Monday, August 31, 2009

You Can't Make This Up

From the Detroit Free Press this morning:
A Michigan man faces sentencing for stabbing two people at a wake for a man who died from drinking poisonous moonshine.
Here's another story of a 16 year-old arrested for the shooting of a 13 year-old girl who was an innocent bystander in a gang-related shooting.

The callous disregard for life is astounding.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Diner

“Larry, if I commit murder, will God still save me?”

I am not sure what brought the question on, and I am pretty sure it wasn’t serious.

Someone from the back yelled out “No.”

I said, “Yes, absolutely.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow up on it.

The answer I wanted to give was that murder is how God saved us and gave us hope and a reason not to murder. His son was murdered in order to give us eternal life. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve it. But people who would not control their anger and rage and live in submission to God hung him on a cross and took his life.

But it was not like our murders today—pointless cruelty and disrespect of human life. It was murder with a purpose—to save people who have no other hope.

A few nights ago, I was watching the news. Two consecutive stories were about murder committed by people younger than 18, murdering people that they apparently had no prior relationship with. I wish those stories were only once in a while. Unfortunately, it seems they are almost every night.

The murder of Christ frees us from the necessity to exact revenge on our own. I don’t have to kill anyone, no matter how mad I am. Why? Because I know God will deal with it for me. I can leave it in his hands. That’s what it means to hide yourself in God.

But I can only do that because I trust that “He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him over for us all … [will] with him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Rules Don’t Work

Notice that I said “Why rules don’t work.” I did not say “Why rules are not good.” I think rules are good. I think they are helpful, but they never work to bring about lasting change?

Why? Because they are external.

John Owen, in Indwelling Sin, say, “A law proposed unto us is not to be compared, for efficacy, to a law inbred in us.”*

This is why Gentiles “do instinctively the things of the Law … [showing ] the work of the Law written in their hearts.” (Romans 2:14-15). It is internal.

This is why Israel’s grand hope in the New Covenant is that God writes a new law on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). External law exacerbated sin; it did not cure it.

This is why external walls can modify behavior but cannot change the life.

Too many Christians are into behavior modification. “Stop … Start.” But we too often fail to address the heart.

Heart issues always show up. If we fix one problem area, it will simply show up in another area. For lasting change, we must kill the root. And that can only be done by internal change.

So let us, as those committed to making disciples, be more worried about the why than the what.


*The Complete Works of John Owen, 6:165

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts About God

Sometimes I complain that I cannot understand God and what he is doing.

Then I remind myself that if I could understand him, he wouldn’t be very great.

And the last thing I need is a lesser god.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Horton on Election

Horton answers the charge that Election is unfair. How can God tell people, “Sorry, folks, but you’re just no on the list'”?

I believe that the accusation of God’s injustice in choosing one person and no another is rooted in the fact that we have really lost our doctrine of grace. We no longer really believe that nobody deserves salvation. We no longer really believe that God could send us all to hell without giving us time to think about it, and that this would be perfectly just. If we did believe that people were saved in spite of the fact that they really do deserve the very opposite, election would appear to us to be a very logical as well as biblical conclusion …

Election does not exclude anybody from the kingdom of God who wants in. Rather, it includes in God’s kingdom those whose direction is away from the kingdom of God and those who would otherwise remain forever in the kingdom of sin and death. …

None of have the faintest idea of what life would be like if God gave us what we deserve. For example, we don’t even deserve the air we breathe, having declared our independence from the God who supplies it everyday.

—Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace, pp. 78-79.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Missionary on Missions

My friend Dave, who I have known since high school and who used to abuse me during tennis matches years ago, has recently responded to my friend Chris with some ideas about the call to missions. It is worth your time. I’d post it all, but I think that would be stealing or something, so I will just give you his conclusion about the sometimes seeming fruitlessness of gospel ministry on the mission field and ask you to go read it for yourself:

And though no one come, though no one heed, you are there, and they know you are there, and HE knows you are there -- and HE is there with you. Always. Until it's all over and you go to your final sleep saying, "I left it all on out there on the field -- and it was worth it all."

Dave is one of the living people in this world that I most highly respect. He went and did and still is doing what I have only talked about and preached about. I talk about the sacrifice of ministry, but I have an easy life. Dave and Kristi live it.  

Dave and I have not had much contact since college, but I have seen his ministry from afar. I recommend him to you with great confidence. Pray for him and his family.

And listen when he speaks.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why People Go to Hell

One of the core elements of biblical evangelical theology is that people die and go to hell. While that doctrine is distasteful to many, and should be hard for anyone to preach gladly, it is what the Bible teaches and what the church has historically believed. It is hard to imagine that one will long be an evangelical after denying the reality of eternal conscious torment. However, my point here is not to address the reality of hell, but to think for a moment about why people go there.

It is common to hear people say something like, “People do not go to hell for their sins because Jesus died for all sin. They go to only only for their unbelief.”

Let’s consider this along two lines. First, the Bible plainly declares that people go to hell for their sins. For instance, Revelation 21:8 says, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” It is hard to imagine that the list of sins is somehow not a part of the reason that they are there.

Second, unbelief is a sin (cf. Revelation 21:8 for starters). If Jesus died for all sin, then he must also have died for the sin of unbelief. Therefore, their unbelief, like all their other sins, would have been paid for. So why would they be in hell for a sin that was paid for?

If the sin of unbelief was not paid for, then unbelief is a sin that is atoned for by doing something, namely, by believing. That is to say that Jesus atoned for all sins but unbelief, and we atone for unbelief by belief. It becomes, in effect, a self-salvation, or salvation by replacement of one thing for another. One might as well deny the reality of hell as affirm the possibility of self-atonement.

“Well,” one might object, “unbelief is not a sin.”

Then we must ask why would one be punished in hell for eternity for something that was not even wrong to begin with? And why is it listed along with other sins in places like Revelation 21:8, Titus 1:15, and 2 Thessalonians 2:12.

People who usually make this argument do so, at least in part, as an argument about fairness, that it would be unfair for God to pay only for the sins of some and not the sins of others. The idea of fairness is crying out for a post, and perhaps shall have its own soon. But to entertain the argument, how is it fair for God to send someone to eternal conscious torment for something that was not wrong? It makes no sense.

Yes, this is, in some sense an argument for a limited atonement of some sort. Before you cry foul, remember that everyone (except universalists) limits the atonement in some way, either in its provision or its application or both.

But I think there are some who need to think a bit more rigorously about the idea that people do not go to hell for sin; they go for unbelief.

Hopefully, this might jumpstart a thought or two.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just for Fun

Do you know what city in the continental US is the farthest from a major league baseball stadium?

I was close. I missed it by 230 miles. But I guessed about the only name in the state that I could recall. Perhaps a map would have helped, but that would have been cheating. (Because I make up the rules, that’s why.)

HT: Scot McKnight

BJU, Smith, Alcohol, and the Deeper Problem

BJU recently decided to pull a book by Dr. Randy Jaeggli entitled The Christian and Drinking. This was due in part to a need for a new printing anyway. It was also motivated by a veritable barrage of negative comments about the book, including a review by Shelton Smith who is the editor of The Sword of the Lord newspaper.

BJU says of Smith’s review:

This review exemplifies a deeper problem, and perhaps the most serious one of all. It is an unwillingness to allow for a serious analysis of biblical evidence. This unwillingness to accept biblical evidence, even when it supports a dearly held conviction, underscores the problem.

I recently read someone (who I cannot remember) who suggested that the hallmark of fundamentalism—biblical authority, that “whatever the Bible says is so”—is coming back to bite some. I think he’s right. When Dr. Jaeggli went back to the Bible and came to a different exegetical conclusion about the use of some words, he was loudly accused of compromise. The weight of the biblical argument (about which Dr. Jaeggli was certainly correct) was irrelevant. He differed with the real authority—what good men in past generations taught. Even though he agreed with the good men in past generations about application, he was still wrong. 

There is, among some no doubt well meaning people, the tacit suggestion that one can go to the Bible for authority so long as your conclusions do not contradict those conclusions of men who went before. If you examine the biblical evidence and arrive at a different conclusion, you are anathema even if your application is the same (as Dr. Jaeggli’s was). You have compromised.

So what is the real authority for these? It is not the Bible but rather conclusions that were drawn about the Bible. In that, they have ceased to be fundamentalists.

It is interesting that some who claim that “good men differ” about certain matters (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Bible versions, mode of baptism, etc) are quick to suggest that good men cannot differ about lines of separation with others or conclusions about biblical exegesis on certain passages. For some, you can differ about whether or not God is sovereign, but don’t you dare suggest the Bible does not universally condemn the alcoholic beverage or that John MacArthur might be a believer, or that John Piper might actually love God and the souls of men.*

In other words, there are certain biblical conclusions that are debatable but do not cost fellowship, while there are other biblical conclusions that are not debatable and do cost fellowship. (Interestingly, to closer you get to a fundamental doctrine, the more tolerance is accepted. Things like an errant view of bibliology are accepted so long as we agree about some radio preacher. Strange stuff, my friend.)

Perhaps fundamentalism’s greatest need at this point is to decide what will be the authority? Will it be the good men who have gone before? Or will it be the Bible itself?

No one should mistake where I am. I am a fundamentalist, and have explained why elsewhere on this blog. (You can search the blog for “fundamentalism” or “fundamentalist” and find those.) I have also made my views on the use of alcohol clear on this blog.

But I am not a fundamentalist because of what men of prior generations said, or what men of the current generation say. I am a fundamentalist because of what I think the Bible teaches.

What men of old said is informative. It is not authoritative.

And it’s not going to be authoritative, even if you yell and scream about it. Or write long blog posts about it. Or reviews in newspapers.

As fundamentalists, we need to get back to the Bible. And then stand on that.


*In the interest of deference to some, I offer here a disclaimer that no one I quote in this article should be understood to be a part of the Trinity or an angel from heaven. Therefore, they are sinners with actual sin problems of which we should be wary. I disagree with everyone mentioned on this blog anywhere. I even disagree with myself sometimes. So don’t whine that I don’t offer enough disclaimers.

I assume that you have the common sense and biblical training to be discerning. If you don’t, don’t complain to me. Talk to your pastor lovingly and prayerfully about his failure to train you, and be willing to find a new church if you need to where the pastor will take seriously his responsibility to teach people to think biblically, rather than to repeat a list of approved people, schools, practices, habits, etc.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Torrey on Why to Pray for Revival

Many pray for a revival. That certainly is a prayer that is pleasing to God; it is along the line of His will; but many prayers for revivals are purely selfish. The churches desire revivals in order that the membership by be increased, in order that the church may have a position of more power and influence in the community, in order that the church treasury may be filled, in order that a good report may be made at the presbytery or conference or association. For such low purposes as these, churches and ministers are praying for a revival, and oftentimes too God does not answer the prayer.

Why should we pray for a revival? For the glory of God, because we cannot endure it that God should continue to be dishonored by the worldliness of the church, by the sins of unbelievers, by the proud unbelief of the day; because God’s Word is being made void; in order that God may be glorified by the outpouring of His Spirit on the Church of Christ. For these reasons first of all and above all, we should pray for revival.

— R. A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 77.

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Calling a New Pastor

My cousin, Matthew St. John, the former pastor of Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas, and now the pastor at Bethel Church in Fargo, ND writes to his former church on their calling of a new pastor.

Give him the gift of a very fresh start. But also the gift of a free and available following for the long haul. Pray for him daily. Encourage him intentionally and regularly. Work hard to not grieve his spirit with the kind of petty things that so reflect typical human nature. When he’s weary seek proactively to lift him up, give him rest, and cheer his soul.

Read it all here. And remember it next time your church calls a new pastor.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Common Grace, Systematic Theology, and Your Help

Common grace is “the grace of God by which he give people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 657). Common grace is essentially God’s kindness, even to people who are not believers.

Remember, all people are sinners and are therefore immediately worthy of God’s judgment. Yet God withholds his judgment, has provided for us an orderly world to live in, provides food/air/water/life for all people, brings about some level of moral goodness even from unbelievers (for instance, even though they are totally depraved they do not intentionally run over little old ladies crossing the street, and they might even help them), establishes human government, and more.

But where does the doctrine of common grace fit in the categories of systematic theology? Depends on who you ask.

Under Theology Proper (the doctrine of God himself) – It is a part of God’s rule in his created world (Erickson, p. 401-402, 294, 303; Reymond, pp. 402-03).

Under Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) – It is preparatory for God’s work of special grace, sometimes called saving grace or efficacious grace (C. Hodge, 3:654ff.; A.H. Strong; 3:783; Moody Handbook of Theology, pp. 334-35; Grudem, pp. 657-665; Shedd, pp. 774ff.). 

Under Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Spirit) – It is part of the Spirit’s work of control and conviction in the world (Snoeberger; McCune (Systematic Theology II forthcoming I assume); Walvoord [The Holy Spirit, pp. 107ff.; he connects it with providence and sovereignty on p. 107]). 

Can you help by enlarging this list of where theologians of various stripes stand on the placement of common grace in systematic theology? (Or correct me if I have misunderstood one of the few I have above.)

As for me, Theology Proper seems to be the best place for it. The soteriological aspect of it seems too narrow. Only in the broadest sense of preparation for salvation does it seem that it is soteriological. It also seems too broad to tie solely to the work of the Spirit since it seems that some of it is not directly connected with the work of the Spirit (e.g., rain, food). It seems that it is the work of God’s providence to mitigate the effects of sin and delay judgment in the world, while making the world inhabitable for his creation, particularly his image bearers. 

Can you help with an argument as to why one category would be better than another?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Just Thinking …

What does it say when we consider that the “Problem of Evil” consumes so much of our attention, and the “Problem of Good” consumes so little?

We get up in the morning and say, “Why do I have to hurt like this?” or “Why did my loved one die?” or “Why do I have to lose my job?” followed by “What was God thinking when he did that?”

We rarely get up and say, “Wow … God saved me (or my loved one) from the results of my sin for one more day. Why did he do that? What was God thinking when he did that?”

I would submit that the problem of  good in our world is at least as great a problem as the problem of evil. It perhaps speaks to our self-centered nature and our lack of a robust understanding of humanity that we do not see it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Makes Me Laugh

I am always humored when people who do not believe in the authority of authorial intent object when someone uses their words in a way that they did not intend them to be used.

Lost It?

Sometimes, I can’t find something.

Now occasionally it is because I tend to worship at the idol of convenience. I lay my keys down at the first available flat spot, regardless of where it might be. And sometimes the spot isn’t flat, so they fall somewhere else.

I put my wallet near me, where “me” happens to be at that time. After all, that’s easier than walking three steps across the room to put my wallet and keys in the key holder by the front door.

True story (you can ask my mom; she will probably remember): When I was in high school, I lost my baseball glove for the better part of an off-season. I finally found it one day. I had put a ball in it and put it under my mattress to help form it. One day I finally wondered why the foot of my bed had a lump in it. I found out why … and found my glove at the same time.

Another true story: I spent over an hour one day in my office looking for my keys. I found them hanging on my belt, where I kept them in those days. You would have though the jingling of the keys every time I moved might have been a tip-off. Nope, not for me.

Mostly, I can’t find something because the last time I used it was so long ago that I don’t remember where I put it. The less I use something, the less inclined I am to remember where to find it.

Sometimes I hear people (or read people) use the Scriptures in a particularly insightful way. I wonder, “How do they do that?” And then I remember it is because they use the Scripture all the time. They don’t misplace the stuff of Scripture because it gets used to regularly in their lives.

The reason most of us don’t use Scripture very well, either in our own lives or in the lives of others, is because we don’t use it very often.

Scripture is given to us to shape our thinking and beliefs, and therefore to shape our lives.

It is the knife of a surgeon, carefully cutting away the disease. It is the hands of a mother, tenderly caring for a scraped knee. It is the instruction of artisan, patiently explaining his trade to an apprentice. It is the wrench of a mechanic, skillfully fixing that which is broken. It is the arms of a father, strongly holding his child during a thunderstorm of life.

It is the word of the living God, giving life to the dead and preparing them for eternity.

Love it enough to know it. Use it enough to find it when you need it.

Monday, August 03, 2009

John Frame’s Grading Scale

From Westminster Theological Seminary professor John Frame’s Syllabus for the class “Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.”

A: Good grasp of basic issues, plus something really extraordinary, worthy of publication in either a technical or popular publication. That special excellence may be of various kinds: formulation, illustration, comprehensiveness, subtlety/nuance, creativity, argument, insight, correlations with other issues, historical perspective, philosophical sophistication, research beyond the requirements of the assignment. One of these will be enough!

A-: An A paper, except that it requires some minor improvement before an editor would finally accept it for publication.

B+: Good grasp of basic issues but without the special excellences noted above. A few minor glitches.

B: The average grade for graduate study. Good grasp of basic issues, but can be significantly improved.

B-: Shows an understanding of the issues, but marred by significant errors, unclarities (conceptual or linguistic), unpersuasive arguments, and/or shallow thinking.

C+: Raises suspicions that to some extent the student is merely manipulating terms and concepts without adequately understanding them, even though to a large extent these terms and concepts are used appropriately. Does show serious study and preparation.

C: Uses ideas with some accuracy, but without mastery or insight; thus the paper is often confused.

C-: Problems are such that the student evidently does not understand adequately the issues he/she is writing about, but the work may nevertheless be described as barely competent.

D: I do not give D’s on papers.

F: Failure to complete the assignment satisfactorily. Such performance would disqualify a candidate for ministry if it were part of a presbytery exam.

Most of my students get B’s. I try to keep A’s and C’s to a relatively small number. F’s are extremely rare, but I have given a few.