Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

John Piper's "longing for our day"

In writing about the Together for the Gospel conference a few weeks ago, which I was blessed to be able to attend, Tim Challies- "the world's most famous Christian blogger"- gave the following statement:

What stood out to me about this conference is that it will not be remembered for any particular person. I don't know that anyone will look back and remember the words or message of one speaker far above the others. What people will remember is the collective passion for the gospel, a passion that existed not only in the hearts of the seven men who spoke, but in the 3000 who sat and listened and participated. Truly God was exalted (and exulted in) from beginning to end.
Now I must humbly voice a mild disagreement with Challies. While I agree with the last half of the above statement, I do think that the message of one speaker in particular impacted those of us at the conference in an even more intense fashion than that of the other fine sermons and lectures.

The message that I am referring to is that given by John Piper on Thursday, April 27, "Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God". Previous to hearing this message, I have always been more attracted to Piper's writings (such as his books Counted Righteous in Christ and God is the Gospel, which were given away to everyone at the conference) than to his preaching. But from the very beginning of his sermon on Thursday night, Piper spoke with an obvious, intense unction from the Holy Spirit. Piper's sermon hit like a tidal wave. It was indescribable. After about ten minutes of listening open-mouthed to the onslaught, I was able to catch my breath and glance at those sitting around me. At that time I noticed all the pastors in my proximity- these men of God who had been carefully taking notes over what every speaker said in the previous sessions- had not written down a single thing Piper said. No one to that point in the sermon could think to write. We had all been sitting in near-shock at the power of the clear, forceful, passionate call to seriously magnify the glory of God through the exposition of His Word. To give a sample of the content found in Piper's sermon, I offer the following section in which Piper shares his longing for those at the conference to seriously meditate on the glory of God.
That is my longing for our day—and for you. That God would raise up thousands of broken-hearted, Bible-saturated preachers who are dominated by a sense of the greatness and the majesty and the holiness of God, revealed in the gospel of Christ crucified and risen and reigning with absolute authority over every nation and every army and every false religion and every terrorist and every tsunami and every cancer cell, and every galaxy in the universe.
God did not ordain the cross of Christ or create the lake of fire3 in order to communicate the insignificance of belittling his glory. The death of the Son of God and the damnation of unrepentant human beings are the loudest shouts under heaven that God is infinitely holy, and sin is infinitely offensive, and wrath is infinitely just, and grace is infinitely precious, and our brief life—and the life of every person in your church and in your community—leads to everlasting joy or everlasting suffering. If our preaching does not carry the weight of these things to our people, what will? Veggie Tales? Radio? Television? Discussion groups? Emergent conversations? 

God planned for his Son to be crucified (Revelation 13:8; 2 Timothy 1:9) and for hell to be terrible (Matthew 25:41) so that we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when we preach. What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with fire of hell. That’s the mantle that turns mere talkers into preachers. Yet tragically some of the most prominent evangelical voices today diminish the horror of the cross and the horror of hell—the one stripped of its power to bear our punishment, and the other demythologized into self-dehumanization and the social miseries of this world.4 
Oh that the rising generations would see that the world is not overrun with a sense of seriousness about God. There is no surplus in the church of a sense of God’s glory. There is no excess of earnestness in the church about heaven and hell and sin and salvation. And therefore the joy of many Christians is paper thin. By the millions people are amusing themselves to death with DVDs, and 107-inch TV screens, and games on their cell phones, and slapstick worship, while the spokesmen of a massive world religion write letters to the West in major publications saying, “The first thing we are calling you to is Islam . . . It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme.”5 And then these spokesmen publicly bless suicide bombers who blow up children in front of Falafel shops and call it the way to paradise. This is the world in which we preach. 
And yet incomprehensibly, in this Christ-diminishing, soul-destroying age, books and seminars and divinity schools and church growth specialists are bent on saying to young pastors, “Lighten up.” “Get funny.” “Do something amusing.” To this I ask, Where is the spirit of Jesus? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22). “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). “Some of you they will put to death . . . But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16-19). 
Would the church growth counsel to Jesus be, “Lighten up, Jesus. Do something amusing.” And to the young pastor: “Whatever you do, young pastor, don’t be like the Jesus of the Gospels. Lighten up.” From my perspective, which feels very close to eternity these days, that message to pastors sounds increasingly insane.
I encourage anyone reading this to listen to the MP3 of Piper's sermon.

Monday, May 08, 2006

That Reformation is Doctrinal Rather Than Political

With the Baptist debate at Liberty University this coming autumn concerning Reformed- or "Calvinistic"- soteriology [if you're not sure what I mean by "Reformed soteriology", please read my last post] and with excitement building for the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting this June in Greensboro, NC where Drs. Al Mohler and Paige Patterson will be having a conversation about the Calvinist doctrine of election at the pastors' conference (Mohler in support of Calvinism as biblical, Patterson opposing Calvinism as un-biblical), and particularly with news on who may be elected as the SBC president (with anti-Calvinist Johnny Hunt being mentioned as a nominee early on and with Reformed pastor Mark Dever also mentioned as a possible nominee- though both of these men have apparently declined), many Southern Baptists holding to Calvinist soteriology have begun to see hope for a return to Reformed convictions within the leadership of the SBC in the not-unthinkably-distant future. I don't think I'm alone in having thought of a possible "Calvinist Resurgence" similar to the "Conservative Resurgence", which took place within the SBC in the 1980s. In the Conservative Resurgence, the leadership of the SBC was reclaimed by men who were firmly convinced of and committed to the inerrancy of Scripture as a fundamental biblical doctrine- a conviction shared with earlier generations of Southern Baptists. The Resurgence did not come about as a series of random events, but was due to a carefully outlined plan orchestrated by such men as Dr. Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler. In thinking back on the Conservative Resurgence, I was wondering if it would be possible for a group to outline a plan for returning the leadership of the SBC to Calvinist soteriology, which the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention also held to be fundamental biblical doctrine. In discussing this matter with Stan Reeves, an elder at Grace Heritage Church, where I am a member, I was prompted to consider the fact that the Conservative Resurgence was not only successful due to the fact that inerrancy is the historic Southern Baptist position, but furthermore at the time of the Resurgence the average Baptist sitting in the pew believed that Scripture was God-breathed and thus without error. Before the Resurgence, the leadership of the SBC had stopped holding to inerrancy, but the majority of Baptists read their Bibles as copied translations of the inerrant word of God. On the other hand, though the SBC historically holds to a Calvinistic understanding of Scripture- which understanding has been rejected by most of the current political leadership of the SBC- the average Baptist agrees with their current leaders on this point. The majority of Southern Baptists would not affirm with Calvin and Luther that natural Man is utterly sinful, so that every part of Man after the Fall recorded in Genesis chapter 3 is in bondage to sin and therefore "since the Fall of the first man free choice has been a reality in name only, and... we can of ourselves do nothing but sin" and furthermore that God ordains all that comes to pass so "that nothing happens by chance, but everything befalls us by absolute necessity." In short, most Baptists currently believe that natural Man has a 'free-will' and that this 'free-will' plays a crucial role in salvation. And so, while many would like to see Reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention, a "Calvinist Resurgence", in terms of orchestrating a return of the political leadership of the Convention to Reformed thought would not be appropriate at this time. And not only from a pragmatic perspective- though such an endeavor would most certainly fail if it were attempted today- but also as a matter of principle. We who would like to see Reformation within the SBC would like to see the Convention become Reformed due to Baptists becoming convinced that Calvinist soteriology- the "doctrines of Grace"- are actually drawn out from the biblical text itself.

We must always remember that Christians are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), and so we who are eager for Reformation in the SBC should be eager to teach. We should patiently instruct other Baptists concerning the doctrines of Grace found throughout the Scriptures and particularly in passages such as John 6, Romans 3 and 9, Ephesians 1 and 2, and Hebrews 10. We should persevere in making our message clear despite any slander that might be spoken against us by those who are slow to have their traditions corrected by God's Word.

I'd like to close this post with the following quote taken from a cassette recording of a past Southern Baptist Founders' Conference, which Conference has been a pivotal means in beginning the process of Reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention:

I'd like to say some things about what this Conference is, what it intends to do, and upon what principles it operates. First of all, all who hear these tapes need to realize that this Conference is not a political movement. It has no designs on seeking to run any candidate for any office within any denomination. It is strictly a Conference for personal edification of pastors, elders, deacons, and members of Baptist churches. It is not a political movement of any kind. [Speaking of the various missions and benevolence organizations within the Southern Baptist Convention, the speaker continues]: We desire to see men within these who believe the Gospel. And we desire these men to come there, not through political manipulation, but through the individual training of minds, so that God in His providence may place people who are prepared in those positions. (S.B.F.C. Tape Library, "The Biblical Doctrine of Accomodation" by Tom Ascol (sbf055), afterword by unknown speaker [believed to be Dr. Thomas Nettles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary])

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Greatest Gift

At the recent Together for the Gospel conference the attendees were blessed to receive about 10 books as gifts, placed on our chairs before each session. All of these books were great, written by authors such as John Piper and C.J. Mahaney but the greatest gift that we were given must certainly be the new MacArthur Study Bible, now in the NASB version. This was the greatest gift not only in terms of price (though it was certainly the most expensive of the books that we received), but it will also provide a direct benefit for everyone reading it in understanding the Word of God through the insightful notes of pastor John MacArthur and the faculty of The Master's Seminary, as well as through the many detailed charts.

This gift was especially great to me because I had already decided to buy the NASB MacArthur Study Bible as soon as possible. If you have ever had the opportunity to think over a purchase, decide that the purchase was not just a passing desire, but something that would provide lasting benefit, carefully plan out how you were going to make the purchase, and then, right before you actually made the purchase, you were given the desired object as a gift, you know how I feel. Having been given the ESV Reformation Study Bible at Christmas by my loving wife, Abby, I now have a complete study Bible library, with the old Believers' Study Bible in NKJV, the new MacArthur Study Bible in NASB and the Reformation Study Bible in ESV. Now, I can begin my Bible study meditating over and outlining a particular passage using my Holman Christian Standard Bible without study notes (which Abby also gave me), then I can move on to compare the other literal translations and the study notes in these translations. I feel truly blessed that God has allowed me to live in a situation where I can access these and so many other Bible study tools, and it is my prayer that I would utilize all He has given me to truly come into a more intimate knowledge of my precious Lord Jesus for the glory of Almighty God through the upbuilding of His kingdom.