7/29/2014

Why I Accepted Ordination as an Elder in the PCA

I joined Grace Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, in 2010.  I have officially made the move from my Southern Baptist (SBC) background after careful theological reflection.  I have also recently accepted ordination as an Elder in that church.  This post will outline the main reasons for my decision.

Justification by Faith Alone

Justification is the doctrine that we are legally credited with Jesus Christ’s suffering for our sin and perfect life lived when we place our faith in Him.  We get credit for being morally perfect when we place our faith in Him even though we do not become perfectly righteous in this life.  This justification is by faith alone in that our good works do not merit justification in any way.  Justification is something that is credited to us because we have faith, not something that is awarded to us because we are good in ourselves.

The Baptist Faith and Message, the closest thing to a confessional statement in SBC circles, implies that justification is by faith alone, but omits the word “alone” from it statements.  This leaves to much room for interpretation, as evidenced by the willingness of some SBC churches to cooperate with the Roman Catholic Church in matters of faith and religious practice. 

Salvation’s Description by Scripture Alone

The description of salvation and the process which leads to it is ultimately described by Scripture alone and not by the traditions of the church.  Church tradition has a secondary role, but Scripture is our ultimate authority.  (I should note that this is not a difference from SBC churches, it’s just something that is important.)

Liturgy

I am tired of an informal worship style that leaves out key elements of biblical worship such as confessing our sins, recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, and formal reading of the Bible. 

The PCA practices a more liturgical style of worship according to the regulative principle.  Briefly stated, the regulative principle says that worship should include only what is used by worshipers in the Bible and that worship should contain all of the elements used by people in the Bible. 

This worship style awakens passion for God in my heart like none other. 

Calvinism

God saves sinners.  God saved me.  I did not help Him do so. 

I once heard J. Vernon McGee tell a story on the radio that is important to relate at this point.  (I will get many of the particulars wrong.  I have not been able to find a written account.)

McGee tells the story of a young black boy who wanted to join a church. He presented himself for church membership and the elders asked the boy, "How did you get saved?" His answer was, "God did His part, and I did my part." They thought there was something wrong with his doctrine, so they questioned further, "What was God's part, and what was your part?" His explanation was a good one. He said, "God's part was the saving, and my part was the sinning. I done run from Him as fast as my sinful heart and rebellious legs could take me. He done took out after me till He run me down."

The only system that safeguards that sentiment is properly understood Five-point Calvinism.  God saves sinners all on His own without their help.

Infant Baptism

Either we are part of the same body of believers with the saints of the Old Testament or we are not.  If we are, then it makes sense to baptize infants since it made sense to circumcise infants.  

An excellent debate on this topic can be found here.

Plural Eldership

The authority in most Baptist churches does not lie with the congregation so much as it lies with the pastor or a set of committees made up of mostly un-ordained church members.  Both of these approaches have issues.
If there is only one pastor who controls most of the authority in a particular church, then no one can check the pastor if he falls into false teaching or begins to make unwise decisions.  Plural eldership, or the vesting of authority in more than one person, avoids these problems.

Vesting authority in a set of committees avoids many of the problems of dictatorial pastor rule, but it does two things: allow for those who do not have a firm doctrinal foundation to run the church and force a congregationally organized church government to become basically presbyterian in form.  As recent doctrinal strife in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations over the Bible’s truthfulness shows, any church can drift into false teaching on major issues.  Having ordained leadership that subscribes to a particular set of doctrines outlined in a detailed confession of faith helps to avoid this.

Most Baptist churches which reach a certain size (in my experience about 300 members) begin to delegate major decisions regarding congregational life to a smaller group within the church as a practical matter.  Everyone in the church cannot vote on every decision, as pure congregationalism requires. 

This can be done either with the Deacons or a set of church committees.  Either way, what you essentially form is a presbyterian church government where some decisions are delegated by the congregation to a smaller group of trusted leaders.

Last but not Least: Confessional Statements

I am tired of being a member of a church whose entire doctrinal summary can be placed on a single 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper, double spaced.  Most SBC Churches have drifted toward that lack of confessional detail in recent years, despite the existence of The Baptist Faith and Message. 

The WestminsterConfession of Faith and Catechisms provide much more detail in a better organized format.  These Westminster Standards make explicit doctrinal details that should guide the church to avoid error. 

These are the primary issues which have motivated me to abandon the church I was brought up in and embrace a new denomination.  I present them in order to promote beneficial discussion.  

7/11/2014

Dr. D. James Kennedy on The Figurative Use of the Word “All”

“We all say “all” all of the time when we don’t mean it. No we don’t! Some people never say “all.” They speak Chinese. You don’t say “all” all of the time. Either when you mean it or when you don’t mean it. There are sometimes that you sleep. There are sometimes that you eat. There are sometimes when you say other things. You really don’t say “all” all of the time. Do you? And so, therefore, these people don’t understand the figurative use of language. There are almost over six hundred different species of figures of speech found in the Bible. And they are found in most any large novel, or even in a big newspaper you will find them. They are everywhere! No they’re not. They’re not everywhere. They’re here and there and the other place. You see we do that all the time and we don’t even realize that we are doing it. No we don’t do it all the time. You see if I called you every time you used a universal word and you didn’t mean it universally, I would be having to stop you all the time. No I wouldn’t!

The fact is that we all use this type of hyperbole, well, “all” the time. Newscasters refer to “the whole city” turning out to greet a World Championship team when what they technically mean is a very large crowd. We talk about the entire world being fixated upon the news of Princess Diana’s death. On and on it goes.

Well, if that’s true for us, might not the same principle apply when we find similar expressions used in Scripture? The simple fact is that most scholars would suggest that it’s even more true — that hyperbolic speech was very common within the Hebrew culture.

This is not to say that the words “all,” “world,” and “whole world” in the Bible can never be taken to mean every single person or thing. In some cases they can. But how we understand these words — like virtually every other word in the Bible — is based upon the context, when and to whom they were written, and then compared to other Scriptures.”  - D. James Kennedy

As quoted in: The Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism Study Guide and Workbook is the sole property of Reel to Real Ministries, Inc./The Apologetics Group. (© 2009, The Apologetics Group, All Rights Reserved), pp. 159-160.

6/09/2014

The Grammatico-Historical Method (Re-post)

(In view of the recent book by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters titled Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a DefensibleFaith for a New Generation, I am re-printing the following post.  I believe the article below addresses some of Holding and Peter’s concerns.  My local newspaper originally published the article.)



ARTICLE XV
We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning that the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.
We deny the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

So begins The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the science of understanding what the Bible says, and this statement on Biblical Hermeneutics is the collective wisdom of many evangelical scholars on that subject. 

An international conference produced The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics in 1982.  Leaders from many different branches of the protestant church signed it.  Those who signed the document included Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, James M. Boice, D. James Kennedy, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John H. Gerstner, Bill Bright, Paige Patterson, Josh McDowell, Raymond C. Ortlund, Adrian P. Rogers, Bruce Wilkinson, W. A. Criswell, John F. MacArthur, Luis Palau, and John F. Walvoord. 

Article XV, printed above, affirms that the Bible should be taken literally, but please note the care taken to define what “literal” means.  Literal means “normal” or according to the rules of grammar as normally interpreted by the person who wrote the material. It takes into account “figures of speech and literary forms” used by that author.  The “grammatical-historical sense” means, “the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Students of the Bible should think carefully about grammar and history.  (Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics by Norman L. Geisler)

The Grammatico-Historical Method (GHM) is the way we discover the grammatical-historical sense.  The GHM is a Christian method for understanding the Bible.  It “focuses attention not only on literary forms but upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written.”  The aim of the GHM is to discover the meaning of the passage as the original author would have intended and as the original hearers would have understood. (Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul)

GMH assumes that the original biblical manuscript languages – ancient Hebrew and Greek, with some Aramaic in the Old Testament – were real languages that people used in a real period of history to communicate real, logical thought. This means that we must learn all we can about those ancient languages to understand how the Bible uses them.  (The amount of knowledge we have about those ancient languages is more than enough to help us understand the Bible.)   

GHM also makes us students of history.  It assumes that the Bible’s authors wrote according to the cultural, political, and religious norms of their historical periods. To know what a Bible passage truly means, we must gather information on the biblical authors’ cultures and the audiences who they addressed in their writings.

When people who want to understand the Bible put grammar and history together, they are likely to have a correct understanding of the Bible’s meaning. The Bible is literally true, and it contains no hidden message behind the words or between the lines.


Since the Bible contains all we need to know about how to get to heaven by grace and how to live life on earth by the law, it is very important to use the GHM to understand it.  Our eternal destinies might be at stake.

6/07/2014

Assurance

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” - Jesus (John 6:47, NKJV)

Many in the world do not have a firm knowledge that they will go to heaven when they die. Some have a vague trust in their idea of a God who may honor their faith and may not. Some have only the hope that, when God judges the world, He will find that their good works outweigh their bad. Some have not yet reached the point in their thinking that they can acknowledge a God who judges or a heaven that they can go to (Many posts on this blog lay out reasons for believing in both.).

We can know that we are on the way to heaven if we have faith in Jesus. This faith is a confident assurance that what Jesus says about how to live life is true. This assurance brings us to a knowledge that we have not, even for one moment, lived free from sin; that is, we have done things that God tells us not to do or failed to do things that God tells us to do. This knowledge of the right path leads to repentance, turning from our sins to God and His way of living.

This faith is also an assurance that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. Not just for sins in general, but for our sins in particular.

Jesus is God who became a man. He laid aside His rights and abilities and came to earth. He lived a perfect life. This life is an example to us, but it also gives Jesus credit for a life lived in perfect obedience to God’s law. He then died on the cross for us. In some way know only to God, Jesus took the credit for our sins and suffered God’s infinite, terrible wrath for those sins. He became sin for us that we might become righteous. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 3:21-31)

Faith is the way we take credit for what Jesus did for us. The credit for our sins is taken away from us, and we are given credit for Jesus’s perfect life.  It’s not about what we do; it’s about what is done for us by Jesus. When we have faith, the perfect God loves us perfectly because we are credited with perfection. When God looks at us, we are perfect because of what Jesus did.

But how can we personally tell if we really believe? How can we look at our hearts and lives and tell if our own faith is genuine? The most useful verse to me personally is Galatians 5: 6. It says that what counts is “faith working through love.” I do love Jesus. Not perfectly. Sometimes not even well. But we do love Jesus. R. C. Sproul puts it this way, “I am not asking whether we love this Jesus perfectly; I am asking whether we love this God and this Jesus at all” (Chosen by God, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1986, p. 166).

We sin, sometimes often. We even sin the same sin over and over. This clouds our thinking and convinces us we do not have real faith. But God does not desert us. He always comes to our aid. As one scholar puts it:

…a regenerate soul will certainly persevere through the trials of life and continue to believe and repent. He will slip and fall, develop bad habits, wrestle with doubts, but through it all he will keep on going even as he began … all believers slip and fall into sin. But the truth of the matter is that no believer stays down. Just as God gave him faith and repentance unto initial conversion, so He supplies him with faith and repentance all along the way to heaven. (Dr. Curt Daniel, as quoted in “Safe and Secure” by Curtis C. Thomas, “Tabletalk Magazine,” Ligonier Ministries, Inc. December 2004, p. 8-11)

The God who saves us preserves our faith. He works in us to will and to do His will. He does not leave us alone in life’s battles without a champion. Maybe an old Baptist theologian can help:

The believer in Jesus, who has been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, will never utterly fall away from Jesus and be lost. He is not free from temptation; he may, through neglect and failure to employ the means of grace, grieve the Holy Spirit and bring reproach on the himself and the people of God. He will, however, turn away from his sins and return to his Jesusian duty; he will not be content in the wayward life. It is the mark of the child of God that he cannot be happy in a life of sin. (E. Y. Mullins, Baptist Beliefs, Chicago: The Judson Press, 1912, p. 53)

I pray you will turn from sin to Jesus in faith today. Know that eternal life, unending life with God in heaven, is yours. Be perfect when God looks at you. Experience the perfect love of a perfect God. I pray you will know that God loves you in your imperfection because of Jesus.

6/04/2014

Final Thoughts on “He Has Spoken”

This is part seven of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses my final impressions of the lecture and discussion series.

The format of the study makes it a great conversation starter for small groups.  The lecture by John Stonestreet kicks of the discussion and the accompanying discussion between T. M. Moore and Stonestreet makes the lecture more personable.  Small group leaders will find much to discuss.

These are great conversation starters, but not great conversation enders.  Group leaders who use the material will want to be well-versed in the topics and able to answer questions and guide discussion.  (This is true of any study which follows this format.)   The series inspires study beyond a few minutes of lecture and discussion, and group leaders should present recommended resources to encourage that study  (see www.str.org).

There is no more important topic than this one in our society.  We must both understand and defend the purpose, truth, clarity, attitude toward, and sufficiency of the Bible to change our culture for the better.   All of these topics are introduced and discussed as a part of “He Has Spoken.”

Within the limits already stated, I wholeheartedly recommend this study.  I pray that God would us it to lead many into a deeper appreciation for and knowledge of the Bible.

6/02/2014

Inerrancy and Scholarship

I am following the recent debate between Norman Geisler and several scholars I respect regarding inerrancy and interpretations of Bible passages.  This debate was sparked in part by a book written by Geisler and Bill Roach titled Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a NewGeneration.  The introduction to that book was written by J. I. Packer.  It was enjoined by a response by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters titled Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a DefensibleFaith for a New Generation. The introduction to that response was written by Craig Blomberg, a scholar whose books have been very valuable to me. 

I could not help but notice that Geisler’s book did not receive the endorsement of one person who was key in the development of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: R. C. Sproul.  The Chicago Statement is at the crux of the debate.  (I also lament the fact that several of the original signatories are dead and unable to provide guidance.)


We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historicaI exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. (Article XVIII )

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, written by many of the same people who wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, reads:

We affirm that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study. (Article XIII)
And                                                                                 
We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text. (Article XV)
And
We affirm that legitimate critical techniques should be used in determining the canonical text and its meaning. (Article XVI)

I would also refer people to the careful Exposition of the document by J. I. Packer. 

These statements do not seem to allow the hardline approach Geisler is proposing in certain places, but they  also call into question some of the notable oversimplifications of the “traditionalist” position in Holding and Peters’ book.  (Some of those oversimplifications are evident from the post here.)

We must let scholars work within their areas of expertise to determine the meaning of Bible texts using any and all necessary means.  This includes both internal context and external context; contemporary usage and biblical usage of words; and literary forms contemporary with the Bible books and their authors.  We cannot impose our modern, Western standards of interpretation on the Bible.

Lay-persons like me must be able to defer to experts in science, languages, and history to help determine the meanings of texts.  I see nothing in The Chicago Statements that calls this into question.  It’s a very carefully written document. 

At the same time, experts must be willing to subject their interpretations to both the witness of church history and the comparison of their interpretations with the Bible as a whole.  Church tradition does have a secondary authority which can guide our efforts to understand the Bible, and we should not think that expertise in early languages and literary forms is confined to our present age. 

Systematic theology, the study of what the Bible as a whole says on a given subject, must also be allowed to correct major issues.   There is no substitute for knowledge of the entire Bible for lay-persons like me who place a high value on the teachings of Scripture, and this knowledge makes us able to contribute to the discussions.

I pray that this debate we be profitable for the post-modern Christian church and that we will all develop a greater appreciation for each other in the process of conflict.  Some people, me included, learn a lot from a good, old-fashioned argument.  I hope and pray the arguments in this case do not degenerate into ‘straw-man arguments’ and name calling.

5/30/2014

He Has Spoken, Part 6

This is part six of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses the final presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.  The fifth lecture and discussion are entitled “Under the Word: Assuming a Posture Worthy of Scripture.”

John Stonestreet’s lecture starts with a popular illustration from Karl Barth.  Imagine people in a warehouse who have lived in the warehouse their entire life without a clear view of the outside world.  Imagine that a person comes into the warehouse, takes the person outside, and introduces them to the world beyond the warehouse. What a wonderful thing it would be.

That’s what the Bible does for us.  It shows us the way things are in the real world; the eternal, spiritual world we inhabit.

If our thoughts about this eternal world are out of line, we are in essence idolaters.  We make idols out of our misunderstandings and mistakes that distract us from the things that are.  We worship our false ideas of God instead of God Himself in all of His reality.

We must approach Scripture with the proper attitude.  We are to approach the text of the Bible: with great humility, with a willingness to repent, with obedience, with others, and with expectation.

This is not our world; this is God’s world.  We must be humble enough to know that the story is not about us; it’s about Him.

“The Scripture does not endorse us, it exposes us.”  We need to find out where we have fallen short and change our thinking about that sin and let that change of thinking change our actions (repentance).  The Bible is not about encouragement.  It is about the truth, and that truth should change our lives.
We should be willing to do what the Bible says.  Stonestreet reminds me at this point of what the Westminster Confession of Faith says: “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come” (Chapter 14, paragraph 2a).

Stonestreet says, “The Scripture were not just given to us, they were given to others.”  We should read and study the Bible with other Christians to gain their perspective.  Also, we should approach the Bible in view of what the church has taught in history.  The historical perspective is important as well.

God reveals Himself to us in the Bible because He wants us to know Him personally.  We can expect this revelation each time we read the Bible.

The conversation between Stonestreet and T. M. Moore that accompanies this lecture is titled “Living Under the Authority of God’s Word.”  Moore makes several key points.

If we go to the Bible “looking for the wrong thing,” with a selfish attitude we “are not going to find” what we expect.   We must go to the Bible with the expectation to see Jesus Christ.  He is the main story, and we can find Him “on every page” if we look.

As we see Jesus, “we begin to reflect his image more and more.”  Christ creates a desire for a good life within us.  We become more like Him.  Jesus pushes us outside our comfort zones into the real Christian life.
We must get good habits in place to bring the true attitude toward the Bible to the forefront.   Prayer reminds us of who God is (worship) and who we are (confession).  We can use one of the 22 sections of Psalm 119 each day for guidance on what Scripture is and how to think about it.  Find a schedule that allows you to read daily from both the Old and New Testaments.  We should find a friend or group of friends that can discuss what we are finding in our daily readings with us.  We should take advantage of resources in our churches to teach us biblical concepts clearly.

One of the strengths of this series is that introduction of practical means for Bible study and reading.  “He Has Spoken” is a great resource to spur discussions of both theoretical and practical matters.
I will share my final thoughts in another post in a few days.

5/28/2014

He Has Spoken, Part 5

This is part five of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by the Colson Center.  This post discusses the forth presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.  The forth lecture and discussion are entitled “Not Ashamed: Trusting in the Power of Scripture.”

John Stonestreet opens this lecture with a discussion of Paul’s advice to Timothy to hold on to the Word of God.  The Bible, as God’s Word, is trustworthy, stable and sure.  It is the one thing we can hold on to in our turbulent times.

The Bible identifies not just the way our needs are met, but also the very needs we have.  We do not go to ourselves and our “felt needs,’ but to the Word to identify our actual needs.

The Bible is true, and hence worthy of value.  It is the “true story of the world.” It does not need to be made relevant, because it is supremely relevant.

I am reminded of John Piper.  His ministry often reveals a lack of awareness of current societal trends, icons, books and music, but, he is single-mindedly focused on the Word of God.  Far from making his many books and sermons irrelevant, this focus makes his ministry supremely relevant.  His ministry has more impact because it is Scripture-saturated than it would ever have by being filled with cultural references.

Back to Stonestreet.  The Bible does not avoid the evident reality of the human condition.  We are not basically ok.  We are not good.  But God loves us so much that he “became one of us to bring us and the whole world to himself.”  We would never know that we are loved by God without His revelation in the Bible.

We are called to be biblical.  The Bible works because it always focuses our attention on something outside of us that is unchanging: a fixed point to which we can orient ourselves.

Stonestreet and T. M. Moore are involved in the discussion segment that accompanies this lecture.  The topic is how to live in a culture that does not grant the authority of the Bible.  We are challenged by a society that ignores us when we simply spout, “The Bible says…”

Moore relates an incident in which he was witnessing to a postmodern person and he drove home the point that there are moral absolutes by stealing the person’s pin and watching the reaction.  He recommends finding ways to help unbelievers see problems their view of the world has by “drawing out the implications of it”  with clear illustrations.

This is what Francis Schaeffer once called “taking the roof off.”  Letting people see through illustration and experience that their views are flawed because we are unable to live with the implications of those views.

Back to Moore and Stonestreet.  We must develop confidence in the Bible, and one of the best ways to generate this confidence is to share what the Bible says often.  We have to practice talking to people until we get confident.  We also gain confidence by seeing the Bible’s advice solve other people’s problems as well as our own.

The discussion turns to apologetics.  Some are not comfortable with apologetics, giving a rational defense of the Christian faith, because it has a bad name.  This bad name comes from apologetic’s reliance on human reason instead of directly relying on the Scriptures.

Moore points out that the Bible is easy to understand and very reasonable.  After all, Jesus used logic and reason to engage His intellectual opponents.  So did the Apostles.  We can share what the Bible says and be confident that the Holy Spirit will use the message to change hearts.

Moore wants us to avoid and us and them mentality that says there is nothing in the world that is good.  We can use the good things in the world, for example, laws against stealing, to illustrate the truth of Scripture.  After all, why should we have laws on the books against stealing if the reality is that we all make our own values and morality?  Laws against stealing do make sense in a biblical view, however.

We are all involved in culture, and we should all engage our culture with what the Bible teaches.  This can be a family activity.

This lecture and discussion can be a valuable conversation starter for groups of Christians who want to make a difference in the world.  It is not a full-blown apologetic, you can’t do that in ten minutes or so, but it does point someone in the right direction.

4/14/2014

He Has Spoken, Part 4

This is part four of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by the Colson Center.  This post discusses the third presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.  This lecture is titled “The Big Picture: Grasping the Purposes of Scripture.” 

Any lecture which opens with a T. S. Elliot quote gets my attention, and this one is no exception.  Elliot said there were two questions we ask when we find something new: what can I do with it, and what is it for?  Of course, what is it for (what is its purpose) is the most important question.    This reminds me of Captain James T. Kirk’s comment in The Wrath of Kahn: “You have to know why things work on a starship.” 

To me, the Bible answers the “what is it for” question for itself in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  The Bible is for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. 

John Stonestreet’s answer is that the Bible is a unique interpretation of historical events that shows history is about God, not us.  All of reality is about God. 

According to Stonestreet, the big picture of the Bible is contained in three great truths: God Exists, Humans answer to God, and  Jesus Christ is King

His discussion emphasizes that we are responsible to God for our behavior, we have sinned against God, and Christ has made a way for us to be forgiven. 

Stonestreet’s discussion with T. M. Moore centers on the Christian life as a war, and Scripture as a chief weapon in that war.  The Word of God is “the Sword of the Spirit.”  It helps us to “make progress” in the cultural war we find ourselves in.  This is a spiritual war.

The purpose of this curriculum is not to defend the propositions, just to explain them.  We already saw in an earlier article that they referred us to www.str.org (Stand to Reason) for that defense.  STR is a great resource for Christians.   I find that I spend much of my time presenting arguments for the veracity of Scripture. 

This is important because our culture increasingly does not treat the Bible as any kind of authority.  We must learn to present the clear, careful arguments that demonstrate Scripture to be true (I have presented some here.)  We cannot ‘lose the war’ by allowing our chief weapon to be disabled in the eyes of our culture. 

Of course, the Bible is never really disabled.  The Holy Spirit can always use the words of Scripture to melt the most hardened heart.  But we cannot neglect our responsibility to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 15-16). 

Stonestreet notes that our culture also sees the statement of truth that is true for all people as a “violent” activity.  He is right about our culture.  Moore says we are simply stating what the Bible says, not imposing our values or forcing them down other’s troughs.    We stand in a powerful tradition that sees the Bible as true.  Of course, we should expect those around use to use other ‘weapons’ against us in this war of words. 

We should expect to be maligned, even persecuted, as we affirm the truths of Scripture.  We can prepare for this by getting some good Christian friends around us.  We “need the strength of our communities.”  We must always show love to those we confront with the truth of Scripture.


The next post in this series will follow soon.  We will look at the next lecture and discussion in this curriculum.

4/11/2014

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

I have taken several months off from blogging.  I have used the time to prepare a series of Sunday School Lessons on J. I. Packer’s wonderful little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.  I will lead a discussion of this book at my little church in Troy, TN.  I want to put in a plug for this book.

One of the things that put me off of Calvinism when I was first introduced to the doctrines of grace was the idea that Calvinism destroyed the motive for evangelism and missions.  It took a long time for me to come around.  There are many others who reject Calvinism for the same reasons.

Packer is clear in his book that the “antinomy” between God’s sovereignty (God’s control of all things) and man’s free will (man’s freedom of choice) is a mystery that will not be completely sorted out in this life.  Along with others, (see John Piper’s short article here, and a discussion by R. C. Sproul in Chosen by God), I am somewhat troubled with the use of the word antinomy because it implies a contradiction in the ordinary use of the word on this ‘side of the pond.’  

It is comforting that Packer says there is no contradiction between the two when he states:
What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it.  Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as not rival alternatives but, in some way that at the present you do not grasp, complementary to each other…It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other.   (P. 26, 28)
That seems clear enough.

Along with John Piper in the reference above, I am not entirely sure there is even the appearance of contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  I can see how they would both be true at the same time.  John Gerstner was also helpful to me on this issue in his little book A Primer on Free Will.  Both Piper and Gerstner depend on Jonathan Edwards for their views in this area.

Packer’s detailed analysis of the proper motives for evangelism is much appreciated.  The motive that has kept me going in the twin tasks of evangelism and missions is the thought that I can be successful because God can change anyone’s heart.  Many of my attempts have seemed to fall on deaf ears, and this has been very discouraging to me.  This truth is comforting. 

I will not attempt a detailed summary of the book because there is such a good one available here.  I just want to recommend this modern-day classic to anyone, Calvinist or not, who has the same type of questions I did.


I reserve the right to post on this book in the future as we move through the Sunday School series.

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