he did not mean that in the absolute sense. But I think he is right in the main. So taking the time to teach our people about things such as the formation of the canon, the Council of Nicea and Gnosticism can have a productive, faith-building/affirming result.
I was thinking of doing a parody called the Kinkade Code, but someone beat me to it (thanks to Tim Challies for the heads up).
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One of the benefits I received from the T4G conference was being introduced to some wonderful cross-centered hymns. I had not heard The Gospel Song, I Will Glory in My Redeemer, or How Deep the Father's Love for Us. We've already introduced one of them to our people, and will introduce I Will Glory in My Redeemer this week, Lord willing.

The Evangelical Identity, Part 4

I would assert that there is a new liberalism that has invaded the traditional, historic, orthodox Christian faith. Like its predecessor a century go, it wants to be considered Christian even while denying or redefining the very essentials of that faith. And that cannot be allowed to happen.

There is no question that the split between theological liberals and conservatives in the early 1900’s led to some excess. We’re all familiar with those who have taken separation – and the basis for it – to excessive extremes. But the church I am part of – and I suspect the churches that many are a part of – were birthed out of a desire to remain faithful to orthodoxy and have done so without being, well, nutty. So it can be done. How it can be done, I’m not sure. But I look back eight years ago and see that men from diverse backgrounds drew their lines in the sand and God prospered the movement. Like the true Church, without a visible hierarchy, evangelicalism was able to be self-policing.

There are no doubt those who want to keep the evangelical pool very broad. It is evident that those who have denied belief in the essentials of the Christian faith, either explicitly or by redefinition, still consider themselves to be evangelicals. But they are not. Those men and women who fought the influx of liberalism in their denominations, churches and schools would not consider that departures from what the church has commonly regarded as orthodoxy should be tolerated. So why should I?

How judgmental! And how can one obscure pastor with a Bible college education dare to decide who is and is not evangelical? What give me the “right” to do that? Who do I think I am?

I am a shepherd charged with guarding my sheep. So I’ll do that in my own little corner. And my prayer is that there will be many, many, many more pastors who will recognize the problem and be willing to say, “This is an error. It is outside of the bounds of historic, orthodox Christian faith.” Brother pastors, we must do this, for the sake of the Gospel.

I began writing this because of some negative remarks I read about the Together for the Gospel Statement. Personally, I applaud it. I hope that it is a rallying point for those who want to be faithful to the Scriptures and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I like what Ligon Duncan wrote shortly after the conference had concluded:

What do we want to see come out of this extraordinary international gathering of (predominantly young) pastors and churchmen?

We want to see a strong coalition of Bible-saturated, truth-driven, God-entranced, prayer-soaked, aggressively evangelistic, Christ-treasuring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, sovereign grace-loving, missions-advancing, hell-robbing, strong-thinking, real-need-exposing, soul-winning, mind-engaging, vagueness-rejecting, wartime-life-style-pursuing, risk-taking, justice-advancing, Scripture-expounding, cross-cherishing, homosexuality-opposing, abortion-denouncing, racism-resisting, heaven-desiring, imputation-of-an-alien righteousness-proclaiming, justification-by-faith-alone-apart-from-doing preaching, error-exposing, complementarian, joyful, humble, courageous, happy pastors working together for the Gospel. (thanks to John Piper for much of this language)

And we want to see them leading a strong coalition of evangelical churches who, while they hold as faithfully and biblically as they know how to certain doctrinal distinctives not shared by all other biblical evangelical churches, band together for the Gospel on a robustly doctrinal, historic, orthodox, reformational, world-opposing-while-at-the-same-time-world-loving, Bible-preaching, Scriptural-theology-inculcating, real-conversion-prizing, deep biblical evangelism-practicing, New Testament church-membership-implementing, church-discipline-applying, healthy and growing Disciple-making, biblically led basis – for the display of God’s glory in the churches.

The Evangelical Identity, Part 3

There have always been differences of opinion among evangelicals about doctrine. Churches tend to be gathered around their viewpoints on what I call "the major minors": issues of doctrine that tend to be distinctives of a particular group or church. Among those are mode of baptism, millennial issues, and spiritual gifts. These kinds of doctrinal differences had nothing to do with the essence of Christianity. Believers with different persuasions on these issues still had the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in common.

But not today.


  • We have an ongoing discussion about the nature of Scripture, including lines like "we need to be careful not to elevate the [printed] word above the [living] Word." If you have any familiarity with the liberal-fundamentalist debates of the early 1900's, that sounds like, as Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, "Deja vu all over again."
  • There is a growing acceptance of the idea that salvation can be found apart from personal faith in Christ. The subtle, deadly form of this argument is that while there is no salvation outside of Christ, a person need not embrace Christianity to be redeemed. The more "pop" expression is found in the TD Jakes quote that was floated this week.
  • N.T. Wright, whose views on justification depart from what the church has understood for centuries, recently had no problems embracing a brother scholar who denied the bodily resurrection of Christ.
  • Mark Dever wrote an excellent piece in Christianity Today about the atonement. Because he wanted to help all of evangelicalism to defend this crucial doctrine against liberal rejection? No! Because, as the lead-in line for the CT article says, "More and more evangelicals believe Christ's atoning death is merely a grotesque creation of the medieval imagination." Dever [correctly] says that "At stake is nothing less than the essence of Christianity."

I could go on. In fact, I could go on for quite awhile.

Sounds a lot different than debating over baptism or when Jesus is coming back, doesn't it?

I'm writing this in very small chunks. I'll finish up with some comments about what I think needs to be happening in light of these serious, crucial denials of the heart of the Christian faith by those who still consider themselves to not only be Christians, but evangelical Christians.

T4G Book Give-aways That the Committee Rejected

1. Rappin' the 'Fess - the Westminster Confession in Street Verse by the Duncan Boyz
2. Fun Ways to Tie a Tie by CJ Mahaney
3. The John Piper Encyclopedia of Jokes for Preachers.
4. Justification for Kids - featuring RC Sproul and Larry the Cucumber.
5. Holy Honking Noses: Using A Clown Ministry to Grow Your Church by the 9Marks Staff
6. Father of Blogging by Tim Challies


On a more serious note, Tim Challies linked to a sermon on the DaVinci Code by Al Mohler that was given at Covenant Life Church in MD. Everyone and their grandmother is getting in on the act with responding to the DaVinci code. I am sure that some resources will be better than others. But DR. Mohler's sermon would be a good resource for someone who might not read a book.

Thanks to Carolyn McCully for posting the link to the sermon. Carolyn's blog has some great stuff.

The Evangelical Identity, Part 2

In the first part of this series, I wrote about how there was, as recently as forty years ago, a general consensus about what was and was not evangelical doctrine. I don’t believe that such a consensus exists today. We are certainly moving away from such a consensus.

Before I go on, I need to speak to the issue of the changing nature of theology. Theology has been called a science, and I suppose like all areas of scientific investigation there are going to be refinements in our understanding. While theology is based on divine revelation, its formulations are the product of finite minds. Given that, there is always room to grow in our understanding of God and Scripture. I hope that as I continue to study, I will learn more, have my thinking refined, and be more aware of what God’s Word teaches.

Refined is a key word here. Refined does not mean the denial of what the church (presumably under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit) has affirmed for centuries. What arrogance to assume that the body of Christ, possessing the Scriptures, has been misled on so many key points of Christian belief! Yet that is what is happening today.

We’re no longer talking about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. We’re not debating Dispensational and Covenant Theology. The issue is not charismatic vs. cessationist thinking. We’re talking about the heart of historic, orthodox Christian faith. And in this writer’s opinion, the evangelical pond is getting too wide. Is it time to redraw the lines?

Granted, there will always be differing views on some things. But in our day we see people proposing different ideas on the essence of the Gospel. If we identify evangelicals as those who believe and affirm the traditional evangel, does that leave room for the inclusion of others who in one way or another deny the traditional understanding of those views?

What’s at stake? I’ll write more about this in part 3.

A "Self-Absorbed" Blogger Responds to Tim Challies

"Humor: Peter, who was at the T4G conference but was too self-absorbed to come over and say "hi" to me, has posted a list of missed giveaway opportunities at the conference. Among them are "RC Sproul, John Piper and John Macarthur Bobble head dolls." Tim Challies

Unfortunately I missed the Band of Bloggers meeting due to missing my ride. But I did see Tim in the hallway twice. But Tim considers me too self-absorbed to say hi? Let's shed some truth on this issue. Who feels comfortable approaching a guy who 1) is wearing a shirt that says, "I was chosen to blog this conference and you were not" and 2) has a posse of blogger wannabees keeping autograph seekers and paparazzi away from him?

I carried a sign that I unfolded on a few occasions that said, "Hey Tim Challies - Hi." But Tim ignored it and one of his "guardians" told me to move on or I'd never blog again, "if you know what I mean."

The Evangelical Identity - Part 1

Some things that I have read over the last few days have led me to begin what will be a two- or three-part series on the issue of what comprises evangelicalism.

Twenty years ago I wrote this paragraph for our church’s 50th anniversary:

Because of a commitment to the Bible as the inspired and unerring Word of God, 99 believers made the decision in 1936 to withdraw from the [denomination name], and establish an independent Bible-preaching congregation in Roslyn.

There is no paper trail from 1936 that will permit me to navigate through the issues that led the pastor and 98 other Christian people to leave their church property (this amounted to most of the congregation) and begin meeting in the local fire hall. But from all that I have read and heard, the issues that led to this split were not unlike what was happening in other places in our country during the “fundamentalist-modernist controversy” of those early decades.

This controversy is reflected in the doctrinal statement that was adopted by our congregation in its infancy. There are actually two of them. There is a general statement of belief that was apparently standard fare for most Christian churches. But then there is a second in which the points mentioned in the first are clarified. The reason for the inclusion of a set of clarifying statements was due to the fact that while some were using similar terms they did not represent the same ideas that orthodox, historic, biblical Christianity meant when believers used them. Thus terms like “the inspiration of the Bible” came to mean that the Bible contained inspired material, or even that the Bible was inspirational.

Through the intervening decades, especially the 40’s through the 60’s and maybe into the 1970’s, evangelicalism had a clear identity. With few exceptions, an evangelical was identified by certain non-negotiable beliefs.

At my ordination in 1977, I was asked to provide a statement of faith, defend it, and then was questioned regarding different matters of theology. Because evangelicals largely had consensus on most doctrinal points, those who examined me, in addition to being sure that I could articulate evangelical doctrine, questioned me on my doctrinal distinctives. Recognizing that there were differences of opinion among Christians in some areas, they wanted to know my views on eschatology, baptism, election, and church government. The two “hot” issues of the day were the charismatic movement that had burst on the scene (and at that time was minimizing doctrine, embracing anyone who had a so-called “experience” of the Holy Spirit, and shattering congregations) and the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Harold Lindsell had written The Battle for the Bible and John Warwick Montgomery had edited God’s Inerrant Word. Both books sought to articulate a high view of Scripture. While the issue over inerrancy was significant, there were few other areas – if any – over which evangelicals could not have consensus.

Fast forward to the early 1990’s. Due to a problem in our Christian School, I had been asked to add the role of school administrator to my associate pastor duties. I had served in that role for a number of years when I was invited to participate in an ordination examination for a brother from another congregation. Because of the hours that filling two staff positions involved, I had not been able to attend an ordination council, nor had I been able to maintain an active awareness of what was happening theologically within evangelicalism. As I sat with the other examiners, I was stunned to listen to questions that showed that within almost every traditionally accepted area of theology, some professing evangelicals had begun to “question” what had long been held by professing Christians. I wish I had made a list at the time of new viewpoints and variants (some obviously more significant than others).

Missed Opportunity Giveaways at T4G

The giveaway books were fantastic. Macarthur Study Bible (NASB) topped the list, but the other books were very well chosen and very worthwhile.

That being said, the founders of the T4G should realize that they missed the boat by not providing the following:

1. RC Sproul, John Piper and John Macarthur Bobble head dolls.
2. A DVD of the Star Trek: the Next Generation episode where Captain Picard finds his long-lost separated-at-birth twin, CJ Mahaney.
3. "DJ Ligon" t-shirts.
4. Crystal Cathedral Lego sets
5. VeggieTales Study Bibles to take home to our children and grandchildren.
6. "Reformed By My Own Choice" bumper stickers.
7. "I Bash If You Flash" RC Sproul collector buttons.
8. Unisex tote bag, courtesy of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
9. Special "Whoops I Saw An Angel" Depends (1 in every 100 autographed by Al Mohler)
10. Coupons for the Sovereign Grace Barbershop and Styling Salon: one style fits all.

Try harder in 2008, guys.

Together for the Gospel Reflections

I arrived back in Philadelphia yesterday afternoon, filled with a myriad of thoughts about the three days that many of us spent in Louisville. There are numerous bloggers who have provided a better coverage of what happened than I can. Tim Challies and Shaun Nolan both have comments on the different speakers and their messages. I can't duplicate their outstanding work, but would like to add some of my own thoughts.

People are buzzing - and rightly so - about John Piper's message. While each speaker was outstanding (I did not get to hear John Macarthur due to having to leave for the airport), John Piper seemed in the role of the OT prophet. If you get no other message from the conference, you must listen to that one, though I have to wonder if the impact will be the same. Some things are moments, events, and cannot be adequately replicated.

The wonderful people at Sovereign Grace have already made the sessions available for purchase. An MP3 of all of the messages (not the panels) is available for only 11. It is a must.

The singing, led by Bob Kauflin on the piano, was moving. Hearing 2800 men singing the great cross-centered hymns of yesterday and today was a great experience. A CD of just the music would be worth having.

As far as my own life, there were two things that stood out to me. One was the encouragement that I received from the messages to keep doing what I am doing in terms of preaching expositorily and focusing on the Gospel. You other pastors know all of the stuff that we get bombarded with that focuses on a different message and management methods. What a refreshing drink of water this conference was for that alone.

Secondly, I was deeply encouraged at the age of the participants. There is obviously a growing movement in our day that transcends denominations, is vested in our younger men, that affirms the historic Gospel and doctrines of grace. I would estimate that 2/3 of those in attendance were 45 and under.

Other highlights for me included striking up a friendship with fellow-Pennsylvanian Shaun Nolan, riding home from the conference with Will Metzger, author of the book Tell the Truth, used by God in evangelism training for 25 years, praying with 6 other pastors from Texas on the way to the airport about my son and one other man's father and their need for Christ, the fantastic accommodations, Ligon Duncan's rap with his brother, the banter between the four founders of T4G, Mark Dever's warm MC'ing, the amazing generosity that led to giving away over a dozen fine books, CJ Mahaney's challenge to watch our lives closely.

I could go on.

It's happening again in 2008, and Lord willing I will be there, even if I don't like to fly.


Shortly after Christmas, my daughter Cindy decided that we needed to do something with our living room. So she began to scrape off two layers of wallpaper and more layers of paint from the plaster walls of our home. It was being done bit-by-bit and had come to resemble what my wife called "early crack house." While I was away, to my astonishment and gratitude, my small group worked for three nights (and during the day when possible) to finish stripping the wallpaper, removing the glue, spackling, priming and painting the walls. Their motive was to express appreciation, and it did that and more.

At Together for the Gospel

I am not a fan of flying, and sure enough, the ride to Louisville was a bit of a test of faith. It got pretty bumpy for the last half of the flight. I figured that if anyone started to scream, then I'd get scared, otherwise I'd pretend that the shaking plane had no impact on me whatsoever, just like the other guys.

There were a number of guys on the plane from Sovereign Grace churches. Several sport the Mahaney haircut.

I will be attending the meeting for bloggers that Timmy Brister put together and am looking forward to that. Mark Dever speaks tonight on The Pastor's Understanding of His Own Role. That is followed by a panel discussion on Why I'm Doing What I'm Doing with My Life. Tomorrow is a very full day.

I walked a few blocks around the hotel last night and this morning. This part of Louisville is very nice. Lots of restaurants. The Louisville Slugger Museum is just down the street, and for being as much of a baseball fan as I am, I should get there. Kind of like going to London and not seeing Big Ben. But I'm not sure that the schedule will allow that tomorrow.