Getting Off the Gospel Blimp: A Plea to Believe God’s Gospel Method

Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God. 

More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.

What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?

According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.

Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.

Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people. Continue reading

Monergism in Acts(ion): Seven Texts That Affirm The Priority of God’s Grace

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. . . I am sending you, to open their eyes,
so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
— Acts 26:17–18 —

When it comes to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), monergism is doctrine that says God alone accomplishes salvation. Etymologically, the word means one (mono) energy (energos), and suggests that all the power for salvation comes from the triune God. Monergism stands against any form of cooperation in salvation whereby God’s work is joined with or completed by man.

Historically, monergism stands upon the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and others in the Reformed tradition. But more importantly, those writings stand upon the words of Scripture. Recently, as I read through the book of Acts, this doctrine stood out, in thinking about the way Luke often spoke of salvation and attributed the faith of believers to the antecedent work of God. In other words, Luke makes it apparent, salvation comes by faith and repentance, but faith and repentance come from the grace of God. (I also spent time laboring this point in my last two sermons on Romans 3 and Colossians 1–2).

In Acts, we find at least seven instances where Luke stresses God’s singular work in salvation. And for the sake of understanding this doctrine and our experience of salvation, not to mention its impact on evangelism and missions, we should see how the pattern of God’s monergism runs through the book of Acts. Continue reading

The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

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The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

No justice, no peace.

Know justice, know peace.

For the last few years, the theme of justice has filled city streets, social media posts, and more than a few church pulpits. Yet, for all the attention given to social justice, there remains an insufficient understanding of this precious virtue.

In Scripture, the God of justice, the righteous God of Israel, displays his justice in ways beyond the sending of prophets to decry Israel’s sin. Yes, the Old Testament has numerous prophets condemning Israel for their sins of injustice and idolatry. Just read Isaiah 5 or Amos 5. Yet, the prophets’ main message centers on the coming messiah and the justice, make that the justification, that he will bring (1 Pet. 1:10–12).

Indeed, justice apart from justification is a pronouncement of law without gospel. Not surprisingly, a world that does not know the grace of the gospel will call for justice based upon their fallen understandings of law. For Christians, however, when we speak of justice, we must begin with God and follow his Word until it brings us to Christ’s cross. For on the cross, we see justice and justification. And from Paul’s careful attention to God’s righteousness in Romans 3:21–31 we see what justice truly looks like.

In this sermon, I outline seven truths about God’s justice and justification. Of all the sermons I have preached touching on social justice, this is the one I would recommend to anyone inclined to chase social justice causes. You can also find an entire sermon series on the subject here.

In any case, when it comes to the contemporary cries for justice, we must continue to go back to Scripture to learn what justice is and what it isn’t. Hopefully, these sermons can help.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Thou Shalt Not (Believe) Lie(s): Faithfulness in an Age of Fake News

people holding a poster asking about facts on coronavirus

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
— Isaiah 8:12 —

In our church, one of our elders often reminds us that Isaiah 8:12 is a verse that neither confirms nor denies the presence of a conspiracy. In our world there are many reports that are fake news, and because of that there are many who also discount true news. By the same token, there are reports that some label conspiracies that turn out to be true. And conversely, there are “true” reports that turn out to be false. In short, since the world fell by believing Satan’s Primordial Lie—“you can be like God”—we have lived in a world of lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and fake news. And in that world, the people of the truth must learn not just how to tell the truth (Exod. 20:16), but how to spot a lie.

In the original context of Isaiah 8:12, the Lord has told Isaiah to “fear God, not human armies” (G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, 220). In the historical context, God has promised to preserve Judah, even if the king has foolishly rejected God’s help. In that context, the Lord says,

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:12–15)

In Isaiah 8, the particular sin is fearing man (i.e., human armies) instead of fearing God. But the enduring principle is fearing God according to what God has said. Again, in this case, God has promised a way of salvation, and Isaiah is calling the people to trust him and not human armies. In another context, however, fearing God might mean something else. In the case of Habakkuk, fearing God meant submitting to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the case of Jeremiah, fearing God meant surrendering to Babylon and not fighting God’s instrument of judgment, as strange as it was to do so. Accordingly, the command to fear God does not always have the same application for God’s people.

Put this all together, and it is a foolish principle to fear God and never recognize or resist the threat of bad actors. Moreover, it is a foolish principle to read Isaiah 8:12 and conclude that everything that people call conspiracy is errant. History teaches us that rulers plot evil schemes (i.e., conspiracies) and that nations conspire together to accomplish wicked ends. Even more, sacred history—the history found in Scripture—teaches the same thing.

Echoing the first sin, the number of times that God’s people have been lied to—by their leaders, by their neighbors, by their prophets, and by themselves—cannot be counted with both hands. While the law of God can be numbered on our fingertips, and digit number 9 stands for “Do not bear false witness,” the number of times God’s people have believed false witnesses is too numerous to count. And thus, we should learn from Scripture how God’s people have believed lies and become liars, so that we who walk in the truth would not believe lies. Continue reading

In Defense of Tradition: Five Reasons Protestants Should Not Protest The *Proper Use* of Tradition

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In yesterday’s blogpost, I outlined a doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency, arranging Kevin Vanhoozer’s articulation of sufficiency into a fourfold taxonomy—sufficiency caricatured (i.e., what sufficiency is not), sufficiency simpliciter, material sufficiency, and formal sufficiency. The last of these is the most debated, because it gets wades into the intersection of Scripture, tradition, and interpretation, as well as the insufficiency of human knowledge. While Scripture is sufficient for all that it promises to do, we are insufficient in ourselves to understand the Word of God.

But this is the point that Vanhoozer addresses with respect to formal sufficiency. Instead of solving the problem of our insufficiency with a church authorized interpretation (i.e., the Roman Catholic magisterium) or a personally authorized experience of God and his Word, Vanhoozer presses us back to the Scripture with the all-sufficient aid of the Spirit. In this articulation of formal sufficiency, Vanhoozer addresses the ministerial role of tradition. And it is this proper use of tradition that I want to outline here.

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer gives six reasons for accepting and applying tradition, when done under the greater authority of Scripture. In other words, the tradition that Protestants seek is not written with a capital ‘T’. It is not put on the same level as Scripture, but as children of God who have come to life by the Spirit and the Bride (Rev. 22:17), we need the teaching of the church, along with the creeds and confessions that help articulate biblical truth. Similarly, we need to rightly understand the role of tradition and avoid wrong uses and absolute dependence on human institutions. However, affirming the fact that the church is not a mere human institution, but the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can and should seek to benefit from the church universal and the church local.

With that positive approach to the church in view, I want to share five of Vanhoozer’s six ways that tradition can and should be applied in the life of the believer and the life of the church. Again, you can find these points outlined in Vanhoozer’s, The Drama of Doctrine. Continue reading

Preach the Manuscript: Ten Ways to Improve Sermon Delivery

jesusA few years ago I led an online class on the subject of preaching. As expected, we discussed all sorts of questions pertaining to preaching—sermon length, the use of illustrations, the necessity of expositional preaching, as well as how to preach Christ from the whole Bible. Among these conversations, we discussed the place for manuscripts over against using or not using notes.

In seminary, I learned from two gifted preachers who both taught that manuscripts were not helpful for preaching. For the first few years of pastoring, I followed their advice and brought into the pulpit four to five half-sheets of notes. This taught me how to preach to people and not just read notes. But a few years in, I deviated from their counsel and now manuscript all my sermons.

That said, I strive to preach the manuscript and not just read it. In using a manuscript, I value the clarity and forethought I can put into the message. And ultimately, that is why I change to a manuscript somewhere around 2011. At the same time, manuscripting does lend itself to a dry delivery. Still, I believe the benefits of manuscripting outweigh the costs, so long as preachers learn to do more than read their notes. To that end, here are ten things I’ve learned in preaching a manuscript that might help others who use a manuscript. Continue reading

A Secular Sacrament: Why Mandates Violate Liberty of Conscience and Enforce a New Religion

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Since the Biden Administration mandated soldiers and federal workers to be fully vaccinated, while also requiring private businesses larger than 100 employees to require vaccines, chaos has ensued. Defending the freedoms of Americans, many have begun to address the constitutional problems this mandate creates.[1] Others have begun seeking a religious exemption for this mandate based upon the fetal cells used in the research and production of these vaccines.[2] Still others object to the mandates because they have already contracted Covid, have natural immunity, and believe (with a long history immunology supporting them) that taking a vaccine is unnecessary and may be potentially harmful to their body.[3]

At the same time, other Americans, and many Christians among them, have opted to get the vaccine, even arguing for its morality. Add to this the difference between seeking a vaccine exemption on medical grounds versus moral and religious grounds, and the complexity multiplies.[4] Not surprisingly, with all of these arguments out there, people of faith are led to ask: What should I do?

To answer that question, I am putting myself in the shoes of the men and women in the military and federal government who are now ordered to get vaccinated. Some of them have willingly received the vaccine, and done so in faith. Many others, however, are not able to receive the vaccine in faith. As I have spoken to church members and other Christians about this, many are crushed in spirit at the thought of injecting a serum that has come about by the use of stem cell lines that ultimately trace back to cells derived from aborted babies. Others are not bound in conscience by the use of fetal cell lines, but are nevertheless are unable to take the vaccine in good faith. It is for this latter category, I am writing. 

In what follows, I offer a twofold argument for why this vaccine mandate should lead some men andfauci women to seek a religious exemption (not just a medical exemption). These two arguments are based upon a genuinely held religious belief that this mandate (1) eliminates the free exercise of their faith and (2) forces upon them the faith another religion. Along the way, I will show why this vaccine and its accompanying mandate is different in nature than previous vaccines. Unlike previous vaccines, like Jonathan Salk’s polio vaccine or the more recent anthrax vaccine, the Covid vaccine comes with a moral imperative that is downright religious, complete with Fauci prayer candles and vaccine jewelry.

At the outset, I admit that this argument may not resonate with everyone, and that is fine. I am not writing to persuade everyone to seek a religious exemption. Seeking a religious exemption is deeply personal and should be based on one’s genuinely held beliefs. So, I am not seeking to bind anyone’s conscience regarding the vaccine. At our church, we have labored hard to stress the liberty Christians have to receive or reject the vaccine, because we really believe that one’s health care decisions are matters of personal responsibility and liberty, not public morality and coercion.

That said, as a pastor with many members seeking religious exemptions, I am writing to Christians to offer biblical rationale for why Christians can—and in many cases should—seek a religious exemption. So, to the text of Scripture we go. Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

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