Archive for the ‘regeneration’ Category

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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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.


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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Chapter 7:  Why Baptist and Not Campbellite

THE word Campbellite is not intended to be used in this article in any offensive sense, but to designate the followers of Alexander Campbell, sometimes called Christians, or Disciples, or Reformers, or by various other names.  The name Campbellite, however, is the only name by which they are universally recognized, and the only one without ambiguity.

The question might be answered in one word by saying, I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite because a follower of John the Baptist, or rather of John the Baptist’s Master, and not of Alexander Campbell.  Or theologically I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite because I am a Paulinist, and not a Socinian.  The Paulinist believes that at birth man is depraved, unable to save himself and condemned; that all sinned by having part in the sin of Adam; that Adam’s sin and our depravity and our own sins are all imputed to us; that we are saved by Christ’s work, through faith in him.  The Socinian says that man is innocent and able to obey God; that all sinned simply by following Adam’s example; that only a person’s own sins are imputed to him; and that we are saved by following Christ’s example.

In other words the religion of the Baptist is an inward, spiritual religion, that of the Campbellite an external, formal, mechanical religion.  Between them there is the difference of the poles.  People sometimes say that Baptists and Campbellites are so near together that they ought to unite.  As a matter of fact, there are no two denominations on the face of the globe farther apart.  There is absolutely only one point of agreement between them, and that is the form of baptism, the outward observance of the ordinance.  They differ in every other respect.

1. I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite because the Campbellite says that sin is on the outside, in the word, the act.  The Baptist says it is on the inside, in the heart.  The Campbellite says that sin consists only of personal sins, while the Baptist says it consists (1) Of the guilt of Adam’s sin imputed to us because he was the representative head of the race, and when he sinned all sinned.  (2) Of depraved dispositions of the soul, resulting from this sin of Adam which has descended to us by inheritance.  (3) Of personal sins resulting from this depravity.  The Scriptures describe a man not only as a sinner but sinful, not only committing personal sins, but his whole nature corrupt, “shapen in iniquity,” “conceived in sin,” “with no good thing dwelling in him,” “carnally minded,” instead of “spiritually minded,” “at enmity with God,” “not subject to the law of God,” “neither indeed can be” subject to it in his present state, “by nature a child of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and in sins.”

2. The Campbellite says that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Word and does not operate apart from the Word.  The Baptist says that the Holy Spirit is a living, breathing personality, not a thing, that the Word is only the sword of the Spirit, the instrument with which He operates, but that the Spirit is separate from and back of the Word, as the soldier is separate from and back of the sword.

3. The Campbellite says that regeneration is simply a reformation of the outward life, expressed especially in the act of baptism.  Mr. Campbell himself said that “regeneration is equivalent to immersion.”  The Baptist says that regeneration is a change in the dispositions of the soul wrought by the Holy Spirit through repentance and faith.  If the person’s heart is depraved, as the Baptist believes, and as the Scriptures describe it in the passages quoted above, then reforming that man is like cutting down the shoots of a tree.  Others will immediately grow out again.  Or to use a Scripture illustration, homely but expressive, it is like washing the sow.  As soon as she comes to another mud hole, she will rush into it and be as muddy as ever.  What is needed is to cut up the roots, and not simply to cut down the shoots, of the tree; to change the nature of the sow so that she will not love to go into the mud holes.  In short, it is regeneration, not reformation the person needs; revolution not evolution.  Evolution means only carrying him farther in the direction in which he is going.  Revolution means turning him back and starting him over again.

4. The Campbellite believes that repentance is a mere change of mind, an outward reformation.  The Baptist believes that repentance is the result of a godly sorrow which leads to a change of mind and involves a change of care, of purpose, and so eventuates in a change of life.

5. The Campbellite says that faith is simply a “condition of the mind founded on evidence,” that it is a mere historical belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  The Baptist says that faith means:  I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; I believe that he came into the world to save sinners; I believe that he is able and willing and ready to save sinners.  It means all that, but it means one step more than that.  It means, Lord, I am a sinner and I take thee for my Savior.  A personal trust in Christ as a personal Savior – that is its essential meaning.

6. The Campbellite reverses the order in which these two come.  He puts faith before repentance.  And with his views of faith as an intellectual assent, and of repentance as a mere outward reformation, this is natural.  But to the Baptist, to whom repentance and faith strike far deeper, to whom they are inward and spiritual, not outward and mechanical, to whom they are intense exercises of the soul, not mere acts-to the Baptist it is an utter absurdity and an absolute impossibility that faith should come before repentance.  I am talking, of course, about saving faith and saving repentance; repentance and faith in the plan of salvation.  Without repentance, until the person has experienced a sorrow for his sins which has led to a change of mind, he will not want a Savior, he will feel no need of him.  No one will send for a physician until he is sick, and realizes his sickness.  But a stronger reason than this why repentance precedes faith is found in the fact that whenever in the New Testament the two are mentioned together the order is invariably repentance first, and faith second.  This surely was no accident.

7. The Campbellite does not believe in an “experience of grace” in the heart.  He makes fun of such a thing.  It might seem unkind to suggest that the reason he does not believe in it is because he has never had such an experience himself.  But as a matter of fact, he does not profess ever to have had it.  It is not in his system of theology, and not in accordance with that system.  He is simply consistent with his belief that religion is an outward, mechanical thing-a matter of deeds, and not a matter of the heart.

But when a Baptist hears any one say that there is no such thing as an experience of grace, he always feels like replying as the old negro did to his master who said that there is no such thing as religion.  The negro answered, “Master, don’t say there ain’t no such thing as religion; say, not as you knows on.”

The Baptist knows there is such a thing as an experience of grace.  He has felt it.  To him it is real, deeply, intensely real.  He can tell you the day his soul was born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit through repentance for his sins and faith in the Savior, more certainly that he can tell you the day of his natural birth.  It is an event to him even more distinct, as well as more important, than the birth of his body.  He remembers the very time and place when it occurred.  He remembers how, when under conviction by the Holy Spirit, he cried out in the agony of his soul, as he felt himself sinking in the waves of sin, “Lord, save, I perish;” and how the Savior reached forth his hand and helped him up.  He remembers how, when the Master came on board his little boat, the waves of sorrow in his tempest tossed soul subsided into a beautiful quiet, and there was a great calm.

He will never forget the ecstacy of that moment, the thrill of joy which ran through him, and set all the bells within his soul ringing in harmony with the bells of heaven.  You need not talk to him about there being no such thing as an experience of grace.  He has had one-if he is a Baptist at all-and he knows there is.  He has had it.  He has it now.

8. The Campbellite baptizes in the same way the Baptist does-by immersion.  But the resemblance stops with the outward form.  The design of the ordinance is utterly different with the two peoples.  The Campbellite says that baptism is for (in order to) the remission of past sins.  He makes baptism a part of the plan of salvation, without which there is no salvation.  The Baptist says that baptism is simply a picture, an object lesson expressing outwardly the inward experience of grace which had taken place in the heart.  As the person is buried in the water and then is raised up again, this act, the Baptist believes, symbolizes the death and the resurrection of Jesus and also his own death to sin and his resurrection to a new life, the life of faith.  In other words, baptism simply typifies in outward act the repentance for sin and the faith in Christ which the soul had experienced in being saved.  In language more eloquent than human tongue could frame it tells these facts to the world.  To make it a part of the plan of salvation is to rob it of all its significance and beauty, and to make it only a cold mechanical form.

The Baptist draws the line of salvation at faith and not at baptism.  He says that when the person has repented of his sins and believes on Christ as his personal Savior, he is saved from all sins, and all the powers of earth and all the devils in hell can not prevent his being saved.  To make baptism a part of the plan of salvation is to make salvation partly spiritual and partly material, partly inward and partly outward, partly dependent upon God, partly upon yourself, and largely upon a third person.  Thank God, salvation is a matter to be settled simply between the soul and its Savior, without the intervention of any third party or the manipulation of priestly hands.

9. Nor does it help matters any to say, as some Campbellites say, that salvation is a matter of obedience to God’s commands, and obedience is essential to salvation.  If we must obey in any respect in order to be saved, we must obey in every respect.  If a person starts out on that line, of saving himself by his own obedience, he can not stop at one point.  He must go the whole way.  “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” “He that keepeth the whole law and yet offendeth in one point is guilty of the whole.”  It was exactly because we did not and could not obey, because we were sinners, guilty and helpless, that it became necessary for Christ to come and die for us.  If we must obey now there was no use for his coming.  To say that he came to make it possible for us to obey is sheer nonsense.  It is not our obedience but Christ’s that saves.  Listen:  “For as by the disobedience of one (Adam) many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one”-of one, of one, of ONE, and that one Christ Jesus-“shall many be made righteous.”  We obey not in order to be saved but because we are saved.  Our obedience is not that of the slave, but of the child. It springs not from fear but from love and gratitude.  This is what the Baptist believes.

10. It is only another phase of the same idea as the preceding to say, as the Campbellite does, that salvation is a matter of works.  They quote over and over again the saying of James, “Faith without works is dead,” and they proceed immediately to apply it to one work, baptism, forgetting that the word is in the plural not the singular, and means all kinds of works.

There is the same idea in this verse as in the expression of our Savior, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”  The fruits don’t make the tree.  They show the tree.  The works don’t make the Christian.  They show the Christian.  Faith is the root and works the fruit.  But the life is in the root.  The fruit is only the outcome, the expression, the flowering out of that life.

Faith is the cause and works the effect; faith the antecedent and works the consequent; faith the engine and works the train of cars.  This is the Baptist position.  Between that and the Campbellite position there is an infinity of distance.

11. With the views indicated above it is perfectly natural that the Campbellite should believe in falling from grace.  It is thoroughly in accord with his whole system of doctrines.  If sin is only an outward act; if the Holy Spirit does not operate on the heart; if regeneration is simply the conformity to a ceremony; if repentance is only a reformation; if faith is merely a “condition of the mind founded on evidence;” if there is no such thing as an experience of grace in the heart; if salvation is only the observance of a ceremony, or a question of obedience to the law, or of works; if it is all a matter of externalities; in a word, if it depends entirely upon the person whether he shall get salvation or not, then it will depend on him whether he shall lose it.  But if sin is in the heart; if the Holy Spirit operates upon the heart by His convicting and converting power; if regeneration is a change in the dispositions of the soul wrought by the Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ; if repentance is the result of a godly sorrow for sin; if faith is a personal trust in a personal Savior; if the line of salvation is drawn at faith; if baptism is only the outward figurative expression of the inward experience of grace; if obedience is the result of, and not the cause of salvation; if works are the fruit of faith -in short, if a person’s salvation is not a matter of acts but goes deep down into his soul and involves a change so complete as to be called a new birth, the birth of the soul, then he can not lose it. What is born can not be unborn.  If salvation depends not upon the person himself but on God, then God will see that he does not lose it.

It depends on who saves.  If the person saves himself he can lose his salvation.  If God saves him, God will keep him.  Baptists believe with Peter that “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last day.”

12. The church polity of the Campbellite is a presbyterial form of government; that of the Baptist congregational.  One is a government by ruling elders, the other by the congregation. One is an oligarchy, the other a democracy.

From the above statement of the differences between Baptists and Campbellites, which I have tried to make as fair and comprehensive as possible within the limited space allotted me, it will be seen how wide the differences are, and how utterly irreconcilable.  Talk about Baptists and Campbellites uniting!  You may as well talk about the union of oil and water, or of the east with the west, or of the north pole with the south pole.

And this is the reason why I am a Baptist and not a Campbellite.

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