Christ Over All: A New Website and a Personal Update

COA-black-square

If you have followed by blog for any length of time you know that my posting is somewhat irregular. As a pastor first, not a journalist, my  priority is preaching and teaching at my local church. After that, a couple times a year, I go and teach theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. And then after that I do some writing for various ministries, journals, and book publishers. Long story short, my blog is the overflow of the work I’m doing elsewhere, and I hope that it blesses and builds up those who read it.

I do not say it enough, but I am deeply thankful for the folks who have through the years reached out and interacted with things I’ve written. And Lord willing, I will continue to post biblical, theological, and culture-engaging content for the sake of the church, things that will bless you when you come and read them.

That said, over the last month or so I have not posted very much. And the reason for that is because I, with a handful of other pastors and theologians, have begun a new project called Christ Over AllSome of you may know about it, but for the others who do not, I’m pointing to it today. If you go to the homepage of Christ Over All, this is what you will find:

Christ Over All is a fellowship of pastor-theologians dedicated to helping the church see Christ as Lord and everything else under his feet.

Indeed, this is our vision and our prayer. Over the last year, our team of eight and then nine brothers in Christ talked, and prayed, and strategized for ways we could serve the church with a website that engaged many of the challenges of our current culture, but that did so by slower meditations on Scripture and longer articles applying biblical theology to our complex world. Over the last month, we have outlined this vision. And you can read some of the posts here. You can also listen to our new podcast.

Next month, we begin in earnest to bring solid content to the internet, as we dust off the book by Francis Schaeffer called A Christian Manifesto. Over the course of October, we will engage each chapter and also hit some key features of Schaeffer’s life and writing. I say all that to say, come spend a month with Christ Over All learning from Francis Schaeffer and his engagement with culture, government, and other public spaces. In the months after that, we will hit other relevant subjects that, Lord willing, builds up the church.

Additionally, if you want to stay in touch with Christ Over All, go sign up for our newsletter. If you have appreciated the content of Via Emmaus, I think you will enjoy the work of Christ Over All even more.

For me personally, I will keep writing in both spaces. I will probably let most of my biblical reflections take up residence here. And I will publish more of my cultural engagement pieces at Christ Over All. I’m sure there will be some crossover too, but this is how I will aim my writing.

All in all, I share this brief update to encourage you to check out the new website and to stay tuned here as I will be picking up a rhythm of writing again soon. Additionally, stay tuned for a renewal of the Via Emmaus podcast, which will read many of the articles and also have some new content too.

Again, I give thanks to God for the many friends who have read my blog. Your feedback and questions are always encouraging. I pray that it will continue to use my writing to build up your faith, as we see Christ from all the Scriptures in order to make disciples of all the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Why the Lord’s Supper Requires Baptism: A Typological Approach

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Who can take the Lord’s Supper is a question of no little dispute among those who call themselves Baptist (yes, this is a Baptist blogpost). In my estimation, the best answer to the question of baptism and Lord’s Supper goes something like this:

Those who have undergone believer’s baptism (the initiation rite of the new covenant) are permitted to eat at the Lord’s Supper (the continuing rite of the new covenant).

In what follows, I will offer a biblical typology to explain why baptism should precede Lord’s Supper. Rising from the Old Testament, these symbols of the new covenant do not arise de novo from Jesus or apostles. Rather, as we appreciate the Old Testament pattern of water-crossing that leads to feasting in God’s presence, we will see why baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper.

In short, OT “baptisms” are types of the NT baptisms and the Passover is the chief type of the Lord’s Supper. To understand baptism and the Lord’s Supper requires understanding the symbolism of these OT events. But also, because these OT “water crossings” are paired with a meals in God’s presence (e.g., Passover), we see that baptism and Lord’s Supper should also be paired together. This is the basic argument and we will consider it below in four steps, giving primary attention to the way baptism and the Lord’s Supper are informed by the book of Joshua. Continue reading

Why Baptists Do Not Count Infant Baptisms: A Friendly Response to Joe Rigney

vishal-banik-JdMihDkP-vc-unsplashWhen it comes to pastors and theologians who stand strong on the Word, strong against the world, and strong in their wise dealings with complex issues, few compare to Joe Rigney. When it comes to contemporary theologians, therefore, I consider his writing some of the best.

When I visited Minneapolis a number of years ago, I had an enjoyable lunch with him and a few other faculty at Bethlehem College and Seminary. And when he took the reins to lead that school I rejoiced. I am thankful for Joe Rigney and will continue to read his works and point people to his writing.

Yet, for that very reason, when he writes something that not only stands against my theological convictions, but something that confuses some of the sheep in my congregation, it is necessary to reply. In what follows, I will offer a three-point engagement with Joe’s recent piece, “Do Infant Baptisms Count? Reconsidering Open Membership.” To be clear, I am not responding point by point to Joe Rigney, but offering three substantial arguments for rejecting open membership.

While Joe spells his Baptist identity with a lower case B, and I spell mine with a capital B, the point of difference between us is more than grammar. The issues raised by his article range from the local to universal church, from the nature of the new covenant to the membership of new covenant church, and how churches differing on baptism should relate to one another.

These are important matters which have spawned books, pamphlets, and shorter articles. In what follows I won’t offer a comprehensive reply to Joe’s arguments, but I will offer a substantial one. Again, I write this as a friend and admirer of Joe and his labors. But as a pastor and a seminary professor of a school that seeks to affirm the confessionalism of Presbyterians and Baptists, without muddying the waters between them, I offer this rejoinder. Continue reading

How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan to Displace Darkness With Light (A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

john03The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan
To Displace Darkness With Light
(A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

In the Bible, we find a series of ironic reversals that move the story of salvation from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden City of Zion.

For instance, when Haman was hung on his own gallows, on the very day that this enemy of God sought to destroy the Jews, God reversed the course of events and saved Israel and sentenced Haman to death (see the Book of Esther). This is but one biblical example of a last second, game-winning ironic reversal.

In Scripture, victories over giants (1 Samuel 17), plagues by night (2 Kings 19), deadly fish that become emissaries of salvation (Jonah) become common features of God’s salvation. Accordingly, God’s people begin to trust that God will bring light in moments of darkness. And more, God actually delights to make the dark darker, before bringing such moments of light-giving salvation.

So great is this pattern of salvation, that Mary could praise God for his promise to raise up the humble and knock down the proud, even as she faced a life of hardship of being the the mother of God (see Luke 1:46–56). Steeped in the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus prayed to God like Hannah (1 Samuel 2), and David (Psalm 18), and the prophets (see e.g., Isaiah 60). And not surprisingly, this pattern of ironic reversals culminates in the death and resurrection of her son, Jesus Christ. Killed at the hands of wicked men, it appeared that all  hope was lost. Holy Saturday was a dark day. But on the third day, just as God had long ago promised, Jesus rose from the grave, proving that the dark is not dark to God (Ps. 139:1–6).

Indeed, the promise of light shining in the dark is a theme that runs through the Bible and one that culminates in many ways in John 9. Following God’s pattern for ironic reversals, this chapter shows us how a man born in darkness (i.e., born blind) is brought to the light. Meanwhile, those who lit the torches in the temple and proclaimed to have the light, were, by their unbelief, consigned to darkness. And why the difference? Well, that is what John 9 reveals.

And on Sunday, John 9 is what we considered. Indeed, to those who think they have power and authority to rule by their own wisdom, Jesus teaches us that he will withdraw his light. But to those who walk in darkness crying out for light, God the Son delights to come and save. This is the great reversal that stands at the center of the world. And in this sermon, you can see what Christ’s light has to say to us, in a world seeking salvation by a Great Reset. In truth, we need a Great Reversal. And thankfully that is what Christ has given us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Is Racial Justice Essential to the Gospel?

Gospel,+Race,+&+the+Church

Earlier this month I joined Nicholas Piotrowski, Charles Ware, and Gus Pritchard for an event in Indianapolis called “Gospel, Race, and the Church.” Through six short messages and six panel discussions, plus a Q & A we worked through many subjects related to contemporary discussions on race and justice in the church. While this subject is fraught with landmines, the overall tenor of the event was positive, biblical, and prayerfully helpful.

To encourage candidness, the audios were not made public, so I can’t link to those. But what follows is one of my two messages. Lord willing, I can add the other next week.

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“Racial justice is essential to the gospel.”

Have you heard that statement before? Or what about this one, “The gospel must include justification and doing justice.” Or maybe you’ve had the question: “What does the gospel have to do with race and racism?”

In the last few years, there have been many ways the gospel, social justice, and race have been combined, and in this post, I want to talk about that triangle—the gospel, justice, and race.

As I will argue in a second article (out next week), I believe sinful partiality, hostility, and discrimination are better described in terms of ethnicity than race. As Acts 17:26 makes clear, humanity comes from one man (hence one human race) and is composed of many different nations (ethnicities).

For now, however, I will sidestep the question of race versus ethnicity. And I will answer the question: “Is racial justice a gospel essential or a gospel entailment?” I will first highlight the way some have enlarged the message of the gospel by making (racial) justice essential to the gospel message. Then I will try to outline what the gospel says and does not say, does and does not do. Biblical precision is needed in our discussions today and hopefully I can offer a few straight lines in what follows.

Three Voices Who Enlarge the Gospel 

A Golden-Ruled Gospel

For starters, Scott Sauls, a pastor in Nashville, has included the great commandment (“Love your neighbor”) in his definition of gospel in a panel discussion about racism and the gospel. He says, “Last time I checked, love your neighbor is part of the gospel.”

Perhaps this is just sloppy, or maybe this is how Sauls actually thinks of the gospel—adding the Golden Rule to the good news of saving grace. Whatever the case, the result is the same. The content of the gospel is confused and the power of the gospel to forgive sinners and set them on a path to loving their neighbor is missed.

In short, the essential message of the gospel is confused with an essential entailment. And sadly, this confuses both good news and the good works that flow from believing the good news.

A Cosmic Redemption Gospel

Anthony Bradley is another voice who enlarges the gospel. For those unfamiliar with Bradley, he has authored many books and serves as a professor at King’s College in New York City. In a 2019 Fathom Magazine article, Bradley contrasts “Great Commission Christianity” (GCC) with “Cosmic Redemption Christianity” (CRC).

Critiquing GCC as reductionistic and historically complicit with slavery, Bradley argues for CRC which widens God’s purposes of salvation. Citing Tim Keller, Bradley defines the gospel like this:

It is the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin, death, and judgment are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the glorification of the whole cosmos.

Then he goes further, speaking about the kingdom of God which is “the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ over the entire cosmos. Redemption, then, is God’s work to restore the whole of creation to himself.”

This statement of life in the kingdom of God is good, as far as it goes. But in adding man’s agency to “God’s work of restoring the cosmos” it goes too far. Why? Because it tasks new creatures in Christ with the duty of liberating creation from the stranglehold of the devil. To be sure, the scope of redemption is cosmic, but Bradley’s definition of the gospel changes the finished work of Christ on the cross to the ongoing work of God in the cosmos.

Certainly, God is at work in cosmos, and the gospel is bringing about a new creation, but this cosmic restoration is an effect or entailment of the gospel, not its primary essence. The content of the gospel is directed towards persons estranged from God and the redemption offered in the gospel is equally person-specific. Thereafter, God’s new creatures in Christ will do all kinds of good works, but this remains an effect or entailment of the gospel, not its core message.

Justification and Doing Justice

Finally, Eric Mason is Philadelphia pastor who, in the name of justice, enlarges the message of the gospel to include doing justice. This may appear to secure greater ethical results, but at what expense? Let’s consider.

In Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, Mason devotes a chapter to defining what the gospel is and what it isn’t. And importantly, he makes “doing justice” a core component of the gospel. He writes,

Justification is a huge greenhouse of truth that extends beyond ‘being declared righteous’! Justified isn’t merely a position, but a practice! Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us by faith leads to our being made right with God as well as our making things right on earth. (45)

Don’t miss the enormity of this point. The Protestant Reformation fought for justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. But here, citing Anglican theologian, Fleming Rutledge, who in turn cites German NT Scholar, Ernst Kaïsemann, Mason redefines justification as an attribute of God and an action of God and man (46).

Recognizing the impact of what he is saying, he defends himself from those who would accuse him of preaching a different gospel (44). He says, “The way we are taught about these aspects of the gospel deeply affects our understanding and the way we process justice. When we have a reductionist understanding of justification, we fail to see the holistic picture of the gospel” (46).

For Mason, this holistic gospel is one that combines justification and doing justice. But is Mason right? Is doing justice part and parcel of the gospel of the kingdom? Consider two responses.

Reigning in the Gospel of King Jesus

First, there is an irony in the fact that Mason cites two white theological liberals, Fleming Routledge and Ernest Kaïsemann. (Bradley also sources Tim Keller). I make this awkward observation to say, that in making their points, Mason and Bradley are not making the black argument, so much as they are making an ideological argument—and one that fits nicely with the social gospel. Sauls too adds a “social dynamic” to his definition of the gospel.

That is to say, when the church’s mission includes making the world a better, more just place, the social gospel is not far away. This is not to frivolously label all champions of justice as advocates of the social gospel, nor do I expect anyone who is preaching a gospel-plus-justice message to agree with me.

That said, I would maintain that whenever the church and its leaders prioritize overturning systems of injustice, the social gospel is waiting in the wings. For those who discount that take, I would encourage you to read Christopher Evans, The Social Gospel in American Religion: A History.

For now, we should simply remember that anyone who speaks for the black church, the white church, the Asian church, or the Hispanic church, cannot speak for the whole. Within every tradition there are different theological beliefs. And this is where we need to focus our conversation—chiefly, on the content of the ideas being debated more than the color of debaters.

Now let me walk that back a bit, and make my second point. If Sauls, Mason, or Bradley did cite a black voice, they would do well to consider Charles Octavius Boothe. Boothe was the founding pastor of Martin Luther King’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

In 1890, at the height of Jim Crow, Boothe wrote a short treatise on theology called Plain Theology for Plain People. And what is remarkably absent from his book is anything that approximates the social justice championed today.

Instead, when Boothe speaks of justice, he describes the character of God and God’s judgment on sinners. In other words, Boothe’s doctrine of justice and justification is chiefly vertical, not horizontal. Though enmeshed in the world of Jim Crow, Boothe’s explanation of the gospel and the mission of the church approximates Bradley’s Great Commission Christianity, which Bradley associates with the white church.

Moreover, when he speaks of justification, Boothe speaks of it entirely in terms of what God has done to save sinners by grace. For instance, he lists a number of Pauline passages on justification and concludes, “it appears that justification is the act of God.” To which he explains in full (70):

The ground of justification is found in the work, the whole work, of the Son of God, whom God ‘gave that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What a ground the Father hath given us for the fullest belief in Christ! What reason for devout thankfulness the redeemed have! What a motive to induce them to live, not unto themselves, but unto him who has brought to them a salvation so helpful and so glorious!

Hallejulah! That is the biblical gospel.

But notice, he distinguishes the work of the Son from our works. He says that the finished work of Christ is the motive to doing good works. In other words, the gospel has entailments. Doing justice is a necessary entailment of the gospel. It is necessary, yes! But it is a necessary entailment—meaning that biblical ethics follow a Spirit-empowered reception of the gospel.

In fact, we can learn from Booth himself. Living in a world of ethnic partiality, hostility, and discrimination, Boothe did much to fight injustice and promote the well-being of blacks in the South. That said, doing justice was not an essential part of the gospel message, for Boothe, it was the work of those who had been justified. And that distinction is what is lost on many today.

In order to champion good works, many pastors—with various hues of melanin—are making justice an essential part of the gospel message. But the effect of this inclusion is to undercut the power of the gospel. Why? Because such an addition—as well intentioned as it may be—changes the message of the gospel, thereby challenging the power of the gospel.

And that’s the problem. If the gospel is a message of justification and doing justice, it ceases to be good news and it becomes instead a chimera of grace and law—which is always a deadly combination. So, with these concerns outlined, let me offer five truths that are essential for keeping the gospel straight.

Keeping the Gospel Straight

1. The Gospel is an indicative, not an imperative.

To say it differently: the gospel is good news, not good advice (Michael Horton). It is the declaration “It is finished,” not the command to go and do likewise.

Many people have made this point, but recently I came across it in Thaddeus Williams’ book Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth. On this point, he says,

The difference between an indicative and an imperative is no small matter for grammar nerds. The good news upon which eternity depends hangs in the balance. . . . A gospel with additional requirements [e.g., feed the hungry, end sex trafficking, oppose injustice] is not good news. For those who know themselves well, if the gospel is not about Christ’s finished saving work alone but about any commandment we must keep, then the good news turns out to be very bad news. If my salvation is 99 percent God’s doing and 1 percent my own doing, I would find a way, in my fallenness and stupidity, to mess up that 1 percent and be damned. (112–13)

This is the problem with the gospel plus justice paradigm. It turns the finished work (the indicative) into the already and not yet work of justification and do justice (the imperative). Yes, the Bible clearly teaches the kingdom is already and not yet. It clearly teaches a biblical way of doing justice and loving our neighbor, but to load these into the gospel is to lose the gospel of grace.

2. The Gospel is fixed, not fluid.

This means that there is a certain content to the gospel which does not have room for more or less. For instance, the gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul defines the gospel as the death of Christ for sins and the resurrection of Christ on the third day. Moreover, both of these are defined by the Old Testament (i.e., “according to the Scriptures”), and the blessings of Christ’s death and the resurrection must be received by faith, lest someone perish for their own sins.

Similarly, Romans 1:1–7 defines the gospel, as does the rest of Romans 1–11. And after Paul spends 11 chapters explaining how sinners can be justified by grace through faith, only then does he turn around and say: “I appeal to you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as living sacrifices.”

In short, there is a gospel logic in Paul’s letters that teaches us that doing the law (i.e., the third use of the law) follows believing in Christ who fulfilled the law for us. Here’s an important distinction: Just because something is biblical, or important for Christian living, does not give us permission to add it to the message of the gospel. The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection is the eternal plan of God to redeems sinners in all ages, in all places, and from all conditions of sin by the finished work of Christ.

To make the gospel the solution to every problem, therefore, may blind us to see how the gospel tells us what the problem is. In a word the problem is sin! Moreover, because the gospel defines the problem, it also offers the solution to that problem, and only that problem. Christ died and rose again to justify elect individuals who will repent and believe when God calls them to himself in the gospel. Only after that calling can individuals and the groups they form (i.e., churches) begin to justice with the righteousness God requires.

By contrast, to add justice to justification will only result in a loss of both! So remember, the gospel is fixed, not fluid.

3. The gospel justifies individuals, it does not promise universal justice.

To double down on who benefits from the gospel, it is important to remember how person-specific the message of the gospel is. While the gospel must be carried to the ends of the earth and preached to all peoples, it is not a message that addresses nations as nations, groups as groups, or political clans as clans. No, the gospel confronts sinners in their individual sin, and calls sinners—one-by-one—out from the nations (see Rev. 5:9–10).

In other words, just as John’s Gospel is filled with individuals coming to faith in Christ (see Richard Bauckham, “Individualism,” in Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology),  so the gospel that raises people from the dead is a message that confronts the individual. When individuals are justified by grace this will create households of faith who exist on all parts of the earth. But this does not mean the object of the gospel are groups, the gospel addresses individuals.

Even more, when nations who hear the gospel experience wide-ranging regeneration—what we might call a revival—those nations will be impacted. In the Early church, the proliferation of the gospel in Africa had a marvelous impact on the church. The ecumenical councils, the early creeds, the rise of libraries and colleges, all of these rose in Africa—a fact often missed when thinking about the character of “African Theology” (see Thomas Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind).

Later, in the Reformation, the European church experienced wide spread revival. And the world, especially in America, continued to experience the blessings and benefits of the Reformation. Still, the gospel that reformed Africa and Europe and produced all kinds of good works was a gospel that impacted individuals. Only secondarily did it change families, communities, cultures, and nations. This is how the gospel works. And we should labor to see the gospel change individuals and then we should equally labor to see Christians fulfill their vocational callings to do good works in all realms of life.

Where confusion sets in today, is when those who desire immediate justice can easily become impatient with God’s ways. As a result the gospel can be distorted, in order to see widespread and visible change. When that happens, we should ask: Is this how the gospel really spreads? What does the Bible report? Such an answer is larger than I can provide here, but as I can tell we find a singular report in Scripture: The gospel justifies individuals, it does not promise universal justice.

4. The gospel creates individuals who do good works.

Without denying the place for good works, and affirming the possibility of Christians impacting culture, we must remember how good works are borne. First, we learn from passages like James 2 that faith devoid of works is not genuine faith. Conversely, there are good works that can counterfeit faith. Therefore, in order to maintain the gospel, we must not just content ourselves with behavioral change—personal or systemic. We should trust in God’s power to change individuals and that when individuals are changed and equipped with the whole counsel of God’s Word, their lives will bring about charity, justice, mercy, and righteousness.

In the same vein, God creates people in Christ who will do good works (Eph. 2:10). These good works include loving neighbor, ending injustice, feeding the poor, and making good policies. But lest we neuter the power of the gospel to change individuals, we cannot include doing justice as an essential part of the life-giving, sin-removing gospel. These things are fruits of the gospel, not the gospel itself—a point that brings us to our last.

5. Biblical justice is an entailment of the gospel

To say that justice—in all of its forms—is an entailment of the gospel means that justice is carried forward by men and women who have justified by grace through faith and who have been given grace to do good works.

It is correct to question the faith of someone, as Charles Octavius Boothe did, if their love of neighbor is missing or if ethnic hostility is present. Nevertheless, the ongoing sinfulness of a Christian or the inconsistency of a Christian church should not lead us to change the gospel in order to make it more powerful or more pervasive. Rather, we should simply evaluate all things by the Word of God.

And when it comes to racial justice, we should do all we can to stand against racism, biblically defined. But calls for racial justice should not confuse something that is biblically important with something that is absolutely essential to the gospel message. Something can be biblical and important, even if it is not part of the gospel message.

Making this distinction, which says that racial justice is not essential to the message of the gospel, but is an essential entailment of the gospel, is critical for maintaining the gospel and the health of the church. Truly, if we are going to enjoy and maintain the fellowship of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we must get this right. Because getting this right will go along way to aiding conversations about this matter.

And so, we should continue to build our arguments from the clear teaching of Scripture, in order that we can rightly discern the difference between the essentials of the gospel and essential entailments of the gospel. That may sound like a small difference, but in these contentions days that difference makes all the difference in the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo Credit: Indianapolis Theological Seminary

Election and Evangelism: What God Has Joined Together Let Not Man Separate

brown rock formation on sea shore

On Sunday, our church considered one of many passages in John where the Beloved Disciple unites God’s sovereignty in salvation with the responsibility of man to repent and believe. With perfect, Spirit-inspired balance, John records the way God gave a particular people to the Son (i.e., the elect) and how these people will come to faith, as God calls all men and women to repent and believe. Indeed, what God has joined together—his sovereignty and man’s faith—cannot be torn apart without doing damage to the doctrine of election and the duty of evangelism.

For those familiar with the debates surrounding the doctrine of salvation, one of the longstanding charges against the doctrines of grace (Calvinism, if you prefer) is that the doctrine of election undermines evangelism and missions. Sadly, there have been some who have defended the doctrine of election without possessing an equal passion for the lost (i.e., Hyper-Calvinists, which means more than Calvinists with zeal). But biblically, election is one of the greatest motivations for evangelism.

This is evident in John’s Gospel and throughout the rest of the New Testament. And in what follows I want to highlight the connection between evangelism and election. In particular, I will show seven places, starting with John 6, where election is found in the same context as evangelism. Rather than hindering the gospel ministry, these passages teaches that the doctrine of election always spurs on missions and evangelism. Continue reading

The Wedding Planner: What John 2–4 Teaches Us About Jesus, Marriage, Resurrections, and the End of All Things

white and black houses with brown grass with overlooking mountain under white sky

For a few years in seminary, I was the graduation coordinator for our school. This meant that every spring we hosted 2000 people to watch 200 students graduate. On the big day, one of the most important parts of the ceremony was the pledge spoken by the president and the students. And that pledge required reading a covenant from the graduation bulletin.

Most years this went off without a hitch, but one year we forgot to put bulletins on the graduates seats, so that by the time that the president was looking for the graduates to respond, there was no response.

It was a semi-catastrophe, and one that required a few people to run around throwing bulletins to graduates. Clearly big events require a myriad of specific details to make them run smoothly.

The same is true in salvation. If God is going bring salvation to the world as John 4:42 says, there are an infinite number of details that go into giving eternal life to those who deserve everlasting death. To be specific the number of details is not actually infinite, because God alone is infinite. But the number of details is so large that the whole of humanity could not discover it,  even if everyone of us was named Solomon or Einstein or Elon.

The truth is, God delights to create a world so manifestly complex that he alone can run it. And marvelously in the middle of his vast creation he enjoys wedding planning too. In fact, the world as we know it began with a wedding in Eden and it will end with a wedding in Zion. In between, God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose—which is the eternal union between Christ and his bride. Continue reading

Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

close up shot of bible text

Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis envisions a world coming to life, by means of Aslan’s song. If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series,  Aslan the Lion is the Christ-figure who both creates the world and dies to save the world. And in The Magician’s Nephew, which is the prequel to the more famous, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, we are treated to Lewis’s story of creation.

Here is how he pictures Narnia coming to life.

The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed. (64)

Trees indeed! And in the context of The Magicians’ Nephew this new world was coming to life in the presence of an evil witch and crazy, self-absorbed Uncle. In this way, the creation of Narnia does not match the creation of our world, where God in his eternal perfection made the world good and very good (Genesis 1). Continue reading

Tearing Off the Masks: Celebrating Oceania’s Freedom . . . When Nothing Has Changed

kissOceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.
George Orwell, 1984

But test everything; hold fast what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:21

In preparation for the upcoming removal of masks, the self-congratulations of politicians, and the ticker tape parades of liberated citizens kissing in the streets, I offer this selective reading of 1984. Let the reader the understand: Nothing has changed.

What Covid-19 Has Wrought

As the State of the Union address is presented mask-optional tonight, it is important to remember what has  changed and what has not. Today, the air is the same; immune systems are the same; and threat of Covid is the same. Covid-19 and its various variants are still deadly for those with underlying conditions and it is still innocuous for those with healthy bodies, especially children.

At the same time, masks still do not work. Fauci said as much privately before the pandemic, then he changed his mind publicly during the pandemic, and now he, and the CDC, and others have waffled back to some compromised position. Very presidentially, he was for same-sex marriage, before he was against it, and now he has returned his original position. Just replace Obama’s subject matter (so called same sex marriage) with Fauci’s (masks, mandates, etc.) and you will understand the convoluted logic of a career politician.

Yes, Covid-19 was political before it wasn’t. And how do we know? Because “end” of Covid has come by political fiat, not by a substantial change in the conditions. As the Washington Post reported in early February, governors are changing mask mandates for political reasons. Similarly, Saturday Night Live, that bastion of liberal catechesis, has performed a skit that is not funny but is informative. Watch it here. (This the first and I hope the last time I share something from SNL).

 

For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, it is not science, nor the man who declared himself to represent Science, that has made the final determination about masks—it is politics. Under threat of losing control, politicians are moving to a position that appears to give freedom to the people. And SNL is helping prepare the masses for the stunning realization that the last two years of draconian mandates were more fiction than fact. And what are Christians do? Should we celebrate with the masses? Or should we realize how farcical this whole pandemic has been.

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