Category Archives: Discernment

16 Lessons From the ‘Love Wins’ Debate

In retrospect a friend asked me to share a few lessons I saw in the Rob Bell, Love Wins debate so I typed them up and figured I would share them here. I was mainly just an observer, and I compiled this list as I watched the debate unfold. Here are 16 lessons that come to mind:

01: The gospel is eternal, but vulnerable, never to be assumed, and never to be left unguarded (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:14).

02: Bloggers have emerged as the church’s frontline defense against popular-level theological error.

03: Academic-bloggers, pastor-bloggers, publisher-bloggers, and blogger-bloggers offer key strengths. We need them all.

04: Social media enables bloggers to piggyback and collaborate, resulting in a rapid response to error.

05: Bloggers can quickly and accurately apply revered theological writings (like those by J.I. Packer and D. A. Carson) to rapidly developing debates.

06: Yet there remain a number of online influencers who ‘enable’ bad doctrine. They may not believe it, but they keep it on the table.

07: Slower moving institutions (like SBTS) play the role of confirming blog findings, providing a platform for a follow-up discussion, and ensuring those findings are scattered broadly.

08: It is entirely appropriate to subject brief promotional videos to theological inspection.

09: Justin Taylor is quick, discerning, and gutsy.

10: In serious and timely theological discussions 92.6% of blog comments fail to advance the discussion.

11: Some will declare a 3-word Tweet definitively ungodly but cannot do the same after reading an entire unorthodox book.

12: Identifying false teachers is no good way to “win friends and influence people.” It forces the question: are we addicted to the approval of man?

13: Bogus theology follows a trajectory, meaning that careful discernment requires past experience with a particular teacher. Less experience can lead to unnecessary caution.

14: Discerning pastors, who are short on time, should be regular readers of a few key blogs, especially Justin and Kevin DeYoung.

15: When serious theological debate happens, the national media will be watching, so speak as a bold defender and a humble evangelist.

16: The theological errors of universalism and inclusivism have been around for a long time and will outlive us all.

What did I miss?

Criminal Inconsistency

Charles Spurgeon, in sermon no. 1516:

My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture.

I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God.

I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture.

God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Discernment

From Dane Ortlund’s blog, Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology:

Corinthian factionalism is in our blood today no less than the mid-50’s A.D. ‘I am of Cephas,’ ‘I am of Paul,’ ‘I am of Apollos’–‘I am of Wright,’ ‘I am of Piper,’ ‘I am of Barth,’ ‘I am of _______.’ But all things are ours. Learn from them all, filter it through Scripture, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, blend humble love with conviction-fueled courage, and emerge helped. Let’s be mature in our thinking (1 Cor 14:20).

The Value of Systematic Theology

“Everything is Spiritual”—that was the name of Rob Bell’s speaking tour gaining a lot of attention and headlines in newspapers and magazines as Bell lumbered across the country speaking in theaters to fairly large crowds in various states. I became aware of the tour and the resulting DVD and, with an interest to learn about the tour and its popularity, I watched the video trailer. This is what I saw and heard:

Now, obviously there is a level of truth to what Bell says. Each of us has been given an eternal soul. But as I began watching the Rob Bell trailer my mind began racing and thinking in biblical categories and asking many questions but especially this one: Is everyone spiritual? Drawing from biblical anthropology 101 I knew the answer was “no.” The Apostle Paul tells us believers in Jesus Christ are genuinely spiritual because we have been given (by grace alone!) the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. Because we have the Spirit, we comprehend and respond to spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:12-13). However there are simultaneously others who are “natural”—that is, they do not respond to the things of God (like the gospel of Jesus Christ) because spiritual truth makes no sense (v. 14).

Contrary to Bell’s assumptions, everyone is not spiritual. Paul makes it very clear there is a spiritual/natural distinction, each distinguished from one another by their responses to the gospel.

This abrupt realization while watching the trailer was prompted—to my best guess—by the excellent anthropological studies in systematic theology I received as a churchgoer in a local church. (Systematic theology is the accumulation of exegetical truth of scripture organized and arranged by theme and topic.) Those years of Wednesday night systematic theology courses have paid off in the past several years, and probably more than I know.

Although I remember begrudgingly at times coming home from work on a Wednesday evening and wanting to stay home and veg rather than attending these courses, I now see the fruit and have come to a deeper appreciation for systematic theology for its value in bringing balance and discernment to my life and thought.

For myself, no authors have better enforced the importance of systematic theology than Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987). In An Introduction to Systematic Theology (P&R, 2007), Van Till reminds us the discipline of systematic theology is important in four areas:

1. For personal spiritual balance:

“The unity and organic character of our personality demands that we have unified knowledge as the basis of our action. If we do not pay attention to the whole of biblical truth as a system, we become doctrinally one-sided, and doctrinal one-sidedness is bound to issue in spiritual one-sidedness. As human beings we are naturally inclined to be one-sided. One tends to be intellectualistic, another tends to be emotional, and still another tends to be activistic. One tends to be only prophetic, another only priest, and a third only king. We should be all these at once and in harmony. A study of systematic theology will help us to keep and develop our spiritual balance. It enables us to avoid paying attention only to that which, by virtue of our temperament, appeals to us.” (p. 22)

2. For discernment:

“Moreover, what is beneficial for the individual believer is also beneficial for the minister and in consequence for the church as a whole. It is sometimes contended that ministers need not be trained in systematic theology if only they know their Bibles. But ‘Bible-trained’ instead of systematically trained preachers frequently preach error. They may mean ever so well and be ever so true to the gospel on certain points; nevertheless, they often preach error. There are many ‘orthodox’ preachers today whose study of Scripture has been so limited to what it says about soteriology that they could not protect the fold of God against heresies on the person of Christ. Oft-times they themselves even entertain definitely heretical notions on the person of Christ, though perfectly unaware of the fact.” (p. 22)

3. For faithful preaching:

“If we carry this idea one step further, we note that a study of systematic theology will help men to preach theologically. It will help to make men proclaim the whole counsel of God. Many ministers never touch the greater part of the wealth of the revelation of God to man contained in Scripture. But systematics helps ministers to preach the whole counsel of God, and thus to make God central in their work.

The history of the church bears out the claim that God-centered preaching is most valuable to the church of Christ. When the ministry has most truly proclaimed the whole counsel of God, the church has flourished spiritually. Then, too, it is well-rounded preaching of this sort that has kept the church from worldliness. On the other hand, it has kept the church from an unhealthy otherworldliness. Well-rounded preaching teaches us to use the things of this world because they are the gifts of God, and it teaches us to possess them as not possessing them, inasmuch as they must be used in subordination to the one supreme purpose of man’s existence, namely the glory of God.” (pp. 22-23)

4. For preparation to engage in a war of worldviews:

“We have already indicated that the best apologetic defense will invariably be made by him who knows the system of truth of Scripture best. The fight between Christianity and non-Christianity is, in modern times, no piece-meal affair. It is the life-and-death struggle between two mutually opposed life-and-world views.” (p. 23)

Conclusion

My prayer is that we all—Bell included—come to see that any culturally relevant worldview we present and defend must be one build upon a robust systematic theology (not trifles like the absence of a word in the Old Testament!).

For those of you interested in studying systematic theology I highly recommend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. My friend Jeff has taken this large volume and abridged it for beginner audiences in Bible Doctrine. Both are outstanding. For those familiar with Grudem you should take a look at Herman Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith. It’s another gem!

Interview with C.J. Mahaney on biblical masculinity

tsslogo.jpgNo two men have better instructed me on the way I lead and care for my wife than Steve Shank and C.J. Mahaney. Both are leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries. After reflecting on a local conference last winter I wrote about how Steve helped me understand the connection between the Cross and headship (see this post).

So when I heard that Steve Shank interviewed C.J. Mahaney on the topic of biblical masculinity I knew it was a message I needed to prioritize on my list of listening.

Taken from The Pursuit conference, a 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Regional Conference in Arizona, the discussion covers the understanding and practice of biblical manhood for young men, husbands, and fathers. The interview concludes with a helpful segment on the importance of men humbly welcoming observations from others.

The transcript follows (and you can download a PDF version here).

————

The Pursuit: Every Man’s Call to Biblical Masculinity
Q&A session
Gilbert, AZ
November 14, 2007

Steve Shank: Interview contexts provide fruitful times of interacting with C.J. to tap into his experience and wisdom. Informal questions allow him to ramble through his experiences, memories, things he has observed, seen, and learned. In fact, many of those who have attended our Pastors College would say one of their highlights of their year at the Pastors College is when they get to sit with C.J. and throw questions at him. These interviews open a wide range of rabbit trails of wisdom and insight and personal life.

I’m going to shoot some questions at C.J. geared towards the conference theme of manhood. This will allow him to share his life with us, his experience as a father, and as a leader. If things open up and we head down other trails we’ll allow that to happen as well. But this is our attempt to create a context where informally we can benefit from C.J. on a more personal level.

Thank you for being willing to do this. I’ve got a couple questions to throw at you.

C.J. Mahaney: I’m honored to be asked, although my preference would be to interview you. Steve, you are on the short list of finest fathers and husbands I know.

SS: We’ve already acknowledged this segment of the conference early on, but we have a couple hundred young men here between the ages of 14-19. You know the culture that is after them, trying to persuade them, and squeeze them into its mold. Yet here they are hearing biblical truth about what it means to be a godly man. What would you say to that age group when they face peer pressure, being cool, and all the stuff out there? Speak to that young group. What does it mean to be a young man in-the-making?

CJ: The first thing I would say to each of those young men is how grateful I am that they are here. What a unique joy I derive from the transfer of the gospel to the next generation. If this family of churches was exclusively or primarily populated by those my age I would be very disappointed. I’m grateful for all those my age who do populate our churches and have endured over the years. But I derive a unique joy from the next generation. You bring this aging man joy. Thank you!

I think what I would say to a young man, is that there are categories he needs to familiarize himself with from Scripture. Two would be categories revealed particularly in Proverbs – the wise and the foolish. And I would want any young man (and this has broader application for all of us, but particularly for a young man) to familiarize himself with those two categories.

Those are the only two categories that exist. There are no other categories from God’s perspective. One either identifies with the wise or the foolish. Proverbs is a wealth of wisdom given by God as a gift from God to that age group in particular — to protect them from walking with fools, from being a fool, and from experiencing the consequences of being a fool.

Those who say that wisdom is the fruit of experience haven’t read Proverbs. There is wisdom there that will protect us from the experience of being a fool or emulating the example of a fool. So I would want to impress those categories and familiarize themselves with the numerous and detailed descriptions of the wise son, the wise man, the foolish son, the foolish man.

And I would want those categories to inform that young man and to protect him from sin and to provoke that young man to want to identify with the wise. I would want that young man to be protected from being numbered among the fools.

Proverbs describes a fool as someone who doesn’t acknowledge the relationship between character, conduct, and consequences. God says of that individual – you are a fool.

Often in Proverbs the father is informing the son, “in the end,” a little phrase that appears throughout Proverbs. He is trying to draw his son’s attention to the consequences of sin. Sin in its initial stages appears attractive and can even be pleasurable to some degree. The wise father is drawing the attention of the son to what takes place as a fruit of sin and in the end trying to help establish that relationship between character, conduct and consequence. And then protect the son so the son instead pursues wisdom.

I would also say to that young man, when Proverbs says “the companion of fools will suffer harm,” you will not prove to be an exception to that (Proverbs 13:20). A wise son, a wise man, hangs out with wise men and therefore becomes wise. Proverbs warns us (as an expression of God’s kindness), “the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Now that harm is not always immediately obvious to a fool because often that harm begins in the form of a conscience that goes from sensitive to seared. So that harm isn’t always evident in consequences that are obvious to all. But be assured, the companion of fools will suffer harm.

And I would say to all of us fathers that we must understand that this category of “companion” is broader than just the individuals our children hang out with. Television is a companion. The Internet is a companion. The iPod is a companion. These are all means of transferring foolishness to one’s heart and therefore we need to help equip our sons and daughters with these two categories to protect them from being numbered among the fools and experiencing the consequences of fools and to, instead, be numbered among those who are wise and to taste the sweet fruit of wisdom.

SS: Elaborate on that a little bit for the fathers. As they leave the conference they want to make sure that what has been instructed is imparted and worked out in their son’s lives over the next couple of years. What encouragement would you give to the fathers? Where should they begin? How can they be sure their sons really get what the conference was all about, manhood in particular?

CJ: I would obtain Derek Kidner’s book, Proverbs: An introduction and commentary (IVP: 1981). It is very short. He has a series of studies prior to the formal beginning of the commentary that are simply outstanding. There is a section on the “wise” and the “fool.” That’s one study I would encourage every father to transfer to his child.

And mandatory reading should be Ed Welch’s, When People Are Big and God Is Small (P&R: 1997). You want your child to also have this category of “the fear of man.” As I look back how I wish early in life my father had transferred that category in particular to my soul. For I was a slave to the fear of man. I lived for the acceptance and approval of others. I was governed daily by a craving for that acceptance and approval. And so that book should be mandatory reading.

And for fathers I would say (because I have studied this book with my son Chad) you will have no problem identifying with the content of that book. There is no sin my son is presently experiencing or being tempted by, that I cannot relate and identify. So as we have walked through parts of Ed Welch’s book, my illustrations are different, but the essence of my sin is no different. I think when we identify our sin before our children and with our children, it creates a trust in their heart to receive teaching from someone who is humbling themselves rather that someone who is self-righteously seeking to impose or transfer teaching upon them.

Those would be two mandatory studies. I would also think every young man or woman should study what it means to honor their father and mother from Exodus as well as Ephesians. That would be another priority.

Obviously, most importantly, never lose sight of the Cross! In everything that is what I am trying to transfer to my three daughters and son. The Cross is preeminent.

SS: You have a teenage son now. You are training him, and doing a great job at training him. When you think of masculine traits the way God has ordained for him, or skills, or however you want to categorize them, what are you trying to build into him to be a godly masculine man?

CJ: What immediately comes to mind is that I’m trying to build into him an appreciation for, and cultivation of, humility and servanthood. I want that to define true masculinity for him. I believe this is true greatness in the eyes of God. This is not true greatness in the eyes of this world and therefore there is much discussion about what the world honors and celebrates, and what God honors and celebrates, and what I as a father honor and celebrate.

For example, Chad just finished soccer season. My emphasis with him in preparation before a game, my observation of Chad during a game, my evaluation of Chad after a game is (I hope) theologically informed. My accent is not on skill. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I obviously believe there is a place for the development of skill. But my accent is upon character. Therefore the goals scored by my son are not the category that is preeminent in either my preparation, observation or evaluation. You will not find me assigning undue importance or celebrating goals scored and leaving the impression this is preeminent.

Actually, the highlight for me this year came in their semi-final game when I guess one of the referees did not show up and the particular young man who was assigned to mark [guard] Chad was twice his size! He did mark Chad. He actually mugged Chad! And because the referee was following the action he wasn’t always able to perceive it. Chad ended up bloody mouth, bloody nose, and a number of other things happened in the game. But Chad never retaliated. Actually we celebrated that on the way home. His blood was on his shirt. I said, “This is great, son! You bring your dad joy. There is a tear in your dad’s eye. That’s outstanding. Blood on your jersey! Blood in your mouth! Blood in your nose!” During the game I had a parent approach me about whether I was going to intervene at some point. Even other parents wanted to intervene.

I told Chad the way he demonstrated self-control is an evidence of God’s grace in his life. And that brings your dad more joy than any victory or any goal.

As a forward, if Chad scores a goal, the celebration is not about his scoring a goal. It’s about expressing appreciation for his team, those who play defense (who normally are not appreciated) and those who, through their passing, made it possible for him to be positioned. So we are going to do what I call a “divine reversal.” In our culture it would be the individual who scored that attention would be directed. By God’s grace I want to reverse that process and honor those who made it possible for him to do that. If Chad knocks someone down and picks them up, that he did not complain about any call by the referee, that’s what I’ll celebrate afterwards. After the game these are what I want to draw attention to and celebrate.

That kind of discernment we want to be imparting as we watch sports. Our kids are always studying us. If you are watching the football team of your choice, the world, culture, and announcers are not theologically informed and will not be drawing attention to these things.

For example, let’s say a particular receiver for the Dallas Cowboys (to choose some random player) or a particular special team player makes a tackle. Whenever there is some expression of self-glorification (this would apply to the Redskins as well), we want to humbly criticize that and not identify with it. And whenever there is an expression of humility, we want to draw our child’s attention to that. So many of these moments are teaching moments, and if we are not poised and prepared and theologically informed, countless teaching moments will pass that could have been seized to make a difference in the lives of our children.

SS: You’ve been married 33 years. You’re now 54 years old. What are you still doing to make sure you are growing as a man?

CJ: I think growing as a man begins by cultivating conviction from Scripture about this call, my role and responsibilities. And one cannot assume that conviction, it must be cultivated in an ongoing way. This role and responsibility to lead, to protect, to provide – must be cultivated by immersing oneself with excellent supplemental materials. Because if one is not in-formed theologically, one will be con-formed to sin and the culture. This is a category I seek to maintain as part of my spiritual diet.

From conviction comes practice. So if you show me someone who is deficient in practice, I’m not going to try and serve them by drawing first attention to deficiencies in practice or ways in which they can grow in practice. I believe practice is important, but practice proceeds from conviction, and therefore I want to address conviction.

I think there are too many men who have not been sufficiently taught about their role and responsibility and it’s all too easy to teach practice prior to establishing these convictions. So that’s what I seek to do.

I seek to interrupt my week either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning with a simple practice to think about my role as a husband and father. That’s the call of God on my life.

Lord willing, God is placing before me another week as a gift. I cannot assume that week, but I need to plan as if by God’s grace that week will be given to me as a gift. I want to live each day receiving each day as a gift. I know at the end of my life I will be accountable for these roles and therefore I want to live today in light of my death and the day of my judgment. I want to work back from that day to this day, and I want to do all I can today and this week to make a difference in the lives of those I love the most — hoping that in some small ways as I, by the grace of God as I serve and lead them, will make a difference in their lives both in the present and when I am no longer present.

So I seek to establish these roles at the outset of the week as priorities. If I don’t, I know going into the week the urgent will overtake me. The legitimate demands of others will intrude. So if I’m not prepared through planning, I will conform to the urgent.

SS: What do you try to accomplish and think through as you look to the week ahead?

CJ: First and foremost, a relationship with, and romance of, my wife. I’m not commending this exact practice to you. You need to custom-design a practice for yourself. But you need some practice. If I don’t interrupt my week, if I don’t create some rhythm where I withdraw from other responsibilities to reflect upon my role and responsibility as a husband and father, I will be governed by the urgent and governed by circumstances. My practice, which is a half-hour and sometimes longer, helps me to reflect upon what is important as informed and defined by God’s Word so I can avoid being a slave to the urgent this week.

And it begins with my relationship with Carolyn. I am convinced that my wife’s task is more important and more difficult than mine. When I ask people to pray for me I ask people to pray for Carolyn more. She has the more challenging job. I’m going off to some place where I’m going to be the object of encouragement by all kinds of people and it can hardly be called ‘work’ (and certainly should never be called ‘sacrifice’).

Monday at some point in the morning I will be at a Starbucks. After having devotions and reading the sports pages, I will say “What can I do to serve Carolyn this week?” I will already know something of her schedule and responsibilities and therefore I want to build my week around certain ways I can serve her. And then I try to build into every week certain ways I can surprise her. And then that extends to Chad as well. How can I serve, lead, continue to develop my relationship, and teach him? And then how can I surprise him?

Those two categories would form plans and practices that then hopefully get transferred to the schedule. It’s not enough to scribble on a piece of paper at Starbucks, if I don’t transfer those to the schedule. It’s the transfer that makes all the difference. This does not work flawlessly every week but it has served me big-time and made all the difference.

There are so many events during a week that if you, say, entered my life a particular moment I would say, “The origin of this moment was my time of planning.” Certainly, I have spontaneous stuff that happens. But most of what happens to me has some point of origin in the past and because there has been planning that’s informed by my roles as husband and father. It has made all the difference in the execution in my life.

SS: You make that point in your marriage material in different contexts. You’ve been a great example to a lot of people in that. I know for me personally, though I don’t feel I’m as faithful or proficient as you are. It certainly does not seem possible to make a memory, to invest, to bless, to lead, to serve, to be connected to my wife’s world, and to do that consistently without planning. So it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time but something where you are actually proactive, intentional, and thinking along those lines. That is a way to exercise godly manhood — initiative, leadership, responsibility, faithfulness, and really fulfilling your role as the head of your home and the head of your wife. C.J. you have supplied an exceptional example in that.

CJ: Can I add one thing to that? If we look at how we view our wives and children, they don’t exist to serve us. We exist to serve and lead them. That will make all the difference in our attitude toward them and in our desire to plan. Steve, you are one of the finest examples of this I know. If I come home and I (all too many times) view my home as a refuge of my relaxation rather than a context to serve, then I will not fulfill my role and responsibility as a man. So all of these references are theologically informed and they precede practice and they make all the difference in practice.

I have one more recommendation. You must study your wife and children in order to effectively determine how you can serve your wife and children. So if I gave you illustrations of things I’m doing to serve and surprise Carolyn and serve and surprise Chad, it would not necessarily be transferable to everyone here because they are the fruit of studying Carolyn and studying Chad. And I would say when I’m not studying them in order to serve them it normally means I’m being selfish.

SS: Some people could have the idea that to serve your wife in the way you’re describing is contradictory to headship. But actually it’s an expression of your headship – an expression of Christ-like laying down of your life like Christ loved the Church and manifesting that headship (Eph. 5:25). You’re not abrogating leadership, abrogating authority, abrogating responsibility and you’re still the head of your home. But it’s expressed as a way that reflects Christ.

CJ: Apart from humility and servanthood it isn’t biblical leadership. And my leadership will not be effective, my initiative will not be effective, my direction will not be effective, my decision-making will not be effective if there is not some level of the presence of humility and servanthood in my heart.

SS: Let me ask you about another category. This is totally different from what we’ve been talking so far. A lot of growth that we experience is from the brotherhood, from men in our lives, accountability, relationships and people that know us. What do you do to make sure you have men in your life who know you, that you are benefiting from their wisdom, accountability, care, and insight? What counsel would you give us as we go back to our churches to make certain we have people who really know us and are helping us in our journey together in manhood.

CJ: Great question. I am presently in a care group for which I am indebted to these men. I’m grateful to God beyond words for these men. After my wife, it is this group of men that has responsibility to care for my soul, to identify evidences of grace in my life, and (where and when necessary) to provide correction.

SS: It’s a care group for couples though?

CJ: Yes. But our pattern of meeting is to meet separately as men as well as together for couples in a given month. So there is a context where we are together just as men and another context where we are together just as couples and another context where the women are together just as the ladies.

This is an invaluable means of sanctification. Again this is practice is the fruit of being convinced theologically of the importance of relationships as a means of grace and growth. So if you haven’t been convinced yet from Scripture then you won’t eagerly pursue this, and you will not be inviting the observation of others.

Even to be casually familiar with the doctrine of sin, we should be convinced that we are deceived by our sin. To some degree everyone of us has been – even in this moment – effectively deceived by our sin. Sin blinds and the first person sin blinds is you. The first person my sin blinds is me. So I do go into each week knowing that there is sin in my life I don’t perceive. And I need the eyes of others in order to perceive. And, if I don’t have their eyes on my soul, beginning with my wife’s, I won’t perceive.

I’ve had countless experiences where my evaluation of myself was flattering. I fulfilled the Proverbs that my ways certainly did appear right and superior in my eyes. If I was left to my own eyes, evaluating my own soul, the evaluation would be flattering and inaccurate. I am very familiar with what it’s like to be in a setting where I am describing what I thought, said, and did and thought to myself, “Good to Go!” And then others are invited to examine what I thought, said, and did and provide their perspective. Their questions, observations, interpretations — if I am leaning forward and humbly listening — can make all the difference.

I have had numerous dramatic experiences where I can say “once I was blind, now I see.” And the means by which I see is the grace of God through others. My sin was obvious to them, but not to me. You only need a few of those to remain very close to people and aggressively pursue their questions, observations, and interpretations.

SS: How would you address men who believe this, desire this, want this — but they are in a local church where they would describe relationships with other men as superficial and distant acquaintances. They haven’t taken it to the level where they are really benefiting from truth, honesty, accountability, and encouragement on the level you’ve experienced? Where would you tell these men to start?

CJ: I would tell them to start with their own hearts. If they are convinced that they need the eyes of other on their soul and the help of others for their soul, it shouldn’t be difficult for any man here to identify one, two, or three men they trust and respect to approach and to invite into their lives.

Here’s what we need to assume — others are reluctant to correct us. And this is for a number of reasons. Often it’s humility. Sometimes it’s a fear of man. Sometimes it’s a combination. People are reluctant to correct, therefore we have to aggressively pursue people. We need to take the initiative, we need to weaken them or wear them out with our numerous requests.

If we are really convinced that we want to grow in grace and godliness and there are blind spots in our lives, we will welcome the discerning and caring eyes of others upon our lives. If you are convinced of that it won’t be difficult in practice to find someone else to help you in that process.

And where that begins for every married man is with his wife. Presenting yourself to your wife and saying, “If you knew I wouldn’t get angry…” Do this in relaxed context with plenty of time so you are not hurried and inform her ahead of time that you want to know from her three ways you can more effectively serve and lead her. Then three ways you can more effectively lead and serve the children. Then you set aside time to draw her out.

SS: It’s helpful to do that at a cheap restaurant.

CJ: Absolutely! You do not want to be subsidizing that event in a fancy restaurant with a lot of money. You want to reserve those occasions and locations for romance. For this one, In-N-Out Burger will do just fine. Starbucks will do just fine. What you need is privacy and time.

Most important you must have humility. Your wife has observations. Every man here can assume that your wife has observations, and ones she has not shared with you. You can return home assuming that. You can also return assuming that her observations can make a dramatic difference in your life if you will humbly draw her out and respond to those. Then you just expand the number of individuals who are involved. You will be amazed at what people observe that you don’t perceive. But by God’s grace you will perceive what they observe if you humbly submit to their observations.

Now one final thing I should say. I’m not assigning infallibility to their observations. There is no one who is going to bring infallible observations. Often with these people who know you the best, the most and up close and personal, will have some degree of accuracy in what they observe. If you are humble, it can make all the difference in your life.

If you want to accelerate growth in godliness, present yourself to them and invite the observations of your wife and others in the context of a local church. Then be prepared to receive their observations. I know in the past I’ve said, “Hey, I’m really interested in any observations you have. I would like your evaluation.” And then I’m stunned when they say, “We’ll I do have a couple.”

“Oh!? Okay. Well let’s begin with evidences of grace.” [laughter]

SS: Today C.J. has referred to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway: 2006). If you haven’t got this, it is a must for your bookshelf and for you to read through. Also valuable for your sons as you use it to train them to understand what biblical manhood looks like.

CJ: Actually, I would encourage the men to start with John Ensor’s, Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Crossway: 2007). As an introduction to this topic, John Ensor has served us all well. John is very humble. It’s a book intended for single adults to help prepare them for marriage. Once I read it, I thought, “No, it’s not. It’s written to all who are married.” It is the best preparatory work I’m aware of, but it’s also a book for all who are married, both male and female. He has several chapters where he contrasts the role of the man with the role of the woman. Each of these chapters includes a definition, description, and contrast. It will serve the men here and will also be a very helpful book for husbands and wives to go through.

Finally, the assignment in purchasing a book like Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is not that you must read it cover-to-cover. No. If you will work through the table of contents there will be certain chapters that stand out to you that will be more immediately relevant to you and make a difference in your life.

SS: C.J., thank you for this time. Thank you for sharing your life with us!

Systematic theology and future heresy

tss-baseball.jpgI’ve often wondered how the Church can prepare Herself to combat future heresies, those inevitable errors we cannot fully anticipate. Do we wait for the errors to rear their ugly heads and then send in the experts? Or is there a broader, more preventive solution?

According to Wayne Grudem, the study of systematic theology is one way to prepare the Church for future errors. In the introduction to Systematic Theology (Zondervan: 1994) he writes:

“Whatever the new doctrinal controversies are in future years, those who have learned systematic theology well will be much better able to answer the new questions that arise. The reason for this is that everything that the Bible says is somehow related to everything else the Bible says (for it all fits together in a consistent way, at least within God’s own understanding of reality, and in the nature of God and creation as they really are). Thus the new question will be related to much that has already been learned from Scripture. The more thoroughly that earlier material has been learned, the better able we will be able to deal with those new questions” (28).

How true this is.

Pagitt interview

So after listening to this interview with Doug Pagitt, a noted Emergent Church figure, I took note of these principles in action. And we’ll listen to it in a moment. But first let me say this interview is far from ideal and some parts make me cringe for both sides. Yet, at the same time, I think the interview is valuable and instructive.

It’s worth repeating Grudem. A systematic theology, originating from careful biblical exegesis, protects the Church by wrapping its arms around large biblical themes and showing where one particular doctrine impacts other doctrines. The unity of revelation is self-sustained, and the authenticity of a single doctrine is based upon its consistency with the whole. Frequently, error will contradict the biblical conclusions of systematic theology at several points and so error must first shirk an overall unity of systematic theology.

Note Pagitt’s universalism must (at its root) deny a real place called “hell” and a real place called “heaven.” Scripture’s obvious dualism does not fit into his universalism.

But further, note Pagitt’s irritability at stringing together the biblical teachings on one particular topic. The irritability is directed, not on the exegetical authenticity of the string, but simply on the act of stringing. This is a response against systematic theology.

A heavenly place

Pagitt clearly disagrees with the “dualistic-Platonic understanding of the cosmos” and denies heaven as a real place. But pick up any number of systematic works and you will read that Jesus went to, and will return from, a place called heaven (Acts 1:11). And you will be pointed to Jesus’ words of comfort to His disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3).

What ‘place’ is being prepared for Christians if heaven is not a literal place?

Further, a good systematic theology will illuminate this in the Old Testament. When Elijah and Enoch were taken into heaven, their soul and body left the earth (Gen. 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11). Where did they go, if not to another physical place? And why the importance of a resurrected body if heaven is not a physical place? The afterlife as a physical place is found across Scripture and is well defined in orthodox systematic theology.

My point today is not to highlight one error, but to illustrate a broader theme. Christians with a well-grounded systematic theology will have the tools to see past the argument that heaven — as a physical place — is merely a human philosophical invention. A degree in ancient philosophy is unnecessary because a Christian who has a mature systematic theology does not first ask, “What is dualistic-Platonism?” But rather, “What does Scripture say on this issue?” And on multiple levels, Scripture is very clear that heaven is a place.

And what if Plato agrees with Scripture? Well then, praise God!

Conclusion

Bottom line: Systematic theology properly done (i.e. based upon accurate biblical exegesis) creates a reinforced fiberglass-like mesh of biblical truth that overlaps itself into one cohesive worldview to answer the most pressing questions of our day and to prepare the church to answer emerging errors.

It’s here, behind the fortress of a biblically faithful systematic theology, where the Church finds safety and discernment. And it’s also behind this fortress that the Church will worship God in truth, looking forward to streets of gold, the tree of life, the Throne of God, the precious Lamb, and the saints and angels worshiping forever — a physical place built around God’s glory, giving us hope and joy today and the anticipation of pleasures forever.

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Related: Some favorite systematics:

  1. Systematic Theology by Grudem. See also condensed Bible Doctrine by Grudem.
  2. Institutes by Turretin
  3. Institutes by Calvin (an index to his commentaries)
  4. A New Systematic Theology by Reymond
  5. Great Doctrines of the Bible by Lloyd-Jones
  6. Vol. 2, Collected Writings of John Murray
  7. Reformed Confessions by Beeke and Ferguson
  8. Salvation Belongs to the Lord by Frame (nice intro)

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Related: For those of you interested, here are Spurgeon’s thoughts …

“We are too apt to entertain cloudy ideas of the ultimate inheritance of those who attain unto the resurrection of the dead. ‘Heaven is a state,’ says somebody. Yes, certainly it is a state; but it is a place too, and in the future it will be more distinctly a place. … Our ultimate abode will be a state of blessedness, but it must also be a place suited for our risen bodies. It is not, therefore, a cloudland, an airy something, impalpable and dreamy. Oh, no, it will be as really a place as this earth is a place. Our glorious Lord has gone for the ultimate purpose of preparing a suitable place for his people. There will be a place for their spirits, if spirits want place; but he has gone to prepare a place for them as body, soul, and spirit.”

– C.H. Spurgeon, sermon on 9/23/1883 (no. 1741), 29:672-673.

Packer on Justification

tsslogo.jpg“Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae — the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in medieval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatized from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks.

the doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace. The doctrines of election, of effectual calling, regeneration, and repentance, of adoption, of prayer, of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments, have all to be interpreted and understood in the light of justification by faith. Thus, the Bible teaches that God elected men in eternity in order that in due time they might be justified through faith in Christ. He renews their hearts under the Word, and draws them to Christ by effectual calling, in order that he might justify them upon their believing. Their adoption as God’s sons is consequent on their justification; indeed, it is no more than the positive aspect of God’s justifying sentence. Their practice of prayer, of daily repentance, and of good works — their whole life of faith — springs from the knowledge of God’s justifying grace. The church is to be thought of as the congregation of the faithful, the fellowship of justified sinners, and the preaching of the Word and ministry of the sacraments are to be understood as means of grace only in the sense that they are means through which God works the birth and growth of justifying faith. A right view of these things is not possible without a right understanding of justification; so that when justification falls, all true knowledge of the grace of God in human life falls with it, and then, as Luther said, the church itself falls.

A society like the Church of Rome, which is committed by its official creed to pervert the doctrine of justification, has sentenced itself to a distorted understanding of salvation at every point. Nor can these distortions ever be corrected till the Roman doctrine of justification is put right. And something similar happens when Protestants let the thought of justification drop out of their minds: the true knowledge of salvation drops out with it, and cannot be restored till the truth of justification is back in its proper place. When Atlas falls, everything that rested on his shoulders comes crashing down too.

How has it happened, then, we ask, that so vital a doctrine has come to be neglected in the way that it is today?

The answer is not far to seek. Just as Atlas, with his mighty load to carry, could not hover in mid-air, but needed firm ground to stand on, so does the doctrine of justification by faith. It rests on certain basic presuppositions, and cannot continue without them. Just as the church cannot stand without the gospel of justification, so that gospel cannot stand where its presuppositions are not granted. They are three: the divine authority of Holy Scripture, the divine wrath against human sin, and the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ. The church that loses its grip on these truths, loses its grip on the doctrine of justification, and to that extent on the gospel itself. And this is what has largely happened in Protestantism today.”

- J.I. Packer, from an introduction essay in the reprint of James Buchanan’s classic, The Doctrine of Justification (Banner of Truth: 1961 ed.). You can download a PDF version of Buchanan’s complete work (with Packer intro) here. Packer’s essay also appeared more recently in the Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer (Paternoster: 1998), 1:137ff.

Critiquing the Missional Movement

tsslogo.jpgNow that all the Sovereign Grace Ministries messages are free, I’m slowly feasting message-by-message in a long and delicious buffet of audio. Today I finally arrived at Dave Harvey’s message from the SGM Leadership Conference this Spring (at the time, I was on the other side of the wall listening to Dever speak on his annual reading schedule).

Harvey, the author of the excellent book When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (Shepherd’s Press: 2007), is also an expert church planter and apostolic leader within SGF. This Spring in his session “Watch Your Mission: To Be, or Not to Be, ‘Missional,’” he assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement. In part, he argues the MM muddies the Cross-centered focus of the Church and misunderstands the apostolic context of the Great Commission.

Here’s the heart of his outline:

1. What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
B. Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
C. Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
D. They Also Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.

2. What are the Weaknesses of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
B. Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
C. Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
D. Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
E. Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.

Free: Get the full outline here and the mp3 audio here.

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Update: It should be noted SGM believes in a continuing apostolic gift: “present-day apostles plant and build local churches for the sanctification of the believer, the expansion of the mission, and the exaltation of God.” For more on why they use the term, what it means and does not mean, see the SGM booklet by Harvey titled Polity: Serving and Leading the Local Church (2004), pages 17-26, 49-50.

Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms

Book review
Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms

Published in 1746, Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections remains the great masterpiece on biblical discernment. Edwards exposes the inner workings of the soul, using Scripture to make concrete the contrast between the fleeting affections of a hard hypocritical heart and the enduring affections of a softened and converted heart. The precise dissection of the soul in Religious Affections is one of the enduring characteristics of Edwards intellectual brilliance and a precision warranted from such delicate matters. But many contemporary readers (like this one) have found Edwards’ intellectual precision difficult to read.

In his new release, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ (Crossway: 2007), Sam Storms has written an excellent guide through Edwards’ rich arguments. Storms is noted for his study of Edwards and has worked through the Religious Affections at least 10 times (p. 12).

But Storms is not enthralled with the genius of Edwards. He begins the book with clear, foundational biblical exposition and carries biblical proof throughout the entire work. Genuine discernment of the true work of God finds its basis in God’s Word, not Edwards. Storms’ careful biblical development deserves applause.

From here Storms builds a historical backdrop to Religious Affections and then defines affections, finally concluding that affections are the “warm and fervid inclinations that reveal the fundamental orientation of the human heart” (p. 44). Storms follows the design of Edwards in explaining the 12 signs that don’t necessarily authenticate the work of God in the soul and the 12 signs that do authenticate the genuine work of God in the soul. Genuine God-given affections are lit by the flame of God Himself, an enduring flame that displays itself in genuine love and admiration of God as He exists in His spectacular beauty. True religious affections will reveal themselves by causing us to hate sin and pursue Christ-likeness, driving our appetite for more of God and to pursue the sweetness in the Person and Work of Christ.

Edwards’ personal testimony of these religious affections comprise the final 80 pages.

Religious Affections is always relevant but especially in our day when “Christianity” is often defined by outward affiliations, church strategies, and cultural relevance. Edwards’ reminder to our era is that genuine Christianity is marked by a radical soul transformation. Christianity is not defined pragmatically by what it offers and what we get. More important than marketing Christianity as a list of exclusive benefits, Edwards understands that a true work of God begins with a vision of God in His unspotted glory and supreme majesty.

“We must, therefore, be careful that our primary joy is in God, as he is in and of himself, and not in our experience of God. That we have been made recipients of his grace and are enabled to behold his beauty is a marvelous thing indeed. But it is secondary and consequential to a recognition of God’s inherent excellency. What brings you greatest and most immediate delight: your experience of a revelation of Christ, or Christ revealed?” (p. 92)

Discerning this genuine work of God is essential for every generation of Christians, and Edwards’ timeless truth has now been made more accessible. But don’t misunderstand. If reading Religious Affections is climbing the face of Mount Everest, reading Sam Storms’ interpretation is climbing the rock wall at REI. There is a harness, air conditioning, engineered footholds and an attendant holding the rope, but you’ll still sweat.

Storms’ timing is excellent. Our generation needs Edwards to help us ground our discernment between the facade of inauthentic Christian profession and the genuine work of God in the soul.

“I doubt if there is a more pressing and urgent issue for the church today than determining ‘what are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards.’ Or to put it in other words, what is the nature of true spirituality and those features in the human soul that are acceptable in the sight of God?” (p. 37)

I think he’s right.

Title: Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’
Author: Sam Storms
Reading level: 3.5/5.0 > moderately difficult
Boards: paperback
Pages: 238
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: none
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price USD: $15.99 from Crossway (includes free PDF)
ISBNs: 9781581349320, 1581349327

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