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for His renown

this blog exists to magnify the glory of God in Jesus Christ

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Location: Houston, Texas, United States
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  • Saturday, July 30, 2005

    Oxford Study Tour Video

    For the last 19 years Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has taken students on an Oxford Study Tour. This year I was one of the chaperoning faculty. We take SWBTS students to Oxford, teach them there, spend loads of time together at meals and on buses, and tour major Baptist history sites. You can view our itinerary from this year’s trip here. I produced a video of the trip, and you can download a big or small version of it here.

    If you have high speed internet access it might work to stream the big version, otherwise it will probably be best to right click and choose "save target as," then save the video to your desktop. Once the whole thing downloads, you can either ok the "open" box that comes up, or double click it on your desktop and it should play.

    Special thanks to Richard Fields for his work on getting this video posted on Baptist Church of the Redeemer’s website. I am also very grateful for the artists who gave me permission to use their music for this video: Huck’s Acoustic Revue, Indelible Grace, Derek Webb, Highland Baptist Church’s Worship Ministry, and The Critics. Their music makes the video much better than it would otherwise be. Thanks are also due to Dr. Malcolm Yarnell for telling the story of how Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer were martyred. Finally, this video is dedicated to Dr. Roy Fish, in gratitude for his 40 years of faithful service to Jesus Christ and Southwestern Seminary.

    Friday, July 29, 2005

    Where the Battle Rages

    Justin Taylor recently posted this famous quote from Martin Luther:

    "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point." (Luther's Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.)

    These words should spur us to think on where the battle is raging in our day, and here are my thoughts on where the fire is hottest (1) in the academy, (2) in the church in the USA, and (3) on the street:

    In the Academy:

    1. Open Theism: the view that the future choices of free creatures do not exist to be known, therefore not even God knows them. Thankfully the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 added a line to its statement on God to address this issue: "God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures."

    2. Inclusivism: the view that people can be saved apart from conscious faith in Jesus Christ. I am in the process of reading Terrance Tiessen’s Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions. Tiessen is arguing for "accessibilism," which holds that "God does save some of the unevangelized." I will eventually post a review of this book.

    3. Justification: The New Perspective on Paul has called for a re-evaluation of the Protestant understanding of Justification by Faith, but the best explanation of all the evidence remains the one provided by the reformers. Justin Taylor links to a series of articles on the topic in a new online magazine called Reformation 21 here.

    4. Egalitarianism: A vocal minority argues that the gender roles the Bible gives for the home and the church should be set aside. I think that Bible believing people are going to keep right on reading their Bibles and seeking to live out the gender roles outlined in passages such as Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15. You can read my attempt to put these things together in a paper presented at this year’s Wheaton Theology Conference here.

    Those of us in the academy must contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). I appeal to those not engaged in these academic discussions to pray that as these battles are fought we will exhibit clear minded, courageous love for Christ and his church, and that we will love the truth of God more than we love our own egos and reputations.

    In Church in the USA:

    1. Doctrinal Indifference: Many evangelicals seem to think that theology and careful Bible study are just not very relevant. This is frightening, because in essence this is to say that knowing God and understanding what he has revealed is not helpful for life in the world he created. Evangelicals would never put it this way, but it is implicit in the suggestion that something other than theology and Bible study are central for ministry. I am not alone in thinking that evangelicalism needs a reformation (see the new Reformation 21 website). For my view of what a reformation and revival would look like, see my earlier post here. For what I have done so far on A Call to Reformation see this post.

    The next three problems are symptoms of the disease of biblical and theological ignorance.

    2. Semi-Pelagianism: Pelagius disagreed with Augustine over the extent to which sin affects our ability to respond to God. Augustine thought that humanity had no ability because we are dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1). Pelagius thought that sin had not produced death in us, but that it did make us very sick. According to Pelagius, we have the ability—apart from divine grace—to take the first steps toward our own salvation. Semi-Pelagianism does not deny divine grace altogether and holds that the first steps toward salvation are made by the human will. The main problems with this view are that it fails to account for the Bible’s many statements regarding human inability (cf. John 3:3, 5; 6:63; Rom 3:10–20) and it demeans the gracious character of salvation. If we are to be thanked for having taken the first steps toward God, then how can Paul exclude all human boasting before God? (cf. Rom 3:27–28; 4:1–5; 1 Cor 1:26–31).

    3. Materialism and Worldliness: Only God can judge our hearts, and only he knows where our treasure is, but judging from exteriors it sure looks like we value what the world values. Who do we give awards to and why do we give those awards? Whose opinions do we value and why do we value them? What intimidates us and why? When we think of God’s blessing, do we think of the things that Jesus said were blessed (cf. Matt 5:3–12)?

    4. Pragmatism: Far too often we evaluate things on the basis of what we think will work, or on what produces the most visible results. The measure of our "success" is not how many people get baptized, how much money our ministry takes in, how smoothly our "operation" runs, or how pretty our buildings are. The measure of our success is simply this: Have we been faithful to God and his word through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit?

    Do we do what we do in ministry because we love Christ and we think that he is calling us to do this or that, or do we do what we think will produce the results we want to see?

    May the Lord be pleased to provoke a revival of interest in knowing himself in our churches, and may he thereby drive us to the Bible and clear up all these symptoms of the disease of friendship with the world and disinterest in God.

    On the Street:

    Others are better at cultural analysis than me (see especially Al Mohler and Russ Moore), but here are my thoughts nonetheless. These thoughts pertain more to the culture at large than they do to the culture of the church.

    1. Relativism: We are far too good in our culture at accepting mutually exclusive truth claims.

    2. Skepticism: Not only do we allow assertions that contradict one another to stand side by side, our culture is profoundly resistant to any claim to absolute truth. Far too often the culture fails to distinguish between exhaustive knowledge, which we can never hope to possess, and real knowledge of true things, which we can possess. Many people have concluded that if we cannot know something exhaustively, we cannot know it truly. As a result, the culture of the age of information is on the verge of abandoning the very concepts of truth and knowledge.

    3. Hedonism: We are fools if we choose momentary pleasure over the deep satisfaction of the pleasures of the long slow climb of faithfulness and obedience. And we are fools.

    There is nothing wrong with a worldling that regeneration won’t cure. May the Lord give us a great harvest of souls as we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and returning.

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    Calvinism and Arminianism: A Debate over First or Third Order Issues?

    Dr. Al Mohler has written a helpful piece on theological triage. Briefly, theological triage is an attempt to "sort" the doctrines of Christianity according to their relative significance to the faith. First order doctrines are things that one must believe to be a Christian—things like the Triunity of God and the two natures of Christ. If you don’t believe Jesus died for your sins, you’re not a Christian, and this is the nature of a first order issue. First order issues divide Christians from non-Christians.

    Second order doctrines are important, but believing Christians can and do disagree on them—things like who gets baptized and how we baptize them. Christians divide from each other over these issues.

    Third order issues are, in Mohler’s words, "doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations." An example of a third order issue is the question of whether or not there will be a millenium. Disagreement over this doesn’t mandate that we not worship together in the same church (it doesn’t affect our view of baptism or the Lord’s supper).

    So here’s the big question: Is the dispute between Calvinists and Arminians a first, second, or third order dispute? I would like to suggest that, depending upon one’s view of the relationship between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, it is either a first or third order issue. The fact that there have been both general (i.e., Arminian) and particular (i.e., Calvinistic) Baptists, along with the existence of Calvinistic Methodists, keeps this from being a second order issue.

    So what determines whether this is an issue of the first or third order? This is probably an oversimplification, but because I think it is helpful I will suggest that if both Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility are affirmed, this is a third order dispute over whether the emphasis should lie more on God’s initiative or humanity’s freedom. But if one denies either Divine Sovereignty or Human Responsibility, this becomes a first order issue.

    Some Calvinists assume that all Arminians deny Divine Sovereignty. But it is not fair to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a theological position by its worst representatives. The truth is that there are Arminians who have a high view of God’s sovereignty. After all, Charles Wesley wrote "And Can It Be," and a glance through Grant Osborne’s excellent commentary on Revelation will show that an avowed Arminian can affirm the absolute sovereignty of God (see for example Osborne’s comment on Revelation 17:17, Revelation, 627).

    Some Arminians assume that all Calvinists deny human responsibility and as a result think that things like evangelism and prayer are unnecessary. I have often heard people talk about "hyper-calvinists"—people who deny human responsibility and say that evangelism is not necessary. But never in my life have I ever actually met a self-described hyper-calvinist, someone who would affirm this position. If someone denies the necessity of evangelism and prayer, the problem is not that some aspects of their thinking are Calvinistic, the problem is that they are ignoring the clear teaching of the Bible. Some Arminians seem to forget that William Carey, the father of modern missions, was a five point Calvinist, as was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the "prince of preachers" (and many other evangelistic Calvinists could be cited). To assume that these evangelistic Calvinists are the exceptions that prove the rule is no more fair than the assumption that a biblical Arminian is an exception that proves the rule.

    John Hannah often says we owe two things to everyone: (1) to understand their position as they would articulate it; and (2) to interact with that position fairly. Let us think charitably of one another as we contend for biblical and theological precision.

    More could no doubt be said, but we must believe that God is sovereign and humans are responsible. If we sacrifice either of these truths we are unbiblical. Errors on both sides affect one’s view of God, and one’s view of God is determinative for one’s world-view. This is why many react to the dispute between Calvinists and Arminians as a first order issue—because one’s view of God determines everything (or should).

    We must believe everything the Bible says about God. I maintain that as long as one can affirm that God is sovereign and humans are responsible, this is a third order debate. We should all be in the process of biblical and theological growth, and may the Lord give us grace to live up to the theology we have attained (Phil 3:16).

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    Typological Fulfillment?

    Earlier this month I presented a paper to the Biblical Theology Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship arguing that when Matthew claims that the events of Jesus’ birth "fulfill" the words of Isaiah 7:14 he is referring to typological fulfillment. If you’re interested, the essay is posted here. May the Lord help us to understand his Word.

    Saturday, July 23, 2005

    Judgment on the Harlot Babylon: A Sermon on Revelation 17–18

    May the message of Revelation 17–18 keep us from whoring ourselves on the immoral wine of the condemned strumpet. May the Lord keep us from temptation by convincing us that the things that we are drawn to are satanic and destructive. The judgment on these hellish lies is certain. You can listen to my sermon on Revelation 17–18 here.

    I’ve been in England for 3 weeks on the SWBTS Oxford Study Tour. I hope to post a highlight video I made of the trip somewhere online, but at present the video is 205MB. Please alert me if you know of a place that will let me post something that big for free.