Opening Our Eyes to Obergefell and Its Effects: A Pastoral, Cultural, and Legal Round-Up

SCOTUSOn June 26, 2015, in a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states. In the hours that have passed, Christians have been praying and wondering aloud what comes next and how we should respond. To aid our collective understanding of the Supreme Court’s decision, I’ve listed dozens of resources under the following headings:

  • The Decision: What Did the Court Decide?
  • On the Pastoral Front: What do we say to our church?
  • On the Cultural Front: What do we say to our neighbor?
  • On the Legal Front: What about religious liberty?

I am so thankful for the men and women who have been reporting and commenting on these issues. May their wise words aid you—as they have me—to think and pray and act with grace and courage for truth in these days. Still before reading any of these posts, let me encourage you to watch this two minute exhortation from Russell Moore, president of the ERLC.

Continue reading

Eleven Questions to Facilitate Hospitality Evangelism

foodIn our post-Christian age, evangelistic Christians (a redundant statement, if ever there was one) must learn to love their neighbors through means of proactive hospitality. A few years ago I wrote about the subject of evangelism and hospitality (here and here). Today, let me list 11 questions that might help facilitate conversation that goes beyond the weather and sports. Moving from the generic to the more evangelistic, these personal questions may help us to engage others with meaningful questions that move towards the most important subjects of life. Continue reading

Confronting the Ingrown Church

pewsShortly after I stepped down as pastor this year, I came across an illuminating and deeply convicting book by C. John (“Jack”) Miller that addressed so many of the issues in my church—and in so many churches like ours.

The book is entitled Outgrowing the Ingrown Churchand though it is a little dated (1986), it gets at the heart of the problem that many American churches are facing—an unhealthy self-centeredness that undermines the missionary impulse of Christ’s church. While the whole book is worth reading, the opening section (“Where Missionary Life Begins”) was most helpful for me. In those two chapters, Miller outlines the deadly symptoms of the ingrown church. The rest of the book aims at remedying that introversion through means of fresh faith, radical repentance, and active, prayerful, outward ministry.

Let me lay out some of the symptoms of the ingrown church. If they look similar to what you’ve experienced in your church, pick up this little book and begin to work through it with the leaders in your church. Continue reading

Take Up and Pray: Learning to Pray the Scriptures from Donald Whitney

prayDonald Whitney has just released a new book on prayer, Praying the BibleLike his earlier books spurring Christians towards love and good deeds (especially Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), this little volume is sure to encourage believers and provide a pathway to greater, more fervent, more consistent prayer.

As I read the book at the end of last week’s prayer meeting at the SBC, I walked away with fresh encouragement to take up the Scriptures and pray. I am sure any believer will experience the same thing if they pick up this little book (89 pp.). To encourage you to pick up this book, let me give you a sense of Whitney’s argument coupled with his ‘tweetable’ prose. Continue reading

Believing and Belonging: Which is the Source for True Fellowship?

fellowsThe next time you read through the books of Acts, underline every time you find the word “believe.” At the same time, circle every time you find a mention of the Scriptures, the word, or preaching. What you will soon discover is how radically committed the New Testament church was to proclaiming the Word of God and calling for belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everywhere the apostles went they proclaimed the Word. Empowered by the Spirit, they were called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Indeed, filled with the Spirit they fulfilled their calling of proclaiming the Word (Acts 4:31). As a result, in just a few short decades churches were planted all over the Mediterranean. And within three centuries, the early church would become the dominant world religion. Continue reading

The Doctrine of Creation: A Necessary Part of Our Worship and Evangelism

auroraCould it be that Christ-centered Christians can all too easily forget that the God of the cross is also the God of creation?

Not long ago I was visiting with some church leaders and the topic of transgender persons came up. While a number of good strategies were mentioned about sharing the gospel with them (and all people who sinfully rejected God’s moral norms for their sex lives) there were questions about what is wrong with a man desiring to be a woman, or the reverse. “Which verse does a transgender person violate?” was the question.

The short answer (and this again goes for all persons) is “all of them.” In Adam, all of us are guilty before our maker (Rom 5:12, 18–19). By nature, we are inveterate rebels. We don’t need a verse addressing our specific manifestation of sin, although there are plenty. The whole Bible speaks to the sinful condition of mankind—transgender persons included. Just read Romans 1:18–32 or Albert Mohler’s insightful “Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis.” Sexual morality is far more than keeping all the laws.

But specific answers aside, I think there is a larger need in evangelical churches—namely, the remembrance that we do not worship God as Redeemer only, but also as Creator. In fact, in biblical revelation he is first Creator first, then Redeemer. And even in redemption, the goal is new creation—personal (2 Cor 5:17) and cosmic (Matt 19:28; Revelation 21–22).

In sharing the gospel, we must not forget that sin is not just law-breaking; it is anything that opposes or deviates from God’s created design. But we will only remember this doctrine of creation, if we give ourselves to worship God as Creator.

And for that reason, I offer give you six ways God’s creation should move you to worship and evangelize. Continue reading

Reading the Bible Better: How Out-of-Order Chronology Serves Biblical Theology

bibleWhat do you do when you come to a passage of Scripture that is out of sequence? Like in the case of Genesis 10, which speaks of various tongues (v. 5) before God confused human language in Genesis 11?

Do you challenge the authority and intent of the author, presuming that there is some kind of error?Do you simply ignore it, pretending that the problem is not that large?  Or do you stop and assess what the author is doing? How you proceed in those cases will, in large part, determine (over the course of time) how well you read the Bible.

Biblical Authors Write Selectively . . . Which Includes Order and Arrangement

When an inspired author of Scripture records a collection of events he naturally delimits his account with some measure of selectivity. In conveying his inspired message, he is not just rehashing history.  He is exercising his office as prophetic messenger.  This kind of intention is confessed in places like Luke 1:1–4 and John 20:30–31, but it is also seen in the warp and woof of the biblical text itself. Continue reading

Typological Pairs: From Suffering to Glory

david solomonConcerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

What does it mean that the Spirit of Christ foretold of the Messiah’s suffering and glory?

Surely, there were many ways, as Hebrews 1:1 indicates. Nationally, the people of Israel regularly experienced enemy oppression (after they sinned) followed by powerful deliverance that set God’s elect over his enemies. Individually, Joseph, Job, David, and Daniel all experienced humbling affliction before being exalted. Textually, there are some individual passages displaying a suffering-to-glory theme—e.g., Isaiah 53 speaks of the Servant’s humiliating death (vv. 1–9) only to close the chapter by announcing his glorious reward for his vicarious suffering (vv. 10–12). Or see the pattern in the Psalms; both the whole Psalter and some individual Psalms (see especially Psalm 22) reflect this pattern.

It seems that everywhere you look in the Old Testament you find (1) God’s people suffering, followed by (2) cries for mercy. In response, (3) God hears their prayers, and (4) responds with saving compassion in the form of a deliverer—a Moses, a Samson, or a David. The result is that (5) the people are saved and the mediator is exalted.

In the light of the New Testament, these incidents are illuminating shadows of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, in the words of Peter, it’s not too much to say that the Spirit of Christ is a cruciform spirit, who leads his people (under the Old Covenant and the New) through valleys of death to bring them into places of honor and service. This is the Christian way—to be brought low unto death, so that God can raise us up to life (see 2 Cor 1:8–9).

That being said, I am persuaded that there is another way in which suffering-unto-glory might be seen in the Old Testament. Instead of containing the pattern to the nation, individuals, or texts, there are some pairs of people who display the pattern. That is, repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, there are individuals related by kinship or ministerial calling whose composite lives function to display the pattern observed in 1 Peter 1. In other words, the Spirit of Christ was directing their lives such that the first person foreshadowed the sufferings of Christ and the second person reflected his subsequent glories.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen this proposal written down anywhere. So, I’d love your thoughts. Does it work? I think there is merit in the proposal and am writing it out (in part) to explore the idea. (That’s what blogs are for, right?) I think, in the end, such pairs may help reflect the binary nature of Christ’s ministry–first in weakness and humiliation, then in power and glory. Or at least, that’s what I will try to show below. Let me know what you think. Continue reading

God’s Marketing Strategy: Christ-Like Churches

marketingFor a whole year [Paul and Barnabas] met with the church and taught a great many people.
And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians
— 
Acts 11:26 —

Marketing is a big business. From 2000–2006, Coca-Cola spent 15.5 billion dollars to advertise their products to the global market.[1] In 2009, Apple Computers spent half a billion dollars on their advertising, which is a third of what Microsoft paid out in 2009 (1.4 Billion).[2] These leading companies invest incredible capital into these self-promotion schemes for the purpose of cashing in on the customers they solicit.

Genuine Converts are God’s Marketing Strategy

But what about the church? Will advertising help achieve Great Commission success? What is God’s marketing strategy? Surely as the Lord of all creation (Ps 24:1), he has ample resources to fund such a project; as Maker of the Milky Way, he has the creative intuition to impress audiences. Yet, Jesus’ ministry is not marked by such promotion. In the Gospels and Acts, we find something more personal, if not even more hidden. Continue reading

Two Common Confusions about Calvinism in Baptist History

careyA few weeks ago, I enumerated the greatest misunderstanding many have with evangelical Calvinism—namely that Calvinism kills evangelism and missions. Today, I want to pick up two more objections that were often raised at my last church, but which have little basis in historical fact.

1. Five-Point Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists

One of the largest confusions in the discussion about Calvinism is the term “Hyper-Calvinism.” Historically-speaking, “Hyper-Calvinism” is different than Five-Point Calvinism. The former has minimized or denied the universal offer of the gospel, the latter has not. The former denies duty-faith—the idea that all are commanded to repent and believer—the latter affirms the universal nature of the gospel call and the duty of every man to repent and belief. Thus, the former has neglected evangelism, missions, and sharing the gospel with all men. The latter, has never minimized the evangelistic work of the Great Commission and its corollary endeavors.

In fact, many Calvinists (e.g., William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and Charles Spurgeon) have argued against Hyper-Calvinism. For instance, William Carey (1761–1834), largely started the modern missions movement when he preached his sermon “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.” In this sermon, preached to a gathering of particular Baptists in England (1792), he outlined how and why “means” were necessary to the advancement of the gospel. He compared the Christian mission to that of a trading company and challenged his comrades to support such an endeavor. With his appeal, he contested the notions of Hyper-Calvinism, which were prevalent at that time, and he soon became the first foreign missionary sent these Baptist churches. Carey was a Baptist and a Calvinist, one who strongly rejected Hyper-Calvinism.

Andrew Fuller is another Calvinistic Baptist who argued vehemently against Hyper-Calvinism. Coming out of a Hyper-Calvinistic background, Fuller took to task those preachers who denied a universal offer of the gospel. At that time, many were following the sentiment that claimed that one needed to observe grace before they would pronounce the gospel. It required the minister to have a kind of omniscient clairvoyance. Yet, with his forceful pen, Andrew Fuller rejected the Hyper-Calvinism in his classic work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. In this work, he articulated a view of the gospel that commended limited atonement and yet declared that the gospel was to be proclaimed to all men.

Significantly, at this time, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists all suffered from the “Modern Question” (Nettles, The Baptists, 1:248), which proposed that a man was never responsible for that which he could not do. In the case of those with Calvinistic leanings, this meant that if a man was unable to believe in the gospel (due to his spiritually dead and depraved standing), then he was not culpable. Hence, many falsely taught that the gospel need not go to all men, but only the elect. The folly in this is assuming one could discern who those were. Ironically, Pelagians/Semi-Pelagians/Arminians fall prey to the same confusion when they argue that men, in and of themselves, are capable of responding to the gospel because God would not give a command that man was incapable obeying.

Finally, Charles Spurgeon is another Calvinist who rejected Hyper-Calvinism. Iain Murray has treated this in his book, Spurgeon and Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 1995). In the book Murray, writes why this book is important,

Hyper-Calvinism only arises whenever and wherever the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is firmly believed. The reason why Spurgeon’s first controversy has been so little thought of in these last hundred years is not that the subject is insignificant. It is rather that doctrinal Christianity as a whole has been too largely ignored. At the present time, when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger of Hyper-Calvinism is once more a possibility and the lessons to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant.

Spurgeon’s reasoning against Hyper-Calvinism coheres with Andrew Fuller—the Hyper-Calvinists deny “duty-faith,” Spurgeon rightly affirms it. Consequently, Spurgeon is a trustworthy preacher of the gospel, who calls all men to faith in Christ.

Anyone who mislabels Five-Pointers with Hyper-Calvinism must redefine their terms, or do their homework in history. The two are not the same.

2. Calvinism is Incompatible with Baptist Doctrine

In church history, Presbyterians and Reformed (the denomination, that is) have been predominately Calvinistic. In the last century, mainline Presbyterians in the Presbyterian Church-USA have become liberal and are not constrained by the Bible at all. This denomination is vastly different from the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The former questions the Bible and mutes the gospel; the latter defends the Bible and cherishes the gospel. The former is Calvinistic in tradition only; the latter adheres to a covenantal theology that leads to infant baptism. In this, they fail to understand the difference of the New Covenant and they important many Old Testament notions for being God’s people. They would do well to see the Old Testament symbol of circumcision as a type fulfilled in Christ, not a type that has been transferred into paedo-baptism.

As far as Baptists go, there have always been Calvinistic Baptists and Non-Calvinistic Baptists. Sometimes the first group has been called separate or particular or reformed Baptists; the latter group has been called general or regular Baptists. Some of the most significant figures in the early centuries of Baptist life were Calvinistic. For instance, British Baptists Benjamin Keach (1640–1704), John Gill (1697–1771), Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), and William Carey (1761–1834) were all Calvinistic in their doctrinal stance. In America Isaac Backus and John Leland (who was the pastor in conversation with Thomas Jefferson concerning the separation of church and state[1]), Richard Furman from which Furman College gets its name, Shubal Stearns[2], Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice[3], and the founders of Southern Seminary (James P. Boyce, John Broadus, Basil Manly, Jr., William Williams) were all Calvinistic in their doctrine. Moreover, when the Southern Baptist Convention was begun (1845), every representative at the first convention came from churches that held to Calvinistic confessions of faith. One in particular was P.H. Mell. Mell served as SBC President for more than fifteen years (1863–71, 1880-87). Of the five points of Calvinism, he wrote, “These doctrines [are] the basis of all our pulpit ministrations.”[4]

In most recent years—from the mid-twentieth century until the turn of the century—the SBC has been decidedly Non-Calvinistic. During most of those years, liberalism and modernism pervaded the seminaries (until the 1990’s)[5], and Calvinism was virtually unheard of, except in a few rare exceptions.

Systematically, there is nothing in the belief system of Baptists that must deny Calvinist thinking. Many of the first Baptist confessions are Calvinistic (e.g., 2nd London [1689], Philadelphia). Today, the Baptist Faith and Message is a document that has a historic trail to these earlier confessions. In 1833, the New Hampshire Confession was drafted, modifying the staunchly Calvinistic confessions with a much more moderate Calvinism. The article concerning the “Purposes of Grace” is agreeable to Calvinist and Non-Calvinists. While Calvinists would say more, this document permits Calvinist and Non-Calvinist to retain gospel-centered fellowship in Baptist life (churches, missions, denomination).

In the end, the statement that Baptists are not Calvinistic is short-sighted. It may be the experience of many today, but historically there have been many Baptists of the Calvinistic stream. In fact, some of the most influential apparently” non-Calvinists” are also surprisingly committed to the doctrines of grace—I have in mind here the interview John Piper had with Rick Warren.

Of course, Calvinism is not proved by clarifying its historical moorings. However, if we are going to rightly talk about such doctrinal matters and historical terms, it is vital clarify that Calvinism is not the same thing as Hyper-Calvinism and that Calvinism has held a long and faithful position in the history of Baptists. For those engaged in such discussions, let’s remember our history as we formulate theology in the present.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

________________

[1]The original intent of Jefferson and Leland was the assurance that the state could not interfere with the church, not the reverse as it has been misused today.

[2]Stearns is the founder Sandy Creek association which makes up one of two importants streams flowing into Southern Baptist life. While Sandy Creek has usually been associated with revivalistic preachers and churches, a feature that has sometimes excluded Calvinistic doctrine, Tom Nettles shows that Stearns has Calvinistic-leanings (The Baptists, 2:162-73).

[3]Judson was converted to Baptist belief on the boat ride to his missionary outpost. Luther Rice was another missionary who believed in the doctrines of grace.

[4]Quoted in Nettles, The Baptists, 2:342. There is room for debate about how the five-points of Calvinism relate to preaching; however, the point is clear, the SBC began with a large influence from Calvinists.

[5]Southwestern being the exception. It was never as bad as the other seminaries.