Monday, May 31, 2010

Total Depravity and Free will by the Jolly Blogger


First of all, I want to address a comment that is commonly made in evangelical circles. The comment goes something like this "God is a gentleman and there is one thing He will never do - He will never violate a person's free will." I've heard variations on this in many places and I have to admit that I think it is one of the most ludicrous things that a Christian could say.

Anyone who has ever prayed for God to change a person's heart has prayed that God would "violate" that person's free will. Which parent, who has a child who is walking away from the faith really wants God to not interfere with that child's will.


Certainly we have biblical examples like God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart and the proverbial statement that the heart of the king is in the hands of the Lord, and He turns it whatever way He wishes.

But having said that, all of the questions are not answered. We Calvinists affirm that man has a free will. The question gets into just what does do the effects total depravity (or radical corruption as I like to call it) do to a person's will and how does God apply His will to our will.

When I was at Columbia Biblical Seminary Robertson McQuilkin was the President and he was famous for saying that we must always remain in the center of biblical tension. I am sure he would never say that the bible contradicts itself, but he acknowledged that there were seeming polarities in Scripture. This would be one area - it seems that the bible affirms human freedom and God's absolute sovereignty. President McQuilkin said that we need to stay in the center of biblical tension on this regard. I am pretty sure I know what he means and that I would be pretty much in agreement with him. However, such a statement could mean that you take the biblical statements on human freedom and the statements on God's sovereignty and pick a mediating position between the two.

This is in error. While we do our best to seek to harmonize all of the biblical data on a particular subject, we have to harmonize it in such a way that we don't denude it of all meaning.

So, in this regard, biblically, we have to affirm human freedom and God's sovereignty. This may sound like I am giving away the farm and basically taking a non-Calvinist view. However, I would ask the non-Calvinists to carefully consider how they define human freedom. I've written on this before, but I'll repeat my assertion that freedom is always circumscribed in some way. Our freedom is always bound by our nature.

This is a real conundrum for Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. If the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, is the Lord controlling His every thought in an immediate fashion? I think this is what some Calvinists believe and there is a set of biblical data that, taken to its logical conclusion, would lead us to believe that.

But, the bible clear in saying that God is not the author of evil. The locus classicus in the Scripture for this thought is James 1:13-15:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

In that passage, we see that God specifically distances Himself from the evil intents of a man’s heart.

This is why I think the Westminster Confession is wise in defining free will in the following way in chapter 9, section 1:

God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good, or evil. (Matt. 17:12, James 1:14, Deut. 30:19)

Basically, it defines freedom as the ability to will and to choose apart from coercion.

The confession then goes on to describe the four-fold state of man (innocence, fallenness, grace, glory). I find it interesting that, in the most hopeless state – that of fallenness – the confession speaks of the will in the following way:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: (Rom. 5:6, Rom. 8:7, John 15:5) so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, (Rom. 3:10,12) and dead in sin, (Eph. 2:1,5, Col. 2:13) is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. (John 6:44,65, Eph. 2:2–5, 1 Cor. 2:14, Tit. 3:3–5)

The thing that stands out to me the most in this statement is that the confession defines the loss of free will as a loss of the ability to convert himself, or “prepare himself thereunto.” This leaves open a great deal of freedom, while denying that this freedom encompasses an ability to believe in Christ, apart from regeneration.

So, to the hyper-Calvinist who hyperventilates every time someone speaks of human freedom needs to lighten up and see that the Westminster Confession itself has a very robust view of human freedom. We believe that each and every person has the power to will and to do whatever he or she wants to will and to do. To those who think that such a view minimizes God’s sovereignty, we need to remember that the Scripture forces us to this position. In James 1:13-15 God specifically disclaims responsibility for the evil in men’s hearts. Hyper-Calvinists, or those with such tendencies, think that such a statement impugns the sovereignty of God. If man can have a thought that is not controlled by God’s sovereignty they say, then God is not absolutely sovereign. This makes a good deal of logical sense. But it won’t wash with the totality of the Scriptural data.

I am suggesting that the fact that God disclaims responsibility for evil intentions does not negate his absolute sovereignty. Yet, even the evil of man is controlled by the will and plan of God. Can I reconcile such things? No, I can’t. Can I affirm that the bible affirms them? Yes.

Those who want a theological system that would make Aristotle proud by connecting all of the dots in a perfectly logical sequence, need to remember that the bible isn’t bound to the principles of Aristotelian logic. This doesn’t mean that the bible is illogical, it simply means that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man and transcends all human systems of thought.

To the non- or anti- Calvinist we say that you every man has absolute freedom to do what he wants to do, but due to the presence of sin, natural man will never want to believe in Christ unto salvation. That is the problem – we have a “wanter” that doesn’t want God. This is the real crux of the free will debate. Calvinists believe the bible teaches that man, in his natural state, just doesn’t want to believe savingly in Christ. And his “wanter” can only be changed by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

Man has a free will, but this freedom is dependent upon the sovereign grace of God. Yet God sovereignly orchestrates all of the events of this life, even the free choices of man according to His purposes. Even in our freedom, we have never willed or done anything that is not according to God’s purpose. Yet, the choices have been ours. The Westminster Confession chapter 5 on providence speaks of this:

Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; (Acts 2:23) yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Gen. 8:22, Jer. 31:35, Exod. 21:13, Deut. 19:5, I Kings 22:28,34, Isa. 10:6–7)

Notice, that though God’s will is immutable and infallible, He causes things to come to pass according to the nature of second causes – necessarily, freely or contingently.

So, the whole point of all this is to say that Calvinists shouldn’t be afraid to admit that man has a free will. On the other hand, non-Calvinists need to understand that there is not a moment when, in their freedom, they are acting apart from or contrary to the will of God. And I hope that all of us would realize that the only reason that any of us can be saved His through a divine violation of our free will, in causing us to believe savingly on Christ.


In a chapel message at RTS Orlando several years ago Dr. Roger Nicole used Exodus 23:28 to illustrate how God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom work together. In that passage it says that God sent hornets to drive out the nations before Israel

. Thus, God sovereignly decreed that the nations would leave the promised land and He caused them to leave. Yet, it is just as true to say that the nations chose to leave of their own free will. To those who disagree I offer this as an illustration, not a proof, and I know that this doesn’t answer every question that could be asked. But it gives an example of how God can be absolutely sovereign and we can be fee at the same time. The mechanics of how God works out His sovereign decree may be different in different situations. But God is absolutely sovereign and man is truly free.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Free Will? C. Michael Patton


What Do You Mean by “Free Will”?
by C. Michael Patton

There are many words and concepts in theology that suffer from misunderstanding, mis-characterization, and misinformation. “Predestination,” “Calvinism,” “Total Depravity,” “Inerrancy,” and “Complementarianism”, just to name a few that I personally have to deal with. Proponents are more often than not on the defensive, having to explain again and again why it is they don’t mean what people think they mean.

The concept of “free will” suffers no less with regard to this misunderstanding. Does a person have free will? Well, what do you mean by “free will”? This must always be asked.

Do you mean:

That a person is not forced from the outside to make a choice?
That a person is responsible for his or her choices?
That a person is the active agent in a choice made?
That a person is free to do whatever they desire?
That a person has the ability to choose contrary to their nature (who they are)?


Calvinists, such as myself, do believe in free will and we don’t believe in free will. It just depends on what you mean.
When it comes to the first four options, most Calvinist would agree that a person is not forced to make a choice, is responsible for their choices, and is the active agent behind those choices. They would reject the forth believing that a person is not free to do whatever they desire. In fact, no matter what theological persuasion you adhere to, historic Christianity agrees on the first four. This is very important to realize.

It is with the fifth option there is disagreement.

Does a person have the ability to choose against their nature?

This question gets to the heart of the issue. Here we introduce a new and more defined term: “Libertarian Free will” or “Libertarian Freedom.” Libertarian freedom can be defined briefly as “the power of contrary choice.”

If you ask whether a person can choose against their nature (i.e. libertarian freedom) the answer, I believe, must be “no.” A person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. If there choice is determined, then the freedom is self-limited. Therefore, there is no “power” of contrary choice for we cannot identify what or who this “power” might be. I know, I know . . . slow down. Let me explain.

First, it is important to get this out of the way. To associate this denial of libertarian freedom exclusively with Calvinism would be misleading. St. Augustine was the first to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner. Until the forth century, it was simply assumed that people were free and responsible, but they had yet to flesh out what this meant. Augustine argued that people choose according to who they are. If they are good, they make good choices. If they are bad, they make bad choices. These choices are free, they just lack liberty. In other words, a person does not become a sinner because they sin, they sin because they are a sinner. It is an issue of nature first. If people are identified with the fallen nature of Adam, then they will make choices similar to that of Adam because it is who they are. Yes, they are making a free choice, but this choice does not include the liberty of contrary choice.

What you have to ask is this: If “free will” means that we can choose against our nature (the power of contrary choice), if “free will” means that we can choose against who we are, what does this mean? What does this look like? How does a free person make a choice that is contrary to who they are? Who is making the choice? What is “free will” in this paradigm?

If one can choose according to who they are not, then they are not making the choice and this is not really freedom at all, no? Therefore, there is, at the very least, a self-determinism at work here. This is a limit on free will and, therefore, a necessary denial of libertarian freedom.

Think about all that goes into making “who you are.” We are born in the fallen line of Adam. Spiritually speaking we have an inbred inclination toward sin. All of our being is infected with sin. This is called “total depravity.” Every aspect of our being is infected with sin, even if we don’t act it out to a maximal degree.

But even if this were not the case,—even if total depravity were a false doctrine—libertarian freedom would still be untenable. Not only are you who you are because of your identification with a fallen human race, but notice all these factors that you did not choose that go into the set up for any given “free will” decision made:

You did not choose when you were to be born.
You did not choose where you were to be born.
You did not choose your parents.
You did not choose your influences early in your life.
You did not choose whether you were to be male or female.
You did not choose your genetics.
You did not choose your temperament.
You did not choose your looks.
You did not choose your body type.
You did not choose your physical abilities.

All of these factor play an influencing role in who you are at the time of any given decision. Yes, your choice is free, but it has you behind them. Therefore, you are free to choose according to you from whom you are not able to free yourself.

Now, I must reveal something here once again that might surprise many of you. This view is held by both Calvinists and Arminians alike. Neither position believes that a person can choose against their nature. Arminians, however, differ from Calvinists in that they believe in the doctrine of prevenient grace, which essentially neutralizes the will so that the inclination toward sin—the antagonism toward God—is relieved so that the person can make a true “free will” decision.

However, we still have some massive difficulties. Here are a few:

A neutralized will amounts to your absence from the choice itself. Changing the nature of a person so that their predispositions are neutral does not really help. We are back to the question What does a neutralized will look like? Does it erase all of the you behind the choice? If you are neutralized and liberated from you, then who is making the choice? How can you be held responsible for a choice that you did not really make, whether good or bad?

A neutralized will amounts to perpetual indecision. Think about this, if a person had true libertarian freedom, where there were no coercive forces, personal or divine, that influenced the decision, would a choice ever be made? If you have no reason to choose A or B, then neither would ever be chosen. Ronald Nash illustrates this by presenting a dog who has true libertarian freedom trying to decide between two bowls of dog food. He says that the dog would end up dying of starvation. Why? Because he would never have any reason to choose one over the other. It is like a balanced scale, it will never tilt to the right or the left unless the weights (influence) on one side is greater than the other. Then, no matter how little weight (influence) is added to a balanced scale, it will always choose accordingly.

A neutralized will amounts to arbitrary decisions, which one cannot be held responsible for. For the sake of argument, let’s say that libertarian choice could be made. Let’s say that the dog did choose one food bowl over the other. In a truly libertarian sense, this decision cannot have influences of any kind. Any decision without influences is arbitrary. It would be like flipping a coin. I chose A rather than B, not because of who I am, but for no reason at all. It just turned out that way. But this option is clearly outside a biblical worldview of responsibility and judgment.

Therefore, while I believe in free will, I don’t believe in libertarian free will. We make the choices we make because of who we are. We are responsible for these choices. God will judge each person accordingly with a righteous judgment.


Is there tension? Absolutely. We hold in tension our belief in God’s sovereignty, determining who we are, where we will live, who our parents will be, etc. and human responsibility. While this might seem uncomfortable, I believe that it is not only the best biblical option, but the only philosophical option outside outside of fatalism, and we don’t want to go there.

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” Acts 17:26
I encourage you to read J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig in their book Philosophical Foundations for a Biblical Worldview. They disagree with my thesis here, but they present a strong case for the other side.

Thoughts? Do you believe in free will? (END OF ARTICLE)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Misconception of "Free Will" by Driscoll


What do you think of Driscoll's view on free will. This clip is very short and he doesn't get into it to much but you get the basic idea of where he is going.

If you respond please use scripture for your defense. In Tatersville we are good at spouting theology that doesnt' come from the Bible.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—
Ephesians 2

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Calvinism is not by Jason Robertson


I love to study theology and I love to study areas of theology most people don't want to talk about. One is Calvinism. So for the next couple of posts I am gonna post some Misconceptions about Calvinism and you tell me what you think.

The following is by Jason Robertson:

Calvinism is often misunderstood, because it is continually under attack from those who are either enemies of the Gospel or ignorant of the gospel. Therefore, many people have misconceptions about this system of theology.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT:

1.Calvinism does not teach that God will refuse to save a man because he is not one of the elect even though that man believes in Christ and repents of his sin.

2.Calvinism does not teach that Christians do not need to evangelize or do missions because God will sovereignly save the elect.

3.Calvinism does not deny man’s responsibilities as defined by Scripture.

4.Calvinism does not teach that God is the author of sin, who made people sin so that He could judge them.

5.Calvinism does not affirm all of the beliefs of John Calvin.

6.Calvinism is not a certain form of church government.

7.Calvinism does not teach infant baptism.

8.Calvinism is not a sect of Christianity or Gospel that was formulated by John Calvin.

9.Calvinism as a system of theology/soteriology did not originate with John Calvin.

10.Calvinism is not the same as Stoicism or Pantheism.


Instead, Calvinism is orthodox Christianity, affirming the fundamental doctrines of true Christianity.
There are other varieties of true orthodox Christianity, some that are offshoots of Calvinism and some that are not. In other words, there are Christians who are not Calvinist. Calvinists do not believe that one must be a Calvinist in order to be a Christian.
In fact, that would fly in the face of the Calvinist belief that salvation is the sovereign act of God, not based on any merit of man, including man getting all of his theology correct.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tullian on the Culture


Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham's Grandson and the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) said this about the church trying to "fit in"..

"Becoming “all things to all people” does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians. While rightly living “in the world,” we must avoid the extreme of accommodation—being “of the world.” It happens when Christians, in their attempt to make proper contact with the world, go out of their way to adopt worldly styles, standards, and strategies.

When Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture—for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth—we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise. When we accommodate our culture by jettisoning key themes of the gospel, such as suffering, humility, persecution, service, and self-sacrifice, we actually do our world more harm than good. For love’s sake, compromise is to be avoided at all costs."

(Truth Matters)

Friday, May 21, 2010

No More Whoring!

by Jon Bloom at Desiring God blog.

At the end of Numbers 15, God commanded Moses to have the people attach tassels on the corner of their garments. These were accessories with a purpose:

And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:39-40)

These accessories were not intended to beautify the wearer. They were intended to remind the beholder that they had whoring hearts and eyes and they were not to follow their inclinations, but to follow God’s commands.

When I read this during some recent devotions, I groaned. It was a Romans 8:23 groan:

We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
So much of our groaning comes from living with a war waging inside of us. We love the law of God in our inner being, and yet have a cursed inclination to whore after the desires of our hearts and our eyes (Romans 7:21-23). We keenly feel our wretchedness and long to be set free from the body of this death (Romans 7:24)!

Which is what Jesus Christ our Lord came to do (Romans 7:25).

Now, instead of tassels we wear a cross. This cross reminds us not only of God’s holy commandments, but also how he perfectly fulfilled them all on our behalf. This cross reminds us that God’s justice was perfectly fulfilled, God’s wrath fully propitiated, and God’s mercy and love lavishly extended. Because of the cross, our groaning is full of hope.

We will not be free from this whoring inclination until death. (Groan.) It's one of the reasons death is necessary in this age, except for those who are alive when Jesus returns. While we live, we must die daily to sin (Romans 6:11; 1 Corinthians 15:31). And then there will be one last great dying. For the Christian, death is the final dying to sin.

After that, no more warring and no more whoring. O, what will that be like? We will be able to retire our battle armor. The fiery darts will cease. The pathological selfishness that has been our familiar enemy all life long, and such a source of grief, will be dead. We will be free! It will be finished.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

DeYoung on the Church!


It’s sexy among young people — my generation — to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without followthrough. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono — Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church.

It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed — and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

Christian? Francis Chan


“I feel very concerned for those people who walk into these buildings we call church and think they are Christians because they said a prayer and made a decision.

“Saying a prayer means nothing if there’s no follow through.”

“Where’s the obvious truth and where’s the obedience because I think we’ve missed some obvious things and created a system that doesn’t really make sense and we’ve done that because we don’t really want to live out Christianity, we don’t really want to become like Christ.

“Do you really want to be like Christ – rejected your whole life, spit upon, crucified? … We don’t want that part of Christ and yet it is those times when we are rejected for the Gospel that we really feel the peace and come to remotely resemble Jesus.”

- Francis Chan

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prayer: James killed, Peter set free?


Jon Bloom writes well on the DGM blog:

Luke says it so quickly, so matter-of-factly: "[Herod] killed James the brother of John with the sword" (Acts 12:2). In the flow of the story this little phrase sets the stage for Peter's dramatic prison rescue by the angel. So that's what we remember. When Peter later wrote, "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials" (2 Peter 2:9), this is the sort of rescue that easily comes to mind.

But the night that James sat in prison the angel didn't come. I'm sure he prayed for an angel. He knew God could send one if he wanted to. An angel had already rescued him and the other disciples once before, in chapter 5. But this night there was no bright light, no chains falling off, no sleeping guards. Just desperate prayers and fitful dozing—if he slept at all.

In the morning James was still in jail when the dreaded voice of the captain of the guard shouted, "Bring out the prisoner!" There was an anxiety-filled, prayerful walk to the place of execution. There was a pronouncement of guilt. Possibly there was an offer of pardon in exchange for recanting, followed by a refusal. There was a raised sword. There was a wince of fearful anticipation. No deliverance.

Or was there?

Jesus allowed the sword to fall on James as intentionally as he opened Peter's prison door. So the death of James is as crucial for us to remember as the rescue of Peter. Why did God let James die?

This question is relevant because at some point most of us will find ourselves facing death, pleading for deliverance, and not receiving what we think we are asking for. And it points to a difficult lesson that all of Jesus’ disciples must learn: Jesus often has different priorities than we do. What may feel desperately urgent to us may not be urgent to him—at least not in the same way.

Remember how Jesus slept in the boat during the storm? The disciples panicked at the fear of drowning and cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). He calmed the storm and then said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Jesus’ lesson was clear: you’re afraid of the wrong thing. Don’t fear what or who can kill your body, but fear and trust me because I rule over storms and death (Matthew 10:28). Jesus knew that there were more dangerous “storms” ahead for the disciples, ones that would kill them. They needed to know whom to fear.
(Vitamin Z)

Mistaken Identity

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

James MacDonald on preachers having a high view of Scripture


James MacDonald shared this thought after being asked this question @Preaching Today: As you hear other preachers, what's the biggest thing you want to tell them about preaching with authority?

I would never use the term "preaching with authority," because I think that ascribes authority to the messenger, and the authority is not in the messenger. The authority is in the Word. I hope if you hung out with me a lot—granted I'm a strong personality, I know what I think, I can articulate myself, I'm not afraid to talk about anything—but I hope that if we spent more time together you would see a marked gap between the tonality of my preaching, where I'm speaking for God and representing him, and the tonality of my private conversation. It shouldn't be the same. The authority should be in the message, not in the messenger.

I never listen to another preacher and think to myself, How could he be more authoritative? What I sometimes do, though, is I listen to a preacher equivocate about God's Word, and I think to myself, What an awful business it must be to have to get up and teach a message from a Book that you don't even believe, or that has portions you don't believe. To me, if you don't believe portions of it, then really what good is it at that point? It's not supernatural, it's just a human document, so let's go golfing, right? I wouldn't want to spend my life preaching something I don't think is a message from God.

When I hear a preacher and his message sounds weak—not weak because it's a comforting or teaching message, but weak in that I can tell the guy doesn't have any confidence in what he's saying—I think, Low view of Scripture.

You and I have had several conversations about different movements and significant leaders within Christianity over the last 20 years. Some of them have knowingly or unknowingly deemphasized the centrality of the Word of God. No ministry that deemphasizes the priority and centrality of God's Word will last for long. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my Word will not pass away." God himself is supernaturally preserving his Word in the center of the work that truly is his kingdom.

Where the Word is deemphasized, ministries are doomed. They're doomed. They're paddling toward the falls, and they don't even know it. They're not confident in God's Word. Their ministry is not going anywhere good. There are preachers that have been loose and free and cavalier with the explicit statements of Scripture, and they've been celebrated from coast to coast, but their ministries and their lives are in freefall—already, in our lifetime. God does not sustain such a ministry. "The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely his." God is not going to strongly support someone who does not strongly support his Word.

Sinning against God by Denny Burke


This is from the comment section over at Parchment and Pen (great web site).

read Denny's thoughts on what it means to sin against a Holy God.

"If we were to see a little boy pulling the legs off of a grasshopper, we would think it strange and perhaps a little bizarre. If he were pulling the legs off of a frog, that would be a bit more disturbing. If it were a bird, we would probably scold him and inform his parents. If it were a puppy, that would be too shocking to tolerate. We would intervene. If it were a little baby, it would be so reprehensible and tragic that we would risk our own life to protect the baby. What’s the difference in each of these scenarios? The sin is the same (pulling the limbs off). The only difference is the one sinned against (grasshopper to a baby). The more noble and valuable the creature, the more heinous and reprehensible the sin. And so it is with God.

The heinousness of sin is not measured by the sin itself (its content or duration) but by the nobility of the one sinned against. If God were a grasshopper, then to sin against him wouldn’t be such a big deal, and an eternal judgment would be disproportionate. But God isn’t a grasshopper, He’s the most precious, valuable, beautiful being in the universe. His glory and worth is infinite and eternal. Thus to sin against an infinitely glorious being is the most heinous sin in the universe that merits an infinitely heinous punishment.

We don’t take sin seriously because we don’t take God seriously. We have so imbibed of the banality of our God-belittling culture that our sins hardly trouble us at all. Our sin seems small and eternal judgment too severe because we think so little of God."

What do you think?

Monday, May 17, 2010

True Grace and True Faith by MacArthur


For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Salvation is solely by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). That truth is the biblical watershed for all we teach. But it means nothing if we begin with a misunderstanding of grace or a faulty definition of faith.

God's grace is not a static attribute whereby He passively accepts hardened, unrepentant sinners. Grace does not change a person's standing before God yet leave His character untouched. Real grace does not include, as Chafer claimed, "the Christian's liberty to do precisely as he chooses." True grace, according to Scripture, teaches us "to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:12). Grace is the power of God to fulfill our New Covenant duties (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19), however inconsistently we obey at times. Clearly, grace does not grant permission to live in the flesh; it supplies power to live in the Spirit (cf. Rom. 6:1-2).

Faith, like grace, is not static. Saving faith is more than just understanding the facts and mentally acquiescing. It is inseparable from repentance, surrender, and a supernatural longing to obey. None of those responses can be classified exclusively as a human work, any more than believing itself is solely a human effort.

Salvation is a gift, but it is appropriated through a faith that goes beyond merely understanding and assenting to the truth. Demons have that kind of "faith" (James 2:19). True believers are characterized by faith that is as repulsed by the life of sin as it is attracted to the mercy of the Savior. Drawn to Christ, they are drawn away from everything else. Jesus described genuine believers as "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3). They are like the repentant tax-gatherer, so broken he could not even look heavenward. He could only beat his breast and plead, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13).

Faith and works are not incompatible. Jesus even calls the act of believing a work (John 6:29)--not merely a human work, but a gracious work of God in us. He brings us to faith, then enables and empowers us to believe unto obedience (cf. Rom. 16:26).

We must remember above all that salvation is a sovereign work of God. Biblically it is defined by what it produces, not by what one does to get it. Works are not necessary to earn salvation. But true salvation wrought by God will not fail to produce the good works that are its fruit (cf. Matt. 7:17). No aspect of salvation is merited by human works, but it is all the work of God (Titus 3:5-7).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Steve Camp on Grace


THE GRACE OF GOD
Grace is a perfection of the Divine character which is exercised only toward the elect. Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is the grace of God ever mentioned in connection with mankind generally, still less with the lower orders of His creatures. In this it is distinguished from mercy, for the mercy of God is "over all His works" (Psalm 145-9). Grace is the alone source from which flow the goodwill, love, and salvation of God unto His chosen people. This attribute of the Divine character was defined by Abraham Booth in his helpful book, The Reign of Grace thus, "It is the eternal and absolute free favor of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy."


There are three principal characteristics of Divine grace:

First, it is eternal. Grace was planned before it was exercised, purposed before it was imparted: "Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Timothy 1:9).

Second, it is free, for none did ever purchase it: "Being justified freely by His grace" (Romans 3:24).

Third, it is sovereign, because God exercises it toward and bestows it upon whom He pleases: "Even so might grace reign" (Romans 5:21). If grace "reigns" then is it on the throne, and the occupant of the throne is sovereign. Hence "the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). Just because grace is unmerited favor, it must be exercised in a sovereign manner. Therefore does the Lord declare, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Exodus 33:19). Were God to show grace to all of Adam's descendants, men would at once conclude that He was righteously compelled to take them to heaven as a meet compensation for allowing the human race to fall into sin. But the great God is under no obligation to any of His creatures, least of all to those who are rebels against Him.


What do you think?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fortune Cookie or Osteen by Challies



The other day I ate some rather extraordinary Thai food for lunch and, on my way out, grabbed a fortune cookie. I cracked it open and read a silly little proverb meant to inspire, I suppose. I wish it had said "Brisk uphill walk after all-you-can-eat Thai is a bad idea." Never mind. As I waddled my way home, regretting that last bowl of curry (so delicious...),

I thought "This fortune sounds like something Joel Osteen would say." And then it struck me--there is very little difference between Joel and those fortune cookies (except that the cookies are delicious, of course). And now, to prove it, I will give you these twelve quotes. You tell me which are from the fortune cookies and which are from Joel Osteen.

Question One
"Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it."

Question Two
"Do all you can to make your dreams come true."

Question Three
"Take time to make a difference. Think about how you can make somebody else's life better."

Question Four
"Avoid focusing on the negative aspects of the past."

Question Five
"You have something to offer that nobody else can give!"

Question Six
"When you can't naturally feel upbeat, it can sometimes help to act as if you did."

Question Seven
"To affirm is to make firm."

Question Eight
"Relationships are more important than our accomplishments."

Question Nine
"Somebody needs your encouragement. Somebody needs to know that you believe in them."

Question Ten
"The best things in life aren't things."

Question Eleven
"You will produce what you're continually seeing in your mind."

Question Twelve
"Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant."


How did you do?
Answers: Q1=FC, Q2=JO, Q3=JO, Q4=FC, Q5=JO, Q6=FC, Q7=FC, Q8=JO, Q9=JO, Q10=FC, Q11=JO, Q12=FC

The Death of Saints by Spurgeon

“I have seen believers die, and if anything can convince a man of the reality of religion, of the truth of the Scriptures, and of the power of the Spirit, it is the death of saints. I have seen many persons who seemed to be as much dying of their joy as of their disease, they were so happy. Their eyes, their face, their whole bearing were those of persons in whom the utmost pain was forgotten in an excess of joy, while weakness was swallowed up in the delights of the heaven which was dawning upon them . . . for Christ has come to them, and they have seen the King in his beauty, even in the borderland before they have crossed the river and entered into Canaan. ‘Is this to die?’ said one. ‘Well then,’ said he, ‘it is worth while to live even to enjoy the bliss of dying.’ . . .

Only mind you do not miss the way, one of you. Mind you do not miss the way!”

C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the Old Testament (London, n.d.), III:272.

Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15

Monday, May 10, 2010

Open door to Evangelism


Donald S. Whitney

Over and over I've seen one simple question open people's hearts to hear the gospel. Until I asked this question, they showed no interest in spiritual matters. But then after six words—only seventeen letters in English—I've seen people suddenly begin to weep and their resistance fall. The question is, "How can I pray for you?"

This may not seem like such a powerful question to you. Perhaps that's because you hear it, or a question like it, quite often. Your Bible study group or your church prayer meeting asks for prayer requests every week. You may even see requests for prayer solicited each Sunday morning in the worship bulletin.

But realize that most people in the world never hear such a question. And while many churchgoers know that a minister is willing to pray for them, in some traditions they're expected to make a special donation to the church for such services. So when you ask, "How can I pray for you?" and it's obvious that you're asking out of love alone, it can touch a person more deeply than you imagine.

This question is similar to one that Jesus Himself sometimes asked: "What do you want me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32). For what we are really asking is, "What do you want me to ask Jesus to do for you?" And by means of this question, we can show the love of Christ to people and open hearts previously closed to the gospel.

I had tried to talk about the things of God many times to a business-hardened, retired executive who lived next door. He was a pro at hiding his feelings and keeping conversations at a superficial level. But the day we stood between our homes and I asked, "How can I pray for you?" his eyes filled with tears as his fa├žade of self-sufficiency melted. For the first time in seven years he let me speak with him about Jesus.

It's a short, easily remembered question. You can use it with longtime friends or with people you've just met. It doesn't seem too personal or pushy for those who'd rather give you a shallow answer just now, and yet it often leads to a full hearing of the gospel. You can ask it of people nearly every time you speak with them and it doesn't get old. Just simply and sincerely ask, "How can I pray for you?" You'll be surprised at the results.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Meaningful Worship by John MacArthur


If you ever visit London, you'll have no trouble spotting St. Paul's cathedral. It's considered to be among the ten most-beautiful buildings in the world, and it dominates the city's skyline. The venerable structure stands as a monument to its creator--astronomer and architect Sir Christopher Wren. While St. Paul's is his best-known achievement, an interesting story is connected with a lesser-known building of his design.

Wren was given charge of designing the interior of the town hall in Windsor, just west of central London. His plans called for large columns to support the high ceiling. When construction was complete, the city fathers toured the building and expressed concern over one problem: the pillars. It wasn't that they minded the use of pillars--they just wanted them in greater numbers.

Wren's solution was as devilish as it was inspired. He did exactly as he was told and installed four new pillars, thus meeting the demands of his critics. Those extra pillars remain in Windsor town hall to this day, and they aren't difficult to identify. They are the ones that support no weight and, in fact, never even reach the ceiling. They're fakes. Wren installed the pillars to serve only one purpose--to look good. They are an ornamental embellishment built to satisfy the eye. In terms of supporting the building and fortifying the structure, they are as useful as the paintings that hang on the walls.

While it saddens me to say this, I believe many churches have constructed a few decorative pillars of their own. Specifically during the worship service. Have you noticed when it comes to corporate worship--what the church does when the congregation comes together--it's hard to find a believer who isn't left a little flat by it all? Something's missing. Something important.

Could it be we're reaping the consequences of abandoning the biblical model for worship and erecting a purely decorative model? Is it possible we've built a facade that offers no support, bears little weight, and falls far short of reaching the heights God designed and desires it to be?

Real, meaningful worship with God's people is not optional. It's not a suggestion. It's not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Worship on the Lord's Day should be the crowning joy of our week. It's our opportunity to engage our minds toward God. To enjoy His people. To bask in His presence. To corporately drink from His Word. To give of our talents and resources. To encourage and to be encouraged. To offer praise.

But the emphasis on biblical worship and the elements that make for a rich and transforming worship service have been replaced in recent years by a thinly veiled window dressing. Substance has been replaced by shadow. Content is out--style is in. Meaning is out-- method is in. The worship service may look right, but it bears little spiritual weight.

That trend is perhaps most evident in an area especially close to my heart. The teaching of God's Word. The most obvious examples are churches that blatantly downplay the Bible and the teaching of its actual meaning, and instead, emphasize ritual and tradition.

But that example is an easy one to point a finger at. What about the conservative, evangelical churches that have taken a slightly different but equally perilous road?

Worship services that once revolved around truth and the systematic teaching of the Bible have been replaced by flashy entertainment and mini-sermons. The light of Scripture has lost out to light shows and special effects. The preacher's stage presence is scrutinized more than his sermon. Time once reserved by the pastor for teaching has been whittled to a few paltry minutes of home-spun humor and chat. Strikes me as a decorative pillar that doesn't support much weight and never quite reaches the ceiling.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What does Worship Look Like?



Running the aisles and jumping in the baptistery? Is this what worship looks like? If so I'm gonna drain the baptistery for Sunday!

Tozer on Real Faith

Pseudo faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted Him.
The man of pseudo faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in.

The faith of Paul or Luther was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold on the life and brought it under obedience to Christ. It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back. It said goodbye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind. It had a finality about it … It realigned all life’s actions and brought them into accord with the will of God.

What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now, as they must do at the last day. For each of us the time is surely coming when we shall have nothing but God! Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God. To the man of pseudo faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain.

It would be a tragedy indeed to come to the place where we have no other but God and find that we had not really been trusting God during the days or our earthly sojourn. It would be better to invite God now to remove every false trust, to disengage our hearts from all secret hiding places and to bring us out into the open where we can discover for ourselves whether we actually trust Him. This is a harsh cure for our troubles, it is a sure one! Gentler cures may be too weak to do the work. And time is running out on us.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ligon Duncan's Advice to Young Pastors


Ligon Duncan answers the question, “If you, an experienced pastor, had 10 minutes to exhort 200 of the next generation of ministers what would you say to them?” His answer was laid out in the following six exhortations:

1. Preach the Word

“J.I. Packer says that for those of us who are conservative, evangelical Protestants, when we are faithfully preaching the Word of God, the Word is delivering God’s message through us to His people. It is not that we are delivering the Word of God to His people, it is that His Word is delivering through us His Word to His people.”

2. Love your people

“You cannot reform what you do not love . . . your people will receive even your rebuke when they know that you love them. But if they catch a whiff of your distance, detachment or cynicism they will not bear the wounds of a friend that you must deliver if you are going to be a faithful pastor. You must love your people passionately.”

3. Pray down heaven

“A young woman met me at the door of the church at the end of Sunday morning worship services with tears in her eyes and she said, ‘Dr. Duncan, what was it that he did (pastor Derek Thomas) in the middle of the service?’ I started going back over the order of service and it occurred to me that he prayed a lengthy, biblical pastoral prayer,” Duncan said. “I said ‘do you mean the prayer?’ ‘Yes, that thing’ she said. ‘What was that?’ I said ‘are you from a Christian background?’ ‘O, yes,’ she said. ‘Have you grown up going to church?’ I asked. ‘O, yes: my father is a pastor,’ she said. She grew up in church. But she had never heard a pastor assail the gates of heaven in prayer for his people.”

4. Promote family religion

“Did you know that Calvin and many of the Reformers wanted daily preaching? After 50 or 60 years or so it became apparent that there was not going to be daily preaching regularly attended in Protestant churches so Matthew Henry and others recognized that they had to make every home a local church. If we do not family religion it will contradict what happens every Lord’s Day as you preach the Word.”

5. Equip your elders

“Whoever the shepherds are in your local congregation, you must pour your lives into them. Every follower of Jesus Christ in the local church is to be one who not only follows Jesus Christ herself or himself, but calls others to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. You must have a group of godly, qualified male elders, or shepherds, nurturing and admonishing that congregation, discipling alongside of the public ministry of the Word on the Lord’s Day.”

6. Live a godly life

“Robert Murray McCheyne said, ‘my people’s greatest need is my own holiness.’ We will contradict what we say from the pulpit if our lives do not bear it out. The Gospel cannot be preached wordlessly, but it can be contradicted wordlessly. Our lives can contradict what we speak.”

(HT:Brister)