Monday, February 28, 2011

How Can a Just God Justify the Ungodly?

     "Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of Himself in the blood of His cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in their behalf; yet, inasmuch as He was given by the Father for them, and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners."  Chapter 11:3 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(Hebrews 10:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Isaiah 53:5-6; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:26; Ephesians 1:6-7; Ephesians 2:7)

    "A propitiation is a sacrifice to God meant to take away the enmity brought by sin between God and the worshiper.  Only Christ can be an effective propitiation." The Reformation Study Bible, note on 1 Jn. 2:2.  

     This video clip from a Paul Washer sermon speaks for itself!  I hope your churches are teaching these things about God's justice and Christ's satisfaction of it through propitiation.  If they aren't, I would ask why not?  We need to allow this unfathomable truth to sink in and meditate afresh on the depths of what Christ has done for us.  Our Lord bore the full weight of God's just wrath against our sin so that we could be His forever!  Rejoice brothers and sisters!  Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!!

Worthy is the Lamb, by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rob Bell Corrects Jesus' Teaching on Hell?!

     "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Jesus in Matthew 7:15).

     " . . . so it will be at the close of the age.  The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear." (Jesus in Matthew 13:40b-43).

     "The end of God's appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient; for then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting rewards, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast aside into everlasting torments, and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power."  Chapter 32:2 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(Romans 9:22-23; Mathew 25:21, 34; 2 Timothy 4:8; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:48; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

     Though this kind of report in today's post sounds crazy, my best guess is that similar things are happening at a church near you.  Thus, people that you are coming into contact with from within the church are becoming a mission-field and may need to be addressed in love, but also in truth.  Popular emergent pastor and false teacher Rob Bell has just published a book called Love WinsBell is the pastor of one of the fastest growing 'churches' in the nation, Mars Hill Bible Church (ironic name, since Bell clearly does not believe the Bible) in Grand Rapids, MI.  Bell is known for his inclusive view of 'Christianity' (e.g. he has had the Dalai Lama speak at Mars Hill and teaches that all faiths point equally to God), but his 'Christianity' is no Christianity at all!  In Bell's latest attack on orthodox Christianity, he takes issue with the doctrine of hell and eternal punishment . . . claiming that this doctrine is part of the many absurdities that keep people away from Christianity.  In short, Rob Bell is a modern universalist and his teachings are heterodox.
     We have a big problem here.  Jesus taught us more about hell than He did about heaven.  Moreover, His apostles continued Jesus' teaching on eternal punishment in the epistles.  The doctrine of eternal punishment is seen throughout the Scriptures.  While Bell's teaching sounds great to the unsaved multitudes, he pits himself directly against Christ.  It can't be stated any other way . . . though one of the characteristics of post-modern thinking is the fallacy that 2 opposing ideas can both be true!  Still trying to figure this illogical thinking out, but maybe it is best not to try.
     Covering Rob Bell today is also a good chance to expose you to Chris Rosebrough's ministry, Fighting for the Faith on Pirate Christian Radio.  Pastor Kevin DeYoung has also posted today on his blog about Bell and the important doctrine of the wrath of God.  Chris Rosebrough is on top of the disturbing evangelical scene and covers the latest events in the church thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with a good sense of humor.  For his coverage of Rob Bell's latest deviation from orthodox Christianity see this link on Fighting for the Faith.
     Pray that Rob Bell would repent of his false teaching and that others would be spared his ideas . . . these are false doctrines, that if believed, sadly land people in the eternal place that Bell believes does not even exist.  This is also the kind of teaching that robs God of being honored for His mercy and grace.  The mercy and grace that was especially on display as Jesus bore the wrath of God for sinners at Calvary.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What is the Gospel? Fridays

     There seems to be a ton of confusion in the visible church concerning the biblical gospel.  The basic questions that have been misunderstood are:  How is a person reconciled to God?  How as Christians do we convey the gospel to those outside of Christ?  Though the mistakes on what the gospel is are numerous, they seem to have one common theme.  The error is usually because the gospel is viewed as something that has more to do with what we do than what Christ has accomplished in history on our behalf.  For example, I just heard one evangelical pastor say the gospel constitutes "a full surrender to Jesus."  Many emergent pastors say, "Christians need to be the gospel to the world."  Even "America's pastor," Rick Warren of Saddleback Church fame, sees the gospel as "God giving us a 2nd chance or do-over" (Warren's illustration of the gospel is that of getting a 'mulligan' in golf!?).  Many pastors believe the gospel is carried out by getting people to come forward at an altar call to say "the sinner's prayer" (still looking for this tactic in the Word).  None of these descriptions constitutes the true "good news" of Christ, but all sound like pretty bad news!  Is a full surrender to Jesus the criteria for justification in the New Covenant?  Can we truly witness effectively for Christ if the gospel depends mainly on what we do? Is a do-over or 2nd chance at full obedience going to earn us a pardon by God?  Does the so called sinner's prayer really provide assurance of salvation?
     My plan here at Gospel Polemics is to lend us some assistance on what the gospel is each Friday.  Hopefully, it will help us in our own understanding of the gospel and in our communication of the good news to our unsaved neighbors!  This Friday, we have a helpful gospel quote from Dr. Richard Barcellos and short video from Dr. Michael Horton to get some clarification on the gospel started. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Small Group Guidance

    "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17).

     I recently spoke to a brother who has just moved and was looking for a new church home.  One of the churches he took a look at was an emergent type that seemed to stand for sound doctrine, but had at least one very troubling aspect.  This particular church requires in their "accountability" groups that each person confess all their sins to one another!

     Though I realize that churches are aiming for more "authenticity" and "transparency" (and this can be good), this approach of confessing every sin to one another has a multitude of potential pitfalls!  In this blog post by pastor Tullian Tchividjian, he brings us back to the gospel as the power-source of Christian sanctification.  One of the ironies in the Christian life is that if we spend more time meditating on what Jesus has already done for us, and quit thinking so much about what we have to do or not do we would grow more steadily into maturity.  Our Lord Jesus has already met every demand  of the law for us . . . we need to remember this as we determine to grow in Him.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

10 Effects of Believing the Doctrines of Grace

Dr. John Piper describes 10 effects of believing in the doctrines of grace at pastor John Samson's Effectual Grace blog.  What a God-centered and soul-satisfying contrast to much of American evangelicalism that majors in me-centered narcissism, and frivolity.  Enjoy!:

Seeker-driven worship songs (you may want to start here, then move to Piper):

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bookworm? Or Simple-Faith?

     Here is a good article by Kevin DeYoung that is likely to help us in our Christian sanctification.  Though the context of the article is in selecting an elder, I don't think that lets the rest of us off the hook.  Which are you most like: Mr. Bookworm? Or Mr. Simple-Faith? (both are very sincere believers).  What do you think your church tends to produce through her ministry emphasis?  Are you seeing your friends in this article?  Your spouses?  Pastor DeYoung proves here that we all have room to grow as Christians, but not necessarily in the same ways.  Personally, I would love to be more like Mr. Simple-Faith without losing Mr. Bookworm.  How about you?  Do you possess more knowledge than maturity? Or more maturity than knowledge?  In any case, we should be growing in both.

 ". . . but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen." (2 Peter 3:18).

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Is Reformed Theology?: Preservation of the Saints

     "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."  (1 Peter 1:3-5).

     "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called, and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." (Romans 8:28-30).

     "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6).  Emphasis mine.  

     "Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, and given the precious faith of His elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence He still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and through many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may be for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet He is still the same, and they shall be sure to to kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of His hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity."  Chapter 17:1 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(John 10:28-29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:19; Psalms 89:31-32; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Malachi 3:6)

     "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19).

     Well, here we are at the end of our video study of Reformed Theology with R. C. Sproul.  I hope and pray that in going through this series you have a better understanding of the Reformed view of the Scriptures and have found them biblically thorough, Christ-centered, historically orthodox, and personally edifying.  It is important to recognize that our study over the last couple of weeks is merely an overview of the key components that characterized Reformed Theology rather than a comprehensive compilation.  I would recommend coming back to these Reformed Theology posts at your convenience, looking up the Scriptures that are the basis for the doctrines, and perhaps even purchasing some of the referenced books for further study.  What any good theology does is labor intensively to discern what the Word is saying rather than attempt to sway others to a definitive theological perspective per se.  The Reformed doctrines were a rediscovery and recovery of biblical truth at a time in which the Roman Catholic church had corrupted the sound doctrine of Scripture and the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  In our day, there are different attacks on orthodoxy and they seem to me more subtle, but no less dangerous.  The Reformed faith answers these attacks well and brings us soberly back to the timeless truths of God's Word!  As one brother says, "The Christian faith does not need to be re-invented, it needs to be re-discovered."
     Our last doctrine for consideration in the doctrines of grace is that of the perseverance of the saints.  As R. C. mentions in today's video, this tag can be misleading because it implies that Christians need to preserve their faith through self-effort.  For this reason, we will refer to this biblical doctrine as the preservation of the saints.  The gist of this doctrine is:  all whom God sovereignly elects in eternity, foreknows will be called to faith in Christ by the gospel, calls efficaciously to new birth in time by the power of the Spirit, and justifies to stand blameless before Him in the imputed righteousness of Christ, will certainly be kept by God in the faith until final glorification in His presence (Rom. 8:28-30).  Philippians 1:6 is a wonderful and concise expression of this certain preservation of God's invisible church/actual church . . . what He begins in salvation, He will complete.  This doctrine by no means teaches that God's people cannot commit egregious sins, subjectively doubt their standing from time to time, be assaulted by spiritual forces whom attempt to undermine our faith, or face severe obstacles in life that can make our profession of faith appear tenuous.  These things and more will happen to each one of us on the path to glory, but God will see those whom are His through until the very end!
     Have you ever wondered why some who seem to be strong and grounded in the faith end up denying Christ and sometimes even become outward enemies of Christianity (e.g. Judas).  Have you been perplexed by those in the visible church who clearly abandon the essential doctrines of the faith, but still regard themselves (and are regarded by many) as Christians?  In your reading of Scripture, have you been disillusioned or confused at times with the sins of God's people?  Abraham's lying?  Moses' murder?  David's adultery (and conspiracy to murder)?  Samson's treachery and rebellion?  How about Peter's denial of His Lord with swearing (with oaths, not cussing as some teach!)?  What about our own sins?  Can we lose our salvation or "fall from grace" as is taught in most Arminian camps?  The Scriptures are clear that God's people will make it to glory despite themselves and are thus preserved by God through all of life as He is working everything for the good of those whom are His (Rom. 8:28).  For those who willfully leave and finally deny the faith, the Scripture is clear that they never possessed eternal life.  As Dr. Sproul said, "If you have it you cannot lose it; if you lose it, you never had it."
     Reformed Theology emphasizes that salvation is and must be God's work.  His Spirit powerfully applies the benefits of Christ's redemption from the beginning to the end.  After His resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, Christ lives to make intercession for His own as our Mediator and Great High Priest!  When we sin He pleads His merit and blood at the throne, when we are wayward He grants us repentance through conviction by the Spirit and the confession of our sins, when we are smug and self-sufficient He disciplines us to humility, when downcast He restores us through the joy of the Spirit, when we stray into lies He brings us back to truth, etc. etc. etc..  His work, His faithfulness, His power is more than enough to keep us in the faith.  "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) Emphasis mine.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Is Reformed Theology?: Effectual Grace or Effectual Calling

     "Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, He is pleased in His appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills , and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace."  Chapter 10:1 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(Romans 8:30; Romans 11:7; Ephesians 1:10-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Ephesians 2:1-6; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:17-18; Ezekiel 36:26; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:27; Ephesians 1:19; Psalm 110:3; Song of Solomon 1:4)

     "This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature, being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit; he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, and that by no less power than that which raised up Christ from the dead."  Chapter 10:2 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:5; John 5:25; Ephesians 1:19-20)

     From now on our study in Reformed Theology will not be referred to as TULIP or Calvinism because I'm realizing more and more how the convenient acronym and the reference to Calvin can be a bit misleading and may turn away people from the truth of the doctrines themselves.  As with all Christian doctrine, the key is the truth of the Scriptures and not mere labels per se.  This spirit is embodied in the Reformed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon who once said, I believe nothing merely because Calvin taught it, but because I have found his teaching in the Word of God."  So from now on, I will refer to the 5 biblical points as The Doctrines of Grace and they are as follows:
  • Radical Corruption and Moral Inability 
  • Sovereign Election 
  • Definite or Particular Redemption 
  • Effectual Grace or Effectual Calling 
  • Preservation of the Saints 
     In today's video lesson, R. C. will begin to explain how the redemption of Christ is applied to His church!  If you recall, the key to the doctrines of grace is the 1st doctrine of radical corruption and total inability.  What did man become after the fall?  Did he retain a sliver of inherent righteousness that God would accept?  Did he still have the ability to obey the law of God perfectly (God's requirement) in his sinful condition or respond to God apart from grace?  We have seen that the Bible teaches that post-fall man is neither willing nor able to come to God on His terms without divine enablement.  Words like "dead in trespasses," "blind," "hostile to God," "alienated from God," "without hope in the world," etc. etc. etc., come quickly to mind from the Word to describe man in his post-fall, natural condition. 
     In saving His people, God must act alone to save us from sin and thankfully, He does just that through the redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Interestingly, 3 main concepts in the New Testament are used to describe the application of redemption:  birth, creation, and resurrection (3 things man cannot do or add to).  The sovereign, powerful act of God saving sinners is called monergism (mono=one) because God alone overcomes our natural resistance to Him through the powerful regeneration by the Holy Spirit accompanied with the gifts of repentance and faith.  In our natural state in Adam, we are unable and unwilling to come to Christ and bound in sin, but in effectual grace God calls us into new life in Christ and we willingly run to Him in faith!  The biblical gospel leaves no room for boasting . . . except in the Lord of course!   

Friday, February 18, 2011

What is Reformed Theology?: Definite or Particular Redemption

     " . . . and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21)
     "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11)

     "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:26-29).  Emphasis mine. 

     "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so He hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectively called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only."  Chapter 3:6 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession."
(1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10; Romans 8:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5; John 10:26; John 17:9; John 6:64).

     "Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to Himself a people."  John Murray, p. 63 of his modern classic,  Redemption:  Accomplished and Applied.

     The 5 Points of Calvinism/doctrines of grace, can easily be misunderstood through the terminology itself.  For example, the term "total depravity" could be seen as a person being as wicked as he could be.  Total depravity may better be deemed "radical corruption" or "total inability" because what is meant is that all born in Adam have had the entirety of their beings adversely affected by sin and are unable in themselves to respond to God in faith.  Similarly, the doctrine of "unconditional election" may be best understood as "sovereign election" because it states that God chose His elect before creation by His gracious choice apart from foreseen works.  Up front, I think it is so important to understand the distinct meaning of Reformed Theology doctrines before jumping to unwarranted conclusions.  You may recall from my own testimony that I once thought Calvinism was just short of evil before I had even read Reformed Theology . . . much less having done a Scriptural evaluation.  Don't be like I was!
     Through the years, I have met many believers that might say they are "4 point Calvinists," or "3 pointers," even one recently who dubbed themselves as a possible "Calminianist."  Usually, it is the doctrine of limited atonement that is first on the list of those who don't embrace the 5 Points of the doctrines of grace.  It is important up front to make sure we are not saying that the Lord's atonement is limited in any way!  As one theologian said, "The work of Jesus would be sufficient to save countless sinful worlds!"  Christ's work is of infinite value because He is of infinite worth as God, so that is not the teaching of limited atonement.  As R. C. mentions, the doctrine may better be described as definite or particular redemption.  Reformed Theology declares that Christ's work in redemption was purposeful in saving God's elect specifically.  Rather than God making redemption possible and leaving it into the hands of the supposed free-will choice of sinners (see post on Radical Corruption and Total Inability ), the Father's plan in sending Christ accomplishes with absolute certainty the salvation of His elect.  The Reformed view is that Christ came to accomplish with certainty the redemption of God's people through the Covenant of Redemption (see post on Covenant Theology).  In His life, death, and resurrection Jesus put away the sins of the elect and secured all we need to guarantee our salvation!  In time, the redemption of Christ is applied by the Spirit . . . we will study this more in our next 2 lessons.
     In our video today, R. C. gives an explanation of limited atonement then works from 2 Peter 3:8-9 (a common passage used to argue against limited atonement) to help us with this difficult doctrine.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Is Reformed Theology?: Sovereign Election

     "How blessed is the one whom you choose and bring near to You"(Psa. 65:4a)

     "You did not choose Me but I chose you" (John 15:16)

     "Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Tim. 1:9)

     "Those of mankind that are predestined to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto."  Chapter 3:5 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(Ephesians 1:4, 9, 11; Romans 8:30; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Romans 9:13, 16; Ephesians 2:5).

     Moving along in our video study of Reformed Theology with R. C. Sproul, we now come from the doctrine of total depravity to look at unconditional election.  The issues before us in our study of Reformed Theology are in the area of biblical hermeneutics, which is simply bible interpretation.  We want to know what the Bible teaches, rather than hold to preconceived notions.  And since the Word of God clearly teaches the doctrine of election (no Christian I have met has ever disputed this), we should aim to know this doctrine as we would all others.
     The crucial question to answer in election is: does God choose His people for salvation in a conditional or unconditional manner?  Does God in His eternal foreknowledge predestine sinners whom He knows will choose to believe in Christ from their own free will and moral ability?  Or does God elect sinners in eternity past with the foreknowledge that they are His by His own sovereign choice, and then predestine the elect to be saved in time through the means of the gospel and regeneration by the Spirit?  Yesterday, we took a biblical look at the doctrine of total depravity and free will.  A Reformed understanding of total depravity leads us right to unconditional election!  As you recall, since the sinner in his natural condition is both unable and unwilling to come to God on His terms, God certainly does not save anyone because they warrant it through free-will faith or otherwise.  The logical conclusion regarding election is if God is to save elect sinners before He created the world, He must save sovereignly and unconditionally by His grace alone.
     In today's video lesson, Dr. Sproul looks at a crucial passage in Romans 9.  Before they were born, the twins Jacob and Esau characterize the doctrine of God's unconditional election perfectly.  God's purpose in granting Jacob His blessing and not the firstborn Esau were not contingent upon anything but God's sovereign choice.  Why?  Because He is the Potter of His clay is Paul's argument in Romans 9:20-23.  In eternity past, God chose certain one's to be saved even though there was nothing inherently better about them than others.  As R. C. said well, "We are saved by free-will, but it is God's not ours."  This is the doctrine of unconditional or sovereign election!  All to the praise of His mercy and grace through Christ!  John Piper agrees that he has no merit in anything God has done in his life!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Is Reformed Theology?: Radical Corruption and Moral Inability (Part 2)

     "For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:24-27).

     "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." (Romans 8:7-9).  Emphasis mine.  

     "Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all:  all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body."  Chapter 6:2 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
(Romans 3:23, 5:12; Titus 1:15; Genesis. 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-19)

     In our next video, Dr. Sproul continues in the study of the doctrine of total depravity.  To state the crucial questions again: What did man become in relation to God after the Fall?  Does fallen man have free-will to choose true righteousness and God on his own?  If so, in what capacity is his will free or in bondage relative to God's moral law?  The Reformed stance on these questions is that the natural man or a man in the flesh is neither willing nor able to come to God on His terms and must be saved by the sovereign work of God.  In the 16th century, the Reformers renewed the 4th century debate on this issue between Augustine and Pelagius as Luther refuted Erasmus' view of free-will in his classic work, The Bondage of the Will.  The debate continues today with immense implications on how a church conducts her ministry and how the gospel itself is communicated.  Is man's sin the result of merely poor choices or from a sinful nature/sinful inclination?  Can man remedy his status as a sinner through better education and instruction?  Does he merely need a 2nd chance with God?  Is spiritual understanding simply a matter of intelligence?  Or, does man need to be completely renovated, reborn, made a new creation, given a new heart, regenerated, quickened, made alive, etc., etc., etc., by a sovereign work of God in order to love God and His law?
     Another important contribution to this conversation is that of the Scottish puritan Thomas Boston.  Boston's classic early 18th century work, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State is immensely helpful.  In this Reformed classic, Boston gives us a biblical anthropology that further simplifies a very difficult subject.  A summary of Boston's great work, describes man in 4 historical conditions as Augustine did previously:
  1. Man in Primitive Integrity:  Man in the garden in a pre-fall state of innocence but also under  probation/Covenant of Works. Augustine's stance here was: man able to sin and able not to sin.  Man's will was free to love and obey God, but also free to sin pre-fall.  
  2. Man in Entire Depravity:  Man banished from the garden in post-fall penalty of death.  Human posterity is born in sin and lives perpetually in a sinful state.  Even good deeds in this state are not acceptable to God because they are not motivated out of unfeigned love for Him and with His glory as the aim.  Augustine stance here was: man able to sin and unable not to sin.  Man's will is free to act according to a sinful inclination in bondage to sin in this state.  
  3. Man in Begun Recovery:  Man in a state of grace though faith in God's Redeemer of Genesis 3:15.  Man is given regeneration, repentance, and faith in Christ, a new nature, and true inclinations to holiness according to God's moral law by the indwelling Spirit, but also has a battle with indwelling sin which remains.  Augustine stance here was: man able to not sin and able to sin in this state.  Man's will is free to love God with a renewed will and free to sin simultaneously.  The Christian life in the present age (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7)! . . . sound familiar to anyone out there?! 
  4. Man in Consummate Happiness or Misery:  Man in either the New Heavens and New Earth or in Hell for eternity.  In glorification, man is eternally free from the presence of sin and death.  Augustine's stance was: man able to not sin and unable to sin in his final state of glorification.  In the final state, man's will is completely free to love God forever or his will is completely unable not to sin forever.   
     Is Reformed Theology making biblical and historic sense as we consider these grand topics?  In Reformed Theology God gets all the glory for His great salvation!
    Here is a re-posting of video from Dr. John MacArthur's address at the 2008 Together For The Gospel Conference . . . this is a must see if you are struggling with free will/total depravity.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    What is Reformed Theology?: Radical Corruption and Moral Inability (Part 1)

         The remainder of our video study in Reformed Theology gets to the doctrines most familiarly known as Calvinism, the 5 points of Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace.  The 5 points of Calvinism are also known through the acrostic TULIP:
    • Total Depravity 
    • Unconditional Election 
    • Limited Atonement 
    • Irresistible Grace
    • Perseverance of the Saints 
         I sense already some uneasiness and resistance out there from my 2nd office here at Starbucks in Central Oregon!  If so, that is very understandable due to the perception and misunderstanding that surrounds our subject.  In my early days as a Christian, nearly 20 years ago, the church (and movement) that I was affiliated with mostly spoke evil of Calvinism.  In fact, in addition to my zealous brothers and sisters occasionally warning me of the dangers of Calvinism, I remember the book by George Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting being a topic of conversation in the mid-late 1990's.  During this same time in my life, I began to meet other Christians that attended Reformed churches.  In studying the Bible more deeply I also was being incredibly blessed by the preaching and teaching ministries of Reformed men like John MacArthur (here is a must see video by MacArthur on total depravity), D. James Kennedy, R. C. Sproul, and Alistair Begg.  Most importantly, in studying the Word of God I began to wrestle with passages that did not seem to me to be explained adequately . . . especially anthropological (study of man) and soteriological (study of salvation) passages.
         Though I still had the impression Calvinism (it was never referred to as "Reformed Theology," or "the doctrines of grace") was suspect, I was already subtly beginning to move a different direction.  I found my Reformed friends to be especially gracious, grounded in biblical knowledge,  keenly aware of church history, and lovers of theology.  One of these friends gave me a Westminster Shorter Catechism, which I found solid and interesting from a historical standpoint.  Then, in 1998, an act of God's providence radically changed my perspective.  At the church we were attending we would occasionally have a guest pastor fill in and he invited me over for lunch at his house after Sunday service one afternoon.  Wow, I thought I had seen a personal library before, but I clearly had not!  He took me through his study and showed me with excitement, his John Owen's works, Thomas Goodwin collection, Thomas Manton's works, etc. etc (and yes, his collection of John Calvin's works).  After looking at his choice books of theology, we then went out to his garage and he said, "Do you like to study the Bible much?"  I excitedly said something like, "Yes, there's nothing I like to do more!"  He went on, "Well, I'm feeling especially generous and I want to give you some books."  We proceeded to fill to the brim, 4 boxes of mostly Reformed books.  When I got home, my wife and I laughed that the books were bursting out of the boxes similarly to the disciples fishing nets that wouldn't hold the catch the Lord gave them!  Little did I know, how much these books would influence my understanding.
         During the next several years, I dug into these Reformed books almost daily and found them difficult to read at first, but wonderfully satisfying!  I read for the first time John Calvin's writings (and many that he influenced) and found out they were pleasantly devotional, biblically sound, historically sensitive, and especially centered on the Person and work of our Lord Jesus in redemption.  In fact, if I had to characterize Reformed Theology in one way, it would be that it centers thoroughly on the salvation of God.  As Jonah's prayer proclaims, "Salvation is from the Lord" (Jonah 2:9d).  Rather than salvation being accomplished through going forward at a church or crusade altar call, the saying of the sinner's prayer (still looking for this in the Bible), or meeting with a counselor after a Christian rock concert, these Reformed works pointed to God as the Author and Completer of our faith!  Biblically orthodox, historically sound, devotional, God-glorifying, Christ-honoring, and man-humbling is a concise summary of Reformed Theology.
         In our first video consideration of total depravity we must consider the biblical view of man after the Fall.  With a Reformed anthropology, the remaining 4 points of the Doctrines of Grace are pretty easy to adopt.  Martin Luther called the doctrine of total depravity the most important of all and called his classic, The Bondage of the Will his most important work.  As R. C. points to in the video, this is the crucial question:  Is salvation and redemption in the hands of man's supposed free will, or in the hands of our sovereign God?  The Reformed insist that man in his post-fall nature is neither willing nor able to come to God on His terms and needs the sovereign, monergistic (one-party regeneration), and irreversible work of God in the soul to be converted.  I believe you will find the Bible is crystal-clear on this doctrine, though it is ultimately the most difficult for us to receive.  But when total depravity is acknowledged, it makes what the Lord does in saving us all the more amazing!

    1689 London Baptist Confession Chapter 9: Of Free Will:

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    What Is Reformed Theology?: Covenant Theology

         The 6th lesson in our video series of Reformed Theology with R. C. Sproul in Covenant Theology is based on 3 main biblical covenants.  The basis of a covenant is an agreement among parties binding them to perform undertakings for one another.  Although God's covenants are central to the biblical record, and are written about in early church history, the Reformers developed from the Scriptures a more elaborate, systematic approach that is known as Covenant Theology.  There are 3 main covenants in Covenant Theology that we will consider:
    1. The Covenant of Redemption: Adam would bring the whole of the human race into the helpless condition of sin.  In eternity past, God the Father and God the Son covenanted together for the redemption of God's elect.  The Father appointed and sent the willing Son to be the 2nd Adam and mediator by fulfilling all righteousness in perfect obedience to the law of God in both its demands and punishments.  In time, Christ purchased His church with His precious blood and lives as her High Priest following His resurrection!  The 1689 London Baptist Confession states the eternal pact of redemption wonderfully:  "It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and savior of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom He did from all eternity give a people to be His seed and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified" (Isa. 42:1; 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Acts 3:22; Heb. 5:5-6; Ps. 2:6; Lk. 1:33; Eph. 1:22-23; Heb. 1:2; Acts 17:31; Isa. 53:10; Jn. 17:6; Rom. 8:30 . . . great devotional verses!).  Note: We can also glean from Scripture that God the Holy Spirit covenanted to be sent by the Father and Christ to apply the redemption of Christ to believers.  
    2. The Covenant of Works: This is the covenant between God and man made in the garden of Eden.  This covenant consisted of a promise of eternal life and confirmation in righteousness to Adam upon the condition of perfect obedience during a probationary period.  Adam's served as the head of humanity in this agreement either bringing further blessing or the penalty of death (physical and spiritual) to his posterity.  Article 19:1 of the London Baptist Confession (LBC) says, "God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with the power and ability to keep it" (Gen. 1:27; Eccles. 7:29; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10,12).  But as we know, Adam broke his agreement bringing the whole human race into sin and guilt.  The LBC Article 6:3 elaborates, "They (Adam and Eve) being the root, and by God's appointment, standing in the room and stead of all mankind, the guilt of the sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, the subjects of death, and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal, and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free" (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45, 49; Psa. 51:5; Job 14:4; Eph. 2:3; Rom. 6:20; Rom. 5:12; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 Thess. 1:10).  
    3. The Covenant of Grace: God in His infinite mercy and grace, condescended to redeem man after he became irreversibly without hope.  In this covenant, the 2nd Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ must be trusted as Redeemer/Savior.  Christ acted as the new head of humanity in His perfect obedience to the moral demands and sin-bearer as he endured the penalty of the law of God.  Through faith in the promised Seed of Genesis 3:15 (the one who would "bruise the head of Satan" by Himself taking the punishment for sin) God's elect is justified in Christ and given the gift of eternal life!  The 1689 LBC article 8:5 states, "The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him" (Heb. 9:14, 10:14; Rom. 3:25-26, Jn. 17:2; Heb. 9:15).  As it pertains to those with faith in Christ, the 1689 LBC article 14:1 says, "The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened" (2 Cor. 4:13; Eph. 2:8; Rom. 10:14, 17; Lk. 17:5; 1 Pet. 2:2; Acts 20:32).  
         We failed, Christ succeeded, we benefit eternally solely from Christ's merit.  And . . . God planned and ordained it before He created the world.  The Father planned redemption, the Son accomplished it, the Spirit applies it!  Happy Valentine's Day!

    Song of worship by Sarah Sadler celebrating God's great love for us in Christ:

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    What Is Reformed Theology?: Sola Fide (Part 2)

         "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

         "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as favor, but as what is due.  But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness . . . " (Rom. 4:4-5).  Emphasis mine.  

         "The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit one offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath give unto Him."  Chapter 8:5 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
    (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:14; Romans 3:25-26; John 17:2; Hebrews 9:15)

         In our next video on Reformed Theology, R. C. Sproul continues to focus on the central issue of the Reformation.  Though the Reformers had many contentions with the Roman Catholics, no issue was as hotly disputed than that of justification.  The crucial question in the 16th century struggle was simply, how can a holy and righteous God view sinners as just in His sight?  This has been the pressing question concerning man since the Fall and the Reformers recovered the good news of the biblical gospel!
         Roman Catholic theology taught that justification came through infused grace.  Specifically, in the sacrament of infant baptism, God's grace was said to be infused into the soul and was kept perpetually unless the person committed an egregious mortal sin.  The committing of a mortal sin then led the perpetrator to multiple necessary steps in the Catholic system in order to reestablish the infused grace of God to the individual.  By contrast, the Reformers stance on justification by faith alone was based on the biblical doctrine of imputation, which is a legal/forensic concept of a transfer of an account to another.  Specifically, a doctrine that many theologians deem the double imputation of justification: 
    1. God imputes/charges our debt of sin to Christ.
    2. God imputes/credits Christ's perfect obedience to the law to us.  
         What a difference in how the Catholic Church views the doctrine of justification compared with Protestants.  Instead of an immediate and continual righteous verdict that God declares through the means of faith in Christ, Rome viewed justification as something that was contingent upon the individual . . . a status that could be lost through mortal sins, and a process of establishing an internal subjective righteousness that may also need refinement through thousands of years in Purgatory in order to finally meet God's approval.  What a spiritual hamster wheel! If we are looking to be justified or sanctified by what we do, when is our goodness ever going to be good enough to please a holy God?  Contrastingly, the Reformers returned to the biblical gospel, which wonderfully proclaims that while we are still sinners, God imputes Christ's record to our account by faith in Him.  Michael Horton explains our debt to God and justification in Christ,
    It would be similar to an average daily laborer thinking he can pay off the national debt of the United States.  We not only have a lack of funds; we have an abundance of debts.  So we need two things in order to settle the account with God.  We need a payment of all the debts.  And then we need a full line of credit.  God requires both: Negatively, we must be guilty of no sins, but positively, we must also be just as morally perfect, righteous, and holy as God Himself.  The glass must not only be empty of unrighteousness; it must be full of righteousness.  This is where the popular definition of justification--"just as if I'd never sinned"--falls short.  Rather, it is just as if I'd never sinned and had, instead, loved God and my neighbor perfectly all my life" (Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel.  BakerBooks, 2002. p. 142.).  Horton's emphasis.
         Good news for all who trust in Jesus!  Good news that cannot be assumed, and good news worth fighting for!  Since the Fall of man, God has always saved His people by grace through faith in His Redeemer.  And, when our nation's most well known and influential pastor describes the gospel as "God giving us a do-over like when taking a mulligan in golf" the evangelical church is in crisis mode concerning an understanding of the biblical gospel whether we know it or not.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    What Is Reformed Theology?: Sola Fide (Part 1)

    And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:9-12).  Emphasis mine.

         In Luke's gospel, we have the best and the worst of Jewish citizens praying in the temple.  The Pharisee was the appointed religious leader of Israel and the tax collector was the most despised.  The tax collector's in Israel were the pond scum of society because they were agents for the Roman Empire in the taxation of their own people.  They were particularly loathed because in the elaborate Roman taxation system, the tax collector could keep whatever he could collect above Caesar's tax rate, and did so . . . leading to a lucrative career but further alienating themselves from others!  Contempt for the Jewish tax collectors for Rome  is well documented in the New Testament and in rabbinic literature.  In Jewish religious life they were ritually unclean and regarded as robbers and thieves (note in the NT how often you see the phrase "tax collectors and sinners" . . . tax collector and sinner were synonymous terms).
         Before we come down too hard on the Pharisee of the parable, we need to be careful and consider ourselves in this account.  Note the Pharisee is crediting God's grace and thanking God for both his avoidance of unrighteous behavior and for his righteous deeds according to Jewish tradition.  In the Pharisee's mind, God's grace was making him righteous in himself, which made him view others with disdain.  The tax collector's presence in the temple is interesting in and of itself.  He wouldn't have been allowed in the inner court of the temple where the Jewish leaders presided and where priests offered animal sacrifices to God for the sins of Israel.  But the tax collector was obviously under the conviction of his sin, and went desperately to the temple appealing to God.  Out of respect for the Pharisee and in acknowledgment of his own unrighteousness, he stood at a distance repenting of his sin and pleading to God for mercy.  In Jesus' words, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified (declared righteous by God) rather than the other . . . " (Luke 18:14a).  Also interestingly (and wonderfully so) is the tax collector would have been seeing firsthand animals being slain for sin in the temple.  In just a short time the Author of this parable would become the final sacrifice for sin as He lay down His life as the "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
          Essentially the Reformers stood with the tax collector, while Rome stood with the Pharisee.  The Reformers called the righteous that God accepts through faith an alien or foreign righteousness.  Righteousness that does not originate in us or is perfected in us, but the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to those who have faith in Him.  The gospel is that . . .  "while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).  Emphasis mine.
          Here's the deal: we need a perfect record of law-keeping in order to be justified by God.  Despite our self improvements and growth, do we have a perfect moral record before God?  The good news is that Jesus loves and justifies tax collectors and sinners, the helpless, ungodly, one's who are led to cry out to him for mercy in trusting faith.  Our first NT gospel was written by a former tax collector named "Levi" who became Matthew at Jesus' calling.  An inevitable question of application is: how do we view God's act of justification?  Is is something that begins or is developed in us through performance?  Or is it the gift of Christ's righteousness given to us through faith alone in Him?  The Reformers argued the latter against Rome.  Let's listen to R. C. Sproul to get further insight on sola fide.

    Great blog post by Tullian Tchividjian on the infinite merit of Christ vs. self-performance

    Short blog post by Martin Downes . . . note the tax collector calls himself the sinner in Jesus' parable

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    What Is Reformed Theology?: Sola Scriptura

         In our 3rd video lesson studying Reformed Theology, R. C. continues to build on the foundations of the historic faith.  This is a great history lesson that will always have contemporary application in this present age.  In early 16th century Europe, the common people did not possess personal copies of the Scripture and were reliant upon the Roman Catholic church exclusively for instruction from God.  The problem?  The church used 2 sources of revelation in order to catechize their subjects:  Scripture and tradition.  When man deviates from Scripture (adds or subtracts from it), all kinds of problems are inevitable and this was certainly the case at this time.  The Catholic church, at her Pope's edict, could adopt and initiate doctrine that was considered as authoritative as Scripture.  The church hierarchy could also interpret Scripture and tradition subjectively in order to accomplish their ungodly ends.  Not surprisingly, the Catholic church corrupted this power over the common people with un-biblical and oppressive teachings . . . normally for the vexing of people's consciences in order to acquire their money!
         Martin Luther was a Catholic monk (he wasn't "Lutheran") and Doctor of Theology when he posted his 95 Thesis at Wittenberg, Germany.  On Luther's thesis were 95 points of contention with Roman Catholic teachings and abuses.  Luther's intention was not to start the Protestant Reformation, but to bring the Catholic church into conformity to the Scriptures.  At the Diet (Roman Catholic assembly) of Worms in 1521, with the threat of excommunication (and likely death by burning) if he would not recant his protest, Luther boldly stood for the Word of God.  He did not recant of his criticisms of Rome or of his prolific writings!  The recovery of the Word of God was costly as war ensued throughout Germany with lots of bloodshed.  Luther went on to translate the Bible into the German language and led a movement of Reformation throughout Europe that put the Bible into the hands of common folk.  The Lord caused nothing short of a revival, which led to several centuries of some of the best theological writing in church history.  We are the beneficiaries of the Reformation today as most Americans households have multiple bibles.  What a privilege and responsibility it is to have God's Word!

    Chapter 1 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession:  Of the Holy Scriptures (a great reformed confession of sola Scriptura . . . great devotional material if you follow the Scripture verses listed!):

    This is a clip from the movie Luther at the Diet of Worms . . . this movie on the life of Martin Luther is a must-see for the whole family . . . the producer took pains to ensure it was historically accurate down to the very words Luther spoke (it gives me chills every time and we own the movie!):

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    What Is Reformed Theology?: catholic, evangelical, and reformed

         In video #2 R. C. Sproul continues to build on lesson #1 by emphasizing again that it is the study of Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), which guides everything that is considered in Reformed Theology.  Thus, when considering the coherent systems (Systematics or Systematic Theology) in God's Word, Reformed Theology moves into study of other biblical doctrines carefully while keeping God's character and attributes as the controlling factor.  As we learned last time, Reformed Theology is thoroughly and intentionally God-centered.  The doctrines of God's sovereignty and holiness are lauded in Reformed Theology.
         Before getting further into the what characterizes Reformed Theology, Sproul wants us to know that Reformed Theology is grounded in the Scriptures, is historically orthodox, and has the gospel of Christ as it's foundation.  Thus, the Reformed faith is catholic (not Roman Catholic) in the true sense of the word . . . it holds strongly to the essentials of the faith that are clearly taught in the Word, and are believed universally by Christians.  The essential Christian doctrines have been fought for in biblical times and throughout history as various heresies have arisen, but have been struck down at various church councils and by doctrinal confessions/creeds/catechisms (perhaps a new confession is in order to handle the seeker/purpose driven movement?!).  In short, the Reformed faith believes and confesses the essentials of the faith that all Christians cherish.  Reformed Theology is also evangelical in that the biblical gospel was recovered by Luther and others as they separated from the Catholic Church in the 16th century.  Though Luther objected to many things going on in 16th century Roman Catholicism, it was the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone that he labored to re-establish and defended most vigorously.  Luther's insistence on justification "sola fide" (by faith alone) is still a matter that distinguishes Protestants and Catholics to this day.
         Is anyone seeing that Reformed Theology is a refreshing alternative to what we see so commonly in the visible church today?!  Contemporary church ministries are often not grounded in Systematic Theology (e.g. Scripture is so often taken out of context to fit a chosen topic) and Biblical Theology (e.g. the drama of Christ's redemption is often replaced with moralistic "life coaching"), most contemporary churches do not adhere deliberately to the essentials of Christianity as taught in the Scriptures and are established in church history (many do not even provide the most basic doctrinal statement anymore), nor do they take pains to make sure the gospel message is protected, preached, and cherished.  As someone who reviews sermons often, I say with sadness that in much of today's 'preaching' God and Christ are hardly even mentioned in any sort of orthodox sense and the gospel is often strangely absent.

    Rick Warren endorsed, Seeker/Purpose-driven pastor Perry Noble's (NewSprings Church in Anderson, S. C.) view of ministry.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    What Is Reformed Theology?: An Introduction

         Though I was planning to start a series of posts today on the law/10 commandments and the gospel/evangelism.  I decided to put that on hold for a couple weeks.  The reason for this change is that I believe strongly that a Reformed understanding of our faith is a great alternative to what many evangelicals are experiencing in their local churches.  Furthermore, many in our sphere have simply never been adequately exposed to the theology of the Reformation and why it is important in our day.
         Before I go further, I want to point out the obvious fact that there is no perfect church out there.  Also that many churches with different hermeneutical (interpretational) persuasions do a wonderful job communicating the essential doctrines of the faith and also get the gospel message right.  Moreover, though I know we are to contend earnestly for the faith (e.g. Jude 3),  test carefully what we hear from those teaching in the name of God (e.g. Acts 17:11), not fail to make public what false teachers are teaching (e.g. Gal. 1:6-9) and identify who is teaching aberrant doctrine (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:16-18), God hates a lack of unity among believers that is un-biblical.  Even though my convictions are now Reformed, I did not begin my Christian life with this view and only came to a Reformed understanding as the result of God's providence, much investigation, constant study, and travail of soul over a period of many years . . . and this continues.  The Reformation spirit is one that desires to always be reforming in further conformity to the Word of God.     
         With that background in mind, I realize that many of you may also have heard that "Calvinism" is just short of evil, but have never actually read John Calvin's writings or know where the 5 points of Calvinism even come from?  If so, this series on Reformed Theology from Dr. R. C. Sproul should answer these questions for you and add wonderful knowledge to your faith.  You will be challenged and encouraged to do further study as well.
         In this first video in the series on Reformed Theology from Ligonier Ministries, R. C. begins with the defining characteristic of Reformed Theology:  that Reformed Theology is God-centered . . . that the Bible's main character is God, salvation comes through His Son alone, and is by His mighty working.  Though this emphasis on God in church ministries may sound like a no-brainer, consider the current evangelical church's largely man-centered crisis!  Seeker-senstive, purpose-driven, post-modern emergent, etc. etc. ministries all have one thing in common . . . they begin with man and then might attempt to move to God.  The current evangelical scene often portrays God as part of our story, but Reformed Theology clearly teach that Jesus Christ is the story and we are made a part of His church by grace!
         These video's by R. C. are short (20-25 minutes) and well worth our time.  I think that as you follow along, you will find Reformed Theology biblically honoring, historically solid, and best of all Christ-centered to the core!  Charles Spurgeon once called Reformed Theology, "The gospel of Jesus Christ."

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    R. C. Sproul: 2010 Christless Christianity Conference

         Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake" (the apostle Paul, Romans 1:1-5).

         Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all the things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples, Luke 24:44).  Underlines mine.

         Well, today we have our final look at the 2010 Christless Christianity Conference.  In today's video, titled "Back to Basics," Dr. R. C. Sproul presents the antithesis of our largely narcissistic, cultural, and un-biblical view of the gospel.  Sadly, Sproul estimates that maybe 1 in 100 American church-goers even have a passable understanding of the gospel message!  Here is just a sampling of some of our deficient gospel ideas (most are from our pulpits no less) that miss the true gospel completely:
    • "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life"
    • "God saves you because He knows you are broken and wants to give your life purpose"
    • "Follow these 4 spiritual laws then pray the sinner's prayer with me and you are saved"
    • "Jesus came to give you a personal relationship with Him instead of mere religion"
    • "God can change your bad habits just like He has changed mine"
    • "God saves when you make a decision to surrender completely to Jesus"
    • "Faith in Jesus is not enough . . . you have to do your part to be saved"
    • "The gospel is that we need to love God and love our neighbor to be saved"
    • "I knew I was saved when I went forward at VBS my freshman year of High School"
    • "The gospel is better relationships, parenting, friendships, finances, and an abundant life"
    • "The gospel is that God will help me to live the dream and vision He has placed in me"
    • "The gospel saves us, but then we have to do the real work of growing through obedience"
    • "If we act with sincerity on the light and knowledge we have God will save us"
    • "The gospel is meant to restore the earth and make the world a better place"
         Granted, the abbreviated list above (I'm sure we could come up with many more) may or may not include the outcome or fruit of the gospel, but whatever is being conveyed above is not the biblical gospel!  As R. C. adequately points out, the gospel of God is the redemptive story of His Son told in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.  The gospel always concerns the Person and work of Jesus Christ . . . who He is, what He has accomplished, and how He gives the benefits of His redemption to His people.  What we need to hear most is that our contribution to the gospel is our sin (most self-sufficient Americans frankly do not want to hear such talk)!  Christ's work on our behalf is vicarious meaning that His life, death, resurrection, and return are accomplished on behalf of His people and in spite of them.  Christ, the 2nd or last Adam of Paul's epistles, has accomplished perfect obedience to the law of God in 2 necessary ways:
    1. His active obedience: This obedience includes Christ's sinless life.  As the God-Man, Christ always did the moral will of the Father in word, thought, and deed though He was tempted in all points as us.  His own testimony is that He "always did the will of the Father" . . .  perfect conformity to the law of God!  We as fallen sinners could not accomplish this sinless life that God required.
    2. His passive obedience: This rendering of Christ's obedience is to the penalty for violation and curse of the law . . . namely physical and spiritual death.  Jesus willingly endured the wrath of God in His incarnation, life, arrest, trial, flogging, etc. and especially on the Cross as He "became sin" and a "curse" . . . a perfect sacrifice for sin that propitiates (completely appeases) God's wrath and righteous judgment against sin.  We as fallen sinners could not accomplish this payment for our infinite debt!
         Christ's obedience is what is imputed (given) to us through faith in Him alone.  Therefore, through His person and work alone we become reconciled to God forever and ever!!  Jesus has taken our sin, guilt, and filthy robes and given us His perfect record as a gift now and to eternity!  The price of redemption was His sinless life and precious blood . . . we cannot top this and must not add to this gospel! 
         So, I must ask, is the gospel of God regarding the person and work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation what you are hearing at your church?  Is your understanding of justification/peace with God/the forgiveness of sin grounded in the true gospel or in the Christless Christianity described in this conference?  As I write, every person on the planet stands in his own righteousness or in Christ, so this matter is of eternal importance.  Remember . . . the bad news of our sin and its consequences is really bad, but the good news of Christ's redemption is really, really, really, good!  

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Dr. Michael Horton: 2010 Christless Christianity Conference

         Moving toward the finish line of our look at the 2010 Christianity Conference we now get even more  personal.  According to Notre Dame sociologist Dr. Christian Smith, our American evangelical church culture has a name:  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  After extensive research, Dr. Smith and his associates have come to the conclusion that contemporary American Christianity has taken a clear paradigm shift that undermines the gospel of Christ and virtually redefines the historic Christian faith.  Michael Horton elaborates on the sociological diagnosis of what ails the church,
    Smith defines moralistic, therapeutic, deism (Dr. Horton's emphasis) as expressing this sort of working theology:  1.  God created the world.  2.  God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.  3.  The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.  4.  God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when needed to resolve a problem.  5.  Good people go to heaven when they die (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity:  The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. BakerBooks, 2008, p. 41).  
         While this sociological description of the majority of American evangelicalism is compelling (not to mention validated by study after study . . . esp. among our youth).  We as believers need to focus primarily on the theological and historical diagnosis that describes the unorthodox description of the inherent condition of man.  In other words, what does the Word of God say about man and what does church history teach us?  Horton clarifies,
    The theological term for this malady is Pelagiansim (Horton's emphasis) . . . Pelagius and his followers denied original sin.  Sin is not a universal human condition but simply a choice that each of us makes.  With our free will we can choose to follow Adam's bad example or Jesus's good example . . . it is in our own power to be good or bad--and so merit eternal life or death . . . (Horton, p. 44)  
         The above ideas of Pelagius reflects the 4th century dispute with the African bishop Augustine who insisted that man after the Fall is morally unable and cannot relate to God rightly unless rescued by God through the redemption of Jesus Christ.  In the 19th century, Pelagian evangelist Charles G. Finney's view of salvation was as follows,
    The new birth is not a divine gift but the result of a rational choice to turn from sin to obedience.  Christians can perfectly obey God in this life if they choose, and only in this way are they justified (Horton, p. 45).  
        In our day, no less than "America's pastor," Rick Warren has described the gospel as "God giving us a do-over or mulligan" (a "mulligan" is a golf-term in which the golfer is given a 2nd chance or do-over after a poor shot).  Pure Pelagianism!  In Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, sin is not something that is inherent in man's nature, but man is morally neutral and his sin can be overcome by making good choices and receiving good instruction.  In much of today's evangelicalism there is no need for a crucified and risen Savior who fulfilled the law of God and propitiated God's wrath on the behalf of sinners.  No need for the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit to regenerate dead hearts of stone.  No need for the removal of spiritual blindness and spiritual illumination for those who by nature do not comprehend the things of the Spirit.  No need for the preaching of the gospel of repentance and faith in Jesus to those rebellious and opposed to God by nature.  No need for in-depth study of the Bible for discipleship and sanctification.  No need to preach the exclusivity of Christ in our missions to those alienated from God and without hope in the world.
         This means Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is Not Christianity at all!  Perhaps the fact that the majority of evangelicals believe this statement to be true, "God helps those who help themselves" is ample evidence on it's own that the American church mostly holds to a system of belief (Pelagianism) that was condemned by the church 17 centuries ago!
        Lord willing, next week we will begin a look at the 10 commandments in light of this discussion . . . have a great weekend!  A thought to ponder in the meantime: peace with God can only be attained through human achievement or divine accomplishment.  What is your church teaching?  What are you believing?

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Dr. Peter Jones: 2010 Christless Christianity Conference

         Things are certainly getting strange in the visible church but I'm afraid that we haven't seen the tip of the iceberg!  From my perspective, in this video Dr. Jones of Westminster Seminary California is describing the inevitable outcome of putting "spiritual experience" before doctrine and allowing a post-modern, God-hating culture to increasingly dictate what happens in the visible church.  What may be called "progressive Christianity" or "evolutionary Christianity" is in-your-face when you consider the 2 main ingredients of this movement are experiential spirituality accompanied by social justice.  Beyond that, anything goes . . . except fidelity to the Word of God and the gospel of course.
         My take on what Dr. Jones presented might have been to label what he said "extreme," "paranoid," "conspiracy-theory hype," etc. even 7 years ago but I am not as naive today.  This focus on experiential spirituality has infiltrated the seminaries of our land as I know first-hand.  Boy was I shocked when in a Talbot School of Theology (conservative evangelical) "spiritual formation" class as the instructor handed out an article on "Lectio Divina" and "contemplative prayer" (I also learned a great deal about theology and ministry there and a mentor is still a theology professor at Talbot, but I can't say I was a fan of some of the spiritual formation material).  We could tell that even the instructor did not buy into that part of the spiritual formation curriculum and when several students objected to participating, we were graciously spared from doing "Lectio Divina!"  As I bumped into other seminarians on campus I realized they were not as fortunate.  Worse yet, I learned some were adopting these "contemplative/centering" prayer strategies into their devotional time and planned to integrate them into their local churches!?
         In our local community in Central Oregon, several churches and their leadership place far more emphasis on spiritual experiences than Scripture.  One of the pastors has "been given vision from the Lord" and they are in the process of "redefining their ministry" (which will certainly mean going seeker-senstive/purpose driven/quasi-emergent).  Another is preoccupied with "prophetic dreams" and "risky visions" that are supposed to guide the church?  Yet another of our local churches began praying to the 3 persons of The Shack in leiu of the Father, Son, and Spirit in their small groups!!??
         Bottom line: we need to be grounded in the Word of God as His ordinary means of revelation.  May the Reformation cry of Sola Scriptura grip God's people once again!

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Dr. R. C. Sproul: 2010 Christless Christianity Conference

       One of the greatest reasons for the spiritual decline of the church throughout her history is the improper  understanding of "law" and "gospel."  Israel largely missed it in OT days, the Jewish leaders got it wrong in the days of Jesus' ministry, and it was the confusion of law and gospel that led Paul to write his first chronological epistle to the church in Galatia (a must read/re-read when considering our subject).  The aberrant Judaizers of Paul's day tried to add to Christ's fulfillment of the law by insisting that faith in Jesus and adherence to the Mosaic Law were both necessary for justification.  Paul's scathing rebuke of both the Judaizers and their followers was necessary in his day because a confusion of law and gospel calls into question the sufficiency and efficacy of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection (obviously no small matter . . . see Gal. 1:6-10)!  Church history proves over and over again the distinctions of law and gospel are easily missed.  Consider the words of Charles Spurgeon as he watched the church in his day give way to moralism in the 1887 "Down-grade controversy":
    There is no point on which men make greater mistakes than on the relation which exists between the law and the gospel.  Some men put the law instead of the gospel; others put gospel instead of the law.  A certain class maintains that the law and the gospel are mixed . . . these men understand not the truth and are false teachers (Charles Spurgeon, New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 1.  Pilgrim Publications, 1975. p. 285.).
    Michael Horton sees the distinction of law and gospel partially as follows:
    Any form of doing the gospel is a confusion of categories.  The law tells us what to do; the gospel tells us what God has done for us in Christ.  When it comes to the question about how we relate to God, doing is the wrong answer.  Paul explains, "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:4-5).  It is not just some deeds on our part that are excluded here, but our works of any kind . . . "but if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:6).  (Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. BakerBooks, 2008. p. 124).  Underline mine.
        This is an immense subject indeed, but a basic understanding of law and gospel is necessary to understand how all men are related to God.  We are either standing on the hope of some form of conformity to law and rightly condemned.  Or the law has killed us and we are justified through faith in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ fulfilled the law in his sinless life and paid the penalty of our sin debt with his precious blood on the Cross.  Christ was then raised for our justification.  Whose righteousness are you clothed in?  Does your church preach good advice as the means to relate to God or does she herald the good news that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law on our behalf?

       Since the fall of Adam in Genesis 3, there is only one Man, whom Paul calls the 2nd or last Adam, who has fulfilled the law to the "jot and tittle" (Matt. 5:17).  The imperatives of the law and our corresponding sins are meant to drive us to Calvary where "Christ became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).  What love, what grace, what a Savior!!  Can you see law and gospel in the lyrics of Amazing Grace?
    'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
    And grace my fears reliev'd; 
    How precious did that grace appear, 
    The hour I first believ'd!  
         There will be much more on this subject as we go.  For now, let's get direction from the Word as R. C. teaches the account of the "Rich Young Ruler" and Jesus from Mark 10:17-22.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Dr. John MacArthur: 2010 Christless Christianity Conference

        As promised, here is session #2 of the 2010 Christless Christianity Conference.  In this must see video (entitled: "Becoming a Better You"), pastor John MacArthur exposes a common but aberrant view of the Christian life, namely that God desires for us to experience our best life in this world.  Borrowing conveniently from mainstream word-faith proponent Joel Osteen's book, Your Best Life Now, MacArthur skillfully points out that Satan's messengers most often appeal to what the unregenerate heart most desperately wants . . . to have God on their own terms and for Him to enable them to become successful according to the standards of this world.  Missing in Osteen's "theology" is the biblical view of man as totally unable and totally unwilling to come to the true God apart from divine enablement through regeneration and faith.  This is a common error in the contemporary church that we will be addressing comprehensibly at Gospel Polemics in the near future.  In short, without a biblical Anthropology (study of man) it is impossible to come to an orthodox Soteriology (study of salvation).
       The remedy for Osteen's fallacy by MacArthur is skillful bible exposition from 1 Peter 1:3-5.  Peter addresses persecuted and dispersed Jewish believers who are not experiencing their best lives now!  These troubled believers are encouraged to fix their minds on the eternal, enduring, and undefiled inheritance that Jesus purchased for them and to abide in the "living hope" of future glory in heaven!
        This message by MacArthur at Christless Christianity 2010 begs the questions: When we experience inevitable suffering and disappointment in this life, does that make us cling more deeply to the world?  Or do our trials remind us that our best life is yet future in the glory of our Father's kingdom?  Is our primary view of Christianity one in which God makes good people better?  Or do we stand amazed that God's mercy and grace revealed in Christ reaches and transforms even poor, miserable, helpless, spiritually bankrupt rebels such as us?