When the Boots Come Out

I have a friend, a young man, in his first pastorate. He found himself on the wrong end of a gun this week. No, not a literal gun; just one of those smoking guns the Enemy loves to whip out inside the church, on occasion, in order to do harm and mischief. I find it one of the reasons I miss my father-in-law’s prayers so much. He would always, always, always ask that God “keep us from evil, harm, and danger.”

I find it hard to believe that a mature (read “in age and years”, not necessarily in development) Christian, who has been in the church for many years and traveled about a good amount, has never heard of the doctrine of “election.” while it may be that it has been preached or taught, perhaps it was never using those clear terms. That might be understandable. However, I find little sympathy when someone who should know his Scriptures well, doesn’t know about Ephesians chapter 1, or Romans chapter 9, or john chapter 6. To me, that’s inexcusable and to be repented of…not the agreement upon a doctrinal position, but having read the Word so selectively or blindly or naively that you have never read those passages and thought, without guile or predispositions, “hmmmm, I wonder why this is teaching about God and how He works in our lives?” sometimes I fear our sentimentally- and experientially-based churches and Christian teaching is dooming the Body of Christ in this land.

Give me elders and deacons who immerse themselves in the Bible and not The Daily Bread!!!

Ah well, now that that’s off my chest, I’ll get back to song that was in my head:

These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do;
One of these days these boots
Are gonna walk all over you.

Okay, I’m going to the prayer closet. I think the Lord’s got some walkin’ to do on me.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled program.

Reading the Classics – Redemption Accomplished and Applied

I’ve been reading John Murray’s classic work along with Tim Challies and several others. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read this entire book. The section for this week, however, I’ve referred back to several different times, because the extent of the atonement always seems to generate lots of questions (well, that’s putting it mildly). I poured over this chapter a few years back when preaching through the book of Hebrews stirred up this “controversy.” My message was simply entitled, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” During the message, I never once used the phrase “limited atonement” or even “particular redemption.” I simply walked through the passage, used the basic principles of exegesis, applied that in the exposition and preached that Jesus could not have died for all or all would be saved.

RedemptionMurray.jpg

Amazingly, there was only one person who asked to talk to me later that week about this message. He asked me point blank, “Do you really believe that?” My reply was, “Yes, I do; it’s right there in the text of Scripture.” That led us on a six-month long journey of discovery: discovery for me, that this man could not truly exegete a passage of Scripture, especially if it had to do with the atonement. For him, it was just “Jesus died for your sins and for the sins of the whole world.” When asked, what does that mean, it basically came down to the usual “We’re all savable.” In other words, Christ’s work on the cross only gives us potential, not reality. It’s all in our hands to make it real.

Murray, in chapter 4, gives, what I consider to be, an “iron-clad” argument for the particular effects of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Murray shows that the “all” or “whole world” passages cannot mean a literal “all” or “whole” otherwise you’re left with universalism. Following this, he uses two passage to show the necessity of the particular extent of redemption. The first passage is Romans 8.31-39. What a masterful display of basic exegesis without any word games or mind tricks.

The second is actual a group of passages that deal with the phrase “for those who have died in Christ.” This section “seals the deal” for me. If Christ died for all people, as mere potential, they cannot be said to be alive in Christ, for their resurrection in Christ is merely potential, not reality. And there is no one alive who is spiritually dead who can make themselves alive due to mere potential. It is only those for whom Christ died that are also alive in Christ because they have really died with Christ.

Then Murray goes to 1 John 2.2, a classic passage that most who disagree with this particular doctrinal teaching use. I was once at a Pastor’s Retreat years ago where this came up during a volleyball game. One pastor, a true “Five-Pointer” had made his case earlier in the day during the course of conversation. Another pastor, who was clearly “Arminian” in his theology took great exception to this discussion and kept referring to 1 John 2.2 as his only argument. He wouldn’t exposit it; he just kept citing it. During the volleyball game later that evening, these two men found themselves on opposite sides of the net in the middle of the front row. During the intense volleys that followed, the one would hammer the ball at his opponent and shout “1 John 2.2! 1 John 2.2!” If he couldn’t exegete his way out of the deal, he would pound his opponent into submission on the field of competition! Well, that has little to do with Murray’s discussion, but it shows the centrality of such a passage. Again, Murray, with his inimitable style, shows how this passage puts forth the clear scope, exclusiveness and perpetuity of Jesus’ propitiation.

Reading through Murray is a chore. It’s not light reading you can skim over as you lay down to sleep each night. But it brings great comfort and assurance as I read through it. There is consolation offered through Christ’s work on the cross precisely because it accomplished something real. If my salvation was merely potential awaiting my power to make it real, then I’d have no true confidence or assurance. Instead, I have a guarantee that I will be saved from the wrath which my sin deserves – in Christ alone. This is the glory of the cross.

The final short conclusion in Chapter 5 helps sum up where we’ve been so far. Far too many Christians want to talk about the crucifixion and their subsequent salvation in terms of their own experience – how it’s made them feel. Rather, we are to make Scripture our basis of assurance. The Bible is the norm for judging our salvation, our forgiveness and our assurance. Now, onward to the application of this wonderful news.

An Angry Calvinist

Shortly after I discovered the doctrines of grace, I began preaching from the book of Ephesians. I soaked myself in the Greek and then in Martyn Lloyd-Jones. From the pulpit, I longed to make sure people knew full well what the Scriptures really and truly said. But as I look back on that time at Midlands EFC,preaching I’m sure I came across as an angry calvinist. There was a part of me that was indeed angry: angry that I’d missed this while in seminary; angry that I’d “never been told” there were “other options” when growing angry calvinistup in my home church, and angry, I suppose, at my congregation because they, with the exception of a very small number, were all rank arminians.

I’ve since confessed these prideful, arrogant sins, repented of them (sadly, more than just once) and realized that while I had come to discover the doctrines of grace, while I embraced them wholeheartedly, I wasn’t not emulating them at all – especially to those I hoped to convince of their biblical glory.

 

Now, my goal in preaching is to simply open the Scriptures, let God speak for Himself through His Holy Spirit and in the faithful performance of this divine duty, my listeners will hear Scripture speak for itself. preachingAnd while they listen, they will become calvinists (of a sort). They will embrace thosetulip doctrines which I have found so lovely, so gracious, so uplifting, and they will do so without realizing that they have indeed become calvinists. For, in the words of Spurgeon (I’ll have to paraphrase; I didn’t look for the exact quote from a message he delivered “In Defense of Calvinism”): to be biblical is to be calvinistic.

signature

How I Came to Embrace the Doctrines of Grace

It might be better to speak of it this way: the doctrines of grace reached out from the pages of Scripture and grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Nor did I want them to. The light of God’s sovereign graceLight Breaking Thru came bursting in upon my heart, transforming me, almost in the same manner He converted me to Him through Christ.

 

The process began back in the summer of 1991. A dear friend of mine ( a fellow pastor) gave me a copy of The Supremacy of God book coverin Preaching by John Piper. It was in the reading of this book that I began to have questions; questions regarding this “sovereignty thing” and Jonathan Edwards, etc. For the rest of that summer, I could be found buried in a stack of books by Edwards, Warfield, Spurgeon, Boettner, and so many others. It seemed that I couldn’t get enough. This “new” discovery of the doctrines of grace filled my heart and mind with such glorious thoughts of God and His free grace. I began to see how long I had been held in an arminian bondage.

 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fastbound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray.
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
My chains fell off, my heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

 

I was very much like a new conversion. I trust that, during the ensuing years, I’ve been maturing in my understanding of God’s sovereign grace and the glorious doctrines that flow from that. In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting various thoughts on where that has come from, where it is now and some measure of a “defense” of those biblical doctrines. I’ll make no claims that this will be an apologetic for Calvinism or reformed thinking. Simply put, it will be a bit of thinking out loud as to how God brought me to this point and why I think He has done so. I look forward to any comments and input from those who may read these thoughts.

 

In the meantime, one of the things that drives me closer to the sovereign freedom of God’s grace and not man’s “free will” and decisionism is when I see things like this:bad lyrics

 

If you can’t quite make out the words to this little chorus, they are as follows:

 

I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna wear a crown
I’m gonna be with Jesus
I am upward bound

 

My heart belongs to Jesus
And I changed to live for him
In light of all He’s done for me
I know I’d do it again.

 

Well, isn’t that special! It’s statements like this (“And I changed to live for him) that show my how little many, even within the church, think of Christ as God’s Sovereign Son. I did it. I changed. I made the decision. And I’d do it again because, at the very least, I owe Him that. Gag!!!

 

I’ve also been “challenged” by a fellow EFCA pastor (not a direct challenge, but in the course of our conversations this has come up) to try to explain how Calvinists can hold to the absolute sovereign carson's bookelection of God and claim that He is also a loving God. D.A. Carson’s short book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God will be a huge help to me here. I highly commend it to any who have this same question.

 

This could really be “settled” quite quickly: I’m a calvinist because I was predestined to be one!

 

By His Grace For His Glory,

 

 

pastor-kevin-signature.jpg

Calvinist Curmudgeon

Am I a Calvinist Curmudgeon?

I know that Alan is the proclaimed “Calvinist Gadfly” (now multi-authored by other gadflies). I personally don’t find him/them irritating at all; I rather enjoy their pieces.

But I’ve been wondering lately, if I’m not becoming a Calvinistic Curmudgeon (maybe I’ll need to change the name of my blog). Here’s what a curmudgeon is:

Noun
curmudgeon
1 An ill-tempered (and frequently old) person full of stubborn ideas or opinions.
There’s an old curmudgeon living next door who knocks every time he hears any noise


Here’s an example: Saturday evening Ann & I were invited to a dinner at a downtown hotel, featuring a “clean” comedian (they’re afraid to use the moniker “Christian” because that doesn’t get them gigs… there, see what I mean?). This event was sponsored by a local church and that’s all I knew with the invitation.

Now first, let me say, as a pastor, I’m not wild about Saturday evening events. I need a good night’s sleep in order to be ready for the Lord’s Day. And I want my congregation to not have to come dragging themselves in on Sunday mornings because some church-related event kept them out late the night before. So, strike one.

Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, came down with a severe case of strep throat early Saturday morning; cancel Ann’s plans for the day and evening. She told me to just go on my own, I’d be with friends, I could have a good dinner and a laugh or two. So, off I trek, all alone, a single guy… who shows up at this other church’s sponsored “Sweetheart’s Banquet”! A guy, all alone, at a Sweetheart’s Banquet! Talk about your sore thumbs, ingrown toenails, festering boil on the bottom… well, you get the picture. I can’t tell you how awkward I felt, but if it hadn’t have been these friends waiting for my arrival, I would have immediately turned around and walked out. I really dislike these kinds of things when sponsored by Christians/churches. I have yet to attend one where they don’t mock the marital relationship as it should be in Scripture by some silly little skit (they did this Saturday night). They promote their separate men’s and women’s ministry functions (about 12 of them for the men in this church and at least that many for the women, none of them ever together). And they’ll have a speaker who does one of two things:

1) give a stirring, motivating message that has barely any connection to anything in Scripture (well, okay, they’ll read Ephesians 5 just to get things started), with glowing illustrations of how wonderful their marriage has become by following the 12 step program they just come through, or disastrous examples of couples who failed to follow their 23 steps to a successful marriage, and generally make you feel like you and your wife are schleps because you’re not in their program;

2) or have very little to say about marriage and real, biblical love, but they’re well-known throughout the broader Christian community and they’d sure be a good drawing card, so let’s invite him/her and let them talk about anything they’d like to discuss.

Strike two.

The featured guest for the evening was a “clean” comedian (see above comments for the curmudgeon report). He did have some funny bits. There were several times I laughed out loud. There were also some very uncomfortable moments (Jesus is only going to meet His people in the air when He returns because we treated Him so badly the last time He actually came all the way down to earth; this got many laughs from the audience, but a pastoral friend sitting next to me looked mighty uncomfortable and I know I wasn’t laughing). This put my mind into “curmudgeon” mode even more. I wondered, “Why am I here on a Saturday evening when I could be reviewing my teaching note, my sermon notes, getting myself better prepared for the Lord’s Day to come? And why are all these people here doing the same thing, when they too could have been better prepared for better relationships/marriages by better preparing for the Lord’s Day?” Harumph. Harumph. Hey, I didn’t get a “harumph” outta you!

Strike three.

I’d like to say that this was an isolated incident that sparked the curmudgeon in me, but it wasn’t. But since my return from the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors last week, it seems this curmudgeon wants to operate more and more in me: at least the part of me that says, “Why are you all laughing and taking Christ so lightly, when He’s just asked you to be like a kernel of wheat, falling & dying in the ground in order for a harvest to be produced?” Am I becoming a curmudgeon? Am I a person with stubborn opinions? If a “stubborn opinion” is that Christ has called me to take up my cross and follow Him, even laying down my life for His sake, then yeah, I guess that might be considered a “stubborn opinion” and therefore, a curmudgeon.

For now, this will be my prayer (taken from “The Pastor in Prayer: A collection of the Sunday Morning Prayers of C.H. Spurgeon, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1893/2004, pg. 118-119):

Our Father, blessed be Thy name for ever and ever. Oh, that we praised Thee more! We must confess we never bless Thee as we ought, and our life is far too full of murmuring, or at the best too full of self-seeking, for even in prayer we may do this; and there is too little of lauding, and adoring, and praising, and magnifying, and singing the high praises of Jehovah.

O God, wilt Thou teach us to begin the music of heaven! Grant us grace to have many rehearsals of the eternal Hallelujah. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name.” Grant us grace that we may not bring Thee blessings merely because Thou dost feed us, and clothe us, and because we receive so many mercies at Thy hand; but may we learn to praise Thee even when Thou dost put us under the rod, and when the heart is heavy, and when mercies seem but scant. Oh, that when the flocks are cut off from the stall, and there is no harvest, we may nevertheless rejoice in God.

O Lord, teach us this very morning the art of praise. Let our soul take fire, and like a censer full of frankincense, may our whole nature send forth a delicious perfume of praiseful gratitude unto the ever blessed One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.