Take Hold of God and Give Grace: Sixteen Considerations for Election 2016

 

electionWhat do we say to our church in the face of the impending election? Pastor, what will you say to a church divided on the issue? Christian, how are you holding fast to the gospel and protecting your church from the divisions that this election could produce in the church? What is most important in this electoral season—winning the presidency or preserving the Church’s witness to the world?

As a pastor, these are just some of the questions on my mind, and so I write this post as an attempt to help shepherd our church and to think biblically about how Christians might maintain a focus on Christ in this tumultuous season. My prayer and aim is to see Christians of different political convictions retaining focus on Christ and his kingdom, even as they live out their faith in the public square.

And so in 2016, I offer 16 considerations—six ways we can take hold of God and ten ways we can give grace to one another, even as wrestle with the challenges of this year’s election. May God use these to encourage and challenge your heart. May he be pleased to use them to purify our hope in him and our church’s commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Six Ways to Take Hold of God

1. Take heart in God.

God is sovereign and we can rest in his rule (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:34–35). No matter what happens on November 8 (or on any other day), it will not overturn his work in the world. In fact, for good or bad, God will use this election to expose idols, test faith, and ultimately gather sheep. Scripture repeatedly tells us no king, no nation, no president has the absolute power to halt God’s kingdom. We must remember this, preach this to one another, and take comfort in this fact—God’s kingdom has come and is coming. Continue reading

How the Doctrine of the Trinity Cultivates Church Unity (1 Corinthians 1–2)

 

paulHere is a long-form piece that came from our recent sermon series on 1 Corinthians. While many commentaries do not recognize the trinitarian nature of 1 Corinthians 1–2, Paul highlights doctrines related to each member of the trinity in order foster unity in the church at Corinth. May the Lord grant doctrinal unity to his church, as its members tether themselves to his triune gospel of grace.

******************

What do you do when a church begins to fight? What do you say when members of the church begin to take sides and misrepresent the other? Where do you turn? What truth(s) do you recall? How do you bring peace to a divided church?

Sadly, many faithful followers of Christ find themselves in churches divided by various doctrines and competing practices. In one church I served controversy broke out concerning the doctrines of election, regeneration and faith, and the extent of the atonement. Or at least, those “doctrines of grace” appeared to be the problem. From my vantage point, those problems were merely used to protect a deeper, darker problem—the baleful commitment for various groups in the church to maintain control over what their church.

Commitment to self-interest in the church is all too common. It appears in modern churches who fracture over various worship styles, and it appears in ancient churches who sought to identify themselves with certain charismatic leaders. It appears on the pages of church history and it is found in Scripture itself, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians. Continue reading

What Does the Bible Say about the Doctrine of Election?

electionIn the Bible, the word “election” is used in a number of ways. For instance, in Matthew 24 Jesus speaks of “the elect” (vv. 22, 24, 31); in Romans 9 Paul explains “God’s purpose of election” (v. 11); and in Ephesians 1:4–6, Paul says the Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world,” and “in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” These are but three examples that undergird the doctrine of election.

While debated, the doctrine is plainly biblical. ‘Chose,’ ‘elect,’ ‘election,’ and ‘predestined’ are Bible words. And when they are read in conjunction with passages that speak of God’s unique relationship with his sheep (John 10:26), his children (John 11:51–52), the ones given to the Son before the foundation of the world (John 17), and his appointment of some to believe (Acts 13:48), the evidence for unconditional election is incredibly strong. As George Mueller said of the doctrines that he once thought “devilish,”[1]

Being made willing to receive what the Scriptures said, I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths. To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.[2]

That being said, my point is not so much to advance a theological argument for the doctrine of election, but to observe more plainly how the Bible speaks of election. As Mueller stated, the New Testament authors assumed election was true. It was, in fact, part of their cultural heritage. The Jewish people were the covenant people because God chose them from among the nations (Deut 7:7). Yahweh blessed apart from the Gentiles (Rom 9:1–3). Accordingly, the doctrine of election is commonplace in the New Testament. Continue reading

The Greatest Misunderstanding About Evangelical Calvinism

sheep

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.
I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
So there will be one flock, one shepherd. . . .
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.
The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me,
but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

— John 10:16, 25–27 —

A few weeks ago I had a phone conversation with a church planting strategist in the Midwest. In discussing the merits and demerits of theology and church planting, he remarked: “The best church planters in our state are Calvinists.”

This admission did not surprise me because I know some of those church planters. They are men gripped by the gospel and desirous to see the nations come to worship King Jesus. It also didn’t surprise me because Calvinism—when it is rightly understood!!—always promotes missions, evangelism, and church planting. Church history and biblical testimony both support this fact.

Sadly, such cohesion between election and evangelism is often missed. The sentiment among many opponents of “Calvinism”—often, erroneously described as hyper-Calvinism (which is something else entirely)—is that such theology ruins evangelism. However, such a view is short-sighted. It overlooks key passages in the Bible that unite those two great themes (e.g., see Matthew 11:25–30; Acts 18:9–10; Romans 9 and 10; and 2 Timothy 2:10). Such claims also fail to remember that the modern missionary movement was, in large part, begun by Calvinists.

Therefore, by focusing on such evangelical Calvinism, I want to show from church history how Calvinism has always promoted missions, evangelism, and prayer. (For those looking for a biblical engagement of evangelism and election, see my two articles: “Evangelism and Election” and “How Does the Bible Speak About Election?“). Continue reading

The Language of Election in the Bible: A Few Word Studies

electionIn today’s sermon on Titus 1:1–4, I considered the question: What is election?

I stated the New Testament teaches that election is individual and unconditional. This, of course, is not an undisputed interpretation, but it is my conviction after wrestling with the doctrine over the last dozen years. In my sermon, I only had time to quote Ephesians 1:4–6 and Romans 9:15–16, 18 as evidence for an individual and unconditional election.

Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4–6)

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:15–16, 18)

However, for those who are interested in considering this subject in greater detail, I have outlined the following word studies. I wrote these a few years ago and edited them this week. For those desirous of seeing what Scripture says about election, predestination, and other related subjects, these documents will introduce and comment upon a number of important texts.

All together the studies comprise over 30 pages. Therefore, to help arrange it, I’ve broken them up into smaller studies. Since I haven’t had time to add the Scripture reference in every case, you should read these word studies and theological reflections with an open Bible. (Because they were written with my congregation in mind they are based on the English Standard Version, not the original languages. Perhaps, at some time in the future, I update the contents with further attention to the Greek and Hebrew).

Word Studies

Theological Reflections

Let me know what you think and what questions remain concerning the doctrine of salvation. I believe iron sharpens iron and that humble, honest discussion about this biblical truth is good and needed in the church.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement

lambIn his chapter on “Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement,” Paul Helm observes that Calvin’s universal language is pastoral in nature and necessary (and biblical) because of humanity’s epistemic condition. In other words, because humanity is ignorant of the future, the decree of God, and who God’s elect are, it is most appropriate for the pastor (and all Christian witnesses) to offer the gospel freely to all people. In fact, it is spiritually dangerous to call men and women to look for evidences of grace in themselves as ‘pre-conditions’ for election. Rather, following Calvin’s teaching, one’s election can only be known in the mirror of Christ.

On this point Helm quotes Calvin who rightly observed,

But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to ingraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion3.24.5, quoted in Helm, “Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement,” From Heaven He Came and Sought Her118)

Accordingly, may we look unto Christ today. The invitation to come is available to all, and all who come will discover God’s covenant love that he set on his elect before the foundation of the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Politics According to the Bible (1): Five Wrong Views

[This is the first in a series of posts on Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture].

Wayne Grudem begins his discussion of politics and the Bible by outlining five wrong views.  These include: (1) Government Should Compel Religion, (2) Government Should Exclude Religion, (3) All Government Is Evil And Demonic, (4) Do Evangelism, Not Politics, and (5) Do Politics, Not Evangelism.  Lets look at each of these unbiblical approaches.

Government Should Compel Religion

First, Grudem appeals to the State Church’s that have arisen in Christendom where citizenship and religious affiliation are coterminous.  He relates these to the similar models of government found in Islamic nations today.  He shows that these are not Scriptural as he points to Jesus making significant distinction between the sphere of Caesar’s kingdom and the sphere of God’s kingdom (Matt 22:20-21).  He argues that this view is not tenable according to the Bible, nor does it result in the kind of faith and repentance, that Christ requires.

Government Should Exclude Religion

Second, he argues against the kind of secular government that denies any place to faith.  This is the kind of government promoted by the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  In the United States, this view is often grounded on the misunderstood statement about separation of church and state made by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Church (Danbury, CT).  It demands religion to be voiceless in the public sector and it “changes freedom of religion to freedom from religion.”  Yet, this was not Jefferson’s intention in 1802, nor is it compatible with the Bible which features numerous examples of God’s people influencing kings and rulers (Joseph, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul, to name a few).  This kind of regime is also seen in other countries that have persecuted Christians.  It is clearly unbiblical.

All Government Is Evil and Demonic

Third, the view that demonizes government does so from a misreading of Luke 4:6 which quotes Satan as saying, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me…” Proponents of this view include Gregory Boyd, who argues that every form and function of government is evil.  However, as Grudem points out, Boyd and his ilk, fail to consider the whole counsel of Scripture.  For explicitly in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, Paul and Peter instruct Christians to submit to governing authorities who are discharging God’s ‘ministry’ of government.  Moreover, Grudem points out that this view depends on the reliability of Satan’s description of his own authority in Luke 4:6, which is a highly speculative reality based on the deceitful character of Satan (cf. John 8:44).

In the end, Grudem points out that this view fails to recognize the difference between good and evil systems of government, and by extension it calls good evil and evil good.  Thus, it leaves citizens paralyzed and unable to resist or reform governmental structures for the good.  It results in an insipid pacifism that is not what the Bible requires.

Do Evangelism, Not Politics

Fourth, Grudem challenges evangelicals who distance themselves from political engagement due to the ‘hopeless’ enterprise that it is.  He suggests that those who advocate evangelism over against politics “narrow an understanding of ‘the Gospel’ and the kingdom of God” (45).  He warns that those who take this approach undervalue the effect that political involvement has for the gospel.  He provides a helpful illustration of the difference between heavily evangelized South Korea and repressive North Korea, and the resulting effect this has had in their respective countries.  He writes,

Governments can allow churches to meet freely and evangelize or they can prevent these things by force of law (as in Saudi Arabia and North Korea). They can hinder or promote literacy (the latter enabling people to read a Bible). They can stop murderers and thieves and drunk drivers and child predators or allow them to terrorize society and destroy lives. They can promote and protect marriages or hinder and even destroy them. Governments do make a significant difference for the work of God in the world, and we are to pray and work for good governments around the world (46).

While agreeing with his main objection, I think Grudem shows uncharacteristic imprecision on this point.  He argues that “the whole Gospel includes a transformation of society” (47).  I am not convinced this is “necessarily” true.  For instance, in countries where Christianity is outlawed, societal transformation may not come to fruition, because Christians may be martyred before they are ever able to transform their nation.  Even in situations where the blood of the martyrs brings change in time, it may take generations, so that to say the gospel “includes a transformation” is a little misleading.

On this point, he continues, “Forgiveness of sins is not the only message of the Gospel” (47).  But is that biblically the best way to say it?  If Grudem had said, “Forgiveness of sins is not the only message of the Bible,” or “Forgiveness of sins is not the only ministry of the church,” I would agree.  The Bible certainly teaches Christians how to love their families, serve their employers, and fight for justice.  Likewise, the ministry of the church does include caring for orphans, widows, and the unborn.  So then, in these ways, the Bible says more than “Believe on Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” However, when the gospel is defined as “forgiveness” and “societal transformation,” it enlarges the gospel in unbiblical ways.

In fact, Mark Dever preached against this very thing in his 2008 Together For the Gospel message, “Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology,” when he warned of making the gospel more than the salvation of sinners (see his chapter in Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology, pp. 106-109).  Grudem seems to make the gospel message coterminous with the whole counsel of Scripture, and by implication he includes gospel entailments within the message of the gospel.

I think Grudem, when he argues against  the “Do evangelism, Not politics” view, but his treatment of the gospel in this section needs more attention. (For more on the central tenets of the gospel, see Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?)  Within this section, however, Grudem does present some other helpful points, namely that God has intended the church and the government to work in tandem to effect positive change against the evil that is resident in our society.

Another point worth pondering in this section is the way that church history has demonstrated countless ways that Christians have influenced government for good.  He cites from Alvin Schmidt’s book How Christianity Changed the World, and lists dozens of social improvements from the discontinuation of the Roman gladiatorial games to the prohibition of burning widows alive in India.  Then Grudem names a number of Christians who have effected social justice in the world to show how has positively shaped our country (50).

Still, it would be helpful at this point to make a distinction that not all these “Christians” were orthodox, gospel-believing brothers in Christ.  No doubt, Martin Luther King, Jr. was used by God to bring about civil rights throughout the United States, but it must be asked, “Was Dr. King’s doctrine orthodox and evangelical?”   Grudem doesn’t make that distinction, which is an unfortunate lacuna.

Do Politics, Not Evangelism

Finally, his fifth wrong view is the one that says “Do Politics, Not Evangelism.”  According to Grudem, few respected evangelicals hold this Social Gospel view (53), however pastors Rob Bell and Brian McLaren are two influential proponents of a sub-standard gospel message who are advocating political and social change.  Their popular books and speaking tours are infecting many with a “New Kind of Christianity” that aims to advance the kingdom of God through social and political involvement and that denudes the gospel of its saving message.

Overall, Grudem’s first chapter is a helpful taxonomy of wrong views of government and politics.  It sets the stage for chapter 2, where he will develop “a better solution,” one that urges “significant Christian influence on government” (54). Preparing for this view, he closes his first chapter with a balanced statement on politics according to the Bible.

Genuine, long-term change in a nation will only happen (1) if people’s hearts change so that they seek to do good, not evil; (2) if people’s minds change so that their moral convictions align more closely with God’s moral standards in the Bible; and (3) if a nation’s laws change so that they more full encourage good conduct and punish wrong conduct. Item 1 comes about through personal evangelism and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Item 2 takes place through personal conversation and teaching and through public discussion and debate. Item 3 comes about through Christian political involvement. All three are necessary (54).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Politics and the Bible

Wayne Grudem has come out with a massive volume on politics and the Bible (619 pages).  It is entitled Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, and it contains biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and ethical discussion about ‘everything’ that one may encounter in the world of politics.

It is a great resource for someone who likes to read but has done little reading in the area of politics–someone like me!  Moreover, it is a tremendous guide for Christians to think through the matter of politics–a subject many Christians discuss with regularity and passion–with the light and wisdom of the Bible, and not simply conservative or progressive rhetoric.

Thus in an attempt to learn more about “politics according to the Bible,” I am going to endeavor to read a chapter a day between now and election day (Nov 2) to better understand a biblical view of politics and to discern how and where a pastor should be involved in the process (see Grudem pp. 71-73).  And as a measure of discipline, or self-inflicted perspiration, I am aiming to catalogue my thoughts from each chapter as I go, giving a synopsis of each chapter and the helpful biblical analyses provided by Professor Grudem.

I hope this may help others think through political matters biblically (especially those in my own church) and that others may be encouraged to pick up and read, or reference, Grudem’s new book.  At this point, I cannot commend or condemn Politics According to the Bible, I can only suggest it as an important subject (especially at this time) and Grudem as a reliable teacher–he is a conservative, Bible-believing, advocate of sound doctrine (see his Systematic Theology).  I anticipate it being a helpful book, and one that certainly has the right foundation on which to build–the word of God.

I hope you will join me in thinking through these matters biblically, so that we would better understand what the whole counsel of God says concerning the political enterprise.  And maybe, if you are so inclined, you will pick up Grudem’s volume and read along– right now it is 40% off at the WTSBookstore.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Hollywood and the Holy Word: Substance, Supplication, and the President-Elect

What if Barack Obama were white?  Would he have been elected by such a large margin?  I’m uncertain.  It’s interesting that this election was decided as much, if not more, by the color of Obama’s skin than the content of his character.  From the polling data broadcast tonight, it seems many voted for Barack Obama for the sole reason that it is time to elect an African-American president. I don’t disagree. I rejoice in that our country has a black president. But if that is only qualifier for office, it mutes the political, ideological, moral, and even theological issues at stake.

(Interestingly, if people voted only on the superficiality of skin color, it is the converse of MLK Jr’s famous speech, which advocated human appraisal based on the content of our character and not the color of our skin.  With that said, let me say Obama’s election is a milestone inconceivable 100 years ago and unforeseen even within recent decades.  Thus, today’s election stands as a victory for civil rights. For that we give God praise).

Nevertheless, in opposition to those who laud Obama with Messianic ascriptions, I am concerned about the substance of his character and what he stands for in his personal morality and in his political agenda(s).  He is smooth talker, an ear tickler, and a heart warmer, but is he a man of righteous character, integrity, and political justice?  Time will tell.  Every tree bears fruit.

But time has already begun to tell, and much observable fruit has already fallen.  So that in electing Obama as the 44th president, the American people have willfully elected the most pro-abortion, pro-homosexual (and thus anti-family) president in the history of the United States.  Barack’s unwillingness to defend the unborn and his positive affirmation of homosexuality do not just invite the Lord’s wrath they extend it (cf. Rom. 1).  The judgment of God has already been at work in our nation, as more than 40 million children’s lives have been snuffed out since 1973; likewise, the increase in homosexuality is a demarcation of a people that has lost its moral compass and has embraced a pernicious kind of lifestyle.  Abortion and sodomy do not only solicit solicit, they are in themselves part of God’s judgment.  Consequently, unless Obama’s stance on these issues changes radically, I fear that his rule will only further a culture of death and sacrifice decency and life on the altar of autonomous liberty and freedom of expression.  This is not true freedom (cf. John 8:31-32; Gal. 5:1).

His culpability is not isolated, however.  Since the American people hold in our collective grip the sword of government to defend the innocent and to promote justice, we as a nation will give an account to God for our disregard of His standards of justice and law, written on the hearts of men (cf. Rom 2:14-15).  Therefore, America as a whole, is responsible for the election of public officials who use the God-ordained sword of he state to shed the blood of those they are responsible to protect (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).  Sadly, based on previous statements and voting records, our president-elect will move ahead to deny life to the unborn and will promote legislation to obscure God’s design for marriage–hence implicitly distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:32).

As I reflect on the events of today, I am more convinced than ever that the American people are deceived by what they see and by what is put before their eyes (cf. 2 cor. 4:4).  The polls today reflected what I would call the “Hollywood Effect.”  Because Barack Obama looked presidential, the American people type-cast him for the role.  In this, the voters acted less like a responsible republic and more like a studio casting agency.  Obama’s speech, his demeanor, his poise, and his looks won him the part.  Compared to the track-record of John McCain, Barack’s political history lacks substance, but his crowd-pleasing performances captured his critics glances and overcame his diminutive experience.  In a world of special effects, scripted speeches, cyberspace, flash photography, and sound bites, our next President is a Hollywood star.

So, substance? Doubtful. Time will tell.  But, screenplay?  Absolutely.  The audience at home has voted.

While I am concerned with the next President of the United States, I will pray for him.  1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells me that God wants me to pray for rulers, that they might come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  I have been convicted by this.  My own lack of prayer for political legislation and political leaders has become increasingly evident as election day arrived.  I have, myself, too often lacked substance in my life–looking spiritual but failing to lift holy hands and prayer.  Yet, in response to recent events, that must change.  I do not want to be a Hollywood Christian, one who could be typecast for the part; I want to be a genuine believer shaped by the Holy Word.

As we close this day and begin a new season in the life of our country, may Christians redouble their prayers for the new president.  May we pray for his salvation and that God would change his mind about abortion, marriage, and other issues of justice.  May we cry to the Lord for mercy, because Americans as a nation are the ones who turns the sword on its own children, who glories in the shame of same-sex unions, and rejoices in both as autonomous freedoms and cultural rites of passage.  May we, the people of God, cry to God for mercy so long as these Christ-rejecting evils persist, and may we pray that our next President not add to the horror but wield the sword well.

Sola Deo Gloria, ds

Purpose-Driven Predestination

As “The Year of Living Dangerously” continues at Southern Seminary, School of Theology Dean, Russell Moore, took a bold step to preach a message on election from Romans 8:26-9:6 in the Southern’s chapel service today. His point could not have been clearer: Election is not a theoretical head game that seminarians debate in local coffee shops, it is instead a spiritual truth and a biblical reality that empowers prayer, promotes peace, and propels the Great Commission. You can listen to the whole thing here.