Concerning the Canon

Sola Scriptura, Canon, and Rome: Dr. Michael Kruger on the Dividing Line

From the archives back in January, Dr. James White writes, “Today (1/7/2014) I was joined by Dr. Michael Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Kruger has written numerous books that are high on our “you must read this book” list, such as Canon Revisited and The Question of Canon; he likewise contributed to and edited The Heresy of Orthodoxy and The Early Text of the New Testament. Our visit was prompted by a phone call made by a Lutheran to Catholic Answers Live back on 10/31/13. We played the entire call before the program started, and we played the heart of the call, where the Roman Catholic priest made the key assertions about canon and scriptural authority, during the interview with Dr. Kruger. We covered a wide variety of topics relevant to the canon issue. Truly one of the most useful programs we’ve ever done! Enjoy and learn!”

Ask R.C. (again)

sproulAnswering theological questions from his students has been a continual commitment throughout Dr. R.C. Sproul’s ministry. Originally called “gabfests” by his early students and later, “Ask R.C.,” these sessions continue to take place at Ligonier conferences, on Renewing Your Mind, and online. The most recent “Ask R.C.” live event on July 15, 2014 covered the following questions:

In 1 Samuel 28, was Saul talking to the real Samuel or a demon impersonating Samuel? (03:10)
Should the atmosphere of a church be towards the Christian, or the non-Christian? (04:30)
What does “By His stripes we are healed” from Isaiah 53 mean for Christians today? Does it imply physical healing in the atonement? (05:15)
Since your conversion, what are one or two of the most memorable or significant spiritual experiences in your life? (08:45)
Who are your heroes of the faith? (10:23)
If Dr. Sproul were to nail a modern 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door today, what might be his top two to three issues for the church to address? (12:35)
How can we defend the doctrine of sola Scriptura using Scripture? (15:53)
How does the fact that all people know God, based on Romans 1:18, affect our defense of Christianity? (23:46)
In 2 Samuel 6 when King David got the ark back from Obed-edom he then put on an ephod and offered a sacrifice to God. Since he was not a priest, how was that acceptable to God? (29:51)
Does the casting of lots to make decisions still have a place today? (31:30)
Is there any evidence of Adam and Eve’s repentance and faith in Christ after the fall? (34:35)
Do you believe we’re living in the end times that we read about in the book of Revelation? (36:47)
Dr. Sproul, you hold to what’s called a “partial preterist” view of eschatology, is that correct? (41:19)
How does “For many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14) fit in with unconditional election and irresistible grace? Is the definition of “called” different there then its use in Romans 8:30, “…those whom he called he also justified”? (46:43)
Do you agree with the phrase, “All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable.” (49:55)
How should the church react to its members who sanction homosexual marriage? (51:44)
Dr. Sproul, could you comment on the significance of ordinary means in our lives, particularly in light of the view that some people espouse that we just need to sit back and wait upon the Lord to do everything for us? (54:14)
Is there a biblical church history that we can follow back to the establishing of the church that does not have ties to Roman Catholicism? (63:45)
Why did Dr. Sproul write a children’s book on Martin Luther, and is he going to write any more? (66:46)
What is the Reformed view of vocation, and have you ever written a book on that? (68: 03)
To what was Jesus referring to when He said in John 3:5, “…unless one is born of water…”? (70:20)
How many days was Jesus in the grave, two or three? (71:24)
Is there any remnant of the image of God left in man? How does this relate to total depravity? (71:59)
Dr. Sproul, what is driving you in your ministry today? Why is the gospel, the holiness of God, and this ministry so important today? (74:10)

Here’s the link to the video.

Preaching a Psalm of Lament and a Psalm of Praise

Christopher Ash at the Truth for Life conference (2014), walking through Psalm 146 (and how Jesus perfectly fulfills these exhortations to praise and enables us to live a life of praise),

and then Psalm 74, exploring God’s sovereignty over all evil:

HT: JT

Concerning the Public Reading of Scripture

bible-preaching-300x207I very much enjoyed reading an article Dan Phillips wrote entitled, “The public reading of Scripture: ten pointed pointers”, found here:

Some of the specifics of the elements of our services have little or no specific Scriptural directive; some are just common-sense. For instance, there’s no apostolic instruction about how to handle (or whether to have) announcements, or the welcoming of visitors. There’s no order of service. No dress code. Nothing about hymnal-color…or hymnals. Though singing is enjoined (Col. 3:16), not a whisper of specific direction deals with beat or rhythm or octave or number of verses or choruses or types of instruments — except that we can be fairly assured that none of us precisely does what apostolic churches did, stylistically.

But there is a word about what ESV (perhaps over-)translates as “the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). Apostolic-age church services involved reading some portion or portions of God’s Word (cf. Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Rev. 1:3). That fact alone makes the reading of Scripture important; God thought enough about it to mention it. Nor is this the first time reading the Word came to the fore, as it featured prominently in the Water Gate Revival (Neh. 8:3, 8, 18).

While there are many and excellent books about preaching, and plenty about music and singing, and truckloads about praying, there is less of any prominence about this facet of the worship of God. I’m sure others have blogged about it, but I keep learning that some of the most helpful posts are about fairly basic issues. So we offer here a few brief and pointed pointers about the public reading of Scripture.

Take it as seriously as the preacher takes his sermon. God said to do it. That makes it important. Unless you’ve no choice, do not let the pulpit be the first time your eyes touch and your mouth forms these words. Some may think, “It’s just reading. How hard can it be?” That makes as much sense as a preacher sneering “It’s just talking. How hard can it be?”

Do not underestimate the importance or potential of this moment. This is the word of God. These are the most important words you will ever speak, the most important words your hearers will ever hear. I know you’ll think as I do, “It’s Spurgeon!”; but consider this story from Spurgeon’s autobiography:

The Lord set His seal upon the effort even before the great crowd gathered, though I did not know of that instance of blessing until long afterwards. It was arranged that I should use the Surrey Gardens pulpit, so, a day or two before preaching at the Palace, I went to decide where it should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from Heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, he told this story to one who visited him on his death-bed. [Spurgeon, C. H. (1899). C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1854–1860 (Vol. 2, p. 239). Chicago; New York; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.]

Understand the passage you read. Wouldn’t it be strange if the preacher preached on a passage he didn’t understand, hadn’t studied? Give thought to this passage, so that you can by inflection convey the meaning of the passage.

Master any difficult words. God’s people are gracious, and will not hound you for stumbling over Mahershalalhashbaz or Sepharvaim or Hazarmaveth or Arpachshad. But you knew it was in the text, and you knew it would be challenging, and you were probably asked to do this days in advance. So why would you not have worked at it until it flowed fluidly off your tongue? We want attention on the text, not on our lingual gymnastics.

Pray for God’s help as you prepare. Wouldn’t it be odd if the preacher’s first prayer for his sermon were that uttered in the seconds before his introduction? Pray that God help you understand the passage, that He apply it to your heart; pray that He will apply it to all the hearts of all the hearers. Seriously — and I say this as a preacher — what you will read will be of absolutely vital importance. God will judge you and your hearers for how you respond to these words (cf. John 12:48)! It’s no small thing; it’s a moment of crisis.

Practice it aloud. Reading to yourself is a different dynamic than reading to others; it simply is. Try to imagine yourself reading to others. Get a room alone if possible, and speak up, just as you will during the service.

Take your time. This is a vital part of the service, not a bit we rush through so we can get to the meat. It’s God’s Word! Announce it, wait for the majority of page-turning to stop. Then read in an unhurried pace. Don’t verbally drag your feet like a zombie, but don’t race like a dragster. It isn’t an auction.

Give full and meaningful inflection. It is God’s Word! He did not entrust it to angels, but to men! It’s a fearful and sobering thing for us to take His word on our lips. So work this out during your practice: vary your pace, your pitch, your tone. Read it with meaning. You’re rightly put off by a bloodless, bland, lifeless preacher who sounds like he’s reading a legal document or instructions for assembling a tricycle. Don’t be that man. This deserves your best effort. For instance, don’t read Mark 15:24 as “And-they-crucified-him-and-divided-his-garments-among-them…” Perhaps read it as “And [pause a beat] they crucified him [pause a double beat, at the horror of it] and divided his garments among them…” Don’t dash coolly through Galatians 1:6, “I-am-astonished-that-you-are-so-quickly-deserting-him…” as if you were a Dalek. Sound astonished! Perhaps, “I am… astonished… that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ, and are turning to… a different gospel…” You don’t have to Shatner it, but don’t Robbie the Robot it, either. Nor is there any virtue in a sepulchral, unnatural, affectedly “holy” intonation. The words of God should ring in your hearers’ ears, and stir their conscience.

Use what you’ve got, as appropriate. Some of us are gifted as readers, some are not. As with giving, I think “if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Cor. 8:12). If it’s all you can do to get through a passage without collapsing into burbling, God bless you, give what you’ve got, God will be pleased and glorified and the saints edified. But if you can convey the tone and tenor of the passage in your reading, do that. And so there are passages of Scripture that should be fairly shouted, and parts that should be fairly whispered. It isn’t a question of dramatics, it is a matter of adorning. Inflection and emphasis are as much a part of communication as is word choice. We suit the manner of reading to the content of the passage for the same reason we don’t wear swim suits or clown suits to the pulpit.

Consider a closing word. I often close a reading with, “This is the Word of God,” or “This is the Word of the Lord.” In some churches, hearers respond with “Thanks be to God.” Some say something like “God grant that we hear and head God’s inerrant Word,” or “Thanks be to God for His inerrant and infallible Word.” It may be a response in unison, it may be left to individuals to say that, “Amen,” or nothing at all. It’s a time-honored practice, and in my opinion it makes reverent sense.

The reading of Scripture is a vital and apostolically-enjoined facet of the gem of divine worship. If these exhortations serve to enrich readers’ and hearers’ experience of the Word in worship, glory to God.

The Unity of the Church

sproul_02In an article found at the ligonier website, Dr. R. C. Sproul writes:

In the seventeenth chapter of his gospel, the Apostle John recounts the most extensive prayer that is recorded in the New Testament. It is a prayer of intercession by Jesus for His disciples and for all who would believe through their testimony. Consequently, this prayer is called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Christ implored the Father in this prayer that His people might be one. He went so far as to ask the Father that “they may be one even as we are one” (v. 22b). He desired that the unity of the people of God — the unity of the church — would reflect and mirror the unity that exists between the Father and the Son.

Early in church history, as the church fathers were hammering out the cardinal doctrines of the faith, they wrestled with the nature of the church. In the fourth century, in the Nicene Creed, the church was defined with four adjectival qualifiers: one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic. These early saints believed, as Scripture teaches, that the church is one, a unity.

We know that the prayers of Christ, our High Priest, are efficacious and powerful. We know that the early church experienced remarkable unity (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32). Yet the church today, in its visible manifestation, is probably more fragmented and fractured than at any time in church history. There are thousands of denominations in the United States and even more around the world. How, then, are we to understand Christ’s prayer for the unity of the church? How are we to understand the ancient church’s declaration that the church is one?

There have been different approaches to this. In the twentieth century, we witnessed the rise of relativistic pluralism, a philosophy that allows for a wide diversity of theological viewpoints and doctrines within a single body. In the face of numerous doctrinal disputes, some churches have tried to maintain unity by accommodating many differing views. Such pluralism has frequently succeeded in maintaining unity — at least organizational and structural unity.

However, there’s always a price tag for pluralism, and historically, the price tag has been the confessional purity of the church. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Protestant movement began, various ecclesiastical groups created confessions, creedal statements that set forth the doctrines these groups embraced. In the main, these documents reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical councils of the first several centuries. These confessions also spelled out the particular beliefs of these various groups. For centuries, Protestantism was defined confessionally. But in our day, the older confessions have been largely relativized as churches try to broaden their confessional stances in order to achieve a visible unity.

There has always been a certain level of pluralism within historic Christianity. The church has always made a distinction between heresy and error. It is a distinction not of kind but of degree. The church is always plagued with errors, or at least members who are in error in their thinking and beliefs. But when an error becomes so serious that it threatens the very life of the church, when it begins to approach a doctrinal mistake that affects the essentials of the Christian faith, the church has had to stand up and say: “This is not what we believe. This false belief is heresy and cannot be tolerated within this church.” Simply put, the church has recognized that it can live with differences that are not of the essence of the church, matters that are not essentials of the faith. But other matters are far more serious, striking at the very basics of the faith. So, we make a distinction between those errors that impact the being of the church — major heresies — and lesser errors that impact the well-being of the church.

Today, however, the church, in order to achieve unity, increasingly negotiates central truths, such as the deity of Christ and the substitutionary atonement. This must not be allowed to happen, for the Bible calls us to “the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13), a unity based on the truth of God’s Word. Believers who are trying to be faithful to the Scriptures know that the New Testament writers stress the need for us to guard the truth of the faith once delivered (Jude 3; 1 Tim. 6:20a) as well as the need for us to beware those who would undermine the truth of the Apostolic faith by means of false doctrine (Matt. 7:15).

The Christian faith is lived on the razor’s edge. The Apostle Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). We need to bend over backward to keep peace and maintain unity. Yet, at the same time, we are called to be faithful to the truth of the gospel and to maintain the purity of the church. That purity must never be sacrificed to safeguard unity, for such unity is no unity at all.

Answers to Bible Critics

Video series by Bob Burridge:

Some people are obsessed with finding fault with the Bible. In its completed form the Bible has been studied and criticized for about two thousand years. There is little new to be said. The usually cited alleged contradictions and imagined errors have been laid aside centuries ago, but enthusiastic fault-finders will dig them up thinking they’ve found something new. This series will examine some of these assumed problems.

1. Seeing the Invisible God – Most assumed contradictions in the Bible are due to the failure of a critic to follow the normal rules for interpreting literature. This study closely examines three basic principles overlooked or misstated by those who presume there must be a problem before they have found one.

2. Jonah’s Whale – There is no contradiction in the Bible when Matthew 12:40 says Jonah was swallowed by a “whale”, while in Jonah 1:17 it says he was swallowed by a “great fish”. When the facts are examined it becomes clear that the error is in the failure of the critics to look more carefully at the evidence.

3. Years of the Kings – The use of various calendars, co-regencies, and ancient idiomatic expressions often make the dates given in the Bible appear to be inconsistent. Closer examination clears up the problems, some of which are simple confirmable errors made in later copies of the original text.

4. The Value of Pi – In 1 Kings 7:23 the reported diameter and circumference of a container seems to ignore the value of Pi. However, when the rest of the description is considered, it fully conforms with the value of Pi. We just have to do the math.

5. Seventh or Tenth Day? – Did Nebuzaradan attack Jerusalem on the 7th day of the month? or on the 10th? Critics of the Bible think they have found a contradiction here, but a more careful look shows that they have not understood the situation well. This brief video compares 2 Kings 25:8-10 with Jeremiah 52:12-14.

6. Chronology of the Cross – Some have looked for a contradiction between Mark’s timing of the crucifixion of Jesus when it is compared with the accounts in the other Gospels. When properly understood there is no contradiction at all.

More lessons are being edited and will be linked here as each is completed.

How Calvinistic was Luther?

Douglas A. Sweeney is professor of church history and the history of Christian thought and director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He writes:

During the years I’ve taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I’ve frequently been asked whether Luther was a Calvinist. The answer, of course, is no. Calvinism didn’t emerge until the end of Luther’s life. Arminianism emerged long after Luther had passed away. So Luther himself never engaged the controversy that divided Reformed Protestantism after the Reformation.

It’s true: Calvin was called a Lutheran in the early years of his ministry. And there are notable similarities between the two. But as the Reformed movement grew, it grew apart from Lutheranism in some noteworthy ways. And as Lutheran thought developed during and after the Reformation, Lutherans leaned toward Arminians more than Calvinists on a few of the doctrinal issues that divided the latter groups.

So perhaps it’s worth a minute or two to walk through the ways in which Lutherans came down on the five “points” of Calvinism. We should all understand by now that there’s far more to Calvinism than five simple points, that the five points themselves were sharpened after Calvin’s death, and that some think that Calvin himself did not affirm them all. So Calvinist friends, hold your fire. The goal here is not to oversimplify your faith, but to scan the ways that leading early Lutherans addressed the matters fought about most fiercely at the Reformed Synod of Dordt (1618–1619), and in the subsequent debates between Calvinists and Arminians.

Four Branches

Before we attack this matter directly, let me take just a minute to remind us that, technically speaking, the debate between Calvinists and Arminians really divided but a minority of the early Protestant world.

Despite the tendency of some to assume that all evangelicals fall somewhere on the continuum between Calvinism and Arminianism, it is important to remember that there were four main branches of the Protestant Reformation—Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Church of England—and that Calvinists and Arminians were on the same branch (though their controversy would captivate the Church of England as well, and was foreshadowed by developments in the doctrine of the English Reformation).

These branches parted gradually over the course of the 16th century. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 16th century, for example, that the lines between the Lutherans and the Reformed were drawn clearly. And it wasn’t until the late 16th and early 17th centuries that the lines were drawn starkly between the Calvinists and Arminians.

Arminianism emerged on the Reformed branch of Protestantism. Arminius and his followers considered themselves to be Reformed. They said they wanted to reform Reformed Protestant theology in response to what they deemed unhealthy Calvinist extremes.

Nevertheless, the Synod of Dordt changed the equation once and for all—and eventually affected people all over the Protestant world. So without any further ado, here’s where the Lutherans came down on the poorly named five points of Calvinism.

Lutherans and the Five Points of Calvinism

I’ll take this question point by point, offering evidence from reliable and accessible translations of classic Lutheran texts and confessions: the American edition of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut T. Lehmann et al. (Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, 1957); the latest English edition of the Lutheran Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Fortress Press, 2000), which contains all the authoritative Lutheran confessions, such as the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord; and Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3d ed., trans. Charles A. Hay and Henry E. Jacobs (Augsburg Publishing House, 1899), a compendium of Lutheran scholastic theology. These are exceptionally important Protestant theological sources, which should be read and used frequently by evangelical leaders.

Bear in mind that we are barely scratching the surface in this article. This is a skeletal presentation based on selected representatives of early Lutheran thought. Most Lutherans use the Lutheran confessions when interpreting Bible doctrines such as these. But there is diversity of opinion on the relative weight and authority of the other materials I quote below. Continue reading

Gospel Centered?

In an article entitled “What’s All This ‘Gospel-Centered’ Talk About?” Dane Ortlund writes:

The Gospel is not only the gateway into the Christian life, but the pathway of the Christian life.

“Gospel-centered preaching.” “Gospel-centered parenting.” “Gospel-centered discipleship.” The back of my business card says “gospel-centered publishing.” This descriptive mantra is tagged on to just about anything and everything in the Christian world these days.

What’s it all about?

Before articulating what it might mean to be Gospel-centered, we all better be on the same page as to what the Gospel actually is.

I don’t mean Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

What I mean by “Gospel” in this article is the outrageous news of what has been done for us by God in Jesus. The Gospel is the front page of the newspaper, not the back-page advice column; news of what has happened, not advice on how to live.

Specifically, the Gospel is the startling news that what God demands from us, He provides for us. How? In His own Son. The Gospel is the message that Jesus Christ delights to switch places with guilty rebels. The one Person who walked this earth who deserved heaven endured the wrath of hell so that those who deserve the wrath of hell can have heaven for free.
And the Gospel is not only personal, but cosmic. Christ’s death and resurrection doesn’t only provide forgiveness for me. It also means that in the middle of history, God has begun to undo death, ruin, decay and darkness. The universe itself is going to be washed clean and made new. Eden will be restored.
But to be part of this, we too must die. Grace requires death. We must die to our bookkeeping way of existence that builds our identity on anything other than Jesus. We must relinquish, give up on ourselves, throw in the towel. And out of this death — letting God love us in, not after getting over, our messiness — resurrection life quietly blossoms.

Gospel-Centered Worldview

What does it mean, then, to be “Gospel-centered”?

As far as I can tell the phrase is used in two basic ways. One is to view all of life in light of the Gospel. We’ll call this a Gospel-centered worldview. The other is to view Christian progress as dependent on the Gospel. We’ll call this Gospel-centered growth. The first looks out; the second looks in. Take Gospel-centered worldview first.

One way to get at this is to consider what is meant when we call someone “self-centered.” We don’t mean that all they think about directly is themselves. They also think about what to eat, what to wear, how to conclude an email, and a thousand other things each day. But Self informs all these other decisions. A self-centered person passes all they do and think through the filter of Self. Self trumps everything else and orders all other loves accordingly.

In a similar way, to be Gospel-centered does not mean that social action, marital and sexual matters, ethical issues, political agendas, our jobs, our diet, and all the rest of daily life are irrelevant. Rather, it means all of life is viewed in light of the Gospel. Everything passes through the filter of the Gospel. What Jesus has done and is doing to restore the universe trumps everything else and orders all other loves accordingly.

Gospel-Centered Growth

There’s another way that the phrase Gospel-centered is used, which is even more common. Here we narrow in to issues specifically related to Christian formation and discipleship, such as Bible-reading, book-writing, preaching and teaching. Generally what is meant when we speak of “Gospel-centered discipleship” or “Gospel-centered preaching” is that such activities are done in the light of two core realities: our ongoing struggle with sin and our ongoing need for grace.
The twisted fallenness of the human heart manifests itself in our constant self-atonement strategies. The natural, default mode of the human heart (including the Christian heart) is restless heart-wandering, looking for something to latch on to for significance, to know we matter, to feel OK about ourselves. This tendency is often profoundly subtle and extremely difficult to root out. We are sinners. We are sick.

However, the far-reaching grace of the Gospel calms our hearts and nestles us into the freedom of not needing to constantly measure up in any way since Jesus measured up on our behalf. In Christ, we matter. Clothed in His righteousness, we are OK. And this sweet calm is the soil in which true godliness flourishes.

Gospel-centeredness, then, funnels the Gospel out to unbelievers but also in to our own hearts. It is an acknowledgment that the Good News about God’s grace in Christ is the supreme resource — for believers just as much for unbelievers. In other words, the Gospel is a home, not a hotel. It is not only the gateway into the Christian life, but the pathway of the Christian life.
This is why Paul constantly reminds people — reminds Christian people — of the Gospel (e.g., Romans 1:16–17; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:3–4; Galatians 1:6). We move forward in discipleship not mainly through pep talks and stern warnings. We move forward when we hear afresh the strangeness of grace, relaxing our hearts and loosening our clenched hold on a litany of lesser things — financial security, the perfect spouse, career advancement, sexual pleasure, human approval, and so on.

An Example: Gospel-Centered Dating

Let’s take all this closer to home. Given all this, what might be meant by “Gospel-centered dating”?
This would simply mean an approach to dating that remembers the fierce works-righteousness orientation of the human heart and the way we tend to build our identity on anything other than Jesus.
Gospel-centered dating wouldn’t be dating that tries to share the Gospel with as many dates as possible. It would be dating that refuses to build a sense of worth on whom we’re dating, what they think of us, and the happiness they can provide if the relationship works out long-term. It would be letting Jesus be the One who saves us — not only from judgment before God in the future, but judgment before our dates in the present.

Dating can be truly enjoyed if we go into every evening out with a heart-sense of the Gospel. If we know we are accepted and approved in Jesus, acceptance and approval by the person sitting across the table loses its ominous significance. If we know God delights in us with invincible favor and love, dates that go poorly will disappoint us but not crush us. If we know that no matter what happens in a relationship we will always have Christ, and He is everything, then we are freed from having our mood dictated by dating success. And even if dates go well with someone early on, it’s only a matter of time before a boyfriend or girlfriend (or spouse) will disappoint us and let us down. There’s only One who never lets us down.

A Gospel-centered life, in other words, is the only life that can truly be enjoyed. Nothing can threaten our sense of worth and identity. Christ himself is our mighty and radiant friend.

Keep the Reality

There’s one more thing to be said. The label “Gospel-centered” is neither here nor there. There’s nothing sacred about it. But the heart of what is being recovered, both in terms of worldview and in terms of growth, is vital for calm and sanity amid the ups and downs of life in a fallen world.

Every generation must rediscover the Gospel for itself. “Gospel-centered” happens to be the label attached to this generation’s recovery of grace. When we tire of the label, get a new one. But keep the reality.

We will be broken, messy sinners until Jesus comes again and gives us final cleansing. Till then, true shalom and fruitfulness can only be found through waking up each day, shoving back the clamoring anxieties, and defibrillating our hearts with a love that comes only to those — but to all of those — who open themselves up to it.

“Does God Know the Future?” Debate

Here is the audio of the recent debate (from July 8, 2014) between my friend, Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and Pastor Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church regarding Open Theism, answering the question, “Is the future settled or open?”

When healing does not come…

Prayer7Andrew Wilson wrote this article on Wednesday, July 2, at www.thinktheology.co.uk. It is entitled “The Problem with ‘the problem’s never at God’s end’” and deserves to be read widely.

“When people don’t get healed, the problem is never at God’s end.” Pithy, popular, memorable, intuitive – but also misleading, and sometimes very unhelpful. Here are three reasons why.

Firstly, it assumes that somebody not being healed this side of the resurrection is always a “problem”. So every time someone is prayed for and remains unwell, we have a problem. Every time someone dies, we have a problem. Not just a tragedy, or a loss, or another painful reminder that the world we live in is still broken, but a problem, with someone to blame. Given that it’s a problem, it’s obvious that it must be at our end or at God’s end. And who wants to attribute “problems” to God?

But this obviously begs the question. How do we know it’s a problem when somebody isn’t healed, especially in the light of the characters we encounter in the gospels (all but one of the “multitude” at the pool called Bethesda) and the epistles (Epaphroditus, Trophimus, Timothy, Paul himself), who weren’t immediately healed? Would we say the same of all suffering – “if someone is still facing persecution, then the problem is not at God’s end” – and if not, why say it of sickness? Would we say it of those who have not been raised from the dead? To assume that these things are “problems”, such that either God or a particular human being is somehow to blame for them, is itself a problem.

Secondly, the extremely pithy nature of the statement – and this is true of almost all bumper-sticker theology – oversimplifies something that is actually quite complex, and collapses a variety of biblical explanations into one all-encompassing überexplanation.

Biblically speaking, some people are sick because the people praying for them have insufficient faith (Matt 17:19-20). Some people are sick because the people praying for them need to pray [and fast?] (Mark 9:29). Some people are sick because there’s something going on behind the scenes that we know nothing about (Job 1-2). Some people are sick because the glory of God is going to be revealed through them in the future (John 11:4). Some people are sick because God created them that way (Exod 4:11). Some people are sick as a result of divine discipline (1 Cor 11:27-32; cf. Heb 12:3-11). Some people are sick because they need to change their lifestyle in some way (1 Tim 5:23). Some people are sick because they have not yet approached the elders for prayer (James 5:14-15) or perhaps because healing is a charismatic gift that not all possess (1 Cor 12:27-31). Paul may have been sick because God wanted to bring him to Galatia to preach the gospel (Gal 4:13) or because God wanted to crush his pride and teach him to rely on divine strength (2 Cor 12:7-10). And with some sicknesses, of course, there is no explanation; we just do not know why Trophimus was ill (2 Tim 4:20), and we shouldn’t talk as if we do. The biblical reality is that sometimes, the reason people aren’t healed is to do with us; sometimes, it’s to do with God; sometimes, it’s to do with both; and sometimes we don’t know.

Practically, of course, we should live and act on the basis that God wills to heal – which the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels demonstrates unequivocally that he does – and make sure that we have done, and are doing, all of the things God has called us to do to see that happen (prayer, obedience, faith, using gifts, and so on). If our starting assumption is “God has ordained my sickness,” rather than, say, “this daughter of Abraham has been bound by Satan for eighteen years” (Luke 13:16), the chances are that we will never have faith to pray for anyone to be healed. We should also bear in mind the obvious fact that people who believe God always wills to heal, as many Pentecostals and Charismatics do, pray for far more healings, and see far more healings, than people who don’t. But taken simply as a reflection of biblical teaching, the claim that God is never responsible for human sickness simply cannot be sustained. (For what it may be worth, I still regard P-J Smyth’s message on this subject at Together on a Mission, just after his recovery from cancer, as the best I have ever heard). Continue reading