Archive for the ‘reformed theology’ Category

John Calvin (1509 – 1564) is a giant in church history. He published his first edition of a systematic theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, when he was twenty-seven. He even wrote more commentaries than John MacArthur! I think. His name probably stands at the top of the list of the magisterial reformers, including Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli. He certainly didn’t get everything right (e.g. he baptized babies!); some will even accuse Calvin of murdering the heretic Michael Servetus and say that is why we should be concerned about the resurgence of Calvinism in America today. (They really may be right on Servetus. I suppose if the whole thing played out today, instead of 16th century Europe, the case would fly.)

As Timothy George would say, there needs to be a middle ground between the extremes of “Calvinphobia” and “Calvinolatry.” I will deal mostly with the things I admire about Calvin in this post, but keep in mind that I do not worship the man. Anyway, the big idea in this introduction to Calvin and the famous “-ism” that bears his name is: you should get to know the guy. So in this post on John Calvin, theologian, reformer and pastor, I hope to pique new interest in one of the men God greatly used to reform his church, a man who was just a man who loved God in “a long line of godly men.” I will focus primarily on his life and preaching, but I will also mention a few things about his writings and the Reformation he led in Geneva.

Steve Lawson wrote a terrific profile of John Calvin titled The Expository Genius of John Calvin. In it he wrote, “John Calvin—his French name was Jean Cauvin—was born to Gerard and Jeanne Cauvin on July 10, 1509, in the farm country of Noyon, France, sixty miles northeast of Paris” (6). Calvin’s father was a cathedral notary and registrar for the Catholic bishop of Noyon. So Calvin was basically destined to become a priest, and his parents encouraged him that way. Calvin attended the University of Paris at the age of twelve, studying in the same college that Erasmus studied in, and he graduated in 1528. “Upon Calvin’s graduation from the University of Paris,” Lawson continues, “his father attempted to gain two more appointments for him in the Catholic Church. But a conflict with the bishop of Noyon prompted Gerard to redirect his brilliant son to study law at the University of Orleans” and later at the University of Bourges, where Calvin “learned Greek, the powers of analytical thinking, and persuasive argument, skills later to be used in his Genevan pulpit” (6-7). He learned Hebrew too.

As Lawson will say, “It was while he was studying at Bourges that Calvin came in direct contact with the biblical truths of the Reformation” (7). Calvin, renouncing his benefice in 1534, joined the Protestant cause. He no longer wanted to be involved with the Catholic Church at all. In that same year, Calvin describes his “sudden conversion.” In his commentary on the Psalms, Calvin writes:

“God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour” (xl-xli).

Calvin would soon join the ranks of Luther and Zwingli as a leader in the Reformation. The Reformation, which began in haste in 1517, by now was a raging war (both political and religious) in many places in Europe. In fact, Calvin’s road to Geneva was originally a detour. He really wanted to join the reformers in Strasbourg, but he could not continue passed Paris because of the fighting. Once in Geneva, Calvin’s friend, William Farel, persuaded him to stay in Geneva as Lecturer of Holy Scripture at St. Peter’s Cathedral beginning in 1536. He stayed there, apart from a brief, three-year exile to Strasbourg (where he was a pastor 1538 – 41), for the rest of his life. While in Geneva, Calvin preached, wrote, and he reorganized all of Geneva. His Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which gained acceptance by the town council in 1541, created Calvin’s Geneva as we know of it. Of Calvin’s death, Lawson writes, “Calvin died at age 54 on May 27, 1564, in the arms of Theodore Beza, his successor” (17).

During his exile, Calvin married a woman named Idelette de Bure, who was the (Anabaptist!) widow of his friend John Storder. They had three children, all who died in infancy, before Idellette died in April 1549. Calvin was driven, dedicated to his work in Geneva, but he loved her:

‘I do what I can’, he writes, ‘that I may not be altogether consumed with grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life; she was the faithful helper of my ministry. My friends leave nothing undone to lighten, in some degree, the sorrow of my soul.’ (from a website).

Calvin was definitely both a pastor and theologian. His brilliance and study of law sharpened his precision and language. He could talk intelligently with the town council of Geneva, and he had a remarkable writing style that makes his writings a tremendous read even 400 years later. If one reads Calvin’s commentaries, I believe one can easily observe why Calvin was so influential (and in some cases, why he was/is so hated!).

Calvin is a tremendous example in history of the pastor theologian. He was driven, he knew the original languages of the Bible, he was passionate about the things of God, and he carefully exposited the Word when he preached. Calvin was committed to the great doctrines of the Reformation, which are terrifically summed up in the Five Solas. He tried valiantly to restrict communion from any one who is not in the faith, and his church practiced graciousness in church discipline. He certainly was no perfect man, but today’s pastor could learn much from this careful preacher, genius writer, and diligent Protestant reformer.

“Upon his return [from exile],” says Lawson, “Calvin hit the town preaching. Reassuming his pulpit ministry precisely where he had left off three years earlier—in the very next verse of his earlier exposition—Calvin became a mainstay, preaching multiple times on Sunday and, during some weeks, each weekday” (13). His preaching was relentless exposition! In fact, Lawson’s entire book is dedicated to the preaching of Calvin, so there is certainly much to say. Lawson quotes the fervor of Calvin in this quote: “God will have His church trained up by the pure preaching of His own Word, not by the contrivances of men [which are wood, hay and stubble]” (30).

The priority of the Word in Calvin’s ministry is the obvious and right result of the Reformation. The Catholic Church elevated tradition over the Word. Calvin would never do that. He believed the Bible has “flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men” (George, 194). As a pastor and theologian, he also frequently wrote letters to “Protestants who had been imprisoned for their faith” (212). Most of all, Calvin had a big view of God and sovereignty and his Word. John Piper quotes Calvin, saying of preaching the Word, “We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has nothing of man mixed with it” (Legacy, 137).

In a chapter on Calvin’s preaching, Lawson records Calvin’s sermons as he preached through entire books. Some of the numbers are amazing: 107 sermons in 1 Samuel, 48 in Ephesians, and 189 in Acts (Parsons, 73-74). He preached every paragraph with careful precision, as Lawson says, in a “lively fashion” while “excavating the biblical text” (75-76). Apparently he would even do this regardless of his health; of course that’s not wise, but I guarantee it is better than the pastor today, who steals a sermon from the web and tacks on a tear-jerking illustration. We need more preachers who love the Word and the big God who wrote it and all of the doctrines therein. I can’t say more in this short space, but I think this alone shows there is much today’s pastor, Reformed or not, can learn from a man who preached the Word like Calvin.

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George LucasThe best analogy I know to explain how sin is part of God’s plan is that of an author to his book or play.*  You have seen the first Star Wars movie right?  Not Episode 1, but the very first Star Wars movie ever made—Star Wars: Episode IV?  George Lucas, master of all things science fiction, wrote the screen play for Star Wars.

What happens at the end of Star Wars Episode IV?  Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi fight and Darth Vader strikes Obi Wan down and kills him.  Is George Lucas responsible for killing Obi Wan?  We would not normally say that would we?  No we would say that Darth Vader killed Obi Wan, but who ultimately decided that this would happen?  George Lucas right?

darth-vaderOur response as we watch the movie unfold is that we want Vader to suffer for this crime. In fact the rest of the Star Wars movies are the quest to bring Vader to justice because we know that he is responsible for this murder!  None of us want to hunt down George Lucas and bring him to justice—why not?  Because it’s his play, it’s his movie and as it is his, he has every right to do what he wills with the characters in it.  In fact as the play unfolds we marvel at how Lucas builds the Rebels’ struggle against the evil Empire and we rejoice when we see evil conquered in the end.

God is the absolute controller of, and authority over, nature and history.  Ephesians 1:11 tells us that He works all things according to the counsel of His will.  God is the Lawgiver, we are the recipients of the Law, God is the head of His covenant, we are His servants, God is creator, we are His creatures.**  Do these differences not put God in a different moral category?

Very often in Scripture when something happens that calls God’s goodness into question, he pointedly refrains from explaining.  He even rebukes those who question him.

If you read the book of Job, Job continually demands and interview with God so that he can question God about the suffering he has gone through—you know what God says?

Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

In other words, God is saying to Job—unless you are Creator and know better than me, you have no right to question me!

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

God is bigger than we are and operates on a different level than we do.  To the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day.  God doesn’t conform to our ways.  God can sovereignly allow evil and yet not be guilty of committing evil because God is Holy.

Until Christ returns or we die and go to be with Him in heaven, we will never know exactly why God does everything He does.  Until then we will not see perfectly how God is working for good in the midst of evil, but we must trust that He is, because that is exactly what He promises!

*I basically took Wayne Grudem’s analogy of an author’s relationship to his play and applied the same ideas to Star Wars as Grudem did with Shakespeare and Macbeth (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. 1994, 321-322).

**I should also admit to have been helped greatly at this juncture by John M. Frame’s The Doctrine of God.  I recommend the entire chapter on the Problem of Evil (pp 160-181).

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First things first, if you struggle with the idea that God is good and yet we live in world plagued by both natural and moral evils, you are NOT a dummy.  I was just having fun with the title here–you have seen those books right?  Personal Finance for Dummies or Building a Website for Dummies and many other such helpful topics.  The idea behind the dummy books is that they break down a difficult topic in a very simple way.  They cut out all the jargon and write in such a way that just about anyone can understand.  The problem of evil is a problem for many, but not for God–He has it figured out, but that doesn’t mean that many Christians don’t struggle with it and that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to think Biblically about it. So this post is dedicated to breaking the problem of evil down to simple terms without the typical theological jargon that so often keeps people from understanding the real issues behind it.

There are three basic options for Christians in answering the question, “How can God be good and yet there is evil in the world?” I will give you the three options and point out the inherent problem with each.  These three options are as follows:

1.  God is just as surprised about evil and sin in the world as we are.  Why is that?  Because in this position, God does not know the future.  God has given man such profound freedom that man can and often does thwart God’s purposes.  In this view God created the world good but man decided of his own freewill not to follow after God and so sin came into the world and God had to respond to it just like we do–he did not know before hand that man would choose to sin.  So God responds to sin in real-time just like we do.

There are two big problems with this view. First is that it denies God’s holiness.  God has no special knowledge, He is perhaps a little bigger than us, but if He didn’t know evil was coming, can we really trust Him?  Is such a limited God worth serving?  How can we trust that He will keep any of His promises if He does not know the future?   The second big problem with this view is that it makes little sense of Scripture.  Think of all the thousands of prophecies in Scripture that have been fulfilled–how could this be possible if God doesn’t know the future and we are so free as to be able to thwart God’s purposes?

Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” and Romans 8:28 says God “works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  How could those two verses be true if God doesn’t know the future?  Futhermore, Psalm 139 tells us that “before a word is on my tongue, behold O LORD, you know it altogether.”  So in short this view makes little sense of Scripture and gives us no reason to trust that God will keep His promises.

2.  Position #2:  God knew that evil would come into the world but He did not will for it to happen.  Because God knew beforehand that evil was going to enter into the world, He planned to fight it and overcome it through the cross of Christ.  This view is convenient because it gets God off the hook–He didn’t will evil in any way and praise Him, He has determined to overcome it!  Well let’s think this position out a little more.  If God knows that something is going to happen and has the ability to stop it and doesn’t, how is He not in some sense willing that thing to happen?  Those who hold this position, if they will be consistent, must admit that there is some defect in God’s power at some level.  Position #1 is actually more consistent, because God cannot know that something is going to happen and have the power to stop it and be said NOT to have willed the thing to happen.  So position #1 is more consistent because they just say God doesn’t have the power to stop it because He doesn’t know the future and has given us such potent freewill.

The two big problems with position #2 are similar to position #1’s problems.  First, this position fails to uphold God’s perfect holiness.  As I have said position #2 must admit some defect in God’s power or else how could we say God did not will something that He could stop but didn’t (and He knew it was coming beforehand)?  Secondly, this position doesn’t compute with Scripture, which testifies that God is all powerful–“if one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer Him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:3; c.f. Romans 9:19-21 and Job 38:1-5).  Simply put there are many evil things that happen in the Bible which God speaks to having in some sense willed.  Take Job for example.  God gave Satan permission to test Job with all sorts of nasty afflictions and set boundaries around what Satan could and couldn’t do (Satan could not take Job’s life).  So who is ultimately in control of what is going on with Job?  God or Satan?  I think the answer is obvious.

3.  Position #3: God knew that evil would infiltrate our world and yet He is good and not the author of it, but is sovereignly in control of it.  God sovereignly permits sin to occur though He is not the author of it.  He could have prevented it, therefore God in some sense wills that sin occur.  The common objection to this view is that God is made out to be in some round about way, responsible for evil.  But why are we willing to sacrfice God’s holiness (i.e. His perfect knowledge and power) for the sake of letting God off the hook for evil?  Simply put, God is bigger than you and I, He is holy, meaning He is set apart from us.  He operates on a completely different level than we do.  Things that are evil for us are perfectly legitimate for God.  Like the taking of a life–God created all things, including us and has rights over us.  If God wants to take one of His creatures lives, He can, He is God.  In addition we are all rebels against Him in our sin (Romans 3:23, 5:10; 6:23) and our just punishment is spiritual and physical death.

We must come to grips with this simple fact, that God is holy.  There is mystery in God–how is it that He is good (Psalm 119:68; James 1:17; Luke 18:19) and yet, over and over in Scripture we see Him soveriegnly controlling evil events for His good purposes?  We can’t fully answer that question because we are not God.  We are limited in our perspective where God is not.

Bottom line is that God soveriegnly controls evil. We have already discussed Job, but what about Joseph?  His brothers did a wicked thing and cast him into a pit then sold him into slavery (they wanted to kill them but Reuben convinced them otherwise).  Joseph went through many trials but eventually ended up basically running the country for Pharoah and through his wisdom, ended up saving the nation from starvation.  When Joseph’s brothers show up begging for food, Joseph says to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

God can and does work good out of evil, He even has purposes for it.  In short He controls it–think about the cross.  Was the cross not an evil event?  The cross was the greatest sin ever committed because the sinless one was crucified at the hands of sinful men!

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.

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Dear Secular American,

I know what you have heard, that evangelicals are trying to force their religion down the throats of our country’s citizens by teaching creationism in the schools, fighting against gay marriage, and illegalizing abortion.  I know how evil you think those agendas are.  Fair enough, you are free to think that such agendas are evil and no doubt you have bought into the idea that is being proposed by the secular media that such agendas stem from people who take the Bible seriously and believe it to the Word of God.  And I know how the media and silly documentaries like Jesus Camp and Religulous have told you that evangelical Christians are dangerous nut jobs who actually believe the Bible.  If the goal of evangelicals is to force their religion upon secular American society, then I would agree, what evangelicals are doing is evil.

First, your thinking about the Bible needs to be challenged.  If evangelicals are really utilizing the Bible to force their religion down other American’s throats, then those evangelicals are NOT taking the Bible seriously.  Let me just challenge you to read the New Testament a little.  Nowhere in the Bible do Jesus or any of the Apostles command Christians to force their religion on anyone or usher in a theocracy.  Jesus tells his followers to preach the good news, to call people to repentance, and to give to the needy.  Any “Christian” movement that attempted to force people to become Christians did NOT do so because the Bible told them to.  In fact Jesus taught that His kingdom is not of this world, otherwise His servants would be fighting (John 18:36).  “For this purpose” Christ came into the world, “to bear witness to the truth.”  That is what the Bible calls Christians to do–to bear witness, not to make people, who don’t want to be, Christians.

If evangelical Christians would take the Bible seriously–you, secular American, would have little to fear.  You know what Jesus told his disciples to do when people would not receive them or their message?  Jesus told them to shake the dust off their feet and leave (Matthew 10:14)–scary huh?  If you choose to reject the gospel, the Biblical Christian will simply pray for you, he may persist in speaking the truth to you in love, but he will never force you to accept the gospel because the Bible-believing Christian knows he cannot force you to do anything.  So when you persist in unbelief, the Biblical Christian will simply move on and preach the gospel to other people and pray that some seed was planted that God will cause to grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

The Bible teaches that it is God who draws lost people to Himself–“no one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  Again, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3-6).  A Christian who really believes the Bible knows that she/he is utterly incapable of causing you or anyone else to be born again.  Biblically-minded Christians know that it is the “Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6).  So all you have to fear from a Bible-believing Christian is a gospel presentation that you are free to reject.  No doubt, a true Christian will try to persuade you (2 Cor. 5:11, 20) and implore you to be reconciled to God through Christ, but they will NEVER force your hand.

The goal of Biblical Christianity is to worship God and the testimony of the Bible tells us that we do that, not primarily in the political sphere but in the spiritual sphere (2 Cor. 10:4-5).  Our war is fought in the marketplace of ideas and in the hearts of those to whom we preach the gospel and because conversion is the work of God we WILL NOT force it anyone, we will simply speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  We live out our mission as Bible believing Christians by preaching, teaching, and proclaiming, never by forcing you to submit to the truth–one Day God will do that (Rom. 12:9).  I believe the Bible is true and that in the end every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue will confess Him as Lord, whether to one’s eternal glory or to one’s eternal shame in Hell.  I know I can’t make you appreciate that and I won’t try to make you, but I will tell you the truth and pray that God would open your eyes so that you can see it!  I apologize for those “Christians” who have made you think that the Bible teaches that our job is to force the world to bow the knee to Christ and shove our Christian morality down your throat.  If that is your perspective, my guess, however, is that you learned to perceive Christians in such a way more from the media and perhaps from a few Biblically-uniformed “Christians” rather than from the Bible itself.

If evangelical Americans owe you an apology, it is this–“sorry for not taking the Bible seriously, because if we had, our primary agenda would not be abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution in the schools but rather preaching the gospel.  I am sorry that many evangelicals (myself included) are far too uninformed on the Bible. We do not think those issues are unimportant, but they pale in comparison to how desperately you need to hear the gospel of Christ.  We apologize that our politcal agendas have distracted us from what is most important–the gospel.”  I will admit upfront that I believe abortion is wrong and that God created marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, but before we talk at any length about those issues, I want to talk to you about something far more urgent–I want to talk to you about the gospel:

God created the universe and is the greatest being.  Before the universe was, God simply was–God is, was, and always will be.  God is holy–He is perfect in every way, in love, in justice, goodness, and power.  God created the World and He created it good.  God created people in His own image, He created women and men to be in fellowship with him.  He created them to love Him, enjoy Him, and glorify Him (Isaiah 43:6-7).  There is a problem though, men and women freely chose not to worship God, in fact they rebelled against God’s holiness and tried to take His place despite how good and gracious God had been to them.  Because God is holy and perfect in justice, He could not overlook such a heinous act of insurrection against Him or He would not be just.  So the penalty of sin is death (Gen 2:17; Romans 6:23) and not just physical death but spiritual death, death cut off from the goodness and mercy of God (Isaiah 59:2).  Every single one of us have sinned in the same way that the Adam and Eve did.  We have sinned in that we have broken God’s laws (10 Commandments: we lie, we steal, we commit adultery–Jesus said you lust after a woman not your wife, you have committed adultery, Matthew 5:28), but more than just breaking the rules we have rebelled against God (Joshua 22:19, Rom. 1:18-20) by worshiping things other than God, who alone is worthy of worship.  We have worshiped, valued, delighted in many things that are not worthy of worship.  And God being ultimate and perfectly just, must punish us for our insurrection and that punishment is Hell.  Which is a real place that Jesus talks about extensively (Matthew 10:28) and because no one is righteous before God and no one seeks for Him or worships Him, we all deserve to go to Hell (Romans 3:10-18).

That is the bad news of the gospel, but the gospel is profoundly good news, so here is the good news:

Though God is just and must punish us in our sin and rebellion against Him, He made a way for us to be forgiven and restored to the purpose for which He created us.  We can be restored to a right relationship with Him in which we value Him supremely through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.  On the cross Jesus was bearing on his own shoulders the punishment that sin deserves for all who believe in Him (2 Cor. 5:21; Romans 3:23-25; 1 Peter 3:18).  If you will believe in Christ and turn from sin to Him, then Christ has died for you as a substitute.  He died in your place that you would forgiven from sin.  But more than that, Jesus conquered the curse of sin–death.  He rose again from the dead to show that what sin has power to do, he has power to overcome.  In His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death for all who would believe.

If that makes sense to you and you sense you need to come to grips with the God of the gospel, then I encourage you to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).  Pray to God that He would make His Son real to you and that you would turn away from sin to God and embrace Jesus as Lord over everything in your life.  That doesn’t mean you won’t sin anymore, you will, but you will then be free to begin living in a way that values God supremely and in valuing God supremely there is “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

Get a Bible (I recommend starting with the ESV or the NIV), read it, I recommend starting in the New Testament perhaps with the book of Mark or John.  Find a church that preaches and teaches the Bible faithfully.  Look for a church that does more than just tell you how to have a full life, look for a church that equips you with the Bible and encourages you to grow in fellowship with God and in conformity to Christ.  Find a mature Christian who is willing to talk through your questions about the Bible and will hold you accountable to study and to grow in community with others at church.

Christianity is not so scary if you really believe in the God of the Bible.

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So if you didn’t know, a few months ago I began a series of posts on the doctrine of election.  My goal was to write simple and straightforward posts on election that most any Christian could read and understand.  I hope in these posts, I have shown that unconditional election is constantly taught throughout the Bible.  I focused mainly on the New Testament, but I think I made clear that this doctrine’s foundation is clearly laid out in the Old Testament.  I also wrote a post discussing some common verses brought up in opposition to unconditional election.

Bottom line in these posts, I hope I have made clear that unconditional election is taught in the Bible and therefore it is a doctrine that ought to move us to worship the LORD more fervently and spread the good news of Christ more faithfully.  Thus, I also labored to make clear the connection between evangelism and election because I believe firmly that a firm grasp of the unconditional nature of election encourages evangelism.  I wrote a TON of posts about election, so I decided it would be a good idea to lump all those posts together to make them easier to find.  I hope you find these helpful and most of all I hope that they encourage you worship our great God and spread the good news of His greatness to the ends of the earth!

I have tried to list these in the order I originally wrote them:

Why the Doctrines of Grace (Calvinism . . . *gasp*) are Worth Talking About

Matthew, Moses, and Malachi on Election

Jesus and John on Election

Election and Evangelism in Luke’s Writing

Paul’s Teaching on Election Part 1

Paul’s Teaching on Election Part 2: Election and Foreknowledge in Romans

Paul’s Teaching on Election Part 3

Peter and James on Election

Do These Verses Contradict Election?

Why We Cannot Be Afraid of the Doctrines of Grace

How Unconditional Election Encourages Evangelism

How Unconditional Election Encourages Evangelism Part 2: The Implications of Romans 1-3 on Evangelism

Richard Land on Election: More Insight from the John 316 Conference (I debated in my mind whether or not I should link to this article, but reading about the John 316 Conference was part of what encouraged me to post some good resources on unconditional election, so this article perhaps reveals why I think its important to be discussing unconditional election given what some are saying).

If you would like to listen to some excellent mp3s on the doctrines of grace, I highly recommend these lectures by Dr. Thom Schreiner (the lectures on the DoGs are from the 2006 C. H. Spurgeon Conference) as well as these addresses by Dr. John Piper (particularly the seminars on TULIP).  Both of these aided me in writing these posts.

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On the subject of solid hip hop–you should definitely check out Lecrae.  I love this vide0–cause I can relate to the lyrics and I think the video is well done!

Lecrae – Prayin’ for you

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I have never been much of a “rap” guy.  I went through a breif stage in high school when I was very lost where I listened to a lot of “gangsta rap” i.e. Masta P, Snoop Dog, DMX, Nas, and the like.  Recently, a friend of mine at church introduced me to Shai Linne–a very solid Christian hip hop artist who wrote an entire album on the atonement of Jesus Christ–very cool stuff–if you haven’t checked out Shai Linne, I highly recommend him, you can download his stuff on iTune and preview his music on Myspace.

Listening to Shai Linne connected me to other artists such as those of the 116 Clique which includes guys like Lecrae and Trip Lee.  So I wanted to share with you what I think is a very cool video that Trip Lee made with his song Real Vision which is about where we find truth and how to have real vision in this postmodern world.  I love the message and I think the video is very clever, I hope you enjoy it!

Before you blow me off and assume that this music is silly, give it a listen–these guys lyrics are incredibly solid.  Much of the music is theologically instructive, insightful, and even worshipful.  I also highly recommend the compliation cd put together by the 116 Clique called 13 Letters (you can get 13 Letters and other 116 Clique albums on iTunes).  The album includes overview songs of each of Paul’s letters by various biblically solid hip hop artists.  I really dig it–especially the songs on Romans and Philippians!  I have been so encouraged by the music of the 116 clique that I am actually considering taking some students from my church to the “Don’t Waste Your Life Tour” that they are hosting!

So here is the Trip Lee video:

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I am glad to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  A great portion of my early Christian discipleship took place in an SBC church, I recieved my MDIV from an SBC seminary, and I currently serve as the Family Pastor of an SBC church.

As many of you know, roughly 30 years ago, the Conservative Resurgence began in the SBC and its effects have been far and wide.  Today we can happily say that Biblical inerrancy and the exclusivity salvation in Christ is upheld by our Seminary presidents and professors.  We can also rejoice that the Cooperative program funds more missionary endeavors than any other mission organization.  However, statistically, the SBC is in decline–decline in membership, decline in the number of seminary graduates that are serving in SBC churches, and decline in baptisms.

Why the decline?  I am not sure I am qualified to answer such a question, but I did read an interesting article on the subject on a blog I frequent from time to time.  The article is found on Internet Monk, a blog by Michael Spencer, who is a member of an SBC church and a provocative blogger.  If you are well read in the blogosphere, you have probably heard of iMonk, if not, his blog is certainly one to check out.  I don’t always agree with Spencer (but that is part of what makes blogging and blog reading so much fun!) but I always find his posts insightful.

As someone loyal to the SBC, I want to say that Spencer’s observations are way off and that the SBC is much more unified than he thinks, but I have too often observed so many of the issues that Spencer brings up–I am afraid he is not too far from the mark in many of his observations.  Spencer is not promoting an exodus from the SBC and by no means am I promoting leaving the SBC.  I am hopeful for positive, gospel-centered growth in the SBC, but to see that happen, we as a Convention, need to be honest about our problems and I think Spencer’s article is stunningly honest about many of the problems present in the SBC today.  The article will surely make you think and hopefully will serve to make you think about how to begin to address some of the problems in the SBC so that we as a Convention can begin to move toward more faithful gospel ministry!

So, if you haven’t yet, check out Spencer’s article, “Avoiding Death by Nostalgia: My Denomination (The SBC) Today” and his follow-up post titled, “A Great Commission Resurgence:  Is it a Possible SBC Future?”  Spencer’s follow-up post is perhaps more important than the first post, because in this post, he offers a worthy solution to many of our problems.

Check out these articles as you have time and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section of this post about where you feel the SBC is headed and how we might direct it in a more faithful, Christ-honoring direction!

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I firmly believe that the doctrine of unconditional election encourages us to evangelize.  As John Piper likes to say, it puts holy fiber in our bones, strengthening us with the knowledge of a big and holy God to take the gospel boldly to the lost.  In this post, however, I want to show the reverse–how preaching the gospel without a deep sense of God’s sovereignty leads to one of two places:  to despair or to universalism.  If you haven’t already, you may want to first read part 1 which is much shorter and a much easier read.

I want to look a little more closely at Romans 1, because I think if we take Romans 1 to teach that everyone can choose God based on what they see in creation (or everyone gets an equal chance to choose God), then we will likely not evangelize and engage in missions like the Bible clearly commands us to.

Romans 1:18-23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

This text says nothing about people being able to be saved by seeing God in nature.  It simply says that everyone knows inwardly that there is a God and so they are without excuse. Romans 1 says that everyone knows that there is a God and they have rejected him.

If you read on into Romans 2, Paul teaches that Jews and Gentiles alike are under the same curse of sin.  Here is an example from Romans 2:

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

You see God doesn’t judge us based on whether or not we choose him, instead God judges us based on our works.  We will be judged because we have chosen to do what is evil and our evil deeds deserve to be punished.  Jews will be judged on the basis of the law-so it is possible to say that they will be judged with a stricter judgment than the Gentiles who did not have the law.  However, the Gentiles not having the law doesn’t exempt them from God’s judgment as Romans 2:11 makes clear that God shows no partiality-for all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law.  Further, if you go back to Romans 1, Gentiles “suppress the truth” in their unrighteousness.  Rom. 1:21 tells us that everyone knows God because His hand is obvious in nature and yet they do not honor him as God.  What man can see in nature is revelation enough for him to face judgment but it is not revelation enough for him to be saved-every man looks at creation and sees God’s handiwork and yet while knowing in their heart that God has done all this, still chooses to worship created things rather than the creator.  Romans 1:18-23 tells us that every man is an idolater and every man deserves God’s just punishment. When we read Romans 2, it makes clear that Jews are included in God’s just judgment for sin-the Jews had an advantage, they had the Law and yet they are still under sin.

Romans 2 ends by clearly stating that Jews are under the same curse of sin as Gentiles and that whether one is a Jew doesn’t matter if their heart is full of sin:

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

Romans 3:19 makes clear that “the whole world is held accountable to God under the law.”  How can that be true if the Law was only given to the Jews?  This can be true because what is in the Law is true. The content of the Law is God’s divine, perfect, inerrant revelation to man.  For instance, just because the 10 commandments were given to the Jews doesn’t mean a Gentile is free to murder and commit adultery.  God will judge gentiles for breaking these commands because “the whole world is held accountable to God” whether they have received the Law from God or not.  Look at Romans 2:14-16 again.  It says the “work of the law is written on [Gentiles'] hearts” meaning that every Gentile has a conscience and deep down knows they have broken God’s law even though they have not received it (i.e. they haven’t received the written law).  Everyone knows deep down it is wrong to lie, murder, steal, and commit adultery-but by God’s standards we have all fallen short, we have not kept God’s law and Romans 3:9 says that both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin-Paul asks “are we Jews any better off? No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.”  Thus, “none is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  Jews and Gentiles alike “have become worthless” and none of them do good, “not even one.”

The climax of Romans 1-3 is found in the statement in Romans 3:23 that. “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Paul’s point here is that Gentiles (Romans 1) and Jews (Romans 2) are all in sin and do not measure up to God’s standard of holiness.  This is even clearer when you realize that in the verses immediately preceding Romans 3:23 Paul is quoting from Psalm 53 which clearly indicates that Paul felt that Jews and Greeks are under sin.  If Jews or Gentiles are to be saved, it is through the grace of God in Christ.

Romans 3:23-31. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

This text makes clear that Jews and Gentiles are under the same judgment apart from Christ and they both find redemption in the same way-through faith in Jesus’ act of propitiation (i.e. his act of atonement-taking the penalty for our sin) on the cross.  Thus it does not make sense to say that Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way but only Jews are elect and Gentiles are saved by choosing Christ.  How could we possibly consider a Jew “elect” who rejects the messiah?  Further it is clear that any Jew who fails to put his faith in Jesus will be damned.

I am worried that such a distinction between Jews and Gentiles will keep us from evangelizing to Jews and to the nations.  If we believe that God gives everyone a chance to believe in him from what we see in nature, then what need is there to take the gospel to the ends of the earth?  Romans 1 gives no such offer.  Romans 1 merely says that everyone knows that there is a God from nature and they are therefore guilty because “they have not honored him as God but worshipped created things rather than the creator.”  Romans 1 merely says that everyone knows that there is a god and everyone has rejected him.  To know there is a God isn’t enough to be saved.  You can know that there is a God but if you don’t believe in Christ then Christ’s sacrifice is not applied to you and you are still in your sins.  Everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike are justified by faith in Jesus Christ.  Further, it is clear in Matthew 28:18-20 that Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations and to teach them all that Christ has commanded them.  Furthermore Romans 10:13-16 makes clear that all who call on the Lord will be saved and how can they call on him unless they believe?  How are they to believe unless they have heard?  How will they hear without someone preaching to them?

It is our responsibility and divine calling as believers to be obedient to God’s call to take the gospel to the nations.  Though someone may come to know Christ from reading about Jesus in the Bible on their own, that is not the normal pattern of how people come to know Christ.  The normal pattern is through the preaching the gospel as Romans 10:14-15 makes clear.  Thus we ought not to hold out hope that the nations will find God in nature but we must see it as our calling as believers to preach the gospel to the nations-to all men here in the U.S. and to the ends of the earth!

The simplest way I can describe what is happening with the Jew is this-the Jews were God’s chosen people in the Old Testament.  All of the Old Testament is preparing for Messiah.  Jesus says this in Matthew 5:17-all the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Him.  Also he explains everything concerning himself from the OT in Luke 24:27.  Thus any Jew who doesn’t believe on Christ as messiah is not elect and is in sin and faces the judgment of God for their sin.  Further it should be noted that neither the OT nor the NT hold out that all ethnic Jews were elect.

Here are a few examples:

Romans 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Ezekiel 18:30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.

1 Kings 19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

In the case of Elijah here in 1 Kings 19, Elijah thought that he alone was left as the only one remaining faithful to the Lord (1 Kings 18:22), but here in 1 Kings 19, God reminds him that though Israel has fallen into deep idolatry, God has preserved for himself a remnant of 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.  Clearly not all Israel is “elect.”

Daniel 9:11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.

Jeremiah 35:17 Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”

Romans 11:2-8 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

The Biblical pattern for evangelism is people saved by grace preaching the gospel of grace to those who have not heard it.  That’s it.  That is how people are going to hear and respond to the gospel-by us preaching it to them.  The reformed view of evangelism is much stronger because it rests on God’s command rather than on human impetus and it is motivated by God’s matchless glory rather than human ability.

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Romans 10:12-17 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Clearly this text tells us that we are called to preach the gospel to the nations.  We can say both that God is sovereign over evangelism and that people will not be saved if we do not preach.  This is because God has ordained his children as the means by which his gospel will be preached.  I preach the gospel because God has worked a deep love and passion for Jesus in my heart and I cannot help but to tell people about the hope that is me (1 Peter 3:15).  Evangelism is an issue of obedience-we are all commanded as believers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).  Further, as I mentioned earlier, Acts 18:10 indicates that when we go preach the gospel there is always the sure hope that “there are many” in the places we preach who are God’s people.  In other words, if we know that God has chosen those who would believe before the foundations of the world, then we can be sure that our preaching is not in vain-God will use it.  God’s Word is powerful and His gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  God’s Word will not return void, it will always accomplish what the Lord sets it out to accomplish (Isa. 55:11).  If we love God, we will long to see His name honored and glorified among the nations and we will long to be obedient to him by making disciples of all nations.  Evangelism is obedience issue-those who love the Lord and long to be with Him will speak His name to the nations!

Thus it is completely foreign to Reformed Theology (or Biblical Theology for that matter) not to evangelize, because the man who is reformed realizes that God has been gracious to him beyond what he deserves and he realizes that if he has truly been saved that he will long to tell others of the “excellencies of Christ” (1 Peter 2:9).  Thus if you have someone who says that they are saved but has no desire to tell others of Christ, it might be that they are not really a Christian.  Because those who are born in Christ will not live in a continual pattern of sin (1 John 3:9) and if someone refuses to evangelize-they are living in unrepentant sin as they are directly disobeying a clear mandate in Scripture (Matt. 28:18-20) and may not be a Christian.

So far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks. So far from being weakened by this faith [faith in the absolute sovereignty of God], therefore, evangelism will inevitably be weak and lack staying power without it (J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 10).

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