Lacking Assurance?

anchor1Eric Davis is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. In an article entitled “When Assurance is Lacking” at the Cripplegate website he the possibility of certainty (“Can I even know for sure that I’m saved?”), or something else. Whatever the case, know that this is a common battle. You are not alone.

I understand a bit of what that is like as I battled with the darkness of doubt for a time in seminary. The source of my doubt was multi-faceted. On the one hand, it arose from a sudden realization of previously unseen sin. I claimed to believe in the gospel, but my “new” sin seemed to eclipse the cross. My excessive self-analyzing exacerbated the problem. The deeper and longer I beheld my thoughts, the more assurance fled (as it often will). Maybe you are experiencing doubt for those reasons. Or maybe it’s Satan, your natural temperament, or something else. I don’t know.

So, I want to share with you a few things that I have found helpful in battling the darkness of doubt.

A quick-fix approach probably is not helpful.
Certainly you are aware that there is no pixie-dust solution to doubt. If you’ve been like me, you’ve probably tried them. And more dangerous than trying them is taking comfort in them. Steer clear of the pixie-dust.

As difficult as it may be, the goal here is not to swiftly soothe the discomfort of doubt. Rather, the goal is to please Christ by understanding and embracing truth. Perhaps your assurance will be quickly restored. Perhaps not. Either way, avoid worshiping the “not-feeling-doubt” god. He’s an insufficient savior.

Also, some may counsel you along the lines of, “Oh, quit doubting. Of course you are a Christian! Remember back to moment A or B, when you did Y or Z? Just look at all the great Christian things you have done in your life.” Resist the urge to settle there. Looking at ourselves is not the best approach.

Perhaps because you are looking at what you have done, you are doubting. I know it was that way for me. And that advice was not helpful because I needed to do the exact opposite; look outside, not inside, myself. On the topic of God’s work in assurance, Burk Parsons writes, “He assures us not by giving us confidence in ourselves by bringing us to the end of ourselves so that we might know and love him.” This brings up the next point.

Our assurance is first outside, not inside, of us.
I am not going to encourage you to look to your decisions or deeds in the past. Instead, let’s look to something outside of ourselves in the present. I am going to spend extra time on these since I have found that the lack of assurance can be the product of not bathing our souls in gospel truth; the bedrock of our faith.

First, consider Luke 18:9-14. Continue reading

Question: Were Eyewitnesses Alive for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to Consult?

by the stories about Jesus were passed on by oral story telling (Oral History = eyewitnesses passing on the tradition; Oral Tradition = the passing on of tradition by a non-eyewitness) and dependent on the reliability of human memory to preserve these stories accurately. This meant that for 30-60 years the stories about Jesus were carried and passed on by individuals and groups from their individual and collective memories. Because of this, New Testament scholars have depended on the latest in psychology and memory studies to help shed light on the degree to which the New Testament Gospels preserve reliable memories and how these memories would have been shaped prior to their being written down.

One scholar who has studied this very thing is Robert K. McIver. I must say that one of the most rewarding books I have read in the past couple of years was McIver’s Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels (2011). McIver’s book is well-written, erudite, immensely fair, and a pleasure to read. The book is composed of two parts. The first is focused on “Personal And Collective Memory” and the second is focused on “Jesus Traditions As Memory.”

In the first chapter of his book McIver discusses the light recent studies in psychology and human memory have shed on how effective eyewitnesses are at passing on what they have witnessed and experienced. In chapter two he discusses the effect of time on being able to recall past events. In the third chapter he narrows in on the traumatic or highly sensory type of memories known as ‘flashbulb’ memories (i.e. WW2 vets), and how reliably these types of memories are remembered by those who have experienced them, and how effective individuals are at passing these on after the fact; even decades later. The fourth chapter fascinatingly reveals the latest research in regards to what extent our memories are changed and re-constructed because of suggestions from outside agents (other people). In the fifth and final chapter of the book’s first part McIver gives an overview of various studies conducted on “Collective Memory,” which is the opposite of the phone-game (Europeans: “Chinese Whispers”) where individuals pass on a funny phrase down a long line of recipients only to be completely butchered by the other end of the line. Collective Memory is when groups of people carry on a mutually shared story (net-transmission rather than chain-transmission).

As mentioned, the second part of the book revolves around “Jesus Traditions As Memory.” In the sixth chapter McIver provides a wonderful description of the various theories of “Collective Memory” from the past few decades. Should we understand the passing on of oral tradition in oral societies to be better understood as something done with more control or less? Was tradition passed on in a formal setting of informal? Could anyone pass on communal stories authoritatively? Or were there designated “authorities” who were responsible for doing this on behalf of the group? (i.e. eyewitnesses or community leaders).

In chapter seven McIver attempts to locate traces of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels. He provides a detailed discussion of how ancient teachers would purposely pass on important sayings (the apophthegmata, or “Chreiai”) in a memorable way. McIver writes, “The Apophthegm is a form found outside of the Gospels. The term Chreia or apophthegm was used by Greek authors of the Roman period to describe a brief anecdote from famous personages and thinkers that usually climaxed in a memorable utterance.” (1) McIver locates numerous examples of “Chreiai” in the Gospels. In the eighth chapter McIver discusses the impact of memory frailty on the Gospels and supplies a number of examples to show that the Gospels do contain some traces of poor memory recall as there are a few discrepit accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke) of the same story. McIver reminds the reader of some studies he noted earlier in the book concerning the reliability of eyewitnesses who experienced flashbulb-like events take place before them (one of them was a horrible shooting). McIver writes,

“Their memories were discovered to be substantially correct – the eyewitnesses to the shooting in Burnaby remembered up to 80 percent of details accurately…While this is not 100 percent accuracy, and it can be very difficult to determine which parts of eyewitness testimony belong to the 80 percent that is accurate as opposed to the 20 percent that is not, it does not mean that eyewitness testimony can be considered to have general reliability. It is particularly good at the level of gist rather than detail…. By preserving the gist of events, human memory demonstrates a “first-order” faithfulness to the past. If this is true of eyewitness testimony in general, it is therefore true of the contributions that the individual eyewitnesses would have made to the formation of the traditions found in the Synoptic Gospels.” (2)
The ninth chapter is where McIver begins to pull everything together. Because of the fact Jesus was a teacher who gathered disciples around him to ‘learn,’ there would have been a foundation in place for groups of people (i.e. his disciples) to pass on the Jesus tradition in a collective manner rather than simply as individuals. This means the disciples would have been able to aid one another in recalling Jesus’ teachings. As well, if he did teach them in the common form of “Chreiai” which were to be remembered sayings in a catchy and memorable form, we should have confidence that the Gospels do contain actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth remembered with a “first-order” faithfulness (at least 80% reliable). In chapter ten he wraps up the book with a nice conclusion:

“So it can be concluded that, like most products of human memory and despite all the frailties of such memory, the Gospels should be considered to be generally reliable. If the evidence presented thus far may be relied on, then–at least for the apophthegmata, the parables, and the aphorisms–the burden of proof should lie with those who wish to claim that a saying found in the Gospels is not from Jesus or that an incident reported about him did not happen, not with those who assume its authenticity. Human memory is a remarkable facility, and the traditions found in the Synoptic Gospels may be considered to be a product of its effectiveness.” (3)

The Potential Pool of Eyewitnesses at the Time The Gospels Were Written

After finishing this wonderful volume I was startled to discover what may in fact be the most important and original contribution to the entire book in an appendix at the back! Boy am I glad McIver included this appendix because it answers a question I’ve wondered about for a number of years. Here is the question: Assuming the Gospel of Mark (our earliest Gospel) was composed around thirty years or so after Jesus’ life and ministry (ca. AD 65), how many eyewitnesses would have been alive to consult during the research and writing process? And beyond this, how many would have been alive when the last Gospel (John=AD 90?) was written? McIver brilliantly looked at the latest research in population size around Galilee, Jerusalem, and the other villages and cities Jesus visited during his ministry in antiquity, and what life expectancy was in the first century in Roman-Palestine. He concluded there would have been approximately 60,000 potential eyewitnesses who saw or experienced Jesus in person. McIver claims that “[o]f the 60,000 or so potential eyewitnesses, between 18,000 and 20,000 would be still alive after thirty years, and between 600 and 1,100 after sixty years.” (4) He concludes the book by stating that “…as is evident from the life tables, some surviving eyewitnesses would have been available to the Evangelists to consult had they so wished.” (5) This is very important information for anyone interested in the possibility that the Gospels were either composed by eyewitnesses or depended on the tradition of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. Assuming the standard dating for the composition of the Gospels (Mark=AD 65, John=AD 90) it would appear there were in fact many eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry to consult if the Gospel writers desired.

I’m sure scholars involved in the field of Oral Tradition and Social Memory Theory will find many points of difference with McIver’s volume, but it has certainly given us much to chew on. For that, we are in McIver’s debt.

*** We actually have a quotation from the work of an early Christian apologist named Quadratus (ca. 70-130 AD) (6) who claimed that eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry (people who were healed by Jesus) actually lived well into the later part of the first century:

“But the works of our Savior were always present, for they were true; those who were healed and those who rose from the dead were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were constantly present, and not only while the Savior was living, but even after he had gone they were alive for a long time, so that some of them survived to our own time.” (7)


(1) Robert K. McIver, Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels (Atlanta: SBL, 2011), 132.
(2) Ibid., 160-61.
(3) Ibid., 187.
(4) Ibid., 208.
(5) Ibid., 209.
(6) The dating of ca. 70-130 AD is from Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2012), 7.
(7) Translation by Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 721.

Missions – Post Apostolic to the Reformation

In the lecture below, Dr. Jim Adams surveys the history of missions from the post-apostolic era to the period of the Protestant Reformation. He demonstrates how the Kingdom of God steadily expanded from Palestine to distant locations around the globe. This lecture is part of the curriculum for Reformed Baptist Seminary’s course on missions.

Lecture 2: Missions from the Early Church thru the Reformation from Reformed Baptist Seminary on Vimeo.

How Men Come to Christ

spurg2C. H. Spurgeon: From Park Street Pulpit Volume IV, pp. 142-143.

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:44

How then does the Father draw men? Arminian preachers generally say that God draws men by the preaching of the gospel. Very true; the preaching of the gospel is the instrument of drawing men, but there must be something more than this. Let me ask to whom did Christ address these words? Why, to the people of Capernaum, where He had often preached, where He had uttered mournfully and plaintively the woes of the Law and the invitations of the gospel. In that city He had done many mighty works and worked many miracles. In fact, such teaching and such miraculous attestation had He given them, that He declared that Tyre and Sidon would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes if they had been blessed with such privileges.

Now, if the preaching of Christ Himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, He does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.

Another person turns around and says with a sneer, “Then do you think that Christ drags men to Himself, seeing that they are unwilling?” I remember meeting once with a man who said to me, “Sir, you preach that Christ takes people by the hair of their heads and drags them to Himself.” I asked him whether he could refer to the date of the sermon wherein I preached that extra-ordinary doctrine, for if he could, I should be very much obliged. However, he could not. But said I, while Christ does not drag people to Himself by the hair of their heads, I believe that He draws them by the heart quite as powerfully as your caricature would suggest.

Mark that in the Father’s drawing there is no compulsion whatever; Christ never compelled any man to come to Him against his will. If a man be unwilling to be saved, Christ does not save him against his will. How, then, does the Holy Spirit draw him? Why, by making him willing. It is true He does not use “moral suasion”; He knows a nearer method of reaching the heart. He goes to the secret fountain of the heart, and He knows how, by some mysterious operation, to turn the will in an opposite direction, so that, as Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) paradoxically puts it, the man is saved “with full consent against his will”; that is, against his old will he is saved. But he is saved with full consent, for he is made willing in the day of God’s power.

Do not imagine that any man will go to heaven kicking and struggling all the way against the Hand that draws him. Do not conceive that any man will be plunged in the bath of a Saviour’s blood while he is striving to run away from the Saviour. Oh, no! It is quite true that first of all man is unwilling to be saved. When the Holy Spirit hath put His influence into the heart, the test is fulfilled: “Draw me and I will run after thee” (Song 1:4). We follow on while He draws us, glad to obey the Voice which once we had despised.

But the gist of the matter lies in the turning of the will. How that is done no flesh knoweth; it is one of those mysteries that is clearly perceived as a fact, but the cause of which no tongue can tell, and no heart can guess. The apparent way, however, in which the Holy Spirit operates, we can tell you.

The first thing the Holy Spirit does when He comes into a man’s heart is this: He finds him with a very good opinion of himself. “Why,” says the man, “I don’t want to come to Christ. I have as good a righteousness as anybody can desire. I feel I can walk into heaven on my own rights.”

The Holy Spirit lays bare his heart, lets him see the loathsome cancer that is there eating away his life, uncovers to him all the blackness and defilement of that sink of hell, the human heart, and then the man stands aghast. “I never thought I was like this. Oh! Those sins I thought were little, have swelled out to an immense stature. What I thought was a molehill has grown into a mountain; it was but the hyssop on the wall before, but now it has become a cedar of Lebanon. Oh,” saith the man within himself, “I will try and reform; I will do good deeds enough to wash these black deeds out.”

Then comes the Holy Spirit and shows him that he cannot do this, takes away all his fancied power and strength, so that the man falls down on his knees in agony, and cries, “Oh! Once I thought I could save myself by my good works, but now I find that,

‘Could my tears forever flow, Could my zeal no respite know,
All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.’”

Then the heart sinks, and the man is ready to despair. And, saith he, “I never can be saved. Nothing can save me.”

Then comes the Holy Spirit and shows the sinner the cross of Christ, gives him eyes anointed with heavenly eye-salve, and says, “Look to yonder cross; that Man died to save sinners. You feel that you are a sinner; He died to save you.” And He enables the heart to believe, and to come to Christ. And when it comes to Christ, by this sweet drawing of the Spirit, it finds “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, which keeps his heart and mind through Christ Jesus” (Phi 4:7).

Now you will plainly perceive that all this may be done without any compulsion. Man is as much drawn willingly as if he were not drawn at all. And he comes to Christ with full consent, with as full a consent as if no secret influence had ever been exercised in his heart. But that influence must be exercised, or else there never has been and there never will be, any man who either can or will come to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit – Before and After Pentecost

In what way was the Holy Spirit working in the world before Pentecost?

the risen Lord Jesus fulfilled the promise he had made in John 15:26—namely, that he would send the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist had promised: The one who comes after me “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). So at 9:00 on Pentecost morning, while the disciples were praying, “a sound came from heaven like a rush of mighty wind . . . and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2–4). Then Peter preached a sermon and said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel, ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams'” (Acts 2:16–17).

In other words, Peter says, we have entered the last days: the Messiah has come, he has accomplished redemption on the cross, he has risen and ascended to the right hand of God, and the interval before he returns in glory will be marked by an incomparable outpouring of the Holy Spirit on men and women, old and young, slave and free, near and far. And the people of God in this period are to be a people born of the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit to bear witness to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” We live in the latter days of the Spirit. We live in the days that Isaiah (44:3) and Ezekiel (11:19; 36:26f.; 39:29) and Joel (2:28) prophesied and longed to see. There are no more decisive turning points in redemptive history that must happen before Jesus returns to establish his kingdom. This is it. These are the days of Pentecost, the days of the fullness of the Spirit, the days of worldwide mission.

The Difference of the Aswan High Dam

Now let me suggest an analogy to illustrate the experience of the Spirit before and after Pentecost. Picture a huge dam for hydroelectric power under construction, like the Aswan High Dam on the Nile, 375 feet high and 11,000 feet across. Egypt’s President Nasser announced the plan for construction in 1953. The dam was completed in 1970 and in 1971 there was a grand dedication ceremony and the 12 turbines with their ten billion kilowatt-hour capacity were unleashed with enough power to light every city in Egypt. During the long period of construction the Nile River wasn’t completely stopped. Even as the reservoir was filling, part of the river was allowed to flow past. The country folk downstream depended on it. They drank it, they washed in it, it watered their crops and turned their mill-wheels. They sailed on it in the moonlight and wrote songs about it. It was their life. But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines a power was unleashed that spread far beyond the few folk down river and brought possibilities they had only dreamed of.

Well, Pentecost is like the dedicatory opening of the Aswan High Dam. Before Pentecost the river of God’s Spirit blessed the people of Israel and was their very life. But after Pentecost the power of the Spirit spread out to light the whole world. None of the benefits enjoyed in the pre-Pentecostal days were taken away. But ten billion kilowatts were added to enable the church to take the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ to every tongue and tribe and nation.

A Biblical Case for Expositional Preaching

BullmoreAt the 9marks blog Mike Bullmore and he intends for his sermon to accomplish in his listeners exactly what God is seeking to accomplish through the chosen passage of his Word.

Preacher, imagine God sitting in the congregation as you preach. What will be the expression on his face? Will it say, “That’s not at all what I was getting at with that passage.” Or will it say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I intended.”

The biblical case for expositional preaching starts with the connection between the gift the ascended Christ has given to the church in pastor-teachers (Eph 4:11) and the biblical injunction for pastors-teachers to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2). Those who preach should preach their Bibles.

Perhaps the best place to begin demonstrating the legitimacy of identifying preaching and preaching the word is the book of Acts. In Acts, the phrase “the word of God” is regular shorthand for the substance of the apostolic preaching. In Acts 6:2, for example, the apostles say, “It is not right that we should give up the preaching of the word of God” (see also Acts 12:24; 13:5, 46; 17:13; 18:11.) The phrase also frequently appears as “the word of the Lord” (8:25, 13:44; 15:35-36; et. al.) and not infrequently it is shortened to “the word” (cf. 4:29; 8:4; 11:19). In the book of Acts, there is a clear and consistent identification between the apostolic preaching and the phrase “the word of God.”

While the substance of the apostolic preaching was the good news of reconciliation with God through Christ Jesus, that message was delivered and explained almost invariably by means of an exposition of Old Testament Scripture. So preaching in New Testament times involved the preaching of “the word of God,” and an essential component of such preaching was the exposition of the Old Testament. This in turn leads us to the conclusion that the Old Testament Scriptures must be included in our conception of “the word” to be preached, a conclusion confirmed by both the direct (e.g., 2 Tim 3:16; Rom 3:2) and indirect claims (e.g., Rom 15:4) of the New Testament.

So this “word” is the word about Jesus, as anticipated in the Old Testament and now explained in the apostolic preaching. This is the word that is “spoken” (Acts 4:29), “proclaimed” (13:5), and to be “received” (17:11) as “the word of God.” This same identification is maintained throughout Paul’s letters. Without hesitation, he calls the message he proclaims “the word of God” (2 Cor 2:17, 4:2; 1 Thes 2:13) or simply “the word” (Gal 6:6).

Even in the context of Paul’s charge to Timothy to “preach the word” there is confirmation of this identification between preaching and preaching the word of God. Timothy would have known immediately what “word” Paul meant. As Timothy’s biography highlights, it surely included both the “sacred writings” and the apostolic message—”what you have learned and have firmly believed knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Tim 3:10-17).

The conclusion we are to draw from all of this is that the “word” we are to preach is the body of truth consisting of the Old Testament Scriptures and the apostolic teaching regarding Christ—i.e. the New Testament. Thus, identifying the “word” with our Bibles is appropriate. This is what those commissioned as “pastor-teachers” are to teach. Our job is to proclaim “the word” which God has spoken, preserved in Scripture, and entrusted to us. The spiritual life of God’s people depends on this word (Deut. 8:3). That is why a young pastor is charged to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). If this charge makes any claim on us today, and it does, then the source of our preaching is to be entirely coextensive with our Bibles.

What will this look like? In our sermon preparation, it will look like taking defined passages of God’s Word and studying them carefully so that we “rightly handle the word of truth.” In the pulpit, it will look like the picture we see in Nehemiah 8:8: “They read from the book . . . clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” God has both purposed and promised to use this kind of preaching to accomplish one of his great aims—the gathering and building up of his people.