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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.

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

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!

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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. 

Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (2c): Because the Bible Matters Part 3

Why do we need our Bibles?

 

That may sound like an unusual question, given that we are Christians, but stop and think about the last time you gave that question some serious thought.

Why do we need our Bibles?

As we conclude this miniseries on Scripture, I want to direct our attention to a portion of God’s Word which directly answers the question of the necessity of Scripture – the fourth key characteristic of Scripture (read parts one and two for the previous three).

That passage is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In the passage, Paul lays out four reasons why we need our Bibles – so let us walk through his argument carefully and see what we can learn together.

A. We need the Bible for its teaching:

We can define the idea of Scripture’s teaching as what it has to say about the right way to believe and behave.

Pastor and Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur gives the following definition:

“The divine instruction or doctrinal content of both the OT and the NT…the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary for godliness.”

Scripture is necessary because it is God’s curriculum for faith and practice. In its pages we have the inside scoop on what God would have us know and do. As we noted in the first part of our series on Scripture, Scripture isn’t designed to answer every question on every issue. However, when it comes to what we must believe and how we must behave, God’s Word alone gives what we need.

B. We need the Bible for its rebuke:

If teaching is the right way to believe and behave, then rebuking can be understood as pointing out wrong belief and behaviour.

As the saying goes, “To err is human”, and that is no more true than when it comes to spiritual matters. If Scripture is true truth, to recall the idea coined by Francis Schaeffer, then it must correct us when our views of God, man, sin, salvation and reality itself are wrong.

C. We need the Bible for its correction:

At first glance, it would appear rebuke and correction are the same thing – however, there is a distinction to be made between the two.

The Greek word rendered ‘correction’ in most English translations is epanorthosis. As Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words points out, this word carries the idea of making straight once again.1

While rebuke points to wrong belief and behaviour, correction has to do with restoration to right belief and behavior.

As we would say in more colloquial terms, Scripture is what God uses to set us straight. It would be a bad parent who only pointed out what a child did wrong without pointing out the right way. In the same way, God’s Word doesn’t just point out where we get it wrong. It has the power, as the Spirit teaches us through its pages, to set us back on the right track in terms of what we believe and how we behave.

D. We need Scripture for training in righteousness:

Finally, we need our Bibles for training in righteousness – ongoing instruction in right belief and behaviour.

As believers, we are called to live as pilgrims on the way to glory while serving the Lord where He has placed us. Correspondingly, we will need ongoing direction – and Scripture provides us that instruction. As Cornelius Van Til so wisely expressed in his watershed work The Defense of the Faith:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.

As Van Til himself goes on to note:

We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.

This is a crucial point that cannot afford to be missed – sometimes Scripture’s instruction is pointed and direct (i.e. what it teaches about sexual ethics, about the sanctity of life or what it says about how the believer should conduct themselves in the workplace) and at times its instruction takes the form of principles which may differ in application depending on the situation.

Whatever the form that instruction takes, we are not left in the dark as to what God desires us to believe and to do.

And so I ask that question with which we began: why do we need our Bibles?

We need our Bibles for life – true, fulfilling, satisfying life!

That should make us confident the next time we pick up our Bibles. God has equipped us for the journey!

  1. http://studybible.info/vines/Correct,%20Correction,%20Corrector,%20Correcting []
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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. http://theaquilareport.com/the-problem-with-exile-theology/ []
  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. http://www.preceptaustin.org/spurgeon_on_1peter#2 []
  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 []
Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (2b): Because the Bible Matters Part 2

This is the third installment in a Reformation-themed series, looking at the practical application of the five Solas for believers today. For the previous part, dealing with the truth of Scripture, use the series link above to catch up.

There is no heresy to postmodern society except to believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth.

Nothing quite illustrates this like the word truthiness. Coined by comic and late-night TV host Stephen Colbert in 2005, the word has the definition of:

The quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like.1

We’ve stopped asking whether we can know what the truth is and succumbed to being content with whether something feels true. After all, no one tells the truth anymore – one need only follow an election cycle to empathize with that concern. If the truth doesn’t exist, then we can only deal in the realm of the truthy, not the truth, right?

As we continue in our mini-series on the Bible, we come to two more characteristics of God’s Word that answer that issue of whether truth exists or not: we can know that truth exists because God’s Word is clear about the truth and it speaks with authority to those issues.

II. The Bible matters because it is clear:

The technical term for the clarity of Scripture is its perspicuity. When we talk about Scripture being perspicuous, the 1689 London Baptist Confession says the following:

Some things in Scripture are clearer than others, and some people understand the teachings more clearly than others. However, the things that must be known, believed, and obeyed for salvation are so clearly set forth and explained in one part of Scripture or another that both the educated and uneducated may achieve a sufficient understanding of them by properly using ordinary measures.2

Yes, some parts of the Bible are hard to grapple with – the Bible says as much!

Also, regard the patience of our Lord as [an opportunity for] salvation, just as our dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you. He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.3

But the core of the Bible’s message is not a mystery – when it comes to those things we need to know for salvation, for life and godliness in the knowledge of God4, the Bible is clear.

In an age where we despair about whether we can even know what the truth is, the principle of Scripture’s clarity cuts through that despair with the assurance that we can know what is true and what is not and know it with certainty!

III. The Bible matters because it carries God’s authority:

Related to the fact that God has spoken clearly is the fact that when God speaks, what He says bears His authority.

Dr. Richard Mayhue, the longtime dean at The Master’s Seminary, summarizes God’s authority as follows:

“…with a biblical worldview, original authority and ultimate authority reside with God and God alone. God did not inherit His authority—there was no one to bequeath it to Him. God did not receive His authority—there was no one to bestow it on Him. God’s authority did not come by way of an election—there was no one to vote for Him. God did not seize His authority—there was no one to steal it from. God did not earn His authority—it was already His. God inherently embodies authority because He is the great “I AM” (Exod 3:14; John 8:58).”5

Few people who claim to believe in God would outwardly disagree with much of that sentiment – but the heart of the issue has to do with whether this authority extends to God’s Word and not just God Himself.

Dr. Mayhue, in another article, gives a helpful syllogism for dealing with this issue:

1. Scripture is the Word of God.
2. The words of God are authoritative.
Conclusion: Scripture is authoritative.6

If the Bible is the Word of God – which it is7 – and any word God says carries divine authority – which it does – then Scripture must be authoritative.

Scripture then is more than just a record of human experiences in search of the divine or highly suggestible moral advice – it is God Himself speaking to His people in terms that cannot be ignored or defied.

Calvin nailed this in his commentary on 2 Timothy 3:

We owe to the Scriptures the same reverence as we owe to God, since it has its only source in Him and has nothing of human origin mixed with it.8

God has spoken – and we can neither argue with nor downplay His Word!

While these are glorious truths in themselves, let’s not lose sight of what we discussed in part one about who God is – God is a God who is for us! He is a Father and when Father God speaks, it is for our ultimate good. When God speaks to us clearly and authoritatively, He does not do so in a violent thundering designed to scare us off.

That God has spoken with clear authority ought to comfort us!

Far from being the joyless edict of a pan-galactic killjoy, Scripture is ultimately the loving communication of a Father to His children. Even in its communication to the wicked and the lost, the Bible is still God the Father mercifully communicating to us, warning us of the impending doom of the wicked and calling us to repentance and faith in Christ.

Its promises are the joy of the believer, its teachings and instruction our guidance along life’s weary way, its warnings given that we might not veer off the right path, its central focus the Lord Jesus Christ: our Saviour, Sanctifier, Advocate with the Father and soon-coming King.

What a great and glorious treasure is left for us in the Word of God – the revealed mind and heart of God the Father to His covenant people.

I close with the wise words of John Calvin once again:

For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.9

  1. “The Definition Of Truthiness”. 2017. Dictionary.Com. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/truthiness. []
  2. “Chapter 1 – The Holy Scriptures”. 2017. Founders Ministries. http://founders.org/1689-confession/chapter-1-the-holy-scriptures/. []
  3. 2 Peter 3:15-16 CSB []
  4. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3 CSB []
  5. MacArthur, John, and Richard Mayhue. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary Of Bible Truth. 1st ed. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 101 []
  6. Mayhue, Richard. 2004. “The Authority Of Scripture”. The Masters’ Seminary Journal 15 (2): 232. https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj15j.pdf. []
  7. 2 Peter 1:16-21 []
  8. Calvin, John. 1996. The Second Epistle Of Paul The Apostle To The Corinthians And The Epistles To Timothy, Titus And Philemon. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans. []
  9. Calvin, John. 1961. Institutes Of The Christian Religion. 1st ed. London: SCM, 1:121 []
Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (2a): Because The Bible Matters Part 1

This is part two of a series of reflections on the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Use the series link above to read the first part of the series. The Reformation was a

The Reformation was a Bible movement. The pre-Reformation trailblazers had their eyes opened through Scripture. The Reformers believed in the Bible as the Word of God around which all life was oriented. Think on how this galvanised faithful service from those who went before us. William Tyndale, a pioneer of English Bible translation, had this to say in relation to Scripture:

I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!

Tyndale died for his devotion to the Bible. But his death wasn’t in vain: you could indeed argue that a kid today could indeed more about the Bible – thanks in large part to Tyndale But that raises a big question:

Why did the Scripture fuel such radical devotion to it on the part of those who came out of the Reformation?

The Puritan pastor and teacher Thomas Watson wrote about the Scriptures:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” By Scripture is understood the sacred Book of God. It is given by divine inspiration; that is, the Scripture is not the contrivance of man’s brain—but is divine in its origin. The image of Diana was had in veneration by the Ephesians, because they supposed it fell from Jupiter. The holy Scripture is to be reverenced and esteemed, because we are sure it came from heaven. The two Testaments are the two lips by which God has spoken to us.1

The Scripture is the library of the Holy Ghost; it is a pandect of divine knowledge, an exact model and platform of religion. The Scripture contains in it the ‘credenda’ (the things which we are to believe) and the ‘agenda’ (the things which we are to practice).2

Anyone with an observant eye in our day can tell that many have a lower view of the Bible than previous generations. Want to see how? Look at our sermons.

Take, for instance, Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in the Atlanta, GA area. He turned heads with his sermon The Bible Tells Me So – a sermon in which he argued that the inerrancy of the Bible is not as important as the Resurrection when it comes to assessing the truth claims of Christianity.

It was not surprising he would say this for many reasons if you are familiar with Stanley. It was surprising that he was vigorously defended by many who would still claim the Bible to be the Word of God.

Why does the Bible matter? Is it that big of a deal what we think about when it comes to the Bible? Is Stanley right to say that it’s not so big a deal what one thinks about the Scripture?

I want to argue that it does matter for four crucial reasons3:

I. The Bible matters because it is sufficient:

A great definition of the sufficiency of the Bible comes to us from the 1689 London Baptist Confession:

The whole revelation of God concerning all things essential for his own glory, human salvation, faith and life, is either explicitly set down or implicitly contained in the Holy Scriptures. Nothing is ever to be added, whether by a new revelation of the Spirit, or by human traditions.

Let’s break that down:

The Bible is not sufficient for everything:

Before we run away with the fairies, it is important to understand that the Bible is not given by God to deal with every issue imaginable. You won’t find how to change the oil in your car, independent business advice or how to install a wireless printer (believe me on that last one, I know!)

The Bible is sufficient for the important things:

That said, the Bible is enough to teach us all we do need to know! Everything God knows you need to know is contained in the Word of God. Whether it is stated plainly or by way of some principle, if the Scriptures say it, it’s enough to meet your need.

The Bible is final in its sufficiency:

The sufficiency of Scripture also means that you cannot add or take away from it. Whether we add some new revelation, some scientific ‘advancement’ or taking away that which seems ‘unreasonable’ – there is nothing that could be said in addition to what God has already said.

The Bible will never need an update, revision or emendation – God has spoken and spoken with finality.

To be continued…

  1. Thomas Watson, A Body Of Divinity, 1st ed. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000, 26 []
  2. Thomas, Isaac David Ellis. The Golden Treasury Of Puritan Quotations. 1st ed. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000, 32 []
  3. I’m indebted to Kevin DeYoung’s fantastic primer on the subject of the Bible, Taking God at His Word []
Doctrine and Theology

Why the Reformation Matters (1): Because God Matters…

This post is the first of five posts thinking through crucial themes of central importance to the Reformation.

It was pastor and author A.W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Unfortunately, in many religious circles (even those professing to be Christian), there is not a lot of thinking going on and definitely not a lot of God-centred thinking. Whether it is theological liberalism on one end or more emotionally driven, sensual approaches to Christianity, what we think about God is often not treated as the most important thing about us. 

More often than not, what we think about ourselves is treated as central to us.

One of the most powerful realities that came out of the revival that was the Protestant Reformation was the centrality of right thinking about God. In the opening chapter of his Institutes, John Calvin wrote:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.1.

Calvin goes on to say:

On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white.2

In an age where self-identity is considered the most important thing, perhaps one of the greatest legacies the Reformation leaves for us is the reality that before we can know ourselves for who we truly are, we must understand God for who He truly is.

But we cannot be content just knowing facts about God. We must move from knowing about God and who He is to also knowing who He is for us.

The Heidelberg Catechism, in its inimitably pastoral style, preaches the wonderful truth of God, not just out there, but also for us:

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and who still upholds and governs them by His eternal counsel and providence, is, for the sake of Christ His Son, my God and my Father. In Him I trust so completely as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this life of sorrow. He is able to do so as almighty God, and willing also as a faithful Father. ((Heidelberg Catechism, Q26))

God is not a God out there for the benefit of others – God is our God! He is for us as His children because He is first and foremost for His Son and that reality truly changes everything!

Why does the Reformation matter? Because God matters!

  1. John Calvin, John T McNeill and Ford Lewis Battles, Institutes Of The Christian Religion, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 35 []
  2. Ibid., 43 []
Reviews

Review: 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 4: The Age of Religious Conflict

 

As a bibliophile, one of the more regular experiences I go through is waiting for the next volume in a series.

Sometimes the wait isn’t too long – like starting the Harry Potter for the first time in 2016. The wait time was usually the next day, courtesy of Amazon Prime.

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Nick Needham, Christian Focus Publications, 2016

At other times, the wait is a long time. In the case of the fourth volume of pastor and historian Nick Needham’s church history series 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, it was twelve years since the last volume was published and six years since I read the last volume.

For those unfamiliar with the series, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power began when Dr Needham, lecturer in Church History at Highland Theological College and pastor of the Inverness Reformed Baptist Church, was teaching in Nigeria and found he couldn’t find an in-depth church history that was also readable. As is often the case, when you can’t find what you need, creating it is a good bet and so Dr Needham released the first volume, The Age of the Early Church Fathers in 2004.

The second volume covered The Middle Ages and the third dealt with the Renaissance and Reformation and now the series continues with this highly-anticipated fourth volume covering the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

So the question remains: was the wait worth it?

Having finished this fourth book, I can unequivocally say that it was worth waiting for! The series had a couple of great features which this fourth volume exemplifies:

It is even-handed: It is easy to use church history as something of a weapon to club opponents in a heated discussion but as folks who know church history tell me, church history is not quite so cut and dry. At times, those we think of as being on our team are often guilty of doing that which just isn’t right or (worse) doing that which is right for the wrong motivations. Needham does an amazing job of just reporting the news and not spinning it, especially when dealing with groups as contentious as the Puritans or the Covenanters or periods as fraught as the Calvinist-Arminian controversy or The Great Ejection.

I came away reading some sections both saddened at the behaviour of some of my theological forefathers yet thankful for the firm resolve and fearless faith of others of them. That was only possible because Dr Needham seeks to be even-handed in his dealings with this fractious time in church history

It seeks to provide modern lessons from our history: More than once, Dr Needham rather cleverly weaves together lessons we can learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the past – and even from theological traditions that differ from his own (and my own) Reformed and Baptistic roots.  Church history can often be the “stuff of the past” but Needham shows the relevance of our roots as 21st-century evangelicals and what can we do to avoid the same missteps.

I enjoyed volume four of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power (and in reality, the whole series) and would highly commend it to anyone looking to think critically about our roots as believers.

Uncategorized

A Fantastic Offer from 10ofThose! (@10ofthose)

Have you ever tried to make sense of the Bible? Wondered what is the ‘magic key’ that unlocks the message of God’s Word? Does that key even exist??? Jesus said it did – and that He was that key! (John 5:39)

The person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is the golden thread that runs through the Bible, bringing its many stories, lessons, prophecies and teachings together into a glorious whole. Yet if we are honest, it can sometimes be difficult to see that golden thread in all the Scriptures.

The ESV Gospel Transformation Bible from Crossway Publishers
The ESVGospel Transformation Bible

Enter The Gospel Transformation Bible. From Crossway Publishers, home of the award-winning ESV Study Bible, this study Bible comes with an amazing array of features designed to highlight the grace of God in the Gospel in all the Bible:

  • An introductory essay
  • Book introductions highlighting how the Gospel shines through each book
  • Notes designed to show how the Gospels transforms us in every area of life
  • Contributors include Graeme Goldsworthy, Kevin DeYoung, Ray Ortlund, Nancy Guthrie
  • Don’t take my word for how good it is, here’s a recommendation from Adrian Reynolds

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