How not to share the Gospel at Christmas

’Tis the season of Christmas. And that means a leaflet through our door, advertising various local church services.

What a wonderful opportunity to share Law and Gospel! What a perfect occasion to explain the significance of the birth of Christ!

First, the leaflet would say something of the Bad News: that we all have broken the commands given to us by our Creator God – that we have all failed to love Him and one another as we ought. That we have thereby rightfully earned the fierce wrath of a terrifyingly holy, pure and just God. And that we shall all surely one day stand before His throne of judgment, with no hope of reprieve from the eternal fires of hell – no hope, that is, if we are trusting in our own works, experiences or knowledge for our right standing before God.

And then, the glorious Good News: that the holy and just creator God is also a God of love. That He so loved the world that He gave even His only begotten Son – sending Him into the world in human flesh. That this God-Man was in all points tempted as we are, but lived a blameless life, perfectly obedient and pleasing to God. That this Son of God then died in the place of sinners like us, pouring out His blood and bearing in Himself the punishment of all who trust in Him, thereby appeasing the wrath of God toward them. That whoever is trusting in this Christ is declared righteous on His account, and therefore has no need to fear the coming day of judgment. That these shall not perish on that day, but instead live forever!

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Thinking about orthodoxy: defining terms and asking questions

In this post: Introduction; Naming of Parts: Orthodoxy, Heresy, Aberrancy, Orthopraxy and heteropraxy, Monergism vs. synergism, Christian brother or sister; Orthodoxy is narrow; Questions of orthodoxy: On monergism, On the doctrine of hell, On the dangers of mysticism; Final thoughts

Having previously laid the foundations for a correct understanding of Christian discernment, I turn now to the question of orthodoxy.

Over the course of several recent episodes of his Fighting for the Faith programme, Chris Rosebrough has fiercely defended his friend, Dan Kimball. Chris has not merely declared Dan to be ‘a brother in Christ’, and not a heretic, but has repeatedly asserted that Dan ‘preaches, teaches, and confesses, historic orthodoxy’. This has been the source of no minor controversy.

In this article, I first define several terms that are necessary for us to enter meaningfully into the debate, and I endeavour to give them a Biblical basis. I then give voice to several questions that have occurred to me (and I know also to others) as I have heard the debate rage, and particularly as I heard Chris interview Dan.

In asking these questions, I am not so much concerned with Dan Kimball per se, but with the implications that the answers have for how we are to understand what it means to be orthodox. Simply, then, I embrace an opportunity to think aloud about orthodoxy.

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What is the activity we call ‘discernment’ really all about?

What is discernment?

Even as I mention that word, a multitude of Bible passages leaps into our minds: Ezekiel the watchman (Ezek. 3; 33); Jesus warning of the ‘false christs and false prophets’ that will arise (Matt. 24); the Jews at Berea who ‘searched the Scriptures daily’ to find out whether Paul was teaching them the truth (Acts 17); Paul telling the Thessalonians to ‘test all things; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess. 5) and instructing Titus to ‘reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition’ (Titus 3); Peter warning about false teachers ‘who will secretly bring in destructive heresies’ (2 Peter 2). And many, many more – all helpful to us in various ways.

Paul tells the Philippians that he prays this for them:

…that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9–11)

The immediate context there gives us a very good idea of what Paul means by ‘discernment’. Notice that he couples discernment with knowledge. The two are clearly related in some way.

Continue reading What is the activity we call ‘discernment’ really all about?

Enough! Scripture twisting is not ‘doctrinal and sound’

Much of modern evangelicalism seems to be fixated upon the idea that we can only progress as individual Christians and the church if we are pursing a dream or vision. This tendency is epitomized in these two claims:

Nothing happens till somebody starts dreaming. What we need today are great dreamers.

Those words occur not on the website of some ‘best-life-now’ life coach, but, rather surprisingly, in a post over at the Desiring God website:

There we are given the command to ‘Let God stretch your imagination’ and told that ‘Nothing happens till somebody starts dreaming. What we need today are great dreamers.’

Now, where exactly does the Bible teach any of this?

Continue reading Enough! Scripture twisting is not ‘doctrinal and sound’

The medicine of Law and Gospel: how & when to apply

I’ve listened to barely a handful of Radical Grace Radio shows, but I’ve already come across a gem. The episode is pitched this way:

Have you ever had an infection, then had a doctor mis-prescribe the wrong medicine for your infection? This is exactly what it’s like when preachers prescribe too much law to you and no Gospel, or too much Gospel with no law.

Pastor Greg LeSieur and Matthew Pancake gently take their listeners through the proper use of Law and Gospel, and the circumstances in which each may properly be applied:

Great stuff.

An Englishman’s musings on the Ground Zero Mosque, and what President Obama might have said in his Ramadan speech

In this post: Introduction; The First Amendment; Does the Constitution protect the freedom to ‘practise religion’?; Do Americans have the right to ‘worship as they choose’?; My observations thus far; Did President Obama make a principled appeal to the Constitution? And what about the right to freedom of speech?; Understanding the sensitivities over the Park51 proposals; What the President might have said in his Ramadan speech; Conclusion

A debate has been ranging over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, part of a community centre development proposed for 51 Park Place, New York. That’s just two blocks away from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre once stood.

Tempers are fraying and emotions are at fever pitch.

5 classic Bible twists (and how to correct them)

There’s a superb post by Ben Mordeci, over at Founder and Perfecter. Ben deftly covers these oft misused passages:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Where there is no vision the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)

A closer look at the Alpha Course and whether it is permissible to judge what other Christians teach

In this post: The responsibility of elders for sound doctrine; Do ordinary believers have the right to judge an elder’s doctrine?; Doesn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?; Doesn’t Paul tell us not to judge another’s servant?; Is the Alpha Course really that bad?; Is God not able to use Alpha, even if it imperfect?; In praise of discernment ministries

The Alpha Course is a widely used evangelistic tool designed to introduce people to the Christian faith. The Alpha website describes it this way:

Alpha is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed setting over ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, with a day or weekend away.

The same website gives an indication of its popularity:

The Alpha course spread during the 1990s, initially in the UK and then internationally, as more churches and groups found it a helpful way to answer questions about the Christian faith in an informal setting. There are now over 33,500 courses worldwide in 163 countries and it is supported by all the major denominations.

In the introduction to my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, I mentioned (mostly incidentally) the Alpha Course and its developer, Nicky Gumbel. I drew attention to the fact that many people found the course’s theology to be deeply problematic. And I quoted from an article documenting Nicky Gumbel’s apparent denial of the core Christian doctrine that Christ was punished in the place of sinners.

In his comments on my article, my father made these observations:

You also know that I tend to be reluctant to criticise others who seek to proclaim the gospel, even though they do not understand it quite as I do. God is able to use even the most misguided of putative followers to bring sinners to Jesus.

Our transformed lives: what are we to make of good works?

In this post: On professing Christians who seemingly bear no fruit; Paul Washer on our unbalanced understanding of Christianity; Of those whose lives do seem to bear fruit in keeping with repentance; Bonus comments: Brief study of assurance in 1 John 3:14–20; Is it right to share our testimony of a changed life?

In my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, I argued that we should not point people to their good works for definite assurance of their salvation. I closed that discussion with these remarks:

Point me then, not to my own works, but to the exceedingly precious promises of Christ that are mine through His finished work on the cross. Call me daily to repentance, and tell me of the forgiveness of all my sin that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood. Exhort me not to look inward to myself, but outward to the one with whom I was buried through baptism into death, the one who was raised from the dead for my justification and even now causes me to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6).

In his comment on my article, my father made several observations on this topic to which I thought it would be helpful to respond.

The Purpose Driven Life: introductory discernment resources

In this post: Rick Warren; The Gospel obscured; Drs. Sproul and Mohler on the errors of seeker-sensitivity; Hostile church takeovers

In his comment on my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, my father expressed unawareness of the Purpose Driven Life movement.

I know that my father’s claim might appear scarcely credible to some. Yet he lives in deepest darkest Dorsetshire, in a small rural village near the south coast of England. It seems that Rick Warren has yet to reach the local Anglican parish church that my father attends there.

Now, despite the impression that some might have from my postings, I am not especially interested in talking about Rick Warren, criticizing Purpose Drivenism, or even in lamenting the problems readily apparent in today’s evangelical church.

I should much rather be proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners like me, and raised from the dead for our justification.

It’s just that the errors of modern evangelicalism keep intruding upon my ability to do that, and it turns out that addressing those errors can sometimes be a useful foil for talking about the wonderful riches that are ours in Christ.