9/24/2007

Some quotes deserve a post of their own…

"If there is no bad news there cannot be any good news. The good news is deliverance from the bad news. We are all born on the road to destruction. The good news is that we can be delivered from it. If you do not believe you are on the way to hell, how can you be interested in the good news of deliverance from it? Look at “salvation” today. It is freedom from life’s frustrations. We are saved from our narrowness and anxieties. We learn to live with doubts and fears. We take pills to relieve our pressures. That’s our gospel.” - John H. Gerstner

Gerstner has been helpful to me because of his direct, hard to miss-understand, way of speaking. I wish he was still around to rub our noses in the truth. See his work on inerrancy, justification by faith alone, dispensationalism, and Jonathan Edwards.

Quiz

Thanks to Extreme Theology for linking to a quiz. This quiz uses your responses to a few short questions to determine which theologian you most identify with. It is certainly not a perfect instrument, but I am rather proud of my results.

You scored as Martin Luther, The daddy of

the Reformation. You are opposed to any

Catholic ideas of works-salvation and

see the scriptures as being primarily

authoritative.

Martin Luther

100%

Anselm

100%

Karl Barth

87%

John Calvin

67%

Jonathan Edwards

67%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

53%

Paul Tillich

7%

Augustine

0%

J├╝rgen Moltmann

0%

Charles Finney

0%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com


I do wish I had scored higher with respect to Augustine.

I am very surprised at the percentages for Barth and Schleiermacher because I generally don’t like what those guys stand for. I guess in the case of those two the old adage fits: “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

9/18/2007

Like a Bear Feed by Tourists

“Many seem to have lost confidence in [the] gospel. It is easier to tell people to come to church and live a good life, but that is not the gospel … To share Christ, we have to go beyond formulas that fit on napkins … People are searching—but they are searching for something more than fire insurance or "five steps to financial freedom." … Today, the church is like a bear fed by tourists. It's lost its natural ability … let's get that back by starting where people are, listening to them, building a relationship, telling them about Jesus, sharing with them the story of redemption, and bringing them to a bloody cross and an empty tomb.” - Ed Stetzer

Is it true? Have we lost faith in the gospel?

I often do. I concentrate on God’s solutions to the problems I perceive I have instead of His solution to the problems of my sin. I turn ever so slightly from Christ to look at my own good works. I begin to think that even thought I am saved by grace, my fellowship with God depends on my own efforts. I tend to emphasize the difference Christ has made in my life as opposed to the difference He has made in my standing before God.

I forget that I am saved only in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). It is in Him I stand before a Holy God (Romans 5:1-11). Like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, it is at the foot of the cross where I find relief from my burdens (John 19:28-30). It is at the cross where I am drawn into fellowship with God (John 12: 27-36). It is in the humble turning to God with sorrow for sin that I am saved (Luke 18:19-14).

Christ saves me anyway. He saves me in spite of my doubts and vacillations.

Is my experience so different from others in the church? From what I can see it is not. I hope it is not to late for the heirs of the reformation, but I often wonder.


I pray that God will give us the grace to allow us to truly rest all our hopes on Christ. I pray in the knowledge that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, as expressed in the Scriptures alone. I truly pray “in the name of Jesus.”

Faith Looks to Christ and Then Works

Discussion over at Extra Nos resulted in a long comment from me. I would like to enhance that comment and post it here. The topic is very relevant to my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (See here and here.).

I have often struggled with the relationship between faith and works. I read the Bible often, and I try to conform my thinking to what it says. I also read many books by knowledgeable Christians to help. I find this collection and a book by Jerry Bridges to be very helpful.

I tend to look within myself to see if I have done enough to prove my salvation. I look at my choice of language, my anger, and my love of alcohol, and I have no hope for heaven. It’s an introspective approach some have rightly called “navel-gazing.”

Some of this introspection has been brought about by otherwise good teachers like John Gerstner, whose teaching is summarized in “A Primer on Roman Catholicism,” a short 44-page introduction to the topic.

Gerstner is very helpful in stating the distinction between reformation (read: Biblical) Christianity and Roman Catholicism. Gerstner’s basic explanation is given below in three formulas. The first two are wrong-headed. The last one is spot on. I have taken some liberties with the explanations.

Formula of Antinomianism (that means anti-law): FAITH – WORKS = JUSTIFICATION (This is often called ‘easy-believism.’ Walk forward at the invitation, mouth a prayer you don’t mean, and never doubt your salvation ever again despite the fact that there is no change whatsoever in your attitude toward sin. This idea is not Biblical. See James 1:22-27, 2:14-26.)

Formula of Rome: FAITH + WORKS = JUSTIFICATION (Works are infused righteousness in the believer that are meritorious. These works, a result of God’s grace, earn salvation in a sense. God saves by faith, but he does not save those who are not inherently righteous. See Romans 4:1-8.)

Formula of Reformers and the Bible: FAITH = JUSTIFICATION + WORKS (The faith that saves results in a heart set free from the guilt of sin; not guilt feelings, real guilt before God. Guilt is what gives sin the power to rule our lives. When that guilt is removed, our hearts are motivated by gratitude and love to do good works. Good works do not play a part in earning justification, only Christ’s work does. Faith alone saves, but not a faith that is alone. See Romans 6, noting that the chapter is about things that are true, not things we are to make true.)

The danger is that we will look within to see the presence of works to know we are justified. Gerstner was prone to this. His exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s chapter on Faith left me certain I was a Christian. His teaching on Westminster’s chapter on Repentance left me sure I was not a Christian. He followed Jonathan Edwards and the English Puritans. If Edwards was right, none of us would have true faith.

As I grow in Christ, my awareness of what God’s law requires grows as well. I become aware of more and more of my sin. I am convinced I am doing worse and worse. The Puritans would leave me without hope if I did not keep reading them.

The bottom line of their teaching is the way to live. This bottom line is: “Flee to Christ.” We are to abandon all hope in our works and run to Christ, Who is our righteousness. This kind of faith saves and gives hope. I abandon all hope in myself and rely completely on what Christ has done. Now I’ll go try to clean up my language…

9/14/2007

McChurch

Thanks to the guys over at Extreme Theology for the hilarious video posting.

It’s a satire on the modern church’s propensity for trying to please everyone. It’s a great laugh, but after thinking about it for a few minutes I had to ask myself: is this the way our culture views us from the outside? Is this what we have to offer?

I hope not (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

9/13/2007

John Piper Shares the Gospel in 6 Minutes

A great post over at Desiring God gives links to video and audio messages. Here’s a sample from the text:

The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy…

You never, never, never outgrow your need for it. Don’t ever think of the gospel as, “That’s the way you get saved, and then you get strong
by leaving it and doing something else.”

No! We are strengthened by God through the gospel every day, till the day we drop.

You never outgrow the need to preach to yourself the gospel…

9/12/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 10: Series Conclusion

I hope that you have found this series of posts helpful. I have outlined the reasons that I have chosen to be a Christian and to remain in the faith.

I have shared much of my own personal intellectual and emotional journey. The reasons given are not persuasive arguments for everyone. I pray that if you are a person who does not find them convincing that you will at least be motivated to explore other arguments and approaches.

The ultimate aim has been to point others to Christ as the great Lord and Savior. He is the one Person who has walked the earth who is worthy of worship and praise. May His glory be over all the earth.

9/11/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 10: Christianity Has Changed My Life

I was raised in a Baptist church in a small, West Tennessee town. Many times, I have heard the “wonderful testimony” of a person who has been radically and completely delivered from the awful, evil sins they once committed. I have often questioned the miraculous deliverances purported in these testimonies, especially when the speaker implies that my life must assuredly be changed in the same way if I truly repent of my sins and come to Christ.

I do not intend to post a long, rambling account of my personal sins and the way I have set them aside. I have found in my own experience that my besetting sins have persisted, or even begun, after I became a Christian. The difference in my life is not a dramatic reversal of my behavior. The Holy Spirit has helped me to get better over time, but no power has been available to make me perfect or to radically and instantly deliver me from particular sins. Perfection and/ or instant deliverance are not promised in the Bible.

The change in my life that I want to focus on is the freedom I have found in God’s forgiveness. I have found freedom and power to change in the knowledge that my sins are forgiven because of Christ. I have the encouragement I need to get up when I fall down.

Jerry Bridges describes the process I found for changing my life well:

Gradually over time, and from a deep sense of need, I came to realize that the gospel is for believers, too. When I finally realized this, every morning I would pray over a Scripture such as Isaiah 53:6," All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all," and then say, "Lord, I have gone astray. I have turned to my own way, but you have laid all my sin on Christ and because of that I approach you and feel accepted by you.

… [Christians] stand before God today as righteous as we ever will be, even in heaven, because he has clothed us with the righteousness of his Son. Therefore, I don't have to perform to be accepted by God. Now I am free to obey him and serve him because I am already accepted in Christ (see Rom.
8:1). My driving motivation now is not guilt but gratitude.


Yet even when we understand that our acceptance with God is based on Christ's work, we still naturally tend to drift back into a performance mindset. Consequently, we must continually return to the gospel. To use an
expression of the late Jack Miller, we must "preach the gospel to ourselves every day." For me that means I keep going back to Scriptures such as Isaiah 53:6, Galatians 2:20, and Romans 8:1. It means I frequently repeat
the words from an old hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

… the success of our struggle with sin begins with our believing deep down in our hearts that regardless of our failures and our struggle, we have died to sin's guilt. We must believe that however often we fail, there is no condemnation for us (Rom. 8:1).


I pray every day for more faith to believe the gospel. I pray for more things to. Things like my own personal sobriety, my willingness to abstain from lustful fantasy, and my ability to communicate without using “colorful” language. I find freedom from these things in Christ’s power. I do not find a perfect freedom. These are among the sins that I am prone to. If I fail, these are the ways I am going to fail most of the time.

Am I worried about loosing my salvation or making it null and void because of a “habit” or “continuing in sin?” Sometimes I do doubt, but in the end I know that I am forgiven in Christ. I repent of my sin and enjoy Christ’s forgiveness.

Will I earn rewards for the good things I have done? Yes, God will graciously reward the results of His power. He will reward the works He has brought about. But the rewards I earn will not be for me. They will be cast at the feet of Jesus in His honor.

9/07/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 9: Christianity Leads to Joy

Psychology, the way people think, has always been a fascination of mine. I took enough psychology classes in college to have been awarded a minor, but the engineering department did not want to award it (some things hard-core engineers will not “sink” to do). Great care must be used by a Christian in this area (especially if we are tempted to supplant the gospel), but the concepts can often be redeemed.

Temperament theory has roots in the psychology of Carl Jung, but can be traced back to Hippocrates. It is undeniably imperfect, and some have even rejected the theories altogether. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has probably been the most successful application of these theories.

(Note: be wary of some of the information on web sites that talk about Myers-Briggs. Good guidelines are located here.)

I am an INJT (see here and here). I am not unique in this. By type, I keep my feelings “close to my vest.” One INTJ put it like this, “I have deep feelings; they are just none of your business.”

It might surprise those who know a little about INTJ’s (especially those who know me personally) that I want to be happy. Not just happy-go-lucky, smile all the time, laugh at everything type happy, but truly happy. The more sanguine among us can have that approach.

I want to be happy in the sense of being “blessed” or “delighted.” It might help to remind of the old adage, “Still waters run deep.”

John Piper has been a great help to me in many ways. His teaching, though imperfect, has reinforced much of what I have learned about the way my heart works.

God made us to live a moral life, and we should not be surprised that moral living gives us joy. This joy is at a profound level that can even motivate us to give our lives over to suffering and death on Christ’s behalf. The idea is not that our happiness is the greatest good; it is that God’s glory is what we are made for. Living for His glory gives us joy.

I have not found a worldview or religion that can come close to Christianity in providing joy in my life. This joy has lead to great positive changes, and I will describe those changes in the last post of this series.

9/05/2007

This is a very sad day…

Evangelism Explosion International’s founder and president, Dr. D. James Kennedy passed away peacefully in his sleep at approximately 2:15 a.m. at his home with his wife and daughter by his bedside, following complications from a cardiac event last December. He was 76…

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 8: Christianity Changes the World for the Better

I was very ill as a young child. I had a lung disease that left me breathless after walking a few feet, much more out of breath when trying to run, climb, or jump. I was thirteen before I began to grow out of it, but I had been through a lot before then.

My illness always hit me hard when it came time for PE, physical education, class. That was when we divided up into teams to play sports.

I was never the first one chosen for the team. I was usually chosen last. Everyone knew I would have little to contribute. My best contribution would be just to stay out of the way.

Little League Baseball was more than a sport in my hometown. It was more like a religion. Parents had a lot to say about the make-up of the teams, and they organized try-outs. I tried hard, but I was never picked to be part of the best team. I always wanted to be part of the winning team.

Christianity offered me the chance to be a part of the winning team, to be part of the group that will make a real difference in the world. Christ’s church was the leading force in many of the good things I saw around me. It still proves to be a great influence today.

Here are some of the ongoing accomplishments:

Operation Christmas Child impacts over 7,000,000 of the world’s impoverished children each year with gift-filled shoeboxes.
World Vision, a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization, assists more than 70 million children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief serves over 600,000 meals and purifies over 250,000 gallons of water per year for those devastated by disasters.

Mercy Ships has performed more than 1.7 million medical services valued at over $670 million and influencing more than 1.9 million people as direct beneficiaries.

Medi-Share has allowed Christians to give more than $275,000,000 to meet each other’s healthcare needs independent of healthcare insurance.

Samaritan’s Purse relief efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown a remarkable impact.
Christians lead the fight against slavery and human trafficking in the modern world.
Prison Fellowship partners with hundreds of local churches and agencies across the country to bring Christ’s love to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.
World Changers uses teams of Baptist youth to rebuild the homes and the lives of thousands of families impacted by poverty and tragedy.
These facts do not mention the countless daily ministries of local churches all over the world that meet the needs of Christians and Non-Christians alike. What more could you ask of an organization?

Christ said of His church, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I am finally part of the winning team. The church truly advances the gospel in word and deed.

[1/31/09 Update. Adrian Warnock has a Book Challenge over at his blog. I am linking this older post to that site for a chance at a free book. This is shameless self-promotion.)

9/04/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 7: Christianity Gives a Certain Promise of Heaven

I have mentioned before that the ideas Christianity holds make intuitive sense to me. This is true, in a backward way, of the central message of the Christian faith: what most call “the gospel,” or the good news.

The gospel is intuitive in that, once I was made aware of it; I knew “in my gut” that it explained much of my experience. It is not intuitive in that I would never have thought this up without someone telling me.

The gospel is the fact that God offers eternal life as a free gift. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As a gift, eternal life is not earned or deserved. I will return to this idea latter.

The law requires perfection. Jesus Himself said, “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” I cannot avoid the knowledge that I have fallen short of this obviously true ideal.

This leaves us all under condemnation. No one obeys the law perfectly or obeys the law with perfect motives: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The old prayer of confession in the Anglican Church reads, “We have sinned against [God] in thought, word and deed. By the things we have done and the things we have left undone.”

This leaves us inadequately prepared for the judgment in and of ourselves. We cannot rely on our own righteousness or morality because we are not perfect. We do not meet the standard in question.

The gospel comes into sharper focus when we understand what the Bible says about God. God is holy, or separate from sin. God is also just, that is, He is the perfect judge who must punish the sins of His creatures. The Old Testament reads, “... yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” God also loves: “God is love.” And since He loves us, He does not want to punish us.

In human terms, this leaves God with a problem. On the one hand, He loves us and does not want to punish us. One the other hand, He is just and must punish sin. God solved this “problem” for us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is, in a manner of speaking, God who came to earth as a man. As a man, Christ was able to follow meet the requirements of perfect morality. He was able to live a perfect life, always doing what is moral from a perfect love of morality.

He also was able to take our sins upon Himself. He took credit for the things we have done wrong. He suffered a death He did not deserve as a substitute for us. He suffered the wrath of God for our sins. As Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way, but God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all … it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and he has put him to grief.” As Paul wrote, “For [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God through him.”

God has made it possible for us to take credit for the perfect life morality requires. God has made it possible for Christ to take credit for our sins and suffer infinitely in His soul for them. We take credit for all of this by faith.

Faith does not just understand the facts of the law (what you might call morality), the law’s requirements, and the gospel. It does not just believe that these facts are true. It is a confident trust that what Christ did He did for us. It is a resting on Him as the foundation of our morality. It trusts what He said about how to live our lives and what He said about having eternal life.

This is what the Bible means when it says, “Believe on [not just in, but on] the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” It is what Christians mean when they say that they accept the free gift of eternal life from Christ.

Why then do we do good works? If eternal life is a free gift, why should we strive to be moral? One answer for this is that we are grateful for the gift we have received. The old Heidelberg Catechism has three main parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude. That is the general pattern of a Christian’s life.

(There are other pure motives such as doing good because it is good in and of itself, doing good out of love for God, and even doing good out of what is in it for us. More on those latter.)

The gospel frees us from having to search our motives, which are often impure, and live for the God who made us. We do not have to agonize over them because Christ died for impure motives as well as impure thoughts, words, and deeds.

We do not always perform good works out of desire to avoid punishment. We know we cannot do well enough to avoid just wrath from a holy God on our own.

Christ offers an abundant life to all who would turn to Him in faith. There is nothing outside you that keeps you from accepting His free gift of eternal life today. I pray that all who read this can find the certain hope of heaven that God has revealed to us in Christ.

You can find a summary of these ideas here.

A podcast / broadcast that emphasizes these ideas can be found here.

Some books that have sharpened my understanding of the gospel are here, here, here, here, and here.

Some materials from a World Harvest Mission’s Sonship Course can be found here and here. This course covers the content and implications of the gospel very thoroughly.

Ideas on how to emphasize this message in our churches can be found here, here, here, and here. We all need to hear the gospel every day, especially every Sunday.

I pray that the faith of Christians will be strengthened by the message of the gospel. The gospel truly is for all of life.

9/01/2007

R. C. Sproul's New Book

R. C. Sproul has a new book out that I just had the chance to read. It’s called The Truth of The Cross. Dr. Sproul is at his best when he writes or speaks on Christ’s life and sacrifice for the sins of the church. This book is no expectation. I hardily recommend it to anyone who has questions about the reasons behind the cross and it’s necessity.

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