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.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

God’s Sovereignty in Salvation by Means of His Word, and Our Responsibility in Evangelism

[The following is adapted from part of an outline for a lesson I delivered in the Sunday afternoon service at Kosmosdale Baptist Church on 4/27/07.]

22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it--He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nation of men to live all over the earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live, 27 so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' 29 Being God's offspring, then, we shouldn't think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 "Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:22-31 HCSB)

God’s sovereignty is established in creation as we read in Acts 17:24, The God who made the world and everything in it--He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands.

God is presented as the Sovereign Creator at the beginning of Scripture in Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

God is presented as the Sovereign Creator again when creation is spoken of in light of Christ in John 1:3, All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.

God’s sovereignty is demonstrated in His sustaining power over His creation as we read in Acts 17:28, For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'

God’s sovereign control of His creation is not a static phenomenon. God is not a clockmaker who builds and then leaves His invention to run according to the mechanics He has set in place. Nor is He an absentee parent who only visits on occasional holidays. Nor does He even act within our lives often. Rather He is constant- like the very breath we breathe and the beating of our hearts- the activity of nerves carrying information from our minds and the contracting and relaxing of our muscles- providing all power necessary for our every action- “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). So when the Bible declares, “He is before all things and by Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) we can be sure that without Him all things would fall apart into oblivion. And God is not like some computer program that simply allows a video game to run- neutral to the outcome of the game- He is not passive in His sustaining power. Rather the Bible declares that He is the “One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will”(Ephesians 1:11). And this is to our great benefit as He works all things “together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Bible teacher R.C. Sproul, in his classic work Chosen by God, magnifies God’s sovereignty in governing His creation:

God is sovereign over His entire creation. If something could come to pass apart from His sovereign permission, then that which would come to pass would frustrate His sovereignty. If God refused to permit something to happen and it happened anyway, then whatever happened would have more power and authority than God Himself. If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.
If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plan that God has made and promised us. If a grain of sand in the kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the course of English history, so our maverick molecule could change the course of all redemptive history. Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning. (26-27)

So, we have seen that God is sovereign over His creation in general. But there is a commonly held view that God has limited His sovereignty when it comes to human choices. This popular view is due more to human philosophy than to God’s revelation, for the Bible clearly declares God’s sovereignty over the human will.

God’s sovereignty in the will of believers is demonstrated in that God is presented as sovereign over our hearts’ desires in Psa 37:4, and God is specifically presented as sovereign over our desire to do His will in Phil 2:12-13.

God’s sovereignty in the will of the lost is demonstrated in Scripture as well in that God is presented as sovereign in judging the wicked by hardening their will against His Word in Rom 9:17-18 and that God is presented as sovereign in the saving His elect from their lost condition by the intervention of His Word in Acts 9:1-6.

Here it should be noted that God is consistently presented in Scripture as exercising His sovereignty by His Word. And we see, in particular, that “God’s people have always been created by God’s Word.” As Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church has written, “From creation in Genesis 1 to the call of Abram in Genesis 12, from the vision of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, to the coming of [Jesus,] the living Word, God has always created His people by His Word.”

In our cultural context today, when we speak of God working in His world by His Word, it is important to stress that God’s Word is a communication of propositional truth. The Princeton online dictionary defines “propositional truth” as “a statement that affirms or denies something and is either true or false.” John MacArthur, in his book, The Truth War, speaks of “propositional truth” as a clear, inflexible establishment of something as reality. We can see how the idea of God’s Word as propositional truth is vitally important in a culture that tends to deny truth claims altogether in favor of pragmatic or emotional considerations. In other words, people today, when evaluating a belief system, do not ask themselves, “Is it true?” as much as, “Does it work?” or, “How does it make me feel?” People that cling to pragmatism or emotionalism in religion and reject the idea of God operating in His world by propositional truth claims fail to understand the importance of God speaking understandable words in Scripture. For when one speaks an understandable word or phrase, that act of speech (if communication is to be effective) serves to eliminate all ideas not associated with the chosen word or words. So, the Bible does not express God’s omnipotence by presenting Him as merely thinking the universe into existence, but instead He speaks everything into being. And God does not merely say, “Hocus Pocus, abracadabra, or ala kazaam,” but He uses understandable, verifiable language.

We must see, however, that in employing propositional truth, God does not just give purely intellectual statements of fact: He is not a computer or a Mr. Spock in the sky. When God speaks, He communicates with His entire being: His heart as well as His mind. This is why, for example, prophetic statements concerning God’s future judgment of people and nations are full of such angry emotional language. This is also why His promises of future blessings for His people are full of such loving, fatherly metaphors.

God’s “total communication” is perfectly seen in the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Christ, we see the Word of God in sadness and anger bringing judgment to those rejecting true worship (Luke 19:41-46). In Christ, we see the Word of God in compassion bringing life to God’s friends: John 11:18-45
The physical presence of Jesus is no longer with us, being ascended to the right hand of the Father in glory, but the Church, as the body of Christ, is now God’s means for spreading His Word throughout the world. We must follow our Lord’s example, giving the clear propositional truth of the gospel, refusing to do so in any kind of emotionally detached way, but rather with anger against and grief over sin, in love and compassion for those who are lost.

As ambassadors for Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:20), what are believers to do in order to be faithful to our Lord in regard to evangelism? Two considerations in particular come to mind:
A. We must present all the propositional truths of concerning the gospel, not holding anything back simply because it may be deemed offensive (i.e., the sinners’ guilt or the blood of Christ).
B. We must serve God with all our heart and soul as well as our mind and strength in evangelism: Acts 20:31

God has appointed not only the what of the gospel (the facts about the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus according to the Scripture), but He has also appointed the how of the gospel (the way that we present the Good News of Jesus Christ). So while our presentation of the gospel must certainly contain the facts of the gospel and therefore be based on objective truth, we must also present the gospel with what I have termed "total communication;" that is, the gospel must be reflected in the way that we live our lives, in the seriousness of our demeanor- especially when discussing spiritual matters- and in the passionate urgency by which we call sinners to repentance and faith.

That prince of doctrinally sound gospel-centered preachers in the English-speaking world, Charles H. Spurgeon, illustrates this principle of "total communication" wonderfully in his classic work on evangelism, The Soul Winner:
I have heard of a man who was dying, and he sent for the minister to come and see him.
When the minister came in, the dying man said to him, "Do you remember a young man walking with you one evening, some years ago, when you were going out to preach?" He said, he did not. "I recollect it very well," replied the other. "Do you not remember preaching at such-and-such a village, from such-and-such a text, and after the service a young man walked home with you?" "Oh, yes, I remember that very well!" "Well, I am the young man who walked home with you that night; I remember your sermon, I shall never forget it." "Thank God for that," said the preacher. "No," answered the dying man, "you will not thank God when you have heard all I have to say. I walked with you to the village, but you did not say much to me on the way there, for you were thinking over your sermon; you deeply impressed me while you were preaching, and I was led to think about giving my heart to Christ. I wanted to speak to you about my soul on the way home; but the moment you got out you cracked a joke, and all the way back you made such fun upon serious subjects, that I could not say anything about what I felt, and it thoroughly disgusted me with religion, and all who professed it, and now I am going to be damned, and my blood will lie at your door, as sure as you are alive:" and so he passed out of the world. One would not like anything of that sort to happen to himself; therefore, take heed, brethren, that you give no occasion for it. There must be a prevailing seriousness about our whole lives, otherwise we cannot hope to lead other men to Christ.
Christians reading this post: we are responsible to speak God's truth holding nothing back either in terms of the gospel content we proclaim or in terms of our own heart-dedication to the truth of the gospel. I plead with you to examine yourself in this area, that we may all soberly evaluate ourselves to see if we are faithful to our Lord in evangelism.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Elkanah's Error

This evening at Bible study for New Georgia Baptist Church, Mike Ross brought the lesson from 1 Samuel 1:1-19. In part of the lesson, Mike showed the contrast between the four historical figures that are focused upon in this text (after the initial genealogy): Elkanah, Eli, Peninnah, and Hannah. Somehow, though I'd realized that Eli was undiscerning and (of course) Peninnah was playing the role of a persecutor, I had always thought of Elkanah as a basically exemplary person, along with Hannah. Mike pointed out that Elkanah, like Eli and Peninnah, is contrasted with Hannah in the text. When Hannah was grieving her lack of child-bearing, Elkanah tried to deal with the problem in his own power, giving Hannah a double portion and speaking words meant to comfort her, but Elkanah's efforts only provoked Peninnah to jealousy, worsening Hannah's situation. What Elkanah should have done is what Hannah, in fact, did: Elkanah should have poured out his heart to the LORD, bringing His family's troubles to Him. Furthermore, as the head of the household, Elkanah should have led Hannah and Peninnah into reconciliation, seeking the LORD as a family.

This portion of Mike's message was convicting to me personally as I, like Elkanah, can often seek to solve my problems in my own power, and I am not consistent in leading Abby in praying as a couple.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

John Piper: "The Morning I Heard the Voice of God"

This classic, must-read article from John Piper begins:

Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.

[In endorsing this article, have I gone "charismatic?" Read the rest of Piper's article HERE to find out.]

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Of Scripture and Star Wars

[The following post was originally published on 12/6/06.]

If you haven’t noticed, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith have an element of mystery about them. Take our beliefs about God, Jesus, and Scripture. When we think about our basic Christian understanding of who God is, we affirm (as apologist James White has expressed it): “Within the one being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, namely, the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We affirm this doctrine based on the fact that Scripture very clearly declares that there is only one God in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:5-7, and Isaiah 46:9, but it is equally clear from Scripture that three Persons are recognized as one God– with Jesus the Son (or Word) being referred to as God in John 1:1 and 2 Peter 1:1, who prays to the Father (who is God) in John 17, and the Holy Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5:1-11. How, exactly, can one being exist as three Persons without becoming three separate beings and without any of the Persons losing their identity? We must admit that we cannot fully explain the answer to this question, yet we must also proclaim that this is what the Bible declares.

When we think about our basic beliefs concerning Jesus, we affirm (as written in the Athanasian Creed): "The right faith therefore is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man." We affirm this doctrine based on the fact that Scripture very clearly declares that Jesus is God in the passages mentioned above, but it is equally clear from Scripture that Jesus was a human being- apart from His prayers to God the Father in Scriptures such as John 17, we also see His humanity in that He has a body (Luke 24:39), while on Earth He grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52), and He was tempted (Matthew 4:1). So how can one who is God experience these human realities? How can Jesus Himself cry out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46) Again, while we must faithfully describe and proclaim the work of the God-Man on the Cross, we cannot fully explain certain aspects of Jesus' nature. [This, I would suggest, is why the definition of Chalcedon primarily describes the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ using the "way of negation," declaring that Christ is both God and Man "without mixture, confusion, separation, or division." Scripture is followed as far as it goes in describing the two natures of our one Lord, but where Scripture does not speak, it is better not to speculate. Rather, we simply identify those statements which would present the Scriptural teaching as a lie, and we avoid speaking of Christ in such a way as to cause people to think of Him as opposed to God's revelation.]

Finally, when we think about the understanding that the Church has always held concerning God's self-revelation in Scripture, we affirm (as confessed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy): "That canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production." The Bible is the very Word of God written by human authors. That all of Scripture is God's Word is clear from the claims Scripture makes for itself in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Jeremiah 1:1-4, Ezekiel 1:3, Hosea 1:1, John 16:13-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and 2 Peter 3:14-16. The human nature of the Bible is evidenced by the different genres and styles of the various authors, as well as passages such as Luke 1:1-4, in which the gospel writer gives some insight into the process he went through in recording his account. How could imperfect people produce a perfect work 'this side of heaven'? How could Scripture be preserved infallible through two thousand years of diverse translations? Once again, the Scriptures must be proclaimed and taught, yet they cannot be fully explained.

Now, the fact that these orthodox beliefs tend to defy sound-byte explanations (the summaries above presume a familiarity with a Christian worldview), and, in fact, cannot be fully explained is a huge challenge to human pride. Most people, upon realizing that there are things God has revealed that are too difficult for us to understand, do not take comfort in humbly trusting the LORD as King David did in Psalm 131. Most people, even as they are morally convicted by God's Word, assert that they will not except the truths of Scripture until they can either fully explain these truths or until God grants them a mystical experience testifying that His Word is true. And it for this reason that false teachings concerning God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit-breathed Scriptures abound.

And so, just before I moved to Louisville, Kentucky to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a friend of mine from Grace Heritage Church and I were trying to proclaim the gospel to a couple of Mormon missionaries at my home in Auburn, Alabama. Much of the terminology employed by these young men in describing their beliefs was very similar to language we Christians are familiar with, but when we questioned them carefully concerning their beliefs about God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the vast gulf between our belief systems quickly became obvious. Denying the Holy Trinity, the Mormons were quite unwilling to repent of their theology unless we could fully explain the inner workings of the Godhead in intricate detail- a level of detail unnecessary for saving faith, and thus not provided by Scripture. [For God's Word is not given to satisfy every question of intellectual curiosity, but to make those who approach it in humility "wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15).] Dissatisfied by our responses, which included appeals to Deuteronomy 29:29 and Isaiah 55:9, the Mormon missionaries finally left, and the only apparent benefit that was given to them by this encounter is that now they hopefully understand why they cannot say that we believe in the same God or even the same Jesus, as they had asserted when we first began the conversation.

After they left, it occurred to me that while the Mormon missionaries had been presenting their view of who God is and how part of our salvation includes being made into gods, there were at least a couple of times when they were trying to think through some particular point and they had briefly (and, seemingly, subconsciously) began to trace through the air with their fingers. From what I knew of Mormon doctrine, I came to realize that what they were doing was visualizing the Mormon Plan of Salvation, which they had apparently seen depicted on a diagram somewhere, and they were trying to trace where what they were saying fit in on the chart. And I thought, 'It's no wonder that what we were saying about God and His Son seemed so incredibly baffling to them. Everything they believe is reducible to charts, and so it must seem so much more concrete than any talk about mystery or one Being in three Persons.' But as I thought further on this, I realized even more how the Mormons have been deceived by their theology. For they have made the fatal error of equating simplicity [in terms of 'ease-of-comprehending'] with truth. Now, if you are familiar with Mormon doctrine- with its presentation of Elohim living with his wives near the star of Kolob, etc., you may be surprised at this claim. Some of the Mormon beliefs seem fairly complex. But I'm talking about simplicity in comparison with the Scriptural presentation of the truth on subjects such as the nature of God, Christ, and Scripture, as presented at the beginning of this post. And so, for all of the structural complexity of the narrative presented in Mormon teaching, the actual basic doctrines of the Mormon church are easily and completely grasped once a person becomes familiar with the overarching story.

And here's where the Star Wars element of this post finally comes in. I own the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD. Now, I could watch Star Wars every day, read about these movies from books and on the Internet and come to a comprehensive knowledge of these movies. I could get to the point where I could beat anyone I knew at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and I could answer any question anyone asked concerning the original trilogy. But for me to gain all understanding of these movies would not prove them to be true. In fact, my ability to gain comprehensive knowledge of these movies actually demonstrates that they are fiction. For the way that events unfold in reality often defies our ability to completely account why a particular set of circumstances came to pass. Especially as people are involved in history we begin to see that events involving true, personal relationships defy our ability to completely grasp them. In a good movie, the screenwriter must usually make sure that each character's motivation is clear, but how can we analyze and chart all the motivations that drive real people to act as they do?

And this is why the Christian message- a message of faith in Jesus that is so simple when people accept it in humility- is shown to be mysterious, complex, and incomprehensible upon further examination. For we are not presenting a set of facts, but a Person. We are not calling people to a simple formula or plan, but to a relationship with God Himself through Christ Jesus. And so we should not pridefully expect to fully understand Him or His ways, but we should joyfully anticipate learning more about our Merciful Savior throughout eternity.

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Concerning The Early Church Apologists' Teachings on Free-Will


The group of theologians commonly referred to as the Early Church Fathers, from just a few generations after the apostles until the time of Aurelius Augustine, taught a position concerning humankind that included the belief that Man has free will: the ability to freely choose between good and evil. This is particularly evident in the writings of the Apologists– those Church Fathers especially noted for defending the Christian faith from other religions and heresies– of whom Church historian J.N.D. Kelly observed, “they are unanimous that man is endowed with free-will” (J.N.D. Kelly. Early Christian Doctrines. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1958. 166). But (at least) three questions must be considered in regard to the Apologists’ teaching on the freedom of the will: 1. What were the immediate contexts of the individual statements made concerning free will? 2. What were the specific errors the Apologists were trying to correct with their statements concerning free will? 3. What extra-biblical influences were displayed in the Apologists’ statements concerning free will? In this essay, I will seek to give a brief examination into the answers for each of these questions in turn, and I will briefly outline what I believe to be a biblical response to each of the answers discovered.

The Early Church Apologists' Teachings on Free-Will: Immediate Contexts

In regards to the immediate context of the writings of the Apologists concerning the freedom of the will, there must be an examination of the documents in which this issue is addressed. As an example of a statement from an Apologist regarding free will, consider the following assertion from Tertullian:
It was proper that he who is the image and likeness of God should be formed with a free will, and a mastery of himself, so that this very thing, namely freedom of will and self-command, might be reckoned as the image and likeness of God in him.
Looking more closely at our example above, it should be noted that, when he wrote against the Marcionite heresy, Tertullian was combating the erroneous ideas that the God of the Old Testament is a different being from the Father revealed in the New Testament and that all of the troubles in the world are basically due to the failings of the Old Testament God. Tertullian proclaimed that there is one God– the Creator who is also the Father of Jesus. God created everything good, and he also created Man with free will, that he might serve God or reject Him. Evil enters into God's all-good creation due to the free decision of Man to reject God.

It is crucial to note that Tertullian's statements concerning Man's free will were focused upon the created condition before the Fall into sin. That Man had free will before sin entered into human experience has been the nearly universal consensus of the Church throughout history. Any controversies over free will have historically been centered on the condition of Man’s will after the Fall. That Man’s will was originally created free to choose good or evil is easily deduced from the declaration of Genesis 1:31 that everything as created by God was good, and yet in Genesis 3, Man made an evil choice to sin against the Creator.

The activity Tertullian ascribed to Man's free will must also be noted. Did the author introduce the free will of Man in order that Man may be glorified in choosing God? On the contrary, the idea of free will was given so that we may see that it is Man the creature, and not God the Creator, who is to blame for the sin in the world. As Tertullian concluded:
[T]he goodness of God, then fully considered from the beginning of His works, will be enough to convince us that nothing evil could possibly have come forth from God; and the liberty of man will, after a second thought, show us that it alone is chargeable with the fault which itself committed.
That God never commits evil acts and is not to be blamed for the evil in the world has never historically been a major source of contention in any controversy over free will, although theologians who have asserted that Man’s will is limited or corrupted after the Fall have always been accused of making God the author or approver of evil. That Scripture prevents us from blaming God for evil is evident from Bible passages such as the following:
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:13-17 NIV 1984)

Likewise, the Apostle Paul prohibited any accusation against God’s character when he wrote:
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" (Romans 9:19-20 NIV 1984)
When other statements from the Apologists concerning free will are considered, material similar to that found in the above quotes from Tertullian is regularly present in the immediate context. And it is an examination of the immediate context for statements concerning free will from the various Apologists that prompts consideration of the larger historical context of these writings.

The Early Church Apologists' Teachings on Free-Will: Errors the Apologists Combatted

The Early Apologists struggled against two positions that led them to emphasize the free will of Man. The first was the Roman pagan position, which was, to a large degree, influenced by a belief in inevitable fate. This belief was inherited through a focus on certain passages of Homer, combined with the teachings of Stoicism and astrology. The Apologists saw fate and destiny as contradictory to the call for pagans to convert to faith in Christ and so “with very few exceptions the apologists for the gospel against Greek and Roman thought made responsibility rather than inevitability the burden of their message.” [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Volume 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971) 281.]

The second position the Apologists struggled against that led them to emphasize the free will of man was Gnosticism in all its different varieties. As Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan observed:
Gnostic systems were based on an understanding of the human predicament in which man’s incapacity to avoid sin or to evade destiny was fundamental. The division of the human race into three classes [two of which could not gain ultimate salvation in their present life] was not due to any action of their free will for which they could be held responsible, but to a pre-determined destiny… The response of the anti-Gnostic fathers was to deny the inevitability of sin.

This insistence [that Man has free will] seemed the only way to preserve both the Christian doctrine of the goodness of the Creator and the Christian doctrine of the responsibility of the creature, in opposition to a theology that denied them both by subjecting God and man to the slavery of an all-powerful fate. [Ibid., 283]
This is seen in passages such as the following from Irenaeus, in which he defends the goodness of God with an assertion that Man has free will: Man was not made as an inanimate object like wheat or chaff, to be considered good or bad with no say in the matter:
For He who makes the chaff and He who makes the wheat are not different persons, but one and the same, who judges them, that is, separates them. But the wheat and the chaff, being inanimate and irrational, have been made such by nature. But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself, that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.
In their debates with pagan and Gnostic thought, the Apologists were not merely seeking to win an intellectual argument. Rather, their desire was to spread the gospel message, persuading all kinds of people to accept the Christian faith. The Apologists’ teaching on free will, in contrast to pagan and Gnostic fatalism, was given to support the claim that people, upon receiving the gospel message, could be spiritually converted. People were not fated to serve the gods of their ancestors, as paganism taught, nor were they locked into some spiritual category denied of salvation due to an arbitrary, impersonal chance, as some schools of Gnostic religion speculated.

Throughout the centuries, theologians on all sides of the free will controversies within the Church have believed the doctrine that the spiritual condition of individuals could be changed due to the preaching of the gospel. Biblically, this change of spiritual condition was seen most dramatically in the Apostle Paul’s conversion as recorded in Acts 9:1-31 and in his subsequent teaching in passages such as the following:
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions: it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:3-5 NIV 1984)
And 2 Corinthians 5:17, where it was recorded that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV 1984)

The Apologists needed to defend the Bible teachings that the world was made by the one true God as a good creation and that evil is due to the sinful choices of people. But having established the doctrine of free will as a solution to how an all-good creation could become so marred by evil, the Apologists began to turn to free will as a solution for other philosophical and theological problems as well. In examining the writings of the Apologists, one must observe that no detailed biblical analysis was given by them concerning free will after the Fall of Man into sin and the relation of Man's will to God's grace. As Augustine later noted of the Early Apologists when he was called upon to think more carefully on the current relationship between free will and grace during the Pelagian controversy:
[I]t arose that they touched upon what they thought of God’s grace briefly in some passages of their writings, and cursorily; but on those matters which they argued against the enemies of the Church, and in exhortations to every virtue by which to serve the living and true God for the purpose of attaining eternal life and true happiness, they dwelt at length. [Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, I.27]
With the lack of thorough biblical examination into this issue, the Apologists, in their isolated statements concerning free will and grace, drew upon their own perception of what happens in conversion and appealed to the common sense of their audience. And it is just in this common sense appeal to the people of their culture that the Apologists left room for extra-biblical influences to infiltrate their teaching. As John Calvin later noted concerning the Apologists’ teaching on free will:
The ancient [Apologists] seem to me to have deliberately exalted human powers more than was right… to avoid arousing by an explicit acknowledgment of [human] impotence the laughter of the very philosophers with whom they were in controversy… Therefore, so as not to teach something absurd in the general opinion of mankind, they were anxious to half-reconcile the teaching of Scripture with the doctrines of philosophy. [John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will: A Defense of the Orthodox Doctrine of Human Choice against Pighius, edited by A.N.S. Lane, translated by G.I. Davies (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996) 74.]
The Early Church Apologists' Teachings on Free-Will: Extra-Biblical Influences

In defending the Christian faith against Roman paganism and Gnosticism, many of the Early Apologists saw similarities between the teachings of the Bible and certain schools of Greek philosophical thought, which seemed to support their position. This made the Apologists more open to incorporate Greek philosophical ideas into certain portions of their presentation. As Pelikan explains:

In the conflict of Christian theology with classicism [the Roman pagan position mentioned in the previous section], it was chiefly this sense of fate and necessity that impressed itself upon the interpreters of the gospel as the alternative to their message rather than, for example, the Socratic teaching that with proper knowledge and adequate motivation a man could, by the exercise of his free will, overcome the tendency of his appetites toward sin. [Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Volume 1, 281.]

An example of an Apologist who used one aspect of Greek philosophy in support of an argument for free will against another aspect of Greek philosophy which had become incorporated into Roman paganism can be seen in the following quote from Justin Martyr:

But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins… The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both [virtue and vice]. And this also is shown by those men everywhere who have made laws and philosophized according to right reason, by their prescribing to do some things and refrain from others. Even the Stoic philosophers, in their doctrine of morals, steadily honour the same things, so that it is evident that they are not very felicitous in what they say about principles and incorporeal things. [Justin Martyr, “The world preserved for the sake of Christians. Man’s responsibility,” The Second Apology , 8.3.7.]

Also notable is the way in which Clement of Alexandria frequently quoted from Plato in his disputations with the philosophers in his context, defending the goodness of God with Plato’s writing on free will:

Plato in what follows gives an exhibition of free-will: “Virtue owns not a master; and in proportion as each one honours or dishonours it, in that proportion he will be a partaker of it. The blame lies in the exercise of free choice.” But God is blameless. For He is never the author of evil. [Clement of Alexandria, “Greek plagiarism from the Hebrews,” The Stromata, or Miscellanies, 5.14. ]


In the quotes from Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, we see representations of two major tendencies within the Early Apologists’ writings concerning free will. The first is the tendency noted in previous sections of this essay, that the doctrine of free will was used to demonstrate how God is blameless and how Man is to be held accountable for sin. This is the force of Clement’s appeal to Plato. But the second tendency that developed in the Apologists’ writings is represented in the passage quoted from Justin Martyr: the tendency to represent free will as necessary for moral judgment. The Apologists, drawing from ethical thought found in Socratic teaching, as Pelikan observed, and the teachings on morals found in the Stoics, as seen in the quote from Justin, asserted that apart from free will, Man cannot be either praised for his virtue nor blamed for his vice. A quick response to this teaching would be to note that it is an obviously false assertion that a being must be equally capable of good and evil in order to be praised, as demonstrated in the fact that we praise God for His truthfulness, yet the Bible is clear that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18 NIV 1984). But the questions of, (1) whether a being that is not equally capable of good and evil can be blamed for sin, and (2) how a sinner can make decisions in line with God’s Word– these questions, which the Apologists believed to be answered by their teachings on free will- would require further consideration by Augustine during the Pelagian controversy.

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Goldsworthy on Biblical Theology

A quote from Graeme Goldsworthy's According to Plan, which was used as one of the textbooks for the Biblical Hermeneutics class that I took under Dr. Stephen Wellum:

Theology is not just knowing about God, but knowing him. To know him we need to be restored to friendship with him. In other words, we do biblical theology as Christians, not as neutral observers. Through the preaching of the gospel we have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ. Christ conquers our rebellious hearts and minds so that we worship him as Lord. Our only knowledge of Christ comes through Scriptures, and they give a united testimony to him. Christ is proclaimed as the one who reveals God to us; he is the Word of God. The Bible is the book about Christ that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. God has ensured that the Bible gives an infallible testimony to Christ. Biblical theology thus centers on Jesus Christ as the revealer and savior. To understand the Bible, we begin at the point where we first came to know God. We begin with Jesus Christ, and we see every part of the Bible in relationship to him and his saving work. This is as true of the Old Testament as it is of the New.

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Dagg on the Danger of Confusing the Kingdom of Christ With a Visible Ecclesiastical Organization

A quote from J.L. Dagg's Manual of Theology:

Wrong views respecting the nature of the Messiah's kingdom have been productive of much evil. The princes of this world crucified the Lord of glory because they could not recognize him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and not to introduce his kingdom with the pomp which the carnal mind is pleased with. And Christ has been crucified afresh, and put to open shame, by his professed followers, because of their wrong notions respecting his kingdom. A visible ecclesiastical organization, distinguished by the observance of external forms, has claimed to be the kingdom of Christ; and its power has been extended and wielded by means far different than those which Jesus authorized. To banish this corrupt Christianity from the earth, correct views respecting the kingdom of Christ must prevail.

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Does substitutionary atonement make God "sound like a psychopath"?

[The following post was originally published on 4/12/07.]

The explanation I was given [for the gospel] went something like this. God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished. But instead of punishing us he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place. The blood of Jesus paid the price of our sins, and because of him God stopped being angry with us. In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him.

Well, I don't know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we'd say they were a monster. [Jeffrey John, “Lent Talks” (radio transcript, BBC: Radio 4, 4 April, 2007)]

In the above quote, Jeffery John, current dean of St. Albans, denies penal substitutionary atonement. Penal substitutionary atonement is basically the teaching that Jesus died in the place of sinners ("substitutionary"), bearing the wrath of God, which sinners had earned as a penalty for our rebellion against Him ("penal"), and thus Christ was a sacrifice effecting reconciliation of sinners with God ("atonement").

John asserts that this doctrine is “nonsensical,” “insane,” and that it “makes God sound like a psychopath.” In the midst of these descriptions of his opinion on the matter, he asks two rhetorical questions, and then concludes with the argument, “If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster.”

This last sentence is, however, nothing but a weak analogy. Though Man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and Man is, by the grace of God, able to “know the Lord” (Jer 31:34), Man is not so much like God that he can judge God based on his own perceptions. This is clear from what God says, as recorded in Isaiah 55:9, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (HCSB). That Man, the creature, is in no position to judge God, the Creator is abundantly demonstrated in the rebuke God offers to Job, recorded in Job chapters 38-41. The Apostle Paul also offers a rebuke to anyone wishing to judge God by human standards in Romans 9:20a, writing, “But who are you--anyone who talks back to God?” (HCSB) If a human being were to offer his innocent son as a sacrifice to save the life of a despicable criminal, it would, indeed, be “nonsensical,” etc., but this is because a human being is not entirely holy, seeing the heart rebellion of sinners against himself. A human being is not perfectly just. A human being is neither infinite, nor able to beget an infinite son that can pay an eternal sacrifice and rise from the grave. A human being is not one in essence with his son so that the sacrifice offered to himself could also be a self-sacrifice. The list could go on and on– the analogy John offers is weak indeed. It is important to understand the weakness of John's argument, because such an argument may have a strong emotional appeal to people and provide a barrier to them hearing the true gospel.


Saturday, February 01, 2014

A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism

[Introduction: This post is from a Sunday School lesson I taught on February 25, 2007 at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. Our class had been studying The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. "A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism" was explored as the fifth mark of a healthy church. The biblical exposition concerning the 9 Marks is greatly beneficial to anyone thinking of how a church should function as a body according to the Word of God.]

Consequences of neglecting a biblical understanding of evangelism:

In many church congregations, the understanding of what the Bible has to say about evangelism does not extend much beyond a bare citation of Romans 10:9, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (KJV). While this verse is certainly important to a biblical understanding of evangelism, it is only helpful as we understand what this verse is actually teaching and what it is not teaching.

To start with what this verse is not teaching: this verse is not meant to indicate that we are to try to simply get a head nod from people concerning Jesus' resurrection and then encourage them to say the words, "Jesus is Lord." If this is what is being indicated in Romans 10:9, then we could simply evangelize by asking people, "Do you think that it's likely that God raised Jesus from the dead?" If anyone said, "Yes," then we could say, "Please read this card," on which the words were printed, "Jesus is Lord." This type of 'evangelism' would likely be very effective, at least in areas where there is a high level of cultural Christianity- that is, if someone has been raised in or near a church, hearing the Easter story each year, then he or she may very well have a certain level of intellectual assent to the resurrection and may be more that willing to say, "Jesus is Lord"- whether or not he or she had any intention of living out a Christian lifestyle.

But I would assert that the meaning of Romans 10:9 is much deeper than what many may think from a surface reading of the text. Consider the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (NIV 1984). These words from our Lord should make us ponder what is meant in Romans 10:9 concerning the confession that Jesus is Lord and the belief that God has raised Him from the dead. It is my conviction that this verse is indicating the proper response to the gospel message, namely, faith and repentance. This is clear from what it means to confess Jesus as Lord. Confessing Jesus as Lord is not just indicative of a certain verbalized phrase, but is actually an entire submission of the will to the lordship of Jesus Christ, under whose lordship we do the will of the Father. But what is the will of the Father? The answer to this question is clear from an understanding of Matthew 7:21 in light of John 6:29, in which Jesus says, "This is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent" (HCSB). And so the concepts of faith and repentance are inextricably intertwined in the biblical presentation of the Gospel call. This is seen even in the earliest stages of Jesus' ministry in which He proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!" (Mark 1:15 HCSB)

The way we carry out evangelism is shaped by our understanding of the Gospel and conversion.

Our evangelism is positively effected by an understanding that it is God who does the work of conversion. This understanding gives us great confidence as we are free from the fear of failure; this understanding gives us great dependence on God's Word as the means by which He has chosen to do His work of conversion. If we convince ourselves on any level that it is ultimately necessary for Man to convert himself, then we will tend to adopt emotionally coercive, unbiblical methods designed at appealing to sinners' felt needs in order to get them to make that choice. In other words, we will begin to adopt the worldly wisdom of marketing techniques rather than a humble dependence upon the message of the Cross.

The definition of evangelism:

J.I. Packer, in his classic work Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, offered the following definition of evangelism:
To evangelize is to present Jesus Christ to sinful men in order that through the power of the Holy Spirit they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.
Presenting Jesus Christ to sinful men entails bringing people both bad news and the Good News. The bad news we cannot overlook is the fact that men are naturally dead in their trespasses and sins (cf. Eph 2:1-3): made enemies of the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe both by nature and by choice. Sinners must be aware that they are sinners before they can be aware of their need for the Savior. How does this awareness come about? In Romans 7:7 the Apostle Paul writes, "I would not have known sin if it were not for the law" (HCSB). Earlier in the same book he had written that through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (cf. Rom 3:20). So we must proclaim the Law as this is the means by which the Holy Spirit will convict people of their sin before God. Once people feel the weight of their sin and desire the mercy of God, then we must proclaim the Good News that Jesus died as an atonement for the sins of all who will believe on Him, that He was raised from the dead, and that He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, offering eternal life to all who repent and trust in Him. Having been faithful to our role in evangelism. presenting God's Word (both Law and Gospel) to the sinner, we must yield to God's role in evangelism, namely, the conversion of sinners.

It is God who converts sinners.

God providentially sends Christians with the message of Christ to proclaim the Good News to the lost, as the Bible declares in Romans 10:14-17, “But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How welcome are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things! But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (HCSB).

Yet even after His Word is presented, God must still grant salvation, as Scripture says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift: not from works, so that no one can boast.”

The call for a response:

Whenever God grants us the opportunity to present a non-Christian with the judgment of the Law and the Good News of salvation in Christ, we need to be careful to confront the non-Christian with the weight of the message he or she is hearing. In other words, our trust in the sovereignty of God for salvation should NEVER make us complacent about how non-Christians respond to God's Word. While we must not be so eager to see conversions that we try to rush sinners to make a decision they do not truly understand or to pray some scripted prayer not found in the Bible, we should warn them that they cannot remain apathetic to their sin and to what Jesus has accomplished on the Cross. For Christ Himself declared that the one not believing in Him is already condemned (cf. John 3:18), and so the call to follow Christ is urgent.

In the Gospel we are dealing with a situation that is even more important than life and death. Whenever the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, the eternal destiny of those listening is at stake. This is why the Apostle Paul is recorded in Acts 20:31 as having said that he warned each one in the Ephesian church day and night with tears concerning matters of the Gospel. This is why the Apostle wrote, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ's behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 HCSB). This is why the Apostle further impressed upon his listeners, writing, "Look, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation" (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2). In pleading with sinners to cry out to God for mercy, however, we must avoid dishonoring the Gospel by failing to stress that the decision to follow Christ is costly. Following Christ means complete submission to His will for our lives, forsaking our own plans and desires, as Jesus said, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (cf. Luke 9:23b HCSB). This is why Jesus warned those who would seek life in Him, saying,
Don't assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn A man against his father , a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:34-37 HCSB)

The costliness of eternal life is why Jesus even issued the following challege to those who wanted to be His disciples,
For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to make fun of him, saying, 'This man started to build and wasn't able to finish.' "Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with 10,000 to oppose the one who comes against him with 20,000? If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:28-33 HCSB)
In presenting the Gospel, we must not try to become more "kind" than Jesus Himself (as the world understands kindness). Instead, we must recognize that in being honest as to the cost of becoming a Christian, Jesus was actually being extremely kind and loving, for no one can be saved from sin who has not counted the cost and forsaken everything for the cause of Christ.

Though we must stress that following Christ is costly, we must also present the Gospel as worth the cost. Eternal, abundant life with freedom from all guilt and shame of sin before God is worth everything that we might lose for the sake of Jesus' name.


Trust in the sovereignty of God, faithfulness to His Word, love for Him and for our fellow man, and a desire to magnify God's glory in all things should provide our foundational convictions in evangelism. The proclamation of Law to the proud and God's grace through the perfect work of Jesus Christ to those who have been humbled should be the content of our evangelism. Urgencycostliness, and worth- these are the impressions concerning the Gospel that we should leave with anyone with whom we have the priviledge to speak concerning eternal things. I pray that you who are reading these words- whoever you may be- will think on these things and that God would ignite in your heart a passion for proclaiming His Gospel.