Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review of 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible

My Bible is in English”, said my infuriated listener. 

The week prior I had preached one of my first sermons; it was on the birth of Jesus, and in this sermon I had mentioned that our typical manger scene is probably not quite accurate.  I had, apparently, ruined this dear ladies image of Christmas.  The pastor informed me that I had “stirred up a hornet’s nest”. 

In my youthful vigor and ignorance I assumed that I could simply explain to her the context of the passage, the Greek terms (which I didn’t know well myself), and a few historical facts and she would understand and not want to punch me in the kidney. 

I quickly discovered that I had indeed entered into a hornet’s nest.  She did not want a lesson on biblical interpretation.  She wanted to know why this young whippersnapper was blowing up her Christmas. 

In all honesty her methods of biblical interpretation was atrocious.  My pride was worse.  I would have done everything a million times different now.  I would have been less concerned with showing off my fancy book learnin’ and more concerned about loving her and gently teaching biblical truth. 

She didn’t want a hermeneutics lesson.  She needed one.  (And so do I).  But she didn’t want one.   In fact one of the great needs in the church today is a better understanding of hermeneutics. 

Unfortunately, many believe that hermeneutics is something you catch on a mission trip to a third world country.  That is because many of those that teach hermeneutics often insist on using technical terms that relates more to academia than those cracking open their Bible’s within the church.  As a result sound hermeneutics are often relegated to the halls of academia and the average lay-person is left to sift through his Bible on his own.  This only widens the gap between "preacher” and “pew”. 


Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) should be accessible to everyone.  This is what motivates Dr. Robert Plummer’s latest book 40 Questions on Biblical Interpretation.  As Plummer states in the introduction, “my goal [is] to be accessible without being simplistic and scholarly without being pedantic”. 

Through these 40 questions Plummer discusses issues of canon and criticism, as well as issues of interpretation and meaning.  About sixty percent of the book is given to interpreting various literary genres: parables, prophecy, letters, poetry, etc,.  The final five questions provide a brief interaction with interpretive issues in recent discussion. 

Each question is given about 6-10 pages for a brief yet thorough answer.  At the end of each chapter the reader will find helpful reflection questions and also a few books and resources for further study.  The reader, then, is not left with only six pages but also questions to provoke thought and helpful resources to assist with continued study of the topic at hand. 


I have had Dr. Plummer for three classes now and I have enjoyed everyone of them.  Few professors could make at 8:00am Greek class exciting—Dr. Plummer does.  His obvious passion for Jesus and desire for edifying the church bleeds through in these pages.  Occasionally the reader will even catch glimpses of Plummer’s humor and wit.  (Who else has a New Testament professor that quotes Spinal Tap?) 

In the past when people have asked me for a book on helping them study the Bible better I have scrambled to find one.  I know there are really solid books on hermeneutics but they are typically so bogged down with technical language and scholarly discussion that they remain unhelpful to the person not familiar with the jargon and ongoing debates within academia.  Then there are also those books that are written on a popular level but really do not provide as solid of help in biblical interpretation.  Now that Dr. Plummer has written this book I know of at least one resource that I can hand them. 

He deals with many of the questions that people in the pew are asking; but he does not stop there, he also deals with questions students will face.  Plummer manages to deal with both types of questions in such a way as to be both satisfying and accessible. 

If you have questions about biblical interpretation, or you want to hone your skills in interpreting God’s Word, you will find this book helpful.  For twelve bucks you cannot find a better resource.  Furthermore, Dr. Plummer is making many resources available for free on his website: here.  This book would be ideal for a small group, Sunday school class, or even a resource to assist your children in learning sound bible study methods (especially with these free resources). 

As a pastor I recently taught a series on biblical interpretation on Sunday evenings.  I found myself time and time again going back to Dr. Plummer’s work.  You will use this book as a great reference.  Add it to your library

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Somewhat Quick Review of Early Christian Thinkers, Edited by Paul Foster

“Why can’t we all just get along?  We should go back to the simplicity of the Early Church era before Constantine screwed everything up and when everybody was on basically the same page.” 

“Not so fast”, says Paul Foster. 

Foster, the editor of Early Christian Thinkers, has compiled a helpful primer on twelve characters from the early church.  They are what Foster calls a “motley crew” (although I must have skipped the chapter on Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx).  Speaking of this motley crew, he notes:

It is highly debatable whether they would have felt comfortable in each other’s company.  Yet in many way that is what makes this selection of early Christian figures so fascinating, because in a very real sense their diversity represents much of the complex dynamic of early Christianity from the mid second century to the beginning of the fourth century.  In no way can early church history be represented as irenic and unproblematic.  (xix)

“Who is this motley crew”, you ask? 

There is a single chapter by a different author on these twelve early Christian thinkers: Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Perpetua, Origen, Cyrpian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Eusebius of Caesarea. 

If after reading that list you are shaking your head and wondering, “who”,   that’s what makes this book so helpful and appealing.  Even for a history nerd like myself there was plenty information, stories, and thoughts in here to keep me intrigued. 

Even the interaction with the more notable of these figures is still helpful.  As an example, Paul Parvis’ chapter on Justin Martyr is an outstanding treatment of Martyr in his historical context.  Parvis helps the reader to really get an accurate feel for Justin’s influence and give a contemporary model for one that "was trying to explain the Gospel he had received in terms that would be comprehensible to the world around him” (9).  Knowing this helps us to come to a better understanding of the intention behind much of Martyr’s writing, while simultaneously spurring the reader on to similar incarnational missions.  

Brief Analysis

As you can expect in a volume written by twelve different authors some chapters are better written than others.  Some chapters keep you engaged, on the edge of your seat, and searching Amazon for other resources on the Christian thinker being discussed.  Other chapters feel a little like reading a 5th grade history book; somewhat stale but still helpful. 

I am not certain that this would serve well as an introduction to the Early Church Fathers (for that I would suggest Haykin’s latest work: Rediscovering the Church Fathers).  However, it is not so technical and filled with jargon that the average lay-person could not sift through it and learn a good deal about church history.  It’s best audience will probably be for those with a previous knowledge of history and those who are perpetual students of history. 

If you want to know more about the thinking in the early church through the lens of several key figures then this book is definitely worth looking into.  I may also mention that it is rare to find a book with this much historical quality being sold for under $15.  It’s a steal, especially if you get it for 10 bucks on your Kindle


**I got this book free from IVP in exchange for a review.  You’ll have to buy it, which you can do so here.  I didn’t have to give a positive review, but I did anyways because I like it. 

A Loser’s Guide to 2011 NFL Predictions


  1. New England Patriots
  2. New York Jets
  3. Buffalo Bills
  4. Miami Dolphins


  1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Pukesburg Steelers
  3. Cleveland Browns
  4. Cincinnati Bengals


  1. Houston Texans
  2. Indianapolis Colts
  3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars


  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. San Diego Chargers
  3. Oakland Raiders
  4. Denver Broncos


  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Dallas Cowboys
  3. Washington Redskins
  4. New York Giants


  1. Green Bay Packers
  2. Detroit Lions
  3. Minnesota Vikings
  4. Chicago Bears


  1. Atlanta Falcons
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  4. Carolina Panthers


  1. St. Louis Rams
  2. Arizona Cardinals
  3. San Francisco 49ers
  4. Seattle Seahawks

AFC WILDCARDS: New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFC WILDCARDS: Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints

AFC TITLE GAME: Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Jets

NFC TITLE GAME: Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles

SUPER BOWL: Atlanta Falcons defeat the Baltimore Ravens

MVP: Matt Ryan

Comeback Player of the Year: Matthew Stafford

Rookie of the Year:  AFC—AJ Green   NFC—Julio Jones

Borrowed Light FFL Champion: Tripp’s Lip Tent

Friday, August 26, 2011

Growth or Removal?

In 1786 a relatively newly married John Ryland, Jr. found himself in financial difficulty, mostly due to trying to cover for his fathers bad financial decisions.  To this Newton wrote a letter which included this line:

“He will either diminish the burden, when too heavy or increase our strength to support it, which amounts to the same thing”. 

If you had your choice, “increase in strength to support it” or a “diminished burden”, which would you choose? 

I want to say that I would choose growth, but my heart tells me that I probably rather long for removal of difficulty instead. 

“Quick to Pastor, Slow to Speak”

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger…

…unless you are a pastor. 

I wonder how many dear souls have been wounded by a pastor that is slow to hear and therefore also quick to speak and usually quick to anger.  More personally, I wonder how many dear souls that I have wounded by quick counsel. 

Quick counsel is easy to do.  Most people have the same types of problems and therefore it is tempting to offer simple cookie-cutter solutions.  I know that at times I have been guilty of throwing a few Bible verses at the heart of a weary saint (or perhaps some Christian platitudes). 

Thankfully (for myself and others) I am growing.  I have gotten better at following James’ admonishment to engage in active listening before I assume that I know how to speak.  Here are 4 things that I have tried to do to slow myself down and make sure that I am quick to listen and slow to speak:

  1. Try to rephrase and repeat what I believe they are saying.  “Is this what you are saying”?  This helps me know that I do truly understand (in as much as I can) what the other person is going through and what they are communicating.
  2. Try to defend their position.  This is especially helpful in a lively debate or discussion.  If I am able to accurately defend a persons position, or define it in such a way that they could say, “yes, this is absolutely what I am saying”, then I know that I am in a position to understand and hopefully speak truth.
  3. Maybe I am the idiot.  If I am think that something has a really simple solution it could be possible that I am the simpleton and not the person struggling.
  4. Don’t assume my assessment and counsel is helpful or communicating effectively.  “Is this helpful?  Does this apply to what you are saying”? etc.  I can spend 15 minute rambling about something that doesn’t actually apply in this situation.  It’d be like a doctor spending an hour before emergency surgery prepping a machine that he does not need to use. 
  5. Try to look through the words to the heart.  The heart is the battlefield.  Sometimes the way people phrase things exposes a misunderstanding in the gospel, character of God, view of themselves, etc.  Rather than trying to correct the “way” that somebody says something I try to listen for the heart’s speech. 

When I am counseling someone I try to apply these things.  It may make the counseling session a tad longer—but hopefully more fruitful.  For the busy pastor it is probably beneficial to spend an hour once or twice than it is to spend 15 minutes 40 times. 

Consider these words from Mike Emlet as well:

Dr. Mike Emlet - On mistakes we can make using Scripture in advice giving. from CCEF on Vimeo.  (HT: Dane Ortlund)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

7 Questions with Author Kent Dunnington

Yesterday I reviewed Kent Dunnington’s book Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice.  Today he was kind enough to answer 7 questions about his book and his soul. 

1. What motivated you to write this book?

Three things motivated me to write the book. First, like most people, I have struggled with addictions. When I recommitted my life to God in graduate school, I was a smoker. I was amazed by how resilient and resistant my addictive desires were. I wanted to understand better what was going on there. Second, I did some work in really impoverished inner-city areas where addictions were just destroying people, families, whole communities. As a Christian I had this profound feeling of powerlessness, and I wanted to better understand and articulate the power of the gospel over against the power of addiction. Finally, I had a dear friend and adviser in graduate school who was a recovering alcoholic (the book is dedicated to him). I often attended AA meetings with him. Although he and many of those who attended were not Christian, I was overwhelmed by the kind of vulnerability and love on display in that fellowship. It is not a new thought, but I realized there how much the church had to learn from groups like that.

2. What is unique about this book, as compared to other books on addiction? And who did you write this book for?

The book is unique in trying to provide a philosophy of action that can ground claims about addiction. There has been a great deal written on the biology, psychology, and sociology of addiction, but many of these treatments lack an adequate philosophy of human action and therefore they end up making seemingly contradictory claims. For instance, the claim that addiction is a disease does not sit easily with the acknowledgment (which is as widespread as the disease concept) that addiction is best treated in nonmedicalized treatment settings like AA. There's something askew here, and I wanted to try to clarify and see if the phenomenon of addiction could be articulated in a noncontradictory way. So the philosophical grounding is what is most unique. And this leads, I think, to a unique theological take. Basically, I argue that addiction is the most powerful and successful alternative to worship available to human persons.

3. In the most basic terms you can offer for my readers how would you define addiction?

In the most basic terms, I'd argue that addiction is any obsessive and all-consuming orientation that leads a person into self-deception. Self-deception is crucial here since Christians aren't by definition opposed to being consumed by some object. Worship is an all-consuming orientation, and the mystics often speak of it in these ways. But because the goods of worship live up to their promises, right worship leads us into truth. Self-deception is what you get when addictive objects lead us away from what we know to be true goods. We must then disavow the addiction as truly part of us. This is denial, and it's why many addicted persons will say that denial is the essence of addiction.

4. There is an idea that I have been working with for a little while now concerning addiction and depression. Given your understanding of addiction do you think it is possible that a person can actually become addicted to depression?

That's an interesting question. It raises a nest of thorny questions about the neurological bases of depression. No doubt, persons can become attached to their depressive tendencies. The Romantics, for instance, thought you weren't a very interesting person unless you were deeply depressed. And I do think that there can be something tempting about depression (or, I might prefer to say, about melancholy) and that, moreover, melancholy can become part of an identity that we are wary of relinquishing. I don't know how helpful it would be to speak of persons becoming addicted to depression, though. Some persons may have dispositions to melancholy, but a disposition is quite different than an addiction.

5. You do not offer many practical suggestions for dealing with addiction; neither for the church to consider or for an addicted person. This does not appear to be your focus, why did you choose to do this? Will there be any sort of follow-up offering advice on ministering to those with addiction?

I just didn't feel all that qualified to make such suggestions. I think good practices flow out of good theology, and I was interested in trying to say something theologically substantive and suggestive about addiction. I don't foresee a follow-up. I suppose if there are a lot of requests for it, I could try. But honestly, I think other people who are more familiar with the current programming available to the church would be better placed to make such suggestions.

6. The chapter that I found most intriguing, and probably most helpful, was your chapter on Addiction and Modernity. Here you note that addicts are “unwitting modern prophets”. I am curious about any research you may have done on third-world countries and addiction. How would you explain addiction in third-world countries where their time is given to survival?

That's a terrific question. Although I did research on minority populations in "developed" countries (such as Native Americans here) I didn't do any work on addiction in the "developing" world. But now that you ask that question, I think I should have!

7. I noticed that you got your M.T.S. from Duke. As a fan of college basketball and one that has a perennial distaste in my mouth of all things Duke, I’ve always been curious about this one…How does it feel to not have a soul?

Oh, that's cold. You know, one of my professors at Duke used to say, if you want to see what worship looks like just go to Cameron Indoor for a Duke game. I'd just rephrase that and say that's what addiction looks like. Now that I'm back in the Midwest, I'm in recovery. But I still have to get my fix from time to time.

Much thanks to Kent for taking the time to answer these questions.  I’m glad to hear that he’s recovering from his days at Duke.  If you want to purchase Kent’s book, which I’d suggest, you can do so here: Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice

Review of Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice by Kent Dunnington

“I can’t stop”

The young man in my office was broken by his continuing lapses into the darkness of pornography.  He truly wanted to stop, at least it seemed.  He hated pornography.  But he kept going through seasons of “feast” and famine.  Sometimes he could quit for months at a time.  At other points he was engaging in sexual deviance multiple times per day. 

Did he have a disease?  Yes, it is quite true that pornography probably had changed his brain structure.  So there really is legitimacy to his saying, “I can’t stop”.  But isn’t the gospel more powerful than brain structure?  And isn’t it a little simplistic to say that just because his brain structure has changed that he now can’t stop?  If his brain structure was able to change in a deviant form isn’t it possible to “rewire” it again? 

Disease is too simplistic of an explanation. 

So it’s all his choice then, right?  This young man must really not want to change or else he would just make the choice to stop.  If that is the case then why is he in my office?  He obviously wants to stop but he doesn’t know how.  As he talks to me (and this is the case with a myriad of “addicts”) he feels utterly helpless to this problem.  Furthermore, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” doesn’t seem to be the Bible’s method of Christian growth.  (But then again, neither does a helpless “let go and let God”.) 

Choice is too simplistic of an explanation. 

Then what is it?  If disease is too simplistic and choice is too simplistic, how do we come to understand the nature and experience of addiction?  This is the question that Kent Dunnington sets out to answer in his work Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice. 

Dunnington’s Position:

Through mining the thought of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Dunnington believes that these two giants of thought provide a solution. He believes that addictive action is fundamentally the result of habit. Habit, says Dunnington, is “a relatively permanent acquired modification of a person that enables the person, when provoked by a stimulus, to act consistently, successfully and with ease with respect to some objective”. (62)

This helps us to see that what is taking place in addictive action is something that resides deeply within the person. “Rather than being things that we have (as diseases are), addictions are more like things that we become.” (72) But it also explains why addiction is often incontinent action (approving the good, desiring the bad, and driven by this habit ends up doing the bad).

Addiction is not simply an inordinate desire for sensory goods. It is not mere intemperance, but according to Dunnington it actually is a pursuit of moral and intellectual goods. The addictive habit is an attempt to provide a “unifying rationale” (a meta-narrative) to life and thus give the addicted person at least something of necessity. This is why, perhaps, addiction is so prevalent in our contemporary society, because:

“Addiction provides a response to the underwhelming life of boredom that plagues the bourgeois in its leisure time by making one thing matter. And addiction provides a response to the overwhelming life of boredom that plagues the working class with fragmented and compartmentalized striving by making one thing matter. For those who are bored with nothing to do, addiction stimulates by entangling and consuming; for those who are bored with too much to do, addiction disburdens by simplifying and clarifying.”  (118)

Addiction, then, is an “embodied cultural critique of modernity”. And if I am reading Dunnington correctly he believes that addiction is fundamentally a worship problem. The reason we are so “addicted” in our culture is that we have rejected true worship and engaged in counterfeit worship. In fact addiction, it is argued, is counterfeit worship. And this worship problem will be fixed through the gospel coming to bear on a person through gospel-saturated communities.

My Take

I absolutely love Dunnington’s thesis and I tend to agree with him.  Addiction is something more profound than simple models of disease and choice.  These addictive patterns become such a part of us; that is why I like his model of habit.  It explains why it feels uncontrollable, like disease, gives hope that it can be overcome, while at the same time not undercutting that hope by relegating to the deterministic “disease” paradigm. 

I believe that Dunnington’s work here is very foundational and could help move the discussion in addiction and mental health issues forward.  No longer do we need to spend our time fighting about whether addiction is disease or choice, instead we can rest in a helpful third position (habit), that says at the same time it is “both/and” but also “neither/or” disease and choice. 

Personally, I believe that this work could even be used to garner some understanding in what happens with depression.  In the world of biblical counseling we spend a good amount of time arguing about whether depression is caused by biological problems that need to be fixed by medicine or whether it is a sin problem that needs to be fixed by the gospel.  Dunnington’s model would provide helpful navigation. 

This book will hopefully start a conversation.  It probably will not end it, but I believe it will further our discussions on the issue of addiction.  All those that decide to write about addiction must now consider Dunnington’s work and interact with his hypothesis. 

Something to Build On

I find this book to be very helpful in shaping a theology of addiction.  The problem is I am not sure how to apply it.  Nor do I think the technical writing lends itself to most pastors laboring through and then thinking through its implications.  Because of this I am praying that someone far wiser than myself picks up Dunnington’s work and begins to tease out its implications.  I think Dunnington wants us to read his work and flesh out our own applications.  Fair enough, but I feel he has such a good grasp on this I would have liked to have seen a chapter fleshing out the implications of his work in a church setting.

Nonetheless, I find this book very helpful.  It will not be for everyone, as some of the language is technical and the concepts at times are a little difficult to follow.  For the typical addicted person that picks this up I’m not certain that he/she will find much help.  But for those that are discussing the nature of addiction—and those that hope to help those battling various addictions this book is a very helpful addition to your library. 

I thought this book was releasing in September but it looks like Amazon may be shipping it out now.  I got a free pre-release copy from IVP in exchange for a review.  You’ll have to buy it in paperback or on your Kindle.

Tomorrow I will be posting a recent interview I did with author Kent Dunnington…

Paul’s “Onesimus”

I noticed something really cool the other day when studying for Philemon to preach it on Sunday evening.  (By the way you can listen to a few of my sermons by going here; but the Philemon one is not up yet).  In many of the commentaries and sermons that I read through in studying I did not find a ton of people making this connection.  So I proceed with caution.  I could be way off here, but I don’t think I am…

More than likely what happened to provoke this letter is that Onesimus (Philemon’s slave) had ran away from his owner, somehow ran into Paul, and as many people who “ran into Paul” happened to do—he became a believer in Jesus.  Onesimus has now become deeply useful to Paul but he must send him back to Philemon and be reconciled to him.

So here we have Onesimus standing at Philemon’s door with a letter from Paul.  Inside this letter (the one we call Philemon in our New Testament bibles), is Paul encouraging Philemon to model the gospel by welcoming back this new convert.  Philemon, who is known for “refreshing hearts” (v.7), is now being urged by Paul to “Refresh my heart in Christ” (v.20).  What he means by that is clear from verse 12 when Paul refers to Onesimus as his “very heart”. 

Here in Philemon, then, we have a story of a runaway slave that is to be welcomed back into his household and now treated as a brother and not a slave.  A beautiful picture of the gospel--as Jesus has done the same thing with us wayward sinners and as Paul did (v18-19) asks that every bit of our debt be charged to His account.  And a beautiful picture of gospel reconciliation—“receive him as you would receive me”. 

Paul’s “Onesimus”

Rewind a couple of decades.  You can pick the story up in Acts 15:36-40.  Here there is a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over a young man named John Mark.  Apparently Mark (as he was later called) had ran away from them on the mission field.  Much like Onesimus, we do not know much of the details to his running away.  We only know that he ran away from where he should have been. 

Paul did not want to welcome him back and let him go on this follow-up mission trip.  Barnabas, always the encourager, wanted Mark to go.  The two separate: Mark goes with Barnabas and Silas goes with Paul. 

Now fast-forward back to Paul’s letter to Philemon.  Notice a name in verse 24, “Mark”.  Most believe that this is in fact the very same Mark (John Mark) that had left Paul and Barnabas and jetted back to Jerusalem; also the same Mark that would later go on to write the Gospel of Mark. 

We do not know the story behind Mark’s being welcomed back by Paul and his now being useful.  But we do know from 2 Timothy 4:11 that just like in the case of Onesimus the formerly “useless” Mark has now became “very useful” to Paul “for ministry”. 

Here his name comes up in Paul’s letter to Philemon.  I do not know that Philemon would have known the story of Paul and Mark’s reconciliation.  But it is worth noting that apparently Paul practiced what he admonished Philemon to do.

Threefold Cords and Pastoral Plurality

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

This text is quite often used for marriage.  The husband, the wife, and Jesus are not easily broken.  That’s a good enough principle, and is certainly true that a Christ-centered marriage is “not quickly broken”. 

In as much as this verse may be helpful for marriage it may be even more helpful when considering ministry.  This is why it appears that the New Testament church consistently established a plurality of elders (pastors).  Even in the new church at Crete filled with relatively new converts, Paul admonishes Titus to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders [note the plurality] in every town as I directed you”. 

So, not only do I find this to be the New Testament form of church leadership but I also see things like Ecclesiastes 4.  How many pastors have been “quickly broken” because he “has not another to lift him up”?  How many pastors have seen a spark of grace (or even a wildfire) quickly die out because he “can’t keep warm alone”? 

I support a plurality of elders because I have seen numerous pastors “broken” without it.  Yes, I still support congregationalism (that means the congregation votes and “rules”), but I support a congregation that is led by a plurality of elders.  We pastors need one another.  And not just a distant fellowship of associations.  We pastors need other brothers in our immediate circumstances to keep grace warm and to hold us up. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Some May Be Shocked By the Author of This One…

Defending the truth is a crucial part of [pastoral ministry], but it is not the main part.  Holding the truth and permeating all our ministry with the greatness and sweetness of truth for the transformation of our people’s lives is the main part of our ministry. 

Who said that?  …







John Piper. 

Shocked?  If you are, then perhaps you should reconsider the way that you view Piper.

But more than anything, may we learn from what Piper says here.  As pastors (and congregants) we probably do not have time to defend the truth.  But we certainly can hold onto it and allow it to permeate every bit of our being. 

May we savor Truth. 

Young, Restless, and Newtonian

One of the reasons why posting has been a little slow (at least as far as original material is concerned) is because I have been blocking off a little more time to work on a book I hope to write on John Newton.  I believe Newton to be a great model of a pastor-theologian that provides a wonderful pattern of effective soul-care and evangelical Calvinism. 

One particular area that I feel we “Young, Restless, and Reformed” can learn from Newton is in the way he held his Calvinism, and how he debate it—or rather how he did not debate it. 

In June of 1772 he published a letter On the Doctrines of Election and Final Perseverance (you can read that here).  Shortly thereafter a Methodist preacher by the name of Nicholas Manners published a detailed line by line response to Newton.  (I can’t find it online but you can buy it here). 

Let’s imagine that this took place in 2011.  Newton wrote an article on a popular blog (let’s say The Gospel Coalition).  To this another brother strongly disagreed and posted a lengthy series on his personal blog, going through Newton’s article line by line and disputing it. 

What would be the typical response in 2011? 

Pop your knuckles, get your Mountain Dew, sit at your swivel chair, and slam out a response.  Line by line.  Defending your argument and your dearly loved doctrine, under the guise of gospel fidelity. 

You know what Newton did? 


That’s right.  Nothing. “He let the dispute die in silence” (Hindmarsh, 162)

Why?  As Bruce Hindmarsh has rightly noted, “He [Newton] was increasingly convinced that a person became a Calvinist through personal experience, not by argument” (162). 

Newton to Ryland: Be Helpful, Not Displeasing

His advice to a young John Ryland is worth heading.  After a young and seemingly arrogant Ryland wrote in his book of poetry that he “aimed to displease the Arminians”, Newton responded thus:

You say, I aimed to displease the Arminians, I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them.  There are many Arminians who are so only for want of clearer light.  They fear the Lord, and walk humbly before him.  And as they go on, by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subside.  And in the Lord’s time (for he is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of. 

Now these should not be displeased, by our endeavoring to declare the truth in terms the most offensive to them which we can find, but we should rather seek out the softest and most winning way of encountering their prejudices.  Otherwise we make a parade, and grow big with a sense of our own wisdom and importance, but we shall do little good. 

Our Lord you know taught his disciples that they were able to bear it, he did not aim to displease them though it is pretty plain they had a good deal of the Arminian spirit in them for some time after they began to follow him.  You will perhaps say, ‘An humble Arminian, Surely that is impossible!’ I believe it not more impossible to find a humble Arminian, than a proud and self-sufficient Calvinist.  The doctrines of grace are humbling, that is in their power and experience, but a man may hold them all in the notion, and be very proud.  He certainly is so, if he thinks his assenting to them is a proof of his humility, and despises others are proud and ignorant in comparison of himself.  (Wise Counsel, 15)

If we Calvinist long for our brothers and sisters to savor the doctrines of grace that we so treasure, perhaps the best way to see that happen would be for us to relish them ourselves, to trust the Lord’s sovereignty in this matter as well, and go about our days enjoying God’s grace and extending His glory. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

How to Examine Yourself

If you came here hoping to find how to give yourself a prostate exam you are in the wrong place…


I’m really digging these old editions of The Gospel Magazine.  In the June 1766 version there is a discussion on examining yourselves.  I found this particularly helpful:

“…Look into Scripture and see what God has made marks of the Christian, and do not let fancy be your guide in a matter of such an importance: Distinguish between marks of grace, and marks of growth in grace; and apply each to their proper subjects in your inquiries.  For instance, if you would know whether you are a Christian, do not inquire into the measures of degrees of faith, love, etc. but into the reality of them.  A weak faith renders the Christian as safe as a strong faith; and a spark of real love is an evidence of a saving change, though it is not blown up into a flame.”

I also found this an interesting quote.  I am honestly still considering its implications and I am not 100% sure that I agree.  (Consider my recent interview with author Mike McKinley—particularly question 4). 

If you can find but one mark, you may draw a favorable conclusion.  This is an evidence that God has begun a good work in your heart.  Should you have reason to conclude that you love the brethren; love them for the image of CHRIST in them, you may conclude yourself to be in a safe state: for this love is the exercise or goings out of that grace God has implanted.  Sometimes one mark appears visible, and sometimes another.  If you have but one be thankful, and give God all the glory.”

What do you think?  Do you agree that “if you can find but one mark, you may draw a favorable conclusion”? 

Lessons From a Dusty Stack of Papers

I had to do something rather painful last night.  It is something that I am certain that I will have to do again at some point, though I will dread it.  What am I talking about? 

While doing some Fall cleaning I discovered a dusty old stack of papers that needed to be gone through.  This stack of papers was the happy home of old papers I had written in my freshman year of college.  Yesterday, I had to go through them and read some of them. 


At the time I wrote them they were really good.  They were well written treatises explaining the intricacies of the Christian faith (that I had mastered in after only being a believer for a little over a year).  Not only did I explain for all to understand the mysteries of the relationship between free-will and divine sovereignty; but I also had a paper that was certain to destroy every last vestige of popery while simultaneously sticking a dagger in the heart of Anglicanism.  My papers were awesome. 


But over the years sitting in that stale file cabinet they acquired a good amount of ignorance.  They were brilliant when written, finely edited, and without an error.  But now they held on their pages a good amount of error; like calling “the Cross” a Catholic sacrament.  Apparently error flowing forth from an arrogant pen takes a few years to ripen. 

As I read these papers I felt a strange sympathy for their author.  It was the same feeling I feel for Michael Scott when I watch the Office.  Part of you really dislikes the guy, but the other part feels sorry for him.  He seems to be so happily confident in his awesomeness, but the rest of the world views him as a complete goon. 

How could someone be so arrogant and yet so painfully unaware of his ignorance? 

And that scares me.  I’m pretty confident that right now I do not have any glaring errors like I did when I was 19.  I can look back and laugh (painfully, laugh) at my ignorant views of the Catholic church, and my weak understanding of the gospel.  I’m deeper now.  I know more.  I have a better grasp on the gospel.  Right?!?!? 

What will I feel when I look back at the stuff I wrote at age 30?  I only hope that where there is regret it’s covered by a deeper experience of grace.  I know that the only thing in what I write will be that which rightly speaks to the eternal and presents Christ as the only boast of this generation.  I want to write in such a way as not to be ashamed.  The only way I can do that is by not writing a ton of “opinions” but remaining as close as I can to the unchanging Word. 

I stand today quite thankful that grace is more amazing than a foolish and arrogant young student.  I’m thankful that those papers were locked up in the file cabinet of a shed in a small town in Indiana and not posted some place for all to read.  Not only for my own sake but also for the sake of the gospel.  I made Jesus look foolish.  I pray for a great reversal.  May I be used to magnify the greatness of Jesus and make myself look foolish. 

And it will probably be best to write humbly…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Am I Growing in Grace?

In my John Newton studies I stumbled upon a gold mine of 18th century Christian writings.  There is a magazine from the UK called The Gospel Magazine, it has been in publication (minus a few years in the late 1700s) since 1766.  Amazingly they have many of their old editions online.  In their May 1766 edition a question is asked, “How can I know that I am growing in grace”. 

As an answer to this question there are a few general observations that I find helpful:

  1. Growth in grace is in general imperceptible to the Christian himself
  2. Sometimes growth in grace is more quick and visible
  3. We may, upon the whole, have some progress in the Christian life, though for the present we may appear to be going backward
  4. We may grow in one respect, though we may not grow in all
  5. We are not to judge of our spiritual growth by the growth of others

I find these general observations helpful.  But also the specific things mentioned as (possible) evidence of growing in grace:

  1. Growth in grace discovers itself in an increase of spiritual light and knowledge
  2. When we are enabled to go more out of ourselves, and depend more upon Christ, we may be said to grow in grace
  3. We are making some advances, when we find a true relish for duties [what we would call spiritual disciplines in our day], and grow more spiritual in them
  4. We make advances in grace, when we are more humble, submissive, and thankful
  5. We grow in grace, when we find our corruptions weaken, and the power of sin more and more subdued in us
  6. When we find less of an earthly and more of an heavenly disposition, we may be said to grow in grace

What do you think of this list?  Do you disagree with any of them?  What would you add?

Review of J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series) by Mark Horne

While God calls Christians to proclaim his truth in a variety of ways and situations—some of which are unavoidably confrontational—we can learn from Tolkien that sometimes a mere story can change people’s lives.

Thus ends Mark Horne’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Throughout this work Horne presents Tolkien as an unassuming Roman Catholic that is strongly governed by his faith but does not attempt to push it down people’s throats.  Instead Tolkien, using his God-given imagination, told stories that created a world of good and evil wherein the readers could make up their own minds about how these stories related to their lives. 

This book is part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters Series which seems to have the intent of telling the stories of how believers live out the Christian faith in the context of a secular world.  You will not find in this series a biography of a renowned minister, but instead you will read of how Jane Austen’s faith directed her writing, how Galileo’s Catholicism encouraged his discoveries despite his trials brought on by the Catholic church, etc. etc,.  This biography of Tolkien follows the same format. 

Honestly, at the end of this book I do not feel that I have a greater grasp upon how Tolkien’s faith directed his work.  Perhaps, it did not as much as we would have liked.  If so, I have to ask what then is it doing in the Christian Encounters series?  Perhaps, Horne wanted to emphasize the formation of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Tolkien’s most famous work).  If so, I have to ask why is this work in the Christian Encounters series?

If made to stand on its own as an introduction to Tolkien and more narrowly how Lord of the Rings came to be, then Horne does a fine enough job in this novel to merit a read.  However, if the intention of this book is to explore how Tolkien’s faith influenced his life, and how his faith relates to Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other writing, then I have to be honest and say that I find this biography lacking. 

I have not read other Tolkien biographies so in some sense I feel unqualified to offer a thorough critique of this work.  I can only offer my assessment as someone that is new to the world of Tolkien, but as one that has read a good amount of Christian biographies. 

As a Christian biography I found myself wanting to know more.  What type of Roman Catholic was Tolkien?  How much did his faith influence Lord of the Rings?  We are told that his faith influenced the conversion of C.S. Lewis, but are there more details? 

As a Tolkien biography I have no idea how it stacks up against others.  I would like to read a few more works on Tolkien.  One great benefit to this book is the helpful appendix at the end which highlights and comments on several Tolkien works and biographies.

Honestly, unless I had made a prior commitment to Thomas Nelson to read and review this book in exchange for a free copy, I probably would not have done so.  It was a pleasant read, and it especially shined in exploring Tolkien’s childhood.  Perhaps you would benefit from this book as an introduction to Tolkien.  If so you can purchase it for under 10 bucks

Somebody Wants to Tear Apart My Family

If I knew there was a man that lived down the street that hated my family and was hell-bent on our destruction it would, obviously, cause me to be quite unsettled.  It would radically change the way that we lived our lives and our level of comfort. 

One thing that I like to do is pray through the Psalms and occasionally insert my wives name into the I, me, or we sections.  It helps me to pray the Psalms over her.  When I did that this morning to Psalm 17:10-12 it really hit home:

They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. They have now surrounded our steps; they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush.

That is a pretty apt view of my family from the perspective of hell.  This hellish army is indeed like a “lion eager to tear”.  To think that the forces of hell desire to devour my dear son Isaiah, my precious daughter Hannah, and my beloved wife Nikki, drives me to my knees in prayer. 

I know that there is only One that is powerful enough to protect them from this “eager lion”; namely the Greater Lion—the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  So I pray with David:

“Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him!”

Christ has indeed done just that.  He has conquered and rescued His sheep from this devouring lion.  And now I must pray that the Lord would see fit to draw my children to Himself, so that they too might find refuge in the Greater Lion, and will ultimately “be satisfied with [His] likeness”. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Desiring to Drink Afresh

A resting in notions of Gospel truth, or in the recollection of past comforts, without a continual thirst for fresh communications from the Fountain of life, is, I am afraid, the canker which eats away the beauty and fruitfulness of many professors in the present day; and which, if it does not prove them to be absolutely dead, is at least a sufficient evidence that they are lamentably sick.  -John Newton to John Ryland

In other words to rest upon a past experience or a mere belief in certain Christian doctrines without having a desire for a fresh drink from the Fountain of Life is a sure sign that you are either spiritually dead or at least very sick.

Newton can say this because Christ is exceedingly beautiful.  One does not have a true experience of the beauty and majesty of Christ and then forever turn away without longing for more of Jesus.  To do so either means that you have never actually beheld the glory of God or that something has gone so awry in your heart that you have become like a man dying of thirst that rejects water because he craves salt instead. 

What do I do if this describes me? 

Repent and turn to Jesus: either as a redeemed but sin-sick believer or as an unbeliever that needs to see Jesus for the first time. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What To Do With “Young Whippersnappers” and “Old Coots”

“I wish my letters may be a bridle to you and yours a spur to me.” 

Those words came from the pen of John Newton to a much younger John Ryland, Jr.  Newton was almost 50 when he wrote these words, and Ryland was only around 20.  Ryland was just beginning in the ministry and Newton had been converted and laboring for the Lord for almost as long as Ryland had been alive. 

It seems to me that Newton’s relationship with Ryland should be one that is emulated all throughout our churches. 

Those that have been believers for quite some time can and engaged in ministry for a decent season can have a tendency to get calloused and thereby complacent.  They (am I at the point of saying “we”?) sometimes need to be spurred on by those young whippersnappers that have zeal, youthful vigor, and really crazy ideas. 

Those that are just setting out in living the Christian life and in engaging in Christian ministry can have a tendency in their zeal to act to hasty, think too black and white, and many wear themselves out quickly.  We (yeah, I’m still going to claim to be a young whippersnapper at only 30) need more seasoned men and women to bridle us. 

Every Newton needs a Ryland.  And every Ryland needs a Newton.  It takes humility for both parties to see this.  I pray that the Lord may raise up many relationships like this within our churches. 

He may not appreciate being the “seasoned minister” but my friend Terry has often been my Newton.  There were many times that through email correspondence he would “reign in” my youthful vigor with seasoned words of encouragement.  I owe a good amount of my Christian growth and irenic spirit to not only folks like Newton but men in my life like Terry. 

If you are a Newton I encourage you to pursue a Ryland to pour your life into and also one to be spurred by.  Allow yourself to be rebuked by his/her passion and boldness.  Have patience with his youthful zeal—commend it, but reign it in. 

If you are a Ryland I encourage you to pursue a Newton to learn from.  Allow yourself to be trained and seasoned by these gracious men/women.  Do not be so arrogant to think that you know things far better than someone that has probably already lived your life.  But also do not be afraid to ask questions and spur this man/woman on in the Lord. 

One last thing of note.  Newton pursued a young Ryland via letter writing.  He called him on his youthful arrogance but encouraged him with warm affection.  The Newton’s of the world will probably need to be the ones that pursue the Ryland’s…it seldom will work the other way around. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eliminating the Tithe: Magnifying Christ and Mission a Response to Les Puryear

I don’t typically respond to other people’s articles, and I try to stay out of controversy.  Hopefully I do not regret responding here, but Les Puryear seems to be a reasonable man and if there were any discussion I think it would be cordial. 

Puryear recently posted an article on what is wrong with the SBC.  Number two on the list (in no particular order) was “preachers and Seminary professors who teach that the biblical principle of storehouse tithing is not valid today.”  He followed up that article with one this morning accusing those that “eliminate the tithe” as “jumping through hermeneutical hoops to dismiss biblical teaching”.

Here I am not so much going to respond to the discussion of tithing specifically but what I believe is a faulty hermeneutic that drives Puryear’s conclusions. 

In his recent article there is one particular statement that stuck out to me:

I do not agree that we should ignore the Old Testament and obey only New Testament commands. If so, then we would be throwing out more than half of the Bible!

He follows that up with citing 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119:105, and Matthew 5:18 to show the danger of ignoring the OT commands. 

If the purpose of the Old Testament is to give us a rule book of commands then I would be more apt to agree with Puryear’s conclusions.  But if the purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ (in all of its shadows, sacrifices, etc.) then the Old Testament is not thrown out simply because we no longer adhere to certain laws within the Old Testament. 

In this article three things are listed that are no longer valid: “dietary laws, the ceremonial law, and the sacrificial system”.  Certainly Puryear would not argue that we are “throwing out” most of the Torah just because we see it fulfilled in Jesus. 

As Tom Schreiner has aptly pointed out in his work on Christians and Biblical Law, “the tithe is irretrievably tied to the old covenant, which is no longer in force”.  We do not pay regular tithes to the Levites and to the priests.  All believers are now priests.  Do we then pay tithes to one another?  To truly follow the tithe we must live in the Old Covenant; and that is Schreiner’s point. 

But What About Jesus in Matthew 23?

One of Puryear’s points is that Jesus DOES teach tithing in the New Testament.  In Matthew 23 he tells the Pharisees that they should have tithed.  Their problem is that they were neglecting other matters like justice, mercy, and faith.  But the tithing part they got correct.  Jesus does not rebuke them for tithing in fact he affirms them for it. 

But it is worth noting, again as Schreiner does, that “his positive words about tithing were directed to Pharisees who lived under the old covenant”.  Schreiner then goes on to point out that Jesus also “commended offering sacrifices in the temple (Matthew 5:23-24), but no one today thinks such would be advisable if the temple were rebuilt.”

Tithing and Missions

Count me then as one of those that is a problem within the SBC.  I know that many fear that if this teaching would progress…where we no longer required a tithe in our churches…then an already strapped financial church would be buried.  Furthermore, God would not be please because we would be “robbing God” as it says in Malachi. 

I must admit that does cause me to suggest these things with trepidation.  But might I suggest that it may be possible (hear my trepidation) that mandating the tithe is actually hurting our churches.  Inspired by a question from David Platt’s book, Radical, I asked myself the hard question: what would be different if rather than asking how much can I spare I start asking how much will it take?  (Read that article: here)

Is it possible that many people give their minimum 10% (and we know statistically we often fail to do this) when the cause of missions combined with the way that God has financially blessed us would actually necessitate a much larger sacrifice?  Again what would happen if we did not have a fixed 10% that is the expected amount—but instead we began asking “how much will it take”? 

My contention is that we do not “throw out half the Bible” by not mandating a storehouse tithe.  Rather we magnify the beauty of Christ in saying that He has fulfilled the Old covenant and has now set in its place a blood-soaked new covenant that comes with a non-negotiable call to love one another.  Such a call actually necessitates that we live MORE sacrificially than a tithe and not less**. 

**I am not here accusing Puryear of teaching something akin to only giving a minimum and not giving over and above the tithe. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

7 Questions with Mike McKinley: Author of “Am I Really a Christian?”

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to read and review Mike McKinley’s new book, “Am I Really a Christian?”.  I noted that McKinley does a phenomenal job of “walking the fine line between easy-believism and morbid introspection.  He does it with pastoral sensitivity, wit, wisdom, and engaging writing.”

Even in the midst of his wife giving birth to their fifth child Mike was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions.  And he even manages to use awesome words like “canard” in the interview.

1. What motivated you to write this book?

Well, it's a question that comes up a lot in the course of my pastoral ministry. 

It's such a basic question.  Really, the book is about conversion.  We tend to focus so much in the church on getting people to convert that we don't talk very much about what conversion is and what it looks like in someone's life.  But a misunderstanding in that arena leads to problems in almost every other area of church life.

2. You probably could have gotten quite a few different people to write the foreword for such an important topic. I’m curious, why Kirk Cameron?

The book is not aimed at pastors or theologians, so it didn't seem to make a lot of sense to have a pastor or theologian do the preface.  It seemed like the themes of the books fit well with a lot of the themes of Kirk's ministry, and he is known and respected by Christians all over the country. 

Plus, my sister had a huge crush on him in the 1980's.

3. As I read through this book I could tell that you are a pastor. I’ve read books and heard sermons on assurance that seem to lack pastoral sensitivity. You seem to effectively walk that fine line between easy-believism and morbid-introspection. What were some of your helps in doing this? Do you have any pastoral experiences that either taught you to be more sensitive in your approach or also experiences that taught you to be more pointed?

The sensitive part is easier.  If you're a pastor, you're going to deal with people who love the Lord but struggle with assurance.  It's always a joy to point those people to kindness of Christ.  I always keep extra copies of Sibbes' A Bruised Reed on hand in my office for just such a purpose, and it seems like a go through a stack of them every year. 

But I've also dealt with a good number of professing Christians who are hardened in and even proud of their sin.  It's a sad kind of ministry, but love requires you to use the Bible a bit like a pinata stick.  You hope that God shows people their state and leads them to repentance.  

The old canard is that pastoral ministry requires you to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  It's true.

4. In your book you list 5 things that the Bible says will accompany a true conversion. What if I get 3 out of 5?

The 5 things are:
1.  Belief in true doctrine.
2.  Hatred for sin in your life.
3.  Perseverance over time.
4. Love for other people.
5.  Freedom from the love of the world.

The Bible speaks of the absence of each of those 5 things in terms of being deal breakers.  So it may be that some of those things are stronger or weaker in specific Christians, but the total absence of any one of them is very concerning.

5. Some have suggested that books like this are not helpful because it causes true believers to doubt their salvation. It is their belief that we should never question our salvation. What is your response to that? (Really, I’m looking for what is your response to those in the free-grace-Lordship-salvation-is-the-devil camp).

The apostles Paul (II Corinthians 13:5) and Peter (II Peter 2:10) didn't seem to share that concern. 
My fear is that there are millions of people who are inoculated to the gospel because they prayed a prayer or were baptized when they were a child and received a false sense of assurance.  As a result, they never hear the call to repent and believe as directed to them.

So I guess I'd say that there are worse things than doubting your salvation.  Like thinking you're going to heaven and winding up in Hell. 

6. As an Eagles fan how excited are you about the upcoming season? How excited were you when you found out the Eagles had signed top free agent Nnamdi Asomugha?

Well, my heart tells me that this is our year.  But history makes me think that this is just another way for football to get my hopes up and then crush me.

I'm insanely excited about Asomugha.  I was sitting in the NICU with my newborn child when I got the text that they had signed him.  It was strange, my wife wasn't as excited as I was.  But when I explained that this meant we had three shut down corners and we could now dominate from our nickel defense, she understood.

7. Your book has been on the shelves for a couple months now. Many people have read it and you have probably gotten a good amount of feedback. Is there anything that you would change in a second edition?

I think I'd build upon chapter 9, where I talk about the role of the church in helping us determine whether we're Christians.  There's a lot more to say there than what I said.

8. This last one isn’t really a question. I just wanted to thank you for chapter 9. I think that what is lacking in many books on this topic is the relationship between assurance and the body of Christ. I would love to see somebody even build upon what you have written here. So, thank you!

Thanks.  I think people have really appreciated that chapter, and the credit goes to my good friend and editor Jonathan Leeman.  He read the first draft of the book and suggested that the role of the church needed to be much more prominent.  He was correct, I think.
Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions.

If you think this book may be helpful to you or a friend you can buy it for around 10 bucks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The SBC a Rope-Holding Venture

Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored.  We had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well I will go down if you will hold the rope.”  But, before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit to this effect, that while we lived we should never let go the rope.  You understand me.  There was great responsibility attached to us who began the business.  -Andrew Fuller

With there still being a good number of unreached people groups (deep mines, as Fuller referenced) we still need both people to “go down” and people to “hold the rope”. 

It is worth noting that what Fuller had in mind when he said “hold the rope” was not a casual sort of making sure that the rope did not break but a solemn responsibility to provide as much assistant to this mission that he could.  Fuller went all throughout England raising funds to help Carey and this mission to India. 

The cooperative program is wonderful and it is a helpful way for churches to band together to “hold the rope” for foreign missions.  But I am convinced that what is needed is much more than simply cutting a “tithe” to the cooperative program every Sunday.  I believe Fuller would have agreed with a missionary named Jason who said:

“…there will continue to be millions and millions of people who do not hear as long as we continue to use spare time and spare money to reach them.  Those are two radically different questions.  ‘What can we spare?’ and ‘What will it take?’”  (quoted by David Platt in Radical, 129)

Can I be honest with you?  That question scares me and rocks me to the core.  Throwing my spare change at missions means that I don’t really have to make a ton of sacrifices.  But asking “what will it take” means that I have to ask questions about whether this book, this game, this meal, this _____, is actually purchasing food that does not perish or if it is simply making me comfortably numb. 

What would happen if all the churches of the SBC began asking “what will it take” rather than “what can we spare”?  What would happen if we’d spend less money on expensive buildings, programs, maintenance, salaries, etc. and instead through all of our money towards enjoying God and extending His glory?  How different would our church look?  How different would the world look?

As Piper has said, “you have three possibilities in world missions. You can be a goer, a sender, or disobedient.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Newton On Calvinistic Proselytizing

If I thought a certain person feared sin, loved the Word of God, and was seeking after Jesus, I would not walk the length of my study to proselyte him to the Calvinistic doctrines. Not because I think them mere opinions, or of little importance to a believer—I think the contrary; but because I believe these doctrines will do no one any good until he is taught them of God. I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principal cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the divine means of grace.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Decorated Jackass

If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it—if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.  Then do not spare any expense!  Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you and say, “See, See!  There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.”  That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels.  --Martin Luther

I fear that far too often I have the heart of this decorated jackass.  Lord, rescue me from a heart that desires the praises of man.  Replace it with a heart that wants to see Christ, and Him alone, the boast of this generation.

Excuse Me, I Need To Let You Know How Awesome I Am

(HT: 22 Words)

If you have spent any time in college or grad school you know “that guy” from class.  If you don’t know that guy from class there may be a good chance that you are him. 

I’m pretty sure that this dude is probably a blogger too.  At least he likes to leave comments on those blogs that still draw a good amount of comments.  Homeboy likes to hear himself speak (and he likes to read what he types). 

“Who has wisdom and understanding among you?” 

This guy, of course. 

And he will not stop until everybody knows that he is the one with wisdom and understanding.  If somebody else in class or in the comment thread makes a good point, “that guy” will have to one-up.  Or at least he’ll find the one minor thing that could potentially have a minor problem in its application 50 years from now.  After all, it must be shown that everyone else is a twit. 

What happens when a merry band of “that guys” get together?  You have yourself a blog community.  Each driven by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.  This community will eventually be marked by disorder and given enough time will morph into every vile practice. 

Not so the wisdom that is from above.  Godly wisdom is meek.  Godly wisdom is more passionate about seeing Jesus’ name in lights than your own.  Godly wisdom wants to lift up brothers and sisters.  It fights for peace rather than the need to be right.  And because of this godly wisdom can be reasoned with.  You see godly wisdom every time a person admits his/her faults.  Godly wisdom is heard saying, “you know I could be wrong about this”, but at the same time is very gentle and firm on the truth. 

“That guy” isn’t funny.  He’s not cute.  He’s dangerous.  His “wisdom” is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  And that truth hits me hard, because I have to constantly fight a tendency to be “that guy”.  “That guy” makes me sick, because I see the ugliness of my own self-infatuated heart therein. 

Thankfully Jesus came to rescue and redeem my self-infatuated heart and woo it with His much greater beauty.  Through his grace he conquers us with His brilliance and shames our sad displays of “wisdom and understanding”.  Christ is calling the “that-guys” of the world to put down their hands, stop trying to show off, and find their sufficiency in His awesomeness. 

What I Hope Doesn’t Happen to “Gospel-Centrality”

It seems to be one of Satan’s devices, in order to destroy the good tendency of any truth, to get its advocates to [make it trite] out of its senses, dwelling upon it in every sermon or conversation, to the exclusion of other things.  Thus the glorious doctrines of free and great grace have been served in the last age, and so have fallen sadly into disrepute.  If we employ all our time in talking about what men ought to be and to do, it is likely we shall forget to put it into practice, and then all is over with us.  -Andrew Fuller, Nov. 21 1786

Review of Am I Really a Christian by Mike McKinley

I had just finished preaching another message from 1 John.  Very shortly after closing the service I was approached by one of our Jesus-loving teenagers.  She seemed sad.  I knew what she was getting ready to say…

“Mike, I don’t think there is any way that I’m saved”. 

I knew what she was going to say because we had already had this conversation quite a few times.  She was, as many of us are tempted to be, prone to a morbid introspection.  If you gave her the “tests” of 1 John—she’d fail them every time…at least in her own mind.  But if you asked everyone that knew this girl they would say that she deeply loved Jesus and didn’t have much of a concern that she wasn’t saved. 

Actually this scenario has replayed quite a few times over the years.  It seems that many times those that should have assurance are so sensitive to sin that they begin to question whether they are saved.  But those that probably should be concerned are pretty confident that they are right with the Lord. 

There are those that will read this and chalk it up to my being one of those neo-Reformed (please somebody tell me what this means) types that are deeply influenced by the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards; men who seem to get their jollies from people engaging in morbid introspection.  These free-grace types will say that we should never have people question their salvation.  If they made a decision to follow Jesus then they are saved. 

That theology would certainly make things easier, but I remain convinced that there is a very biblical place for asking this question, “Am I Really a Christian”.  After all Scripture does call us to “make every effort to make our calling and election sure”.  And 1 John was written so that a group of confused and beleaguered disciples questioning whether they were saved or did the dissenting group have a monopoly on the truth. 

Walking the Fine Line

It is this question, “Am I Really a Christian”, that Mike McKinley hopes to answer in his book of that title.  And McKinley, as a pastor, seems to be fully aware of the danger in writing such a book.  After all he does not want to give false hope to those that are not really “in the faith”.  But at the same time he does not want to cause a true believer to doubt. 

Throughout this book McKinley walks that fine line of pastoral sensitivity.  He is not afraid of bringing the truth and saying bold things.  His five things that the Bible says will accompany true conversion are certainly hard hitting.  And McKinley does not pull any punches or soften the blow in the way he words things.  He is not afraid to say, things like, “You’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin”. 

But at the same time he also is sensitive to those that are prone to introspection and will quickly conclude that they must not be saved.  In the same chapter that he says, “you’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin”, he also encourages the reader to consider their whole life trajectory. 

Raising Concerns

This obviously raises a concern though.  Just like the young lady I mentioned in the introduction, there are certain people that will almost ALWAYS fail these tests in their own mind.  Even if you ask them to consider their own life trajectory they will magnify the bad and minimize the positive change. 

There is the other end of the spectrum too.  There are those that are so self-sure that they will pass every test.  Even the ones that they should fail.  So are these tests really all that helpful? 

These five things that will always accompany true conversion are most subjective.  Belief in true doctrine is perhaps the most objective—but a person given to morbidity will quickly say they must not accurately believe a doctrine if they do not live that doctrine.  In their mind they will never hate sin enough, never love people enough, and never value God more than the world.  Therefore, can they rightly say they believe?  Can they rightly say that they have persevered? 

Of course the self-confident person can check doctrine off their list.  He can be deluded into thinking that he has persevered, he can minimize sin, he can magnify his love for others, and can delude himself into thinking that he has love for God and that his love for the world is only “missional”. 

Furthermore, these tests typically cause the wrong response.  If I didn’t pass the “love” test then I am encouraged to become more loving.  But in reality what needs to happen is that my heart needs to be changed.  McKinley would certainly agree.  And that is really the whole point to this book; if you aren’t bearing fruit can you rightly say, “I’m a Christian”? 

But often what happens when we talk about assurance is that people who “fail” the tests are sent on a quest to complete what is lacking.  If I love the world too much, perhaps I should burn my cd’s.  Then I can pass the test—then I can say that I’m a Christian.  This of course leads to a works-based salvation—which certainly is not the gospel. 

Concerns Answered

McKinley seems to be aware of these difficulties.  And that really is what sets this book apart from many of the other books on assurance.   In chapter eight the readers are encouraged to find their hope and assurance in the basis of their salvation; namely, Jesus Christ Himself.  As McKinley says, “we can build our assurance of salvation on no other foundation except the greatness and kindness of Christ” (127).  He then encourages those of us prone to morbid introspection to “stop thinking about yourself this very second, turn the eyes of your heart toward him, and trust him.”  (128)

In chapter nine McKinley does what every book on assurance should—he points out the necessity of the local body of Christ in answering this question.  Going back to the young lady in the introduction, what she needed was not a series of tests that she would fail.  What she needed (and thankfully this is the counsel I provided) a new set of eyes to look to Christ and not herself.  She needed brothers and sisters in Christ that would point out the beauty and sufficiency of Jesus.  But she also needed brothers and sisters in Christ to point out her positive trajectory. 


With the helpful questions at the end of each chapter this book would make a great resource to go through with a person struggling with whether or not they are saved.  It may also make a good small group material to not only encourage and strengthen assurance but also cause a sleeping and nominal church out of their slumber. 

McKinley does a wonderful job of walking the fine line between easy-believism and morbid introspection.  He does it with pastoral sensitivity, wit, wisdom, and engaging writing.  I highly recommend this book. 

I got it free from Crossway in exchange for a review.  You will have to buy it; thankfully you can do so for about 10 bucks

There is also a website dedicated to this book:


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