Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Speaking the Truth in Love


One of the sins that we must continually fight against is the sin of pride. This is especially true for those of us who love doctrine. Even in such a glorious endeavor as studying and pondering the truths of God’s Word, pride can too easily find its way into our thinking and taint our efforts.

If we are not careful, we can handle truth and communicate truth in ways that render it unprofitable to our own souls and to the souls of those around us. This happens when:
We become satisfied with knowing truth and talking about truth, but not living truth. 
We become more critical of the sins and errors of others than of our own sins and failings.
We find greater delight in being right concerning the truth of the Bible than seeing that truth impact hearts and change lives. 
We love the explanations and nuances of God’s plan of redemption more than the souls it is intended to reach.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that even if we could understand all doctrine and had faith strong enough to move mountains, if we don’t have love, we are nothing. Our words, even if they are well-informed and well-spoken are like “a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.”

Truth that is adored in the mind and not woven into life can sour the soul. May God protect us from simply admiring the truth of His Word, or worse, admiring our own intellectual grasp of truth. If the profound realities of God’s grace, mercy and love don’t humble us and cause us to love Christ more, and love those around us more, then we haven’t yet really grasped truth.

This hymn is a prayer for all of us who struggle against pride, that God would humble us and that we would learn to speak truth in love.

How Prone We Are to Vanity

How prone we are to vanity
Even in the noblest things.
We study doctrine with great zeal,
Yet miss the grace it brings.

Though we might know all mysteries,

Deep truths explore and find,

There is no profit without love
In filling up our minds.

For if we speak but have not love,

We’re like a sounding brass,

And are but nothing even if

All knowledge we amass.

We give our gifts to help the poor,

To serve and clothe and feed,

And proudly think that we’ve done well

When we’re the ones in need.

We pray for others in their sins,

Exulting in our skill

At plucking specks from others’ eyes,

While beams obstruct ours still.

Now Father, bring us to our knees,

Our hearts before You bowed.

Come humble us with truth and grace,

Cast down the great and proud.

Protect us from the deadly path

Of holding truth in pride.

Fill us with faith and hope and love,

In these help us abide.

Words ©2004 Kenneth A Puls
Download here lyrics, sheet music and recording

—Ken Puls

Monday, July 29, 2013

Early Signs of Leadership Training Development in Acts


In my previous post we began to consider the leadership training in the book of Acts. While we are familiar with Peter and Paul in their work of expanding the gospel through church planting, Luke also clues us in on others involved in this work, some by inference and others by name. This post will begin to take a look at the initial signs of leadership training development in Acts with the Jerusalem Church, Barnabas, and the Seven and their connections. Two more posts will follow on Acts (D.V.).

Potential leaders had to learn to follow before leading. The consistent pattern in Acts never separated evangelism and discipleship as though the former succeeded in producing new believers even if the latter were neglected. “The goal of mission,” Johannes Nissen rightly notes, “was the formation of a new community in Christ.” In obedience to Jesus Christ’s command (Matt 28:19–20), the disciples baptized and instructed new disciples. Donald Hagner points out that the “therefore” in Matthew 28:19, connects the assignment of disciple making to not only the disciples but to every church that comes after them. The Great Commission’s emphasis falls on the hard work of nurturing in discipleship rather than proclamation, evident by the clause —“teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20). The atmosphere for training leaders to engage in mission and to strengthen local churches permeated the experience of discipleship. Those that launched out in church planting had a foundation for pastoral work established in the Christian community’s discipling ministry.

The Jerusalem Church

The Jerusalem church’s experience in Christian community exemplifies development of a missionary heart. Although that first church is sometimes slighted for lack of intentional church planting in comparison to the Antioch church, it still laid the foundation for the scattered saints (Acts 8:4) to proclaim the gospel and plant churches outside the environs of Jerusalem.

The atmosphere surrounding the Jerusalem church breathes of gospel expansion. The new Christian community’s regularity in teaching the apostolic doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42) laid groundwork for not only living out the gospel in their cities but also expanding it. Floyd Filson’s significant work on early house churches as the basic unit for Christian community indicates that the rooting of the Christian movement in this structure gave later missionaries, like Paul, a clearer vision for how to plant churches outside Jerusalem. He wrote that Paul likely had the objective when entering a city to win a household to Christ so that it “could serve as the nucleus and center of his further work.” This practice could have been true of others. Since the gospel was central to the instruction in these early Christian communities, the natural desire would be to see it spread. The planting of churches in communities that Luke mentions in passing, e.g. Lydda and Joppa, strongly suggests that those planting the churches were nurtured in pastoral leadership within the framework of the Jerusalem church.

The Emergence of Barnabas

Barnabas’ integrity and dependability as a disciple proved strong enough to convince the apostles to accept Saul as a brother in Christ. This testimony indicates that Barnabas had strong relationships with the Jerusalem church leaders. The act laid future groundwork for the broader expansion of the gospel into the Roman world, although at the time, there may have been little thought of the far-reaching impact Saul’s ministry would have in the early church.

Although Barnabas did not initiate gospel work in Antioch, his credibility in pastoral work made him the apostolic choice to verify this expansion of the gospel and to establish the Christian community in that significant Roman city (Acts 11:19ff). Large numbers of “Greek-speaking persons,” in contrast to Jews, turned to the Lord. Eckhard Schnabel explains that Barnabas was not sent to simply inspect the work, rather “. . . he was sent as coordinator, missionary leader and theological teacher. The young church continued to grow as a result of Barnabas’s work (Acts 11:22–25).” Clearly, the pastoral preparation of Barnabas in the Jerusalem Christian community and possibly earlier as part of the Seventy, set the stage for the expansion of the church through planting new congregations in the Gentile world.

The Seven and Their Connections

As the apostles juggled teaching, administration, and mercy ministry in the Jerusalem church, they began to realize their limitations due to the demands of shepherding the growing church (Acts 6:1–7). The congregational call to action came to put forward seven qualified men to handle ministries of mercy, particularly toward the Hellenistic Jewish Christian widows, so that the apostles might concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the Word. The Seven had Greek names, which could give some indication that they were chosen to serve the Hellenistic widows because they were also Hellenists. Those scattered in association with Stephen, as a Hellenist, might suggest, not a refugee status, but that of missionaries (Acts 8:1–3; 11:19–20). As these believers scattered they preached the gospel that eventually led to establishing new congregations (Acts 8:4–8).

Luke makes a direct connection with the church planted in Antioch and the persecution that arose against the Hellenistic believers in connection with Stephen (Acts 11:19). “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch” (Acts 6:5) could have been part of that number.

An important question arises in regard to scattered evangelists and new churches. Who trained these believers to preach and establish churches? We are not told of any programmatic structure for developing preachers or church planters. However, Luke simply narrates that these scattered believers preached and planted. This movement suggests the connection between their participation in the Jerusalem church with its ongoing doctrinal teaching (Acts 2:42) and involvement with the leaders in the church, e.g. with the Seven, so that being part of that congregation readied them for the opportunity thrust upon them to preach and plant churches.

Certainly, Stephen and Philip did more than wait upon tables! Stephen offered a clearly articulated apologia of the faith before his martyrdom (Acts 7). Philip preached the gospel in Samaria and established a new congregation with amazing success (Acts 8:5–24). Their ministries of proclamation, along with that of the unnamed Hellenistic believers who preached Christ as they fled persecution, gives evidence that the regular ministry of the Jerusalem church prepared them for more than we may realize.

Was this intentional preparation for evangelism and church planting? At minimum, the Jerusalem church sought to train the congregation to carry on the Great Commission (Acts 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Although in Jerusalem that may have simply been adding to the already growing church, once the gospel took root outside Jerusalem, churches had to be planted in order to fulfill the command to go on teaching the disciples. At the heart of it was the Jerusalem church training the pastoral leaders who would eventually be thrust beyond Jerusalem into the broader world to proclaim Christ and establish new communities of disciples, who themselves would do the same. 

Phil A. Newton

Friday, July 26, 2013

Andrew Fuller and His Controversies: September 27-28, 2013


If you've never attended the Andrew Fuller Conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, you're missing out! The conference is second to none in delivering some of the very best historical theological scholarship available today. This year's topic, “Andrew Fuller and His Controversies,” is particularly relevant to many of our contemporary theological controversies.  There will be papers on “Hyper-Calvinism,” “Antinomianism,” “Arminianism,” “Socinianism,” “Post-Millennial Eschatology,” “Deism,” “The Communion Question,” and “Sandemanianism.”  Tom Nettles has been writing about some of Andrew Fuller's controversies here and here on the Founders Blog.  The Andrew Fuller Conference will develop those themes and more.

Michael Haykin, director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, writes:
Theological controversy is a perennial feature of the life of God’s people in this world. At such times, the church is best served by doughty and winsome champions of the truth. Such a man was Andrew Fuller, who, though he engaged heartily with numerous theological issues of his day, never lost his love for those whom he opposed and defended the truth with winsomeness. Our conference this year explores the various challenges to biblical Christianity that Fuller tackled with the goal that we might be better equipped to serve God in our generation. Come and join us then as we listen to and learn from a great theological apologist.
The conference speakers this year include a stellar line up of historical theologians: Ian Clary, Nathan Finn, Crawford Gribben, Paul Helm, Chris Holmes, Mark Jones, Tom Nettles, and J. Ryan West. It doesn't get any better than that.

You won't want to miss this conference!  Mark your calendars!  Check out this link for more details.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Missionary Theology of Adoniram Judson

The story of Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) is legendary among Baptists who have any interest in the evangelistic and missionary exploits of our heritage. He is widely recognized as the first missionary sent from the United States overseas to take the gospel across cultural and linguistic divides. On February 19, 1812, Judson left America with his wife of two weeks, Ann, in hopes of serving as a missionary in India.

He left the shores of the USA as a convinced paedobaptist Congregationalist. Because he knew that he would meet the famous Baptist, William Carey, upon his arrival in India, he determined to make a fresh study of Scriptural baptism on the voyage. By the time the ship arrived in India, he was a convinced Baptist, thus giving American Baptists their first missionary even before there was any established board or agency to service their support. After a year he sailed to Burma (today’s Myanmar) where he spent his life serving the Burmese people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To call Judson a faithful missionary is an understatement of immeasurable proportions. His life reads like an adventure novel. The losses, persecutions, discouragements, injustices and obstacles that he endured would have crushed lesser men or, to put it better, men who had a lesser grasp on the grace of God that had gripped him through the power of the gospel.

Insights into Judson's understanding of the grace of God in the gospel can be found in the valuable two volume Memoir compiled by Francis Wayland. In volume 2 of that work is found the “Burman Liturgy” that Judson drew up in 1829 for the purpose of assisting missionaries and their assistants as they led new churches in congregational worship. A regular part of their worship was to hear a summary of the faith–a creed–read aloud. As the following extract demonstrates, Judson not only drank deeply from the wells of God's grace himself, he believed that the newest of believers should be instructed in that grace, as well.

A Creed, in Twelve Articles; or, A Summary of the Doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  1. ART. I. There is one only permanent God, possessed of all incomprehensible perfections, eternal, almighty, omniscient, the Creator of all worlds and all things.
  2. ART. II. There are two volumes of the Scriptures of truth,–the Scriptures of the old dispensation, in thirty-nine books, and the Scriptures of the new dispensation, in twenty-seven books,–written under the inspiration of God, by prophets and apostles, the recipients of divine communications.
  3. ART. III. According to the Scriptures, man, at the beginning, was made upright and holy; but listening to the devil, he transgressed the divine commands, and fell from his good estate; in consequence of which, the original pair, with all their posterity, contracted a depraved, sinful nature, and became deserving of hell.
  4. ART. IV. God, originally knowing that mankind would fall and be ruined, did, of his mercy, select some of the race and give them to his Son, to save from sin and hell.
  5. ART. V. The Son of God, according to his engagement to save the elect, was in the fulness of time, conceived by power of God, in the womb of the virgin Mary, in the country of Judea and land of Israel, and thus uniting the divine and human natures, he was born as man; and being the Saviour Messiah, (Jesus Christ,) he perfectly obeyed the law of God, and then laid down his life for man, in the severest agonies of crucifixion, by which he made an atonement for all who are willing to believe.
  6. ART. VI. The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and having continued on earth forty days, he ascended to heaven, bodily and visibly, before his disciples and there he remains in the presence of God the Father.
  7. ART. VII. In order to obtain salvation, we must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and become his disciples, receiving a change of nature, through regeneration, by the power of the Spirit.
  8. ART. VIII. Those who become disciples obtain the pardon of their sins through the cross of Christ; and being united to him by faith, his righteousness is imputed to them, and they become entitled to the eternal happiness of heaven.
  9.  ART. IX. Disciples, therefore, though they may not in this world be perfectly free from the old nature, do not completely fall away; but through the sustaining grace of the Spirit, they persevere until death in spiritual advancement, and in endeavors to keep the divine commands.
  10.  ART. X. At death, the souls of disciples go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and remain happy till the end of this world, at which period he will descend bodily from heaven, all the dead will be raised by his power, and assembled before him to receive his judgment.
  11. ART. XI. At the day of judgment, he will publicly pronounce the pardon and justification of his disciples; and they will then be invested with perpetual life in the presence of God, and enter on the enjoyment of the interminable happiness of heaven.
  12.  ART. XII. As to those who are not disciples, since they believe not in the Lord who saves from sin, they will not, on that day, find any refuge, but, according to their deserts, be cast, body and soul, into hell, and come to perpetual destruction.
A few observations in light of some current conversations within the contemporary theological scene:

First,  in Article III, Judson describes Adam's original sin in terms that recognize the union that Adam had to all his posterity. Through that sin all of Adam's race "contracted a depraved, sinful nature, and became deserving of hell." This perfectly reflects Paul's teaching in Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…." Judson saw the whole fallen human race as deserving of hell because of Adam's original sin.

Second, in Article IV, Judson believed and taught unconditional election. God, he said, "out of his mercy, [did] select some of the race and give them to his Son, to save from sin and hell." This phrase echoes the covenantal language that Jesus uses in John 6:37-40, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." The Before the foundation of the world the Father chose particular sinners to be saved and gave them to His Son--not because of any merit in them but of His own grace and mercy. Or, as Article V of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 puts it, "Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners."

Third, according to Article V, Judson believed and taught particular redemption. With logic that parallels Anselm's 11th century classic, Cur Deus Homo, the reason for the incarnation is rooted in the Son of God's "engagement to save the elect." This again reflects Judson's understanding of the pre temporal covenant within the Godhead wherein the Father chose a people from Adam's race and gave them to the Son and the Son pledged to enter into the human race in order to save those chosen ones by his life, death and resurrection, making atonement "for all who are willing to believe." Jesus' death atoned for "the elect" and for "all who are willing to believe." These are not two groups of people, but one. The elect will be willing to believe and those who are willing to believe are the elect.

These doctrines of grace undergird the missionary theology that led Adoniram Judson to the unreached people of Burma and kept him on the field despite extreme opposition and suffering. As one who had learned these lessons from the Word of God and felt their power in his own conversion and missionary calling, Judson laid the foundation for their continual propagation among the churches of Burma that emerged from his life's work.

Tom Ascol

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon? - Leviticus 18:5

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My last three 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?” In this post, I would like to illustrate how we should preach Christ in every sermon from Leviticus 18:5, which says, "So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD."

As we approach this text, we must remember our ministerial perspective and hermeneutical completeness (see previous posts). We are ministers of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6), teaching the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints (Ac 20:27; 2 Tim 4:2). Further, we must follow the grammatical-historical-theological interpretation of each text. So, how should we preach Christ in Leviticus 18:5?

1. Grammatically (exegetical theology) – The term “keep” means to “guard,” “watch,” or “observe.” A word study shows that “statutes” refers to the Passover and festivals, the priestly rituals, and other ceremonial laws. “Judgments” refers to the civil laws of crime and punishment, justice and equity. “Live” overwhelmingly refers to earthly life rather than death. The verse means that if an Israelite keeps God’s statutes and judgments, he shall live in them or by them. God will preserve the nation’s or the man’s life on earth. Other cross-references and parallels include Lev 25:18, Ezek 20:11, Lk 10:28, Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12.

2. Historically (biblical theology) - The historical setting is Israel living under the Sinai Covenant, which was added to the Abrahamic Covenant. In the historical context, there are five major interpretations of the meaning of "live" in this text: (1) that this is a promise of a blessed earthly life in the land of Canaan for obedience to God's laws; or (2) that this is a promise of God preserving Israel as a nation or the earthly life of a man on the condition of obedience to God’s laws; (3) that this is a promise of spiritual life (maturity) if a believing Israelite obeys God's laws; or (4) that this is evidence that the Sinai Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works, or (5) that this is a re-proclamation of the original Covenant of Works with Adam which drives the hearer to despair of self-righteousness in order to be justified by faith alone.

There isn't enough space here to argue for a definitive conclusion. However, because of the historical-redemptive context of the Abrahamic and Sinai Covenants, in which both required justifying faith followed by faithful obedience, I believe that (1) and/or (2) is preferred (Deut 4:1; 5:33, 6:24, 8:1; 30:20); although I am not opposed to (5). If you take (4) as correct, then you have to overlook the Sinaitic sacrificial system as a shadow of Christ’s redemption as well as the call to faith (the First Commandment) and love toward God as the basis for keeping His commandments (Deut 6:1-25). In all five interpretations, however, something is gained by obedience to God's laws. So, in some way, God promises life to obedience, which is a principle of works-blessing.

3. Theologically (the analogy of faith) - So how should a pastor preach Christ from this text? Does he simply explain the verse in context, argue for which position he takes, draw some applications about obedience to God, but leave Christ out of the sermon until he preaches a text that mentions the gospel explicitly? Or should he merely explain the text and then preach the Gospel at the end of the sermon? He will not do this, if he follows biblical hermeneutics, including the “analogy of faith.”

When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, there is no question that in Jesus' day, the Jews erroneously interpreted Leviticus 18:5 to mean that a person might earn eternal life by keeping God's laws under the Sinai Covenant (Matt 19:17; Lk 10:25-28; Lk 18:9-18; Rom 10:5-6). So, we must preach this text in accordance with the way it is used in the NT. Paul used it in Galatians 3:11-12 to explain that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who seeks to be justified by law-obedience has misunderstood both the OT and the NT. We are justified by faith alone, as both Testaments testify.

Consider these elements of the theological interpretation of the text:

First, God gave Leviticus 18:5 to Israel because Adam fell, broke God's Covenant of Law-works, and passed on a fallen and condemned nature to all his descendants. Therefore, God proclaimed law-obedience to Israel for blessing because Israel stood under the condemnation of the Adamic and Sinaitic law. Leviticus 18:5 teaches that all men need to obey God for life.

Second, Jesus was born under this law (Gal 4:4-5) and kept it perfectly in His life (2 Cor 5:21). So, in whatever interpretation, He fulfilled perfectly the requirement of Leviticus 18:5 that He might be qualified to die a perfect death in atonement for those who have broken this law of God.

Third, the preacher must preach Christ from Leviticus 18:5. He must preach that we have all broken God's law, including Leviticus 18:5. All have sinned against God's law. The wages of sin is death. He must preach Christ's perfect life and show from the Gospels how Christ kept the law of God, including Leviticus 18:5, for us. He must preach that Christ accomplished a substitutionary atonement for we who have violated God's law (Gal 3:10-13).

Therefore, the preacher necessarily proclaims from Leviticus 18:5, “Let all sinners against God's law repent of sin, and trust in Christ as their perfect Savior and Lord. And let the believer rejoice that Christ has met the demands of perfect obedience, making full atonement for them so that they can now pursue obedience to God’s commandments with the assurance of salvation, love, blessing, and care. Through faith in Christ, God promises His blessings upon those who obey Him, in this life and the next.”

We must preach Christ in every sermon from every text because every text somehow teaches either the demand of God's obedience from man, the failure of man to keep God's law, or the provision of a Savior to redeem us from the condemnation of God's law in order that we may obey and please God under grace in Christ. All these truths are connected in the overall "analogy of faith," the whole counsel of God. The overall theology of Scripture must complete our exegesis and frame our exposition. Not to do this is to fail to preach the Gospel as Jesus and the Apostles did. We are ministers of the New Covenant and must proclaim Christ in all the Scriptures and in light of all the Scriptures if we are to be faithful to Him.

Fred A. Malone

Monday, July 22, 2013

Another Non-Calvinist Encounters a Calvinist: The Sandemanians Challenge Fuller

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When Andrew Fuller published The Gospel worthy of All Acceptation in 1785, he made a comment on Robert Sandeman’s view of faith, as he heard of it, as “a general assent to the doctrines of revelation, unaccompanied with love to them, or a dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.” At that time he confessed never to have read any of the works of Sandeman, or his followers. That was soon to be changed as Fuller found himself under severe negative scrutiny for the defense he gave of the gracious nature of faith as necessarily consisting of, not only a cognitive assent to the truthfulness of the gospel facts, but of an approval of the holiness and righteousness intrinsic to gospel truth—that trust in Christ was nothing less than a cordial approval of Christ as uniquely qualified as the ransom-mediator for sinners. Fuller’s accusers extrapolated from his argument a denial of justification by faith based solely on Christ’s righteousness. They also inferred that he did not believe that “Christ died for the ungodly” since he believed that true faith must be preceded by a principle of holiness.

By the time of the second edition of the Gospel Worthy, Fuller had read both Sandeman and some of his party and added a lengthy section discussing the question as to whether regeneration precedes repentance and faith. For Fuller this was a vital point. By 1810 he felt that he should publish some “strictures” on the ideas of the system, for he observed the destructive effect it was having on spirituality in the churches, brotherly love, and the overall health of English evangelicalism. With his usual pithy insight, Fuller had digested the driving idea of Sandeman’s system and looked carefully both at its implications and its actual manifestations. It seems that the initial reports he had of the system was basically accurate, and he was now ready to engage the system itself as well as the several polemical pieces written against him. 

Fuller reduced Sandeman’s system to a peculiar understanding of justifying faith: “The bare belief of the bare truth; by which definition he intends, as it would seem, to exclude from it every thing pertaining to the will and the affections, except as effects produced by it.” In Sandeman’s estimation, faith could not include an action of the will, for will involved an active approval of an idea, much more than a bare cognitive assent to the facts, or the notions, of the gospel history. Neither did faith assume the presence of repentance in Sandeman’s view, but repentance must of necessity follow faith. Nor did faith include, or arise from, holy affections, but holy affections followed and were the result of faith.

When appropriate, Fuller affirmed some of the positions taken by Sandeman such as the finality of Scripture, the necessity of a clear grasp of the historical work of Christ, and that the warrant to believe lay entirely on the invitation of the gospel and not on a sinner’s observation of any internal qualification for faith. At the same time, Fuller rejected each of the distinctive Sandemanian assumptions about faith and argued against each one of them individually. Fuller showed great theological skill in demonstrating that the holiness requisite to faith formed no part of the absolute righteousness of the law by which we must be justified, but that justification by faith was based solely on the righteousness and death of Christ by whose work alone sinners obtain forgiveness of sins and the righteousness that leads to eternal life. Fuller gave close examination to the assertions and the arguments of Sandeman and other writers within that system, demonstrating fallacious and inconsistent reasoning at places. Scriptural exposition also played a major part of Fuller’s engagement with these doctrinal opponents and the implications of certain theological ideas constituted a third part of his rebuttal.

Throughout, as Fuller summarized each argument, he gave condensed statements of what he believed that he had demonstrated from his discussion of the relevant data. Fuller stated the case of every sinner outside of union with Christ when he wrote, “Intrenched [sic] in prejudice, self-righteousness, and the love of sin, he continues an unbeliever till these strong holds are beaten down; nor will he believe so long as a wreck of them remains sufficient to shelter him against the arrows of conviction; nor, in short, till by the renovating influence of the Holy Spirit they fall to the ground. It is then, and not till then, that the doctrine of salvation by mere grace, through a Mediator, is cordially believed.” In showing that saving faith must differ in its essential character, not just circumstance, from that of devils, Fuller affirmed, “The doctrine of the cross presupposes the equity and goodness of the Divine law, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exposedness of the sinner to God’s righteous curse, and his utter insufficiency to deliver his soul. To believe this doctrine, therefore, must needs be to subscribe with our very heart to these principles, as they respect ourselves; and so to receive salvation as being what it is, a message of pure grace, through a mediator. Such a conviction as this never possessed the mind of a fallen angel, nor of a fallen man untaught by the special grace of God.” In “Letter VII,” entitled An Enquiry whether, if believing be a spiritual act of the mind, it does not suppose the subject of it to be spiritual, Fuller set forth his thesis, “That for which I contend is, that there is a change effected in the soul of a sinner, called in Scripture ‘giving him eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand’—‘a new heart, and a right spirit’—a new creation,’ &c. &c.; that this change is antecedent to his actively believing in Christ for salvation; and that is not effected by motives addressed to the mind in a way of moral suasion, but by the mighty power of God.”

In John Ryland Jr.’s discussion of Fuller’s writing in The Life and Death of the Reverend Andrew Fuller he summarized the correspondence on Sandemanianism and included his own judgment on the central issue of this doctrinal impasse. “Much less can a sinner, whose heart is enmity against the divine Law, think that it deserved to be honoured, by the Son of God becoming incarnate, assuming the form of a servant, and being obedient unto death; and that it was wise, and right, and good, for God to determine that no sin should be pardoned, unless the divine disapprobation of it could be manifested as decisively as if the sinner had suffered in his own person the full penalty of the law, and unless his pardon could be made evidently to appear an act of sovereign grace. Nor can a man, while under the dominion of sin, believe that it is a most blessed privilege to be saved from sin itself, as well as from its consequences. Hence I still conceive, that regeneration, strictly so called, must in the order of nature precede the first act of faith.”

When faced with the possibility that sinful man might be brought to some form of neutrality, neither in hard-hearted opposition nor in cordial consent to the gospel, Fuller responded, “Is there a medium, then, between holy affection and hard-hearted enmity? If so, it must be something like neutrality. But Christ has left no room for this, having declared, ‘He that is not with me is against me.’ Let a sinner be alarmed as much as he may, if he have no holy affection toward God, he must be a hard-hearted enemy to him.” How is one moved from the first state to the second? “All that is pleaded for is the necessity of a state of mind suited in the nature of things to believing, and without which no sinner ever did or can believe, and which state of mind is not self-wrought, but the effect of regenerating grace.”

Fuller, as the chief apologist for the Baptist Missionary Society, knew that the success of the entire effort depended on the sovereign action of God, the purposeful efficacy of the regenerating operation of the Holy Spirit. This did not discourage him but buttressed his confidence that the use of the ordained means would be effectual for salvation. He indeed counted the “patience of our God as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). The reader must judge, in light of this and the pervasive influence of Fuller throughout the nineteenth century among Baptists, just how representative the doctrine is that states, “We deny that any person is regenerated prior to . . . responding to the Gospel. . . . We deny that there is an ‘effectual call’ for certain people that is different from a ‘general call’ to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.” Fuller certainly would find it strange that such was defended as more consistent with gospel labors for he consented wholly to the “necessity of a new heart ere the sinner can come to Christ.”

Tom J. Nettles

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Does it Mean to Love Christ?


In his classic book, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, Ryle calls believers to warm, Christ-centered, evangelical piety, exhorting Christians to flee religious externalism and to pursue disciplined communion with Christ for the joy of knowing Him more. Ryle is clear about the doctrine of justification by faith alone on the ground of Christ's righteousness alone, but he is equally clear that believers must exert diligent effort to love Christ and keep His commandments for the joy of knowing Him more.

In the 15th chapter, "Lovest Thou Me?," Ryle says, "Life or death, heaven or hell, depend on our ability to answer the simple question, 'Do you love Christ?'" He goes on to explain:
A true Christian is not a mere baptized man or woman. He is something more. He is not a person who only goes, as a matter of form, to a church or chapel on Sundays, and lives all the rest of the week as if there was no God. Formality is not Christianity. Ignorant lip-worship is not true religion. The Scripture speaks expressly: "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Rom 9:6). The practical lesson of those words is clear and plain. All are not true Christians who are members of the visible church of Christ. . . . The true Christian is one whose religion is in his heart and life. It is felt by himself in his heart . . . There is one thing in a true Christian which is eminently peculiar to him. That thing is love to Christ.
Then Ryle provides a list of "the peculiar marks by which love to Christ makes itself known."

1. If we love Christ, we will think about Him. Christ is often present in the believer's thoughts. We remember His name, His character, or His deeds. We think about all that He has done to save us, all that He is doing, and all that He still will do. Ephesians 3:17 says that Christ “dwells in his heart.” True Christians think much on Christ. Ryle says, "The true Christian has thoughts of Christ every day that he lives, for one simple reason, that he loves Him."

2. If we love Christ, we want to hear about Him. The believer finds pleasure in listening to those who speak about Christ. True Christians most enjoy sermons that are full of Christ, and they enjoy the company of those who speak much of Christ. The disciples said, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk 24:32)?

3. If we love Christ, we will read about Him. The true Christian delights in the Scriptures because they speak of Christ, the beloved Savior. It is not wearisome to read a letter from a loved one. The Lord Jesus declared, “You search the Scriptures . . . it is they that bear witness about Me” (Jn 5:39). The Christian cannot be happy without reading the Bible. Why? Ryle says, "It is because the Scriptures testify of Him whom his soul loves, even Christ."

4. If we love Christ, we seek to please Him. We are glad to discover what Jesus likes and what He dislikes. We're willing to deny ourselves to please Him. To someone who loves Christ, the Ten Commandments are not burdensome. “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15); “And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). Christ's burden is light and the Christian gladly bears it because he loves Him.

5. If we love Christ, we want to be with His friends. True Christians regard all other Christians as friends because they are friends of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). There is a bond of union between all the friends of Jesus. Why? Ryle says, "It is simply affection to the same Savior, and love to the same Lord."

6. If we love Christ, we're jealous for His name and honor. We do not like to hear anyone speak against Jesus. We feel jealous to maintain His interests and reputation. The Word of God says, “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The true Christian feels a godly jealousy toward all efforts to minimize "his Master's word, or name, or church, or day." This is because the Christian loves Christ.

7. If we love Christ, we will talk to Him. The believer has no difficulty in speaking to his Savior. We tell Him all our thoughts. We pour out our hearts to Him. We have no hesitation about telling Him anything that is on our mind. We are not happy until we have spoken our minds and hearts to our friend. We ask for comfort in difficulty. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). The Christian "must converse with his Savior continually, or he would faint by the way. And why is this? Simply because he loves Him."

8. Finally, if we love Christ, we want to be with Him. Thinking, hearing, and talking are all important, but if we really love a person, we want to be near him. The true Christian wants to hold communion with Christ without interruption. The true Christian longs for that day when he will see Christ face to face. “Surely I am coming soon. Amen! Come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20)!

Tom Hicks

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ministry Means War: Ten Pastoral Lessons Seminary Could Have Never Taught Me

[This article was originally posted at thegospelcoalition.org. We are reposting it here with the author's permission.] 

During the unholy hours of morning on June 6, 1944, U.S. Army paratroopers jumped from their airplanes into the occupied countryside of northern France, miles inland from the beaches at Normandy. My father was one of those soldiers. As a member of the rough and ready 101st Airborne, my dad had the best combat training available in the free world. He had studied in vivid detail the topographical features of the French countryside. Basic training and AIT had coached him on the deadly perils of anti-aircraft fire, the shock and unique challenges of jumping out of an airplane into the yawning darkness, the proper way to land, roll to avoid injury, gather oneself and set about engaging the enemy, along with hundreds of other battlefield eventualities. Dad had undergone enough drills on weapons and tactics that he could repeat the steps in his sleep for decades to come.

Credit
But this was not a drill; it was war. He was not quite prepared for the relentless ferocity of the German machine guns, the exploding mortar shells, the omnipresence of deadly Bouncing Betty mines. Basic training had given him wonderful training, but they could not have simulated the sights, sounds, smells and overall horrors of war. Only one thing could cause him to grow as comfortable as a loving man can on the battlefield: engagement in war itself.

Ministry is like that. It is war. Only war can prepare you to man up in the heat of battle. Will you fight or will you run in the face of the menacing realities of ministry? Only the front lines of Christian ministry called the local church will answer that question for you.

My father’s son attended one of the finest theological seminaries in the world, the theological-ministerial equivalent of Army Ranger school or Navy Seals school. They taught his boy great theology. By God’s grace, they lashed his heart and ministry to an inspired, inerrant Bible and centered his eyes on the story of redemption which beats intensely at the Bible’s heart. It was a rigorous and wonderful preparatory agent for war. But it was not war.

Two years ago, I left that great theological training camp. In the months since, it has been my choice privilege to serve as pastor of a wonderful, patient group of godly people in Birmingham, Alabama. Together we are learning the difference between life and ministry in theory and life and ministry in reality. I have learned much, and I have much, much yet to learn. Here are 10 things no theological seminary, no matter how faithful and competent, could have prepared me for in real-world ministry:

1. Ministry is war. The analogy this article centers around is a perfect fit for ministry. There are two theatres of war in ministry: one within and another without. There is an ever-present enemy within, the flesh, which tempts us to run from the battle. I cannot take a minute off from this war or I will surely perish.

There are also enemies on the outside that operate diligently to defeat me and that sing to me the alluring siren song of finding, by whatever means necessary, a place where a peacetime mentality fits and brings me into a life of ease and earthly prosperity, far from the bad deacons meeting, the church member whose marriage is collapsing, the family who thinks I am killing the church by teaching sound doctrine. John Newton knew this all too well, but saw this war as the best place for fallen ministers to exist: 
The people of God are sure to meet with enemies—but especially the ministers. Satan bears them a double grudge. The world watches for their halting, and the Lord will allow them to be afflicted, that they may be kept humble, that they may acquire a sympathy with the sufferings of others, that they may be experimentally qualified to advise and help them, and to comfort them with the comforts with which they themselves have been comforted of God. But the Captain of our salvation is with us. His eye is upon us; his everlasting arm beneath us. In his name therefore may we go on, lift up our banners, and say, "If God be for us—who can be against us? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who has loved us!" The time is short. In a little while—he will wipe all tears from our eyes, and put a crown of life upon our heads with his own gracious hand!
2. My fictional church was a fictional church. In seminary, my fictional church adored me. Every person loved the teaching. They loved my personality. They spoke often and gratefully of “all the things I bring to the table.” On Monday, they spoke pondered next Sunday’s sermon with the giddy anxiousness of a four-year-old on Christmas Eve. They were ready to carry me out of the pulpit on their shoulders as a theological hero. That was my fictional church, but my pastoral ministry now plays out in the non-fiction section and they don’t look at me that way. They see my flaws. They feel my inexperience. And rightly so. Most of them love me anyway, and over time, I will come to see how misguided was my desire for that fictional church and how good God is for humbling me through the ministry of his local church.

3. Theological knowledge does not equal pastoral maturity. My command of Greek or Hebrew or all those Puritans I can quote from memory will not be enough to keep me from blowing my stack when an angry member brings false charges against me to my face. Those things won’t provide wise leadership decisions when a deacon meets with me and tells me that the church is rapidly running out of money. Sure, my theological knowledge will go a long way towards helping me make wise decisions, but they won’t give me the seasoning I need that keeps me from having to learn many leadership lessons the hard way. I have been trained well on how the right weapon works, but using it accurately will come only with locking, loading, aiming and firing accurately on the battlefield.

4. Love surpasses knowledge. This is a necessary logical conclusion to No. 3. The inspired writer warned me about this: “If I have all knowledge and have not love…I am nothing.” If I do not exhibit love for my people, they will not care how much theological talk comes from the pulpit. They will be drawn to follow me only when I prove that I love them and can be trusted as a mature teacher and under-shepherd.

5. If I am to become an effective instrument in God’s hand, I must suffer. Sure, I have read lots of books about suffering and they have taught me how to think well in and through suffering. But I must suffer if I am to truly understand Paul’s message in 2 Corinthians: it’s not about me. A pastor will suffer and he will suffer for two reasons: first, for his own sanctification and second, so that he is positioned to provide comfort for his suffering congregation (See 2 Cor. 1). Reading about war and preparing for war are not the same as the experience of being at war. So it is with ministry.

6. Because my Western default definition of success is worldly, it will bother me when attendance is low or they don’t respond well to my teaching. Because I am deeply prideful and filled with self-love, I am often offended when church members see weekends at the beach/lake/mountains as a vastly more compelling attraction than hearing me talk about the things of God. Or because I sometimes subtly exchange my confidence in God’s Word as the transforming agent for my own ability to change people, I will consider adjusting the message or the methods to make the people happy. But if I love them, I must not give in to this desire. I will dance dangerously close to this razor’s edge far too often and must rely on Christ to rescue me every time.

7. I will often exhibit an acute fear of man. See No. 6. All the bravado about others “giving in to man-centeredness” that I spouted to my buddies at the seminary has mysteriously dissipated in the face of real people who harbor real issues. Sure, I was correct in saying those things, but only God’s grace is able to create in me a habit of faithfulness even when the stink has hit the fan and has then fallen on me.

8. Some in my church will not like me, no matter how much I love them or treat them with kindness. The reasons they do not like me will have nothing to do with anything that is substantive and this will frustrate me. They will not like my personality because I am too extroverted/introverted and therefore, not like them. Or they will not like me because I talk too fast/too slow. Or they will not like me because I am a fan of the wrong sports team or attended the wrong university. But even their distaste for me, valid or not, is a part of God’s good design to cultivate humility in the garden of my foolish, self-loving heart. This is also good for me because, by God’s grace, it will provide a ready remedy, over time, the deadly disease of No. 7 above. My Lord promised that if they hated him, they would hate His disciples. This is an opportunity for God to teach me the truth of 1 Peter 2:23 pertaining to our Lord who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return, but kept on entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. I will be set free by grace to love them anyway.

9. I will often be mystified and frustrated that my ministerial labors do not yield “product.” This will bother me because in my arrogance, I have forgotten that I am not the Holy Spirit and that only a sovereign, all-powerful God can renovate a broken down human heart. Yes, I realize that my theology of sovereign grace has always taught me this, but my functional theology of self will tell me that all my knowledge, training and gifts should at least lead to some change in the lives of my people. If I yearn for visible, finished “product,” then I must be content to cut my lawn, build a Lincoln Log home with my boys or write an article for the Gospel Coalition and let God be God in His church.

10. My theological heroes didn’t have it easy either. From the distance of time, geography and advances in culture, it is easy to romanticize our heroes. It is easy to think John Calvin snapped his brilliant fingers and transformed Geneva or that Bunyan leisurely wrote Pilgrim’s Progress for a leading evangelical publisher on his laptop while watching cable television in an air-conditioned jail cell or that Jonathan Edwards spent much of his time talking theology over coffee with David Brainerd. But they preached and taught and wrote with such profound depth of knowledge because they were soldiers who had been to war. Their writings bristled with the sinfulness of the human heart and the holiness of God because they wrote from the battlefield and from a wartime perspective. My heroes had it hard in the ministry and so will I because God is determined to demonstrate his power and glory through the powerlessness of pathetic clay pots like me—it says so in 2 Corinthians 4:7. And I will learn its truthfulness, as did my heroes, in the intense war that is the Christian ministry.

Jeff Robinson

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Flawed Logic of Naturalism and Homosexuality

As a biology undergrad student I encountered many with whom I disagreed about the origin of the universe. As a Christian, I rejected outright every claim that humans are the result of randomly colliding cosmic particles sent hurling about by some prehistoric explosion (the origin of which was, curiously, unexplained and unimportant). When I would voice my questions and raise my doubts about evolutionary claims, I usually was written off as some simple minded fundamentalist who hadn’t yet come to grips with the ‘scientific fact’ of evolution.

Along with this evolutionary bias, most of my professors and fellow students were vocal proponents of progressive cultural ideals. This was not surprising, given the overwhelming liberal majority found in academia today, even in a university in the heart of the South. What was surprising was that these science professors, who claimed to be ruled by the twin masters of rationality and demonstrable facts, were proponents of both evolution and homosexuality. I found these to be somewhat confusing bedfellows for two reasons:

1. Evolutionary scientists determine biological fitness based upon the ability to pass on genetic information. If homosexuality were looked at from a purely evolutionary perspective, the inability to pass on genetic information (i.e., bear children) would deem it at least an evolutionary anomaly, and at worst, an evolutionary mutation or aberration.

2. If a naturalistic worldview is correct and we are merely the result of random collisions of molecules and biological interactions, then the claim that homosexuality is purely the result of genetics could be true. However, related to the previous point, if the ‘homosexual’ gene is truly the cause of homosexual desires, that gene would have been ‘naturally selected’ out of the gene pool long ago. The inability for homosexuals to pass on genetic information would have meant that the ‘homosexuality’ gene would have gone extinct long ago.

Sadly, this is not what we have seen today. Since homosexuality has become not only socially accepted but also socially promoted, the number of professing gays has seemed to skyrocket. How does one reconcile the expected evolutionary ‘selection’ that would remove the ‘homosexual gene’ from the gene pool with the demonstrable increase in homosexuality?

The Bible teaches us that God originally made marriage to be between a man and a woman. Starting in Genesis 1 with the very first instance of marriage, God has shown us that this is the only true union. The apostle Paul later tells us that marriage is a picture of the glorious mystery of the gospel (Eph. 5:32). This picture is enduring and was purposely designed into the fabric of society from the very beginning.

Any disruption of this one-man + one-woman pattern (homosexuality, adultery, unbiblical divorce, fornication…) is a distortion of God’s designed plan for human flourishing, and a missing of the mark in terms of our responsibilities. Since the fall of humanity in Adam, sexual sin has been tearing apart families and leading people down the path of destruction. Paul warns us to, “flee sexually immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). This goes not just for homosexuality, but also for fornication, adultery, divorce, and all other sexual sin.

The Good News is that God has sent a Savior, His Son Jesus, to succeed where we have failed. Jesus came to redeem sinners, even homosexuals, fornicators, and adulterers. As believers, we mustn’t think that any sinner guilty of sexual sin is too far gone. Christ’s work is sufficient for any who would repent and believe the truth. As pastors, we mustn’t let societal pressures dictate what we will or will not call sin. Just like all other sexual sin, homosexuality must be clearly preached against, even in the face of societal (or, heaven forbid, governmental) persecution.

As the culture grows increasingly hostile to biblical truths, the church must not only decry sexual sin. We must also strive to model, through the power of Christ, what true biblical marriage and love should be. May our example and our proclamation ever emulate the truth found in God’s Word.

Jon English Lee

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How Long, O Lord?


Worship propels us to mission. And our mission is to go and to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We want others to find and know the same joy and peace that we experience in Christ. We want others to come and add their voices to the prayers and praise of God’s people. We are zealous of God’s glory and desire to see the glory of God fill the earth. And so we go and we tell.

When Isaiah worshipped God, in Isaiah 6, he saw the Lord high and lifted up; he saw his own sinfulness in the face of God’s glory and holiness; he experienced the wonder and joy of God’s forgiveness for his sins; and he responded to God’s call to go and preach God’s Word.

But Isaiah was given the difficult task of preaching to a people whose hearts were hard against truth. They were stubborn and would not listen. Isaiah was willing to be God’s messenger. We hear him say, "Here am I, send me." But he longed to see the stirrings of faith and the fruits of repentance. When God told Isaiah that the people would turn away and not listen, the cry of his heart in verse 11 was "How long, O Lord?" He wanted the darkness and coldness of men’s hearts to end.

God did not leave Isaiah without hope. In response to his cry, God gives a promise at the end of chapter 6 of a remnant that would remain. Though it looks like the tree is cut down and the promise that God had made since the fall of Adam in the garden of a holy seed is in doubt; God declares at the end of verse 13: "The holy seed is its stump." The rest of the book of Isaiah goes on to shed more light on God’s purposes in the preservation of Israel and the coming Messiah.

As you continue reading in Isaiah, it is as if God pulls back the curtain, providing more and more light, revealing what the Messiah will be and what He will accomplish. For example, we read later in Isaiah of the day when God’s praise will fill the earth:
From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One (Isaiah 24:16).
Isaiah celebrated the day when God would shine the light of the gospel of Jesus.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and  the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:1-3).
He looked forward to the day when the darkness would fall away and people from every nation, tongue and tribe would see the light of Christ. He longed for the day when the glory of God would cover the earth.

This is another inner stirring of true worship. Worship cannot be contained in the sanctuary. Its desire is to fill the earth! You will know you have worshipped, when you leave this place and worship stays with you—you can’t leave it here! It continues to burn in your heart and engage your soul—so much so that you not only remember it—you must share it—you cannot contain it.

If you have ever experienced the glory of God and the joy of communing with Him in worship, you know that nothing else will ever satisfy your soul like God. We can never be satisfied with anything else. And we want this joy, not just for ourselves, but for others.

May God grant us a longing and a heart like Isaiah’s. May we be willing to go and to tell. And though our testimony may be to some a "fragrance from death to death" (2 Corinthians 2:16), may we never be resigned to see people turn away from God and perish in their sins. In the face of hardness and stubbornness and rejection, may the cry of our heart be: “How long O Lord?” It is God who commands light to shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6) and opens hearts (Acts 16:14). May He pour out His mercy and grace in our day.

Excerpt from a study on Isaiah 6: The Inward Reality of Worship.

—Ken Puls

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How Should We Preach Christ in Every Sermon?

Huguenot Cross
My last two posts have attempted to answer two questions: "Should we preach Christ in every sermon?" and "Why should we preach Christ in every sermon?" In this post, I want to ask another question: "How should we preach Christ in every sermon?" In other words, is it possible to preach Christ in every sermon with hermeneutical integrity? I believe that it is possible and necessary. But how can one do this? Here, I propose two principles followed by one example.

1. We must remember that we are ministers of the new covenant. Paul taught that we are ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6). That means the new covenant of Jesus Christ governs all our ministry. Ministers of the new covenant are not free to be neutral in exegeting any text.  To think that they should be is a fallacy of biblical scholarship. We must start as ministers of the new covenant when we approach any text.

The faith has been delivered once-for-all to the saints in Christ through the revelation of the new covenant.  The new covenant revelation of Jesus is our ministerial, historical, and biblical-theological context. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and to establish His new covenant, the only salvific covenant in Scripture. Ever since Adam broke God’s law in the Garden of Eden, all of the OT proceeds from the gospel promise of Gen 3:15 toward the full revelation of Jesus Christ as the "seed of the woman" who would destroy "the serpent and his seed." The last Adam fulfilled the first Adam’s broken law and the gospel promise of Gen 3:15 in His new covenant. As ministers of Christ's new covenant, everything we teach must be viewed through that lens.

Paraphrasing Augustine: "The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed." In this light, all of Scripture is ultimately about the revelation of Jesus Christ to fallen mankind for the glory of God. Jesus is our starting point and ending point in every new covenant sermon. He is the Author and Finisher of faith. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, of God’s revelation to man.

2. We must exercise hermeneutical completeness.  First, we must interpret every text grammatically, understanding the original meaning of the words. Second, we must interpret that text in its redemptive-historical setting, understanding to whom God is speaking and what He is saying in their historical context. But, third, we must interpret every text theologically in terms of the completed revelation of God to man. This is the Reformed grammatical-historical-theological method of hermeneutics.

This third principle of "theological interpretation" is more than "Scripture interpreting Scripture" by citing cross references.  Rather, it involves showing how each biblical text fits into the completed theology of Scripture. All of exegetical theology, biblical theology, and systematic theology serves the overall “analogy of faith,” which expounds each text of Scripture in light of “the whole counsel of God.” In some way, every passage is framed by the completed revelation about Jesus Christ; therefore, every passage must be interpreted and proclaimed in light of Him. No part of Scripture can be interpreted fully without understanding its ultimate hermeneutical connection to the revelation of Jesus Christ to man for the glory of God the Father.

3. Consider an example of preaching Christ in every OT sermon. Some object to this biblical and Reformed hermeneutic by claiming that it results in eisegesis. But there is a difference between allegorically "reading Jesus Christ into each text" without proper hermeneutics and faithfully understanding that all of God's revelation ultimately reveals Jesus Christ in some way. Let me offer one OT example of this and continue with additional examples in subsequent posts.

How should we preach Christ in the Book of Proverbs? Some might say that a proverb is merely a statement of God's wisdom and that it does not speak of Christ. They might say that preaching Christ from a proverb is adding to the Word of God. But if we understand “the analogy of faith," then we will see how to preach Christ from each proverb.

a. The Fall of Adam. Isn't it true that no man has kept any Proverb perfectly since the fall of Adam? Hasn't every man sinned against each Proverb in some way? And isn't it true that every Proverb is consistent with the Ten Commandments, the covenant law under which Proverbs was given? If that is so, then we may legitimately preach the sin and depravity of man from each proverb. We should show that God requires each proverb to be fulfilled perfectly in every person.  We should show how it conforms to God’s Law of loving God and man according to the Ten Commandments. Each proverb demands that we preach man’s failure to fulfill God’s righteousness.

b. The Fulfillment of the Last Adam. Isn't it true that Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, fulfilled the Law and kept every proverb perfectly? Didn't He do so to offer a perfect satisfaction and atonement for those who sin against the Proverbs? Doesn't this grammatical-historical-theological exegesis of an OT proverb require Christ to be preached in each proverb? Shouldn't we show how He fulfilled each proverb as a man in His earthly life, born under the Law? Shouldn't we show how Jesus is a perfect Savior for those who have not fulfilled each proverb so that we can obey each proverb in love to Him who died for us?

Here's an outline that might be followed in a sermon from a proverb:

I. What does it say and mean in its context?

II. How have you broken this proverb before God?

III. How did Christ fulfill this proverb for us in His life, death, and resurrection?

IV. How should you walk as He walked as a redeemed soul in this proverb, living by faith in Christ?

I say we must preach Christ in every sermon from every text. That's because every text somehow teaches the demand of God's obedience from man, the failure of man to keep God's law, and the provision of a Savior to redeem us from the condemnation of God's law in order that we may obey and please God under grace in Christ. This is preaching in view of the "analogy of faith," the whole counsel of God, and the overall theology of Scripture which must complete our exegesis and frame every exposition.  To fail to do this is to fail to preach the Gospel as Jesus and the Apostles did. We are ministers of the new covenant and we must proclaim Christ in all the Scriptures and in light of all the Scriptures if we are to be faithful to Him.

Next time, I'll blog on "Preaching Christ in Leviticus 18:5."

Fred A. Malone

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Leadership Training in the Book of Acts

Part 1

Luke’s continuation of his historical sketch of the early Christian movement expands in the book of Acts. In our previous posts, we considered how Luke’s Gospel set forth the practice of our Lord in training leaders who would pastor, plant, and revitalize churches. But leadership development from the congregational angle did not stop with Jesus and his work with the Twelve and the Seventy. Luke’s writing in Acts helps us to understand that local congregations developed and spread as new leaders stepped up to the challenge of the Great Commission.

From the second century onward, the church recognized the Lukan authorship of Acts. Irenaeus (A.D.
120–202) noted Luke’s partnership with Paul and his personal involvement in many details that he records, calling him “not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul.” Eusebius (c. A.D. 260–340), while testifying to Luke’s authorship of his Gospel and Acts, mentions his birth in Antioch where the expansive missionary movement to the Gentile world originated. The observations by these church fathers prove helpful in understanding Luke’s missiological and leadership development insights. Luke’s perspective as historian and participant in the early mission of the church yields rich insights on the perpetuation of Great Commission work. He shows that gospel work and church planting requires faithful leadership.

The Acts of the Apostles distinguishes from Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ earthly activity, and his work as reigning Lord of the Church through Spirit-empowered messengers. Luke demonstrates that the “disciple is not above his master” (Matt 10:24) in the need to persevere in advancing the kingdom through suffering and proclamation. While leadership development was certainly not the theme of Luke’s work, he addressed varied angles of it by giving ample illustration of the “breathtaking choice of God” to use weak, flawed vessels to accomplish his work. “Biblically,” writes Timothy Laniak, “leadership can only be understood in terms of a fully integrated theological vision of God and his work on earth.” So, Luke writes theological-history, not conforming to modern critical historical standards but utilizing historical standards common in antiquity, thus offering a theological look at his historical recounting.

Since the Acts narrative chronicles the emergence of new churches and leaders who planted and shaped them, Acts gives contours of leadership by presuming leadership development rather than explaining it. However, although not stated in precept, leadership development shows up in practice. For instance, “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his
household” (Matt 10:24–25). Jesus declared that leaders of his church would face opposition similar to his own. The post-Pentecost experiences of early church leaders amply proved this by the malignant opposition of religious and civil leaders in Jerusalem and beyond (Acts 4:1–22; 5:17–42; 7:54–8:3; 13:44–52; 14:19; 16:16–24; 17:5–9, 13; 19:23–41). Thus Paul and Barnabas had no hesitation to instruct the Galatian churches, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). It is no surprise that in the very next statement Luke refers to the appointment of elders in each of the churches, since often the brunt of tribulation fell upon church leaders (Acts 14:23; e.g. Acts 17:6–9).

Martin Hengel suggested that small Jewish-Christian communities developed outside Galilee in the adjacent Phoenician coast due to the work of Jesus and those he earlier sent out (Luke 9:1–9; 10:1–20). This development prepared the way for the later Hellenistic Jewish Christians who were bolder in their faith and more missionary in their spirit, to evangelize and plant churches when scattered from Jerusalem due to the persecution that arose over Stephen (Acts 11:19; 15:3). Thus Luke connects the exercise of leadership in planting and encouraging churches to both his Gospel and Acts.

Although Peter and Paul served as the primary actors in Luke’s narrative, the balance of his story suggests that these two apostolic giants did not plant and strengthen churches alone. In some cases, Luke identifies other players in the unfolding mission of the church; in others, he only mentions the work in passing without naming the particular leaders responsible for establishing the new Christian communities (e.g. Acts 9:31; 15:3; 21:3–14). Who were the leaders planting and revitalizing early churches? Who trained them for their responsibilities? What spurred them toward faithful mission in the face of opposition? The next few posts that I will offer (D.V.) will seek to investigate early signs of leadership training in Acts (July 29), the role of the scattered saints in church planting (August 15), and the mission of Paul and his partners (September 3).

Just as with the previous considerations in Luke’s Gospel, the same hermeneutical position will be followed when considering the book of Acts. For instance, Paul’s practice of celibacy as a missionary of the gospel does not prescribe celibacy for all future missionaries, nor do his journeys by land or by ship require that future missionaries adopt his method of travel. No evidence is given in the epistles or succeeding generations that these were normative requirements for future leaders. On the other hand, Jesus’ decision to formally set apart the Twelve from those who followed him to extend his work authoritatively indicates prescriptive practice (not of the precise number “twelve” but of a narrower group of designated leaders from the larger body of followers) later found in Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6; and in succeeding generations of the church. This formal practice continues in our own day. Those practices adopted by the apostolic leaders in Acts and continued in the epistles and succeeding generations of interpreters will be counted as prescriptive rather than descriptive leadership training practices. But that will have to wait until the next post.

Phil A. Newton

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Brief Clarification of Calvinism, Arminianism & Hyper-Calvinism

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once observed that "the ignorant Arminian does not know the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism." The good news is that not all Arminians are ignorant. The bad news, however, is that such ignorance is not limited to Arminians.

Throughout evangelical history, where evangelical Calvinism as spread among Bible believing Christians, charges of hyper-Calvinism inevitably arise from those who do not know the difference. That pattern is being repeated today both within and beyond the borders of the Southern Baptist Convention. Examples of such careless accusations are not hard to find.

One of the most recent and most egregious came in the exhibit hall during the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas. On Monday, June 10, 2013, the day before the convention actually began, Baptist21 interviewed the president of Louisiana College about the treatment of some Calvinistic professors whose contracts were not renewed by the administration. In the course of responding to questions that he had been sent in advance, Dr. Joe Aguillard (though he probably would not identify himself as an Arminian) proved Lloyd-Jones' point.

That display of doctrinal misunderstanding reminded me of the present need to clarify repeatedly and rigorously difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. Some writers and teachers seem to confuse them so often and so willingly that one must wonder if the practice is intentional. In one sense, hyper-Calvinism, like Arminianism, is a rationalistic perversion of true Calvinism. Whereas Arminianism destroys the sovereignty of God, hyper-Calvinism destroys the responsibility of man. The irony is that both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism start from the same, erroneous rationalistic presupposition: Man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive. That is, they must match up exactly or else it is irrational. If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obligated to do it.

The Arminian looks at this premise and says, “Agreed! We know that all men are held responsible to repent and believe the gospel [which is true, according to the Bible]; therefore we must conclude that all men have the ability in themselves to repent and believe [which is false, according to the Bible].” Thus, Arminians teach that unconverted people have within themselves the spiritual ability to repent and believe.

The hyper-Calvinist takes the same premise (that man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive) and says, “Agreed! We know that, in and of themselves, all men are without spiritual ability to repent and believe [which is true, according to the Bible]; therefore we must conclude that unconverted people are not under obligation to repent and believe the gospel [which is false, according to the Bible].”

In contrast to both of these, the Calvinist looks at the premise and says, “Wrong! While it looks reasonable, it is not biblical. The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfill his duty to repent and believe.” And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches.

Why are these things so important to our discussion? Baptists have been confronted with these theological issues throughout their history. The Arminianism–Calvinism–hyper-Calvinism debate has played a decisive role in shaping our identity as Baptists, and particularly our identity as Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist Convention has never welcomed either Arminians or hyper-Calvinists within their ranks. It has, however, from its beginning been home to evangelical Calvinists. In fact, though we cannot say there were only Calvinists among the original generation of Southern Baptists, Calvinism was certainly the overwhelming doctrinal consensus among the delegates that met in 1845 to form the convention.

Tom Ascol

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Non-Calvinist Challenges a Calvinist: Andrew Fuller’s Defense of Calvinism

In light of the healthy interest in the Southern Baptist convention on the theology and effects of Calvinism, I believe it will be helpful to investigate the historical impact these doctrines have had and the particular objections that have been raised against them. In my most recent post, I looked at the origin of tension on this issue by comparing some pivotal doctrinal ideas of the Particular and General Baptists. Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) was a key thinker among the Particular Baptists. He gave a brilliant theological rationale for the beginning of the modern missions movement, rallied Baptists and evangelicals in England and America for the support of the missionary society, and propagated a robust doctrinal orthodoxy through his polemical, apologetic, and theological writings. All the while he also served as the pastor of a local congregation and preached expositionally week by week.

Among his theological and polemical writing were defenses of Calvinism in at least four major venues. In two writings he replied to the objections of Dan Taylor (1783-1813), the leading light among the English New Connection General Baptists; in one writing he defended the Calvinist understanding of regeneration against the Sandemanian objections, and in one he compared the moral tendency of the Calvinist and Socinian systems to each other. In my posts over the next weeks, I will look at the ideas that Fuller developed in these encounters. Fuller knew that controversial writing often gave, as he said, “much disgust to many readers, and made them almost ready to despair of edification by reading controversy.” Though writers frequently found themselves so entrenched in their respective positions as to gain no benefit toward clearer apprehensions of truth, those that paid attention to the controversy, and read carefully, could benefit. Fuller noted with instructive insight, “The obstinacy of the writers is a sin, but it is a sin that belongs to themselves; the reader may get good, notwithstanding this, sufficient to repay him for all his trouble.”

In his reply to Dan Taylor, therefore, Fuller takes great care to show his genuine esteem of the man though he disagreed with many aspects of his system. Taylor had responded freely to Fuller’s The Gospel worthy of All Acceptation and had expressed incredulity that Fuller believed that only sovereign effectuality could empower a man to do his duty unto God.  Taylor set himself to defend the Arminian view of salvation, which said that since God commands faith, sinners have the ability to exercise faith in an unregenerate state.  Taylor contended that faith precedes regeneration. Taylor did not agree with Fuller that a moral inability was an intrinsically moral issue and therefore an inexcusable inability. Nor did Taylor believe that one could preach the gospel convinced that all who heard it had a duty to believe it, if their belief depended absolutely on God’s determination to save them and his consequent irresistible operation of grace toward them. Also he rejected Fuller’s view that, if God had a specific design in the death of Christ to bring the elect and the elect only to salvation, it is consistent with “the encouragements held out to . . . all those to whom the gospel is preached.”

Taylor's objections led Fuller to defend certain theological propositions. 

1. Andrew Fuller taught that regeneration precedes faith. 

He was keen to affirm that regeneration must precede faith because of the very nature of things—that is the core a human sinfulness compared with what one is called on the believe in the gospel. Since belief of the gospel is not only a belief of its general truths but an acceptance, approval, and confidence in its intrinsic nature—that is, its holiness and the goodness of its demand for righteousness—it cannot be embraced by any person while they remain in their wicked resistance to those very things. The gospel “extends further that the faith of any wicked man.” Fuller wanted his readers to recognize that it could be attributed only to the holy influence of the Spirit of God “that one sinner believes in Christ rather than another.”

Since Fuller held that position on regeneration and faith, it follows that he believed that moral inability was inexcusable and, therefore, blameable. If not so, then the more wicked a person is in his heart, the source of all moral actions, the more excusable he is for simply following the tendencies of his heart. If one’s resistance to God and his holiness is so consistent as to be virtually invincible (that is, unchangeable by any countervailing moral disposition in the moral agent himself), then he is altogether blameless and innocent because of the depth of his evil. To those that argued that this total moral inability leaves man not responsible unless prevenient grace, both in the death of Christ and in the common operations of the Holy Spirit restore him, Fuller objects that on such a supposition, “Christ did not come into the world to save men from sin, but rather to put them into a capacity of sinning; as it is in consequence of his death, and that alone, that guilt becomes chargeable upon them.” Their view of prevenient and common grace as fundamental to moral responsibility means that they were incapable of sinning had Christ not died to redeem men from sin. The reductio ad absurdum of this is that Christ has not died to redeem men from sin, or the Holy Spirit has not come to convict men of sin, but both operations have made men genuinely culpable sinners. 

2. Andrew Fuller taught that Christ "absolutely determined" to save some and not others in His death.*

Another point of controversy provoked by Fuller’s Gospel Worthy and Taylor’s response is Fuller’s understanding of the “absolute determination” of Jesus Christ in his death to save some of the human race and not others. “If it be shown,” Fuller proposed, “that Christ had such an absolute purpose in his death; the limited extent of that purpose must follow of course.” It is well known that Fuller believed that the atonement by its nature was of infinite value and thus fully sufficient to save all persons in the world and a thousand worlds beside, “if it had pleased God to have constituted them the price of their redemption.” Fuller, however, was equally convinced of the limited design of the atonement based on several biblical principles: the promises made to Christ of the certain efficacy of his death, Christ’s character as a shepherd, a husband, a surety, and a sacrifice of atonement, the effects of the atonement that do not in fact terminate on all mankind, the intercession of Christ for those given him by the Father, and the “doctrine of eternal, personal, and unconditional election.” Scripture teaches that the death of Christ is the reason that in the final day none shall lay any charge against God’s elect.

This late eighteenth century controversy between Baptists duplicates many of the issues that are currently under discussion as matters of difference among Southern Baptists. In a general sense, one could see this as a renewal of the discussion between the Non-Calvinist Baptist Dan Taylor and the Calvinist Baptist Andrew Fuller.

Tom J. Nettles

* This editorial heading was revised for clarity on July 4, 2013.  It previously read, "Andrew Fuller taught that Christ's death 'absolutely determined' the salvation of some and not others."