Craig Troxel on Trends and Biblical Reformation of the Church
Craig Troxel, Pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Wheaton, Illinois, will be speaking at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church’s 2015 DFW Reformation Conference (Nov. 13-14, 2015) on the subject of “With All Your Heart: Thinking (again) About What We Think, Love and Choose.”
Pastor Troxel has spoken on Reformed theology in Texas previously down in Pflugerville, Texas, at our sister congregation, Providence Presbyterian Church at their 2009 Calvin Conference.
Perhaps a few of you who are thinking about attending this year’s conference in Bedford would enjoy sampling Pastor Troxel’s work.
Semper Reformanda: Under Renovation or Seeking
The Emerging Church: The New Voice in the Conversation
Every Member Matters: The Priesthood of All Believers
Presbyterian Salsa: Westminster Calvinism’s Recipe for “The Communion of the Saints”
Register for the 2015 DFW Reformation Conference (Nov. 13-14, 2015) at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church (1810 Brown Trail, Bedford, TX 76021).
Reforming Saint Nicholas Day
As much as I love the Reformed tradition, some of its more extreme instincts, in my humble opinion, lead it to throw out the baby of the communion of the saints with the bath water of Roman Catholic superstition. One case in point is the memory and example of the saints of the past. Not wanting to retain a Romanist veneration of the saints, we neglect the important and edifying discipline of gleaning from the history of the church the graces of the saints conveyed to us in the annals of church history. This may lead us to keep an eye on the historic church calendar, but we do not have to allow the entire worship of Christ to be distorted by this. There are ways to corporately remember the faith and works of the saints without violating the regulative principle of worship. What it takes is a little ingenuity on the part of Reformed congregations—their members under the informed supervision of their sessions.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 26, “Of the Communion of Saints,” presents the biblical principles that go along with the communion of believers with Christ by the Spirit through faith, and with each other in love.
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by the Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory (1 John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-18; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12): and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7,12; Col. 2:19), and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (1 Thess. 5:11,14; Rom. 1:11-12,14; 1 John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10). [WCF 26.1, as adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church]
With regard to this section of the confession, there are gifts and graces to be communicated by one believer to others. This does primarily intend to apply to all living believers who are physically present among the saints in their generation of the church militant. But just as our confession transmits to us the corporate Reformed understanding of biblical faith, piety and practice, so can church history communicate to us the benefit of the gifts and graces of great Christians of the past who are now numbered among the church triumphant in heaven, with whom we are lifted in the Spirit on a weekly basis to join them in worship of Christ.
In one sense, this takes place all the time in one Reformed church or another as pastors illustrate the teachings of Scripture with examples of the works and experiences of saints of the past. By so appropriating their examples in the exposition and application of the Scriptures to us, I submit that we are benefiting from the gifts and graces of these historic saints, and so are experiencing the communion of saints even with them, if only in a sense. If the teaching ministries of Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, etc., continue to build up and instruct the church, why not the lives and works of those who published nothing, as their lives are recorded in church history?
One of the Scripture proofs in the section of the confession above is Romans 1:11-12,14. In this passage, the apostle Paul expresses his desire to commune with the saints at Rome.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
If Paul desired to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans in person, for his strengthening with the Romans in their mutual faith in the Person and Work of Christ, he certainly did impart such not only to them, but also to all Christians who would follow to this present day, twenty centuries later in his writing the most comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Christ in his letter to the Romans.
Paul’s grace was the grace of apostleship. Other ministers of the gospel have spiritual gifts to impart which are outworkings of this Pauline gospel. In the case of Nicholas, the grace of generosity to the poor among his parishoners has been communicated to us today through sixteen centuries of church tradition. If we may demythologize the traditions of St. Nicholas’ “wonder-working” intercessions, among other fanciful traditions, what we find remains is the kernel of a godly example of generosity on a par with that first lived by Christ in his state of humiliation. As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV). Saint Nicholas was rich, and he used his wealth to relieve the poverty of those in his ministerial care. Truly, Saint Nicholas excelled in the grace of giving, taught in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. His example can help us learn how to live out the teaching of this passage.
It seems to me that due to the Reformed tradition’s utter rejection of corporate recognition of such great saints from church history, depriving ourselves and our congregations of their gifts and graces, are we not also neglecting a sense of communion with those professing Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, who do recognize these days? We may be appropriately divided from Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians over essentials like justification by faith alone, or other Protestants over important doctrines like the sovereignty of God in the gospel, ecclesiology and the sacraments, but we can at the very least affirm the validity of, rather than despise, their edifying themselves with the gifts and graces of the saints of the past. We could furthermore, I propose, go a step further by not only affirming them in their commemoration, but perhaps exemplify a “more perfect way” of doing so in the context of Reformed theology, piety and practice.
Many Reformed churches are happy to commemorate Reformation Day on a yearly basis. We promote our commonly held Protestant distinctives, displaying our unity with Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Protestants. We also take it a step further and do it in a Reformed way. If we can do it with the memory of the works of Saint Martin Luther, why can we not do it with others like Saint Nicholas? Today is Saint Nicholas Day. December 6 is the anniversary of his death. It is on this day that Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches commemorate his life and ministry in their various ways. Yet the Reformed ignore it, although many of them have borrowed from the Anglicans at Christmas and found a way to bring into greater conformity to the Refomred confessions the Anglican Service of Lessons and Carols.
I say we should find a way to bring into greater conformity to our confessions the commemoration of the life and ministry of Saint Nicholas (read all about him here) and so reform in a more winsome and attractive way, the commercialized specter of Santa Claus, rather than merely turning up our noses to it and saying “Bah! Humbug.” Saint Nicholas is the world’s favorite saint. Sure, they’ve refashioned him in their own image, but we shouldn’t just leave him to them. Let us keep alive the true Saint Nicholas, who currently enriches our Christmas seasons with his emphasis on sacrificial generosity to the poor, and perhaps, through such edifying efforts build bridges over which some of the elect may find their way into the communion of saints through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit and love for one another, and we can learn from Saint Nicholas how to better minister to the needy among us, as well as in the world, without feeling like we’re capitulating to some liberal “social gospel” or postmodern version of progressive “social justice.” Let us reform Saint Nicholas day and perhaps in his providence the Lord will use us to reform the way Christian charity is done in a more perfect way.
Happy Saint Nicholas Day!
Gender Roles, part 1–Egalitarianism
As the father of a young lady who is growing in her understanding of Reformed theology, I have had to wrestle with the relative merits of “patriarchalism” versus “complementarianism.” What are the definitions of these fifty cent words, you ask? How glad I am that you asked!
Allow me to preface these definitions with yet another term—egalitarianism–and the environment in which these three terms have become points around which various parties rally. With the advent of feminism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, efforts to free women from all forms of tyranny, real or perceived, in society, the home and the church have sparked a two-pronged response. Feminism promotes the ideal of egalitarianism, which asserts the absolute equality of men and women in every way, so that the institution of marriage is often disparaged, women are encouraged to work outside the home and pressured to refrain from the honorable vocation of domestic engineering (that is, being a housewife), and to answer an unbiblical call to pastoral ministry in the Christian church. This movement became part and parcel of the ideals of liberal Protestant theology and practice throughout the twentieth century. Toward the end of that century, however, the movement began making inroads into otherwise conservative Evangelical churches.
Throughout the history of the development of Christian theology, orthodoxy was commonly believed among the whole church, and remained generally agreed upon and largely unwritten, since there was little to no disagreement about the orthodox interpretation of Scripture. This is why we see in church history how that it is the aggressive assertion of heresy which forces the orthodox to go back to the drawing board and more carefully work out and put into writing the correct understanding of the Bible. In theology as well as commerce, competition forces one to work harder to increase the quality of their philosophical principles, goods and services.
How, in this environment, are Christian families to insulate their children from the erroneous claims of modern feminist egalitarianism? In the next post, we’ll deal with conservative Evangelical responses to egalitarianism which have resulted in the spectrum with which we must deal today.
The Mission of the Church
Don’t miss the latest episode of Westminster Seminary California’s Office Hours podcast, featuring an interview with Rev. Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan. Rev. DeYoung is the co-author of What is the Mission of the Church? and writes from his unique perspective as one who “ought to be Emergent, but isn’t.” Office Hours host, Dr. R. Scott Clark discusses with him how the biblical mission of the church compares to some of the many trendier ways of being “missional.” One of the key issues they discuss is the fact that the promises of God for the individual and the cosmos, both of which are contained in the gospel which it is the church’s mission to proclaim, are positive blessings which God will bring about in his time and in his way, and for which it is not always intended that we are to draw up a missional strategy of social outreach in order to participate in the fulfillment of these promises.
Kevin DeYoung also blogs at the Gospel Coalition. I just subscribed to his RSS Feed.
Resources on Postmodernism
Last week on “Renewing Your Mind with R. C. Sproul,” three lectures on Postmodernism were featured which provide introductions to how this contemporary approach to reality affects philosophy, society and Christianity. These were originally delivered at the 2007 Ligonier Ministries conference called “Contending for the Truth.” You can purchase this conference on DVD, CD or mp3 downloads at this link.
Postmodernism & Philosophy (Dr. Ravi Zacharias)
Postmodernism & Society (Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr.)
Watchman Fellowship Profiles Rob Bell
Arlington, Texas-based “Watchman Fellowship is an independent, non-denominational Christian research and apologetics ministry focusing on new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age.”
I just received a notification that they have just completed a profile on Rob Bell, Emergent (read: “Postmodern Liberal”) rock star and author of the controversial book Love Wins. The profile summarizes Bell’s personal and ministry history, and his doctrinal stand on issues such as “God’s Immanence in Other Religions” and “No One Reaches a Point of No Return“, “Hell Leads to Restoration” and “A Violent God is not the God of the Gospel” and provides a Biblical Response to “Inclusivistic Universalism“, on how “Reconciliation of ‘All Things’ does not mean All People“, and points out that the “Final Judgment is not Redemptive.”
Read Watchman Fellowship’s Profile on Rob Bell here.
Read their other profiles here.
Notice that Watchman Fellowship is one of my “Featured Sites” to the right. Their logo in my list links to their website. I highly recommend their informative work to you.
What’s the Difference?
What’s the difference between the Jesus People of the 1970’s and the Postmodern Liberals of the Twenty-First Century?
Return of the ICBI!
At the 2011 Twin Lakes Fellowship, Dr. Ligon Duncan announced the re-constitution of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). Chief among their concerns is first to introduce the emerging generation of evangelicals to the true doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. So much slander and misrepresentation of this doctrine has been made by those “emerging” and Emergent church leaders that a re-affirmation of what historic orthodoxy has always believed about inerrancy must be broadcast far and wide. The blogger at Green Baggins is in attendance at the Twin Lakes Fellowship and is the one who has alerted me to Duncan’s announcement. He writes,
Some highlights: “If God is a Spirit, then the only way we can know him is if he speaks to us. And if he does not speak truth to us, we have no way of knowing him truly.” [Duncan’s] advice to pastors on how to be of help to our younger brothers and sisters:
- Re-read the classics on the doctrine of inerrancy.
- Walk with seminarians and others through the arguments of the current critics of inerrancy.
- Don’t assume Young Evangelicals own this tradition. Instead, persuade them into it by boht your understanding of the arguments from the critics and the biblical defense against those arguments.
You can read the rest of his comments on Duncan’s announcement in his post, “Twin Lakes and Inerrancy.” You can link to and read the original Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from my Creeds, etc. page.
Did I mention that I’m excited about this?
The “Origen” of Rob Bellion
Bound up in the recent controversy over Rob Bell’s popularization of universal reconciliation is the New Testament term, apokatastasis. This word is found in Acts 3:21:
whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastasis) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3:21 ESV).
Orthodoxy defines this term in accordance with the context of the word in its passage, its book, and the broader context of the Bible’s history of the redemptive work of God. The ESV Study Bible, therefore, illuminates this usage of the word in the following way:
the time for restoring all the things looks forward to when Christ will return and his kingdom will be established on earth, and the earth itself will be renewed even beyond the more abundant and productive state it had before Adam and Eve’s fall (see note on Rom. 8:20–21).
Universalists like Origen and those who buy into his notion of universal reconciliation, however, prefer to read ancient Hellenistic philosophy into the term in order to wrest it from its biblical context. In Quodlibet Journal, an apparent proponent of Origen’s view, Edward Moore, writes in “Origen of Alexandria and apokatastasis: Some Notes on the Development of a Noble Notion“,
This term occurs in only a single New Testament passage; its provenance is not intrinsically Christian or even Jewish, but Hellenistic, and bound up with the cosmology and anthropology of the era–a system of belief which Origen, in his day, was obliged to undermine in the interest of Christian teaching.
In my humble opinion, Origen wasn’t terribly successful at undermining the Hellenistic associations of the word. It would be more accurate to conclude that what he actually did was reconcile the Bible’s usage with its prior usage by pagan Greek philosophers (that went on a lot in the ancient church, with greater and lesser degrees of success). Origen basically (and I do mean basic) believed in the pre-existence of absolutely free souls as springing originally from God, freely falling into our current state of relative goodness or its antithesis (see Moore’s article), being guided by the instructive providence of God to relearn how to embrace “the Good,” even if this means some time in hell under God’s pedagogical judgment until such a time in the distant future, in which that free soul ultimately embraces the Good and is finally reconciled, or returned to the deified state from which he fell. As I read the many reviews of Rob Bell’s book (here’s Kevin DeYoung’s review, for example) that are now all over the interwebs, I couldn’t help but recognize some of these themes as being reflected in their citations of Bell’s teaching. It was kind of creepy.
I wonder how long it’ll take for the rest of Origen’s views regarding apokatastasis to be released by HarperOne under Bell’s name.
Remember, students, “Rob Bellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”
Michael Horton on Rightly Divided
Here is Lane Chaplin’s video interview of Dr. Michael Horton on his new book, The Gospel Commission (2011, Baker Book House)—part three of a series starting with Christless Christianity, followed by The Gospel-Driven Life. I’d also like to direct you to the Riddleblog, where Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has provided a nice launch pad to read all seven parts of Dr. Horton’s lengthy and informative review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.
The Bible’s Inconvenient Truth
The following was preached on March 6, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman, pastor of Mid Cities Presbyterian Church, in Bedford, Texas. This just happened, in the providence of God, to be the weekend after the controversy about which I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks. The heresy of some becomes an opportunity for the orthodox to proclaim the truths of the Bible with all the more clarity. I hope you find the following words at the same time edifying and challenging.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)
The third parable, which is found in verses 47-50, is the longest of the four. There is some similarity here to the first two, but overall it is different. Some commentators group it with the parable of the wheat and the tares because it describes a harvest–a harvest of the sea, as opposed to a harvest of the field. In this parable, Jesus says again, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea, and gathered fish of every kind. Like the second parable, there is a great search taking place. But instead of a search for a precious pearl, it is a search for fish. This search is being done, it says, by angels.
The first two parables describe men who find the Kingdom, but this parable is about the Kingdom finding men. We may think we found God. We may think that in some way we stumbled across him; that in our search in the marketplace, we have found the pearl of great price. But in reality, the parable shows, Jesus is continuing to tell us that it is God who found us. It is God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—who sought us out. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The value of God’s Kingdom, and the place of God’s elect in it, are so great that the purchase price was nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. It is, in fact, more than you and I could pay. More than we could ever pay. It is a debt that is too great for us. Because God made a covenant with himself to save a people for himself, he was willing to go to any length to procure his people’s salvation. He was willing to give his Son as a ransom for lost sinners like you and me. This is what the Lord was willing to do for all who truly believe.
In this parable, the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a net. Don’t think of a fishing net, don’t think of a net that’s at the end of a pole, that people use to scoop up a fish at the end of a fishing line. Don’t necessarily even think of a net that is cast out into the water. This is a large net. This is a dragnet. This is what may be termed a seine. One of the things my dad, my grandfather, my brother and I would do when we were younger, we had a creek running through the property of our farm, and every so often we would take a seine and we would go, men on one side and men on the other, and go up the creek and catch whatever we could find–turtles, snakes, fish–whatever it was, we would try to catch it. This is the kind of thing that Jesus is describing here in this parable. The angels, the reapers, are catching whatever they can get, and the sorting of the good fish from the bad ones would take place on the shore, which is what Jesus says in verse 48. He says, “When it was full, men drew it ashore, and sat down and sorted the good into containers, and threw away the bad.”
Then he explains this part of the parable in verses 49-50. He says, “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the final judgment. He’s talking about when he returns; when he returns as the Savior of his people and the Judge of those who have rejected him. What is he saying will happen? He is saying that some will be kept, and some will be thrown away. There will be a final sorting that takes place: some will be welcomed into glory by their Savior, and others will be cast into hell by their Judge.
This is what Jesus is teaching. Yet if we affirm this, we are in danger, we need to know, as being regarded as radical fundamentalists by most of the people in our society–even by fellow evangelicals. Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those who would deny the existence of hell and eternal punishment in it by the Lord. And this is it: Scripture says it exists! Scripture repeatedly talks about the existence of hell. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth, the casting of those who refuse to believe into hell, Jesus himself–regarded by many on the more liberal side of the church as just a friendly and nice guy, a lovable teddy-bear type of Savior–Jesus himself talks about hell. It is inescapable.
Now we are not to revel in it; it should sadden us that some are lost. And yet, in God’s casting unbelievers into hell, he is glorified. This may be difficult for us, but just because it is difficult does not give us the right to throw this doctrine away. In so doing, we are throwing portions of Scripture away. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned his followers not to fear someone who could kill the body but not the soul; he says instead to fear him who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. In other words, fear God.
The book of Revelation also has something to say about that. It is the place where Satan and his angels and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is described in Revelation 21:8 as the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the Second Death. There are many today who are challenging Jesus’ teaching in our passage, and many others that say he will save some and send others to hell, but they are denying God’s Word. If they’re denying that he sends some to hell, they are denying his Word, and they have nothing left to stand on when they make their own pronouncements.
In the photo above, Rev. Troutman is posing with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He came to town as a speaker at the recent Full Confidence Conference, about which I posted a few weeks ago. In the Q & A Session at the end of the conference, Dr. Oliphint concludes the entire event with some very compelling words on the nature of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I highly recommend you give it a listen as well.
Interviewing the Interviewer and “Heaven & Hell”
You just have to listen to this program. Martin Bashir, the MSNBC journalist who gave Rob Bell a challenging interview about the contents of his new book Love Wins, was interviewed himself on the Paul Edwards Program about that interview. Edwards not only wanted to know how Bashir prepared for his interview with Bell, but also wanted him to confirm or squash the rumor that’s been going around that he is himself a Christian and a member of Redeemer PCA in New York City. Bashir explains his own motives and methods for his Bell interview.
It’s an awesome program! Gene Veith or someone else well versed in the Protestant doctrine of vocation should interview him further as an example of a Christian pursuing excellence in his journalistic vocation for the glory of God. I think that would be an interesting discussion.
Listen to “MSNBC’s Martin Bashir on the Paul Edwards Program.”
Also listen to this special episode of the White Horse Inn, “Heaven and Hell,” in which the “usual cast of characters” discuss Rob Bell and Love Wins with Kevin DeYoung, a leader of the so-called “New Calvinism,” or “The Young, Restless and Reformed” movement, the orthodox alternative to the postmodern liberalism of Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, etc.
Rob Bell on the Hot Seat
This week, Bell has been making the national television circuit, being interviewed about his controversial new book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (2011, HarperOne). He appeared on Good Morning America, where he was thrown a couple of softballs by George Stephanopolous, but I just watched the YouTube video of his MSNBC interview with Martin Bashir, where he is given a good, tough interview in which many hard questions were asked. Justin Taylor (the one who started all this online controversy) posted the Bashir interview and one of the commenters informs us that Bashir is a member of Redeemer Pres in New York, pastored by Tim Keller. Knowing that, it all makes sense.
Thanks for the smart, tough journalism, Martin Bashir!
Here’s GMA’s puff piece:
And here’s the good interview by Martin Bashir on MSNBC:
Full Confidence Audio
At last we are able to download the lectures delivered at the recent Full Confidence Conference at Grace Community Presbyterian Church in Ft. Worth, Texas. A link to the messages may be found on GCPC’s home page, or you can simply link to the messages from the list below.
Having heard the lectures in person myself, I must say that I was awed by Dr. Oliphint’s ability to make the point of his messages (both the one at the conference, and his Sunday morning sermon at Mid Cities OPC, which I will provide in a future post) very powerfully by presenting opposing viewpoints, effectively dismantling them, and then so unpacking the truth of God’s Word in such a way, that the hearer (at least, I was) has such a clear concept in his mind of the given topic that it is simply overwhelming, effectively prompting a spontaneous response of worship of the Lord.
Also, don’t miss Dr. Oliphint’s remarks about hell at the end of the Q&A session. It’ll prove a helpful defense of the orthodox doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell in the light of the current controversy with Rob Bell.
Likewise, Dr. David Garner’s communication skills shone through in his messages. He is a genuine word smith.
I’m sure that you, too, will find much to admire and learn from each of the three conference speakers.
Session 1: The Context for Confidence (Dr. K. Scott Oliphint)
Session 2: the Gospel from Above (Dr. David Garner–not recorded due to technical difficulties)
Session 3: Who Says? (Dr. Timothy Witmer)
Session 4: Vital Inspiration in a Virtual World and Q&A Session (Dr. David Garner/All of the above)
The Christ of the Bible
HT: Cado Odac