Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Ryle on the Importance of a Church That Teaches Hell and Judgment

If you would ever be a healthy and Scriptural Christian, I entreat you to beware of any ministry which does not plainly teach the reality and eternity of hell. Such a ministry may be soothing and pleasant, but it is far more likely to lull you to sleep than to lead you to Christ, or build you up in the faith. It is impossible to leave out any portion of God’s truth without spoiling the whole. That preaching is sadly defective which dwells exclusively on the mercies of God and the joys of heaven, and never sets forth the terrors of the Lord and the miseries of hell. It may be popular, but it is not Scriptural: it may amuse and gratify, but it will not save. Give me the preaching which keeps back nothing that God has revealed. You may call it stern and harsh; you may tell us that to frighten people is not the way to do them good. But you are forgetting that the grand object of the Gospel is to persuade men to “flee from the wrath to come,” and that it is vain to expect men to flee unless they are afraid. Well would it be for many professing Christians if they were more afraid about their souls than they now are!

J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 252–253.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Nashville Statement

Not long ago, some evangelicals published The Nashville Statement. Unfortunately, it is not about the tripe that parades about as country music these days. It is rather about sex, gender, and marriage.

Predictably, it drew a lot of praise for the great moral courage and clarity that it demonstrated as well as a lot of criticism for the narrow-minded hatefulness it delivered.

And that’s just what evangelicals said about it.

What should we make of the Nashville Statement?

As you might guess, I have a few thoughts.

First, it is good for Christians to have a voice in biblical and moral issues in society, even if, or perhaps especially if, it is a controversial topic on which the Bible is clear. There is nothing in and of itself that is wrong with a statement like the Nashville Statement. It might be appropriate on any number of topics. Letting Christian truth be known is a good thing and when a number of Christians band together to do it, it might be a better thing.

Second, it can be dangerous for Christians to make statements or participate in statements that are devoid of relationships. As with all brief statements (and many not-so-brief statements), it is difficult to communicate personal love, empathy, and grace toward others.

Third, Christians need to move past the idea that we can say biblically faithful things that will please people who have no desire to be biblically faithful, or who have a distorted view of what biblical faithfulness really is. As Christians, we need to brace ourselves that we are increasingly marginalized in American society, and American society may have been the last bastion for public Christianity on the globe. Those who do not believe Christ will reject our views.  Even fellow believers will object to some things that we judge to be biblically faithful. We must train our conscience by the Scriptures, follow it, and then let the chips fall where they may.

Fourth, Christians need to accept that public statements like the Nashville statement will have little to no positive effect in the society at large. It is doubtful that there is any significant number of people out there who are going to repent of their sins and embrace Christ because of the Nashville Statement. It is unlikely to lead to the next Great Awakening. It may, in fact, harden some. Even professing believers are hardened by the statement because they consider it harsh, too divisive, or even flat-out wrong. If we put our hope in public statements, however well-meaning they are, we will be greatly disappointed.

Fifth, Christians should recognize that very few of the people we are called to reach and minister to will know anything about the Nashville Statement. Which is to say, it really has no relevance at all for our local church ministries. Go love people, serve them, evangelize them, and disciple them. Chances are they won’t ask you about the Nashville Statement. They might ask you about their marriage, their kids, the relationship they want to get in, or the one they want to get out of. They might request prayer for a sick child or a new job. But they probably don’t care what Nashville thinks about anything.

Sixth, there are questions about whether or not signing the Nashville Statement involves a compromise of biblical commands about separation and fellowship.

I regret to inform you that my word count has just expired.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Around the Horn–10/6/17

At first is a longish article about the addictive nature of technology in smartphones. It is interesting because it talks about how the people who created the apps are now seeing the problems and refusing to participate. The guy who created the Facebook “Like” button has had his assistant setup parental controls on his iPhone so that he (the creator) can’t download apps. Beware the subtle (or not so subtle) power of connection and the ding of affirmation when someone likes your self-aggrandizing post or ridiculously-angled selfie.

I will be back to write more right after I check Facebook and Twitter.

Okay, I’m back.

How come no one has liked this yet?

I must go on anyway …

At second is an article about John Piper and LeCrae (a Christian hip hop artist). I warn you that if you like either of them, you probably won’t like this. Which means you should read it carefully and give it thought. I don’t keep up with John Piper, CHH, and LeCrae, but this article highlights how racial division is being fomented by those who are supposed to be against it. My experience of the past 19 years tells me this isn’t the way to go about it. Continually highlighting the very thing you say shouldn’t exist won’t make it go away.

At third is a good article about well-meaning Christians who participate in Angel Trees or other “Christmas-gifts-for-underprivileged-children” endeavors. I have long agreed with this and am glad someone wrote it to make up for my not writing it. Often, this reminds me of those who go and serve in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, or who go spend the night in a box on the street corner or in a rescue mission. It makes them feel better, but doesn’t actually help. In the gifting endeavors, it can actually make the problem worse.

Lastly, here is a link to a recent 9 Marks Conference with some worthy sessions. I commend it to you for encouragement and challenge regarding the church and leadership in the church.

Friday, August 11, 2017

From Ryle’s “Holiness”

If any reader of this paper really feels that he has counted the cost, and taken up the cross, I bid him persevere and press on. I dare say you often feel your heart faint, and are sorely tempted to give up in despair. Your enemies seem so many, your besetting sins so strong, your friends so few, the way so steep and narrow, you hardly know what to do. But still I say, persevere and press on.

The time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more.

The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer here below. When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart. We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown. We shall marvel that in “counting the cost” we could ever doubt on which side the balance of profit lay. Let us take courage. We are not far from home. IT MAY COST MUCH TO BE A TRUE CHRISTIAN AND A CONSISTENT HOLY MAN; BUT IT PAYS.

J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 117–118.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ryle on Preaching the Gospel

Here’s another passage from J. C. Ryle’s Holiness on counting the cost of becoming a Christian. This time, he is addressing the preaching of the gospel and what those who proclaim it to sinners must preach.

If we desire to do good, let us never be ashamed of walking in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Work hard if you will, and have the opportunity, for the souls of others. Press them to consider their ways. Compel them with holy violence to come in, to lay down their arms, and to yield themselves to God. Offer them salvation, ready, free, full, immediate salvation. Press Christ and all His benefits on their acceptance. But in all your work tell the truth, and the whole truth. Be ashamed to use the vulgar arts of a recruiting sargent. Do not speak only of the uniform, the pay, and the glory; speak also of the enemies, the battle, the armour, the watching, the marching, and the drill. Do not present only one side of Christianity. Do not keep back “the cross” of self-denial that must be carried, when you speak of the cross on which Christ died for our redemption. Explain fully what Christianity entails. Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to “count the cost.”

J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 111.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Counting the Cost

Here’s a helpful passage from J. C. Ryle’s Holiness on counting the cost to be a Christian:

I am bold to say that it would be well if the duty of “counting the cost” were more frequently taught than it is. Impatient hurry is the order of the day with many religionists. Instantaneous conversions, and immediate sensible peace, are the only results they seem to care for from the Gospel. Compared with these all other things are thrown into the shade. To produce them is the grand end and object, apparently, of all their labours. I say without hesitation that such a naked, one-sided mode of teaching Christianity is mischievous in the extreme.

Let no one mistake my meaning. I thoroughly approve of offering men a full, free, present, immediate salvation in Christ Jesus. I thoroughly approve of urging on man the possibility and the duty of immediate instantaneous conversion. In these matters I give place to no one. But I do say that these truths ought not to be set before men nakedly, singly, and alone. They ought to be told honestly what it is they are taking up, if they profess a desire to come out from the world and serve Christ. They ought not to be pressed into the ranks of Christ’s army without being told what the warfare entails. In a word, they should be told honestly to “count the cost.”

Does any one ask what our Lord Jesus Christ’s practice was in this matter? Let him read what St. Luke records. He tells us that on a certain occasion “There went great multitudes with Him: and He turned and said unto them, If any come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–27. I must plainly say, that I cannot reconcile this passage with the proceedings of many modern religious teachers. And yet, to my mind, the doctrine of it is as clear as the sun at noon-day. It shows us that we ought not to hurry men into professing discipleship, without warning them plainly to “count the cost.”

J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 109–110.

Friday, June 23, 2017

How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Andrew David Naselli

Some months ago, Andy Naselli (professor of NT at Bethlehem College and Seminary) sent me a PDF of a new book he had just completed entitled How to Understand and Apply the New Testament. Over the next few weeks, I read it with great interest and, more importantly, with great benefit.

Here’s my bottom line: I like this book and I commend it to you.

Now a brief, informal review.

As you can tell from the title, this book serves as a basic primer on how to study the NT. The principles in it are, of course, applicable in many ways to the OT but there is a companion volume on the OT by Jason DeRouchie (who also teaches at Bethlehem). This book seems targeted primarily at students, perhaps the very people Andy teaches. It starts at the beginning and walks the reader through the process of, well, understanding and applying a NT text.

However, it is not just students who will benefit. Anyone with an interest in knowing the Word deeper will find this book and its methodology helpful. Sunday school teachers, Bible study or small group leaders, or any sort of Christian who takes the Word seriously will benefit. Even pastors who preach regularly will find it helpful as a refresher and a refiner of methods they already use. The chapters on Greek require some knowledge of Greek, but those who don’t know Greek can just skip them, or read it and learn a little.

There are twelve chapters, each of which deals with a specific area of study such as genre, text criticism, Greek, context, theology, application, etc. Each chapter is filled with clear and concise steps that are illustrated by examples that show the method being applied.

The book contains many personal anecdotes and stories because it was originally developed as a lecture series. This lends itself to an informal style of writing which actually helps the reading of it.

One of the downsides of this book is its length, running almost 350 pages of text not counting the front matter (TOC, Intro, etc.) and the end matter (glossary, indices).

But here’s why that doesn’t matter as much: Much of the length is found in the illustrations, which help the reader, but are not necessary to the point of the book. Don’t read that as an excuse to skip the illustrations the first time through. Read it as freedom to skip them the second or third time through and focus just on the steps as they apply to the passage in front of you. One could even benefit from a methodological handout that condenses the key questions to ask and things to look for to just a few pages. You might create that handout on your way through, or wait until Andy creates one of some sort. As Andy notes in the Introduction (don’t skip it), exegesis can’t be boiled down to a steps. It is both a science and an art that, over time, will become second nature of a sort. But until then, it is helpful to have a list of questions you need to answer and things you need to look for. This book will identify those things for you and give you direction on how to find them.

One thing I have noticed in Andy’s writing is his use of very detailed outlines. This book is no exception. Though it has a table of contents in which each chapter is named with a one line explanation, it also has a twelve-page Analytical Outline that is more detailed that gives all the major headings in the book and serve as a summary of the book. The downside of this Analytical Outline is that it doesn’t include page numbers. (Andy, see if you can get P&R to add those in.) This outline will help you to find particular parts of the book as you need them or want to review them.

Much more could be said and others have done that elsewhere.

In the end, I recommend How to Understand and Apply the New Testament and encourage you to pick it up and work your way through it. You will benefit from it.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Around the Horn – 6/9/17

At first today is a homerun. It is A Discussion on Church and Race with Dr. Voddie Baucham and Pastor Douglas Wilson. It is refreshing and challenging in many respects. One major concern of mine that it taps into is that there is a sort of litmus test in some circles of evangelicalism about how racially sensitive (read: gospel centered) you are on. I wish I could delve into more of this because I think it is significant and my experience of the last almost 20 years has informed my view. But skip my thoughts for now and listen to it. It’s long (ninetyish minutes) but well worth it. Load it up on your phone and take a walk or two. It has a bit of humor in it, so be warned if you are humorless.

At second is a good article about home plate.  Yes, the 17 inches that every batter from T-ball right on up to the major league stands beside and gets judged on. Oh sure, the umps might miss it here or there (though their view from right behind the plate is better than yours from behind the fence down the first base line so quit yapping and cheer your kids on). Hold yourself and those under you and around you to 17 inches. Don’t widen the plate. But I would add this: Be sensitive to the situation. If Little League umpires used a rigid inches for every single pitch, we would still be out there … from the game two weeks ago.

At third is a collection of interviews and articles about Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse put together by Andy Naselli. Sasse has written a new book entitled The Vanishing American Adult. It looks interesting. The interviews are interesting. It’s worth your time to hear this senator talk about the challenges facing our culture.

The homerun today is Carl Trueman writing In Defense of Educational Administrators. Any one with half a brain is troubled by the atmosphere on college campuses and high schools for that matter. If you are not disturbed, feel free to make an inference from that. Trueman argues briefly that this is not about political correctness, pandering, or cowardice. It is much more sinister: It is what education has become. Education is, to use Trueman’s words, therapeutic rather than transformative. There was a day not so long ago that one went to higher education to learn things he had not yet learned (including the proper use of pronouns). These days, the idea of being challenged to learn something new about the world is considered aggression and hate speech. It might be the dreaded micro-aggression, that aggression that is so small and silly it would not be noticed except for small-minded and silly-minded people. I doubt it will change anytime soon. Never has a college degree cost more and been worth less than it is today. I doubt that will change anytime soon either.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Beginning is Not the End

The landscape of history is scattered with the remnants of those who were a “flash in the pan.” They were there for a minute, but gone for a lifetime. They were filled with potential but failed to see it through.

What happened?

For some, it was the proverbial “second time through the lineup.” It’s that new pitcher just called up from Triple A ball to fill in a start. No one has seen his pitches and so he looks pretty good the first time around. But when the lineup resets to the top of the order, the Major League hitters have figured out his stuff and he gets rocked.

For others, it was laziness. I once talked with a man who had played basketball with some very high level players back in the day. Through summer leagues and college, it was clear that they had big time potential. But by the time of this conversation, they were walking the streets, sleeping on benches, and looking for their next fix. I asked him, “Why?” He said, “They didn’t want to work at it.”

For still others, it was distraction. Shiny coins glistened on the pavement. Colorful flowers sprang up in the garden. Cheerful sounds rang out from the playground. And decades later, all the potential lay in an undeveloped pile in the distant past.

O, what could have been.

King Saul is an interesting guy for a lot of reasons and one of those reasons is what could have been. Filled with potential, he ended a disaster.

He was a loyal son, a farmer, a good-looking guy, tall and impressive. He was simply living his life, doing his job.

Then he went looking for donkeys and along the way he found a kingdom, picked by God and anointed by Samuel.

At first, he was fearful and shy. He lacked ambition. In fact, he didn’t even tell his own family. But he was the new king, the first king of Israel.

Then, almost overnight he was transformed from this shy, unambitious farmer to a leader who quickly roused an army of 330,000 men by use of a dismembered ox.

To much acclaim, he delivered a city and was greeted with some ancient equivalent of “Long live the king.”

What a great start.

But the beginning is not the end.

Somewhere along the way, Saul turned into a paranoid maniac. He became fearful, controlling, and obsessive. And he lost everything that he had been given to him. He squandered a kingdom and died by suicide surrounded by the enemy.

Every Israelite knew the story of Saul’s failure. But 1 Samuel 11 reminds us that it didn’t start that way. The handpicked king, handpicked by God himself, had the whole world on a platter in front of him and he unceremoniously dumped it on the ground. He blew up his life and turned into a sad caricature.

In the beginning he summoned 330,000 soldiers to kill for the dignity of all Israel (1 Samuel 11). In the end, he couldn’t persuade one servant to kill to save his own dignity (1 Samuel 31).

In the beginning he was unwilling to kill those who resisted his kingship (1 Samuel 10-22). In the end, he was determined to kill the one who refused to resist his kingship (1 Samuel 18-30).

Saul’s sad life reminds us that the beginning is not the end. Today is no guarantee of tomorrow.

The bad news of life is that what you did yesterday is no guarantee of what you will do tomorrow. Just because you start well doesn’t mean you will finish well.

But the good news of life is that what you did yesterday is no guarantee of what you will do tomorrow. Just because you start bad doesn’t mean you will finish bad.

The grace of God is at work. There is a King who didn’t fail. He, like Saul, went looking for something that was lost and by so doing found a church and a kingdom. Perhaps there was something donkey-like in the ones for whom the Greater King came. But there was something Lamb-like and Lion-like in the deliverer of souls.

And because of our Greater King and his gospel of grace, your past does not have to be your master. And it will not be your guarantee.

The transforming power of God’s Spirit will not come for a moment as it did with Saul, but will come forever.

So number your days so that you may present to the Lord a heart of wisdom.