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.

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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.

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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.

Free Grace – You Get What You Pay For

I serve on the North Central District’s Council for Ministerial Standing. The Grace Evangelical Society came up as a topic of discussion a while back and during our last meeting we talked about whether a pastor who held to the G.E.S. Statement of Faith could be credentialed in the EFCA.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve not read extensively on this issue of "Free Grace" vs. "Lordship Salvation". I read Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, shortly after it first came out and haven’t gone back to it since then. MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, pretty much decided the issue for me and I haven’t had to deal with this much at all until now.

As I understand it, the intent behind Free Grace (FG from this point onward) was to guard and protect the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Works were not to be a part of the equation in what is required for salvation. Admirable. Sadly, I think many who hold to this position have gone far beyond what Scripture even says, have brought about much confusion within churches and, even more sadly, have misled many who thought they were coming to genuine saving faith, only to find their "faith" is greatly lacking something (at best) or inadequate (at worst).

I’m sure I’m guilty of overstating the case, erecting a straw man for the sake of knocking him over easily, but it’s how FG comes across to me in the matter of seeking the conversion of a non-Christian. When they say, in their Affirmation of Belief (August 8, 2005): "No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, baptism or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered part of, faith as a condition for receiving everlasting life." – when they say this, what I hear is: "We really, really want you to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, but if you live a life of a complete profligate afterwards, well, at least you’ll get into heaven." They go on to say, under the heading of "Motivation": "The believer is assured of everlasting life and is thus eternally secure, since that life is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ to all who believe in Him, and is based upon HIs substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection. [No problem here, so far; but they do go on in the same statement] Therefore, it is inconsistent with the gospel and with Scripture to seek to gain or keep everlasting life by godly living [I agree with the "gaining" part, but it’s the "keeping" part I’m so troubled by]. The Scriptures, however, do present several motivations for obedience in the Christian life." Does this not sound like: Please become a Christian; you don’t have to live like one to "get in" but you’ll certainly be rewarded with lots more if you do; but it’s not important nor necessary. The key thing: believe that Jesus died for your sins.

Someone from G.E.S. would have to help me here: What do you do with a verse like Hebrews 12.14 (ESV) – "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord"? That seems pretty clear to me: Strive, pursue, dioko (diw¿kw), – very active verb here (with heavy overtones in the NT of "to persecute" and I don’t think you persecute someone halfheartedly). Holiness is not an option for the Christian. It’s not a condition of his salvation, but it’s not an option once you’ve come to Christ.

I think, if I’m right in this, that G.E.S. puts far too much separation between justification and sanctification. It’s as if the two were completely separate from one another. The one is mandatory to enter heaven (as if that were the final goal of conversion – it is not); the other, while helping you and those around you on this earth, and while helping you pile up the rewards you’ll receive upon entering heaven, is still just an add-on in this life. You’ll get to heaven even if you live a completely depraved life, as long as you confess that Jesus died for your sins.

Bishop Ryle, in his book, Holiness, in the chapter on Sanctification, lists some visible evidences of sanctification (without which no one will see the Lord – and you don’t even have to know Greek to know that this means: won’t get to heaven!).In contrasting what are not true evidences of sanctification, he says: "Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life; genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts; genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified; and in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. I would highly recommend Ryle to you, especially chapter 2.

So, can someone who affirms the G.E.S. S. of F. which presents FG in its entirety, belong to the EFCA? Personally, I’m not so sure. While reluctant to say an outright "No," I also see this position promoting great confusion within the larger body of Christ, stirring up needless controversy (there’s a subject for another time) since the very few people I’ve ever met who hold to this position are usually divisive and argumentative, and, would likely not be able to wholeheartedly affirm the EFCA’s Statement of Faith (especially in its revised form).

Not sure where I’ll go with this from here. I may blog a couple more posts for clarification, but that may depend upon comments on this post.

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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.

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Coming to the Doctrines of Grace

When I first read John Piper’s little book (based upon a lecture series on preaching) I was amazed and transfixed upon God’s glory and the goal of, not just preaching, but of everything. I had never taken this into consideration before. As I read, I came across quotes from men like Robert Murray M’Cheyene,Journey Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. These names were only familiar to me from my church history courses. But they were leaping off the pages into my heart, causing a yearning to learn more from them.

So, during the summer of 1992, I spent hours at the Grace College of the Bible library (the school is now known as Grace University). I found books by these men, and so many others. I began to try to absorb as much as I could from them about these “new” doctrines. And I learned, they weren’t new; just new to me. As I studied, I looked to the Word of God to see if these things were really true, if they could really be true; and, if they were true, what it would mean to my life, my preaching, my pastoring.

Some of the books/works I came across that summer were books such as:

Wrongly DividingWrongly Dividing the Word of Truth by John Gerstner John Gerstner(this one really rocked my world, since I had grown up in a typical Evangelical Free Church: very Arminian, very dispensational – one pastor I sat under spent at least 3-4 years in the book of Revelation and still wasn’t done!)

BoettnerThe Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner. My, how this book helped answer so many questions about God’s electing grace. When I read Gerstner, I’d very rarely heard (translated: paid attention in doctrine class) such things and they troubled me deeply. As I continued to think on how God could “only choose some” and that Christ could not have died for all and not have all saved, I dug deep into this work.

Martyn Lloyd-JonesDavid Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ teaching from the book of Ephesians became a foundationalEphesians reading for me. If I was going to learn the doctrines of grace from any particular book of Scripture, it would be preeminently from Ephesians. The feast that was prepared for me in this epistle and through Lloyd-Jones exposition has fed me well for many years since.

When a group of pastors within the EFCA, who also loved the doctrines of grace, encouraged me to read Spurgeon's AutobiographySpurgeon’s Autobiography, I was reluctant at first. SpurgeonHowever, once I began that work, I once again marvelled at God’s grace, free and sovereign. I have since learned much of God’s grace sitting at the feet of C.H. Spurgeon.

There were so many others that I really can’t recall them all. The trek had begun. God was now taking me on a journey which would be all too wonderful to me. And yet, it may not always have started out well, especially for those to whom I ministered, in that church in Iowa. I’ll deal more in my next post on this journey with the notion of becoming an angry Calvinist.
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BTW – if any who read this could direct me to some helpful resources on using ftp to upload pages to a web site, I’d like to start experimenting with creating my own site for this blog. I like WordPress, but I find the templates and use of images a bit more constraining than I’d like to be. TIA.

Disagreeing With Tozer is Treacherous Ground

I realize that I’m treading on thin ice here (and trust, it’s April in Minnesota and even though it’s snowing today [I blame Al Gore]; the ice is certainly thin). Disagreeing with one like A.W. Tozer is indeed treacherous. Yet, in a daily devotion I receive in my email each day, this is a portion of what came today:

Then said I: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” –Jeremiah 1:6

To be articulate at certain times we are compelled to fall back upon “Oh!” or “O!”–a primitive exclamatory sound that is hardly a word at all and that scarcely admits of a definition….

In theology there is no “Oh!” and this is a significant if not ominous thing. Theology seeks to reduce what may be known of God to intellectual terms, and as long as the intellect can comprehend it can find words to express itself. When God Himself appears before the mind, awesome, vast and incomprehensible, then the mind sinks into silence and the heart cries out “O Lord God!” There is the difference between theological knowledge and spiritual experience, the difference between knowing God by hearsay and knowing Him by acquaintance. And the difference is not verbal merely; it is real and serious and vital.

I think I know what he means here: theology CAN become something of a head-only proposition so that when you come across some magnificent truth of the Lord God, there is no “Oh!” and a worshiping of the One True God. I think that’s what he means.

This is where I disagree with Tozer. While acknowledging that theology can become a merely intellectual activity, it does not have to become that and Tozer makes it sound like all theology is that way. I, if you’re going to use the terms of “spiritual experience” like Tozer does in this quote, have frequently found myself going “Oh!” in the reading of great theology. In fact, if it’s truly great theology, then it’s nearly impossible not to stop and go “Oh!”

Most people, and even most pastors, would say that theology is “boring.” And if it’s systematic theology, then it’s defintely a Lunesta© moment. But if it’s worshipful systematics you’re looking for, then there are few better than Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Few have ever incorporated worship with theology in book form. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So, while Tozer is correct that there are times when our head just doesn’t kick our hearts into the proper frame of worship and awe, I find it quite easy to do. Keep your heart in tune with your mind, seek to know more and more about God and you will indeed find yourself going:

 

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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,

 

 

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