Category Archives: Toward a Modern Reformation

You Just Gotta Check Out The ESV Study Bible!

You just gotta see this! If you don’t own a study Bible yet, don’t bother shopping around. The ultimate study Bible is going to be released on October 15, 2008. Many of my Reformed blogging buddies are already aware of this monumental achievement, and most are undoubtedly awaiting it’s arrival as eagerly as I am, even though we’ve already got a shelf full of various study Bibles. But for those of you who are shy of solid resources that can help you understand the meaning of Scripture, the backgrounds of the places in the Bible, even instruction on Christian living, ethics and material that can clue you in on what many of the major world religions believe as compared with what the Bible teaches (and who knows what else?), your search need go no further. The ESV Study Bible will provide all of this for you, and then some, with full color maps and illustrations all over the place!

I just watched some of the promotional videos describing the project, the vision behind it and the contents of the product, and it is intended to be the equivalent of a miniature version of a multi-volume library on a broad cross-section of information vital to not only learning the Word of God, but also to personal growth in grace, and even to aid in the work of gospel ministry. The ESV Study Bible promises to be useful to layman, teacher and pastor alike.

Take a look at the following videos, hosted by PCA pastor and grandson to Billy Graham, Tullian Tchividjian , in which he will introduce the purpose of the ESV Study Bible and then take you on a guided tour of the contents. Seeing is believing . . .

If you’d like to see more of the videos, they are available at the Video Resources page of the ESV Study Bible website, which you can access by clicking on the colorful button near the top of the sidebar, just under the portrait of our blog mascot and namesake.

Even though the ESV Study Bible will come in a variety of bindings including the traditional leather, it’s so chock full of amazing resources that it may prove a bit cumbersome, were one wanting to carry it to church. In my opinion, this isn’t that kind of Bible. It’s a study resource, not a tag along Sunday-go-to-meetin’ Bible. For that reason, I’m getting the hardback edition, which comes with the additional feature of being the least expensive of all the varieties. But I must confess, that when, Lord willing, I obtain my copy, I may not be able to part with it for a few weeks, so it may in fact tag along with me to church now and then. But I’ll try to pay attention to the sermon, anyway. 😉

Why Your Next Pastor Should Be A Calvinist

Click to buy from WTS Books

Click to buy from WTS Books

I found an interesting article that I strongly recommend my Southern Baptist readers should carefully consider. Here’s an excerpt–the link to the article will follow:

If pulpit committees and churches would look below the facade of scare-tactic accusations and warnings being rolled out like taffy at the Mississippi State Fair, they would discover something healthy and very desirable in the men and the message preached of those against whom they are warned. The twentieth-century slide into liberalism rode on the back of a growing indifference to the doctrines of grace, because the doctrines of grace are tied vitally to more biblical doctrines than just perseverance of the saints. The recovery of a fully salubrious evangelical preaching ministry depends largely on the degree to which the doctrines of grace are recovered and become the consciously propagated foundation of all gospel truth.

If a church, therefore, gets a Calvinist preacher, she will get a good thing. Several issues will be settled forever and the church will not have to wonder about the soundness of her preacher on these items of biblical truth and their soul-nurturing power. Calvinists have stood for more than just their distinguishing doctrines, but have held steadfastly to other doctrines that are essential for the health of Baptist churches in our day.

 Read the entire article here.

Here are some online resources for Reforming a Baptist Church

The Baptist Confession of Faith

Spurgeon’s Catechism

Trinity Hymnal (Baptist Edition)

Association of Reformed Bapitst Churches of America

Calvinism, Coming to a Young Christian Near You!

Click image to purchase at WTS Books

There’s a book out chronicling the resurgence of Calvinism among the, pardon the expression (keep in mind, I’m using it correctly), emerging generation of teens, twenty-, and thirty-somethings (including myself) who are disillusioned with the shallow theology and over-emphasis on you name it, revivalism, pietism, experientialism, commercialism of the twentieth century. As you know, the list of misguided varieties could go on.

So many of us who’ve grown up as a either a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian have come to the conclusion that what is needed is for the church to get back to the basics of what it means to be a Christian. The basics of Christianity as understood in a broader way than just re-examining my Bible and reconstructing my own version of what I think is the clear teaching of Scripture regarding faith and practice (which is what most of the previous generation think it means to get back to the basics).

Such a tactic is part of the problem–it’s too self-centered and individualistic and often far too reductionistic. It’s not a matter of just throwing out current traditions and starting over with a clean slate. It’s not about reinventing the wheel–those are the kinds that never turn out round. What I’m talking about is getting on the right track–yes, the most biblical track, the most Christian track, the most Protestant track, the most truly evangelical track–a track I didn’t lay myself, but was laid by the faithful followers of Christ who genuinely changed the world in their generation as did the first century apostolic generation.

What generation am I talking about? I’m talking about the generation that laid the tracks of conservative evangelical, confessionally Reformed, Christ-centered Protestant theology. The generation identified in the history books as the Reformers.

I read once that Socrates is known for saying, “Sometimes regress is progress.” The bill of goods that we were sold in the 20th century told us that what’s happening now is better than what happened back then. The present is always preferable to the past. The new is more relevant than the old. Well, some of us have learned that sticking “new and improved” on something doesn’t mean a thing. Some of us have learned that if conservative evangelical, or fundamentalist Christianity is going to make any progress, we’re going to have to regress back to a time when things were genuinely being done right and learn from both their successes and mistakes, receiving the faith in tact as handed down by them and not as re-imagined by modern philosophical influences, be they pragmatism, modernism or post-modernism. Progress will only come through this kind of regress.

Second Timothy 2:2 puts it best: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” But lots of people are entrusting lots of things to lots of “faithful men.” Which version of Christianity is best? There’s a number of us in this new generation who are firmly convinced that what the apostolic churches passed on to faithful men who led the post-apostolic generation, got deformed in the medieval era and was reformed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is the “basics” to which the 21st Century generation of Christians needs to get back to. So much that has transpired since the Reformation era leaves so much to be desired that we don’t trust much of it at all. That’s why we’re turning to Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology.

Journalist Collin Hansen has written Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. It tells our story. Martin Downes has reviewed the book over at Read all about it, then find your place in the 21st Century Reformation.

“Reforming” the TULIP?

This one Calvinized me once and for all!

One thing that has always puzzled me since I began reading and listening to Reformed theologians and writers deal with the TULIP, is that they almost unanimously seem to lament the fact that there is a “Five Points of Calvinism” in the first place. They complain that it raises more questions and seems to cause more confusion and more problems than it solves, but they just keep on referring to it and using it anyway. But when they use it they often rename the points in the acronym.

For those who may not know, the letters in TULIP are the first letters to a list of doctrines which reveal how God in his sovereignty saves sinners by his grace. These doctrines are:

T-Total Depravity

U-Unconditional Election

L-Limited Atonement

I-Irresistable Grace

P-Perseverance of the Saints

These doctrines are a summary of the five part document from the seventeenth century called the Canons of Dort, which were published upon the completion of the Synod of Dort, a council consisting of many Reformed churches throughout Europe at the time which had to convene in order to respond to the theological challenges within the Dutch Reformed Church by a formerly Reformed minister by the name of Jacob Arminius. He had originally published a five-point list of his own which denied certain teachings of Scripture which too clearly evidence the sovereignty of God in showing mercy to, and hardening, whomever he wills (Romans 9:18).

Arminius’ modified doctrines tended to limit God’s sovereignty in favor of the unlimited freedom of man’s will. Mimicking the TULIP acronym, I’ve noticed that some modern writers similarly outline the five points of Arminius with another flower acronym, DAISY. The titles consist of Diminished Depravity, Abrogated Election, Impersonal Atonement, Sedentary Grace, Yielding Eternal Uncertainty.

For some reason, the complaints Reformed writers make usually leave me wondering if they’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. Perhaps too many Reformed writers distrust homiletical mnemonic devices more than I thought? There’s no telling. However, when Seth McBee updated his Facebook status, registering his complaints against J. I. Packer’s views on Limited Atonement in his famous introduction to John Owen’s masterpiece, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, for his supposed arrogance in condemning the Arminian general atonement view in no uncertain terms, I was intrigued. What? Someone claiming to be Reformed, yet disagreeing with Packer’s view of the atonement? That’s when we began the discussion over at his blog to which I directed you a couple of days ago (see the previous post).

So, anyway, I printed out the online copy of Packer’s intro, to read up on his “objectionable” views on Limited Atonement. It wasn’t far into the essay that he began to list the deficiencies in the TULIP, just like all the lower lights in Reformed theology. For the first time, I finally got it. Or at least I finally found a claimed deficiency in the TULIP that actually made sense and didn’t leave me wondering. Here’s what he wrote:

There is a fifth way in which the five-point formula is deficient. Its very form (a series of denials of Arminian assertions) lends color to the impression that Calvinism is a modification of Arminianism; that Arminianism has a certain primacy in order of nature, and developed Calvinism is an offshoot from it. Even when one shows this to be false as a matter of history, the suspicion remains in many minds that it is a true account of the relation of the two views themselves. For it is widely supposed that Arminianism (which, as we now see, corresponds pretty closely to the new gospel of our own day) is the result of reading the Scriptures in a ‘natural’, unbiased, unsophisticated way, and that Calvinism is an unnatural growth, the product less of the texts themselves than of unhallowed logic working on the texts, wresting their plain sense and upsetting their balance by forcing them into a systematic framework which they do not themselves provide.

An epiphany! The TULIP can tend to encourage people to assume that the answer to “which came first?” is Arminianism, when in reality, the reverse is the case. The five points of Calvinism are mostly stated in a negative form because they are denying claims the Arminians made when they were trying to modify Calvinism, the doctrine that arises the more legitimately from the text of Scripture.

Okay, now I’ll play ball. Like I said, one of the funny things about all the Calvinist critics of the five points is that they like to try to rewrite the points. Again, I was always left dissatisfied. For example, R. C. Sproul likes to retitle Total Depravity as “Radical Corruption” (as if that clears anything up). Some others recast Limited Atonement as “Definite Atonement.” Again, another loser in my book. Recalling these misadventures in homiletics, I decided I’d enter the realm of “Reforming” the TULIP with my own list of titles that, in my estimation, do not state things in the form of denials of someone else’s view, but positively presents the doctrines of grace. Here’s what I came up with. I hope you find them enlightening:

The Spiritual Death of the Sinner(formerly, Total Depravity)

The Electing Grace of the Father(formerly, Unconditional Election)

The Redeeming Grace of the Son(formerly, Limited Atonement)

The Saving Grace of the Spirit(formerly, Irresistable Grace)

Persevering Grace for the Saint(formerly, Perseverance of the Saints).

Compromising the Full Humanity of Christ, Part 1: Divine Blood

One of the benefits of broadening one’s theological horizons is that he can learn where the boundaries of orthodoxy lie and can begin to discern when the doctrine he’s being taught remains safely within, or begins to cross, the orthodox boundaries.

Case in point: Heavenly Flesh & Divine Blood.

What am I talking about? Does this have something to do with the Lord’s Supper? No, it does not. It has to do with parallels with ancient Christological heresies as well as the Radical Reformation in some corners of modern fundamentalism. Namely, the corner from which I emerged into Reformed theology.

The independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) church to which I used to belong supported a small Bible institute based in my home town. A close family friend from this church is a graduate of this school. He now pastors another church, and I have regular contact with the associate pastor. This associate once told me that his church no longer fellowships with the Bible institute in question since it merged with another more established Bible college for two reasons: one, the school’s getting taken over by so-called “Hyper-Calvinists“; and two, one of the instructors teaches that Christ got his body from Mary. Some of you may be wondering, “And the problem with this is . . .?” But others of you may know where I’m going.

Where I am going is to the teachings in vogue among some independent Baptists, among others, I suppose, regarding the source of the body of Christ, and the nature of the blood of Christ.

The Chemistry of the Blood

One popular teaching was popularized by Dr. M. R. DeHaan, founder of Radio Bible Class (now RBC Ministries), a physician turned pastor and radio preacher, who applied his medical knowledge to his doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ to promote what he called, “The Chemistry of the Blood.” Here’s an excerpt from sermon four in his book of the same title:


“Passing strange, is it not, that with such a clear record anyone can deny that the BIBLE TEACHES THE VIRGIN BIRTH. We can understand how men can reject the Bible record, but how men can say that the Bible does not teach the VIRGIN BIRTH is beyond conception.

“The Bible teaches plainly that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin Jewish mother by a supernatural insemination of the Holy Ghost, wholly and apart from any generation by a human father. This the Bible teaches so plainly that to the believer there is no doubt. The record cannot be mistaken by the enlightened and honest student of the Word.


“The Bible teaches in addition that Jesus was a SINLESS man. While all men from Adam to this day are born with Adam’s sinful nature, and, therefore, are subject to the curse and eternal death, the Man Jesus was without sin and, therefore, DEATHLESS until He took the sin of others upon Himself and died THEIR death. Now while Jesus was of Adam’s race according to the flesh yet He did not inherit Adam’s nature. This alone will prove that sin is not transmitted through the flesh. It is transmitted through the blood and not the flesh, and even though Jesus was of the “Seed of David according to the flesh” this could not make him a sinner.

“God has made of ONE BLOOD ALL THE NATIONS of the earth. Sinful heredity is transmitted through the blood and not through the flesh. Even though Jesus, therefore, received His flesh, His body from a sinful race, He could still be sinless as long as not a drop blood of this sinful race entered His veins. God must find a way whereby Jesus could be perfectly human according to the flesh and yet not have the blood of sinful humanity. That was the problem solved by the virgin birth.


“It is now definitely known that the blood which flows in an unborn babies arteries and veins is not derived from the mother but is produced within the body of the fetus itself only after the introduction of the male sperm. An unfertilized ovum can never develop blood since the female egg does not by itself contain the elements essential for the production of this blood. It is only after the male element has entered the ovum that blood can develop. As a very simple illustration of this, think of the egg of a hen. An unfertilized egg is just an ovum on a much larger scale than the human ovum. You may incubate this unfertilized hens egg but it will never develop. It will decay and become rotten, but no chick will result. Let that egg be fertilized by the introduction of the male sperm and incubation will bring to light the presence of LIFE IN THAT EGG. After a few hours it visibly develops. In a little while red streaks occur in the egg denoting the presence of Blood. This can never occur and does never occur until THE MALE SPERM HAS BEEN UNITED WITH THE FEMALE OVUM. The male element has added life to the egg. Life is in the blood according to scripture, for Moses says: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood. . . For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof” (Leviticus 17:11, 14).

“Since there is no life in the egg until the male sperm unites with it, and the life is in the blood, it follows that the male sperm is the source of the blood, the seed of life. Think it through.”

DeHaan’s logic can be summarized in the following syllogism:

The life of the flesh is in the blood; there is no life or blood in the unfertilized female egg until the introduction of male sperm; Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit without the introduction of human male sperm; Jesus was sinless; therefore, sin is transmitted through the blood which comes from the human father.

Christian Orthodoxy and the Full Humanity of Christ

 I submit that modern medical science bolstering a superficial interpretation of Scripture in the name of proclaiming the sinlessness of Christ compromises the historically orthodox doctrine of the full humanity of Christ. The orthodox interpretation of Scripture regarding the full humanity of Christ was encapsulated in 451AD at the Council of Chalcedon. This council was convened to correct two errors in vogue at the time which compromised the full humanity and the full deity of Christ. One was Nestorianism, which saw Christ’s divine and human natures as so separate that they constituted two separate persons; the other, the Monophysite heresy, taught that Christ’s two natures were so united that they were one single divine/human nature, two varieties of which are Eutychianism and Apollonarianism (for links, see below). Nestorianism and Eutychian Monophysitism both led the church in the fifth century to return to the drawing board of Scripture and look more closely at the passages relevant to the two natures of Christ, and they published their conclusion in a document called “the Definition of Chalcedon.” It’s only a two paragraph statement, so I’ll cite it in full from Phil Johnson’s Hall of Church History:

 Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD)

  “Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul <meaning human soul> and a body.  He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted.  Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf
  of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

  “We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten — in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function.  The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union.  Instead, the “properties” of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one “person” and in one reality <hypostasis>.  They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word <Logos> of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers <the Nicene Creed> has handed down to us.”

As long as Christians have interpreted Scripture within the bounds of the definition of Chalcedon, it has historically been regarded as orthodox: Christ’s humanity must be regarded as completely human. But if the Lord Jesus’ blood wasn’t the product of Mary, but was “divine blood” as DeHann heads a later subset in his sermon, then the Lord Jesus isn’t fully human, but his full humanity is compromised when his blood is put in a category distinct from that which flows through all of our veins. If his full humanity is brought into question, then so can his ability to represent us before the Father, being “man to God” as well as “God to man.” Someone posted a theological article in the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible which does a good job of presenting the importance of Christ’s full humanity.

Repeating the Mistake of Apollinarianism

The other Monophysite heresy which compromises the full humanity of Christ is called Apollinarianism. Since I’ve already written an excessively long post, I’ll just link you to some helpful reading on this heresy and how modern fundamentalist notions about the blood of Christ which compromise his full humanity parallel the spirit, if not the letter, of Apollinarianism. I recommend “Divine Blood” by E. A. Green; “Apollinaris of Laodicea” by Wikipedia; and finally, “Apollinarianism” from the Catholic Encyclopedia, featured at New Advent. To be clear, modern indpendent Baptists do not go to the extremes to which Apollinarianism and Eutychianism go in confusing Christ’s divine and human natures. But the fact remains that by their general refusal to consult the ancient ecumenical creeds which define the orthodox biblical Christology, they doom themselves to repeating the mistakes of history, having not learned from the correction of these mistakes at Chalcedon.

In part two, I’ll discuss how some Independent Baptists repeat the Anabaptist error known as the Heavenly Flesh of Christ.

Preach the Word!

Preach the Word!

The following is a Captain Headknowledge rerun from February 12, 2006.

The Scriptures just handed me another blade with which to continue my ongoing crusade to reintroduce the Gospel to Evangelicalism. I was listening to the book of 1 Peter on CD, when I heard that Peter writes that we were born again through the living and abiding word of God, he ended the passage clarifying what the “word” is that gave us new life: “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b).

“And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b)

I’ve been amazed in the past couple of years how deaf the ears are on which this message falls. The constant reply to my constant pleas that every sermon should always be explicitly built on the foundation of the Gospel of the sinless life of Jesus, the death of Jesus because of our sins and the resurrection of Jesus because those who come to faith are justified is that “we are to preach ‘the Word’.

“And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b)

What my dear brethren mean is that we should preach the “whole counsel of God.” We should preach more than just the Gospel, the Bible talks about all kinds of other things than just the Gospel, if we always preach the Gospel, we won’t have time to preach the rest of the Bible. What they miss is that I’m not talking about preaching the Gospel instead of the rest of the Bible, I’m talking about (and so did the Reformers, who recovered the Gospel out of the ash heap of Romanism, the “Founding Fathers” of “Evangelicalism”) preaching all of the Bible in context.

What is the context? The Gospel.

Everything that comes before the sinless Christ crucified and risen for sinners points to and reaches its pinnacle and therefore its ultimate point in the sinless Christ crucified and risen for sinners; likewise, everything that is revealed in Scripture after the sinless Christ crucified and risen for sinners (you know, all that “practical” and “relevant” stuff) flows out of and is built on the foundation of the sinless Christ crucified and risen for sinners.

If we talk about everything that leads up to the Gospel but leave out any explicit reference to the Gospel as the point of that material, and get off on things other than that ultimate point, then we are not preaching the Word.

“And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b)

If we talk about all that practical stuff that is built on the foundation of the Gospel and flows from the source of the Gospel, assuming everyone understands that the Gospel is the source, foundation and reason we do these things, then we are not preaching the Gospel, because I don’t care how long people have been involved in church, if they don’t get reminded constantly (in every sermon) that all that stuff they are to do which is taught in Scripture is founded on, has it source in, and is done because of, and by the power of the Gospel, the Power of God for Salvation to Everyone who Believes, then they’re going to wind up doing it by their own power and for their own reasons. And therefore, the Word hasn’t been preached.

“And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b).

Happy Birthday, John Calvin

On this day, July 10, in 1509, John Calvin was born.

I wasn’t aware until I noticed Justin Taylor’s link to John Piper’s blog in which he recognizes Calvin’s 499th birthday with a focus on Calvin’s prodigious output of Scriptural exposition (on which, see here), from which all Protestant Christians have benefited immensely (whether they realize it or not).

You may also find something to enjoy from the Calvin College website. The Calvin Alumni Association recognizes Calvin’s birthday each year. Here’s the archives of their celebrations.

Do what you can to raise awareness of John Calvin and the amazing theology he represents (not invented out of whole cloth!). You might start by buying this T-Shirt from my friend, David Jacks at Theological Pursuits Bookstore in the shadow of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. David’s Reformation Shirts are the classiest Reformed Ware on the web, in my humble opinion. He’s got a great selection!

A New Project to Assist the Global Church!

I just read a great post over at Ligonier Ministries’ blog and viewed a promotional video about Gospel Translations, a wikipedia-like resource by Open Source Mission translating donated theological materials into many foreign languages in an attempt to make sound theology more accessible to the majority of Christians nowadays–the ones who happen to currently reside outside the European and North American realm. I’ve been concerned about this for some time, and am excited to see a new effort underway! Another seemingly worthwhile effort is Third Millennium Ministries. See what your church can do to support such worthwhile efforts, and save the growing Christian world from the pernicious influence of Word of Faith theology that is pumped into developing nations through TBN and their brood of false teachers!


John MacArthur Makes the Rounds

Last year I heard John MacArthur on his radio show, Grace to You, talk about his philosophy of preaching. He believes that the deeper he goes in exposition, the higher it can lift up the hearers in worship of God. MacArthur has dug until he hit paydirt in his latest book, A Tale of Two Sons: The Inside Story of a Father, His Sons, and a Shocking Murder. This book is an exposition of the most famous of Jesus’ parables: The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In his exposition, MacArthur goes into the background cultural implications of the words of the parable to show that at every point in the action, the story is geared to offend the sensibilities of the original Jewish hearers. Being a culture steeped in their focus on honor and shame, this parable stirs up the Jews, interrupts them in their honorable comfort zones and forces them to grapple with a concept of God that is willing to suffer the shame of filthy, worthless sinners who come to repentance. In fact, he takes great joy in doing so!

To make the long story short, MacArthur points out that the Father represents Jesus in the parable, the Prodigal Son represents the tax collectors and sinners who’d just gathered to hear Jesus speak (Luke 15:1), and the older brother represents the Pharisees (v. 2). In the two parables preceding that of the Prodigal Son, Jesus highlights the joy God takes in recovering lost sinners. MacArthur points out that Pharisees, by contrast, take no joy in the repentance of shameful sinners, but rather, take joy in the recovery of lost sheep and coins ($$$!). These themes show up in spades in Jesus’ “Inside Story of a Father, [and] His Sons.”

The worship begins when, after hearing how the son’s shameful demad for his inheritance, his subsequent prodigal living and his rock bottom experience communing with shameful swine and his eventual determination to return to his Father, MacArthur compares the compassionate, watchful father who runs through the village in the most shameful way possible [by (1) lifting his robe so he can (2) run (!)] to protect his repentant son from the violent mistreatment he would have certainly received from the honorable local citizenry, to Jesus, who, being the most Honorable of them all, suffered the shame which my shameful behavior has incurred, so he could rejoice over my repentance and return to his loving embrace! You gotta read this book, or at least look up the series on the radio show, repent of your sins and worship Christ who has given and suffered so much for you.

Now that this book is available, naturally, MacArthur has to promote the book. That’s what brought him last Friday to Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. I took the opportunity of accompanying my wife to the event to hear him preach all of the above, and then some, for just over an hour (as is his usual habit). Following, are a few pictures from the event:

Crossroads Christian Church

Robert Wolgemuth MC\'d the event


 Bad Aim, Good Gospel Preaching


Does It Take A Village?

Yesterday, I subscribed to the podcast for The Village Church. I had noticed their statement of faith was adopted from that of Sovereign Grace Ministries, the network of Charismatic Calvinist churches founded by C. J. Mahaney, author of Living the Cross-Centered Life, (a book I highly recommend) among other titles. The Village Church is not listed among the Texas Sovereign Grace churches at the network’s website, so I suppose it’s safe to say that to look at one is not necessarily to look at the other, if you know what I mean. But, then again, that may not necessarily be so, either.

After I subscribed to the podcast, I took a long walk and listened to a “talk” explaining the philosophy of ministry at The Village Church. Before Josh delved into the “philosophy” he attempted to lay a theological foundation for it. I’ll give you the passages in the theological foundation:

  • The Incarnation of the Word John 1:1-2, 14
  • The Mission:
    • It’s Authority Matthew 28:19-20
    • It’s Scope Acts 1:8
    • How The Gospel Spreads “. . . and in chapter 7, a man named Stephen comes before the courts and they are trying him and he preaches a fantastic sermon as they pelt him with rockds. And Stephen is killed; he’s the first martyr of the church. But by God’s plan, He uses the suffering and the fear and the martyrdom that transpired after that to spread the church. . . Acts ends in chapter 28, and chapter 29 is for you and me to write. You see, the reality is those guys told some guys, who told some guys, who told somebody, who told somebody, who told somebody, who told somebody, who told Tom Bailey, who told me in 1996. That’s how it happens. . . This is how the gospel has spread. It’s viral. It joust goes and it inundates people, it infiltrates culture, it gets in the hears of humanity and it changes us. This is the church. The church is a group of redeemed people who sit under the proclamation of the word in fellowship as they share life with one another.”

Attraction Versus Incarnation (translation: traditional architecture vs. personal evangelism)

Next, Josh attempts to unpack the role of The Village Church in this viral spread of the gospel. First he describes a few approaches to church ministry: 1) “an attraction based approach to ministry . . . In the Old Testament, it was more of a ‘come and see’ type of religion. They built the temple. They made pilgrimages to the temple. That’s where sacrifices were made. It was a central type of religion. And so the temple was ornate, it was lavished with gold and all the jewels and all of these things because the people would come. And it was through that that you would see the beauty and majesty of God. but when Christ came, it was no longer a ‘come and see.’ Christ says, ‘Go and tell.'” This is what Josh calls an “incarnational approach to ministry.”

“You see, when Chrsit incarnates, He gives something not just to celebrate but to imitate. He is showing us how life is to be done, how ministry is to be done. Christ comes here, he dwells among us. So in one word, our philosophy of ministry is incarnational.” By this he intends that the way people are drawn to the church is not by the impressive church architecture, but in response to being told about the place by a friend, co-worker, family member, etc.

Now I’ll pause for a moment and make a comment. This dichotomy is drawn between church architecture and personal evangelism as if architecture were the primary draw in traditional churches. This is a misrepresentation. And I humbly submit that it is an excuse, in classic charismatic style, to promote their lack of worship enriching externals by putting down traditional “religion” (this word is to be pronounced with a shudder). Again, in classic charismatic style, the Village Church is not going after those who believe in retaining some sense of communion with the saints of all ages, but they are instilling the same old contemporary, “au nauturaul”, organic, reductionistic form of worship.

The next aspect of the “incarnational” philosophy is a little more encouraging. To quote Josh, “And so our hope is that we would fight against [American-style competition among churches] and what we would bring to center stage would be the gospel. But the reality is, what you win them with, you keep them with. So if we win you with some glitz and glamor and high technology and an unbelieveable building, then we’ve got to keep that up. But if we win you with the gospel, then you won’t be surprised when you realize that’s what we try to keep you with.” This I’m all for. But I still object to pitting personal evangelism against architecture alone. Some have grown up in non-traditional churches and it’s what they expect. What if God called the Village Church to build a traditional style building in the future? They’d lose some folks the same way they assume traditional churches lose traditional worshipers when they start singing praise choruses, or installing a smaller pulpit, or getting rid of it altogether. The problem works both ways, if you ask me.

Width vs. Depth

Another encouraging aspect of Village’s philosophy is that they state a desire for deep preaching and deep believers over a desire for buildings full of shallow believers with deep pockets. “. . . He clearly gave us the commission which was to make disciples . . . not even converts, not to put skins up on the wall and say, ‘Look how many converts we have.’ He says, ‘I want disciples, and discipleship is a lifelong, difficult, painful, suffering process, then you die. That’s it.’ And if you and I are not willing to be transformed and beaten and molded and shaped into the image of Christ, then we have no idea what His will is for His church. He wants to take us deep, and if we get wide during the process, hallelujah. But if we take width over depth, we have sold out the gospel.”


The final aspect of the Village’s stated philosophy of ministry is that believers are to shun a “spirit of entitlement” for a “spirit of humility and sacrifice.” This should probably be a subset of the previous paragraph. Part of going deep as a believer is learning to love others more than oneself. Josh says, “I need you to help me slay me, and you need me to help you slay you. Because it’s not about us. And when we get that, that’s the most freeing reality, because we will exhaust ourselves on ourselves.”

A Question Raised

One thing that would be instructive to note in this regard is how much width has come to the church in so few years. I can tell that it is probably due in part to megachurch contemporary trimmings with actual Word-based preaching (or “talk”-ing). For this I rejoice. But, when will the church get deep enough to not need solely contemporary disregard for the regulative principle of worship? I’m sure the Villagers think they’re abiding by the Word by reducing Christianity to the interpersonal part of it. But there has been not one single word about a Reformed concept of the “ordinary means of grace” approach to ministry. They seem to have divorced, or as usual, put on the back burner the importance of the sacraments in worship. They’ve got prayer, they’ve got praise and they’ve got proclamation. But nobody seems to know how to work the sacraments into their “approach to ministry.” For those who claim to be Reformed, and if these guys are organizing around the Sovereign Grace Ministries statement of faith, then they must be claiming to be Reformed, this contemporary, organic, “Spirit-filled” kind of worship makes you forget about “rituals” like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Oh, sure, they’ll get around to them, but only because they know they’d be in hot water without them. But, when it comes to the Village’s philosophy of ministry, you’d think there were no such things as sacraments. At least not the Lord’s Supper. Fortunately, Jesus managed to wedge baptism into the commission so it wouldn’t be neglected, too–except, of course, for neglecting to baptize the households of believers and not individuals alone. . .

Theological & Doxological Meditation #44

Luther-inspired Albrecht Durer\'s most famous image

Preface’s Teaching

Q.  What does the preface to the ten commandments teach us?

 A.  The preface to the ten commandments teaches us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments (Luke 1:74-75; 1 Peter 1:15-18).

What Shall I Render to My God

 What shall I render to my God for all his kindness shown? My feet shall visit thine abode, my songs address thy throne.

How much is mercy thy delight, thou ever-blessed God! How dear thy servants in thy sight! How precious is their blood!

How happy all thy servants are! How great thy grace to me! My life, which thou hast made thy care, Lord, I devote to thee.

Now I am thine, forever thine, nor shall my purpose move; thy hand hath loosed my bonds of pain, and bound me with thy love.

Here in thy courts I leave my vow, and thy rich grace record; witness, ye saints who hear me now, if I forsake the Lord.

 #637, Trinity Hymnal; from Psalm 116:12-19; Isaac Watts, 1719; DOWNS C.M.; Lowell Mason, 1832


Worshiping With the Mind

Singing and Making Music, by Paul S. JonesI started reading Paul S. Jones’ 2006 publication, Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today. I’m enjoying it very much. Having scanned ahead, I must concur with J. Ligon Duncan’s endorsement which is emblazoned across the front cover. He says, “Theologically astute, musically adept, construcively provocative.” Provocative, indeed. There are some thought-provoking preferences publicshed and recommendations made, of which only someone of Jones’ level of training would ever get around to thinking. But that shouldn’t make us shy away from considering the value of those opinions, but lead us to think a little more thoroughly about all facets of the way we worship God through music in corporate worship.

I thought I’d share an interesting excerpt with you from chapter six, “Leading in Worship as Accompanist.” Jones writes a few paragraphs that reminds us of the importance of spiritual, theological and biblical depth in the words we sing as a church, as well as the fact that accompanists can help highlight the lyrical content of the music in an effort to aid us in comprehending and understanding (and thus properly participating in) what we sing. Jones writes the following on pages 42-44 of his book:

The Accompanist’s Role

The accompanist directly influences singing. This is true not only of congregations, but of choirs and soloists. An accompanist can influence the singer as much as the choir director can (and often more). Why? Because we respond naturally in music to what we hear more than to what we see, read, or are told. For example, in a band or orchestra, the percussion section must be especially attentive to the conductor. If the snare drum moves a little faster or slower than the baton, the entire ensemble will move with the drummer. The percussive nature of the piano has a similar rhythmic effect. The choir or congregation will typically move along with what it hears. The organ, if it is a good one, has sufficient sound capacity to lead with force; but even here it is articulation that provides much of the rhythmic clarity.

So, then, if the accompanist influences the way in which a congregation sings, in what ways is this true? In addition to tempo and rhythm, which have already been mentioned, the accompanist influences volume and dynamic. Pacing (time between verses and how long chords are held), style, and articulation can also be included in the list, as can breathing and ensemble (togetherness/unity). Most significantly, through these various parameters one can affect people’s thinking as well as their connection to the truths being sung.

This last sphere of influence–thought–is the most important, and all the others are connected to it. Thought is missing more and more in worship today. Apparently we are more concerned about our emotional connection and what we are “getting” out of the worship experience than in being cognitively engaged or spiritually awakened. This mindset is one of the primary reasons that hymns have fallen out of popularity and use in many churches. It is because they require thought; and as a people, we do not want to think. Not many years ago I read a short article by a seminary professor in a prominent Christian periodical. He wrote something along the lines of, “Let’s stop being enslaved to the present rationalistic, intellect-centered approach to church that characterizes much of evangelicalism.” Well, he got his wish. Today most evangelicals come to church to be refreshed, not to work or think.

Yet proper worship does take work. It also takes thought, preparation, and action. If we understood that our singing is not for ourselves or directed principally to each other, but to and for God, that understanding would make a difference in how we engage in it. If we were more conscious of the fact that when we sing we are praising God and praying to him, that we are in the presence of the King of Glory, we would realize how important it is to know what we are singing.

Congregational music should deliver Christian doctrine, quote Scripture, or offer a message of challenge or encouragement to fellow believers while pointing all to Christ. Often, congregational song is prayer. How we think about these songs and how we sing them matters. The accompanist has a lot to do with that. I would venture that it is the single most important thing that one does as an accompanist. Such responsibility demands preparation on our parts. It requires practice. . . . “

Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing currently has this listed among their “Bargain Books” going for $8.50, if you’re interested in obtaining a copy. I recommend it for those who want to learn more about how to worship God well through the gift of music.

A Little More Guidance on “Guidance”

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105Looking around the internet for some more resources to help you get an idea of just how mystical most modern American Evangelical Christians are, I decided to see what has been written in the way of critique regarding the Southern Baptist phenomenon of the ninties, Henry Blackaby’s bestseller, Experiencing God. A simple Yahoo search yielded an interesting review from 1994 by Greg Gilbert for 9Marks Ministries, the verysame source that got me on this topic in the first place last Monday. Gilbert’s remarks are remarkably positive overall, but has a lengthy caution regarding the very subjective, mystical tendency I’m trying to spotlight. Gilbert writes:

Blackaby’s teaching throughout Experiencing God is heavily tilted toward discerning some particular “assignment” or “task” from God for a person’s life.  His illustrations often begin with words like, “One of our churches believed that God was calling them to . . .” or “Our association was convinced that God wanted us to . . .”(pp. 23, 41)  He writes on page 24, “Whenever God gives you a directive, it is always right.”  What, though, is the nature of such directives?  How does God give them?  Blackaby’s conception of these “tasks” or “directives” seems to be a subjective impression on the mind about God’s will for a particular circumstance.  God communicates directly to the mind of the Christian and tells him, almost audibly it seems, what should be done.  “When God speaks to you in yourquiet time, immediately write down what He said,” (p.172).  This belief that God gives direct, subjective impressions to His people is certainly not without merit.  Perhaps most importantly, it underlines the reality that God is imminently present and involved in the world.  He has not left it to run itself, but is determined to be a part of His people’s lives.  There are, though, some cautions that should be raised about such a belief.  (Read more)

Gilbert not only offered the criticisms contained in the article, but also made a recommendation for those of you asking, “So, if Blackaby’s version of “leading, guiding and directing” by the Holy Spirit is problematic, where can I learn the way of the Spirit’s leadership more perfectly?” Gilbert’s answer is to direct you to the teaching and writing ministry of Jim Eliff called Christian Communication Worldwide, whose stated ”compelling interests are the reformation of the church, biblical evangelism, and the hope for authentic revival in our day.” Elliff has written a book called, Led by the Spirit: How the Holy Spirit Guides the Believer. I’m intrigued. Whenever I get around to ordering it, perhaps I’ll write a few posts featuring his wisdom from the written Word of God on the subject.

“Fruit of the Vine”: Three Parts Water, One Part Wine

Fruit of the Vine RecipeA new commenter recently posted a comment on my post from July 31, 2006 on “The Church’s Witness to the Responsible Use of Wine.” Convinced that Keith Mathison’s information about the Church’s early and ongoing use of alcoholic wine, while true, is also misleading, due to Mathison’s lack of reference to its dilution, Barry Traver adds valuable scholarship to the fact that, while the wine used in the Passover before the cross and the Lord’s Supper afterward was certainly fermented, it was also as certainly diluted by three parts water. Following are his remarks which can also be found at the old site at Blogger. I’m posting it here, linking to as many of his references as possible, so that it may benefit those of you who are presently keeping up with this WordPress site. Here are links to the related posts to which Traver responds:
Traver writes: 

Your post says this:

“We have already mentioned that wine was universally used by the entire church for the first 1,800 years of her existence. During those years, there was never any suggestion that another drink should be used. In the early church, for example, we find clear testimony to the use of wine by such men as Justin Martyr (The First Apology, 65) and Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor, 2.2).”

True, but misleading, since it fails to mention the ancient practice (including 250 B.C. to A.D. 250) of using diluted wine. That fact is brought out clearly in both Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria. Read on!

First, let’s look at Charles Hodge’s comments in his Systematic Theology (volume 3, pages 617):”The Elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper…. In most churches, the wine used in the Lord’s Supper is mixed with water. The reasons assigned for this custom, are,

(1.) The eucharist having been instituted at the table of the Paschal supper, and the wine used in the Passover being mixed with water, it is morally certain that the wine used by Christ when instituting this sacrament, was also thus mixed. Hence it was inferred that his disciples in all ages should follow his example. That the Paschal cup contained wine mixed with water rests on the authority of Jewish writers. “It was the general practice of the Jews to dilute their wine with water….” It is certain, from the writings of the fathers, that this custom prevailed extensively in the primitive Church. As the Greeks and Romans were in the habit of mixing water with their wine on all ordinary occasions, it is the more natural that the same usage should prevail in the Church. It is still retained, both by Romanists [i.e., Roman Catholics] and by the Oriental [i.e., Eastern Orthodox] Church.

(2.) Besides this historical reason for the usage in question, it was urged that it adds to the appropriate significance of the ordinance. As water and blood flowed from the side of our Lord on the cross, it is proper, it is said, that water should be mixed with the wine in the service intended to be commemorative of his death….”

Note that Hodge — an advocate of the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper — indicates that “[i]n most churches, the wine used in the Lord’s Supper is mixed with water ….” for two reasons, one based on ancient practice (the “historical reason”) and the other based on “the appropriate significance of the ordinance.” (Hodge is using the word “significance” in its older meaning of a “symbol” or “sign” with a theological reference.)

Like Charles Hodge, Robert Stein — New Testament seminary professor and author of Difficult Passages in the New Testament (Baker, 1990, pp. 233-238) — believes that it “is obvious that the term wine in the Bible does not mean unfermented grape juice….” Stein provides many interesting specifics that support Charles Hodge’s references to “the Greeks and Romans,” “Jewish writers,” and “the writings of the [Church] fathers” on the “prevailing custom” of diluting wine with water:”

In ancient Greek culture, … [w]hat is important to note is that before wine was drunk, it was mixed with water…. The ratio of water to wine varied. Homer (Odyssey 9.208-9) mentions a ratio of twenty parts water to one part wine. Pliny (Natural History, 14.6.54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine…. [Stein also mentions Hesiod (three to one), Alexis (four to one), Diocles (two to one), Ion (three to one), Nicochares (five to two), and Anacreon (two to one).] [As] a beverage [wine] was always thought of as a mixed drink. Plutarch (Symposiacs 3.9), for instance, states, ‘We call a mixture “wine,” although the larger of the component parts is water.’ The ratio of water might vary, but only barbarians drank wine unmixed, and a mixture of wine and water of equal parts was seen as ’strong drink’ and frowned upon. The term wine or oinos in the ancient Greek world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today, but wine mixed with water. Usually a writer simply referred to the mixture of water and wine as ‘wine.’…”

And we … have examples in both Jewish and Christian literature … that wine was likewise understood as being a mixture of wine and water. In several instances in the Old Testament a distinction is made between ‘wine’ and ’strong drink.’…. The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia (vol. 12, p. 533) states that in the rabbinic period at least, ‘ “yayin”‘ [wine] is to be distinguished from “shekar” [strong drink]: the former is diluted with water…; the latter is undiluted….’ In the Talmud, which contains the oral traditions of Judaism from about 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 (the Mishnah)…, there are several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine is discussed…. In a most important reference (Pesahim 108b) the writer states that the four cups every Jew was to drink during the Passover ritual were to be mixed in a ratio of three parts water to one part wine. From this we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine. In another Jewish reference from around 60 B.C. we read, ‘It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one’s enjoyment’ (2 Macc.15:39). In ancient times there were not many beverages that were safe to drink…. The drinking of wine (i.e., a mixture of water and wine) served therefore as a safety measure, since often the water available was not safe….”The burden of proof … is surely upon anyone who would say that the wine of the New Testament is substantially different from the wine mentioned by the Greeks, the rabbis during the Talmudic period, and the early church fathers.

In the writings of the early church fathers it is clear that ‘wine’ means wine mixed with water. Justin Martyr around A.D. 150 described the Lord’s Supper in this way: ‘Bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving’ (Apology 1.67.5)…. Cyprian around A.D. 250 stated….: ‘Nothing must be done by us but what the Lord first did on our behalf….. Thus, therefore, in considering the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered….’ (Epistle 62.2, 11, 13). Here it is obvious that unmixed wine and plain water were both found unacceptable at the Lord’s Supper. A mixture of wine and water was the norm…. Earlier (the latter part of the second century) Clement of Alexandria had stated: ‘It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible…. To … the water, which is in the greatest quantity, there is to be mixed in some of the [wine]….” (Instructor, Book II, Chapter 2, page 243 [A.D. 182-212]).

If wine in Bible times had a maximum alcoholic content of 12% undiluted and if it is true that “we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the fruit of the vine used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper was a mixture of three parts water to one part wine,” then that would put the alcohol content of wine used for the Lord’s Supper at 3% or less.

–Barry Traver

What Illuminates Your Path?

Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., the successor to Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, founder of 9Marks MinistriesYour word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105, and speaker at bi-annual “Together for the Gospel” conferences, has written a great post on “The Bondage of Guidance,” in which he bursts the bubble of those who don’t realize that waiting for God’s “still, small voice” to direct all of your decision making, is really a form of mysticism which can undermine the sufficiency of Scripture. Many have heard this practice prescribed from pulpits for so long, that even those who confess faith inthe sufficiency of Scripture are among its chief proponents and practitioners.

Subjectivism reigns among modern American Christians. Otherwise orthodox believers who grew up being taught the memory verse, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105, KJV), even having grown up singing these words with Amy Grant, yea, and even the generations prior to ours, regularly turn from the objective divine guidance recorded for them in the Bible, praying for wisdom and acting on their “sanctified common sense,” and wait with Elijah to mystically hear God speak directly to them in the “still, small voice” to guide them in their daily decision-making process.

Nothing will do our systems better than to give them a good flushing out with some Bible-based objectivism. Read Dever’s post (linked above), and then go over to the blog of my buddy, Gage Browning’s church, Grace Community Presbyterian Church and read the helpful discussion of this same post in their post, “What To Do, What To Do . . .

But first, here’s an excerpt from Dever’s sage counsel on seeking guidance from God’s will:

I do believe that God’s Spirit will sometimes lead us subjectively. So, for instance, I am choosing to spend my life here on Capitol Hill because my wife & I sensed in 1993 that that is what God wanted us to do. However, I realized then (and now) that I could be wrong about that supposition. Scripture is NEVER wrong.

There is also some interesting and relevant discussion about the general tendency of American Christianity toward gnostic-like mysticism in yesterday’s episode of the White Horse Inn to which I have linked in the sidebar. About twenty-one minutes into the program, host Michael Horton quotes the provocative words of a critic of American Christianity which we discount to our own discredit:

‘Whatever the stated doctrinal positions that stated American Evangelicalism shares with historic Christianity, Mormons and Southern Baptists call themselves Christians, but, like most Americans, they’re closer to ancient gnostics than to early Christians.


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