The Power of the Preached Word: Kevin DeYoung, Hughes Oliphint Old, John MacArthur, and You

old1001At Together for the Gospel this week, Kevin DeYoung preached a powerful message on the unity, authority, and power of the preached word. The title was “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible” (it will be up online soon).

In his closing remarks, Kevin quoted a section of Hughes Oliphant Old’s comprehensive The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church (the section can be found on the Pyromaniacs blog). Writing about the powerful ministry of John MacArthur, Old observed that MacArthur’s effectiveness in the pulpit has little to do with oratory skill (although, Old does admit that MacArthur has some effective means of keeping his audience attention). Instead, and to the credit of MacArthur’s view of Scripture, Old writes “Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text.” Continue reading

Can Anything Good Come From Geneva?

reformersToday, Kevin DeYoung asked the question, “What Do You Think of When You Think of the New Calvinism?” His response would be like mine. I am grateful for the men, Reformed in their soteriology, who have enlarged my vision of God for the last decade. Without them, I would still be an open theist (or worse), struggling with the anxieties that come from a misshapen view of God. Instead, because of the ministries of John Piper, Albert Mohler, and Mark Dever—to name only a few—I stand ready to rejoice in the Lord and risk on his behalf. And I stand, not because of my own strength, but because of the strong hand of the Lord who upholds me.

Now there are many, some of my closest brothers in Christ, who do not agree with me on the value of Reformed theology. For many there is suspicion, uncertainty, and diffidence towards ‘Calvinism’ and the men and women who assume the name ‘Calvinist.’ To echo the words of Nathanael, they might ask, “Can anything good come from Geneva?”  Continue reading

Saint Patrick: Separating Missionary Fact from Fictitious Malarkey

What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Leprechauns.  Ireland.  Wearing green.  Or drinking green beer.  If that is it, you may want to re-read the record books.  

A few years back, Russell Moore gave a brief history lesson on the real Patrick that should make every missionally-minded Christian sit up and take notice.  Drawing on the Philip Freeman’s 2007 book, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, Moore summarizes Freeman’s work:

Freeman helpfully retells Patrick’s conversion story, one of a mocking young hedonist to a repentant evangelist. The story sounds remarkably similar to that of Augustine—and, in the most significant of ways, both mirror the first-century conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Freeman helpfully reconstructs the context of local religion as a “business relationship” in which sacrifice to pagan gods was seen as a transaction for the material prosperity of the worshippers. Against this, Patrick’s conversion to Christianity was noticed quickly, when his prayers of devotion—then almost always articulated out loud—were overheard by his neighbors.

The rest of the narrative demonstrates the ways in which Patrick carried the Christian mission into the frontiers of the British Isles—confronting a hostile culture and institutionalized heresy along the way. With this the case, the life of Patrick is a testimony to Great Commission fervor, not to the Irish nationalism most often associated with the saint. As a matter of fact, Freeman points out that Patrick’s love for the Irish was an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love enemies and to pray for persecutors.

Likewise, Kevin DeYoung, also from the archives (ca. 2011), provides a brief missionary biography of Patrick.  He says,

Here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.”  For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

According to one historian (again I am citing DeYoung’s research) “[Patrick] was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally” (Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity86)  meaning that he was the first person to take the Great Commission as a command.  Rightly, Patrick read Matthew 28:19 as a calling for him, and so he left home to take the gospel to pagans of Ireland. 

This literal and personal reading of disciple-making needs to be reissued today, because some still think Jesus’ words are for someone else. Tragically, they relegate Jesus’ missionary imperative to a bygone era or for some special class of people.  Yet, as Patrick’s life and labors show, when men take seriously the call to be a disciple-making disciple, God will bring great blessings.  Fifteen centuries later we have much to learn from Patrick.

I encourage you to read the rest of Moore’s blogpost (What evangelicals can learn from Saint Patrick) and DeYoung’s foray into history (Who was Saint Patrick?).  Together these two brief posts will help you determine fact from fiction.  They will give you many reasons to thank God for the missions-minded Brit who brought the light of the gospel to the whole nation of Ireland.

May Patrick’s brave example spur us on to share the gospel with our own pagan nation and hostile neighbors. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (4.30.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  

BIBLE

The Case for Adam and Eve. In case you haven’t noticed, the historicity of Adam is once again under attack.  Groups like BioLogos and books like The Evolution of Adam (both of which are led or authored by Peter Enns) have recalled the question of Adam’s historical reality. Since evolution is still a topic promoted in schools and assumed in the media, this is an important discussion.  Thankfully, scholars like C. John Collins have given compelling evidence–biblical and otherwise–to help us see how Adam’s historicity is possible and why it matters.  In this interview, Professor Collins answers some important questions.  See also his recent book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

The Whole Bible For Our Whole Lives. Our Presbyterian brother, Stephen Um interviews Richard Lints, asking him to discuss how biblical theology helps us read the Bible.  For me, reading Lints book,  The Fabric of Theology, was revolutionary.  He introduced me to the idea of reading each passage of Scripture in light of the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons.  In other words, he gave me terminology (which he got from Edmund Clowney) to describe how each text fits into the larger network of texts, chapters, books, and testaments known as the Bible. Every week, when I preach, I am looking to see the “micro-context” (trees) and the “macro-context” (the forest).  Why? Because men like Richard Lints showed me how to read the Bible as one unified story.  I encourage you to listen in on their six minute conversation.

THEOLOGY

The Old Testament and Providence. Kevin DeYoung provides a helpful overview of God’s purposeful providence in the history of Old Testament Israel.  It is a lengthy read, but one that is filled with strong biblical insights.

Jonathan Edwards of Typology. Douglas Wilson (pastor, theologian, author, and all-around literati) and Joe Rigney (Bethlehem College and Seminary) sit down to discuss Jonathan Edwards.  In this video they discuss his spiritual and sometimes speculative view of the two books of God–Scripture and Nature.

Take a look.

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

Know Your Evangelicals. Joe Carter has begun to give short bios on evangelicals that every gospel-loving Christian should know.  In the first week, he has highlighted prison minister Charles Colson, cultural warrior Francis Schaeffer, and slave emancipator William Wilberforce.  Another, short book that provides similar information is Warren Wiersbe’s 50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith.

Speaking the Gospel in an Age of Intolerance.  Ron Brown, assistant football coach at Nebraska, has come under fire for his opposition to a recent ammendment to a local ordinance in Omaha, Nebraska.  As the city seeks to add a clause protecting homosexuals, Brown stood up and spoke against it.  He has received great criticism for his stance and may face censure by his employer.  His public witness is bold, but his rationale is what makes the story so important.  As a bondslave to Christ, he wants to be found faithful to his master, and more than seeing homosexuals become heterosexual; he wants unbelievers to trust in Christ. He states,

It is not all about seeing homosexuals become hetereosexuals. This is not the message of the gospel. The gospel is about all types of sinners (like me) who are unbelievers becoming believers. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not discriminatory, it is all inclusive: we are all sinners. I am pretty consistent in talking to all types of people about Christ. This is the thing that encourages me in this whole thing: the gospel of Christ is being presented. God will forgive people. He will give a clean-slate to all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

May we all be so bold.

A History Lesson on Hyper-Calvinism

In 2006, Ergun Caner preached a message called “Why I am Predestined not to be a Hyper-Calvinist!”  His message at the Thomas Road Baptist Church confused the differences between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism, and finished with a deplorable illustration where Caner suggested that in heaven he would stand up and declare the rightness of his views.

For the record, in heaven, Calvinist-Arminian debates will be over and only One Person who will be standing, and it won’t be Ergun Caner.  Everyone, including Liberty’s former dean, will be bowing to the One who is the Lamb that was slain for peoples from all nations, and Christians from all soteriological persuasions.

Nevertheless, Caner’s polemical message is just one of many places where Hyper-Calvinism is confused with Calvinism, a term that Carl Truman has more recently suggested is “profoundly unhelpful” (see his article on the subject, “Calvin and Calvinism“).  It seems that more often than not, when someone denigrates Calvinism, they do so by confusing it with many of the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism.

A bit of historical clarification is in order–especially, if we care about the Golden Rule and loving others enough to understand their position.

Thus, enter Kevin DeYoung and Peter Toon. This week, DeYoung, a Michigan pastor, has proffered a brief explanation of the difference between Hyper-Calvinists and those who take seriously the Reformed doctrines of grace.  He points to Peter Toon’s book,  The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity 1689-1765, as a helpful though dense book on the matter, and he shows a number of ways that well-intentioned but errant men slipped from the warm, evangelical Reformed Orthodoxy to the anti-evangelistic notions of Hyper-Calvinism.

DeYoung quotes Toon at length to spell out the greatest differences:

[Hyper-Calvinism] was a system of theology, or a system of the doctrines of God, man and grace, which was framed to exalt and honour and glory of God and did so at the expense of minimising the moral and spiritual responsibility of sinners to God. It places excessive emphasis on the immanent acts of God–eternal justification, eternal adoption and the eternal covenant of grace. In practice, this meant that “Christ and Him crucified”, the central message of the apostles, was obscured.

It also often made no distinction between the secret and the revealed will of God, and tried to deduce the duty of men from what it taught concerning the secret, eternal decrees of God.

Excessive emphasis was also placed on the doctrine of irresistible grace with the tendency to state that an elect man is not only passive in regeneration but also in conversion as well. The absorbing interest in the eternal, immanent acts of God and in irresistible grace led to the notion that grace must only be offered to those for whom it was intended.

Finally, a valid assurance of salvation was seen as consisting in an inner feeling and conviction of being eternally elected by God. So Hyper-Calvinism led its adherents to hold that evangelism was not necessary and to place much emphasis on introspection in order to discover whether or not one was elect. (144-45)

According to such views, most Reformed thinkers today are far, far removed from Hyper-Calvinism.  In fact, the most articulate defenders of the doctrines of grace are often the greatest champions for biblical missions and evangelism–just read Let the Nations Be Glad.  

For those who have thought much on this matter, or read blogs or books on the subject, it is often the case that there is more heat than light, and that often titles and terms are misused.  Toon’s explanation and DeYoung’s synthesis, however, provide a helpful distinction between these two historical movements in Church History.

For believers on both sides of the theological fence, rightly understanding the difference between Reformed Theology and Hyper-Calvinism is imperative for rightly dividing the Word of Truth and protecting the church from unnecessary division caused by pejorative labels and misrepresentation.

For those who have ears to hear, DeYoung’s thoughtful blog post, “The What and Why of Hyper-Calvinism” provides much help in discerning truth from error, and recognizing the difference between Hyper-Calvinists and the seriously Reformed.   It is vital reading for anyone thinking on these things.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

John Flavel on Decision-Making

Decision-making is an incumbent challenge for all Christians.  And too many make too much of the process–putting out a fleece, praying for a sign, and asking God for a personal revelation.  Unbiblical superstition is the result of this (pagan) activity, and a result Christian’s depend less on God’s Word and take less responsibility for their own decisions.  Hyper-spirituality and experiential Christianity devoid of biblical moorings is rampant today.
Yet, the way God leads his people continues to be the same as it always has been.  He leads through instruction, teaching, and the testimonies of his law and covenant (Psa 25).  Thus, as we pray for God to “lead, guide, and direct us,” we should open our eyes and peruse the words of Scripture in their biblical context.  For God has given us his Scriptures to be our guide.
In this vein, John Flavel, a Puritan, supplies five considerations for seeking God’s guidance.  They are very simple and Scripture-based and worth your consideration.
  1. Get the true fear of God upon your hearts; be really afraid of offending Him.
  2. Study the Word more, and the concerns and interests of the world less.
  3. Reduce what you know into practice, and you shall know what is your duty to practice.
  4. Pray for illumination and direction in the way that you should go.
  5. And this being done, follow Providence as far as it agrees with the Word, and no farther.[1]
Two resources for biblical decision-making are the short and pithy Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung–a book that I am still waiting to get back from someone who cannot decide what to do with it :-)
The other book is Gary Friesen’s weightier tome, Decision-Making and the Will of God.
If fear, procrastination, or uncertainty commonly mark your decisions, you should just go get one of these books and read it.  It will free you from much unnecessary mental anguish.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss

[1]John Flavel quoted in I.D.E. Thomas, A Golden Puritan Treasury, 132.

Book Review: Deep Church by Jim Belcher

Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

Jim Belcher has written an irenic and constructive proposal for charting a course somewhere between traditional churches and emerging churches.  He calls it “deep church,” and it is his proposal for a “third way” to do church. 

Belcher’s personal bio is interesting.  He is personal friends with nearly all the emergent/emerging leaders, yet his denominational affiliation with the PCA is far more confessional than many of his peers.  As he puts it, he is both an insider and an outsider (23-31).  This makes him an ideal candidate for drafting a conciliatory “third way.”  His writing shows his intimate acquaintance and appreciation for the emerging church, something that stands out against sea of criticism; yet, his theological convictions frame his acceptance of the emerging church. 

After introducing his story in Chapter 1, Belcher ‘defines’ the emerging church in Chapter 2.  He lists seven protests commonly made by “emergents.”  These seven responses to the traditional church outline the rest of the book (see chapters 4-10).   

In Deep Church, Belcher appeals to the likes of C.S. Lewis and calls for a return to “mere Christianity,” or more particularly, “mere ecclesiology.”  Leaning on the early church creeds, he sets out to define ‘two tiers’ of theology—one that “divides the essentials of orthodoxy from the particularities of differing traditions within the boundaries of orthodoxy” (60).  In making this critical distinction, Belcher supposes that churches can improve unity while still recognizing differences.  His point is well made, however his two-tier system lacks a necessary third distinction.  He equates unity within churches to the unity between churches.  However, there must be more unity within a congregation for the church to live in harmony than between two gospel-believing congregations. 

For instance, a Baptist church could clearly partner in an evangelistic campaign with a Presbyterian church, but try to unite these two churches constitutionally and differences concerning (paedo)baptism and church government will erupt.  Many other illustrations could be supplied.  All that to say, Albert Mohler’s theological triage (three-levels of doctrinal distinction) would improve Belcher’s argument, without taking away from the aim of his entire book.

Chapters 4-10 are the core of Deep ChurchThe format of each chapter is approximate: he takes up a specific EC protest, considers its validity and it problems from both sides, and then appeals to a particular “expert” on the matter (e.g. Francis Schaeffer on evangelism, Nicholas Wolterstorff on truth, Richard Mouw on the gospel, to name a few).  Then, Belcher concludes with practical steps towards the Deep Church and often illustrates his point with an example from his own experience. 

Overall, Deep Church offers a number of salient points with much food for thought.  Yet, its lack of biblical exposition added to an unwise neglect of 1500 years of church history weakens his argument immensely.  Favoring the church fathers, Belcher disregards the theological advances that have come from the likes of Protestant Reformers, Puritan divines, and congregational theologians.

In sum, Deep Church is orthodox and advances the conversation on twenty-first century ecclesiology.  It will stretch and challenge both traditional and emerging pastors to contextualize the gospel and to think deeply about the church.  But, at the end of the day, because Deep Church grounds its arguments in human authorities and promotes an outdated, Fifth Century ecumenism, I am hesitant to recommend it to church members looking for Biblically-saturated help.  For thoughtful pastors, it is a stimulating book, but for the inquisitive layman books by Clowney, (The Church), Carson (The Church in the Bible and the World; Becoming Conversant with Emerging Church; , Dever (What is a Healthy Church?; Deliberate Church), Stott (The Living Church) and especially J.L. Dagg would be better.

(Other Reviews: Deep Church has gotten a lot of attention in book reviews.  If Belcher’s book interests you, check out the balanced review by Kevin DeYoung  and an excoriating one by Greg Gilbert.  I appreciate Greg’s concern for Belcher’s light treatment of penal substitution–I share his concern with any model of the atonement that truncates the legal and vicarious nature of the cross–but I think DeYoung’s review is more helpful in evaluating Belcher’s third way, which DeYoung describes as the traditional way mediated through Tim Keller.)

 Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Worshiping in, through, and by the Word

Kevin DeYoung  gives twenty-five compelling ‘words’ on why the Word of God is central in Christian worship.  Against emotionalism, subjectivism, mysticism, and other forms of individualistic worship that is easily misguided, God’s Word leads us to worship our Christ in Spirit and in Truth.  Consider DeYoung’s culminating word:

The Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). There is much flexibility when it comes to corporate worship, but since we know that the Scriptures are inviolable, and that we are sanctified by the truth, and that the word is truth (John 17:17), we would be foolish if we did not make a priority that which we know has the power to save, transform, and endure.

If you are considering the subject of genuine worship–what worship is, and what worship isn’t–let me encourage you to meditate on DeYoung’s twenty-five Scripture-filled reasons for worshiping God in, through, and by God’s word.  While there is freedom to express our love and devotion to God in worship, that liberty is directed and indeed enhanced by the Spirit’s penmanship in the word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Will the real Jesus please stand up?!

Today Kevin DeYoung summarized his message from this year’s Next Conference. In his message on the “Life of Christ” he includes a thought-provoking and sadly revealing list of Jesus makeovers found throughout the bulging corridors of American evangelicalism.  Some of the false Jesuses on his list include Republican Jesus, Democrat Jesus, Therapist Jesus, Starbucks Jesus, Open-Minded Jesus, Touchdown Jesus… Hippie Jesus, Yuppie Jesus, and on it goes. 

In place of these extrabiblical examples, DeYoung turns to the language of biblical promise and fulfillment to describe who Jesus is.  Instead of painting a velvet Elvis, fad Jesus to enforce any number of partisan policies, DeYoung simply turns to the Bible to say that the Messiah is

the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world…

He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the serpent, the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood, the Christ promised to Abraham, the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died, the Christ promised to David when he was king, the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a suffering servant, the Christ predicted through the prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

Reading this catena of descriptions, I was reminded of the simple fact that apart from the Bible in general and the Old Testament in particular, we cannot know Jesus as the Christ.  Just to name the name of Jesus is not enough.  Even to simply quote an isolated verse, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” may not be enough, if this verse is removed from its canonical context and antecedent meaning.  The question that has to be asked then is, “Which Jesus are you talking about?”

In a world of competing Jesuses, Kevin DeYoung calls us back to a biblical portrait of Jesus, so that we might not confuse Jesus the Christ with Jesus the brand name, Jesus the salesman, or Jesus the talisman.  May we endeavor more to know the Christ of the Bible and the Bible which all points to Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss