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Archive for the ‘Sanctification’ 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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From Dr. Johnson’s sermon Rev. 2:18-29 on the pressure to compromise the faith because “we have to live”:

“I can imagine the way in which an individual would respond to this when he was at the table. One of his Christian friends would say to him the next day, “How could you do that? How could you accept an invitation like that? How is it possible for you to sit at the table of quote “My Lord Tyrimnos?” Unquote. And I can see myself, for example, responding. “If you’re going to have a job, you’ve got to do this. If you’re going to live, you have to do this. There’s no other way to make a living in this town. You’ve got to do it. You must do it.” The ancient church had a deal with that question just like people today because we tend to do the same thing. We put up with things that are not Christian, because we have to live.

Well, Tertullian, in the 3rd Century, wrote a little book, well, a little work. It was called “On Idolatry”, and in it he dealt with that question. He deals with Christians who earn their living by making idols. These individuals had to live. We have to live. We don’t believe in these idols that we’re making, but we have to make them because they need them. They made statuaries to the idols. They painted them. They did for the guilders all of the kinds of things that had to do with the idolatry and the like. And when the plea was made to them that as Christians you cannot do this they said, “We have to live. There’s no other way by which we can live.” But Tertullian indignantly retorted that they should have thought about that before they started doing what they were doing. And furthermore, he then went on to say in his Latin, Vivere ego or ergo habeas. Do you have to live?

No, you don’t have to live, and the ultimate service to our Lord is the ultimate claim upon a Christian’s life. We don’t have to live. “Must you live”, he asks? Elsewhere he says, “There are no musts where faith is concerned.” In other words, the ultimate loyalty we have is not to our physical life. Not to the kind of life that we must live here upon this earth. Our ultimate loyalty is to the Lord God, and if it means death that’s our ultimate loyalty. The idea you must do this because that’s the way it’s done here is not a Christian idea at all. And our Lord does not leave any room for anyone who says, “Well I’ve got to live, so I have to do these things that are contrary to the word of God. I have to set down at the table of my Lord Tyrimnos.”

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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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