31 July 2012

Thinking Biblically about church attendance, involvement, and membership

by Dan Phillips

As I continue in the "Thinking Biblically" sermon series, basically shaped after our church's doctrinal statement, we've had what could be called a "sub-series" on the church. It ended up being a trilogy. In the last installment, titled "What Do I Have to Do With Christ's Church?", I focused down as intensely as I could on just that juncture: attendance/involvement/membership.

How absurd is the condition of the confessing evangelical church? Absurd enough that you still have to say it's important actually to go to a local church. Absurd enough that you still have to say it's important actually to be involved in the church you attend, to whatever degree you're able.

My bottom line is: local church attendance and involvement is Biblically a crystal-clear moral imperative; something like membership is a necessity; and formal church membership makes sound Biblical sense, other things being equal.

The first aim in this sermon, of course, was to serve the dear folks whom it's being my great joy to pastor. All of the sermon should have legitimate specific application locally.

Second, just to be candid, my aim was to do what I could to produce a tour de force presenting the Biblical case the best I could in one sermon. Ambitious? You betcha. Out of my reach? Assuredly. But it's my job to reach (cf. Phil. 3:12-14; Col. 1:25, 28). There was so much more to say, but it was such a dense sermon that I actually handed out supplemental sheets listing off all the verses I mentioned, so that no one listening would be frustrated.

I hoped to give something online for Christians and/or pastors to share with those who haven't thought the issue through Biblically. That means I paint with a broad brush, in that larger context. There are some not in CBC who would hear the sermon and have a genuine issue in applying it. But they are relatively few, and they are far fewer than those who imagine they've got a note from Mom excusing them.

In preparing, beyond personal study and reflection and teaching and writing over the decades, some of the online resources from which I profited most were Aaron's open letter to Frank, and the Frank Turk posts to which Aaron referred therein.

Here's one passage from Frank that really struck me. The thoughts made their way into the sermon:
But here's the problem: from the day of Paul and his life after founding all those churches across the ancient world, the church was never perfect. Go back and read this post by me and look at the state of the churches Paul was writing to. The churches Paul founded were frankly not perfect -- they weren't even really very consistent. You know: it's not like 40 years had passed between the time Paul founded the church in Corinth and when they decided that the Lord's table was really a private party and not a public place where sinners demonstrate their unity in Christ, or where they had, apparently, forgotten the Gospel which is of first importance.

And Paul's first letter to Corinth didn't say, "Dudes: flee to the hills -- your pastors and elders are apostates." He said, in effect, "remember the truth of Christ and find unity in truth."
Woo, well-put. (Don't worry about Frank being puffed up by this; he never reads my posts.)

I've received some gracious feedback for the sermon, folks who found it helpful. And so now I offer this to you, hoping it's of help to you, and maybe beyond.

Now I get to figure out how to say everything about angels and demons in one sermon. Woo-tah!

Why you need to be in a church this Sunday.
Thinking like a slave

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29 July 2012

Why Evil?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 49, sermon number 2862, "The Way of Wisdom."
 “I am not so much troubled about how evil came into the world as about helping get it out.”

   There are ways of God, in dealing with the human race, which are very perplexing to the judgment of such poor mortals as we are. We try to study a piece of history; and—especially if it is a short piece of history,—it appears to us all tangled and confused. A further research, over a longer period, will often explain what could not be understood in the shorter range of vision; but even history as a whole, from the Creation and the Fall until now, contains many strange puzzles to a man who believes that God is, through it all, working out his own glory, and that a part of his glory will consist in producing the highest amount of good to the greatest number of his creatures.

   What a mass of mysteries meets us on the very threshold of human history. The serpent in the garden,—how and why came it to be there? And the devil in the serpent,—why was there a devil at all? And the evil that made the angel into a devil,—why was that permitted? And all the evil that has been since then,—why has it not been destroyed? We cannot answer any of these queries. The negro’s question to the missionary, “If God is stronger than Satan, why does not he kill him?” is another enquiry which we cannot answer. Depend upon it, if it were, on the whole, best that the devil should be killed, he would be killed; and if it had been, after all, most for God’s glory that there should be no evil, there would have been none. We do not know how and why certain things have happened, and we must be content not to know unless God reveals it to us.

   All through history, God seems to be aiming at a certain mark, yet his arrow does not hit the target so far as you and I can judge. Often, he appears to do as the rifleman does, who knows that, if he sent the ball in a direct line to the target, he would miss it, so he makes allowance for certain deflections which will be caused by the force of attraction, by the wind, and various other opposing influences, and aims accordingly. God often proves that the nearest way to attain his end is to go round about; so, when he means to cleanse a man, he sometimes allows him first to get more foul; when he intends to clothe him, he first strips him naked; when he resolves to enrich him, he first makes him as poor as Lazarus at the rich man’s gate; and, strange to say, when he means to make him alive, he kills him. God’s modes of procedure, then, allow for deflection, and every other kind of influence, and are not to be understood by us. If you take the whole range of history, and look at it carefully, you will be obliged to feel that, if God has been working there, as we are quite sure he has, ordering all things with consummate wisdom, then his pathway through the world is one which no vulture’s eye hath ever seen, and which no lion or lion’s whelp hath ever traveled.

   It may be that some of you are, at the present moment, complaining of a certain providential dealing of God with regard to you, and that you are thinking and saying that it must be an evil providence. Yet it is, all the while, one of the best things that has ever happened to you. That, over which you are now mourning, will give you good cause for singing in a little while. Probably, that tribulation, which fetches most tears from our eyes here, will be among the subjects of our choicest song in the eternal realms of joy. We need not know, and we cannot know, what God is doing, but we may be quite sure that he doeth all things well.

27 July 2012

Today-only: God's Wisdom in Proverbs for 60% off

by Dan Phillips

With budgets so tight, I thought this worth a word: today-only (until midnight), you can get a copy of God's Wisdom in Proverbs for 60% off at the Kress website. That means that, instead of the normal price of $24.99, you would pay only $10.

IN FACT, all of Kress' books are on sale for 60% off, today only.

I thought you'd want to know because a number of you pastors, leaders and teachers have found it useful. This would be great to buy copies for a class, or a late graduation gift, or a going-off-to-college gift. Or others of you whose curiosity has been piqued by reviews and Tweets from readers — taking the leap has just gotten a whole lot less costly.

But remember: only until midnight.

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Sometimes All Alone

This Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro is posting a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog on 28 Oct 2005, on the topic of spiritual warfare.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Have you ever realized that if spiritual warfare is ideological, the most crucial battle you will ever participate in takes place in your own heart? If the goal and the end game of this warfare is to bring "every thought [captive] to the obedience of Christ," that presupposes that my own first order of business must be victory in my own thought life.

I have no control over your thoughts. I can perhaps influence your thinking by proclaiming the truth of God's Word, but my role in that capacity is instrumental only. You can't really be accountable to me for your private thoughts, nor can I be similarly accountable to you. This is a battle you must fight, sometimes all alone. It's lonely, grueling, lengthy, frustrating—and it's the one great battle you can least afford to shirk.

Paul knew that. On occasion, he described the Christian warfare in precisely those terms:

  • Romans 7:22-23: "I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
  • Galatians 5:17: "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."

Paul was describing a struggle in his own heart. He says you can expect to have the same kind of internal conflict. That conflict you feel inside yourself is one of the key skirmishes you must win in the spiritual arena.

26 July 2012

The sovereign God and tragedy

by Dan Phillips

Understandably, whenever there is a terrible tragedy, two equally wrongheaded reactions spring to the fore.

Unbelievers will adduce the tragedy to "prove" the absence of God. Some believers, from a very different motive, will (unintentionally) agree.

The unbeliever, illegitimately robbing concepts of "good" and "evil" from the Bible, sees in tragedy proof that there is no sovereign and loving God. Also horrified by the specific tragedy, some believers will respond by trying to "help" God by making excuses for Him. Without meaning it, they agree with God's haters: God just wasn't there and in charge. That's why it happened.

Candidly, I have no problem understanding that response, on an emotional level. Emotionally, there is comfort in picturing God as doing the best He could, meaning well, but for some reason just not being able to prevent evil. Initially, that is a more comforting view. Initially, any view that says straight up-front that God is God, equally, in boon and bane, and that there is no force that trumps Him, is a harder pill to swallow.

Yet the trade-off in reaching for the quick-fix view of a well-meaning but not-in-charge God is in no way worth it. First, it simply isn't Biblical. Second, there simply is no way to explain why, if this event did not go according to God's plan, any and all subsequent events might not do the same.

On September 11, 2005, I preached a sermon titled God and Our Tragedies, approaching this issue Biblically and pastorally. Have a listen, if you like.

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25 July 2012

Not Baby Talk

by Frank Turk

One of the first prayers many of us either learned as children, or taught our own children, is a very simple prayer at mealtime: “God is Great, God is Good.  Let us thank him for our Food.  Amen.”  We do this, I suspect, because we want to teach our children to pray – we want them to understand what is being said when we pray so that it’s not just magic, so that prayer for them is not something they can’t understand.  We want them to know that they can talk to God and understand that He is listening.

I think that it’s a good idea.  In some sense, I wish someone was doing that for us at every stage of our lives so that we can somehow remember that God is listening to our prayers.  I’m afraid that what happens is that as we grow in wisdom and stature and knowledge, eventually we become our own reformed-type people, we get to the book of Romans, and we get overwhelmed by the general Greatness of God – so much so that when we get to Romans 8:26 and we hear the apostle tell us that we don’t even know how to pray, we somehow “grow up” past the place where a prayer like “God is Great, God is Good, let us Thank Him,” sounds like baby-talk.  It sounds like something we have grown up past.

But then we have a week this like last week, where the real world intrudes on our systematically-precise faith.  It’s a week where everyone in his right mind has to ask the question: “If this is the state of the world, how can God be even on-duty – let alone be Good?”  I don’t know where you live or work, but this question came up this week as I talked to the people I know.  The events of the world, the real dreadful tragedies of the world, made this a relevant question this week.  And it made writing a Sunday School lesson about the attributes of God a lot less academic than I expected it would be.

We are studying the attributes of God this summer in this class, and there is quite a list of things guys like Tozer and Pink and Berkhof tell us about the qualities of God.

When we consider this God we are talking about from the Bible, we’re talking about the Omnipotent God whose very words speak the created order into being.

He’s the Transcendent God, the Holy God who is utterly unlike us.

He is the Self-existent God and the immutable God who does not need us for anything, and who has no needs to speak of, and who never changes.

He is the Omniscient God who knows everything, and cannot be taught anything – he’s never surprised or somehow set back on his heels so that he has to resort to Plan “B”.

He is an utterly just and righteous God who cannot abide sin and must punish the guilty.

They say that some attributes of God are incommunicable and some are communicable – that is, some are virtues which God alone possesses, and others are traits or virtues which we can emulate even though we will never get them perfectly right.  And they say that all of these attributes, which are somehow distinct, are also not at all discrete – so you can’t really talk about God’s Just character, for example, without talking about His Long-Suffering.  You can’t talk about his Omniscience without talking about this Immutability, and so on.

But in some sense, then, our expectations of God might be to hope that, at best, he ignores us.   Because when we compare ourselves to Him, He might mean a lot of trouble for us.

Asking God for help could be like being the Tin Man asking Oz the Great and Powerful for help –

Me:  um, God?  May I have a new heart please?


And he’d be right to say that to us – or to say nothing at all to us, to simply leave us to our disobedience, to our trouble, to our ultimate destination of whatever it is he might have decided it to be.

So what hope do we have in this world if the only person or authority who can help me that has all power, all knowledge, and who never changes?  Shouldn’t I only expect him to treat me like the not-much-of-nothin’ that I am?

But one attribute, it seems to me, is the category without which God cannot be God.  And it’s the one which we, sadly, somehow see as the preschool attribute of God – the one we hand over to children because they cannot mistake it or break it.  I'm talking about the Goodness of God.

I'll be talking more about it in the coming weeks.

24 July 2012

Forward, Pyromaniacally

by Dan Phillips (improved by Frank Turk)

Howdy, gang.

Since Phil's retirement from regular blogging here, Frank and I have continued as we said we would, and we've been fomenting plans for the future. Now we'll share some with you.

Spurgeon. Our weekly Dose of Spurgeon has been a beloved feature. Phil had some stored up, and we've been drawing from them. But what to do when they run out?

As a suggestion leapt to my mind, Frank readily agreed, and we extended an invitation to Kerry J. Allen to take over the role of posting excerpts from the Prince of Preachers each week. Kerry is pastor of Fox River Baptist Church in Aurora, Illinois. Also, Kerry is an author several times over, most notably working to assemble sermons and sayings from Spurgeon.

Though Frank and I love Spurgeon, we don't have a fraction of the grasp of his preaching and material that Kerry does. Kerry's addition as Spurgeon Editor to Team Pyro will be a great benefit to all of us.

Otherwise. We are not rushing to add an additional member to the team, as indeed there is no rush. This presents an opportunity for you, personally.

A lot of people think this looks easy (like watching Clapton casually toss off a riff), and some of them have thought once or twice, "If I was a PyroManiac ... oh man, I would surely have done it better than that."  If you are one of those people, it's time to screw your courage to the sticking place.

You need to have 600-1200 words on a subject which the normal readership of PyroManiacs will find interesting or compelling.  In spite of Frank's bad example, it must require no proofreading or revisions or editorial guidance.  It needs to have a beginning, middle and end, and it cannot run more than one part -- you're asking for one chance to make one point, not for a recurring part in our epic continuity.

We are making Monday "Guest Pyro for a Day" day, and it will begin when we have enough suitable posts to queue them up and let them run without interruption.

General guidelines:
  1. We prefer that you know who we are — that is, you have read this blog and understand the tone and temperament of its authors and readers.  You do not have to be a carbon copy of us, but you must complement our style and approach in the same way chicken wings complement pizza, or bacon complements... well, everything.  If you haven't been a regular Pyro reader for some time, you really should do some catching up before trying to jump on the merry-go-round.
  2. If we know you, that's a plus. (If it's a plus that we know you, that is.)
  3. Even if we do know you, submit your singing prose to us (no poems, proems, poema, songs, videos, liturgical dance or other practical jokes) with:
    • Your real name
    • Your real e-mail address
    • Your local church (aha!  Gotcha!)
    • Your picture and/or brief bio
    • Your link to your online presence (if applicable)
  4. Send your submission to: GuestPyro, then @iturk, then .com.  We prefer it in MS WORD (.doc or .docx) format, but a simple .txt file as an attachment will also work.
  5. As a British pastor wisely directed a prayer meeting I attended, "Speak up, be concise, be to the point." So once again, posts should range around 600-1200 words.  In English.
  6. You need a thick skin.  Your submission (if accepted) will be read by literally thousands of people, and a lot of them will disagree with you.  We've learned to live with it and still be happy, most of the time. Can you?
  7. You need to be sure you will not lose your job because you blogged once on a high-traffic venue. That sounds like hyperbole, but consider it.  Dan and Frank will not have a job to offer you if your first outing gets you fired.
  8. We happily expect a lot of submissions. Dan's feedback here is, "We will try to respond, but do not expect a response."  Frank's feedback is, "I already have a full-time job, and the purpose of this feature is to make less work for us, not more.  Do not expect a response." If you do not receive a response, please do not email us requesting a response. If you email us requesting a response, do not expect a response to your request for a response. Seeing a pattern here? It's nothing personal — it's utterly pragmatic. Neither of us is paid to blog, both of us have families and very full plates, and that's just the way it is.
There you go. Sound like fun? Could be. Has been for us!

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22 July 2012

Sour Faces

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the writings and preaching of Charles Spurgeon.  For the last 8 years, the weekly Dose has been lifted from the Spurgeon Archive, thanks to its curator, Phil Johnson.  This week marks a transition from that long and much-loved tradition.

Kerry James Allen is joining us as a staff contributor to the 
PyroManiacs.  Kerry is the curator of Spurgeon.us, and is an authority on the writings of Charles Spurgeon.  Along with the many well-known published sermons and writings of the Prince of Preachers, Kerry has access to previously-unpublished Spurgeon texts which, from time to time, will also appear here.  We are extremely grateful that Kerry is joining us to maintain the weekly Dose of Spurgeon.

The following excerpt is from a sermon on Psalm 101:1, preached in Cardiff, on 13 November 1856.
"Beloved, our crusty tempers and sour faces will never be evangelists."

If you are sorrowful, let not the world know it. Sigh unto God. Let your closet be witness to your sighings and tears; but let not the world see them. People naturally dislike to be unhappy; and if they see a Christian always looking melancholy, they say they will have nothing to do with a religion that makes men so miserable. I believe a Christian, who walks through the world miserable and melancholy, dishonours his God. I try to think of this whenever I am depressed. I know it is a very difficult thing to appear happy and cheerful when the heart is heavy and sorrowful. There will be times when you will not be able to do so, that I know full well; still, the Christian ought so to live before the world as far as he can. It is true that your Master wore a sorrowful countenance; but remember that He had your sins upon His shoulders, He was suffering for you. He was sorrowful that you might not be so. He does not wish you to imitate Him in His sorrowfulness.

You are commanded to be joyous.

'Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice.' 'Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.' Having a melancholy countenance will not recommend your religion. You will not be able to draw young converts to Christ if you frown at them. He who is cheerful and happy in his religion, is the man whom God will use to bring young converts to Himself. Christians can afford to be cheerful and rejoice, seeing their sins are all pardoned. Seek to recommend religion by a happy mode of living, by being always cheerful.

20 July 2012

Is The Gospel a Sufficient Ground for Christian Unity?

by Phil Johnson

"The relentless neo-evangelical campaign to eliminate doctrinal boundaries has caused division rather than true unity. If you want proof of that, just look at all the broken relationships and ill will left in the wake of the recent Elephant Room fiasco." —Phil Johnson

Here's another in our series of reposts and retrospectives from Phil Johnson. This material comes from the transcript of a session taught by Phil at the most recent Shepherds' Conference. A recording of the complete seminar may be downloaded here:

Is Justification Enough?

The message takes a look at the parallel meltdowns of the fundamentalist and evangelical movements, suggesting that both movements failed because they forgot their original distinctives. The current generation is reaping the bitter consequences of that dual failure.

Phil is critical of evangelicalism's quixotic quest for admiration and stature in the secular academic world. He also has harsh words for the profound ignorance of so many fundamentalists regarding the true fundamentals of biblical Christianity. And he decries both movements' preference for showmanship rather than substance.

He also warns that all the current talk about "gospel unity" is wasted breath if we're not actually willing to stand together in defense of the gospel.

Here's a generous excerpt:

"Gospel Unity" assumes a thorough, accurate, biblical understanding of the gospel and its implications—with a wholehearted commitment (not merely intellectual assent) to the truths of the gospel. We can say we're committed to the same gospel, but without a clear understanding of what the gospel is, that statement is meaningless.

If your view of the gospel is so broad that a Mammon-worshiping prosperity preacher qualifies as someone with whom you will publicly join hands and declare yourself committed to the same master he serves, then I question whether you have a sound enough grasp of the gospel to begin with.

What is the gospel? The Gospel is an announcement that Christ has triumphed over sin and Satan. It includes everything the Scriptures treat as essential, starting with the truth that Christ is God in human flesh (2 John 7-11). Of course, at the very center of the gospel message is the doctrine of justification by faith (Galatians 1:6-9).

The gospel furthermore includes all the historical facts and doctrinal principles Paul named and said are "of first importance" in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8—including the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ, his substitutionary death "for our sins according to the Scriptures," and the promise of our physical resurrection.

The gospel also includes these essential truths:

  • All three Persons of the Trinity are involved in the outworking of the gospel. In the words of Hebrews 9:14, we are redeemed and sanctified through "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God"
  • The gospel teaches that Christ has turned justice in our favor. First John 1:9: "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."
  • So at the heart of the message is the truth that Christ has redeemed us from sin—not merely the penalty of sin, but the bondage and corruption of it as well. Romans 8:21: "The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
  • Christ accomplished all this by acting as our proxy. First Peter 3:18: "Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God."
  • His one-time sacrifice is sufficient for all who believe. Hebrews 10:12: He "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, [and then] sat down at the right hand of God."
  • His righteousness is the sole ground of our justification and the only merit we need for a right standing with God. Second Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
  • He is coming again to bring us to glory. Hebrews 9:28: "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."
  • In short, the gospel is "the good news about salvation"; and more than that, it is a declaration that evil is overthrown (in the words of Hebrews 2:14-15) because Christ partook of flesh and blood so "that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery."

I could probably go on for hours in the same vein, because the gospel is full of important truths and implications like that.

A question I'm often asked is this: Can we have a complete and exhaustive list of doctrines and propositions that are essential? Frankly, I don't believe that's possible, because truth itself is not a finite commodity, and the minute you think you have nailed down a simple list of all the essentials, the powers of darkness will challenge some underlying point of doctrine you never imagined would be controversial. Then you'll have to add a new item to your list.

Also, the wish for a finite list is itself exactly the kind of minimalist approach to truth that has got us into the mess we are in today anyway. It's like asking: "What's the least I can believe and still go to heaven?"

Indeed, there are two competing wrong tendencies that undermine our evangelical consensus when it comes to the gospel.

One is that minimalistic tendency: a push to pare the gospel down and reduce it to the barest list of essentials in order to make our consensus seem broader and more influential than at really is. The gospel ends up so small and insignificant that it's really no gospel at all.

D. L. Moody once famously said, "I could write the gospel on a dime." I think I know what he was trying to say: You don't have to be an advanced theologian to believe the gospel and be saved. Yet the gospel itself is deep and wide—not a postage-stamp-sized truth. The kind of thinking Moody's statement suggests has been a bad influence on the evangelical movement since long before Moody's time.

It's not just that we tend to fall back on canned, abbreviated gospel presentations, or that the superficial way we present the gospel generates shallow, unbiblical, decisionalistic false conversions. Those trends would be bad enough by themselves—certainly reason enough to reject evangelical minimalism. But this is also the trend that opens the door for someone like T. D. Jakes to be welcomed into the circle of evangelical unity.

The second wrong tendency operating in the evangelical community today is a push to define the gospel in the widest, most expansive terms you can think of, so that basically any cause you want to champion can fit under the rubric of gospel truth: social justice, the redistribution of wealth, or even gay rights.

That is the approach the classic modernists took. Reimagining the gospel was one of the favorite activities of modernist and liberal religion, and the effects were disastrous. The World Council of Churches became a left-wing political advocacy fraternity. Liberation theology is a direct fruit of this kind of thinking.

Loading the gospel with moralism, humanistic goals, and political agendas has always strewn wreckage and decline—not unity—in its wake, and invariably, the true gospel gets eclipsed.

More recently a number of the leading champions of Emergence religion and other postmodernized (yet nominally "evangelical") theologians have adopted a similar approach to reworking the gospel in order to make it broad and inclusive as possible. You can see that trend in varying degrees from a number of popular authors ranging from Ron Sider to Brian McLaren. The argument typically goes like this: The gospel is not primarily about personal salvation from the guilt and bondage of sin. Our focus too narrow. We should be less focused on divine perfection in the sweet by-and-by; more concerned with overthrowing human injustice in the nasty here-and-now. After all, Scripture says Jesus preached "the gospel of the kingdom," and since he is Lord of all, the kingdom includes all that ever has been, all that is, and all that ever will be. The gospel is the sweeping story of everything.

Scot Mcknight, for example, dismisses the classic Protestant emphasis on the doctrine of justification by faith by labeling it "the soterian gospel." It's self-centered, short-sighted, and deficient, he says. "It is too much shaped by a selfish concern of what God has done for me. . . what God has done to save me." The gospel is MUCH bigger than that, he says. "The Bible's emphasis on resurrection is cosmic, creational and has to do with Jesus reigning (and our reigning with him)."

OK, there's a germ of truth in parts of that. I've already said that gospel truth is not finite. The drama of redemption does indeed extend from eternity past to eternity future, and in one way or another, there's not a molecule or even an isolated quark anywhere in the universe that will not in some way ultimately be affected by the gospel.

But the gospel is emphatically all about "what God has done for me. . . what God has done to save me." It is not at all about my work, my righteousness, or anything I have done in order to be saved—except in the sense that true gospel faith emphatically renounces every claim that "my own righteousness" might somehow figure in the equation (Philippians 3:4-11).

Furthermore, Scripture shows with undeniable clarity that the gospel has a distinct focus, and it is the story of redemption. The gospel message is first and foremost good news about the finished work of Christ in gaining atonement and redemption for everyone who believes. In presenting this truth to us, Scripture looks backward and forward simultaneously. The historical facts of gospel truth are as vital as the eschatalogical triumph it announces. The individual dimension is as important as the "cosmic, creational" features.

Marginalizing the redemptive and personal aspects of the Christian message misshapes and severely diminishes the gospel; it certainly doesn't enlarge or enhance it in any way.

Note: in Acts 20:24, Paul called it "the gospel of the grace of God." In 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul gives that short list of things that he says are "of first importance," he makes it clear that the heart of the gospel is the atonement Christ offered on the cross. He told the Corinthians "We preach Christ crucified." He said, "When I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

And the central meaning of the cross is likewise clear: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I [an individual] am the foremost."

First Peter 1:9 states that "the outcome of your faith [is] the salvation of your souls." Peter goes on to say that this salvation is what the prophets prophesied about. They were writing about the grace that was to be ours. And Peter says they searched and inquired carefully, seeking to understand what the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. Atonement. Grace. The salvation of your souls. The suffering of Christ and the glory that follows. Those things are the proper focus of the gospel.

If you supplant the nucleus of that message with a lot of politically-correct values like a socialist notion of "economic justice," or a campaign to stop human trafficking, or boycotts of Disney, or anti-abortion lobbying, or "God Hates Fags" posters (or anything else, whether you are crusading for legitimate virtues or twisted ones)—if you supplant the proper focus of the gospel with any other agenda—you have twisted and corrupted the gospel just as surely as the Judaizers and gnostics did, and your efforts will undermine true unity in the visible church, whether that is what you intend or not.

History is filled with proof of that assessment. Recent history alone offers sufficient cautionary lessons. I'm thinking especially of just the past decade, looking at the wreckage in the church left by the Emerging Church movement.

In short, the gospel, properly understood, is a sufficient basis for unity. But that doesn't mean we can automatically forge bonds of fellowship with everyone who puts his signature on a sound and biblical statement of evangelical conviction.

We must not only affirm the truth but also proclaim it. And we must not only proclaim it but also defend it. That is the true, biblical prescription for unity.

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19 July 2012

Pyro brain trust forum: evangelism

by Dan Phillips

I'm sorry. I do have a number of posts marinating, but none is "done" yet. This Sunday's sermon is on spiritual gifts — yep, everything that can be brought from the Bible on that entire topic in one sermon. Sermon outline handout is two pages. So that's fun, and challenging.

Also, I'm prepping a Hither and Thither (a popular feature) for tomorrow on my own little blog.

So that leaves us with just enough time for another visit to the Brain Trust.

All Biblically-faithful churches are concerned with evangelism. I'd say if they aren't, they don't fit the description.

That said, how to do it? Hand out tracts in parking lots? Go door to door? Study groups?

So let me ask you two questions:
  1. What is the best book you've ever read on personal evangelism, and what makes it so excellent?
  2. What is the best book you've ever read — or approach you know — on corporate/church evangelism, and what makes it so excellent? (Include here what approaches your church has found fruitful.)
Thanks, should be profitable.

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18 July 2012

Killing Calvinism

by Frank Turk

A few weeks ago I promised that today I would do a book recommendation for a new book which works over a topic which is near and dear to my heart.  The book is Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher, published by subscription e-publisher CruciformPress.

Cruciform is an interesting business case as it is (almost exclusively) an e-publisher, and it generates long pamphlets on a pretty tight schedule on topics of general interest.  So in approaching its titles, I don't think any of the authors are trying to produce a work which will light up a generation, and I don't think Cruciform is looking to create best-sellers.  It's looking to produce timely features with enough depth to satisfy the popular reader, and to keep the content inside to four walls of orthodoxy without turning over anyone's apple cart.

Dutcher's book is already raising a few eyebrows because, by golly, it's taking a long, hard look at the ways in which Calvinists shoot themselves in the foot.  And before I get to my angry eyebrows on this subject, let me say that if you are new to the movement, or are just now realizing that your will compared to God's will is a little puny and selfish and God's will is the only thing keeping you between the ditches of works righteousness and works frat party, you should read this book.  At less than $9, I have to admit that I wish that someone had given me one of these when I e-mailed James White for the first time after reading The Potter's Freedom -- it would have saved me a couple of years of trying to get myself on the right side of God's love and sovereignty.

The laundry list is simple: Calvinists sometimes love a system rather than a savior; we love books more than discipleship; we love the position of God more than the person of God; we forget how to evangelize; we live in a small circle; we know it all; we demean those who aren't (yet) Calvinists.  And to his credit, Dutcher doesn't turn this book into an organ to run down his fellow Calvinists for, frankly, walking the path all of us walk to get to our adolescence in the faith.  Dutcher's prose is serviceable and readable, and his points are pragmatic -- immediately actionable.

Except for the 3-5 pages he spends defending Bill Hybels in his chapter about living in too small a circle, I commend the book to you as utterly worth your time, especially if you are yourself discipling someone new to our team in the Christian theology league.

I want you to go and buy Greg Dutcher's book.  I think there are a lot of people reading this blog who need it not to find out what is wrong with other people, but what is wrong with the way they are personally doing Calvinism.  This booklet is absolutely the friendly audit of the movement, and in its analysis it covers the obvious bases.

What?  This book is only about 100 pages, and you can read it in about an hour if you mark it up really good.  You could have read through to chapter two by now if you had bought the book already.

Oh: I see.  You came for the fireworks today.  It's Wednesday, and I promised to "light up one of my favorite topics" when I came to this book review.  You're one of those people.

Listen: the biggest problem with the so-called Young-Restless-Reformed movement is how allegedly self-aware we all are.  Hipsters run around hash-tagging themselves as having #FirstWorldProblems and wearing plaid and drinking PBR in some kind of meta-ironic way -- the YRR are always rolling their eyes at how theologically-wonky they are while at the same time assembling reading lists of out-of-print books and marking up lists of their own rudimentary engagement errors while at the same time not really having any lost people they know to tell about the amazing Jesus they have 1343 uses for in soteriology and sanctification alone.  Or on the other side of the team bench they find themselves hypnotized by how close to antinomianism they can ride their motorcycles up to on the way to the MMA PPV, rattling on about Christ being bigger than sin but not so big as to actually conquer any sin in them personally.

Dutcher's book is a fine piece of work to start with for someone in cage-stage Calvinism to present to them as utterly-friendly to the movement so that they don't make the grade-school errors so many of us (note the pronoun) have made -- but let's be honest with ourselves: we have much worse problems than the ones Greg notices here.

Joe Thorn's Note to Self scratched the surface of those problems, and I credit him for that.  Note to Self is probably the second book you should read in this category of theological self-help -- right after Killing Calvinism.  But that said, I think at some point the navel-gazing has to stop and we have to live a little and take our licks to grow up.  The way that Calvinism really becomes a way to worship God and not just a kind of seminary education is to live a little, and then die a little, and then maybe die a little more, until there is less of you and more of the Jesus you ought to be leaning on left to do the things you say you believe.

So fine: read the books.  Sort of read them once and hide them away for a year or 3 so that you are forewarned about the kind of person you really are.  Then, after you have tried to live inside the warning, go back and read them a second time and see how well you did.  It will sting a little, but it will be worth it.  Every one of you needs it, and it'll be OK if you don't take my word for it.

It won't be OK, however, if you don't figure these things out on your own.

17 July 2012

Pyro brain trust forum: what Bible version, and why?

by Dan Phillips

I am still in need of a low-maintenance meta, and so...

At CBC, the pew Bibles are the 1978 version of the New American Standard Bible, which actually is no longer in print. I was happy enough to learn that this was the version in use, though, prior to coming. I had a long affectionate history with the NAS.

For English Bible reading, when I was saved I read the KJV for years, straight-up wide-margin or New Scofield-ized. I was also given a Living Bible, and soon got an NAS. Though I read through many translations (including the Modern Language Bible, the version by Charles Williams, the NIV, then later the CSB), the NAS was my staple for a good long time.

Specifically, I liked the Ryrie Study Bible version for a number of reasons. The margins were wide enough for notes; I often wrote the Hebrew and Greek in the margins. Also, the historical books' outlines were very helpful, often including date plus parallel versions (i.e. between Kings and Chronicles). Finally, the footnotes usually were less Ryrie's interpretation and more often helpful information such as "25 miles NW of Jerusalem," or archaeological finds, or the like, giving helpful facts fast and straight-up.

Then when the 1995 revision came out, I quickly got it, glad that the translators had finally dropped the Thee's and Thou's which, while useful, were no part of (hel-lo?) standard American idiom, New or otherwise.

However, I soon became disaffected with the NAS95. For instance, I noticed that the NAS95 adopted the NIV's affectation of dropping conjunctions for the sake of smoothness — even when (as in Mt. 17:1) the conjunction is arguably exegetically important. Plus it did an odd thing with which the translators of the CSB were later to go a little nuts — of usually translating (or transliterating) Christos as "Christ," but a few times inexplicably using "Messiah" as well (Mt. 1:1, 16; 2:4... and never again).

As I said, I read through the CSB but never really adopted it. I did also use the New King James for some time. I appreciated that it was often even more literal than the NAS; however, the indefensible and irrational textual practices in the NT just drove me bonkers.

When the ESV came out, I switched to it and basically stuck with it, until now. I like it in most regards. But as I have read through, almost every time I see a translation issue, they've just echoed the RSV without freshly revisiting it. Plus, some passages are actually inexplicable steps backward in fidelity to the original (e.g. Mk. 1:40-41).

To match our pew Bible, I'm back to doing my personal English text reading (and preaching) in the pre-1995 NAS.

All that to ask this: what does your church use, and why?

I'm open to hearing from anyone, but I particularly want to hear from pastors. To be even more specific, I particularly want to hear from pastors who've kept up their Hebrew and Greek (which should be a tautology but, alas, is not). I'd like to hear

  • What was your rationale?
  • What process did you go through?
  • Why do you use what you use?
  • Were there helpful books, studies, articles online or in journals? 

For my part, I like the NAS just fine, though the ESV has a readability edge. Kevin DeYoung makes a decent case for the ESV. I have reservations about any English translations... including my own! Nothing will persuade me to use the NIV or (great googly-moogly) the execrable TNIV, except for reference in study.

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16 July 2012

Effectual Calling

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from Sermon #73, a sermon preached on Sunday morning 30 March 1856 at the New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

It is said, especially, "Many are called, but few are chosen." Now that is not the effectual call which is intended by the apostle, when he said, "Whom he called, them he also justified." That is a general call which many men, yea, all men reject, unless there come after it the personal, particular call, which makes us Christians.

You will bear me witness that it was a personal call that brought you to the Saviour. It was some sermon which led you to feel that you were, no doubt, the person intended. The text, perhaps, was "Thou, God, seest me;" and the minister laid particular stress on the word "me," so that you thought God's eye was fixed upon you; and ere the sermon was concluded, you thought you saw God open the books to condemn you, and your heart whispered, "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord." You might have been perched in the window, or stood packed in the aisle; but you had a solemn conviction that the sermon was preached to you, and not to other people. God does not call his people in shoals, but in units. "Jesus saith unto her, Mary; and she turned and said unto him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master." Jesus seeth Peter and John fishing by the lake, and he saith unto them, "Follow me." He seeth Matthew sitting at the table at the receipt of custom, and he saith unto him, "Arise, and follow me," and Matthew did so.

When the Holy Ghost comes home to a man, God's arrow goes into his heart: it does not graze his helmet, or make some little mark upon his armour, but it penetrates between the joints of the harness, entering the marrow of the soul. Have you felt, dear friends, that personal call? Do you remember when a voice said, "Arise, he calleth thee." Can you look back to some time when you said, "My Lord, my God?" when you knew the Spirit was striving with you, and you said, Lord, I come to thee, for I know that thou callest me." I might call the whole of you throughout eternity, but if God call one, there will be more effect through his personal call of one than my general call of multitudes.

14 July 2012

Go On to the Next Person?

by Frank Turk

Happy Weekend – I hope it is raining where you like it is raining where I am.  I have a follow-up to the week of blog posts generated by my talk at the Tulsa conference last weekend which I think is an utterly-worthy and necessary endeavor.

Faithful reader Shane Dodson commented the following:
[Frank Said]"I think the people attracted to Paul and his ministry are not as much like he is in this respect. They only see the passionate plea to be reconciled to God and to see sin through the lens of the Law -- they don;t see any of the hard work of discipleship that comes after that."
Based upon what do you think this?
I am very interested how you arrived at that conclusion...but allow me a follow-up statement.
FYI, I was sitting out in the room when you gave this message. It left a few street preachers scratching their heads. I defended the totality of the message, and I think--overall--it's an important one.
However, if you could answer the above question and then explain exactly what role street preaching/street evangelism plays in the paradigm you laid out...I would appreciate it.
Thank you!
And this, I think, is the utterly-fair question: what is wrong with the way I am doing evangelism right now – especially if I am a follower of WOTM or the method most perceive as the Paul Washer method of preaching to lost people?  Am I not Gospel-faithful?

For the record, I have already said this:
I am not about to say that there is no value in personal evangelism or open-air preaching. I am not saying you ought not to declare the Gospel, and also never to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you. Evangelism is necessary and important. But Evangelism that saves people to a solitary life of independent Bible reading and no connection to other believers, no way to mature in the faith, no accountability to Elders and to other people who love them and Christ is a recipe for failure – and a model found nowhere in the New Testament. 
And that ought to clear it up.  That paragraph, in fact, deserves deep reflection by anyone who cares about the other topic of last week’s conference – discernment of false Gospels and false Discipleship.

Think about this with me for a minute: let’s say that you personally are a lost person on the streets of Little Rock, and I have taken my convictions to the street to evangelize the lost – to do something like ministry – rather than merely blogging to the choir.  And let’s say that our paths cross on a Friday, and I preach to you under the authority of Jesus Christ the good news concerning His death and resurrection.  And let’s say that, by the grace of God, you receive that message in right-minded Berean fashion and both repent and rejoice – you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.

Then I hand you a Bible, hug you in joy, and go on to the next person.  You have a feeling that something else ought to happen, but you also have things to do today so you fold the Bible to your side and carry on.

Tomorrow, you wake up and remember that yesterday you knew for certain that Jesus was both Lord and Christ.  And you have this book now which, it seems, was supposed to have something to do with that.  Now what?  What do I do with this book?  The wiseguy back there is about to publish the comment, “READ IT!” which, fair enough: so you start reading it.  You actually start in the beginning, and you read 3-4 chapters, and there’s no Jesus in there.  There’s this talking snake, and then there is this brother who kills his brother because somehow the murdered brother was accepted by God, and the angry brother wasn’t.  It seems both strange and compelling at the same time, but you can’t tell why.  So you put the Bible down, and you pray a completely-novice prayer: “Jesus?  God? Yesterday I was sure you’re my only hope, and today I am confused by this Bible.  Help me to understand it better because I believe what I learned yesterday, but today I need to know you are still there.  Help me please.  Amen.”

Evening and Morning, as they say, and another day passes.

Sunday comes around, and you think maybe you should go to a church – but which one?  You pick the nearest one, which turns out to be a Catholic church (for example), and it’s really strange enough that you realize that what they were talking about and what that Street Preacher was talking about aren’t the same – so you slip out before the lines in the aisles dissipate so no one notices you leaving, and you go home.

And now you’re a little confused – you’re not sure what you got yourself into.  So you turn on the TV, and you find this fellow in a suit with a Bible open in from of him, and he says the name “Jesus” a lot, and he seems excited about it, and he uses the word “deliverance” a lot, and he talks about how much good God wants for your life, and he seems like a nice young man.  He has a great smile, and a convicting way of speaking without being judgey.  His name is Joel Osteen, and it turns out a lot of people listen to him – he has the most popular podcast on iTunes under “religion,” and he has a huge church, and he’s sold a lot of books which you can find in the local (non-Christian) bookstore.  If a lot of people are following him, it has to be right to do it yourself …

Now, listen: the lone-ranger street preacher is now going to object, "Hey: this scenario is implausible.  I gave these people the real Gospel, and as far as I can tell they accepted Jesus, not Mammon, into their life as Lord and Christ.  It is implausible that they will go from my message to Osteen in the span of 3 days to be made into disciples of heresy.  Not just implausible, mind you: it’s an insult to me and my good service to God."

My rejoinder to that objection is this: then please tell me where all these people come from.  Osteen has sold more than 20 million books, and something like 7 million people watch his TV show every week.  Those people are coming from somewhere, and I suggest to you that it is not from healthy churches or from under the sound teaching of godly elders.  Are they all coming from street evangelism?  Not hardly – I’ll bet most of them are coming from unhealthy churches and careless journeymen religious pep-talkers.  But here’s the rub: there is no way to know what happens to these people after you have preached to them if they are not turned over to a healthy local church.

In my talk, I said that Peter’s hedge against people having a false faith was to put them inside the local church through baptism and fellowship.  What about Paul – the hero to every street preacher who ever waved a Bible on the street corner?  What did Paul do?  Did Paul just get an act of contrition from people?  Or did Paul go out and establish churches which were lead by elders and pastors so that these people who now had a new faith were put in a safe place to mature so that they didn’t simply get choked out by the cares of the world?

And most importantly for the sake of Shane’s question: What does Paul Washer do?  I asked Paul this question over dinner the night before the conference, and while I do not have his permission to share that conversation with you, here’s what it says at HeartCry Ministry’s web site:
The HeartCry Missionary Society functions as a partner with and facilitator between the autonomous churches and individual donors in the West and the indigenous church in some of the most un-evangelized areas of the world, to the end that the Gospel might be preached to every creature, the elect might be gathered from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, and strong local churches might be established among them. Our specific calling is to partner with indigenous churches of like faith and practice in the training and sending of missionaries for the establishment of mature autonomous local churches
Let me tell you something: this final objective if frankly absent from most open-air ministries in my experience.   If you do not share this objective, you do not understand the preaching or the ministry of Paul Washer.  You are not like him.  You may not be a heretic, but you are not a person who is concerned about the discipleship and orthodoxy of others.

And to this end, I reiterate the words I quoted from John MacArthur in my message:
The best way to evangelize is to produce one reproducing disciple. You got that? Paul knew that this running around creating spiritual infancy all over everywhere and leaving a whole lot of spiritual babes lying on their backs screaming was not the way to go at it because they weren't mature enough to reproduce but better to spend yourselves on some individuals that they might become mature and that they might carry the Gospel. You know Jesus didn't speak to large crowds very often and even when he did he spoke in parables and they didn't understand it. He spent most of his time with 12 individuals, didn't he? That's really the heart of evangelism. He was committed to the priority of maturing the believers. He himself knew that was his calling. 
If that was Christ’s calling, what sort of disciple are you if that is not your calling?  If you are truly concerned about the Gospel, you must be concerned about all its necessary consequences, and being a family member under the Fatherhood of God is absolutely one of them.

Comments are open.  Mind your manners.

13 July 2012

Now! Get Blogging!

This Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro is posting a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog on June 2005, on the topic of the trend at the time of people starting blogs.

For the sake of irony, the comments are closed.

Virtual drinking guilds and smoking-fraternity group blogs are all the rage these days—especially those devoted to picking fights about theology and religion. Here's a step-by-step guide to everything you need to start your own similar frat-house-cum-religious-debate blog. Follow my advice, and you and your coterie of compadres can soon be starting your own theological food-fights in the virtual realm, just like the Big Boys:

  1. You have to have a clever name. Pub-names (as well as names of famous writers' brotherhoods who once hung out in pubs) have been done to death. Yawn. Try something fresh: adapt the name of your favorite sports team ("Manchester Separated"), motorcycle club ("Heaven's Devils"), fast-food joint ("Bloggo Bell") or something similar. (I don't think "Posse Blogitatus" has been used yet. Whoever takes it first can have it, courtesy of the PyroManiac.)
  2. Recruit five to ten contributors with major attitudes. They don't necessarily have to be able to think; but they must be outspoken. Some of the über-bad-boy bloggers use copious amounts of brew to achieve the desired effect. I don't recommend this. Your blogger-team can include women, but they must be kept mostly in the background—and it's good if they at least try to be cruder than the guys.
  3. Always blur lines. Especially blur the lines between humor and malevolence; between cleverness and bad taste; and between fresh thinking and old heresies. Mock what is sacred and celebrate what is worldly, but never do this overtly or without a disclaimer—no matter how insincere the disclaimer.
  4. Speaking of fresh thinking, be careful to guard against affirming any old ideas. You don't want to be thought of as too staid. You must be provocative if you are going to compete in the cutting-edge religious-frat-house-blog marketplace. If you are concerned about retaining your good standing in your church or some Christian organization that you work for, you don't really need to advocate anything unorthodox to accomplish this. It's sufficient just to question the old orthodoxies.
  5. In fact, be careful not to affirm too much of anything. Instead, ask questions; raise doubts; stir controversy; foment scepticism. Again, always include the requisite disclaimers.
  6. Tolerate no criticism from readers. You might have to turn off the comments at your blog if your blog-team isn't clever enough to answer detractors. (By "answer" I mean, of course, that you need to insult and belittle them with personal put-downs.) One blog ran out of insults before running out of critics, so they devised a brilliant all-purpose answer for every criticism: Just tell people you are having a "private" conversation, so would-be critics of your ideas should pay you no mind. Inventive, huh?
  7. Now, here's the coup de grâce—a virtual cheat-sheet so that when you can't think of anything truly clever, you can still sound theologically erudite: Do-It-Yourself Impressive Theological Constructs®.

Voila! Your own group blog.

12 July 2012

Biblical Evangelism (3 of 3)

by Frank Turk

The most interesting phrase in Acts 2, it seems to me, is this: there were added that day.” There were added that day. The Greek word there means “added to a group,” or “joined together.” And we might take it for granted that Luke here meant that these people confessed their sins are were added to the invisible church – to total number of people who are saved for all time. Amen?

The problem is that the text won’t let us get away with such a general reading of what happened at Pentecost. It goes on from there:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Think about this: the point of Peter’s evangelism was not simply to hand out Jesus tickets for people to now sit and wait for his return. The point of Peter’s evangelism was to get people convicted of sin and also of Jesus’ authority over them not merely to judge them, but to also forgive them and then teach them. That’s the great commission, after all, right? That’s how we can make sense of this passage – by what Jesus commanded. But look: Peter was not looking for a mere confession of sin: he was looking to cause people to be joined to the body of the church.

You know: one of the themes you will read about on the internet when it comes to evangelism is the fear of false conversions. There’s a worry that there’s a type of evangelism that will give people a false sense of security regarding their state before Christ. Let me admit that, in one sense, that talk offends me. It seems to me that the right confidence of the believer is that whatever sin there is in me, however great my sin is, Jesus Christ is greater still. Jesus Christ is greater than my greed. Jesus Christ is greater than my lies. Jesus Christ is greater than my sexual sins. Jesus Christ is greater than my anger and hatred. Jesus is overcoming all those things for me in the ultimate sense, and Jesus is overcoming them in the immediate sense – even when I am weak. This is Romans 7 and 8: Wretched man that I am, I am delivered from death by Jesus Christ – there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen? In one sense, because Jesus is Lord and Christ, we cannot be overconfident in his ability to overcome our sin. 

But here’s the thing: Jesus himself says there are those who will cry out, “Lord! Lord!” in the final day, but he will tell them, “I never knew you.” And Peter’s hedge against that here at Pentecost is not to merely get these people to feel guilty, or to ask for forgiveness, or to write a date down in the front of their Bibles. His purpose, as commanded by Christ, was to make disciples of these people – and actually add them to the church.

In 1973, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Acts 15 & 16, and in it, he said this:
[QUOTE]Now when we think in our minds today of a pastor we think of a guy who stays around a long time and lives in a house in the neighborhood and teaches the Bible. When we think of an evangelist we think of a guy with a briefcase and a handful of sermons. You hear him in several different cities and he gives the same message. You think of a kind of traveling guy, see? That's really not the Biblical picture of an evangelist. We think of an evangelist as a guy who runs around and gets people saved and then leaves them around for Christians to follow up.

But you know what Paul was in terms of an evangelist? He was a Biblical evangelist in so far as he saw his responsibility not only as winning people but as maturing them, … Do you know what his priority was in evangelism? Discipleship.

I think one of the things that very often is missing in our evangelism … is a failure to really love the individual that we've led to Christ to the point where we feel this tremendous responsibility.

If you don't learn anything about evangelism, learn this. The best way to evangelize is to produce one reproducing disciple. You got that? Paul knew that this running around creating spiritual infancy all over everywhere and leaving a whole lot of spiritual babes lying on their backs screaming was not the way to go at it because they weren't mature enough to reproduce but better to spend yourselves on some individuals that they might become mature and that they might carry the Gospel. You know Jesus didn't speak to large crowds very often and even when he did he spoke in parables and they didn't understand it. He spent most of his time with 12 individuals, didn't he? That's really the heart of evangelism. He was committed to the priority of maturing the believers. He himself knew that was his calling. [UNQUOTE]
Let me say this as plainly as possible: as human beings, we have a great eye for the faults of other people’s way of doing things, and not much of an eye for what we ourselves are doing poorly. The challenge in the balance of our key passage from the book of Acts is to see that all kinds of evangelism falls so far short of the first act of evangelism that we ought to be embarrassed by all of them rather than justifying our way over another method which, obviously, gets so much wrong.

True evangelism is going to get people convicted of sin and get them grateful to God – and draw them into a community of believers. Let’s think about this soberly: we’re at a conference about evangelism and discernment today. Somehow our friends at Grace Family Bible church thought these two great and good ideas belong together like some kind of theological Reese’s Cup or an Oreo Cookie. I utterly agree with them. The problem we as believers face is that we don’t act like these things go together. And this contributes to the problems that exist in the church today.

Here is what I am not about to say: I am not about to say that there is no value in personal evangelism or open-air preaching. I am not saying you ought not to declare the Gospel, and also never to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you. Evangelism is necessary and important. But Evangelism that saves people to a solitary life of independent Bible reading and no connection to other believers, no way to mature in the faith, no accountability to Elders and to other people who love them and Christ is a recipe for failure – and a model found no where in the New Testament.

When Peter evangelized the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost, he did not save them to some kind of smug and solitary lifestyle. Peter preached to them so that the following things must happen:

• Those evangelized must repent and be baptized be baptized into the family of God o Look: there is nothing magical or metaphysical about baptism. It is utterly right to say that the thief on the cross was saved and entered into the kingdom of God without even a mere sprinkle, let alone a proper full-body submersion in water. But unless you are evangelizing on death row just before someone is executed, your message ought to be Peter’s message: repent and be baptized. Get added to the assembly of God’s people – not in theory, or in your head, but into a real body of local believers. If Christ’s commands are commands and not requests, you yourself ought to belong to a local church, and the goal of your actions ought to be to add people to a local church. Getting a confession of sin from people without turning them over to local elders and pastors for the care of their soul is spiritual malpractice.

• Those evangelized must be devoted to the apostles' teaching.  I guess I don’t understand how any activity is called “evangelism” or can pose as “obedience” when what it does is cause people to be accountable to no one and set up for failure rather than success. Think about this: if you hire somebody at work, you don’t tell them, “well, thanks for you application: we accept you! Now you set your own schedule, you define your own work, you tell me when you’re successful and when you’re slacking off.” The very least you do for someone new to a job is to train them in the basics and give them a schedule so they know when and where they need to show up. We can’t expect someone who knows nothing about Jesus or the Bible to do self-service discipleship.

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• Those evangelized must be devoted to corporate worship.  Acts tells us those Peter evangelized did this: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” That is: they spent time together making God the most important thing.  It also says they were “together and [had] all things in common -- They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Look: that’s a commitment to other people bigger than an intellectual commitment to the idea that God has an invisible church of truly-saved people which (you hope) you are adding people to. It means that in some way Christ dying for you doesn’t simply give you a right to call God “Father”: it gives you a role in a family, a place in a close community where we ought to be willing to suffer for and suffer with each other through the challenges in Life. It paints a picture of worship which is greater than the temple, a kind of worship which is both in Spirit and in Truth.

Listen: Luke ends the second chapter of Acts by saying, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” That is: Someone preached, some were convicted, some repented and were baptized, and those baptized lived as if the preaching was true – their lives changed, and their priorities changed, and the “centrality of the Cross” or the “centrality of the Gospel” as some would say it was not simply some kind of bumper-sticker slogan or t-shirt that they wore: the Cross and its power were made to be the central matter of their lives, and everything they did was structured around that.

Let’s wrap this up briefly: The Christian life is an uneven field full of ups and downs. Even Paul said, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” He knew what it meant to be brought low because he had been brought low; he knew how to prosper because he had in fact prospered. But let’s be certain not to miss this: Paul knew these things in spite of being an apostle, chosen by Christ, and specially gifted to serve God’s people. The apostle abounded, and the apostle knew hunger and need. If that’s true of the man who God used to write 30% of the New Testament, how much more is this true of us who, frankly, have a long way to go in our running the race to keep the faith?

Yet it is unmistakable that Christ is the cause and foundation and resource for us to have what it takes to do all things and face these ups and downs. Yet when Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ,” he says, “yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.”

One of Christ’s provisions to strengthen us to do all things is the one most obvious, yet hiding in plain sight: being together as a local church. It is kind of you to share in each others’ trouble, and much more so that you can take hold of and revive a concern for the lost not just to convict them of sin, or hope that Christ will comfort them after the have prayed a prayer, but that you will also devote your lives with them to the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of bread and prayers, and the sharing of all things in common so that many will be added to the church daily.

My friends, be faithful to that calling. Thank you for your time today, and may God’s grace and peace be with you as you go now and do these things in the name of Jesus.

11 July 2012

Biblical Evangelism (2 of 3)

by Frank Turk

You know: Jesus could have said, “Go and make subjects of all nations,” or “go and conquer all the nations,” or “go and drive out all the nations,” or “go and make a footstool of my enemies,” and sound very Old Testament and New Testament at the same time. “Go claim the promise to Abraham,” he could have said, I guess. All of those could be misinterpreted to mean, “go and make war on all things,” or worse “go and set people aside until I can come back and finish up here.”

But Jesus says, “Go and make Disciples.” The blessed King James translation says, “go and teach all nations.” That word doesn’t mean you cause people to wear a t-shirt, or get a plastic fish on their cars, or hand them a card to fill out, or to write a date down in the front cover of their Bible. It means you cause them to sit under the teaching. In the days of Christ, it meant that you gave up something in order to follow your teacher around – or at least to be available when he is in town to teach.

When you go and make disciples, what are you doing? That is: what ought you to do? Listen: without question, you are telling them the definition of the authority of Christ: Christ died for our sins, in accordance to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scripture. Christ has the authority over all life and even over death. In that, because of Christ’s authority, they must repent: they must go – depart from the life of this world into the life of Christ’s kingdom. But to say that and gain the first act of obedience is a one-time event. Evangelism is not merely a call to a one-time event.

This would be like saying buying a house is a one-time event: I signed the papers, but I don’t have to move in. I am the owner of the property, but you can’t expect me to live there, can you? Cut the grass? Know my neighbors? Pay the utilities and keep up the building? That sounds like you’re asking a lot of me – I just want to buy the house so I could claim the fancy address.

But that is exactly the paradigm we have to avoid in evangelism: merely getting people to volunteer or somehow agree. We have to get them to move into the household of God – because that’s where the Kingdom is. That’s where the Holy Spirit is. That’s where Salvation is. We are not looking for them to agree that we have won an argument with them: we are ambassadors for Christ, with God making his appeal through us. And we implore them on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake God made Jesus to be sin even though he knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And in that, we are not asking them simply to say they need help: we are making them disciples. We are teaching them what Christ has taught us. In fact, Christ says that explicitly, doesn’t he? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

If we see evangelism as something more than this, or less than this, we have utterly missed the point. On the one hand, we cannot see evangelism as the highest moment in the life of the evangelist or the person being evangelized. While we can rightly say that it is in some way the goal of the church, it is not a sacrament. It is not the only requirement of the life of the believer, and it is not something that stands by itself. On the other hand, Christ has in no way asked us to sort of dabble in Jesus trivia. He hasn’t asked us to put his name on bumper stickers, or on hats and t-shirts, or on giant foam fingers that say “Jesus is #1!” That’s not evangelism – it’s far too little to be a plea from God to be reconciled. It is also far too little to say to someone that they are a car wreck of sins and faults. Most people are well aware of their own shortcomings and they strive mightily to be better than what they are naturally prone to do. It is too little to simply name and expose sin. Equally, it is far too little to simply say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” – a statement which is, at it root, true enough but utterly lacking in anything that requires Jesus Christ to die on a cross.

This is what Peter was thinking about when he tumbles out into the street, full of the Holy Spirit, to make the first post-resurrection attempt at street preaching. The great commission wasn’t lost on him: it was clear to him now. Peter was declaring something rooted in the authority of God.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

He means: God knew what he was doing. God has the power to do what he is doing. Peter is speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem explicitly about what God has planned for them in the person and work of Christ. Jesus was given to them with the power of God through sign and wonders and mighty works – but more importantly, Jesus was delivered to his death also by the power of God, and the authority of God, and the foreknowledge and willingness of God, to be put to death.

See: the question of God’s authority in the story of Jesus, as far as Peter was concerned, was critical – it was the basis for saying anything else. Because consider what had happened: the Romans and the leaders of Jerusalem put Jesus to death just like they put so many other troublemakers to death. There is nothing remarkable about crucifixion to these people – except that it was a vile death. But it wasn’t a unique or somehow novel way to put someone to death. In many ways, it made Jesus look rather mundane to the world.

But as Peter tells it, there is nothing mundane about Christ. He came in God’s authority – and this, he says, was well known to everyone. The way Jesus lived, and the signs he performed, were a testimony to everyone that he was sent by God. But it was not only that God sent Jesus to live: God sent Jesus to die. Jesus was not merely an example of how to obey the law of Moses: Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses – concluding with his death on a cross.

“This Jesus God raised up,” Peter continues, “and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

You see: Peter gets it about Jesus. It is not just Jesus’ death that comes under God’s authority: it is Jesus resurrection that presents us with the crucial truth about God’s authority. Peter cites the Psalmist here to point this out: Jesus lives because God is making a footstool out of his enemies. The authority of God over death is demonstrated in the new life of Christ, and it shows us something about Christ, which, it seems to me, the Jews in Jerusalem understood immediately.

Peter tells them: “Know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now look: we’re about half-way finished now, and for most of you there are no surprises so far. This is where most of us are satisfied to know what we think we ought to know about evangelism. As long as we declare the right list of truths, we are doing what we read the Bible to tell us to do, and the rest is up to God. The problem is that this is only half-right, and not at all serious enough about what happens next in the text.

Now when they [The people in Jerusalem] heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

That’s pretty good, right? God moves, people are convicted by the preaching of the Gospel, and they ask for the solution to their problem. So what we might expect Peter to do next is something like this:

And Peter said to them: “Since you know you are a sinner, confess with your tongue and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, and you will be saved.” or maybe this: “Repent and sin no more.” All perfectly-sound, specifically-biblical words and phrases.

But look: if the point of Peter’s evangelism was to simply get the people listening only to admit they need a savior from sin, he could have said anything next – except what he actually said. But his response to the question “what shall we do?” tells us about what he knows the Holy Spirit was intent on doing.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

Consider it: when Peter carried out the great commission for the first time, he doesn’t get people to simply say, “I’m a sinner, and I need help.” He tells them: God has made a promise today, in Christ, and is calling people to himself. He tells them that repentance looks like something other than a private, internal admission. And most importantly, something happens to people when they hear this message.

Luke tells us what then happened:

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

What is most interesting about this sentence is not the act of baptism – which, it seems to me, is pretty interesting. I mean: that act is the thing Jesus told these guys to do in the Great commission, right? Teach all nations and baptize them.

The most interesting phrase here is this: there were added that day.” There were added that day. The greek word there means “added to a group,” or “joined together.” And we might take it for granted that Luke here meant that these people confessed their sins are were added to the invisible church – to total number of people who are saved for all time. Amen?

The problem is that the text won’t let us get away with such a general reading of what happened at Pentecost.