Tuesday, September 17, 2013


The Founders Blog has officially moved to theblog.founders.org, and has relaunched with a new design! The folks at ChurchWeb innovations have done very well by us, and we know you'll like our new look.

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The Blog is comprised of the voices of Founders Ministries. Founders exists to recover the gospel, and we want to continue doing so with the best tools available.

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The Blog continues to add loyal readers every month. This relaunch will facilitate growth by creating a sustainable platform for our readers.

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Founders Ministries: Thirty Years of Working for the Recovery of the Gospel

For thirty years Founders ministries has worked for the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches. Our doctrinal commitments set that agenda for us. Because theology mattes to us, the message that is proclaimed in the name of Jesus Christ matters to us as does the nature of the church that He has established.

This is as it should be for all followers of Jesus. The written Word of God reveals the good news of salvation. It tells us not only the content of that news but also how that message actually creates new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because Christ and Christ alone is the only Savior of sinful people the good news of His life and work is the content of gospel proclamation. This is what it means to "preach Christ"--to set Him forth as He is revealed in Scripture as the One whose life, death and resurrection has accomplished redemption for all who believe. This is what preoccupied the early church. "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not ceasing teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). This is also what shaped Paul's understanding of his apostolic ministry. "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). So deeply embedded was this in his preaching that Paul could summarize his public ministry by saying, "Him we proclaim" (Colossians 1:28).

 Fred Malone has written an excellent series of posts on this subject that I highly recommend. What he has demonstrated very clearly is that preaching Christ is far more than merely preaching about Him. It is certainly more than preaching tips, principles or precepts to point the way forward to a more moral life. When compared to the messages preached in Acts and the New Testament Epistles, many modern sermons and Bible lessons sound more like Aesop's Fables than they do apostolic preaching and teaching. This is because they miss this crucial point: if Christ is not the point of the message then it is not a Christian message. Where this happens regularly you can be pretty sure that the gospel has been lost.

No faithful pastor or church intentionally turns away from the gospel. That is the path too often taken by those who have little or no regard for the Bible's infallibility. But those who do recognize the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture are not thereby immune to losing the gospel. Our danger is not that we will disregard it altogether. Our danger is, rather, that we will assume it. So, a message on "Five Steps to Being a Better Husband" might say good and true things without ever mentioning the relationship between Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. When pressed about the absence of the gospel in the message, the preacher will most likely defend his message with something like, "Of course I believe that [the gospel]. We ALL believe that. It's assumed." And therein lies the problem.

Assume the gospel long enough and it will become distorted or largely disappear from a church. When that happens, the only antidote is the recovery of the gospel, including the reclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ that has been secured through His life of perfect obedience to the law of God, His substitutionary, sacrificial death on the cross and His victorious, death-conquering resurrection from the grave. When this message is returned to its pride of place in the life and ministry of a local church then the other biblical teachings out of which it arises are also seen more clearly. The universality of sin that leaves sinners totally depraved and without spiritual life or ability, the efficacious, regenerating work of the Spirit who, like the wind, blows where He wills, the eternal, sovereign electing grace of God that was given to us before the foundation of the world--these and other truths will inevitably find their proper place in our preaching and teaching when the gospel of Jesus Christ is made central.

This conviction is what has driven Founders Ministries from the beginning. It is what continues to direct us into the future. We rejoice to see a growing resurgence of gospel-centrality through the efforts of various groups and across many denominational lines. That bodes well for the future because as the gospel is recovered it will be more carefully proclaimed. And as it is more carefully and widely proclaimed we can expect the Spirit to more widely bless its proclamation. It is, after all, the gospel that is "the power of God for salvation to all everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

So the effort to see the gospel recovered and faithfully proclaimed is far from an academic exercise. It is a matter eternal life and death.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Important Principles in Theological Discussion: Fuller Reflects on Rules of Engagement

When, in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, Andrew Fuller entered the lists of controversy with both hyper-Calvinists and Arminians on the issue of human inability and responsibility, he made a statement about controversy in general that seems an excellent principle to bear in mind. He wanted to avoid “the spirit into which we are apt to be betrayed, when engaged in controversy—that of magnifying the importance of the subject beyond its proper bounds” (1:11). Throughout his ministry he had abundant opportunity to check himself on this principle as well as to examine the details of controversial method. In light of the necessity of carrying on controversy within fraternal, and sometimes not so fraternal, bounds, it would be profitable to look at some of these ideas of a master Baptist controversialist. The three mentioned in this article are operative in Fuller’s engagement with the Socinians.

First, one must be convinced that doctrinal content is important. One of the ideas against which Fuller argued in dealing with Socinianism was “the non-importance of principle itself, in order to the enjoyment of the divine favor.” (317) Socinians, as well as Deists, disliked all the doctrinal points that Calvinists considered as constituent of saving faith. “Nothing is more common,” Fuller observed, “than for professed Infidels to exclaim against Christianity, on account of its rendering the belief of the gospel necessary to salvation.” (317) Those who objected to the doctrinal content of Christianity substituted morality and sincerity as the means of acceptance before God. In so doing, they really substituted another doctrinal basis for eternal life. Their enlightened rationality and genteel manners made obnoxious to them such teachings as vindictive justice, the necessity of atonement for forgiveness, divine sovereignty in salvation, the deity of Christ, and the final infallible authority of Scripture built on its divine inspiration. These ideas, they felt, were so clouded in obscurities, caused such confusion and division among Christians, that the uncertainty was purposeful on the part of the deity “to whet human industry, and the spirit of inquiry into the things of God, to give scope for the exercise of men’s charity and mutual forbearance of one another, and to be one great means of cultivating the moral dispositions,” not the grasping of perfect knowledge “which so few can attain.” (257)

In Fuller’s opinion, they rejected the inspiration and clarity of Scripture because the doctrines built on such a view ran counter to their rational assumptions. “One thing, however, is sufficiently evident,” Fuller noted, “while they vent their antipathy against the holy scriptures in such indecent language, they betray a consciousness that the contents of that sacred volume are against them.” (321). On the one hand, therefore, the idea that doctrinal principles are unimportant to faith simply cannot be maintained in true Christianity. The belief of the revealed truths of Scripture are necessary to faith, not only for the sake of the truth, but for the frame of mind that must be present for the full belief of that which is revealed about human sin, our acceptance before God only in the righteousness of another, and of God’s prerogative in granting this to whom he will. “Are the doctrines which Socinians disown (supposing them to be true),” Fuller asked, “of such importance, that a rejection of them would endanger their salvation?” (194) He believed so and stated as much.

On the other hand, the resistance to principle is simply a fa├žade for the positive presentation of a different doctrinal system. In theological controversy, the cause of truth is not aided by minimizing the importance of any doctrine that constitutes a part of the faith. Our intent must be to work toward further clarification and eventual full unity and acceptance even of controverted points and hard doctrines. Any temptation to declare a moratorium on doctrinal engagement must be resisted, for it is a path to the minimization of the importance of truth in Christian faith.

Fuller, as a second principle, pointed out that nothing substantial is gained, but true weakness comes to the fore, when argument proceeds on the basis of insult. Argument by insult seeks to discredit a position by bringing in impertinent data. Being judgmental about the emotional state or the mental abilities of an antagonist does nothing to discredit the argument. When a Socinian saw the determination of orthodox Christians to defend the deity of Christ, he concluded that “there is no reasoning with them” and felt that they were “to be pitied, and considered as being under a debility of mind, in this respect, however sensible and rational in others.” (257) Socinians felt that they were the true thinkers of the day and that soon their viewpoint would win over the vulgar, that is the non-thinking, non-innovative part of the population that simply accept the rational convictions of the few. This is the way that Trinitarian orthodoxy had won the day; leading intellects formulated the creeds and the vulgar simply followed them. So it is with science in any day. People believe what has always been believed until the more enlightened set a new standard, or, as it were, create a paradigm shift. Fuller recognized the case to be so in matters of scientific research where knowledge is dependent on human investigation which yields only to certain esoteric skills. But in matters of divine revelation, in the grasping of truths for the eternal well-being of the soul, things that eye has not seen and ear has not heard God has revealed. “We have a standard; and one, too, that is adapted to the understanding of the simple.” The Socinians considered ordinary persons as “incapable of forming religious sentiments for themselves; as if the Bible were to them a sealed book, and they had only to believe the system that happened to be in fashion, or rather, to have been in fashion some years before they were born, and to dance after the pipe of learned men.” (324) But if the Scriptures are indeed so obscure and adapted only to create genial moral dispositions, “why this abusive and insulting language?” The Socinians defended their rejection of orthodoxy on the supposed indecipherability of the standard of belief combined with the naivety and mental debility of the orthodox. Such a presentation does not amount to an argument and shows the uncertain ground on which the Socinian claim to be rational Christians was based.

Third, though controversy creates an atmosphere where the temptation to insult is great, one must not be too quick to take offense. Fuller looked closely at the position of his antagonist and took care not to identify an argument as an insult. If an argument aimed at discrediting his doctrine assumed a discernible position and from it drew pertinent inferences, even if the inferences were severe toward his belief, he did not consider such strategy or argument insulting. If Socinians believed that belief in the deity of Christ is wrong, and the consequent worship of him is forbidden by the commands against idolatry, and that orthodox Christian are therefore, idolaters, that is but a necessary conclusion from a premise they think is clear, and is certainly open to candid investigation by their opponents. Fuller took all this in stride and wrote, “If Socinians have a right to think Trinitarians idolaters, they have, doubtless a right to call them so; and, if they be able, to make it appear so: nor ought we to consider ourselves as insulted by it. I have no idea of being offended with any man, in affairs of this kind, for speaking what he believes to be the truth.”

Courting of compliments from one another did no good in such disagreements but instead antagonists should “encourage an unreservedness of expression, provided it be accompanied with sobriety and benevolence.” (205) The charge of bigotry, however, brought against orthodox Christians would be true, and not an ad hominem insult, only under certain characteristics that Fuller delineated. But the conviction that certain beliefs are necessary to salvation, and an attachment to those doctrines “on account of their appearing to us to be revealed in the Scriptures” (203) does not lend itself to the charge of bigotry, but is a manifestation of fair, honest, benevolent, and rational forthrightness. Concerning the several and highly pertinent points of controversy, Fuller wrote.

It must be allowed, that these doctrines may be what we consider them, not only true, but essential to Christianity. Christianity, like every other system of truth, must have some principles which are essential to it: and, if those in question be such, it cannot justly be imputed to pride or bigotry, it cannot be uncharitable, or uncandid, or indicate any want of benevolence, to think so. Neither can it be wrong to draw a natural and necessary conclusion, that those persons who reject these principles are not Christians. To think justly of persons is, in no respect, inconsistent with an universal good will towards them. It is not, in the least, contrary to charity, to consider unbelievers in the light in which the scriptures represent them; nor those who reject what is essential to the gospel, as rejecting the gospel itself. (194)

To deny the importance of principle is a path to infidelity. To argue by insult, corrects no opponent and brings no light to the point of disagreement. To take something as an insult that is intended as a salutary, truth-clarifying, gospel-manifesting, God-glorifying proposition of biblical doctrine does nothing to reconcile divergent positions and may be dangerous to the soul.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are You Quarrelsome?

A “quarrel” is a verbal fight. Not all conflicts are quarrels, but a conflict becomes a quarrel when it's sinfully combative or contentious.  I've been thinking about my own quarrelsomeness, and this is some of the fruit of my study. The Bible has quite a bit to say about quarreling:

  • People can quarrel over property (Gen 26:20-24). 
  • They quarrel with their leaders and with God (Ex 17:2, 7; Num 20:3, 13; 27:14; Deut 33:8). 
  • Disagreements can turn into quarrels (Prov 17:14). 
  • Brothers quarrel (Prov 18:19). 
  • Spouses quarrel (Prov 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24). 
  • Honorable men don't quarrel, but “every fool will be quarreling” (Prov 20:3). 
  • Gossip/slander produces quarreling (Prov 26:20). 
  • Those who walk properly do not quarrel (Rom 13:13). 
  • Do not “quarrel over opinions” in matters of liberty (Rom 14:1). 
  • Do not quarrel about which church leader you think is better (1 Cor 1:11-12). 
  • There's to be no quarreling in the church (1 Tim 2:8). 
  • Pastors are not to be quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3; 2 Tim 2:24-25). 
  • Craving for controversy produces quarrels (1 Tim 6:4). 
  • Do not “quarrel about words” (2 Tim 2:14). 
  • “Foolish, ignorant controversies” breed quarrels (2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9). 
  • “Avoid quarreling . . . be gentle, and show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:2). 
  • Quarrels are the result of unfulfilled desires and passions (Jas 4:1-2). 

What is the cause of quarrels?

James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” The root of quarrelsomeness is “covetousness.” Covetousness is discontentment with Christ, a desire to be satisfied in something outside of Him.

We quarrel to try to change someone's mind or behavior because we want something (Jas 4:1-2). Our covetous wants are often rooted in selfishness and pride. We may want to win an argument, look better than another person, or showcase our intellectual superiority. So, we quarrel. We may want to crush another person so that they won't dare challenge us again. We may want our lives to be more convenient or comfortable; so, we quarrel, trying make another person treat us the way we want to be treated. On the other hand, we may quarrel to change a person's mind for their own good because we love them. Parents sometimes quarrel with their children and teenagers out of desperation because they want to protect them from something harmful.

Ultimately, quarreling is an attempt to control someone by fighting them with our words. When we quarrel, we're trying to force another person to agree with us and to make them change by brute force. Quarreling is foolish because it can never win another person's heart. We may win arguments. We may end up getting our way, like bullies sometimes get their way. But quarreling ends up driving others away, causing resentment, and damaging personal relationships.

The Lord Jesus did not quarrel.

Christ had many opportunities to quarrel, but He never did. The Pharisees and Saducees often attempted to lure Christ into quarrels, but Jesus always responded with perfectly wise speech. Christ's disciples regularly misunderstood Him, and even contradicted Him, but Jesus never quarreled with them. Instead, He patiently corrected them and taught them, over and over. Christ spoke the truth in love to all men.

Matthew 12:19-20 says of Christ, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”

Christ isn't quarrelsome.  His perfect speech stands in the place of our quarrelsomeness.  That's the doctrine of justification.  As we lay hold of Christ by faith, God forgives us of our quarrelsomeness and treats us like our speech is perfect, even though it's not.  And He wins our hearts by His wisdom, gentleness, judicious speech, measured words, and rescuing love. And the more we see of Him through the eyes of faith, the more we will love Him, fear Him, pursue Him, rejoice in Him, and want to know more of Him. The more we love Him, the more we'll learn to put off the sin of quarrelsomeness, and put on gentle and loving speech, becoming more like our Savior.

What should we do instead of quarreling?

1. We should trust God. When we quarrel, we're actually attempting to be God, rather than trusting God. We're trying to rule over the minds, hearts and behaviors of others, instead of relying on God to rule them. We're attempting to leverage someone into change by fighting them with our words. But God calls us to remember that He is sovereign over the hearts and lives of others. We can never change a person from the inside out, but God can, and God does. If we believe His meticulous providence and His perfect loving care for us and others, then we can trust Him without trying to change others by quarreling. To the degree we do this, our anger and our fears will diminish as we rest in His kind providence.

2. We should rely on God's appointed means of grace. Ordinarily, God changes people by means of His Word, prayer, and loving service. So, if we really want people to change, to trust Christ and become more like Him, we need to tell them the truth in love, pray for them, and serve them with sincerity and humility. When we do this, we need to remember that there's no guarantee that others will ever change. God alone is Lord of the human heart. He changes people according to His sovereign pleasure, but if we want to be instruments of change in people's lives, we have to trust God to work through His appointed means.

3. We should think of disagreements as an opportunity to love and serve. If we're to do all things in love, then we're to disagree in love too. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices at the truth. Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). We should first listen carefully to those with whom we disagree, make sure we have understood what they're saying, and we should only choose to voice a disagreement, if we believe that it will serve them and God's glory. If our goal is loving service, then we'll always be willing to hear correction and reproof from those we're trying to serve. We should never disagree about petty matters or things that selfishly serve our own interests.  Instead, faithful disagreements seek to serve others, to do them good, to lead them to worship, and glorify Christ.  They should always aim to persuade others that we care about them and their souls.

For further study, I recommend War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp.

Tom Hicks

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the Old Testament

Today we continue our series on the Sabbath. Previously I have discussed the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance and the prescriptive nature of God's rest in Genesis 2. Now I want to discuss if it is proper to dismiss the 4th commandment as 'ceremonial law.'

1. The Unity of the Decalogue

Image Credit
Some want to claim that the Sabbath command is a ceremonial law that is no longer binding. However, no one would doubt the continuing validity of the other nine commandments. John Murray shows the flawed logic found in arguing that only nine of the Ten Commandments are still binding:
“If we say the fourth commandment is abrogated and the other nine are not, we must understand what we are saying. It would indeed be an amazing phenomenon that in the heart of the decalogue there should be one commandment — and one given such prominence and meticulous elaboration — that is totally different from the others in this regard that they are permanent and it is not. Surely no one will dispute that in the Old Testament the ten commandments constitute a well-rounded and compact unit. And surely no one will dispute that the Old Testament is itself throughout conscious of that fact. If the ten commandments were a loose and disjointed collection of precepts, there would be nothing very extraordinary about the supposition we are now discussing. But that is precisely what the decalogue is not. And so to establish this supposition that the fourth commandment is abrogated, when the other nine are not, would require the most explicit and conclusive evidence. 
As we read the Old Testament we do not find any warrant for discrimination between the fourth and the other nine. Nor indeed do we find any intimation in the Old Testament that in the Messianic age the Sabbath law would cease. If any commandment is emphasized it is the fourth.”[1]
The unity of the decalogue makes the abrogation of a single command seem very strange indeed. Some want to mix together the Sabbath command and the 'judgments,' commands given by God after the Ten commandments that were based upon the moral commands. This mixing of categories is unjustified because of the uniqueness of the Decalogue.

2. The Uniqueness of the Decalogue

While the Israelites were at Sinai, God gave many laws. However, the moral commands of God had a certain primacy over the other ‘judgments.' First, the Ten Words were the only laws written by the finger of God himself. Second, unlike the rest of the laws that were spoken, the Ten Commandments were carved into tablets of stone. Third, none of the other laws were placed in the Ark of the Covenant; rather, the Ten Words were placed in the Ark at the metaphorical ‘feet’ of the Almighty himself. Fourth, the “literary shape” of their delivery demonstrates a distinction between the “Ten Commandments” and the “Judgments.” 

Peter Gentry explains that the headings of the two distinct passages (Ten Words, Ex. 20; and The Judgments, Ex. 21-23) and the use of specific terms indicates, “the broad outline and shape of the text.”[2]  Furthermore, the difference in sentence construction distinguishes the different sections. He explains, “The Ten Words are presented as absolute commands or prohibitions, usually in the second person singular. They are general injunctions not related to a specific social situation…By contrast, the Judgements are presented as case laws. These are presented as if they were court decisions functioning as precedents.”[3]  Clearly these examples are indications of some internal distinctions within the law of the Lord. The perpetual moral standards behind the Ten Words are given primacy over the other ‘judgments,’ which would eventually prove to be temporary.

3. Old Testament expectation of the Decalogue's Perpetuity

The Decalogue was never shown to be made up of laws of varying application and duration. The Sabbath command in the Ten Commandments is merely an official codification of the creation ordinance. The moral imperative may have been given ceremonial and civil accouterments, but the moral imperative remained (and remains) unchanged. Murray concludes,
“If there had been in the Old Testament some evidence that would create a presumption in favour of discrimination, if there had been even something that would justify a strong suspicion that in the Messianic age the Sabbath law would no longer bind, then, of course, even slight confirmation from the New Testament might clinch that suspicion and warrant the inference that the fourth commandment had been abrogated. But no such suspicion is created and the evidence is altogether against such a supposition.”[4]
Nothing in the Old Testament gives us an indication that the Sabbath Command was a temporary command peculiar to the Jews.  

In coming posts in this series on the Sabbath I will examine, among other things, Jesus's view on the Sabbath, whether the New Testament abrogates the Sabbath command, plus some implications of the doctrine of the Sabbath on ecclesiology. 

Jon English Lee

[1] John Murray, The Fourth Commandment According to Westminster Standards, http://www.the-highway.com/sabbath1_Murray.html (Accessed 4/30/2013).

            [2] Peter John Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: a Biblical-theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 305. Although Gentry and Wellum do reject the tri-fold categories of ceremonial, moral, and civil law, it is interesting that they clearly see and teach the textual evidences of the uniqueness of the decalogue from the judgments.
[3] Ibid., 306.

[4] John Murray, The Fourth Commandment According to Westminster Standards, http://www.the-highway.com/sabbath1_Murray.html (Accessed 4/30/2013).

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Selecting Music for Worship (Part 2): Know Theology

How well do you know the music your church sings in worship? Can you think, for example, of a song that teaches that sin corrupts and deceives the heart? Or a song that unfolds the work of the Trinity in our salvation? If you were to measure the depth of doctrine and the breadth of truth in your church’s music for worship, what would you find?

In my last post we began considering ways that worship leaders can best prepare for the task of selecting music for worship. My first encouragement was know the Word. The first and best way to prepare for the task is to be regularly and diligently in God’s Word.

But second, and closely tied to the first, those who lead music in the church must know theology. Music is tied to theology—our songs instruct us. Music gives us voice to rehearse and remember the truth. It helps us rightly respond and rejoice in the truth.

Except for the preaching of the Word, no other ministry in the church has such a profound impact on shaping our understanding of truth than music. The music we sing helps us declare what is true about God, ourselves, and the world around us. And it embeds that truth in our thinking and in our lives. Paul makes the connection between music and truth in Colossians 3:16. He instructs us:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, ESV).
We want to sing and celebrate what is true. We want our music to support and undergird the teaching and preaching ministry of the church. For this to happen we must be wise and discerning in what we choose to sing. We must know the truth and be able to recognize lyrics that are rich in truth, lyrics that are light on truth, and lyrics that stray from the truth.

So commit yourself to study theology. Read sound, theological books. Learn to think theologically about your church’s music. Peruse and evaluate the lyrics of music you are using or considering for use in worship. Along with looking for quotes, allusions and connections to specific Scripture references in each song, ask yourself: What theological truths does this song teach?

One of the methods I have used to help me think theologically about music is to compile a Theological Index of Church Music. I started the index twenty years ago as a project for one of my PhD seminars in seminary. I created both an outline of theological topics and a list of song titles (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) that we were singing at the church where I was leading worship. Then I created the index by working through the lyrics of each song, line by line, listing the song title under each entry in the outline that was stated or affirmed in the song. The resulting index provided a valuable resource, not just for selecting songs by theological topic, but for evaluating the scope and content of our church’s music.

You can find the Theological Outline here along with a list of some of the books I used to compile the outline.

I have resisted  (for now) posting my full Theological Index of Church Music. I recognize that each church will have its own compilation of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that it knows and sings well. I have also discovered that much of the benefit in having the list is the time spent creating it—thinking through lyrics and evaluating strengths and weaknesses.

Here, however, are a few entries from my opening questions:

Songs that teach that sin corrupts and deceives the heart
  • All I Have Is Christ (Jordan Kauflin – Sovereign Grace Music)
  • And Can It Be (Charles Wesley / Thomas Campbell – PD)
  • No, Not Despairingly, Come I to Thee (Horatius Bonar – PD)

Songs that unfold the work of the Trinity in our salvation
  • Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son (by Mark Altrogge – Sovereign Grace Music)
  • Come Praise and Glorify (by Bob Kauflin / Tim Chester – Sovereign Grace Music)
  • Wonderful, Merciful Savior (by Dawn Rodgers and Eric Wyse – Word Music)

Ken Puls

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Paul’s Mission and His Partners in Ministry

Who trained leaders to plant congregations in the early church? That has been the subject of my past three blogposts. We first looked at a general introduction to leadership training in the book of Acts, followed by the early signs of leadership development in Acts, and then the church spreading through the church planting ministry of the saints scattered due to persecution. The present post will take a brief glance at training with Paul’s mission and his partners in ministry. My next post will offer concluding observations to leadership training in Acts.

Johannes Nissen identifies three categories of fellow-workers with Paul. (1) The most intimate circle included Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. (2) Aquila, Priscilla, and Titus represented “independent co-workers.” (3) The last group, local church representatives, put workers at Paul’s disposal so that the churches partnered with him in church planting ministry.[1] While the first two categories figured most prominently in the NT, the last involved considerable numbers of workers.

Significantly, Paul’s ministry, as Nissen rightly explains, was not hurried proclamation to the nations. “His ministry also had a more pastoral aspect,” evident by his letters. He did not simply plant a church and move on to another; he sought to shepherd the new disciples in the faith.[2] Unlike the philosophers of his day that sought to change individuals, Paul sought to form communities of disciples who continued on in the faith—and that could only happen with sufficient leadership.[3] He placed priority, as evident from the Acts narrative and his epistles, on making sure that shepherding leaders continued to teach and train the churches in the faith (e.g. Acts 17:14–15; 18:24–28; 2 Tim 4:10–12; Titus 3:12–14). This post will look at leadership development in the intimate circle, independent co-workers, and local church representatives in Pauline ministry.

Intimate Circle

Silas, one of the “leading men among the brethren” in Jerusalem, had been deputed by the Jerusalem church to address the churches of Syria and Cilicia with the Jerusalem Council’s message (Acts 15:22–33). That the church in Jerusalem recognized his giftedness as a good representative of the faith indicates that Silas spent considerable time involved with that congregation. The “whole church,” along with the apostles and elders, chose him as a representative to the Gentile believers (Acts 15:22). The church had ample opportunity to attest to his character, servant-leadership, knowledge of Scripture, and preaching ability. They sent him on no small task! This observation assumes that Silas’s involvement in the Jerusalem church shaped and prepared him for future ministry to the point that his congregation happily commended him to this epochal ministry to the Gentile church. The opportunities granted earlier to Silas by the Jerusalem church gave them confidence to send him on this vital and sensitive mission of the early church, and later as Paul’s mission partner. The Jerusalem church’s leaders and congregation left its mark on his ministry.

Although still a young man, eighteen to twenty years old by various reckonings,[4] the evidence of Timothy’s call to ministry and gifts to serve, prompted the Lystran and Iconium elders to set him apart for gospel preaching and teaching (1 Tim 1:18; 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6–7).[5] Paul would later remind him of this sacred time that his church’s elders, presumably with the whole-hearted support of the congregation, set him apart for ministry. Significantly, his reputation went beyond his home church in Lystra to the Iconium church as well.[6] This suggests that Timothy had also engaged in some acts of ministry with the latter church so that they could readily affirm his gifts for ministry. It seems probable that he learned something of the ministry of elders by observing and receiving from those that Paul and Barnabas had appointed in his church (Acts 14:23). He had learned something of what it meant to model the Christian faith as he observed, and maybe served under, the elders in Lystra and Iconium. By listening to Paul and others ministering in Lystra, he had learned something about gospel conversations and proclamation.

Independent Co-Workers

Aquila and Priscilla[7] had significant ministry in Ephesus, where Paul left the couple after their time of service in Corinth (Acts 18:18–19). They left no gap in the work initiated by Paul in Ephesus, especially by their mentoring efforts with the eloquent Alexandrian believer Apollos (Acts 18:24–28). As they had done in Corinth, the couple opened their home to host a new church in Ephesus,[8] training disciples, such as Apollos, for fuller gospel ministries. Their leadership in preparing Apollos “for a vigorous and effective ministry in Corinth,” David Peterson commented, demonstrated the “interconnection and interdependence of churches in the apostolic period.”[9] Luke’s narrative during the missionary labors of Paul offers only a small window into the personalities engaged in church planting, as well as those training them. Yet one has no difficulty thinking that Aquila and Priscilla multiplied their discipling and mentoring efforts beyond Apollos, while serving in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18), then later back in Rome (Rom 16:3), and once again back in Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19). Paul knew them to be dependable, theologically astute, and winsome in relationships—just the right balance needed in training others to preach Christ, plant churches, and build up believers.[10]

Although Luke makes no reference to Titus, he was involved in Paul’s ministry recorded in Acts. Paul identifies him as a Greek (Gal 2:3) who accompanied the apostle and Barnabas on a special journey to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1–10). Assuming that Titus joined Paul and Barnabas on the Acts 11:27–30 famine-relief journey,[11] his association with Paul as a competent representative predated the first missionary journey, indicating him as an early part of the Antioch church who would have trained and prepared him for ministry.

Paul called Aquila, Priscilla, and Titus his “fellow workers” (Rom 16:3; 2 Cor 8:23), with Titus also called “my partner” among the Corinthian church. While traveling with Paul on occasions, most of their ministries came through assignment or pastoral opportunity. Those mentoring them in ministry laid groundwork for strong impact through them in the early church.

Local Church Representatives

Paul names upward of forty persons involved in sponsoring his missionary activities.[12] Many more—Jews, Gentiles, women, and slaves—accompanied him temporarily or permanently on his journeys, participating at various levels of mission work.[13] His practice of involving local church representatives implies an important ecclesiological note: mission work is teamwork.[14] Each disciple involved in proclaiming Christ, planting churches, and nurturing congregations used “their gifts to enrich the church in other places.”[15] Although often unnamed, the congregations of the first century sent their finest members to do kingdom work beyond their own communities, with many of the churches having done initial preparation for those they sent out to minister. Luke recognized Erastus who ministered with Timothy in Paul’s mission team (Acts 19:22), Gaius and Aristarchus as traveling companions from Macedonia (Acts 19:29), and Sopater of Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, and Tychichus and Trophimus of Asia (Acts 201–5). Their churches laid groundwork for their mission work.

While Paul notably mentored and continued training those partnering with him in ministry, what seems apparent by the observations made in Acts is that each local church had some part in preparing and sending out these first century Christian workers. That remains the pattern for every church engaged in the work of planting, shepherding, and revitalizing local churches.

Phil A. Newton

[1] Johannes Nissen, New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Perspective (3d ed.; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004), 110.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 70. See also Steve Walton, Leadership and Lifestyle: The Portrait of Paul in the Miletus Speech and 1 Thessalonians (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series, Richard Bauckham, gen. ed.; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 134–135, who explains that Luke presents Paul, like Jesus, as one who mentored others in the servant-leadership model.
[4] Curtis Vaughan, Acts (Founders Study Guide Commentary; Cape Coral, Fla.: Founders Press, 2009), quotes A. T. Robertson, The Acts of the Apostles, vol. III in “Word Pictures of the New Testament” (New York: Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1930), 243, as Timothy being eighteen, while Simon J. Kistemaker, Acts (NTC; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 578, counted him as twenty.
[5] Kistemaker, Acts, 579.
[6] E. F. Harrison, Interpreting Acts: The Expanding Church (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 261.
[7] B. R. and P. C. Patten, “Prisca . . . Priscilla,” in ISBE, 4 vols., Geoffrey Bromiley, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 3:973. Note Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19 referring to Prisca or the diminutive form Priscilla, before mention of Aquila.
[8] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission (2 vols.; Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 1228.
[9] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; D. A. Carson, ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 512, fn. 26, 523. When Apollos wanted to go to Corinth to proclaim Christ, Aquila and Priscilla likely used some of their contacts, perhaps even some they had discipled, to gain entry into the fellowship of the church; see Harrison, Acts, 304.
[10] Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 10, correctly explain that church planting requires not only spiritual skills but also people skills since “it is also a complex human undertaking.” Aquila and Priscilla seemed to hold these tensions well.
[11] Timothy George, Galatians (NAC 30; Nashville: Broadman, 1994), 135–151.
[12] Robert J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 150–151.
[13] Ibid., 151–155. See also Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 1425ff. for the identity of these fellow workers, along with Paul’s designations for them.
[14] Ott and Wilson, Global Church Planting, 48–49.
[15] Peterson, Acts, 544.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon? OT Historical Narrative - 2 Samuel 16:1-4

My last four posts have attempted to answer three questions: (1) "Should we preach Christ in every sermon?"; (2) "Why should we preach Christ in every sermon?"; and (3) "How should we preach Christ in every sermon?”. I used preaching in Proverbs and Lev. 18:5 to illustrate (3). Today, I would like to continue illustrating (3) by using an OT historical narrative: 2 Sam. 16:5-14.

The narratives of Scripture present a challenge to the preacher to be true to the text, the redemptive-historical context, and the analogy of faith. However, because we know the covenantal, law-gospel, justification-sanctification theology of all the Scriptures, we can justly preach Christ in all the Scriptures. Each sermon must have enough of the gospel to save the sinner and to edify the saint through the preaching of Jesus Christ Himself.  2 Samuel 16:1-4 says:
Now when David had passed a little beyond the summit, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred clusters of raisins, a hundred summer fruits, and a jug of wine. The king said to Ziba, "Why do you have these?" And Ziba said, "The donkeys are for the king's household to ride, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine, for whoever is faint in the wilderness to drink." Then the king said, "And where is your master's son?" And Ziba said to the king, "Behold, he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, 'Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.'" So the king said to Ziba, "Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours." And Ziba said, "I prostrate myself; let me find favor in your sight, O my lord, the king!"
1. Grammatically - There is very little of significance in the grammar of the passage. It is a straightfoward report of the historical events. Ziba’s response of prostration and request for favor (grace), along with his affirmation of David as king, seems to show his genuine devotion to David. However, as we shall see, not all is as it appears.

2. Historically - David is fleeing his son Absalom’s treacherous takeover of Jerusalem and the kingship, even after David had been promised another born son to be an eternal King (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Psalm 3 records David’s weary though trustful frame of mind when he fled from Absalom. As David descended the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba met him with gifts. Ziba was the steward of Saul’s possessions before Saul’s death. Since then, he had accumulated personal wealth from managing Saul’s possessions. However, after Jonathan’s death, David gave Saul’s possessions to Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, making Ziba the steward. So, Ziba conceived a covetous plan to repossess all of Saul’s possessions for himself. Feigning allegiance to David, perhaps hoping for his return to power, Ziba falsely reported that Mephibosheth stayed in Jerusalem to take over the kingship from Absalom which genealogically belonged to Jonathan his father. So, believing Ziba’s false report, David pronounced that “all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” To which Ziba feigned loyalty to David. It was only after the defeat of Absalom that David discovered Ziba’s lie about Mephibosheth. Ziba had left loyal Mephibosheth in Jerusalem when he deceived David. So, David divided the property between them (2 Sam. 19), though humble Mephibosheth was content with nothing but David’s friendship.

3. Theologically - After studying the narrative of events, I would consider what the Law and the Gospel have to say about our text. The Law reveals the sin of Ziba in his deceitfulness to gain all of Saul’s property. “Thou shalt not bear false witness...Thou shalt not steal...Thou shalt not covet” condemns Ziba’s treachery. The sinful nature of man and the condemnation of the Law for sin is seen in the deceit of Ziba. He manipulated David to get his way against God’s revealed will, falsely accusing Mephibosheth of trying to overthrow David. This is the strategy of Satan in the garden with Adam and Eve, falsely accusing God to manipulate them for his ends. Now man copies Satan’s wiles. We all stand condemned by the Law.

Further, we see in David the faithfulness of God’s covenant promises to the believer in spite of his remaining sin. God’s Law required that every fact be confirmed on the basis of two or more witnesses. There was no reason to doubt Mephibosheth’s previous loyalty. But David believed the gossip of Ziba on one witness and made an unjust ruling. Yet God overruled David’s fallibility and prospered his battle with Absalom to be restored to his kingship according to God’s sovereign will. So God use fallible David to fulfill His promise to bring forth the Son of David to be a perfect King who rules with justice (Isa. 9:6-7). The Gospel is preached in this text by showing God’s faithfulness and sovereignty to His covenant promises and by comparing David as a fallible type to our infallible antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul could say to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the descendent of David, according to my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).

In this historical narrative, we see God’s predestined faithfulness to judge Adam’s descendants for sin yet fulfilling His eternal promise to bring forth a last Adam to bear the sins of many and to re-establish His righteous rule among men. The theology of the Law and the Gospel makes Christ the center of God’s revelation in every text, even historical narratives.

4. Preaching Christ in this OT historical narrative:

The Fallen Condition of Man. Ziba shows us the fallen nature of man, seeking his own will instead of God’s by any sinful means. We stand condemned by the same Law. Have you ever lied, gossiped, or deceived to get your way? (apply to spouse, child, employee, parent, friend, enemy; see Proverbs on God’s attitude on lying). God’s Law condemns such sins of false witness, coveting, gossiping, slandering, or manipulation of others. And He will judge you at the last day. Ziba’s sin was discovered by David later and brought to justice. How much more will our risen Lord expose and judge the secrets of men when we stand before Him. How will you stand before Him without a Savior and Redeemer?

The Sovereignty of God Over Man’s Sinful Deceits. Ziba was not judged immediately and got away with it at the time. Why do the wicked Ziba’s prosper and the righteous Mephibosheth’s suffer? God will bring all to justice at the last day and punish for sins (Psa. 37, 73). How patient God is to let such men like you and me live, calling us to repentance (2 Pet. 3) and faith in the only Savior of the world. If any here have not repented of your sins against God and His Law, God has been patient with you. But He will not be patient forever. You must repent of your deceits and lying now, fleeing to the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of David, if you would see life.

The Faithfulness of God to His Promises of Grace. Why does God let people like faithless Ziba and imperfect David live? It is because He is full of mercy and has declared the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the way of redemption for Adam’s sinful children (Gen. 3:15). Therefore, He kept His promise to David, planned before the foundation of the world, and restored him to kingship so that He would bring to fulfillment the perfect Son of David and Son of God born in Bethlehem. And He will keep His promises of redemption, adoption, and glory to repentant sinners like you and me who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even more amazingly, if God could use an imperfect man like David to bring in His eternal kingdom, if He could cause all things to work together for good in David’s fallible life, then so can He use redeemed sinners such as ourselves to spread His Gospel from shore to shore. And so fallible Christians should be encouraged to persevere in serving the Lord. We have promises, in spite of our remaining sins, that God will not leave us or forsake us but actually use us for His glory as we overcome our own sins in the blessing of His forgiving grace.

There is no way you can make up for such sins as Ziba’s or David’s. Jesus had to die for such things as a greater King than David. Blood atonement had to be made by the perfect King for a just forgiveness for His subjects. Resolutions never to lie or sin again cannot make up for the past. You have to be humbled before God and by faith alone trust in Christ’s substitutionary death to atone for your sins. You have to be covered with His righteous robes to stand before a righteous God, received as a gift by faith in Him, not of works lest any man should boast. Then, out of love for Him and His grace received, speak the truth each one with your neighbor... like both Ziba and David should have.

5. Principles for Preaching Christ in OT narratives.
  • Every post-lapsarian OT historical narrative is populated by fallen sons of Adam and/or redeemed sons of God in Christ. 
  • Wherever the Law reveals sin in the text, it must be shown and preached to all as condemning. 
  • Wherever God’s sovereignty is revealed over man’s sin, the Gospel of Christ must be preached by way of God’s covenant faithfulness to bring Christ into the world under Grace. 
  • Each text may be applied both to the unconverted and converted by way of exposing the Law and the Gospel behind each text. 
  • These principles are neither allegory nor eisegesis; they are part of “the analogy of faith” which centers all of Scripture in the revelation of Jesus Christ to man. This how we should preach Christ in every sermon, OT or NT. 
Preaching Christ from an OT narrative flows from the analogy of faith, not just grammatical-historical facts and examples. The Law covenant in Adam reveals the sin and judgment of all men in our text while the Grace covenant in Christ reveals the need of the Savior, the righteousness of Christ in fulfilling the Law, and God’s faithful provision in Christ for sinners. Application of the Law and the Gospel to the hearers means that the preacher must reveal their sins, God’s judgment, their need of Christ, and the abundant provision of Christ, while also showing believers the encouragement of Christ’s work on their behalf. If there is obedience to God’s law in the text, the preacher must show that the gospel of grace has produced such obedience through the perfect work of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we would be teaching obedience to God’s Law without the redemptive motive and power of grace to perform it. The analogy of faith requires that we preach the Law leading to the Gospel and that we preach the Gospel leading to faith-based obedience: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

Fred A. Malone

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fuller's Fear of the Slippery Slope

In my most recent post, I mentioned that Fuller envisioned true Christianity as a hearty reception of the deity and the atoning work of Christ with “other corresponding doctrines.” In the framework of that nomenclature, Fuller located the fall of man and its consequences in the determination of God to show his perfect grace in the effectual provision of full redemption for those given to Christ, and to show his perfect justice and holiness in the punishment of sin for those given over to themselves.

On several occasions in this vigorous interaction with the high priests of Socinianism, Fuller noted that errors in any of these important connections and “corresponding doctrines” was a step toward infidelity and away from true Christianity. “The smallest departure from the one, is a step towards the other.” Certainly not all steps are of the same length or concern the most vital areas, but “all move in the same direction.” When Joseph Priestly boasted that Robert Robinson (the famous Baptist hymn writer of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”) had been salvaged from the road to deism by the teachings of Priestly, Fuller, who knew Robinson and lamented his pilgrimage, responded that that only proved, “that the region of Socinianism is so near to that of Deism, that, now and then, an individual, who was on the high road to the one, has stopped short, and taken up with the other.” (309). Fuller wanted to warn against stepping on the path to infidelity.

This point provided another caution against Arminianism, in Fuller’s mind. He identified Arminianism as one step on the journey from robust Christianity toward eventual infidelity. He did not present Arminianism as a species of infidelity, but did point to several positions that constituted common ground on the ill-fated path. The Arminian view of the ground, or basis, or foundation, of human responsibility is the same as that of the Socinians. As Fuller presented the case, Socinians held that punishment for the violation of a law whose demands were beyond our powers is unjust, unreasonable, and cruel. If the demands were beyond natural powers, the objection would be warranted, Fuller agreed, but the inability that is a manifestation of moral corruption is a different matter entirely. In responding to the inconsistency of this objection, Fuller observed the “agreement between the Socinian and Arminian systems on this subject. By their exclamation on the injustice of God as represented by the Calvinistic system, they both render that a debt, which God in the whole tenor of his word declares to be of grace. Neither of them will admit the equity of the divine law, and that man is thereby righteously condemned to eternal punishment, antecedently to the grace of the gospel; or, if they admit it in words, they will be ever contradicting it by the tenor of their reasonings.” (83) In other words, if God does not give grace, then man does not owe obedience. If human sin can be overcome only by the omnipotent manifestation of grace, then human sin is excusable. So agreed Arminians and Socinians.

Calvinism is the complete antithesis of Socinianism on this theological point. Fuller noted, as he synthesized several pivotal passages on salvation by grace and not by works, “The doctrines inculcated by Christ and his apostles, in order to lay men low in the dust before God, were those of human depravity, and salvation by free and sovereign grace, through Jesus Christ.” (173) Socinians, strangely ignoring the apostolic arguments, and, substituting their celebration of human goodness as a fair presentation of biblical teachings, looked upon Calvinism as “designed in perfect opposition to the apostolic doctrine.” Consequently, they “are constantly exclaiming against the Calvinistic system, because it maintains the insufficiency of a good moral life, to recommend us to the favor of God.” (175) According to Fuller, “The Calvinistic system” humbles Christians in leading them to “feel their entire dependence upon God for virtue,” whereas the Socinian, “in professed opposition to Calvinism, maintains,” in the words of Joseph Priestly, “that it depends entirely upon a man’s self, whether he be virtuous or vicious, happy or miserable.” (177) In Fuller’s observation on this sentiment of Priestly, he made the point that if Priestly only means that one’s conduct depends on one’s choices, then the Calvinist holds it as clearly as does the Socinian, but “if he means that a virtuous choice originates in ourselves, and that we are the proper cause of it, this can agree to nothing but the Arminian notion of a self-determining power in the will.” (177) When Fuller examined Dan Taylor on this same issue, he surmised that Taylor’s assumption that moral inability would render a person guiltless in his disobedience, meant that the more evil a person is the less likely it is that he can commit sin. Fuller responded with incredulity saying that Taylor “will not, he cannot, abide by its just and necessary consequences.” (1:431) Then after showing the consequences of the Arminian idea of reduced responsibility commensurate with the degree of moral inability, Fuller again affirmed, “These consequences, however anti-scriptural and absurd, are no more than must inevitably follow from the position of Philanthropos [Dan Taylor].”

Again, Fuller viewed the Arminian concept of a general, or universal, atonement, absent any effectual element in it to guarantee its fruitfulness in the salvation of sinners, as destructive of the stated purpose and infallibly conceived outcome of Christ’s work—an error fatal to Christianity. Taylor’s view that Christ’s death for all is a greater grace than his death for a certain and limited number brought from Fuller the extrapolation, “It is true, if Christ had made effectual provision for the salvation of all, it would have been a greater display of grace than making such a provision for only a part; but God has other perfections to display, as well as his grace; and the reader will perceive, by what has been said, that to make provision for all, in the sense in which P. contends for it, is so far from magnifying the grace of God, that it enervates, if not annihilates it.” (1:515) The Arminian view of a general atonement with no provision for its effectuality differed little from the Socinian rejection of Christ’s death as an atoning sacrifice. Fuller believed the most consistent biblical view of Christ’s death was that in which “an effectual provision is made in the great plan of redemption, that he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.” (278) Though Taylor remonstrated against the Socinian view that rejected any element of punitive satisfaction in the atonement, he put no element in his view that honored Christ’s death as a truly substitutionary and propitiatory sacrifice, for its efficacy was not in itself but in something extrinsic to it.

Because of these doctrinal connections, Fuller made an observation about the phenomenon of progressive apostasy that “it is very common for those who go over to Infidelity, to pass through Socinianism, in their way.” Not only that, but he also noted that it is not common for “persons who go over to Socinianism, to go directly from Calvinism, but through one or other of the different stages of Arminianism, or Arianism, or both.” (2:337)

This is why many Southern Baptists are concerned with certain elements of the Traditionalist Statement issued last year. Consistent with the concerns of Andrew Fuller, we feel that cautions are in order that these “stages of Arminianism” do not become a reservoir for other theological challenges as they have for many others through the years and even in recent decades. The uncertain God of Open Theism, so recently embraced by a number of evangelicals, with many of its attendant theological detours, learned his ambivalence within these stages of Arminianism.

Tom J. Nettles


Here are Dr. Nettles' previous articles in this series on Andrew Fuller and Non-Calvinism:

1. A Non-Calvinist Challenges a Calvinist: Andrew Fuller's Defense of Calvinism
2. Another Non-Calvinist Challenges a Calvinist: The Sandemanians Challenge Fuller
3. Andrew Fuller Encounters Non-Calvinism: Again

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort by Matthew Barrett

Many people think of “the five points of Calvinism” as cold intellectual doctrines that have little or no bearing on faithful Christian living. In his new book, The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort, Matthew Barrett shows how far that is from the truth. In this well-written and much-needed volume, Barrett shows that the Canons of Dort demonstrate an intimate connection between Calvinistic doctrine and faithful Christian piety.

I believe this book applies to two errors that seem to be prevalent in today's recovery of the doctrines of grace. First, some people love to argue for Calvinism, but they fail to appropriate and live in the humble holiness demanded by these great doctrines. As a result, they have a tendency to become proud and spiritually sleepy. Second, some admit that Calvinism is true without explaining how it makes us more like Christ. They exclude Calvinism from the motivations to faithful Christian living and so their piety is impoverished. But both errors are unfaithful to the Word of God. This book shows that “the five points of Calvinism” must be biblically applied for the good of the church and for her witness to the world.

1. Divine Predestination. According to Dort, three practical blessings flow from the doctrine of predestination, including assurance of salvation, humility, and personal holiness.

Assurance of Salvation. Barrett writes, “Assurance of salvation in Christ is the great comfort that comes in affirming the doctrine of unconditional election. Election is to remind the believer that he is safe in the arms of God, for God has chosen him before the foundation of the world” (40-41).

Humility of Mind. Barrett goes on to say, “The child of God, aware and confident of his election, is moved by such assurance on a daily basis to find greater cause to humble himself before God because he recognizes that his election and even the assurance of his election are not due to his own righteousness but due entirely to the sovereign grace and mercy of God” (42).

Personal Holiness.  Assurance of salvation and humble faith are the primary fuel of personal holiness. Barrett says that these are “not a motivator for laxity and carnality but the very source of good works and the ammunition needed to shield the believer from the fiery darts of the devil, which seek to lead the believer's conscience to despair” (49).

2. Particular Atonement. Christ's atoning work for His elect people is a cause for personal and corporate worship. Dort 2.9 declares:
“This plan [of particular redemption], arising out of God's eternal love for his chosen ones, from the beginning of the world to the present time has been powerfully carried out and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against it. As a result the chosen are gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always a church of believers founded on Christ's blood, a church which steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and – here and in all eternity – praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross as a bridegroom for his bride.”
Barrett writes, “It is the doctrine of limited atonement that sweetly reminds us that the church, and only the church, is the bride of Christ, for he has paid for her with his blood. It is this doctrine that Dort believes should elicit persistent love and worship of Christ, both here and in eternity” (74).

3. Total Depravity and Effectual Grace. Barrett treats these two heads together, showing their practical implications for humble gratitude, prayers for the salvation of sinners, and pastoral hope.

Humble Gratitude. He writes, “God does not save the elect sinner because of anything in him, but actually in spite of everything in him. Consequently, the only suitable and worthy response from the sinner is humility, praise and thanksgiving toward God” (92).

Prayer for the Salvation of Sinners. In article 15, Dort says, “For others who have not yet been called, we are to pray to God who calls things that do not exist as though they did.” Barrett says, “Here we see the connection between divine sovereignty and evangelism. God alone can call and change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27). However, the Christian is to pray for these unbelievers and ask God to call them to himself. . . . God instructs us to pray for unbelievers, for our prayers are the very means to this salvific end” (93).

Pastoral Hope. Barrett explains, “Irresistible grace is a reminder that no human method or strategy can save a sinner. It is not the case that the lost simply need more convincing due to indifference. It is not as if one must simply be persuasive enough to get the sinner to react” (94). He goes on to say, “Dort provides hope to the tired and wearied pastor by reminding him that it is not his own human efforts, whatever they may be, but the power of God to work irresistibly within a dead man's heart that saves. Irresistible grace gives the pastor confidence to preach the word and evangelize, knowing that God will save his elect” (95).

4. The Perseverance of the Saints. This doctrine is a powerful incentive to holy living. Barrett writes, “Out of the five canons articulated by Dort, it is the fifth and final canon, which has the most to say about Christian piety” (108). The Arminians accused the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints of promoting licentiousness and moral laxity. According to the Canons of Dort, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The knowledge that God will preserve his own to the end promotes personal holiness.

Barrett says, “Scripture is clear that perseverance and assurance of salvation are not a hindrance to but a supplement of 'constant prayer and other exercises of godliness.' Assurance that the God who sovereignly saves will also sovereignly preserve . . . is a pure and true incentive to see God's grace effectively worked out through the indwelling fruit of the Holy Spirit” (122-123).

Tom Hicks