Reviews, Uncategorized

Review: High King of Heaven, ed. John MacArthur

As Christians, our faith can be summed up in one name: Jesus.

High King of Heaven: Theological and Practical Perspectives on the Person and Work of Jesus
High King of Heaven: Theological and Practical Perspectives on the Person and Work of Jesus

Without Christ, there is no Christianity. Without Christ, there is no Gospel. Without Christ, there is no hope of eternal salvation – and yet so many Christians have little beyond a surface understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.

It is in that vein that a book like High King of Heaven is heartily welcome. Arising from messages given at the 2017 Shepherd’s Conference, held at Grace Community Church in southern California, the book is an accessible, well-researched and well-studied presentation of the person and work of Christ as well as issues related to seeing Christ in the Scriptures.

The presentation unfolds in four parts: (1) The Person of Christ, (2) The Work of Christ, (3) The Word of Christ and (4) The Witness to Christ. Part 1 features stellar contributions from Dr. Michael Reeves on The Eternal Word: God the Son in Eternity Past (chapter 1), Dr. Mark Jones on The Son’s Relationship to the Father (chapter 3) and Dr. Keith Essex on The Virgin Birth (chapter 4).

Part 2 includes a powerful treatment of the Kenosis from Prof. Mike Riccardi (chapter 9) – a chapter that I believe is the price of the book as a whole 1, Dr. Michael Barrett on The Atonement (chapter 10) as well as The Second Coming from Dr. Michael Vlach (chapter 13).

Part 3 deals with the relationship between Christ and the Scriptures, which bear witness to Him (John 5:39). I found myself especially intrigued by Dr. Brad Klassen’s chapter on Christ and the Completion of the Canon – a subject that usually has very little written about it (chapter 15) – and Dr. Abner Chou’s treatment of Seeing Christ in the Old Testament (chapter 16).

The final section deals with The Witness to Christ – the final chapter (Do You Love Me?: The Essential Response to the High King of Heaven by Dr. John MacArthur) especially works as a fitting conclusion, calling for love for Christ as the heart of our faith.

My only gripe with this volume is that it felt too brief at points – it could have gone on a little longer and I still wouldn’t have been able to put it down.

I heartily commend this book to anyone seeking to grow in their love for Christ, our High King of Heaven. Tolle lege!

Reviews, Uncategorized

Review: Long Before Luther by Nathan Busenitz

Nathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther: Tracing The Heart Of The Gospel From Christ To The Reformation (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017).

If you’ve spent any length of time talking with various non-Protestant groups, whether in Roman Catholicism or those who are part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, you’ll know that a common sticking point is justification by faith.

Though those are two very disparate groups, what you find is that one of the core arguments leveled against the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone is that it is a new doctrine – a doctrine that is an innovation in the history of the church and definitely not something the apostles believed or told. 

As if this theological impasse is not difficult enough, there are Protestants and even “evangelicals” who call the doctrine of sola fide a recent development.

The question of the hour is a simple one: Was the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone an invention or a recovery?

It is this question that Dr. Nathan Busenitz seeks to answer in his excellent book Long Before Luther: Tracing The Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation. Busenitz serves as Dean of Faculty and Assistant Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles and has authored and contributed to such books as Reasons We Believe, Right Thinking in a Church Gone Astray, Men of the Word and Fools Gold.

Picking up the claim of historian Alistair McGrath in particular that no-one taught the doctrine of sola fide prior to the Reformers (pp. 25-29), Busenitz does the work of a historical detective, mining through the writings of various teachers and writers in church history, to demonstrate that the doctrine of Luther and the Reformers was, in fact, a RECOVERY and not an INVENTION.

With a faithfulness to the meaning of the authors he cites and a clear-headed analysis of their theology, Busenitz uses the three planks of McGrath’s argument to show that this teaching was understood by generations of believers before Luther – and thus is a doctrine that can be believed and trusted today.

Far from being an academic treatise, Busenitz succeeds in defending the Pauline teaching that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. I encourage you to pick up a copy and have your confidence bolstered in the doctrine Busenitz rightfully calls the heart of the Gospel.


Four MORE of My Favourite Non-Calvinist Preachers/Writers

About three years ago, I wrote an article called My Five Favourite Non-Calvinist Preachers/Writers, naming five authors or speakers who weren’t reformed but I enjoy listening to regardless. I recently re-posted that article on Facebook and realized there are some more authors and speakers I wanted to share on the blog.

I sincerely believe there are great authors outside of my own Calvinistic world and it is a shame to close one’s self off from them just because they don’t believe in or profess TULIP. With that, here are four more authors I enjoy reading and listening to.

J. Oswald Sanders

J. Oswald Sanders (1902-1992) was the director of the then-China Inland Mission, today known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship, in the 1950s and 1960s. He has had an incalculable impact on me through a trilogy of books he authored: Spiritual Leadership, Spiritual Maturity and Spiritual Discipleship.

Rich with Biblical truth while warm and fatherly in tone, Sanders’ writings have done much to get me thinking about the nature of Christian commitment, discipleship and following Jesus. I commend them to anyone seeking to get beyond a “Sunday religion” into a constant, day-by-day paradigm for all of life.

David Legge

I’m still hazy on how I came to know of Pastor David Legge but I do remember how I got interested in his ministry. At the time, he was pastor of the Iron Hall Assembly (now Iron Hall Evangelical Church) in Belfast, Northern Ireland and before long, I found myself sending off for MP3 CDs of his Bible messages through varying books of the Bible as well as a number of insightful topics. I’m a little wary of his more recent material but his older, more expositional ministry is worth your time. 1

Mac Brunson

I’ve been a keen listener to the ministry of Pastor Mac Brunson since I heard him speak at H.B. CharlesCutting It Straight Conference a few years ago and he is a solid, straight-down-the-line expositor. Combining good Bible teaching with a very homespun and down-to-earth delivery, I make it a point to listen to his sermon series as he completes them. You can find his preaching at the First Baptist Church Jacksonville website.

Charles Swindoll

Long-time speaker of Insight for Living, pastor of Stonebriar Community Church and arguably one of the greatest sons of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Charles R. Swindoll is probably one of the easiest preachers to listen to. I’ve often used the phrase deceptively simple to describe his teaching: he doesn’t say anything mind-blowing but he is amazing at just looking at the text and letting the point of the text speak to the life of the listener. I remember listening to a series he did in 1 John while in college and learning so much about John’s emphasis on the Christian life as fellowship with God. I’d encourage you to listen to the archive of Insight for Living, download the study guides and be open to the possibility of learning something you might not have considered.


As I conclude, I am sure I will elicit worried reactions for a post like this.

That happened with the first post I did and I accept full responsibility for it. I have grown increasingly aware of the reality that all the good folks aren’t Calvinists and that to cut one’s self off from other voices in the body of Christ is more of a schismatic attitude than a Christ-like attitude.

Even if I am convinced of the doctrines of grace and boldly proclaim them, that should never lead to a haughty, arrogant, self-aggrandizing, “Calvinists are better” spirit. So…give these guys a listen. You might just learn something!


A Better Way – Rethinking the Current Discussion about Race and the Church (1)

I know what you are thinking.

Yet another article from a person of colour, berating ‘white evangelicalism’ for whiteness, casual racism, systematic injustice and everything that comes with it…

I’ll lay my cards on the table: this is not another article from a person of colour, berating ‘white evangelicalism’ for whiteness, casual racism, systematic injustice and everything that comes with it.

In fact, let me go further than that. I am tired of articles like that.

If I may let go of my usual restraint, I’m more than tired – I am annoyed by articles like that.

I’m annoyed by such articles for a number of reasons:

I’m annoyed because they don’t speak to the universal experience of all people of colour in reformed-evangelical circles and those with a differing perspective are often labelled ‘tokens’, ‘sellouts’, ‘Uncle Tom’ or accused of allowing their desires for acceptance to trump justice and fairness.

I’m annoyed because so many of such articles don’t have their foundation in Scriptural precept but a worldview that is rooted in anti-Biblical thought.

I’m annoyed because frankly, the folks who peddle this rather particular version of events conveniently ignore the perspective of those in their own constituency who reject it. In short, because I am inconvenient, you’re not listening to me.

For a long time, I’ve restrained my thoughts on the issue of ‘racial reconciliation’ to the occasional response on Twitter or Facebook, mostly because I have long told myself that folks will not listen to me on this issue. I’ve since changed my mind on that – just because people will not listen does not mean I should not speak or that when I do, it should be limited to complaints. It’s time for me to put forward what I believe should be happening, not just what shouldn’t be happening.

So for the next few months, I will be posting some occasional thoughts with the aim of walking through what I believe to be a Bible perspective on this most fraught of issues.

A health warning at this point: I will more than likely offend both white evangelicals and people of colour with some of my comments over the course of this month. It is not my intention to offend needlessly but before we get to a healthy place, there needs to be a painful confrontation of how bad the problem is.

I shouldn’t end this opening reflection on a sour note, however. I am hopeful that we can begin to witness a healing between the various parts of the body in this area. I’m hopeful healing can happen because the Body of Christ is truly the Body of Christ. The Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, loves it far too much to see its members languish in a state of suspicion, distrust, fear and hatred of each other.

I believe we will be OK – it’ll just take time and work.

May God help us as we embark on this journey together.


Why the Reformation Matters (3): Because the Glory of God Matters

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Why Does the Reformation Matter?

If you’re a believer reading this, I want to ask you a question: Why are you a believer and why isn’t your unsaved friend?

For me, that question is a little more personal: why am I a believer but my brother, whom I grew up with, isn’t?

I’m sure we can all think of that close person in our lives whom we love dearly and yet they do not believe in Jesus.

Is it because you or I were smarter, more gifted, paid more attention or were more humble?

Allow me to ask this question much more pointedly: who gets the final credit for your salvation?

One of the issues that flowed out of the Reformation was the question of who gets the glory in salvation. In football terms, does God get the goal or the assist when it comes to our redemption?

As I read my NT, I see a consistent theme – salvation is from God and by God for God’s own glory.

Nowhere is that theme more powerfully set forth than in the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.

In him we have also received an inheritance, because we were predestined according to the plan of the one who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will, so that we who had already put our hope in Christ might bring praise to his glory.

In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. he Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory. 1

I want to consider three movements in this glorious text which expound on the glory our triune God receives in our salvation:

Glory! The Father loved, chose and predestined us…

Ephesians 1:6 notes that God the Father chose us for salvation and predestined us – planned before the dawn of time to adopt us into His family – and that for this, He is worthy of glory.

Election is often painted as a cold, austere doctrine – the divine equivalent of duck, duck, goose – but the Bible knows nothing of such an idea. According to the Bible, God predestines us in love. Predestination rides on the track of divine love every bit as much as it does on the justice, sovereignty and power of God.

As the old Gospel song says:

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary! 2

We were outside of the family of God, headed towards His wrath and without hope in the world – and then the eternal God chose to make us His own. He stepped in to alter the very course of our lives – and not for anything good in us. God does all this for His own glory.


Glory! The Son has redeemed us and given us an inheritance…

Not only does God the Father receive all the glory in our salvation but God the Son also receives glory for our salvation in Ephesians 1:11-12.

If the Father is the Architect of salvation, the Son is the One who has purchased the salvation desired by the Father. Beyond that, He has also invited us to share in the inheritance He has been given from the Father. 3

God the Father has invited us into His family and the Son has seen to it that He has paid the price and included us in the family will. We were slaves to sin until Christ bought us out of our bondage to the world, the flesh and the Devil 4. We started with nothing but will one day inherit the earth itself 5

Glory! The Holy Spirit will see us home to glory…

The Father receives glory in our salvation for His loving predestination and the Son receives glory for redeeming us and granting us His full inheritance. The Spirit also receives glory as well in our salvation in verses 13-14.

The Father has planned salvation out of His divine love, the Son purchases our salvation and the Spirit applies that salvation to the believer and ensures that we will enter the presence of the Father on that final day. The Spirit is the “proof of purchase” – the pledge that we have been the beneficiary of the work of the Father and the Son.

The Spirit guarantees our hope
Until redemption’s done
Until we join in endless praise
To God, the Three in One 6

A great many Christians labour under the impression that salvation is a work that God might plan and the Son might pay for but we have to keep up or maintain it. The text couldn’t be clearer though – the Spirit is the one who is the down payment of our salvation. It is the Spirit who is charged with testifying to our spirit that we are sons of God 7, who unites us to Christ 8 and acts as our guarantee. 9

You can’t be more assured than having God Himself as your guarantee – God who cannot lie 10 and cannot swear by anything greater than Himself! 11

And why does the Spirit do this? To the praise of His glory.

So we return to the question with which we began: who gets the credit for our salvation?

If we believe the Bible to be true in all it says, we have to conclude: to God alone be all the glory…or as the Reformers and those in their wake would say, “Soli deo Gloria!”

Glory, glory to the Father

Glory, glory to the Son

Glory, glory to the Spirit

Ever three and ever one!


On Joel Osteen and Telling the Truth (Even When It Hurts to Do It)

I’m not a confessionally reformed person but my late mentor was. I remember sitting in his home with his beloved Thompson Chain Reference Bible as we discussed the ninth commandment after I had played a prank on a friend and it had backfired when they discovered my dishonesty.

Here’s what the Larger Catechism says about the ninth commandment:

The ninth commandment forbids everything detrimental to the truth and the good reputation of others as well as our own, with special reference to legal matters in the courts. We must not give untrue evidence, suborn perjury, knowingly appear and plead on behalf of an evil cause, or engage in overbearing and boastful exaggeration. We should never participate in passing an unjust sentence, call evil good or good evil, or reward the wicked in a way appropriate to the righteous or the righteous in a way appropriate to the wicked. Forgery is forbidden, as is concealing the truth, remaining silent in a just cause, and not taking it on ourselves to reprove or complain to others about some wrong. We must not speak the truth at an inappropriate time, or maliciously to promote a wrong purpose, nor pervert it into a wrong meaning, into ambiguous equivocations, or in such ways as to undermine truth and justice.

Also forbidden are: saying anything untrue, as well as lying, slandering, backbiting, belittling, gossiping, whispering, ridiculing, reviling, and expressing any kind of judgmental opinion that is rash, harsh, or prejudiced; misconstruing intentions, words, and actions; flattery and ostentatious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too poorly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts of God or the effects of his grace on us; exaggerating the significance of trivial faults; concealing, excusing, or rationalizing our sinful behavior when we are called to confess it voluntarily; gratuitously revealing the problems and failings of others; spreading false rumors, receiving and approving evil reports, and refusing to listen to a just defense; harboring evil suspicions; being envious of or grieved by the deserved honors others receive, trying to discredit those honors, and rejoicing at someone else’s disgrace or evil reputation; scornful contempt and foolish admiration; breaking our lawful promises; and, finally, failing to promote everyone’s good name, and doing, not avoiding, or not hindering in others, as we can, those things that give people a bad name. 1

Why am I quoting this lengthy section from the Westminster Larger Catechism about our relationship to the truth?

Because in the last week, I have witnessed what I consider to be an evil – an evil pointed at someone I wouldn’t typically want to defend. That evil has to do with an unwillingness to investigate and discover the truth even when it hurts to admit it.

If you’ve been following the news this week, you know that the city of Houston has been hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. At the time of writing, the storm looks set to make its second landfall with 30 dead already and growing hundreds displaced from their home. It has been an ecological nightmare that we can only hope the city recovers from.

In the midst of this disaster, the beast that is social media took no time from finding a new story to make us lose sanity, give in to our natural tendency to ‘feel first, think later’ and just be plain angry.

Apparently, Houston’s resident megachurch, Lakewood Church, pastored by the (in)famous Joel Osteen, closed its doors to the many who needed help and that is, usually, an action that ought to elicit strong condemnation.

Secular media picked up on this with excoriating attacks on the charismatic televangelist, such as Charlamagne tha God of the popular Breakfast Club radio show, syndicated nationwide:

YouTube Preview Image

A millionaire preacher refused to open his doors to the needy – the same people he probably fleeces each week. Shakespeare would be proud of such a narrative.

There is just one problem – that’s not exactly how the story broke down.

Apparently, Osteen’s theology of optimism and positive confession couldn’t stop him canceling services and classes at the church and given the church’s history of response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Alison in 2001 and even during local floods last year, the story turned out to be a little more wooly than first reported and pontificated on.

You may read the past 700 words and think, “Why does this bother you? It’s Joel Osteen – it doesn’t really matter, given what he’s done!”

Well, I want to say it does matter – telling the truth, even about those whom we don’t like or care for, matters.

My dislike for prosperity theology does not absolve me of my responsibility to obey James 1:19-20:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.

The text gives us three principles for speaking that apply, not just in trials, but universally:

1. Christians are called to be quick to listen:

Gather the facts. Take your time. Check, double check and triple check the details. Communication that honours the Almighty begins not with a desire to strike while the iron is hot but a willingness to let the iron cool and take shape so we see what we are dealing with.

2. Christians are called to be slow to speak:

Social media has taught us that everyone needs to comment on everything and if you want to be heard, then you have to get in first. Slowness to speak is not applauded and we are not the better for it. I lost track of how many times people spoke on the issue at hand and then had to apologise for speaking hastily.

It shames us as Christians when atheist bloggers are more careful in their speech that we are. It is not a virtue to hear your own voice all the time when it is used to speak untruths. Before you hit the keys, take a minute. Read a chapter in a book. Watch an episode of your favourite show. Better yet, open your mouth and pray for wisdom. The Internet can wait – your obligation to the truth is worth much more than your need to voice your opinion.

3. Christians are called to be slow to anger:

In other words: take your emotions down from 9 or 10 to 1 or 2. Allowing how we feel to colour the facts doesn’t honour God or live up to the objective ideals of the ninth commandment. There is a time and a place for being emotional – but emotions, much like a wild horse, must have the taming bridle of truth placed in their mouth so that they can serve their true purpose of being a response system and not a decision-making system.

Too many Christians let their outrage at the sin of Joel Osteen cloud their judgment and themselves fall into the sin of slander against another imagebearer, even if that imagebearer is a false teacher.

As I was once told, “You don’t use an dishonest sword to wage a truth war.”

In short, that this debacle even happened ought to humble us and make us think twice about how we speak in relation to controversial issues.

As someone who has a vested interest in reaching people trapped in the prosperity gospel movement, this has only served to hamper the efforts of those who speak out. Credibility is lost when we say things that are untrue and then find ourselves exposed.

If I may end on a blunt note – we are believers and we are better than this. 


Living as Active Pilgrims: Embracing an Engaged Alienation

One of my favourite NT metaphors for the people of God comes from the General Letters:

These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.1

Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul.2

The reality that we are not yet home but on our way there has been a comfort for believers down through the ages. In the words of one of my favourite hymns in the English language:

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now till I want no more,
feed me now till I want no more.

Yet for all the comfort this truth ought to be, few concepts are as unpalatable in our day than this one. One retired Presbyterian minister writing for a popular reformed Internet journal even went so far as to say the following in response to what he called ‘exile theology’:

What exile theology lacks is a hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to change the culture of nations through the preaching of the gospel. Marxism plans in terms of a long-term future. So does Islam. Exile Theology has no future. What it lacks is a faith in the covenant promises of God. Habakkuk was no exile theologian. He said it well when he wrote, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”3

Setting to one side the misrepresentation involved in such a view, one must still ask the question, “Is that true?”

Is a lack of ‘hope in the power of the Holy Spirit’ the inevitable result of believing that we are strangers and exiles in this world- people who have our ultimate citizenship not in the countries and territories of this world but in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ?4

I would disagree – and it is my contention that the Apostle Peter would disagree. I invite you to engage in a Bible study with me, taking 1 Peter 2:11-21 as our text:

Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Household slaves, submit to your masters with all reverence not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel. For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.

For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

I want to propose that Peter, in these verses, is calling us to an engaged alienation as the people of God. Peter is telling us that though this world is not our home and we are strangers only passing through, we should live in this world in a spirit of godly engagement with it.

What does this engaged alienation look like?

An Engaged Alienation Begins with Personal and Public Holiness (v.11-12)

Our text begins with a straightforward command:

Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul.

In light of who we are as God’s people – foreigners in a ‘land’ not our own – we are to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against our soul.

Before we even begin to think about engaging with the world out there, we have to get serious about dealing with our lusts and desires. This theme of combatting sinful desires is heavily present throughout the General Letters:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us…5

But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death…Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.6

Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stable position7

Getting a grip on the flesh isn’t something we relegate to the realm of the super-saved or the deeply committed Christians – it is vital as those who are journeying from this side of glory into the next one.

As those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus, our engagement with this world begins with personal holiness and putting to death the deeds of the flesh.

The purpose for this flows out of the next verse:

Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.

A critical part of our engaged alienation is that we live in the world but we don’t live like the rest of the world around us. We live in such a way as the world around us has to take notice – either in this age or on the day where this age makes way for the world to come.

It is a sad reality that too many Christians have bought into the mindset that essentially says we must be like the world around us to win the world around us. That might make sense on some pragmatic level but Biblically, that option is off the table.

Pilgrim seeking a way of escape outside the City of Destruction
A scene from Pilgrim’s Progress

The world around is watching – we may not like that fact, we may even to try to deny it and it might make us uncomfortable but the world around us is watching. On our jobs, at school, when we socialize – the minute we profess Christ all eyes are on us and if such a thing makes us uncomfortable, we may need to take stock of why it does.

It is also interesting to note what Peter does not say. He doesn’t say, “Conduct yourselves honorably and the Gentiles will like you for your conservative morality, good work ethic, etc.”

The Apostle is writing in the midst of persecution – and the holiness of those being persecuted is not said to do a single thing to alleviate their circumstances or ingratiate them with their persecutors. They are still being slandered!

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean there is no purpose to their waging war against the love of the flesh. Their honourable conduct, flowing from an internal holiness, ultimately serves to glorify God.

God is made much of when His redeemed people live in light of their position before a world which is naturally opposed to them.

Living in engaged alienation from the world around us begins, then, with a personal and public holiness.

An Engaged Alienation Affects Every Sphere of Life (v.13-20)

This internal work of God does not just lead to personal and public holiness but it touches every sphere of life. In our passage, Peter specifically focuses on two of those spheres – authority and work.

It Affects Our Relationship to Authority (v.13-16)

Before we proceed, we must state categorically: the Bible nowhere condemns the existence of authority, especially in the civil realm.

That statement may sound as though it is declaring the obvious yet it needs to be said in an age as anti-authority as ours. Even as I write, I confess that it is a hard fact for me to accept – because those elected to power in our age often act as those who frankly shouldn’t be allowed to run a PTA meeting, let alone a state.

Yet the Bible rebukes us all when Peter writes:

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.

Commenting on this passage, Spurgeon noted the following:

We are to obey kings, and governors, and magistrates, even when they may not be all that we wish them to be.

True Christians give no trouble in the State they are not law-breakers, but they strive to do that which is honest and upright. Where the laws are not righteous, they may cause trouble to bad law-givers and lawmakers; but when rulers ordain that which is just and righteous, they find that Christians are their best subjects.

In Peter’s day, the king was a poor creature, and something worse than that. Indeed, I might say of the bulk of the Emperors of Rome, who were the chief “kings” of that day, that they were monsters of iniquity; yet the office was to be respected even when the man who occupied it could not be much more should it be respected when the occupant is what a true “king” should be.8

From the President (if you’re American) or Prime Minister (if you’re British like me) down to local councilors, we submit to those who are above us – even when they drive us mad – because we submit to the Lord of all. It is “for the Lord’s sake” (ESV) that we submit to authority at every level.

Beyond the platitude that says, “Respect the office, even if you don’t respect the man”, an engaged alienation with our culture means that we respect the office because we desire to honour the Lord.

Peter goes on:

For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves.

It is interesting to observe the close connection between personal holiness, our witness and our submission as God’s people-in-exile to government authority.

We submit to governmental authority at all levels, firstly, because in doing so, we advance the will of God by silencing the ignorance of those who make claims against the Gospel. How often has the Christian faith often been pilloried by the unbelieving world around us because believers often demonstrated more needless hostility to authority than submission as unto the Lord? Peter’s understanding – and thus, our understanding – is not that we never speak truth to power when we must but that our first responsibility is to submit for the Lord’s sake.9

We don’t do this merely to “avert attention” from prying eyes and definitely not, as Peter said, “using [our] freedom as a cover-up for evil” but because our submission to human authority reflects our submission to divine authority.

Paul echoes this in Romans 13 when he writes:

Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience.10

For the sake of maintaining a clear conscience – both before God and man – we engage in submission from the heart in deference to our Lord Jesus Christ.

It Affects Our Relationship to Work (v.17-20)

Peter transitions from submission on a macro-level to submission in one of the intimate levels – that of working relationships:

Household slaves, submit to your masters with all reverence not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel. For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.

The dynamic of the world of the New Testament was one of slaves and masters and, at first glance, we may be tempted to dismiss its relevance but the timeless truth of the passage is a simple one: submission to authority in the workplace is a Gospel affair.

We work hard, not just for nice bosses but also for the incompetent and the incorrigible because that is what pleases God.

An Engaged Alienation Flows from Jesus’ Example as the Ultimate Exile (v.21)

At the base of this life of engaged alienation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter concludes:

For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

If all I have said about engaged alienation sounds like madness, capitulation or, as the author quoted in the beginning of this essay, a lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, then may I boldly suggest you have to lay those accusations squarely at Jesus’ feet.

Follow the logic of Peter’s argument:

  • The reason why you live in the way of 1 Peter 2:11-20 is because you were called to this
  • The foundation of this calling is Christ’s suffering for you
  • In suffering for you, He left an example for the purpose of following in His steps

We live in engaged alienation because no less a God-man than Jesus Christ lived in such way – and died in such a way.
He left the throne room of heaven above and became a Man, a Servant at that.11 He entered into this world that was so distinct from His own (even though He created it) and lived among us. He engaged with the world around Him and never fell into the sinful way of the world around Him.

Ultimately, He went to His own and His own did not receive Him.12 He suffered to the ultimate degree – He died. His obedience to God not only glorified God but brought eternal salvation to untold millions, right down to our present day.13

We live in engaged alienation, ultimately because we are following Jesus who Himself lived in engaged alienation from this world. It wasn’t easy but it was – and ever will be – glorious. It may not be glorious in the here and now but in the long run, the people of God are on a one-way journey to glory. That alone makes the reproach, the ostracism and the rejection so worth it.

  1. Hebrews 11:13. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Christian Standard Bible. []
  2. 1 Peter 2:11 []
  3. []
  4. Philippians 3:20-21 – “…but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself.” []
  5. Hebrews 12:1 []
  6. James 1:14-15, 21 []
  7. 2 Peter 3:17 []
  8. []
  9. While we’re on the subject, Peter doesn’t address this but it does merit mention. It is equally damaging to our witness as exiles when believers become bedfellows with the institutions of power. Thankfully, the ostracization of believers by the political mainstream has already begun, making the process of no longer being beholden to power providentially easier than ever. For more on this, I recommend Russell Moore’s Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel []
  10. Romans 13:5 []
  11. Philippians 2:5-8 []
  12. John 1:10 []
  13. Heb 5:8-9 []

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Towards a Contemporary Reformed Witness (3): Personal Reflections Pt.3a

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Towards a Contemporary Reformed Witness


My third and final personal reflection before we start dealing with some of the tools at our disposal for having a robust, contemporary reformed witness is this:

We tend towards a lobsided view of history – both in relation to the past and to the present

C.S. Lewis coined a phrase which has become a personal favourite of mine. He wrote:

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

Those two words – “chronological snobbery” – have haunted me ever since.

There is a real sense in which, particularly among the young, there is the danger of not quite appreciating that there was indeed a fully-functional world before the one into which we were born. A failure to appreciate history and to learn from it is arrogance of the highest order and something from which we ought to repent.

That all being said…

In reformed circles, I don’t think that’s our thing to fear. We embrace the reality that the particulars of our theological system were forged in prior generations, most notably the sixteenth through to the eighteenth centuries. Of course – we’re reformed as in the Protestant Reformation. 

In itself, that should be no issue – the history of the Church, though not flawless, is the story of two thousand years of Christ’s power manifested through imperfect people who believed in and stood for Him. We still use terms and definitions forged from the past to define critical Christian doctrines, we still cite with great reverence those who went before us, expounding the Scripture and we still ask the question, “How have God’s people always understood this issue or that?”

In and of itself, that is not the problem. The problem is chronological snobbery…but of a different kind. We’ll pick up this train of thought in part 4.



In Defense of Taking Notes in Sermons

I am a “note taker” and I love it.

Sermons, lectures, webinars at work – I like…no, I need to have pen and paper with me to focus.

In so much as you are delivering some form of information, I need to write it down…and nowhere more so than in church. sermon_notes

I am an avid note taker in church – most likely on paper, occasionally on my tablet if I’m short of a pen – and I refuse to apologise for that fact.

I appreciate it’s not for everyone but of late, it’s become popular in Bible-believing circles to decry the act of taking notes in sermons. I remember listening to an amazing series of sermons on Romans 9-11 a few years ago and the preacher constantly derided those who would take notes during his preaching – and he met with a lot of agreement from the audience.

As someone who is an avid note-taker and has no plans of quitting, here are some reasons I believe in taking notes:

1. It forces you to not just listen but process:

As someone who teaches at least once a week, I face the reality that folks will often listen to me with great eagerness…and then can’t remember what I said the next week.

Part of the problem is that we are often OK at listening but not at processing.

Listening is passive but to listen, think through and internalize and review- that’s an activity which requires effort and note-taking (with later review) helps encourage that process.

2. It aids discipleship((Indebted to Dr David Platt for years of drumming this into me via his pastoral ministry at The Church of Brooks Hills))

Preaching is a means by which we are equipped for the work of the ministry (cf Eph 4:13-16) – it is, amongst so many other things, mass discipleship in the Word.

I have been stretched and deepened by the pulpit ministry of my local church and more often than not, I find myself sharing tidbits from what I’ve learned with others who I am trying to pour into.

Try doing that from memory. A written (or typed) record is a record you can go back to, a record you can draw on time and time again as you pass off the truths passed on to you.

This next point is a little longer and more complex so follow me closely…

3. Much of the critique of taking notes in sermons hinges on opinion and not fact

The idea is often put forward that a sermon is a means of exultation in and exaltation of Jesus Christ – so far, so good – and since it is worship and not just information – again, I agree – taking notes removes the worshipful aspect from that process and reduces it down to a lecture.

“The Doctor”, Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is cited to this effect:

“I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. . . . The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. . . . While you are writing your notes, you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

Well, with all due respect to the Doctor, that sounds more subjective than anything. I’m pretty certain God the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to minister to someone listening to a sermon and writing down notes just as effectively as if someone were just listening.

If anything, this downplays the effectiveness of preaching and makes it contingent on the response it evokes in the hearers and what the preacher does to produce that effect, rather than in the freedom of the Spirit working to make the Word of effect in people’s lives.

It’s not been my aim in this post to say everyone must take notes in a sermon – people process differently and take in truth differently – but it is my hope that we’ll put aside bad arguments either for or against and simply let people do that which best works for them.