A Coalition for the Advancement of Realized Eschatology?

This week the Gospel Coalition’s annual meeting features a panel discussion with panelists who reject the Gospel. On the face of things this seems to be out of step with TGC’s founding principles, which exalt commitment to the Gospel as the singularly non-negotiable feature of belonging to the TGC “alliance.” To be a TGC “ally,” one must be a “born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road.”

But as Bethany Jenkins notes in her apology for the TGC’s decision to include panelists who are hostile to the Gospel, there exists a cause broader than the Gospel in which an unbeliever may serve as a “co-belligerent,” or “a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position, but takes the right position on a single issue.” And because of this isolated virtue, “I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.”

Jenkins evinces sympathy for her position by noting that as “individual Christians” we labor with co-belligerents all the time “in our work outside the church and home”—the common/civil sphere, or the realm of “common grace.” And, irrespective of whether one agrees with her in using the term “common grace,” we must agree with the substance of her observation. As fellow image-bearers, believers and unbelievers must work together in our pursuit of God’s revealed mission for collective humanity: the dominion mandate. And when rogue humans or groups of humans rebel against God’s natural/civil structures (attacking the sanctity of human life, denying human dignity/solidarity, corrupting marriage/family, distorting justice, etc.), we as collective humanity must do what we can to suppress this rebellion. The substance of our “alliance” in such cases is not the Gospel, but the imago dei. And I would argue with the greatest of energy that as individual believers, we must be the very best humans, citizens, and neighbors that we possibly can be, irrespective of whether we live among fellow-Christians or pagans. I cannot be more earnest in this statement.

Jenkins makes a colossal leap, however, when she argues from individual co-belligerence to ecclesiastical co-belligerence: “The church, too, can work with co-belligerents who are committed—knowingly or not—to certain kingdom purposes.” Even though we “radically disagree,” she continues, we can work together “against a common enemy,” which she identifies as those who seek to thwart of “the common good and human flourishing.” And it is the destruction of this enemy that divulges the heart of the newest evangelical experiment. The Gospel exists not merely to establish regenerate communities alien to and paradoxical with our fallen world, but to domesticate fallen culture and establish “eschatological signposts ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ of the coming kingdom.” And to that end it may and must court co-belligerents from unbelieving culture.

This is precisely the same path that the new evangelicalism took last century. Its ecclesiastical mission included the Gospel, certainly, but its goal was the realization of a particular vision of the kingdom that could accommodate social action and cultivate the cultural/societal goodwill enjoyed by the modernist (and by-and-large postmillennial) church of even earlier vintage. And I think it is reasonable to wonder whether what we have today is really a gospel coalition, or whether instead it is a coalition utilizing the Gospel as one of several measures in the service of realized eschatology.

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Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal

If you notice the header of this blog, you will see a tab marked “Journal,” which if selected will take you to the web page for our seminary journal. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal began in 1996 and is published annually in the fall of the year.  At the web page you will find the table of contents for all the back issues as well as free pdfs for all articles prior to 2013.

Here are links to a few of the articles from 2004–2006 that you may find of interest:

The Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 13:8–13 and the Cessation of Miraculous Gifts

Is There a Contradiction in the Person of Christ? The Importance of the Dual Nature and Dual Consciousness of Jesus Christ

God’s Sovereignty and the Spread of the Gospel

Were Old Testament Believers Indwelt by the Spirit?

Noetic Sin, Neutrality, and Contextualization: How Culture Receives the Gospel

Does the Bible Teach Prevenient Grace?

A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 1 of 2)

A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 2 of 2)

Who Is David’s Lord? Another Look at Psalm 110:1

Romans 12:1–2 and the Doctrine of Sanctification

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Mormons and Transgender

File:Salt Lake Temple, Utah - Sept 2004-2.jpgIt might seem as though traditional Christians are the only people who are being challenged by the sexual revolution occurring in the West. But other religious traditions are being forced to address this shift as well. A recent article highlights the experience of three Mormons who “discover” they are transgender but want to remain in the LDS church.

Traditionally the LDS church has opposed a transgender position—excommunicating those who choose to have sex reassignment surgery and arguing that gender is eternal. However, the LDS church is now having to deal with the growing emphasis and acceptance of transgender in the broader culture.

The Mormon church will be forced to address this matter because of the emphasis they place on marriage and families. The Mormon church teaches that people can have eternal families—if they are married in the temple—and then have their children sealed to them for eternity. Also, faithful Mormons can continue to progress after death in the celestial kingdom and eventually attain godhood. Once they attain godhood, they can then have spiritual children that will populate their own planet (just like they believe Heavenly Father did—he was once a man who progressed to godhood and populated earth with his spirit children). So Mormons will need to consider whether or not transgender people can get eternally married and continue to work towards this goal.

But the Mormon church may not have the tools at its disposal to maintain their traditional position. Two aspects of Mormon belief are utilized by these transgender Mormons mentioned in the article to support their belief that they can be transgender and remain Mormon. The first is the emphasis on personal experience and ongoing revelation. Mormons often point to a “burning” they experience as they read the Book of Mormon that lets them know it is true. Utilizing the same test of spiritual experience Grace Moore discovered that Heavenly Father approved of “his” being a boy even though “his” body was female:

That night, Grace Moore knelt in prayer, asking God, “Am I your son?” He says he got a powerful spiritual affirmation that he was, indeed, a boy and that “it was going to be OK.”

Another key Mormon doctrine is the pre-existence of human souls. Mormons teach that each person was a spirit child in heaven who was then sent to earth to inhabit a body and “progress.” But Sara Jade Woodhouse thinks it is possible for one of these eternal souls to end up in the wrong body:

Sara Jade Woodhouse believes the LDS family proclamation is correct: Gender is eternal. It’s just that nature sometimes matches the bodies incorrectly, she says.

“Since nature may surprise us and not follow that formula—we know that some people are born with ambiguous genitalia or with both—it is absolutely possible for a perfect feminine soul to end up in a male body and vice versa.”

How will Mormons respond to the pressure that this sexual revolution is bringing against them? Twice in the past the church has responded to cultural pressure by receiving new revelation from God that wiped out previous revelation. When Utah was trying to attain statehood in 1890, the LDS leaders discovered that God no longer sanctioned polygamy. The LDS church also received revelation in 1978 that those of African descent were no longer to be denied entry to priesthood and to the temple. When you recognize the history of the Mormon church receiving new revelation from their god, Heavenly Father, in order to survive within a given culture, it should not be surprising to find the LDS church announcing in the not too distant future a new commandment/revelation that accommodates the LGBTQ community.

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What Shall We Do with Moses?

A couple of weeks back Bob Jones University made the news by apologizing for statements made a generation ago suggesting that homosexuals should be subjected, like they were during the Mosaic economy, to capital punishment. This mea culpa was a welcome one insofar as the offending statement was insensitive, vindictive, even hateful. But among the tweets and chatter that ensued, it was surprising to see how many bloggers (critics and defenders of BJU alike) made no apparent differentiation between the words spoken in 1980 and the words written in the 15th century BC. Moses is apparently guilty of hate speech, too!

This is a troubling sentiment, I think, and one that seriously erodes Old Testament credibility and authority. Surely as inerrantists we must conclude that Moses was right to write what he did! It is in view of this fact that I ask today, What should we do with Moses and his copious assignment of capital punishment for seemingly trivial crimes (or in some cases, perhaps, for no crime at all)? Shall we defend him? Blush for him? Distance ourselves from him by denouncing the Law as inherently evil and, too our great relief, dead and gone?

It is true that the Mosaic Law has been set aside, and its temporal sanctions suspended in Christ. And with the dissolution of the Jewish kingdom, there is no longer a theocratic representative living on earth with the authority to enforce God’s expectations in the civil sphere. Still, we must surely also say, “The Law was holy, and its commandment holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12ff). Further, we must affirm that the God who established that Law is immutably pure in his ethic. So how should we deal today with actions that Moses regarded as capital offenses?

As I see it, there are four categories of capital offense detailed in the Law of Moses, and each requires its own nuanced response. Note the following:

  • Offenses violating the sanctity of human life. Moses requires that “first-degree” murder be punished by the forfeiture of life (Exod 21:12, 14; also Lev 24:17, 21), with special emphasis on those who sacrificed their children to the gods (Lev 20:1–5). Negligence resulting in death could also be a capital crime (Exod 21:28–29), especially in the case of unborn children (Exod 21:22–25), though this was not true in every case (Exod 21:13). Perjury in capital cases was also a capital offense (Deut 19:16–19), ostensibly because it might result in the unjust loss of life. The fact that God persistently commands human governments to guard human life with capital force, not only in the Mosaic economy but beyond (Gen 9:6), seems to leave no room for debate—God expects collective mankind, being ever in his image, to exercise due process and execute murderers.

In modern society some oppose capital punishment uniformly, even in the case of murder, but this is not a universal sentiment. Indeed, of all the categories of capital punishment found in the Mosaic Law, this category receives the smallest amount of cultural resistance.

  • Offenses savaging the humanity, purity, and dignity of “innocents.” Included in this category are offenses such as unequivocal, non-consenting, sexual assault (Deut 22:25–27) and kidnaping for the purpose of human trafficking (Exod 21:16). Since the command to execute criminals of this type is restricted to the Mosaic economy, I do not find capital punishment a mandate in the modern era; still, the fact that God found such crimes ethically worthy of death in one era seems to suggest that modern governments that conclude similarly are well within their rights to do so.

As with the previous category, many non-Christians are of a similar mind in this matter (after all, it was not Christians that made “Taken” a blockbuster movie).

  • Offenses of a religious nature. As a theocratic state, there was no separation of church/state, God/Caesar, or saeculum/sacrum in the Mosaic economy. As a result, the selfsame Israelite system prosecuted both civil and religious This is why, during this window of history, God required capital punishment for the crimes of sorcery (Exod 22:18; Lev 20:27; Deut 13:5), blasphemy (Lev 24:14, 16, 23), false prophecy (Deut 18:20), and egregious Sabbath violations (Exod 31:14; 35:2).

I have already tipped my hand in revealing that I believe this category of capital punishment to be restricted to the unique circumstances of the Jewish theocracy. By contrast, NT revelation sharply distinguishes the jurisdiction of church and state: the state has no jurisdiction in the church and as such should not prosecute religious crimes; and the church, while free to exclude someone from its membership, it has no power to take away his life. And to the degree that religious organizations (Christian, Muslim, or otherwise) transgress (or have transgressed) this distinction, I believe they are wrong.

  • Offenses against divinely instituted civil institutions. These offenses represent the most broadly disputed category of capital crimes in the OT, and have three distinct sub-categories: (a) crimes against divinely prescribed authority within the institution of the family (Exod 21:15, 17; Lev 20:9), (b) persistent refusal to submit to divinely instituted civil authorities in otherwise non-capital crimes (Deut 17:12), and (c) a range of offenses against the divine institution of marriage, including adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), bestiality (Exod 22:19; Lev 20:15­–16), homosexuality (Lev 20:13), special instances of fornication (Deut 22:23–24), special instances of incest (Lev 20:11–21), special instances of prostitution (Lev 21:9), and lying about one’s virginity (Deut 22:13–21).

It is these “crimes” that earn the greatest attention among Bible-haters. None of these offenses seem capitally egregious, it is argued, and many of them offend no one at all—they’re mutually consensual! How can these be capital crimes? The answer is simple: Our Creator God found these activities to be of such an egregious nature as to threaten the viability of his creative design for humanity. And, as is his prerogative, he assigned them capital import. And since he is the Creator and we are creatures, we really have no recourse but to acknowledge his right to do so.

Now I would hasten to add that the capital response to such activities was apparently not immediate in every case. Mercy was often granted (see Lev 18:29 within its context), with capital force apparently reserved for repeated offenses coupled with recalcitrance or violence. Further, as was the case with the offenses in category 2 (above), the mandate to punish such activities capitally ceases after the Mosaic economy. Still, it seems hazardous to say that what God declared to be capitally odious and deleterious to the human race in 1400 BC must now be regarded as ethically benign, much less respectable.

There is no doubt that the Mosaic Law offers challenges to the contemporary church that are exceedingly complex, and the above should not be regarded as the final word on the topic. However, whatever answers emerge to the tensions at hand, we surely cannot give in to the contemporary opinion that Moses (and by extension, Yahweh) was once a moral monster perpetrating a primitive and reckless law code from which our enlightened modern society has escaped. Perhaps its is fair to say (using contemporary legal language) that Christ has ushered in an age in which “mandatory minimum sentencing” has been withdrawn with respect to many of these offenses perpetrated against God. However, since God is absolutely immutable in his ethical character, moral culpability for sins against God and his created order has by no means relaxed with the coming of Christ.

Posted in Christian Living, Current Issues | Tagged | 1 Comment

Two Principles for Responsible Apologetics

Someone who is going to be giving a talk soon on apologetics asked me to offer a couple of principles I think would help people to do apologetics responsibly. I thought I’d share my response here.

Properly Present Your Opponent’s Position

No one enjoys being misrepresented, especially in an argument. Whether you are being accused of believing something that you reject, your words are being twisted to mean something you never said, or you are being linked to positions with which you have nothing in common, it is frustrating to be forced to defend yourself against ungrounded assertions.

Though we may despise it when we are on the receiving end, we can easily slip into these flawed attacks ourselves. One of the most common ways Christians do this is to assume all adherents of a religion believe the same things. But just like in Christianity, there are a multitude of sects for most religions, and even in those sects some individuals don’t believe what the official teaching is. (In Christianity, we note this as a difference between official teaching and the beliefs of the “person in the pew.”)

So when we do apologetics with a person from a different religion, we should avoid telling them what they believe. It may be valid to point out what the religion itself teaches (or perhaps what the traditional view of the religion purports—not some obscure teaching), but we should not accuse every follower of that religion of holding that view.

Deal with the Big Issues

Related to the previous point, it is also frustrating to interact with someone who tries to mask the weakness of their argument by piling up a host of minor issues. For example, I had a conversation with an atheist where the arguments against Christianity moved from the accusation that the account of Adam and Eve was false because it was actually Adam and Lillith (a figure from Jewish mythology developed around 300 years after Christ), to the claim that the Bible teaches reincarnation because the Jews asked John the Baptist if he was Elijah, to the charge that Christian preachers are just trying to get money from people. If you have experienced these kinds of conversations, you know how discouraging it can be that you never get to address the real issues.

But again, Christians can do the same thing. There is little value in arguing with a Muslim as to whether or not Muhammad was literate (NOTE: Many claim he was illiterate, so the production of the Qur’an must be a miracle). What matters is whether or not what Muhammad taught was true—whether it accords with what God has revealed in the Bible. So do not spend your time on peripheral matters in order to score cheap points. Properly understand and present the heart of the other person’s position and demonstrate why it is false.

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New Issue of Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal

The Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal has been produced annually by DBTS since 1996. The 2014 edition (vol. 19) was recently published:

  • “‘The Chief Exercise of Faith': John Calvin and the Practice of Prayer” by John Aloisi
  • “Spirit-Filling in Ephesians 5:18″ by William W. Combs
  • A Tale of Two Kingdoms: The Struggle for the Spirituality of the Church and the Genius of
    the Dispensational System” by Mark A. Snoeberger
  • “Being Jesus, Missio Dei, and Kingdom Work: An Analysis, Critique, and Proposal for Modern
    Approaches to Holistic Ministry” by Benjamin G. Edwards
  • “From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective: A Review Article” by Matthew A. Postiff
  • “Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority
    of the New Testament Books
    : A Review Article” by Jon Pratt
  •  Book Reviews

Information on subscriptions and back issues can be found here or just click the “Journal” tab at the top of this page.

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Announcement

Next year will be our 40th year of helping local churches prepare men for gospel ministry. God has been very kind to DBTS through these four decades of ministry. DBTS grads are serving all over the United States and advancing the gospel around the world. There are a lot of changes happening in the world of ministerial training, but we’re convinced that a local church based seminary that focuses on a 2 Timothy 2:2 model for perpetuating gospel ministry has been and will continue to be the best way to equip men.

We are pleased to announce that Brian Trainer is coming to serve as the new Dean of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian has served as the Chairman of the Bible Department at Maranatha Baptist University for the past 9 years. In addition to his work at MBU, he has served as the executive pastor for Lakewood Baptist Church, a thriving church plant in Delafield, Wisconsin. Brian brings to DBTS a robust commitment to our distinctives, great leadership and administrative gifts, and an excellent track record of investing in the lives of future pastors and missionaries. Brian’s extensive experience in pastoral work and educational administration have prepared him well for this new ministry opportunity. We are looking forward to having Brian, along with his wife Sherry, assume his new role as Dean of the seminary beginning on June 1st.

Our current Academic Dean, Dr. William Combs, is retiring at the end of the present seminary year. Dr. Combs has served as Professor of New Testament since the fall of 1983. He has also served in the administration of the seminary throughout these years, first as Registrar, then as Academic Dean. Dr. Combs has been the editor of the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal since its inception and also is responsible for the seminary blog. God brought Dr. Combs to DBTS at a pivotal moment in the history of the seminary and his service here has been instrumental in building our academic programs. We are grateful for his service and thankful for the impact that he has had on DBTS students for over 30 years.

We are extremely grateful for the heritage we have here at DBTS, and we are also eager to see how the Lord will continue to work through this ministry to equip men for faithful service pastoring and planting churches, both in the States and around the globe. Please pray for us as we seek to honor God in all we do!

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Thinking about the Church Fathers

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Patrick (c. 389–c. 461). In response to that post, someone asked several questions about Patrick including whether or not he was Catholic. I offered a brief reply, and a colleague suggested that many people might have similar concerns about the church fathers in general and that it might be helpful to address the subject in a separate post.

Here’s the bulk of my original reply about Patrick:

Concerning “salvation by grace alone through faith alone,” one would be hard pressed to find that kind of language used prior to the Reformation. In fact, although I believe the NT teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, one can’t actually find that phrase in the Bible, and it probably can’t be found in any of the early church fathers either. So if we’re just looking for those words, we won’t find them in Patrick. On the other hand, he doesn’t say anything that is inconsistent with the idea of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

“Are we certain Patrick wasn’t Catholic?” It all depends on what one means by the word “Catholic.” Patrick definitely wasn’t Roman Catholic in the modern sense of the term. In his Confession, Patrick never mentions Rome or the pope. He describes his grandfather as a priest without any sense of that being inappropriate. And he appeals to the Scriptures (about two dozen times) as authoritative, but he never points to tradition as a basis of religious authority. The kind of Christianity which Patrick saw established in Ireland was not Roman Catholic in any meaningful sense.

Admittedly, Patrick wasn’t a Baptist nor any other kind of Protestant, but then no one was in the fifth century. Based on what he left behind, Patrick seems to have preached a Christianity which was biblically-based, distinct from Rome, and as far as we can tell “evangelical” (in the broad, anachronistic sense of the term).

Catholic sources have labeled Patrick a saint, but they’ve also labeled Peter, Paul, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and most other early church fathers saints as well. For the most part, Catholic sources are not a reliable guide to determining how “Roman Catholic” a particular individual was (cf. Peter as the first pope).

Much of what I said about Patrick is applicable to the church fathers in general. If you’ve had questions about how biblical or perhaps how Roman Catholic the church fathers may have been, here are three reading suggestions that may help.

First, read the introduction to Bryan Litfin’s book Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Brazos, 2007). The entire book is worth reading, but the first thirty pages or so are particularly helpful in this regard. In these pages Litfin addresses a number of misconceptions which evangelicals tend to have concerning the church fathers. The first two misconceptions he addresses are the twin ideas that “the church fathers were not biblical” (20) and that “the church fathers were Roman Catholics” (22). Instead of repeating that material here, I’m going to just recommend that you read that section of the book. If you don’t have access to a hard copy of the book, you should be able to read the relevant pages online using Amazon’s “look inside” feature (If you’re not in the habit of using that feature, go here, then click on the book’s cover and scroll down to the relevant pages.).

Second, read the first chapter of Michael Haykin’s book Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011). This chapter explains why evangelicals living in the twenty-first century should bother reading books written by Christians almost a thousand years ago. Among other things, Haykin mentions how some of our Protestant forebears found the fathers helpful, how the church fathers can help us understand the present, and how the fathers can help us understand the NT. Again in this case, most of the chapter can be read on Amazon using the “look inside” feature. But as with Litfin’s book, this one is worth owning, so if your book budget allows, you should really considering picking up the book.

Third and most importantly, read the church fathers themselves. While books about the church fathers can be very helpful, nothing can take the place of actually reading (i.e., listening to) the people you want to understand. You could read all about chocolate, but if you’ve never tasted chocolate, you still won’t really understand what chocolate is like or why some people consider Breyer’s chocolate ice cream one of the major food groups (If chocolate isn’t your thing, fill in an appropriate flavor.). In much the same way, you should probably spend more time reading the church fathers than simply reading about them. Listening to the fathers is the only way to really understand them. Here’s a roughly chronological list of where to begin reading the fathers:

The Apostolic Fathers in English, ed. Michael Holmes
Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Life and Practice in the Early Church: A Documentary Reader, ed. Steven McKinion
Eusebius, The Church History
Basil, On the Holy Spirit
Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius
Augustine, Confessions
Augustine, City of God 

Posted in Church History, Historical Theology | Tagged | 1 Comment

On “Preferences” and Church Membership

Another week of blogs, another contribution to the relentless stream of warnings to all Christians everywhere never to let music preference be a factor in deciding where to go to church, and above all never, ever to leave a church for this reason. This unremitting theme has apparently now climaxed with the observation that music preference is perched at the very top of the list of bad reasons to leave a church. The millennials have spoken, and music has no meaning. (Amazing, isn’t it? Instead of the simple and irenic strategy of requiring unison recitations, God expects us to adorn these recitations with something totally meaningless and potentially contentious. Weird.) Don’t argue, just accept it.

OK, cynicism aside, I’ll admit that there is an argument to be made here, but let me insert a critical adjective: Autonomous musical preference is a bad reason to leave a church, just like autonomous preferences about preaching, ordinances, church discipline, church mission, etc., are bad reasons for joining/leaving a church. I.e., it is a bad reason to leave/join a church because:

  • I prefer short, funny, and happy sermons that don’t require me to lug around a Bible and never make me feel guilty.
  • I prefer churches that let me get in, get out, and get on with my life.
  • I prefer sprinkling infants to baptizing believers because it’s less messy and does more.
  • I prefer taking communion as a meal with a few Christian friends rather than with the whole church because I dislike crowds generally, and I specifically dislike quite a few jerks in that specific crowd.
  • I prefer letting the elders take care of all matters of discipline, order, and government because I don’t like conflict and don’t want to be bothered with it.
  • I prefer a church that focuses on social concerns because it makes me feel better, and I don’t have to be a Gospel salesman.
  • I prefer only the kinds of music that make me feel nostaligic. Or excited. Or happy. Or aesthetically fulfilled. Or whatever.

These are preferences that are sourced strictly in personal autonomy, and these preferences are selfish, misguided, and wicked. But not all preferences are autonomous and selfish. Some of them are principled and biblically demonstrable. Some churches are better at doing what the Bible says they should do, and we should prefer them. And while I am a huge advocate of persevering in one’s own church—even when it stumbles badly—because believers are duty-bound to fulfill their covenant responsibilities to their fellow-churchmembers, there are good reasons to leave one body and join another. For instance, it is appropriate to transfer membership because:

  • one prefers careful expositions of Scripture that patiently reprove, rebuke, and exhort—because that’s what the Bible teaches.
  • one prefers churches that demand mutual participation of its members in the life of the body—because that’s what the Bible teaches.
  • one prefers baptizing believers—because that’s what the Bible teaches.
  • one prefers taking communion with the whole gathered church, and only after addressing interpersonal conflict within that body—because that’s what the Bible teaches.
  • one prefers to participate in church discipline, not because he enjoys it, but because he believes that the Bible teaches that he must do so, and because it is ultimately in the best interest of the church.
  • one prefers to offer his time and money to God’s church primarily in pursuit of the mission of making disciples and building churches where we can mutually teach and encourage one another—because that’s what  the Bible teaches is the primary mission of the church.
  • one prefers a music ministry that includes psalms, involves mainly congregational singing, and employs songs that not only praise and worship God, but also teach and admonish one another with true and faithful words—because that’s what the Bible teaches. Or if one prefers musical fare that can reasonably sustain and cultivate the range of sentiments reflected in the biblical music of both testaments: praise, exultation, reverence, assurance, contemplative reflection on both history and theology, and especially the spirit of lament and penitence that dominate the musical selections found in the biblical record.

Of course, there will always be occasions in which believers, after careful study, disagree about what the Scriptures teach on several of these issues, or disagree mightily on the best ways to fulfill these revealed functions of the gathered church. In some cases (and perhaps more often than is supposed) the disagreements are small enough to tolerate. But at times churches who err in these matters leave the church’s work incomplete and its worshipers spiritually starved, bruised, dismayed, and discouraged—even angry at the despite they believe has been done to the person and cause of Christ.

In many cases it is quite possible for all involved to amicably and eagerly call each other brothers in Christ. But they eventually will come to worship separately, and should worship separately. And it is not (necessarily) because one party or the other has “made the worship experience about himself and not the God being worshiped.”

Posted in Practical Theology | Tagged , | 7 Comments

“I Don’t Limit God Like That.” Really?

http://thegoodnewstoday.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Dont-Put-God-in-a-Box.jpgA common tactic used in discussions about God and His actions is to claim that the other person is limiting God. It comes up in questions about creation (“I don’t limit God to just six days for creation like you do. I think He could use evolutionary processes and take billions of years”), about the sufficiency of Scripture (“I don’t limit God to speaking in the Bible like you do. I think He still speaks to people today”), and about the way of salvation (“I don’t limit God to saving people through faith in Jesus Christ like you do. I think He can save people who never hear about Jesus.”) This tactic may intimidate a person. After all, who wants to limit God, or “put Him in a box”? We would never want to impose our restrictions on God. Surely a more open-minded and broad approach to these issues gives more honor to God and His ability, right?

There are at least two problems with the accusation that the person who holds these beliefs is limiting God. The first problem is that the person claiming not to limit God is in actuality limiting Him. Let me illustrate with the issue of the ways of salvation. In theory, there are two options in this scenario: (A) God will save only one way, e.g., those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ or (B) God will save through multiple ways. Someone who holds position B is accusing someone who holds position A of limiting God, but person B is also limiting God. If someone says that God saves people through multiple ways, they have eliminated option A, the option of only saving people through Jesus Christ. They have limited God to choosing option B. They have effectively said that God cannot choose one way of saving people—He must choose multiple ways. In other words, someone who says that God saves in multiple ways has “limited God” to saving in multiple ways, while someone who says that God only saves in one way has “limited God” to saving in one way.

The same is true for the other scenarios. So if both people could be accused of “limiting” God, how can we determine which “limitation” gives more honor to God and His ability? That leads to the second problem. The position that will bring the most honor to God is the position that He claims for Himself. If we argue against what He has said, then we really dishonor Him.

Suppose my wife and I come to visit you and notice a picture on your wall that we like. We ask where it came from, and you say, “I bought it recently.” My wife believes you and says you have good taste, but I say “I don’t want to limit you to only buying this picture. I think you actually took that picture and made the frame yourself because you are a talented person.” Who is actually honoring you? I may seem to be honoring you because I’m arguing that you did something more impressive (at least to me) but my wife is actually honoring you more because she believes what you said. I’m actually dishonoring you by failing to believe what you said.

God has spoken to us through the Bible, and He has told us how He does certain things. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If I say, “Jesus, I think you actually save people in many different ways because you are a loving and gracious person,” I may appear to be honoring Him. But in reality, I dishonor Him because I fail to believe what He says.
In essence, it’s not a matter of whether or not I “limit” God, but whether or not He has “limited” Himself and revealed that in His Word, the Bible. And if I really want to honor Him and His ability, then I need to study what He has said in the Bible and believe it (even if it doesn’t match up with what I think.)

Posted in Apologetics, Practical Theology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

PatrickAlthough St. Patrick’s Day appears on our calendars each year, most modern celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day have little to do with the person behind the holiday. Next week many people will wear a little extra green, some will celebrate their Irish heritage, and more than a few will drink a pint or two in honor of St. Patrick. But my guess is that relatively few who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day know much about Patrick himself, and in fact, some of what is commonly “known” about Patrick is actually mistaken.

E. A. Thompson begins his classic study of Patrick by telling of a time when he asked six British university professors about the nationality of Patrick. All six replied that he was “Irish, of course.” Such answers led Thompson to believe that his book on Patrick was sorely needed.

The truth is that Patrick was not Irish. In fact, his first trip to the Emerald Isle was not of his own choosing for he went there as a slave. Patrick (c. 389–c. 461) was actually born to British parents. At the age of 16, he (along with many others) was kidnapped by Irish invaders and forced into slavery. Concerning his captivity he later wrote, “We deserved this, because we had gone far away from God, and did not keep his commandments” (1). As a captive in Ireland, Patrick worked as a shepherd. He had been raised in an upper class home that was nominally Christian, but living as a slave in Ireland, he began to reflect on truths he had learned as a child and was apparently converted. As he put it, “It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance” (2). After about six years Patrick was able to escape and make his way back home to Britain. We know virtually nothing about the years immediately following his return to Britain, but eventually Patrick determined to return to Ireland to spread the gospel among the Irish people. And apparently, his work met with great success. In his Confession, Patrick tells of thousands of brothers and sisters whom he baptized (14). He never returned to his homeland, but rather died among the Irish people he loved. In time, Patrick has become known as the apostle to Ireland and one of that country’s patron saints. And although the story about Patrick using a three-leaf clover to teach the Irish about the Trinity is probably a fable, he was instrumental in spreading Nicene Trinitarianism in a land that had largely degenerated from ancient Christianity into tri-theistic idolatry.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day is little more than a celebration of Irish culture—complete with shamrocks, leprechauns, and silly songs. But behind the holiday known as St. Patrick’s Day stands a man who was willing to bring the message of Christianity to the land of his former captors, and that is something worth celebrating.

Key Sources on Patrick:
Philip Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography
R. P. C. Hanson, Saint Patrick: His Origins and Career
Michael Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers (ch. 7 – “Saving the Irish: The Mission of Patrick”)
Thomas O’Loughlin, Saint Patrick: The Man and His Works
E. A. Thompson, Who Was Saint Patrick?

*This post is a slightly revised version of an article originally published on March 12, 2013.

Posted in Church History, History | Tagged | 3 Comments

Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal

If you notice the header of this blog, you will see a tab marked “Journal,” which if selected will take you to the web page for our seminary journal. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal began in 1996 and is published annually in the fall of the year.  At the web page you will find the table of contents for all the back issues as well as free pdfs for all articles prior to 2013.

Here are links to a few of the articles from 2001–2003 that you may find of interest:

The Task of the Great Commission: The Method of Discipleship

The Disjunction Between Justification and Sanctification in Contemporary Evangelical Theology

The Old Testament Foundation for Separation

The Biblical Role of the Evangelist

The Logical Priority of Regeneration to Saving Faith in a Theological Ordo Salutis

Dispensationalism, the Church, and the New Covenant

Engaging the Enemy…But on Whose Terms? An Assessment of Responses to the Charge of Anti-Intellectualism

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