Archive for June, 2009

Evolution is Not Morally Neutral

One of the reasons why the Holy Angels and the Holy Saints honor Holy, Holy, Holy God in heaven is because of His work of creation.  The theory of evolution is not spiritually neutral!  It is a slap in the face of the Omnipotent Creator.  It questions the veracity of one of God’s greatest miracles.  It detracts from God’s transcendent glory!  So I repeat one more time, evolution is not morally neutral!

Revelation 4:9-11   And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,  “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”

I do not think it means what you think it means

In a post at Euangelion, Michael Bird responds to R. Scott Clark who responds to John Piper who responds to N. T. Wright who responds to the Apostle Paul but none of that is important right now. What is important is Bird’s correction of Clark’s usage of the word “Reformed.” It wasn’t long ago that no one would get anywhere near the word but now in the year where folks are throwing birthday parties for Calvin there are some like R. Scott Clark who want to guard it like it’s their “precious.”

Probably like you I run into this all the time. Folks ask me, “Say aren’t you guys reformed?” or I venture off the reservation in a sermon and they say something like, “what a minute that’s not ‘reformed’ theology, how can you be ‘reformed’?” I don’t think all the confessional recitations and birthday celebrations this side of Geneva will ever settle such an issue but I do think Bird offers a few helpful thoughts here:

On “Reformed”, Clark objects to this description being applied to those outside the Presbyterian and Confessional churches. This is why Clark writes: “Are there as many definitions of ‘Reformed’ as there are definers or is there is fixed, stable, public, ecclesiastical definition of the adjective? I say the latter is the case.” Now every time Clark writes the word “Reformed” I feel like quoting the movie the Princess Bride – “You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means!” Now far be it for me to lecture a historical theologian on adjectives of the Reformation, but surely, just from usage alone, we can observe that “Reformed” is a polysemous term. From my fallible experience and limited readings, I think that “Reformed” has three primary usages: (1) it can be used historically to signify those Christian groups that emerged during or from the Reformation (Lutheran, Anabaptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc.), (2) it can be used theologically to describe those who hold to a Calvinistic and Covenantal theology (though we could ask which part of Calvin is essential and whose covenant theology – e.g. Kline or Murray – is pristine?); and (3) it can be used ecclesiologically to describe those churches that stand in the Continental/Scottish Presbyterian tradition. To say that Piper is “Reformed” it is to mean it in the sense of (2) not (3). I suspect that many do not like applying the term “Reformed” to Calvinistic and Confessional Baptists because it lowers the currency of the term “Reformed,” which they feel should be reserved exclusively for themselves (I have to confess that this entire discussion reminds me of Paul’s debate in Romans 2 about who is a true “Jew” and Philippians 3 about who is the true “circumcision”). I can resonate against making the term nebulous, but I doubt that Clark’s own idea of “Reformed” matches the historical and public reality of how the adjective is used.

Jonathan Edwards is My Hero

In June of 1850, Jonathan Edwards’ congregation in Northampton voted whether or not to retain him as their pastor. Only 23 of 230 voted in favor of Edwards—a mere 10 percent—and he was therefore terminated from the pastorate he held for 23 years. Leading up to his farewell sermon on July 1, 1750, Edwards’ demeanor was said to be remarkably calm, as noted at the time by Reverend David Hall in his diary:

I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week, but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies, and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good, overbalancing all imaginable ills of life, even to the astonishment of many, who could not be at rest without his dismission.

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

But the Puritans didn’t have air condition and other strains of logic

Within days of Spurgeon and MacArthur celebrating the same birthday (see previous post), the current, long-time pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s church) has come out swinging at just about every American who dares call himself “reformed” in any shape of the word. Unlike some folks, if the world stopped employing the word “reformed” or “calvinist” I would somehow manage to move on with my life.

It seems that Peter Masters wants to define the word backward to such an extent that the next thing he will have to do is sell his automobile because after all the Puritans didn’t drive cars. Such logic may seemed strained but that is exactly the kind of logical skill one finds in this “review” of Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. What Masters fails to realize is that there is no one leading figure, central publishing arm, seminary, or conference that makes up this broad thing some are calling a movement. Yet that doesn’t keep him from painting with the broadest brush he can find in his quiver. The problem with movements, especially those of a political or theological nature, is that viewed too broadly there is something for everyone to hate. So Master’s looks at everything that gets near the word “reformed” and seeks to, well, hate it. You can read the review for yourself but here is one sampling that is so wrong it doesn’t want to be right:

Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)

What else do Spurgeon and MacArthur have in common?

Today Charles Spurgeon would have celebrated his 175th birthday while John MacArthur celebrates his 70th. Happy birthday gentlemen.

Is your preaching little more than religious moralism?

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Advance 09 conference in Durham, N.C. Admittedly, I was walking in where angels fear to tread. The lineup of speakers was at one time thrilling and concerning. If you read ET’s you know that we all share an affinity for John MacArthur and all of us have served in significant ways at GCC. Needless to say, John has taken issue with some of the speakers. Going to this conference did not come without calculated risks. But Piper was coming and it was within driving distance so I took it.

That being said, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the challenge and encouragement some of these men were to my soul. Clearly they were outside of my “ilk” when it comes to dress, style, methods, etc. But despite our differences, I found some very helpful conviction and challenge in what they said.

What stood out to me and what I want to reflect here is a call to evaluate the “application” in our preaching. This post can be considered my contribution to the “second person” application post a few weeks back on ET.

For the record, I am a committed application guy and I often use second person, but not always. For me it simply relates to the text before me that week. But in their respective messages at A09, Matt Chandler and Brian Chappell (especially) challenged me to ask if my second person application was little more than religious moralism. I have to admit, the question was an insult when I first heard it. My heart cried out, “No way!”

Here’s their point and where my conviction began. If our preaching simply conveys a “do more, try harder” emphasis in the second person then people will seek to do what the Bible commands apart from the grace, strength and power of the Gospel. We might, I’m afraid, be guilty of telling them to commit the Galatian heresy – to finish in the flesh what God began/does in the Spirit – without even knowing it. Chandler related how people who live like this often put God in their debt. They do all the right things but when things don’t go well, they question God! I don’t deserve this! I did everything you asked! I was good and THIS is how you repay me!?!? If you counsel at all, you’ve seen this perspective many, many times. As I reflected I could see traces of commands to obey without a call to do it in and by the grace of the Gospel. And I wondered why change I thought to be so obvious and needed, never came.

Chappell gave some VERY helpful advice in balance. To make sure that your preaching is Gospel filled and Christ exalting remember this – every passage says something about God (who he is, what he requires, etc.) and every passage says something about us (who we are in light of God, what we are required to do, etc.). Then he asked, “What is the only thing that connects men to God in a way that is acceptable to him? What is the only power we have that allows us to do what God commands? The Cross!”

That thought has helped me immensely in these past weeks and I trust, has made my preaching and application more Christ exalting and more helpful to the people who listen. Commanding people obey is good preaching, Paul’s writings are full of it! But commanding them to obey in their own strength and effort is simply religious moralism because if they are able to make progress on their own, they will pat themselves on the back and not give the glory to God!


Lord willing I will be posting additional thoughts from the conference as it relates to preaching in the coming weeks.

(Matt Waymeyer fell off his chair upon reading this last sentence. Please pray for his recovery)

A Question for Postmillennialists:

According to postmillennialism, the gospel will continue to advance with great success, and most of the world’s population will be regenerate by the end of the present age. As postmillennialist Loraine Boettner explains:

Postmillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world eventually is to be Christianized and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the millennium.

In a similar way, postmillennialist Kenneth Gentry writes:

Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind.

So my question is this: Since postmillennialists view the thousand-year millennial kingdom of Revelation 20 as coming to an end at the conclusion of the present age—to then be followed by the second coming of Christ—how do they explain the rebellion in Revelation 20:7-9?

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them (Rev 20:7-9).

Do you see the problem? If postmillennialists believe that the world will be “Christianized” in such a way that “a vast majority of human beings” will be saved by the end of the thousand years, how do they account for this massive rebellion prior to the return of Christ? How is it possible that a mass of unbelievers numbering like the sand of the seashore could arise in a world that is almost entirely regenerate?

When God Doesn’t Answer Prayer

Nine Hindrances to Fruitful Intercessory Prayer:

  1. Cherishing unrepentant sin in your heart (Ps 66:18)
  2. Asking with selfish motives (James 4:3)
  3. Failing to ask in faith (James 1:5-7)
  4. Failing to pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15)
  5. Failing to care for your wife (1 Peter 3:7)
  6. Failing to ask in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14)
  7. Failing to abide in Christ (John 15:7)
  8. Failing to let Christ’s words abide in you (John 15:7)
  9. Failing to be persistent (Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-8)

If God has not been answering your prayers lately, could it be that one (or more) of these is the reason?

Poll: Church discipline and non-members

In favor of a little liturgy and the occassional “ditty”

Our church’s liturgy would probably be described as “free church” worship by those who study such things (see Kent Hughes, “Free Church Worship” in Worship by the Book, ed. D. A. Carson). Nothing flashy, no smells or bells but with a healthy dose of Christ-centered singing, Scripture reading, preaching, and lots of prayer. We’re simple like that without apology to our more dour brethren.

So I’m reading Stuart Olyott’s little booklet Reading the Bible and Praying in Public and I come to this paragraph:

There is one more thing to add: when we come to the end of our public reading of Scripture, we should stop and say nothing else at all. Let the Word of God ring in the silence of each listener’s heart! There is widespread habit of rounding off the reading by adding some form of pious ‘ditty’, as if a mortal and sinful man could somehow pronounce a blessing on the Word of God or speed it on its way. This is a bad habit and we should abandon it.

First of all, I like a lot of what he has to say. However I want to know who appointed Olyott the Scripture reading police. A booklet like his would be better served to call ministers back to giving attention to extended readings of Scripture in worship rather than foaming over preference issues. If someone adds a “this is the Gospel of our Lord” or a “thanks be to God” after a reading I will simply rejoice that God’s Word has been spoken. Not to mention the fact that Olyott seems to detest what Ezra actually did after the reading (Neh 8:6). Why impugn motives of worship leaders over something preferential? This is akin to one well-known expositor I know who teaches that the preacher should ALWAYS read his passage at the beginning of his sermon because he believes this gets the hearer into the text as soon as possible. I simply call this kind of wisdom hocus pocus.

Psalm 119 has not a few blessings on the Word, all of which I’m quite sure are appropriate for reciting in worship and after Scripture readings. So I for one am not opposed to “ditties” as described by the author, but then again I’m one of those low life free churchers. Thanks be to God!

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