It Is Finished: Beholding the Cross of Christ from All of Scripture

Have you ever watched a new movie, where you started 10 minutes before the end?

Many years ago, when big hair was still in style, I was introduced to Back to the Future in this way. My friends were watching this movie and I joined them at point where Doc Brown crashed through garbage cans, warned Marty and his girlfriend about their future children, and drove to a place where “we don’t need roads.”

If you only know the last ten minutes of Back to the Future, however, you won’t understand the significance of the DeLorean, the date (November 5, 1955), the speed (88 miles per hour), or the electricity (1.21 Gigawatts) that makes time travel possible. Nor will you understand the flux capacitor and its cruciform power to rewrite history. All of these details are revealed over the course of the movie and only in watching the movie from beginning to end, can you make sense of its ending. 

Something similar happens when we open our Bibles and behold the man hung upon a Roman cross. While many well-intentioned evangelists point to Christ’s cross as the center piece of our Christian faith and the way of our salvation, it is an event in history that only makes sense when you begin in the beginning. That Christ was buried in a garden tomb does more than give us an historical referent; it tells the significance of Christ’s death as the way of God’s new creation, because after all it was in a garden where Adam sinned and brought death to the world. Now, raised from a garden tomb, Jesus as the new Adam has introduced a new way of life.

In this vein, the biblical storyline is necessary for understanding why the Son of God had to die on a tree, be buried in a tomb, and raised to life on the third day. Indeed, even if we know that Christ did not stay dead—that he rose from the grave, walked the earth teaching his disciples for forty days, and ascended to heaven, where he now sits in glory—we cannot make sense of the cross. Or at least, our interest in Christ’s death and resurrection leads us to ask: But what does it mean?

Indeed, the way to understand Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is to place those events in the timeline of God’s redemptive history. That timeline begins in creation, proceeds through the fall of mankind into sin, and picks up countless promises of grace and types of salvation throughout the Old Testament. In fact, to be most precise, God’s plan for Christ’s cross did not begin in space and time; it began before God spoke light into the darkness (Gen. 1:3). As Peter says in his first sermon (Acts 2:23) and his first epistle (1 Peter 1:20), the cross of Christ was the centerpiece of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of his people.

In Scripture, therefore, the cross is the climactic work of God to redeem sinners and rescue the dying. Indeed, while Jesus now reigns in glory, and his victorious resurrection gives assurance that all those who trust in him will have eternal life, it is vital to understand what Christ did on the cross and what it means when Christ said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

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On Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Policy Changes: A Pastoral Rationale for Speaking Out Loud and In Public

patrick-fore-5YU0uZh43Bk-unsplashPhoto by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Over the last five years, Critical Race Theory has become a hot button issue in our country and among Christians. Concerning the latter, local churches are breaking apart, as pastors are—or are perceived to be—adding elements of social justice to the message of the gospel. Larger organizations too—seminaries, denominations, etc.—have had to debate the issue of social justice and Critical Race Theory. And to date, the results have not born the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Part of the reason for this division is that those advocating CRT—in part or in whole—are imbibing a way of thinking that is intended to divide and deconstruct. Conversely, many who respond to CRT do so with the same spirit of anger and division. Hence, the dumpster fire that is the current state of evangelicalism. We will save comment on the church for another day, but suffice it to say, the division caused by CRT is significant and growing.

Outside the church, CRT continues to be just as divisive. For instance, local school board meetings have become battle grounds for what will be taught about America and the history racism. Companies large and small are virtual signaling their wokeness by celebrating equity and inclusion and canceling those who will not join them. And more to the point of this post, federal, state, and local agencies are introducing policies that champion the ideas of CRT and the tools of Intersectionality.

Our county is one of those places where the tenets and tools of CRT are trying to be implemented. And recently, our Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) invited public comment on their new 10-page Equity and Inclusion Policy. As a resident interested in this subject and its impact on the church and its freedom to live and move and have its being in our increasingly secular age, I took time to read the proposed document and comment on it. What follows on this post is my letter to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

I share this as a model of what it might look like to speak up for truth in the public square. As a resident whose convictions lead him to have massive concerns with the proposal, and a Christian who is called to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7), it leads me to speak. I also encouraged other church members to do the same. Maybe I’ll share more of my biblical rationale for that later, but here’s my pastoral rationale. Continue reading

“But He Just Gets Me”: Three Responses to Pragmatic Arguments for Plagiarism (pt. 2)

sean-foster-jrazH5W7niA-unsplashYesterday, I responded to two pragmatic arguments that are being offered in defense of preaching the sermons of another pastor. Today, I’m adding a third response to the pragmatic defense of ‘borrowing’ sermons. 

3. The Spirit of holiness cannot bless lawbreaking

In the Ten Commandments, the final three are these (Exod. 20:15–17)

“You shall not steal.

 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s [sermon]; . . . anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Okay, “sermon” is not in the original, but sermons would fit under the category of “anything that is your neighbors.” Written by Spirit-led men who study the Scriptures, the sermon is a gift that pastors give to their congregations. In this way, a sermon should not be understood as “his own.” Possessiveness is never a healthy habit for pastors.

That being said, sermons are the intellectual property of the preacher, and should be treated as such. Thus, to preach someone else’s sermon breaks either the eighth, ninth, or tenth commandments, if not all of them. To see this, let’s consider each in order. Continue reading

The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’

alexander-michl-g8PFVtzzkYA-unsplashFor Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord,
and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
— Ezra 7:10 —

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,
sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, . . .
— 1 Timothy 3:2 —

Earlier this week, I sat in a room full of pastors talking about preaching, plagiarism, and what it means to be “apt to teach,” the qualification for elders in 1 Timothy 3:2. And I made the point that being “apt to teach” and “apt to speak” are not the same thing. And I made the point because it seems as though there is a great confusion about what it takes to be a pastor today.

Can someone be a pastor if they are a good communicator? Or should someone be a pastor because they are biblically qualified? And what do the biblical qualifications entail, anyways? 

In some circles, being a good communicator seems to be the sine qua non of the pastoral office. If someone can communicate well, then they have what it takes to be a preacher. Never mind their other weaknesses, if they can communicate in a way that really connects, then they are a great cornerstone to building a vibrant church. (Please compare Ephesians 2:20 and note the irony!)

By contrast, Scripture gives a different and more complete picture. For instance, when defending his apostolic ministry, Paul testifies to his weakness in preaching. Addressing the super-apostles, whose speaking may have exceeded his own, Paul says of his critics, “For they say [of Paul], ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ (2 Cor. 10:10). Aware of his weakness(es), Paul defended his qualifications not by his charisma, but by his faithfulness to the truth and his suffering for that truth.

Today, such a perspective is under threat. For since the news broke concerning J.D. Greear and Ed Litton, I have heard much anecdotal testimony from various pastors that many large church leaders see themselves as communicators of the truth, more than shepherds of the flock or students of the Book. That’s my way of phrasing it, and it certainly doesn’t fit everyone. But with the popularity of groups like the Docent Research Group and Ministry Pass, as well as LifeWay’s large selection of manuscripts free for the taking, it seems that one reason why so little concern has been raised by Ed Litton’s use of J.D. Greear’s sermons is that pastors preaching the work of others is something of an evangelical cottage industry. (If I’m wrong, please show me).

For me, I’m not interested in doing the investigative reporting on this subject. I’ll leave that up to the Julie Roys and Warren Throckmorton’s of the evangelical world. What I am interested in is asking is this: Is it ever appropriate for a pastor to preach someone else’s sermon? Or, biblically speaking, is it a requisite qualification  to preach what one has learned from the personal study of his Word. Such a personal study of the Word,  where the minister of the Word encounters the God of the Word, is my personal conviction, and it was the conviction of all the pastors with whom I spoke this week.

But what does Scripture say? What does it mean to be “apt to teach”? And does teaching necessarily require the personal study of the Bible? Thankfully, Scripture is not silent about these questions, and by returning to the Pastoral Epistles we can find a solid answers to these questions.

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On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible

nycholas-benaia-2wGjjX8Qb-g-unsplashIt seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God. So that is my conviction.
John Piper  —

When it comes to light that a pastor has been borrowing the work on another—what we might call plagiarism in the pulpit, sermon borrowing, retweeting, or any other euphemism for violating the seventh commandment—it is deeply troubling. But if that pastor has any influence on the life and ministry of other pastors, it is even worse, because it says to younger men, who are finding their way in the wilderness of pulpit ministry, that it is acceptable to use the work of others. 

To date, I can think of two pastors I knew personally who were fired for preaching someone else’s sermons. And I have heard many reports of the same. I can also think of many others whose ministries I have written off as unfaithful after learning that they were reheating the meals of others. And most recently, I have watched the unbelieving world make sport of God’s people because of plagiarism in the pulpit.

In recent days, it has come to light that the president of the SBC, Ed Litton, has been found retweeting sermon material from J.D. Greear. You can watch his expositions of Romans 1 and Romans 8, both of which demonstrate word-for-word dependence on Greear’s work. Both men have released statements explaining the matter (see here and here), but with 140+ sermons pulled from the Internet, more explanations are needed.

Without addressing the specifics of the Litton situation, I want to step back and ask the question: Is it wrong for a pastor to borrow material from another? What does it mean to plagiarize in the pulpit? Why is this such a common practice? And what does Scripture say?

To start with, I am not first to tackle this subject. Albert Mohler has discussed it, so have D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Justin Taylor and Andy Naselli (who lists many others). Letting Carson speak for the bunch, he expresses the severity of the problem.

Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.

Carson’s words are severe. And they are matched by the severity of others listed above. Yet, the consensus of these evangelical leaders does not mean there is consensus on the issue. For on the trusty Internet, you will find James Merritt’s permission for plagiarism, websites selling pre-packaged sermons, and encouragement for pastors to partake in the practice of using the work of others.  Thus, in what follows, we need to answer three questions.

  1. What is Plagiarism? And does it apply to borrowing the work of another when permission is received and attribution given?
  2. Why is Plagiarism so prevalent today? Who is championing it?
  3. Is Plagiarism Biblically Defensible? (My answer: No, it is not!)

Answering these three questions, we can define our terms and evaluate from Scripture the practice of retweeting sermons. Continue reading

We Don’t Like Theology, Do We? Three Reflections from the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention

2021 Nashville-1500 x 500-Final BWe destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5–6 —

It has been six years since I attended a Southern Baptist Convention, and seven since I wrote about it. But re-reading my reflections on the 2014 convention, I can only begin to describe the difference between those comparatively halcyon conventions and this one. While some reports may focus on the unifying leadership, the conventional conservatism, or the most diverse convention stage to date, as a pastor and theologian I find a host of reasons for concern. These concerns swirl around the refusal to engage theology for the sake of the gospel and the church. To be brief (and Baptist), let me make three points. Continue reading

One Assembly: A Biblical View of Gathering

worms eye view of spiral stained glass decors through the roof

This Sunday our church is making plans to go outside to hold one service in our parking lot. Last year, from May until November, we took up this practice in order to meet under Covid guidelines. Along the way, a strange (read: providential) thing happened: We saw in practice what we held to be true in theory, namely that the single gathering of God’s church is God’s good design for his local church.

Since our church entered its building in 2005, we have had two Sunday services. But over the last year, we have grown dissatisfied with this practice. We believe Scripture calls the church to assemble as one body, and we are now planning (in the present) and praying (for the future) for ways to assemble as one.

On our church blog, I explain some of the history that resulted in multiple services, but for this post, I want to consider a biblical argument for gathering as one assembly. In particular, I want to offer three reasons for a local church to hold one service, not multiple services, on the Lord’s Day—one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from our contemporary non-application of Scripture. These three arguments do not exhaust the subject, but they do give us a place to begin thinking about how our decisions about assembling the church are not inconsequential. Just the opposite, how we gather says something about what we believe about God and his purposes in the world. To that end, let’s consider three reasons for gathering as one.

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Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 2)

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In obedience to God, we gather and sing and testify to the risen Lord.

Yesterday, I began a two-part series on 1 Peter 2:13–17. I am trying to answer the question, What does submitting to governing authorities looks like? Especially, what does submitting to governing authorities look like when they are ruling in ways that oppose God and God’s Word? Previously, I have tackled this subject in Romans 13 (see herehere, and here),, but now I am considering the text of 1 Peter 2.

Yesterday, I began by parsing out the fact that submitting to governors means putting God first and obeying earthly rulers as an application of obeying God. Conversely, we do not define doing good as obedience to our governors (full stop). Rather, we are called to consider what the good is from the unchanging and ever-authoritative Word of God. Then, in obedience to God, we promote the good by obeying good laws. And lest it go unsaid, the goodness of the law is decided by God’s standards, not my personal preferences. I am not advocating a hedonistic approach to ethics: “Just do what feels good.” No, we must obey laws that pinch our desires. That being said, to do the good we will at times need to resist tyrants when they enforce laws, rules, and regulations that directly defy the commands of Scripture or lead us to violate our conscience in following God.

That’s where this argument started yesterday. We must put God first. Today, I will flesh out the idea of God’s preeminence by looking in more detail at 1 Peter 2:13–17. In his letter to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, Peter has much to say about obeying the emperor and governors. And when we read his words in the context of his whole letter, and apply them to our own situations, we will gain much wisdom for walking well with the Lord. To that end, let’s look at five truths about obeying God and obeying God’s servants. Continue reading

Let My People Gather: What We Can Learn from an Ancient Church-State Debate

statues of ramses in abu simbel temple

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the Risen King, ‘Let my people gather, that they may hear my Word, sing my praise, and remember my sacrifice.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is this Lord, that I should obey his voice and let you gather? I do not know this king, and moreover, I will not let your people gather.” 3 Then they said, “The God who raised the dead has told us, ‘You are to gather every Lord’s Day to proclaim the resurrection and to worship me, lest I bring pestilence or sword on you.’” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you risk the lives of your people and your neighbors? Get back to your homes and love your neighbors.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the cases of COVID are now many, and you want to risk the spread of more diseases!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded his health officials and tax officers, 7“You shall no longer let these people open their businesses, as in the past, or receive their stimulus checks. Instead, let them go and provide for themselves. 8Moreover, their annual taxes shall by no means be reduced, for they are selfish. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go worship our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Exodus 5:1–9 (A Covid-19 Paraphrase)

Few doctrines are more important for churches today than understanding the relationship between church and state and the proper authority of each. In our church, we have taught from the New Testament what obeying the governor means and doesn’t mean, what love of neighbor entails, and how to walk in freely in society without binding the conscience of another. Yet, as I have been reminded by many other pastors recently (e.g., here, here), we also need to look at the Old Testament to find examples of saints standing up for their faith.

As Paul reminds us on multiple occasions (Rom. 4:25; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1–11; 2 Tim. 3:16), the Old Testament is not just for Israel. It was written for new covenant believers, and thus we should consider how men like Moses, David, Elijah and others stood for truth against tyrants like Pharaoh, Saul, and Jezebel—yes, that wicked queen who has been in the news recently.

We need to learn from the faith of the saints, not only because Hebrews 11 tells us too, but because we need courageous models to imitate. As our world continues to press against the church, we need to look beyond the evangelical leaders who tell us to trust that the intentions of government are good, and obey lest we ruin our witness. Instead, we need to look to biblical leaders, who in obedience to God, refused to make decisions based upon some social merit system with the government. Countless Old Testament saints knowingly invited the wrath of the king. Yet, instead of ruining their witness, this became the very means by which God’s power become evident to the redeemed and the unrighteous alike.

Today, we need many lessons in this kind of unqualified obedience to God. And one place where we find great help in this type of obedience is Exodus 5:1–9 and Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel gather at Sinai. Above I have offered a paraphrase of that passage. Though the whole of the chapter, as well as Exodus 6–7, provides wisdom for walking in our world today. For sake of space, we fill focus on these verses and how they apply to our current world. From them, I will list six ways that the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses, or really between Pharaoh and Yahweh, instructs us today and why churches cannot simply wait upon the government to reopen the church. We must obey God and gather at our Sinai, the Mountain called Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).

I know that not all will agree with this application, but that’s why I’m writing. I am prayerful that this appeal to Scripture will provide one more biblical argument for gathering, even as governing authorities say not to and many Christian leaders are saying, “Wait. Be Patient. Don’t lose your testimony.” Yet, as our brother in Canada, James Coates, sits in jail for gathering God’s people to worship God, we cannot be silent and pretend that the governing authorities have the best interest of the church in mind. Rather, with eyes fixed on Scripture, it is imperative for Christians to understand what is going on and what has always been going on (John 15:18–25). With this pursuit of applied wisdom in ind, Exodus 5:1–9 helps us to better see the world around us today and how to gather when pressures and politics outside the church hinder the assembly of God’s people.

May the Lord give us the boldness of Moses and Aaron to obey God and stand before our governing authorities and say: Let my people gather![1] Continue reading

A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: Why the Sufficiency of Scripture Means Rejecting Secular Sociology

aaron-burden-9zsHNt5OpqE-unsplashBut I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
— 2 Corinthians 11:3–4 —

In his book, Doctrine of the Atonementnineteenth century evangelist and pastor James Haldane wrote about the ways Scottish churches fused biblical doctrine with modern philosophy. In his opening chapter, he makes a case for a pure and undiluted biblical orthodoxy, over against those who unite Scripture with philosophy. He writes,

True philosophy consists in our sitting at the feet of Jesus, and receiving the truth as He has been pleased to reveal it. The Scriptures teach us, that the understanding of fallen man is darkened, and that the Holy Spirit alone can illuminate its inmost recesses with the light of truth. (22)

Though written more than 150 years ago, Haldane’s words still ring true. In his day, various Enlightenment philosophies, especially those arguing for morality sans biblical revelation, were infiltrating the church. As an evangelist, he saw thousands come to Christ who had received instruction in their churches on morality, but had not on Christianity. And in response, Haldane exposed the errors of combining biblical Christianity with worldly philosophies, a pastoral practice we should continue today.

Sociology Can Be a Vain Philosophy

In our day, the fusion of truth and error is equally pernicious, but perhaps more difficult to discern. For, instead of seeing a fusion of Christianity and Enlightenment philosophy, which we have been trained to observe and reject, it is more often the case that we see the fusion of Christianity and sociology. Sociology has become a leading assistant in churches today who are employing diversity training and all other forms of cultural awareness. Continue reading