Christianity Light!

Christianity Light – not enough truth to save you, but just enough to innoculate you against the real thing!

No mention of the holiness of God, the sovereignty of God, the depravity of man, that sin is cosmic treason against supreme Majesty, man’s slavery and bondage to sin, his inability to even come to Christ without Divine enablement, his desperate need of forgiveness and atonement, the claims of Christ as Lord as well as Savior, repentance, justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, discipleship, submission to the word of God, active membership in a local church where time, talents and treasure are used to love and serve the people of God and advance His gospel.

I know you have seen and heard it… Christianity Light (at a Church or Christian TV/Radio station near you).

2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Twenty Years

I moved from England to the USA twenty years ago today. Though it is true to say that there have been many twists and turns along the way, I thank God that He remains so faithful, that His abiding presence is still a reality in my life.

How precious my family and true friends are to me. I am so glad that two decades on from the big move, I can still sing this song:

Historical Background to the Canons of Dort

Arminius moved to Amsterdam to pastor a prominent church there. As a pastor, he was called upon to defend Calvinistic teaching against Dirck zoon Koornheert. In preparing his defense of traditional Calvinist doctrine, Arminius became convinced of his opponent’s teaching.

In 1603, Arminius was appointed professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he was strongly opposed by his colleague, Francis Gomarus. Both Arminius and Gomarus believed in predestination, but they differed over the meaning of the word. At the heart of the disagreement was whether predestination was based solely on the will of God (Calvinism) or based on foreseen knowledge of belief (what would later be called Arminianism). The two met for a public debate in 1608, but the issue was no closer to being settled. Both men thought of themselves as Reformed, as Calvinists, but they were not saying the same thing.

Following Arminius’ death in 1609, the movement continued under the leadership of Janus Uytenbogaert, a court preacher at the Hague. In 1610, the Arminian party issued a document called the Remonstrance, setting forth the “Five Articles of the Arminians.” Gomarus and others formed a Contra-Remonstrance party (Gomarists) to oppose the Arminians. Things continued to heat up when Arminius’ successor at the University of Leiden was named–a man by the name of Vorstius, who was practically a Socinian. When the Arminian Simon Episcopius was named Gomarus’ replacement at Leiden, it looked like the tide had turned in favor of the Remonstrants. The Remonstrance party was further supported by the statesman John van Oldenbarneveldt and the jurist/theologian Hugo Grotius.

Political Intrigue

The Netherlands had recently won its independence from Spain. Some were still leery of the Spanish, while others welcomed a closer relationship. In general, the merchant class, for economic and trading reasons, desired improved relations with Spain. The clergy, on the other hand, feared that more contact with Catholic Spain would taint the theology of their churches. The lower class sided with the clergy for theological reasons, for national reasons (anti-Spain), and for class reasons (anti-merchants). Thus, merchants saw Arminianism as favorable to their desire for improved relations with Spain, while the clergy and lower class sided with Gomarus.

The Remonstrance of 1610 was issued to Oldenbarneveldt, Advocate-General of Holland and Friesland. Oldenbarneveldt, who was working to secure a better relationship with Spain, wanted toleration for the Arminians. The Contra-Remonstrance from Gomarists was submitted to the States of Holland in 1611. Oldenbarneveldt and the States of Holland decided on toleration. But the Gomarists wanted an official theological pronouncement to settle the issue once and for all.

Prince Maurice, the son and heir of William of Orange, eventually took the side of the Gomarists (perhaps for theological reasons, but perhaps in an attempt to garner more control of the Netherlands for himself). After Maurice had Olderbarneveldt and others imprisoned, the Estates-General called for an assembly to end the conflict.

The Synod

An international synod convened in Dordrecht from 1618-19. Of the approximately 100 members present, 27 were from Britain, Switzerland, and Germany, while the rest were Dutch. The Dutch contingent was comprised of roughly an equal number of ministers, professors, laymen, and members of the Estates-General. The Remonstrants were soundly defeated at Dort, leading to one of the greatest theological formulations of the Reformation. Unfortunately, Maurice, a product of his times (and not a very nice man it seems), condemned Barneveldt to death and had some Arminian pastors imprisoned. When Maurice died in 1625, measures loosened considerably, and in 1631 Arminians were officially tolerated in the Netherlands.

The Canons of Dort, in rejecting the five points of Arminianism, outlined five points of their own. The first concerning divine election and reprobation, the second on Christ’s death and human redemption through it, the third and fourth points on human corruption and how we convert to God, and finally the perseverance of the saints. Centuries later these five heads of doctrine would become the five points of Calvinism known at TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). The Canons do not pretend to explain everything about Reformed theology, or about the Bible for that matter. Dort simply sought to declare what was “in agreement with the Word of God and accepted till now in the Reformed churches” concerning “Divine Predestination.” With that goal in mind I think the Canons can be counted as a faithful witness and a God-glorifying success.

Confusing Justice and Mercy

“The teaching that God chooses some people out of the mass of fallen humanity to be saved and not others raises the objection that God is not fair. Somehow it is widely assumed that God owes all people either the gift of salvation or at least a chance of salvation. Since they cannot be saved apart from His grace, He owes it to everyone to grant them that grace.

This kind of thinking results from a fundamental confusion between God’s justice and His mercy or grace. Grace, prescription by definition, is something that God is not required to grant. He owes a fallen world no mercy. If we cried out for justice at His hands, we could all receive the just condemnation we deserve. Justice is what we deserve. Grace is always and ever undeserved. If we deserved it, it would not be grace.

The issue is complicated when we consider that God chooses to grant this saving grace to some but not to all. We recall that, in the first place, He owes it to no one. Once someone has sinned, God owes that person nothing. Indeed, even before sin, God owes the creature nothing. It is the creature who is indebted to God (for sustaining if not also saving grace), not God to the creature. But what is often assumed is that if God grants grace to some, then He must grant the same measure of grace to all if He is fair and just. Here we must stop for a moment and ask why this should be so. Why does the granting of grace to some require the granting of grace to all? Again we recall that in this process no one receives injustice at the hand of God. The elect get the grace they do not deserve, while the reprobate get the justice they do deserve. If God decides to pardon one guilty person, that does not mean that those He does not pardon somehow become any less guilty.

In answer to his own question, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” Paul emphatically declared, “Certainly not!” For the Apostle, it was unthinkable that there should be any unrighteousness with God. He reminded his readers of what God revealed in the Old Testament when He said to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Exod. 33:19).

We see in this reminder the unmistakable concept of God’s sovereign grace. Paul made it unambiguously clear that God always reserves the right to exercise His mercy and grace according to His own good pleasure. This is the supreme right of executive clemency. It is this sovereign expression of love that redounds to the praise of His glory. It is this love that leaves us astonished and singing doxologies. It is this overwhelming love that provoked Paul to cry out: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?’ ‘Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’” (Rom. 11:33–35).

The conclusion Paul drew from this sovereign expression of grace and mercy is this: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (9:16).”

Excerpt from God’s Love by R.C. Sproul.

I wept

Repost from December 2010

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…” – Jeremiah 15:16

As I type these words on my keyboard, next to my computer are seven different Study Bibles in five different English translations. Those are just the Bibles on my desk. On the shelf behind me, I have more. And that’s just my office. I have more in the living room, close to my comfy chair where I can sit and read without distraction with a cup of English tea (some traditions die hard).

Then there is the Bibleworks program loaded on my computer which has dozens more translations, including the original Hebrew and Greek texts (even though I have the same texts in book form). By any standard of measurement, the study resources at my disposal are very comprehensive. Added to this are the many commentaries and books in my possession written by some of the great Bible teachers in Church history, as well as in our own day – all of them are within easy access from my chair. Online, I have access to many more translations. I am blessed with amazing spiritual riches. I am a Christian in the United States of America.

Just a few minutes ago, I watched this video you will find below. My only reaction was to weep. Even now, tears roll down my face. These are tears of joy, you understand. Continue reading

Miscellaneous Quotes (51)

“Religion moves you to do what you do out of fear, and self-righteousness, but the gospel moves you to do what you do more and more out of grateful joy in who God is in himself. Times of revival are seasons in which many nominal and spiritually sleepy Christians, operating out of the semi-Pharisaism of religion, wake up to the wonder and ramifications of the gospel. Revivals are massive eruptions of new spiritual power in the church through a recovery of the gospel.” – Tim Keller

“I would encourage us to be slow to jettison the wisdom of our fathers. That is, just because we don’t know why they did things the way they did doesn’t mean they didn’t have good reason, reasons we ought to know and understand. A smug assurance that whatever reasons they must have had must be stuffy, stifling and sectarian is silly, self-righteous and, well, smug. It may just be that we have something to learn from them, and that their caution is grounded in biblical wisdom.” – R. C. Sproul, Jr

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” – C. S. Lewis

“Paul’s gospel not only contradicted the religion, philosophy and culture of the day, but it also declared war on them. Not a political war, not a military war, but a spiritual war of truth. It refused truce or treaty with the world and would settle for nothing less than culture’s absolute surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Even to every thought of our mind being held captive to Christ. We would do well to follow Paul’s example. We must be careful to shun every temptation to conform our gospel to the trends of the day or the desires of carnal men.” – Paul Washer

“The defeat of the ungodly and of the powers of evil is final, total, irretrievable. Glory be to God, however high the powers of darkness may carry it at this present, the time hastens on when God shall defend the right, and give to evil such a fall as shall for ever crush the hopes of hell; while those who trust in the Lord shall eternally praise him and rejoice in his holy name.” – C. H. Spurgeon

Do you believe that modern evangelicals have lost their grip on the biblical gospel?
“Well, in one particular respect we have got it all wrong. We are inclined to believe that God exists for us, God is waiting for us, God is there to make us happy. But in the gospel, God does not play the role of a butler. In the Gospel we are told that God, the Creator who made all things for his own praise and glory, has gone into action as mankind’s redeemer. We human individuals are impotent of spiritual response, that is, response to God in any shape or form; but God first of all sends us a Savior to make atonement for our sins, and then he sends the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and make us willing to see and respond to Christ. Now, if we do not appreciate that our salvation is God’s work in that absolutely radical sense, that is, God sends the Saviour, God gives us the gift of faith to respond to the Saviour, then we will not even be able to tell people what the gospel means. You see, we ought to be telling people that they are helpless, that they need Christ, and that they must ask God for new hearts and for the ability to trust Christ. In other words, you have got to tell them of their own spiritual inability right from the start. If on the other hand we forget this and go around saying that God is just there to help you, and that you call on him whenever you need to, that he is a sort of cosmic bell-hop, well, then we are misrepresenting the gospel in an absolutely fundamental manner. Until the gospel is understood as a message that obliges us to say that we are hopeless, helpless, lost, and ruined, requiring also that God does the work of salvation from start to finish, then we are not presenting the gospel as it is revealed in the New Testament.” – J. I. Packer, “An Interview with Dr. J. I. Packer,” The Founders Journal, 16 (Spring 1994), The Founders Journal Website, (accessed February 8, 2010).

“Though infinitely better able to do without prayer than we are, yet [Christ] prayed much more than we do.” C. H. Spurgeon

“God imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent the pains of hell for, either: All the sins of all men. All the sins of some men, or Some sins of all men. In which case it may be said: If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. But if the first be true, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, “Because of their unbelief.” I ask, “Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it is, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!” – John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Banner, Carlisle, 1959, p. 173-4

“They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud.” – John Flavel

John Piper: Let’s do this inductively. I ask. You answer.

John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Why did God send his Son? _______________
John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Does not obeying the Son (e. g., when he commands us to trust him) bring us under God’s wrath or leave us under his wrath? _______________
So what did God send his Son to save us from? _______________
Is this a felt need among the unbelievers you know? _______________
What are the implications for the content of preaching and evangelism? ____________

Friday Round Up

(1) Does the Doctrine of Unconditional election make God a “respecter of persons”? My friend John Hendryx of writes, “The charge we often hear from those who reject God’s unconditional election is that it makes God a respecter of persons. As is the case with most protests against unconditional election it is important to point out that this is a moral rather than exegetical argument. And if this is the basis for their rejecting the doctrine of salvation by grace ALONE, rather than appealing directly to the Scriptures which repeatedly declare unconditional election (Eph 1:3,4; Rom 9), then one is basing their theological future on shaky ground… Nonetheless I still think it is important to face up to this charge to see if it has any validity. To do this we need to understand how the Bible uses the concept of “respecter of persons” and then let it interpret itself as to what it actually means, and then determine whether or not God would be guilty of it if unconditional election were true. Below is a wide sampling of its occurrence in the Scripture: More here.

(2) There’s an interesting selection of resources in this week’s Friday Ligonier $5 sale! The “Willing to Believe” Conference Series is highly recommended. Check out today’s $5 sale here.

Concerning Redistribution of Wealth

Excerpt from Dr. Wayne Grudem’s short book “Business for the Glory of God”:

Some inequality of possessions is fundamentally good and provides many opportunities for glorifying God, but also many temptations to sin; and some extreme inequalities are wrong in themselves.

It may seem surprising to us to think that some inequalities of possessions can be good and pleasing to God. However, although there is no sin or evil in heaven, the Bible teaches that there are varying degrees of reward in heaven and various kinds of stewardship that God entrusts to different people. When we stand before Jesus to give account of our lives, he will say to one person,

“You shall have authority over ten cities,”

and to another,

“You are to be over five cities” (Luke 19:17, 19).

Therefore there will be inequalities of stewardship and responsibility in the age to come. This means that the idea of inequality of stewardship in itself is given by God and must be good.

In a similar teaching, Paul, speaking to believers, says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). This implies degrees of reward for what we have done in this life. Many other passages teach or imply degrees of reward for believers at the final judgment. Even among the angels, there are differing levels of authority and stewardship established by God, and therefore we cannot say that such a system is wrong or sinful in itself.

Inequalities are necessary in a world that requires a great variety of tasks to be done. Some tasks require stewardship of large amounts of resources (such as ownership of a steel mill or a company that manufactures airplanes), and some tasks require stewardship of small amounts of resources. And God has given some people greater abilities than others, abilities in artistic or musical skills, abilities in mathematics or science, abilities in leadership, abilities in business skills and buying and selling, and so forth. If reward for each person’s labor is given fairly and is based on the value of what that person produces, then those with larger abilities will naturally gain larger rewards. Since people are different in abilities and effort, I don’t think there could be a fair system of rewards for work unless the system had different rewards for different people. Fairness of reward requires such differences.
Continue reading

Logical Fallacies

Justin Taylor:

Michael Horton provides some which should be avoided when writing a theological paper in his classes (and, of course, in all of life!). I’ve reprinted below the ones that he lists (along with some images, which have some relevance to the fallacy in one way or another).

Ad Hominem
First and foremost we need to avoid the ubiquitous ad hominem (“to/concerning the person”) variety—otherwise known as “personal attacks.”

Poor papers often focus on the person: both the critic and the one being criticized. This is easier, of course, because one only has to express one’s own opinions and reflections. A good paper will tell us more about the issues in the debate than about the debaters. (This of course does not rule out relevant biographical information on figures we’re engaging that is deemed essential to the argument.)

Red Herring
Closely related are red-herring arguments: poisoning the well, where you discredit a position at the outset (a pre-emptive strike), or creating a straw man (caricature) that can be easily demolished.

“Barth was a liberal,” “Roman Catholics do not believe that salvation is by grace,” “Luther said terrible things about Jews and Calvin approved the burning of Servetus—so how could you possibly take seriously anything they say?”

It’s an easy way of dismissing views that may be true even though those who taught them may have said or done other things that are reprehensible.

Genetic Fallacy
Closely related is the genetic fallacy, which requires merely that one trace an argument or position back to its source in order to discount it.

Simply to trace a view to its origin—as Roman Catholic, Arminian, Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist/Baptist, etc.—is not to offer an argument for or against it. For example, we all believe in the Trinity; it’s not wrong because it’s also held by Roman Catholics. “Barth studied under Harnack and Herrmann, so we should already consider his doctrine of revelation suspect.” This assertion does not take into account the fact that Barth was reacting sharply against his liberal mentors and displays no effort to actually read, understand, and engage the primary or secondary sources.

Slippery Slope
Closely related to these fallacies is the all too familiar slippery slope argument. “Barth’s doctrine of revelation leads to atheism” or “Arminianism leads to Pelagianism” or “Calvinism leads to fatalism” would be examples. Even if one’s conclusion is correct, the argument has to be made, not merely asserted. The fact is, we often miss crucial moves that people make that are perfectly consistent with their thinking and do not lead to the extreme conclusions we attribute to them—not to mention the inconsistencies that all of us indulge. Honesty requires that you engage the positions that people actually hold, not conclusions you think they should hold if they are consistent.

If you’re going to make a logical argument that certain premises lead to a certain conclusion, then you need to make the case and must also be careful to clarify whether the interlocutor either did make that move or did not but (logically) should have.

Sweeping Generalization
Another closely related fallacy here is sweeping generalization. Until recently, it was common for historians to try to explain an entire system by identifying a “central dogma.” For example, Lutherans deduce everything from the central dogma of justification; Calvinists, from predestination and the sovereignty of God. Serious scholars who have actually studied these sources point out that these sweeping generalizations don’t have any foundation. However, sweeping generalizations are so common precisely because they make our job easier. We can embrace or dismiss positions easily without actually having to examine them closely. Usually, this means that a paper will be more “heat” than “light”: substituting emotional assertion for well-researched and logical argumentation.

“Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation is anti-scriptural and anti-Christian” is another sweeping generalization. If I were to ask you in person why you think Barth’s view of revelation is “anti-scriptural anti-Christian,” you might answer, “Well, I think that he draws too sharp a contrast between the Word of God and Scripture—and that this undermines a credible doctrine of revelation.” “Good,” I reply, “now why do you think he makes that move?” “I think it’s because he identifies the ‘Word of God’ with God’s essence and therefore regards any direct identification with a creaturely medium (like the Bible) as a form of idolatry. It’s part of his ‘veiling-unveiling’ dialectic.” OK, now we’re closer to a real thesis—something like, “Because Barth interprets revelation as nothing less than God’s essence (actualistically conceived), he draws a sharp contrast between Scripture and revelation.” A good argument for something like that will allow the reader to draw conclusions instead of strong-arming the reader with the force of your own personality.

Begging the Question
Also avoid the fallacy of begging the question. For example, question-begging is evident in the thesis statement: “Baptists exclude from the covenant those whom Christ has welcomed.” After all, you’re assuming your conclusion without defending it. Baptists don’t believe that children of believers are included in the covenant of grace. That’s the very reason why they do not baptize them. You need an argument.