Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tender Calvinist: An Oxymoron? It Need Not Be!

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26, RSV)

I’ve heard it said that when you get two Calvinists together, the two of them will spend more time arguing about that with which they disagree, than on that which they hold in common. Perhaps you’ve seen that of others, or even in yourself (I must admit that I have).

Well, John Newton (1725-1807) - a self-proclaimed Calvinist who held strong to the truths of the Gospel of Grace - had these words of admonishment to a minister who was about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy (having written to John Newton to let him know of his intention). I print it in its entirety as it’s worth the read.

Dear Sir,
As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but also over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For methods sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads: respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write. If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts, and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever. But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his. Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose as taught in 2 Timothy 2:25, “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are pre-engaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The Scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God. I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord. And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented. And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things that are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters that are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers that are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, and “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but also peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors. If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

John Newton
(IIIM Magazine Online, Vol. 4, No. 27, July 10-17, 2002; The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1 [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985])

Look, I enjoy a good discussion/debate (dare I say, argument) as much as the next guy. But may we all take heed to our heart, our attitude, motivation and spirit (of pride?!), and pray the Lord place a guard on our lips. (Psalm 141:3; 39:1; James 3)

May it be our prayer that our words and speech be from Him, of Him, and bring glory to Christ and His matchless name!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Who's Your Hero? Who'd be Your Lifelong Companion?

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

A pastor once told of how when he was in seminary, one of his professors suggested that each member of the class find one great and godly teacher in the history of the church and make him a lifelong companion. That pastor took this to heart and chose Jonathan Edwards, and since that time has soaked up all he can of Edwards - his life, ministry, teachings, writings and theology.

How about you? It's not "Who's Your Daddy," but "Who's Your Spiritual Hero?!" Who would you choose to be your lifelong companion, and why? And if you've already done so, what have you learned, and how have you been aided in your spiritual growth with the Lord?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

English Standard Version Bible (ESV): Journaling Version

I've become such a big fan of the new English Standard Version (ESV) Bible! You'll notice that every link to scripture on this blog is to the ESV, and I've placed a search tool in the right-side column by which you may look up any scripture passage within the ESV.

The ESV Bible is a new, essentially literal Bible translation that combines word-for-word precision and accuracy with literary excellence, beauty, and readability. Its publisher, Crossway, has recently released the The Journaling Bible™, a unique format with wide margins and ruled lines designed for writing prayers, observations, sermon notes, and personal reflections. It even includes a one-year Bible reading plan.

But don't take my word for it, the ESV has been praised by such giants as Dr. R. C. Sproul, Pastors John Piper & Max Lucado, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, Jerry Bridges, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, Dr. John F. Walvoord, and Dr. Joseph M. Stowell.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Quiet Time: Are You Feeling Guilty? PART 6

Here's the final installment of Greg Johnson's Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt: The rare beauty of Weakness Christianity. I hope this has blessed (and freed) you as much as it has me!

6. The Theology of Prayer: Means of Grace
So what exactly does prayer do? That’s the question I’m often asked. There are several wrong answers to this question. Some assume that prayer furnishes God with the information he lacks. God doesn’t view it that way. He not only knows what’s going on now, he knows what will be going on next week. Indeed, he even ordained what will be going on next week - the Bible speaks of “the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11).

Neither is prayer an attempt to convince God to do what he wouldn’t otherwise do. He will grant our requests only insofar as they accord with his eternal purpose - his will. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 Jn 5:14-15).

And I hope we’ve dismissed the idea that prayer shows God how much we love him! It’s not a work, but a grace! But often we think that prayer is something we do to obligate God to bless us. This is the subtlest of errors, for it resembles the biblical teaching. Indeed, it is a caricature of the biblical picture of prayer. Grace-empowered, grace-motivated prayer does bring blessing, but prayer isn’t a work we do that obligates God to give blessing. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Prayer is a means of grace, not a work to merit grace.

Theologians have classically called prayer and Scripture (along with the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper) means of grace - highways along which the Holy Spirit tends to travel. The means of grace are the normal instruments God uses to accomplish his saving work in and through us. Does prayer change things? Yes, because God changes things, and prayer is an expression of our reliance upon him to accomplish his purposes.

I remember about six months ago calling upon God in prayer about my finances. Starting a not-for-profit teaching ministry is hard work, and church missions committees would often rather support a missionary doing evangelism than one who is training believers. One evening I called out to God with great urgency. After a year of support raising and teaching, I could still only afford to teach half-time while working another job, and even the funds that had enabled that year of half-teaching were almost all gone. “Father, this is your ministry, not mine. If you have raised me up for this, then something must change. I cannot go without food. I cannot fail to pay my rent. If you wish me to teach, you must grant the resources to do this. If you do not enable me to teach, I will not teach. Apart from you I can do nothing.”

Was I manipulating God by threatening to stop teaching? No. And being a sovereign God, he wouldn’t have been impressed. Rather, I was confessing to God my utter and total dependence on him to fund my work.

The next day, after eight months without any new support, a new friend took me out for coffee and told me he felt compelled to support me at $100/month. That same day, I received a note from an old friend in another part of the country pledging monthly financial support. When I checked my email, I had received a message from a member of my church who had since moved away, telling me a $1200 check was in the mail.

Did my prayer force God’s hand? No. All of this was already in the works long before I prayed. But when I confessed my neediness to God, he was pleased to provide for me. Prayer was the means of grace, not a work I offered for reward. And God was glorified in my weakness. God is faithful to hear our prayers, and he delights in answering them. Prayer is one of the basic freedoms Christians have, and freedoms aren’t given to leave us in bondage. There is a cure for Quiet Time Guilt. That cure is the gospel of Christ, in whom we have redemption. Gospel—our need and God’s provision—is the heart of biblical prayer. God will care for us. We belong to him.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Jonathan Edwards: The American St. Augustine

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Colonial American, preacher and theologian of the Puritan tradition; known as one of the greatest and most profound American evangelical theologians. He was also a key and intricate figure in the Great Awakening (1739-1740), together with George Whitefield.

The impact of his life and teachings are still felt and changing lives even today, some 300 years later! Want to know why? Want to know more about Jonathan Edwards, his thoughts and theology? The following are just a few resources for you to wade through.

Enjoy the journey!

Pastor and author John Piper, a big fan of Jonathan Edwards, has spoken and written about this great giant of the faith. In 1988, he first delivered his lecture, Jonathan Edwards: The Pastor as Theologian, as part of his Men of Whom The World Was Not Worthy series, lectures originally delivered during his annual Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.

He’s also written a number of books highlighting Edwards’ teachings, including:

A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, John Piper & Justin Taylor (Editors).

This book is a composite of 10 essays highlighting different aspects of Jonathan Edwards' life and legacy, and shows how his teachings are just as relevant today as they were three centuries ago. Contributors include: J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, and Mark Talbot.

Good News Publishers is pleased to make available for free download the full text of this book for personal use. Please note that the text is copyrighted, however.

Contributors, Acknowledgments, and Introduction
Part One: The Life and Legacy of Edwards
Part Two: Lessons from Edwards's Life and Thought
Part Three: Expositions of Edwards's Major Theological Works
Appendixes and A Note on Resources

Particularly note Chapter 1, A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: Why We Need Jonathan Edwards 300 Years Later

Works of Jonathan Edwards, FREE (.pdf format)

A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (231 pages)
Freedom of the Will (157 pages)
Treatise on Grace (html format)
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One (2184 pages)
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume Two (2284 pages)

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 Volumes
CBD Price: $54.99 (Retail $119.95)

Books about Jonathan Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, by Iain Murray
God's Passion for His Glory, by John Piper
Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought, by Stephen Nichols & Samuel Logan
Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George Marsden
The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and the Evangelical Tradition, by Craig Larson, D.G. Hart, Stephen Nichols, eds.

Everything you've ever wanted on Jonathan Edwards, at

Friday, July 07, 2006

Reformed Theology: Boxers or Briefs?

A new era in defining one's theology, the Reformed Theology, has now arrived thanks to Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, and a leader among "emerging" churches.

In a recent interview, he proclaimed himself to be a "boxers Reformed guy."

So, which are you - a boxers, or briefs, Reformed guy? If it helps, a "boxer Reformed guy" is laid back about it [his/her theology?]; while the "briefs Reformed guy" is uptight and tidy.

Hmmm. Just when you think there's nothing new under the sun. . .

Monday, July 03, 2006

Independence, Yes. Dependence, Absolutely!

Tomorrow, as we celebrate and commemorate this country's Independence, let us not forget our, individual, utter dependence on God for, and in, all things. From the very air we breathe to the light by which we see and are warmed.

It is God who created all things and holds all things together by His providence, sustaining all things by His powerful word. (Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3 ) For it's in Him that we live, and move, and have our being; for, without Him, we can do nothing! (Acts 17:28a, John 15:5b)

As I posted a few days ago, it was Jonathan Edwards who recognized this dependence on Him, when he said, “the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.”

So, today, as every day, let us all trust in the LORD with all our heart; leaning not on our own understanding; but instead, in all our ways let us acknowledge Him, and He will direct our paths. (Prov. 3:5-6) If you are His, you may (in fact, you are directed to) cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:7)

See also, God Glorified in Man's Dependence, A sermon by Jonathan Edwards. Also, here.

So, declare your dependence today.