10/31/2013

He Has Spoken, Part 2

This is part two of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses the first presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.

This lecture revolves around a simple set of sentences:

God is.  He exists.

God is Personal.

God has spoken, and therefore truth can be known.

And, God speaks in the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible.

These are very weighty statements that cannot be completely elaborated on and defended in a short lecture and discussion, but the curriculum does a nice job of emphasizing the importance of these propositions and pointing you to resources that back up these statements. 

The main resource cited is Stand to Reason, an apologetics ministry led by Greg Koukl.  This ministry has been of great help to me in my faith walk, and I am glad to see Stand to Reason endorsed by this curriculum.  As Stonestreet puts it in the lecture, “The work has been done.  The research has been put together.”  And www.str.org addresses the issues.

The Bible must be “the ground on which we stand,” according to Stonestreet.  He issues a clear call to us to let the Bible be our authority in matters of faith and life. 

Stonestreet strongly challenges us to live out our faith with the observation that, “Our claims don’t always match our behavior.”  The series will spur us on to love and good deeds, and I look forward to the rest of it. 
Each lecture in the five part series is accompanied by a discussion between John Stonestreet and T. M. Moore.  This discussion is particularly interesting. 

Moore points out that the Bible “has divine power that goes with it.”  This power helps to convince us of the truth and to transform our lives.  But there are problems to be avoided.
Stonestreet says that “We tend to take the Bible on our terms,” “taking what we want and leaving the rest.”  Contemporary religious thought tends to approach the Bible’s teachings as items in a buffet line that we can pick and choose from as we please, and I am glad to see this curriculum face that problem in religious thought head on. 

While I would have preferred to see the Reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura openly named and claimed, I do find the main tenants of that slogan affirmed in an easy to understand manner in one place of the curriculum or another.  This lecture affirms the veracity and authority of the Scriptures, and that goes a long way toward the full truth of Sola Scriptura


We will continue this series soon.

10/17/2013

Missions: Some Guidance from the Canons of Dort

Christian mission work involves the sharing of the gospel in places where it has not been shared before, or at least where most people do not understand it.  We can get guidance for Christian Missions from what some would consider an unlikely source: The Canons of the Synod of Dort.

The Canons of Dort came out of the Synod of Dort, held from 1618-1619 in the Netherlands. Theologians wrote them in order to counter the teaching of James Arminius, and they outline the system of theology known by many today as the “five points of Calvinism.”  However, the Canons of Dort contain much more than five simple points (sometimes summarized by the acronym TULIP, or total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints).
Turning to the Canons:

This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world… Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Christ’s death could pay for the sins of all people.  Therefore, when a missionary tells an unbeliever that he can go to heaven if he repents of his sins and has faith in Christ, he is making a real, sincere offer on God’s behalf.

This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

We trust that God can change even the most sin-hardened heart.  We share the good news of the kingdom everywhere we go, and we should make special trips to as many places as possible (Mathew 28:18-20).

All people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.

All of us would reject God’s command to repent and believe if God did not do a special work in our hearts (Ephesians 2:1-10). When we do not repent, we are responsible for our choice because we do exactly what we want to do. Since people are responsible, our love for others can be a true motivation for missions.

What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.

God’s saves the elect through the preaching of the word (Romans 10:14-15). The Holy Spirit does not act to give men new hearts without this preaching.  We must preach the gospel both in response to God’s command and because we desire others to be saved.

In this life believers cannot fully understand the way [God’s giving of a new heart] occurs… this divine grace of [God’s giving of a new heart] does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back.

God moves unbelievers to embrace the truth through the persuasion of His missionaries. God does not coerce the will from outside a person when He changes their heart. We cannot fully understand this, but it is true. 

[After God changes the heart] a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists.

God gives some people a new heart. Those people repent of their sins and believe the gospel. God can give a new heart to anyone He chooses, and we can therefore expect our missionary work to be successful, even in the most difficult of people and circumstances. 

The Calvinism expressed in the Canons of Dort is an encouragement to missions, and it always has been.  
We can learn much from the Canons about Christian missions.


(More information on The Canons of Dort and the Synod of Dort can be found here: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/canons-dordt/  and http://wscal.edu/about-wsc/welcome-to-wsc/doctrinal-standards/canons-of-dort/ .)

10/11/2013

Christian Ministry: Or They Will Kill Us

The church has not faced this grave a situation in centuries. The newspapers scream at us: terrorism, mass murder, abortion, and many other ways that people made in God’s image are dehumanized and devalued. No person on this side of the Columbine High School shooting; the 9/11 attacks; the Virginia Tech. shooting, the Sandy Hook school attack; and Trevon Martin’s tragic death can deny this reality with intellectual integrity. We have rapidly become a society that can rightfully face the judgment of God for some of the values we hold most dear.

The way to get to the ‘heart of the matter’ is with Christian ministry efforts. We must reach the people who make up our society to ‘turn the tide.’  To tell one story from a few decades ago:

Early in the twentieth century, Baptist evangelists preached through rural Mississippi and Alabama with such effectiveness that moonshiners could no longer sell their whiskey: All their customers were getting converted! In desperation, the whiskey sellers hired two men to murder one of the leading Baptist preachers.

Pistols in their hands, the assassins waited in the dark outside a country church where their target was preaching. The evangelist spoke with burning intensity about heaven and hell, his voice ringing out into the night. When everyone had gone, he turned out the church lights and stepped outside. The killers approached him, pistols in hand.

But instead of shooting the evangelist, they handed him their guns. “We came here to kill you, but we couldn’t,” they said. “We heard your preaching and we believed it. We’re now on the same side.”

That story was told to me years ago by a pastor in Alabama. The Baptist evangelist was his grandfather. The story stayed with me. It is compelling drama and a parable of our position in an increasingly dangerous and demoralized world. Either we evangelize our generation with new power or its members are going to kill us. The bad guys are waiting for us ‘out there,’ and intend to do us in … We need an evangelism with enough strength to get the bad guys before they get us. (C. John Miller, Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1997, p. 1-2.)

We must reach those people who intend to harm us or they will kill us.  Evangelism and ministry are now a matter of life or death.

Our churches are not effectively reaching the culture outside our doors in our own neighborhoods. Our society and its values are bringing reproach on the gospel of Christ as missionaries try desperately to bring that message to the very part of the world that produces the most dangerous terrorist threats that we face. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts.

But how are we to do this? We are all in this together.  Once again, I turn to Miller:

…those of us who lead must modify the way we train believers to think of witnessing. I have in view the image of evangelism as fishing for the lost. Too often, we have only stressed the single fisherman with his pole. There is certainly a place for him, but there is a danger that the “lone angler” concept will place undue emphasis on witnessing skills, techniques, and special gifts, discouraging Christians who lack these distinctive features. It is clear that for the church in Acts, evangelism was something that involved everyone – and they were often involved together. We need to focus on the biblical metaphor of fishermen pulling together as a team on the same net. Our shared life as the company of Christ’s redeemed is at the very center of our gathering in of the lost. (Miller, p. 71.)


Miller also mentions “hospitality,” where “our material gifts and our gift of the gospel are accepted as we also offer ourselves to [non-Christians]” (Miller, p. 77).  It takes a church and all of its ministries, from hospitality to giving to the poor to evangelism, in order to reach our society. It is not too late.

10/04/2013

God Has Spoken, Series Introduction

I have come across a review copy of a Bible study.  It was offered to me in return for a quick review of the material.  However, after looking at the study, I have concluded that one review would not quite do the series justice, so this is the first of a short series of posts on the material.  I am impressed with the materials in this series of lessons.

“He Has Spoken: The Worldview of Scripture” is a delightful study published by The Colson Center (A short summary of the study can be found here.).  The DVD-based study presents five video presentations presented by John Stonestreet.   The DVD also includes five discussions between Stonestreet and T. M. Moore on the materials.  There is an accompanying study guide written by Moore.  The basic idea is to use the study in a group format by working through the study guide individually, presenting the video lectures, discussing selected questions from the study guide, and then viewing the discussion between Stonestreet and Moore as a ‘wrap up.’

John Stonestreet is the co-host of BreakPoint radio and several other radio programs.  He is also a sought-after conference speaker

T. M. Moore has an impressive background.  He is currently dean of the Centurions Program. He served as President of Chesapeake Theological Seminary in Baltimore for nearly thirteen years.  Moore’s books include titles published by P & R

Please join me over the next several posts in this series as we journey through the ideas presented in “He Has Spoken” together.

10/02/2013

God and Politics

(An article for my local paper.)

Politics is defined as “the theory and practice of government, especially the activities associated with governing, with obtaining legislative or executive power, or with forming and running organizations connected with government” (Bing Dictionary).

“Politics” is a ‘loaded word’ for some people.  One prominent pastor, Mark Driscoll, became so frustrated in an interview about Christian involvement in politics that he exclaimed, “If you want to influence politics, go have a bunch of kids and teach them how to vote.”  (The other extreme would be the activism of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority during the 80’s.)

We should be involved in politics in ways that reach way beyond our family.  This article will suggest three very important ways in which Christians should be involved in politics according to the Bible: submission, prayer, and moral activism.   

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Rom. 13:1–2)

We are required to submit, or follow the orders of, the civil authorities God has appointed over us except in matters where the Bible clearly says that we should do otherwise. If God has commanded us to do something that the government forbids or commanded us not to do something that the government requires, we cannot submit to the government’s authority.  However, that is not the case in many instances.  We should go the speed limit, buy a hunting license, and pay our taxes honestly, among other things.

Honey always attracts more files than vinegar, and, similarly, those who follow the laws have a greater say in government and politics.  Civil disobedience, where a citizen disobeys an unjust law and then submits to the government penalty for having done so, is most effective when those who disagree cannot readily criticize those who are disobedient.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–4)

Secondly, we are required to pray for those in our government who have authority over us.  Prayer is a God-ordained means to bring about change.  God moves in response to the prayers of His people.  God can and will affect change. 

“Prayer is not protest. It is petition, which realizes that even the hearts of President Obama or Prime Minister David Cameron are not out of God’s control,” said Rev. David A. Robertson, minister of St. Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland.  (We might add President Bush to the list.)  After all, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
The last of the three areas is moral activism.

 “And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die ford his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:16-19)

This is a solemn warning for the Christian who will not speak up to those in authority when the moral commands of the Bible are broken.   Christians must be bold enough to speak out on the major moral issues of our day no matter how others perceive those issues in the political arena.  Abortion, the government’s printing of money leading to inflation, homosexual marriage; immigration and social justice are all areas where the Christian must bring the Bible’s moral injunctions to bear.  We have a duty to call our leaders to account, no matter what the outcome.


There are limits to what politics can do.  In all these involvements, we should follow Cal Thomas’ caution, “…followers of Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world, should not think that having the “right” person in office will somehow restore righteousness to a fallen and sin-infested world. How can a fallen leader repair a fallen society? He (or she) can’t. Only God can do that through changed lives. And lives can be changed only by the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it has always been so. As revivals of the past have shown us, the social impact was astounding. So if believers want to see a culture improved (fewer abortions, less drunkenness, fewer divorces, and so on), let their objective be to lead more people to Christ.” Politics should never be our primary means of bringing about change, but we must do what we can in the political arena.

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