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Archive for the ‘Gospel’ Category

I recently discovered a great number of lectures by Francis Schaeffer.  Evidently these are the “L’Abri tapes” that I first saw mentioned in True Spirituality.

I haven’t listened to very many of these yet, but this includes lectures that appear to be the basis of several of his books. These include True Spirituality, No Little People, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History, Genesis and Science, A Christian Manifesto, The Mark of the Christian and The Finished Work of Christ, among others. I must confess that I am less familiar with his well known apologetical works than I am with some of his others but I’m sure much of that material is there in embryonic form as well.

Overall, a wide variety of topics are covered, from cultural analysis, theology in general (including a series on the Westminster Confession of Faith), apologetics, the arts, etc.  There are also a good many lectures on eschatology, including an exposition of the book of Revelation.  It is well known that Schaeffer was premillennial, which was not uncommon among Presbyterians of his day, particularly among those of his background.  The titles of some of them seem to indicate that he was pretribulational as well.  But those lectures appear to be from the early 1960’s so I don’t know if he ever changed his views as did some others like James Montgomery Boice, for example.  I haven’t read that much of Schaeffer’s work, but I hope to remedy that soon.  However, I have noticed allusions to a future for Israel in some of his writings that were published in the 1970’s.  I do think it’s interesting that a leader who was known for teachings on cultural and other issues would have taught so much on prophetical themes. But most if not all of those lectures were from the early 1960’s, prior to him becoming a popular evangelical leader in the United States and beyond.

There is also a large amount of video material available online as well, perhaps most notably the film version of How Should We Then Live?

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As noted here in a couple of previous posts, I am an alumnus of Louisiana College and a native of Alexandria. That being said, with the plethora of other issues on my plate, I had no plans to make any further comment on the situation at LC. However, it has come to my attention that an article has been published in the Baptist Message that reportedly focuses exclusively on Calvinism as being the source of the problems at LC. (One must pay to read the article in full, and I’m not a paying subscriber.)

No doubt Calvinism is a significant issue in the Louisiana Baptist Convention and it was the proximate cause for the latest controversy that has  resulted in LC once again appearing in the headlines of the local media and beyond. That being said, I wonder if those of you who are concerned about a perceived undue Calvinistic influence at LC could answer some questions for me.

As Dr. Aguillard noted in his statement regarding Calvinism and LC, he was chosen in part because he is not a Calvinist. As many of you know, another leading candidate for President at that time is a Calvinist and many on the Board of Trustees at that time did not want to see a strong Calvinistic influence at LC. Why then has Dr. Aguillard (until now) aided and abetted the Calvinistic influence at LC since 2005?  Since the liberals (or “moderates”) left the religion/theology department, (and I had long thought that that needed to happen) I’m not sure if there has ever been a time in which the majority of the full time Biblical Studies faculty have not been Calvinistic. If that is a bit of an overstatement, it certainly seems to me that there has always been a high percentage of Calvinists on the faculty since Dr. Aguillard assumed office and new faculty began to be appointed to fill vacancies in that department. Given their educational background and other factors, everybody knew or should have known that these men were Calvinists. Why is this only now becoming an issue? Are there no non-Calvinist faculty who could have been brought in instead? If a football coach is directed not to bring in certain kinds of players and he repeatedly does it anyway, what should be the result? If LC has indeed become “Geneva on the Red” as some Louisiana Baptists have alleged, who ultimately is to blame for this development?

Moreover, why was a Oneness Pentecostal on the LC faculty for several years? He was not on the religion faculty but he hosted a campus radio program that addressed spiritual topics and thus had a spiritual influence on the students. Getting rid of liberals and replacing them with those who are associated with heretical ministries isn’t quite the kind of change I can believe in. That’s the case for me even if it has only happened once. In addition, the Oneness group Phillips Craig and Dean performed at LC in 2005 (also on Dr. Aguillard’s watch) and ordained Oneness minister Randy Phillips reportedly spoke in chapel.  This cooperation with Oneness Pentecostals calls into question the level of commitment to the stated goal of returning LC to its Biblical and Baptist roots. Would M.E. Dodd or Edwin O. Ware have approved of such? Are we to infer from this that having a faculty member who is affiliated with a non-Trinitarian ministry and who had a spiritual influence on the campus is not seen as a serious issue by Louisiana Baptists?  I can assure you that some impressionable students as well as others will draw that conclusion, sadly.  This too was no secret as the man in question had a regular column in the Town Talk that noted his affiliation with a Pineville congregation that is affiliated with the United Pentecostals. I wonder what other involvement (especially with regard to spiritual influence) these non-evangelicals and non-Trinitarians have had at Louisiana College since 2005. The fact that they are not in the SBC aside, do any of you  believe that Oneness Pentecostal theology and practice is less problematic than that of Calvinistic Baptists?

While a significant Calvinist presence is naturally an issue at Louisiana College in a state where the convention is overwhelmingly non-Calvinist, it seems to me that there are more pressing issues with regard to the core curriculum, infrastructure, accreditation, etc. While the Christian Studies division is of obvious concern to pastors and those with an interest in what kind of religious teaching is going on there, the majority of students are not in that program. For years LC has had a quality nursing program and has also done very well in having students accepted to professional schools such as medical school and law school.  A good many students are likely to leave if the cloud of fear and uncertainty over LC doesn’t clear soon.

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I’ve recently become aware of Pastor Mike Fabarez and his upcoming Aggressive Sanctification conference.  If you click the link, there are several meaty posts that articulate some of the concerns many of us who lean toward the “Old Calvinist” or Puritan view of sanctification have with the New Calvinist/Gospel-Centered/Sonship approach.

Donn Arms (Dr. Jay Adams’ colleague at the Institute of Nouthetic Studies) recently posted Gospel Indicatives/Gospel Imperatives, which sets forth the question in a helpful way. The INS blog is a good one to keep your eye on.

As Donn notes, this is a controversy in the Biblical Counseling arena. But it’s a controversy that is impacting evangelicalism as a whole via the “New Calvinism” (which is by no means without its good points compared to the standard evangelical fare of the recent past.)   Whether one takes more of a Grammatical Historical or Redemptive Historical approach to hermeneutics is a factor here as well.

Based on the reading I’ve done, it seems to me that the Puritans and their successors like J.C. Ryle, C.H. Spurgeon and Horatius Bonar (just to name a few) have achieved perhaps the best balance between the extremes of legalism and antinomianism.  But the “New Calvinism” appears to be jettisoning that wholesale for a largely quietist model of sanctification that is foreign to historic Reformed and Calvinistic theology, whether Reformed/Presbyterian or Baptist.   Unfortunately, it’s increasingly what passes for “Reformed” today, especially among those who know little of Reformed theology beyond the Five Points.

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Dan Phillips. The World-Tilting Gospel: Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Holding on Tight. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011, 320 pages.

Dan Phillips will likely be known to most readers of this humble blog.  For years he’s been writing at Pyromaniacs as well as at his own blog, Biblical Christianity. He earned the M.Div. at Talbot Theological Seminary and has served as a pastor, teacher, seminar speaker, newspaper columnist, and radio talk show host.  The World-Tilting Gospel (hereafter TWTG) is his first book.

As those with a passing familiarity with the New Testament will (hopefully) be aware, the title of TWTG is a reference to Acts 17:6-7:  “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.

Could this be said of professing Christianity as a whole today?  Specifically, can this be said of evangelical Christianity, particularly in the United States?  (Overwrought left-wing commentators might think so, but what they usually have in mind isn’t what the text has in view here.)  No, the sad fact is that most professing Christians don’t live much differently than those who do not profess Christ. In a day in which “Christianity” is still dominant in culture, the truth in this verse and passage should be reckoned with more soberly than it often is.

On page 164 Phillips diagnoses the problem:

Frankly, it boggles my mind how many…won’t even admit that Jesus in fact taught differently than what they believe, or that the Bible doesn’t go where they want to go. They’ve made up a Cheerleader Jesus, or a Bobblehead Buddy Jesus, who’s okay with their pet sin or perversion. They have yet to come to Square A–and that’s the square where we realize what Jesus actually taught and was, and how radically different that is from where we’ve been.

TWTG isn’t merely a meditation or an exposition of one passage. Instead, Phillips gives us a summary of  Biblical teaching about the Gospel in a clear, comprehensive and succinct way. In the preface he writes “I love compressed truth.” In TWTG he has given us a gem of compressed truth.

Phillips begins by stating that we must grasp:

  • who we really are
  • what kind of world we are really living in
  • how the world really operates and where it is really going
  • who God really is
  • what His eternal plan really was
  • why we really needed Him and His plan so desperately
  • what His terms—the Gospel—really were
  • what difference the Gospel will really make on every day of our lives

These vital questions are answered here better than in any other recent book that I am aware of. Here we find thorough explanations of creation, the fall, and man’s inherited sinful condition. Then Phillips provides us with an overview of God’s attributes, how the Gospel meets our need and how it was executed in space and time. Next are a couple of chapters on imputed righteousness and regeneration. This is followed by some very helpful chapters on sanctification and living the Christian life, including examination of several harmful yet widely popular views of the Christian life.  The Bible’s teaching on the flesh is also helpfully expounded upon, something that the author had previously blogged about under the title of Sarkicophobia! I found this section to be very helpful as I labored under a similar malady for many years. (Maybe I’ll come up with a fancy name for it one day.)

However, despite covering all of these monumental topics, this is no dry academic treatise. Phillips explains deep truths in a way that can be understood by many who are not used to reading weighty theological tomes.

There is nothing really new here, as I’m sure the author would gladly admit. As Dr. Jay Adams noted in his review of the book, TWTG sets forth the standard Calvinistic view of the Gospel. But this fresh restatement is vitally needed in a day in which there seems to be some confusion even in the Calvinistic camp over the relationship between justification and sanctification, spiritual growth, and other issues.

While there have been many excellent books in recent years, I know of no better gospel handbook or primer that is this thorough yet accessible. It will prove to be very useful for use in discipleship. It will reinforce and clarify things for the believer. It is also a good book to hand to an unbeliever, as it sets forth a whole-Bible worldview. TWTG will bear periodic re-reading.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Here’s hoping that this is only the first of many books from the pen (or keyboard) of Dan Phillips!

For a limited time, the Kindle edition of TWTG is available at no charge.

Disclaimer:  Kregel Publications graciously provided this book for review purposes. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

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Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about what is sometimes called Gospel-Driven Sanctification (or some similar terminology.*) This has come after reading the recent back and forth on the Gospel Coalition site between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung (among other posts) on the subject of effort in the Christian life.  This issue was also alluded to in Frank Turk’s Open Letter to Michael Horton earlier this year. Jay E. Adams has recently made several posts on the issue as well. By no means have I studied the issue exhaustively, but I’ve been somewhat troubled by some of what I’ve heard and read so far. (To my recollection, what caused me to focus on this question to begin with was this post, which raised so many questions in my mind that it would likely require an entire post in response.)

Today, I was directed to this article by William B. Evans on the Reformation 21 blog.   It is the best recent presentation I have seen of the Biblical teaching on this issue and the current controversy in Reformed and Calvinistic circles over it. To a considerable degree, it seems to be a continuation of the controversy over the Sonship teaching of Jack Miller of World Harvest Mission a few decades ago. In other cases, it appears to be the result of a sharp distinction being made between law and grace, which is a feature of Lutheranism as well as dispensationalism.  The emphasis on “Gospel driven” with reference to sanctification often seems to indicate a kind of passivity (or a passive or quietistic tendency) with regard to growing in grace. Some have summarized the issue as being a question of whether sanctification is monergistic or synergistic. (All of those in the debate acknowledge that justification is monergistic.)

When reading the material I noted in the first paragraph, perhaps expecially the blog comments that have followed, I’ve witnessed what appears to be a visceral reaction against the idea of any kind of Biblical imperative, even though the Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with them. In particular, it is a disagreement with the idea that we should strive to obey these imperatives (or commands.)

The pattern of Gospel indicatives followed by imperatives is perhaps most clearly seen in Paul’s epistles. The Gospel is expounded upon in the first part of letters like Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, with the implications of the Gospel (including numerous commands) typically making up the last several chapters. If all we have to do is “preach the Gospel to ourselves” and meditate upon Christ, then why would Paul and the other apostles have seen the need to include these commands?

Dr. Evans’ mention of post-fundamentalism may be spot on. I too have wondered how many people who are attracted to this teaching have come from some kind of legalistic background. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to encounter folks who have been under some kind of unbiblical overbearing “shepherding” ministry who overreact to the point of rejecting practically any pastoral shepherding or oversight whatsoever.

It’s quite ironic (and perhaps troubling) to see some of the “Gospel-driven” types  link approvingly to the kind of posts that are questioned in Dr. Evans’ article, only to turn around the next day and tout J.C. Ryle’s Holiness on their blog or Twitter.  Ryle’s Holiness is a classic work which basically teaches the polar opposite! One wonders what thought process would lead someone to promote works from such opposing perspectives and evidently not see the contradiction. Confusion and overreaction to false teaching may be at the root.

For example, the other day I saw a woman quote Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness in an attempt to rebut criticism of “Gospel-driven” views of sanctification by those who had cited Bonar as opposing that kind of teaching. This was despite the fact that Bonar, like Ryle, has a strong emphasis on striving for holiness. Maybe the fact that Bonar clearly and powerfully taught justification by grace alone by faith alone through Christ alone leads some who haven’t read him closely to assume that he must also agree with those who appear to emphasize nothing but the indicatives of the Gospel message. This may particularly be the case for those who were fed a steady diet of moralism prior to coming to their current understanding.  It may be that some automatically equate any reference to effort or striving for holiness with legalism or moralism.

I am thankful for the Gospel-driven movement to the extent to which it has helped to deliver people from the bondage of real legalism and moralism. But at this point I’m not convinced that it accurately represents biblical teaching as a whole.

One thing is for sure, if the Lord tarries, this is an issue that is not going away any time soon.

(HT: Benjamin Glaser)

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness and Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness are both available online:

Holiness 

God’s Way of Holiness (.pdf)

*Other terms include Christ-centered, Gospel-centered and other similar phrases. It seems to me that these terms are being repeated so often that there is a risk of a mantra being created, one that is basically a slogan that is repeated so often and used in reference to so many things that it essentially becomes devoid of meaning. 

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In our day, some of our more theologically sound evangelical brethren place heavy emphasis on being “Gospel centered.” In doing so, they can sometimes appear to downplay doctrinal distinctives, (in this case, perhaps most notably regarding ecclesiology) perhaps giving some the idea that they are relatively unimportant. While we should teach and preach the whole counsel of God, it is also quite possible to overemphasize doctrinal distinctives and other issues to the detriment of weightier matters. No biblical teaching is unimportant, but it would appear that some are more important than others. We must ever be on guard against focusing on one issue to the detriment of others. Related to that is a need to guard against a movement mentality when it has the tendency to emphasize some hobby horse. A few years ago, a pastor told me that “The only thing we want to go to seed on is Jesus.” The more time goes on, the more I think that is very sound advice.

I think a glance at this blog for a few minutes might suggest that when I actually get around to posting something, at times I’ve been guilty of majoring on the minors. (There are a few reasons for this that may make it more understandable, but that’s probably best left to another post.)  I know that at times I’ve focused on such things for so long that I’ve almost been incapable of clearly discussing much more basic issues related to the faith once delivered with those who aren’t as familiar with them.

I recently came across the following passage from Mr. Spurgeon that addresses this very problem. Those who are familiar with Charles Haddon Spurgeon will know that he certainly did not believe that there is never a time to engage in controversy or polemics with other brethren when in our judgment they fall short in their biblical understanding on one issue or the other. Indeed, during the course of his ministry, he was known for engaging in three controversies in particular. However, if being a controversialist were what he was primarily known for, I doubt that he would continue to be quite as relevant today.

WHAT IS IT TO WIN A SOUL?

This may be instructively answered by describing what it is not. We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue. There are sheep-stealers abroad, concerning whom I will say nothing except that they are not “brethren”, or, at least, they do not act in a brotherly fashion. To their own Master they must stand or fall. We count it utter meanness to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbours’ mansions; we infinitely prefer to quarry for ourselves. I hope we all sympathize in the largehearted spirit of Dr. Chalmers, who, when it was said that such and such an effort would not be beneficial to the special interests of the Free Church of Scotland, although it might promote the general religion of the land, said, “What is the Free Church compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?” What, indeed, is any church, or what are all the churches put together, as mere organizations, if they stand in conflict with the moral and spiritual advantage of the nation, or if they impede the kingdom of Christ?   

It is because God blesses men through the churches that we desire to see them prosper, and not merely for the sake of the churches themselves. There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandisement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us! The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan. We would do a great deal to make a Paedobaptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord’s ordinances; we would labour earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterwards to secure them for our various folds. To make proselytes, is a suitable labour for Pharisees: to beget men unto God, is the honourable aim of ministers of Christ.

C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, p. 11-12, Pilgrim Publications, 2007.

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Fred Butler has posted an extraordinary story that demonstrates not only the reconciliation between God and man by way of the cross but also the reconciliation and brotherhood of two former enemies in apartheid era South Africa who now preach the gospel.

You can read the full article at The Masters Academy International.

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