Thursday, January 30, 2014

penal substitution

Sam Storms on JI Packer on Penal Substitution:

In the on-going debate about the nature of Christ’s atoning death, some have insisted that penal substitution is only one model among many others. My contention has always been that it is more than one of many models and is in fact the central and controlling foundation for everything the atonement accomplished on behalf of sinners. Without it, there is no gospel and there is no salvation. I was pleased to come across this statement by J. I. Packer in which he affirms precisely the same point.

Packer proceeds to explain how penal substitution theologically explains everything else regarding the saving efficacy of Christ’s death. Note the following sequence.
“What did Christ’s death accomplish? It redeemed us to God – purchased us at a price, that is, from captivity to sin for the freedom of life with God (Tit 2:14; Rev 5:9). How did it do that? By being a blood-sacrifice for our sins (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:11-15). How did that sacrifice have its redemptive effect? By making peace, achieving reconciliation, and so ending enmity between God and ourselves (Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:19-20). How did Christ’s death make peace? By being a propitiation, an offering appointed by God himself to dissolve his judicial wrath against us by removing our sins from his sight (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10). How did the Savior’s self-sacrifice have this propitiatory effect? By being a vicarious enduring of the retribution declared due to us by God’s own law (Gal 3:13; Col 2:13-14) – in other words, by penal substitution” (416, "The Atonement in the Life of the Christian").
The inescapable fact is that if Christ’s death was not of the nature of a penal substitutionary sacrifice, we simply have nothing in the way of good news to share with a lost and dying world.

don't give up

Great post by Jason Helopoulos ... some tough talk, but great post nonetheless:

Even before the Grammy Awards showcased Macklemore singing “Same Love” and Queen Latifah presiding over a “same sex couple’s wedding” ceremony, I had most of this blog written as the topic has been on my mind for quite some time.

I am not a Kuyperian or a Neo-Kuyperian, but there are certain watershed cultural issues for every generation of Christians; issues in which they cannot be silent. For our generation, abortion and homosexuality are key watershed issues. They are watershed issues, because abortion snatches away life and homosexuality reaches out and grabs hold of death.

The average Evangelical Christian continues to believe we should speak out against the acceptance of abortion in our culture. And the pro-abortion forces have been losing ground over the past five years. No doubt, much of that is due to the church’s resolve to stand against this agenda. However, it seems to me that in the past few years, Evangelical Christians in the United States have increasingly and passively grown in their acceptance of homosexuality. This should concern all of us.

I understand the discouragement. Our culture has done a quick “about face” on this issue. It was just yesterday that the Ellen DeGeneres sitcom announced its main character was homosexual (1997) and a firestorm erupted. Now, it seems almost “normal” to have Queen Latifah presiding over a “wedding” ceremony of a homosexual couple. We cannot let it feel “normal.” Make no mistake, homosexuality may be the issue of the day. It brings secularism to the forefront like few other agendas and it undermines the foundation of family, church, and the Scriptures.

Therefore, it should concern us when Christians throw their hands up and declare with finality that the homosexuality debate in this country is over–the battle has been waged and lost. This agenda has fooled us into thinking it is here to stay and must be adopted and adapted to. It has bullied us into believing we cannot continue to speak out against the acceptance of practicing this sin in our culture. Too many denominations, Christian schools, churches, and individual Christians are raising the white flag. This is something we cannot and must not do.

Homosexuality is a matter of extreme importance to us. Make no mistake, this is a gospel issue. When our culture embraces something that sends people to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10) then it must matter to us. We cannot roll over and play dead. We cannot give up and just let the issue go. We are compelled to continue to engage our culture on this issue and challenge its wayward course. We are not doing this because we are feverish to return to the 1940′s or 1950′s or because we are a “backwards people.” Rather, we are a people looking forward to eternity and that is our motivation. Neither are we seeking to engage in this cultural battle because we are haters. We do so because we are lovers of men and God. We do not endeavor to be sticks in the mud, who refuse to change. We, of all people, know the value of change as we have been brought from death to life. However, we are only willing to change where we are freed by the Scriptures to do so. We are a people bound by the Word of God; our conscience is constrained by it, and from this position we cannot move.

We must be bold and courageous in our day. Not rabble rousers, but valiant and resolute according to our convictions. Our starting place, should be to disapprove of homosexual practice, knowing that we do so in the context of our own sexual fallen state. We are not haughty. We are not decrying the sins of others and ignoring our own, but neither are we willing to sit silently when our culture calls that which is evil “good.”

Let us resolve, that as we continue to speak against homosexuality and its acceptance in our culture, we will do so winsomely and lovingly; yet, we are also committed to doing so clearly. In our pulpits, in our conversations around the water cooler, with our children, or in simple talks over the fence with our neighbors, we will be clear that homosexual practice is a sin. We will not attempt to separate love and truth. A careful guard against the subtle language of “gay” and “gay marriage” should be in place. Neither one of those terms should be used in our discourse about the homosexual lifestyle or homosexual union. There is nothing “gay” or God-honoring about the homosexual lifestyle, and it is not a God-ordained marriage when two homosexuals join together in a “state approved marriage,” even if it is a monogamous and committed relationship. We, as a people of the Word, know the importance of language and words, and it is crucial we give clear articulation of God’s purpose and plan for sex and marriage.

Even as we exercise our voice, we need a generation of Christians who are willing to do even more; willing to be courageous enough to minister with compassion and truth to the homosexual community. We need brothers and sisters in Christ, who know the depths of grace and are deliberate in ministering to others by that grace. We must raise an army of men and women, who are compelled, in all humility, to seek to understand the homosexual struggle and enter into relationships that will challenge, encourage, and hold friends and loved ones accountable. We need elders and pastors with a vision to establish churches where a person struggling with same-sex attraction or even homosexual practices are lovingly warned, discipled, and given care. We need to continue to declare that homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin, but that repentance is called for. We must be clear in our application of theology that identifying the sinful desire and abstaining from such practices does not negate personhood or necessitate the deprivation of joy.

Above all, we need to pray. We need to pray for those in our churches who struggle with same-sex attraction, for those who have given into this temptation and sin, and for the salvation of those who are trapped in a lifestyle that leads to death. We need to pray that our society would alter its present course on this issue and never look back.

It may be an uphill battle, but our God moves mountains. We serve a God who can change things in an instant. Does it seem impossible? Our God majors in the impossible. May it take a miracle? There is good news, we serve a God who performs miracles. We cannot roll over and play dead on this issue. It is too important. It is an issue with eternal implications for the souls of men and women. We believe in the power of the gospel, so let us believe it is good news even in the midst of this debate, and declare it without shrinking. May God turn the tide and do a mighty work of change in our generation, for His praise and His glory. He can do it. Never lose hope.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

love of god's power

Great post by Jonathan Parnell:

God is faithful. We’ve all heard these words.

We’ve read them, said them, and sung them. And we’ve felt them.

God’s faithfulness is a palatable experience of his love. It’s his love tasted and seen inour history. It’s the mechanics of his love wired to fulfill his promises for our good. In fact, God’s faithfulness and his steadfast love are so closely intertwined that in Psalm 33 they’re basically the same.
The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ. (Psalm 33:4–5)
Verse 4 tells us, “All his work is done in faithfulness.” All his work, says the psalmist. Everything that God does is done in faithfulness. Every move God makes in this universe is about what he’s said he’d be for his people. And it’s so pervasive that we’re told in verse 5, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lᴏʀᴅ.”

The two statements, “All his work . . .” and “The earth is full . . .” make the same point in two different ways with one thing clear: God’s faithfulness is everywhere. It’s boundless and unending.

And perhaps uncomfortable.

God’s Kind of Love

See, a lot of times when folks talk about God’s love they mean something different from what the Bible shows us. Let’s call it pop-love. It’s the kind that’s manageable, not mighty — the kind that makes me feel special, not God look great. Most people want love, for sure, but love in their terms, not God’s.

Don’t miss the greater message of this psalm, captured in verses 4–5.

The uprightness of God’s word parallels his love for righteousness and justice. This refers to God’s sovereign authority and it’s inseparable from the love part.

Actually, if we continue reading Psalm 33 we won’t see anything about love again until verse 18. But what do we see? We see that God speaks worlds into being. We see that his mere breath fills the heavens, that whatever he says happens, that whatever he plans comes to be. We see that he sees everything, that he fashions the hearts of men and watches every move we make (verses 6–17). We see his power.

Sovereign Faithfulness

The psalmist lifts his pen to celebrate God’s love and he talks about God’s power. And he knows what he’s doing. As unsettling as this power might be for some, the psalmist is determined that this is precisely what makes the love so good.

Without power, love is only sentiment. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, and it can probably produce some positive feelings, but we need more from our Maker. Positive feelings don’t free us from condemnation, nor can they raise anything from the dead. If God’s goodwill toward his people really counts it must be sovereignly willed. It doesn’t matter how good he feels about us if he can’t really do anything about it.

The aim of Psalm 33 is to say that he can — that he does.

All that power is the power of his love — and the love of his power. The power that spoke the stars into existence is the power that Jesus trusted when he bowed his head and spoke, “It is finished.” Jesus knew that he who frustrates the plans of the peoples will also frustrate the plans of death. The Father’s faithfulness to him, even in the shadow of death, was sovereign faithfulness. And so it must be with us. That’s the only kind there is.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

what the bible is about

Tim Keller speaking on what the Bible is basically about ...


fewness of believers

If God has willed this treasure of understanding to be hidden from his children, it is no wonder or absurdity that the multitude of men are so ignorant and stupid! Among the “multitude” I include even certain distinguished folk, until they become engrafted into the body of the church. Besides, Isaiah, warning that the prophetic teaching would be beyond belief, not only to foreigners but also to the Jews who wanted to be reckoned as members of the Lord’s household, at the same time adds the reason: “The arm of God will not be revealed” to all [Isa. 53:1 p.]. Whenever, then, the fewness of believers disturbs us, let the converse come to mind, that only those to whom it is given can comprehend the mysteries of God [cf. Matt. 13:11].

blasphemy against the spirit

In light of the errant Strange Fire Gospel, it seemed appropriate to dust off this gem from John Piper on Mk 3.20-35:

The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, "He is beside himself." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.
"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"—for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."
And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."
About eight years ago a young woman came into my office at Bethel, extremely distressed over this issue of the unforgivable sin. She told me how one day when she was a young teenager, she got so angry at her mother who was a Christian that she locked herself in her room and used every swear word and oath and all the foul language against the Holy Spirit that she could think of. That day was seared into her conscience and came back to haunt her again and again. She wanted to know if she had committed the unforgivable sin. It is not a merely academic question. What could be more terrifying than to believe you are beyond forgiveness and bound for eternal misery with no escape?

Three Questions

Let's ask three questions to our text:
  1. Is there really an unforgivable sin?
  2. If so, what is it?
  3. How should we live in view of it?

1. Is There Really an Unforgivable Sin?

Is there really an unforgivable sin? Note verse 29, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." Three observations:
God's Forgiveness in View
First, the forgiveness in view is God's forgiveness. The sweetest news for a sinner is that God has forgiven him, that God no longer holds his sins against him. But the worst news in the world is that God will never forgive you. God is the one to reckon with. What men think about our sin is relatively unimportant. What God thinks is infinitely important.
On God's Lips Never Really Means Never
Second, Jesus says that God will never forgive a person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. When a human says, "I'll never forgive you," we may go on with life. There are others we can turn to; and "never" really doesn't mean never. But when God says, "I will never forgive you," then there is nobody to turn to in all the universe and never really means never. If God says to you, "Never will I forgive you," then a million ages from now his verdict will be like granite. His sentences are as unbreakable as his pardons.
Someone may say to you, "Literally Jesus simply said that forgiveness would not be given 'unto the age,' meaning in this age; but in the future age pardon can be found." This is not what Jesus meant. Matthew 12:32 makes his meaning more precise, "Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come." When Mark 3:29 calls blasphemy against the Holy Spirit an "eternal sin," it means a sin that God will not forgive to all eternity. If all the mountains on the earth were wearing down at the rate of one millimeter every thousand years, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would still be unforgiven when the face of the earth is as smooth as a billiard ball. It is an eternally unforgivable sin.
Forever Under God's Wrath
Third, therefore the person who commits this sin is guilty forever before God and under his wrath without end: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness; but is guilty of an eternal sin." If forgiveness is withheld for eternity, guilt is sealed for eternity. God is never neutral to sin. He either forgives it or punishes it. There is no neutral middle ground of indifference. Not to be forgiven by God forever, is to suffer his wrath forever. To reject the doctrine of eternal hell under the wrath of God is to reject the forthright teaching of our Lord Jesus. Mark 3:29 is one of the clearest passages in the Bible to the effect that there will be those shut out of forgiveness, bearing their guilt forever. And it is the teaching of Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us!
There Is an Unforgivable Sin
So in answer to the first question, yes, there is an unforgivable sin. Jesus calls it an eternal sin, one that never has forgiveness, one that sends a person into eternity to bear his guilt under God's wrath forever.

2. What Is This Unforgivable Sin? 

The second question: What is this sin that is beyond forgiveness? Again verse 29: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness." The unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But what is that?
The Context in Mark
Verse 30 makes clear that Mark wants us to understand blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in relation to the scene in verses 20–27. Verse 30 gives the reason why Jesus brought up the issue of an unforgivable sin: "for they had said [or: were saying], 'He has an unclean spirit.'" That points us back to verse 22: "The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, 'He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.'" Note very carefully: Jesus does not say that these scribes have committed the unforgivable sin. He hears them attribute his power over demons to Satan instead of to the Holy Spirit and he says, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness." It is a warning to the scribes. Maybe they have committed the unforgivable sin, maybe they haven't. But when they see the work of the Holy Spirit and call it the work of Satan, they are at least on the brink of never-ending guilt. Perhaps they have even fallen over the edge.
"Whatever Blasphemies They Utter"?
Why do I hesitate to equate what the scribes said with unforgivable blasphemy? I hesitate because Jesus invites me to with verse 28. "Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter." Literally: "All things will be forgiven to the sons of men, the sins and the blasphemies whatever they blaspheme." No exceptions are mentioned. The key to understanding the unforgivable sin is how verse 28 can be stated so absolutely ("all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven") and yet verse 29 can say that there is a blasphemy and a sin beyond forgiveness.
What does verse 28 mean? Mark makes it plain that sins are forgiven only if a person repents. Mark 1:4, "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism ofrepentance for the forgiveness of sins." Mark 1:14, 15, "Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.'" (See also 4:12; 6:12, and Acts 2:38 and 5:31.) In order for anyone to receive forgiveness of sins, they have to repent—that is, to turn from sin to God and trust his grace and follow him. So when Jesus says in Mark 3:28, "All sins will be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter," he means, all sins and blasphemies from which you genuinely repent.
Beyond Repentance
Why, then, in verse 29 does Jesus seem to exclude one sin and one blasphemy from this promise: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? I think the reason is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit puts you beyond repentance, and therefore beyond forgiveness. Verse 29 is not an exception to verse 28. Jesus is not saying, All blasphemies that you repent of will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit. He is saying, all blasphemies that you repent of will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven because it puts you beyond repentance—you won't be able to repent of it. If a sin makes it impossible for you to repent, then that is an unforgivable sin, because forgiveness is promised only to those sins from which we genuinely repent (cf. 4:12).
Why This Particular Sin Makes Repentance Impossible
But why does this one particular sin, this one blasphemy, make it impossible to repent and be forgiven? What about blasphemy against the Son of God, or God the Father, or angels, or Scripture, or the church? Why do these not put us beyond repentance and forgiveness? Why only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? I think it's because of the unique and decisive role the Holy Spirit plays in our salvation. If we look to God the Father and then turn from his glory to embrace sin, that is bad. If we look to his Son Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world and then turn away from his glory to embrace sin, that is doubly bad.
But in either case there is hope. The Father has planned redemption, the Son has accomplished redemption. This wonderful redemption is outside ourselves and available to us if we repent of our sin and turn back to Christ in faith. But it is the unique and special role of the Holy Spirit to apply the Father's plan and the Son's accomplishment of it to our hearts. It is the Spirit's work to open our eyes, to grant repentance, and to make us beneficiaries of all that the Father has planned and all that Christ has done for us. If we blaspheme and reject the Father and the Son, there is still hope, for the Spirit may yet work within us to humble us and bring us to repentance. But if behind the Father and the Son we see and taste the power of the Holy Spirit and reject his work as no more precious than the work of Satan, we shut ourselves off from the only one who could ever bring us to repentance. And so we shut ourselves off from forgiveness.
Not Simply a Lifetime of Resistance
Let's take one more step before we define the unforgivable sin. Some people say that the unpardonable sin is continual rejection of the Holy Spirit until death. And thus only death puts a person beyond forgiveness. I think that is wrong for two reasons. One is that in Matthew 12:32 Jesus says, "Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or the age to come." If the possibility of forgiveness were taken away only after death, then Jesus would not have said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable in this age as well as the one to come. Another reason is 1 John 5:16 teaches that there is a sin unto death which is pointless to pray about. It puts a person beyond forgiveness even in this life. Therefore the unforgivable blasphemy against the Spirit is not simply a lifetime of resistance against the Holy Spirit.
The Unforgivable Sin Defined
What then is it? The unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an act of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws for ever with his convicting power so that we are never able to repent and be forgiven.

3. How Shall We Live in Light of This Possibility?

Our final question is: How should we live in view of this possibility?
Run from Sin with Fear and Trembling
The fact that there is an unforgivable sin—that there comes a point in a life of sin after which the Holy Spirit will no longer grant repentance—that fact should drive us from sin with fear and trembling. None of us knows when our toying with sin will pass over into irrevocable hardness of heart. Very few people feel how serious sin is. Very few people are on the same wavelength with Jesus when he said in Mark 9:43, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire." Instead, many professing Christians today have such a sentimental view of God's justice that they never feel terror and horror at the thought of being utterly forsaken by God because of their persistence in sin. They have the naïve notion that God's patience has no end and that they can always return from any length and depth of sin, forgetting that there is a point of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws forever with his convicting power, leaving them never able to repent and be forgiven.
They are like the buzzard who spots a carcass on a piece of ice floating in the river. He lands and begins to eat. He knows it is dangerous because the falls are just ahead. But he looks at his wings and says to himself, "I can fly to safety in an instant." And he goes on eating. Just before the ice goes over the falls he spreads his wings to fly but his claws are frozen in the ice and there is no escape—neither in this age nor the age to come. The Spirit of holiness has forsaken the arrogant sinner forever.
The Offer of Grace: Repent and Be Forgiven
You have heard the warning. Now hear the offer of grace. "All sins will be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter." I urge you in the name of Christ: if by God's grace you can repent today of your sin, do it now, because you may not be able to tomorrow.

brendt's final thoughts?

Brendt Waters just posted his real final thoughts on the Strange Fire debacle. I didn't repost parts 7 and 8. Here are links to each of the pieces: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7 | part 8 | part 9

The article is also available in a handy-dandy PDF format, sans my smiling mug, but with the addition of pretty pull quotes.

But here's part 9 ... it's excellent.

Circling the Runway (Or Is It the Drain?)

Challies’ final question:
The Strange Fire conference focused primarily on the worst examples of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. While the charlatans rightfully need to be exposed and rebuked, there are also many godly Christians who feel like they have been unjustly tarnished with an overly broad generalization. Do you think there would be value in a conference that would interact not with the worst, but the best of charismatic leaders (such as D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, and John Piper)? Would you be willing to organize or participate in such an event?
After burning nearly 750 words trying to convince us that he didn’t want to hurt anyone and (again) claiming that his brush is not too broad, MacArthur finally spends a little over 100 words answering the actual question:
Regarding the need for another conference, people are welcome to have any kind of conference they want. Ultimately, however, these issues are not going to be resolved in a conference format where opposing sides are debated over the course of just a few days. They are only going to be resolved through the serious and diligent study of God’s Word. 
Rather than initiating another conference, I am more interested in sparking a movement committed to reclaiming the honor of the Holy Spirit. And I would be glad to stand with these men in that effort, for the glory of Christ and the good of His church.
Translation: No, I won’t host another conference on this topic. A conference that taught views that run counter to mine would not be productive. Strange Fire, on the other hand, was very productive.

Oh, and let’s not forget to note yet another reference to the allegedly lost honor of the Holy Spirit and how man is going to restore it.

And then MacArthur closes with the pièce de résistance, giving an excellent summary of everything he’s said:
I sincerely hope they’ll join me.
Translation: I’m right. Come over to my viewpoint (“join me”) and we’ll get along swimmingly.

God knew He was right, and yet He said to an Israel that had gone completely off the rails, “Come, let us reason together.” It’s a shame that MacArthur seems to have no desire to be like God.

Closing Thought

Thus endeth my analysis of the “interview” of MacArthur. However, having spent nearly 10,000 words examining the many logical fallacies of this interview, I have not yet brought up what, to me, is the most troubling and damning issue surrounding the Strange Fire conference.

In the months leading up to the conference, brief promotional videos were released on Youtube. Several of these caused consternation among continuationists and even among the “open but cautious” crowd (who don’t necessarily see the gifts working in their own lives, but who don’t deny their existence, either). But none raised as big a stink as the one released on September 10, in which MacArthur accused charismatics of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Now let’s break down what that means, using doctrines common to most evangelicals, regardless of their pneumatology:
  • The only time that Scripture references the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is when Jesus describes doing so as what has come to be known as the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29).
  • Anyone who dies with unforgiven sin receives eternal damnation (the Mark passage even says as much, so we don’t have to rely on logical succession).
  • So basically, John MacArthur had condemned the entirety of the charismatic movement to hell with no hope of redemption.
Needless to say, this statement drew a lot of attention and criticism. Perhaps they were being charitable, but none of the writers that I encountered blatantly noted the ramifications of such a sweeping statement. You see, in order to make a definitive declaration of the salvific condition of one person (let alone millions), one of two things must be true: either you have to receive a word from the Lord or you are God.

Now, as a cessationist, MacArthur would never deem a word from the Lord to be an acceptable incident. So that only leaves one (heretical) alternative.

Let’s remember that Jesus was killed for claiming to be God, and He actually was.

With one sentence, MacArthur had alienated pretty much the entirety of Christendom, except for those who were already in lockstep with his belief system and blinded to the audacity of what he had said. Naturally, with accusations of heresy on the line, MacArthur’s defenders piped up to assure us that “that’s not what he meant.” But assurances from John Doe in Dubuque don’t carry much weight when there’s nothing but silence coming from Sun Valley. Short of an explanation from Grace to You, the conference would be little more than preaching to the choir, with all appeals for change heard only by those who could affect none.

Days went by. Then weeks. No word from anyone official on what MacArthur “really” meant. Then the conference started – and still no word. Finally, a day and a half into the conference, an explanation was given, not by MacArthur, but by one of his assistants.

The explanation? MacArthur was referring to a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, not the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I’ve already argued enough against convoluted reasoning and statements that run counter to reality. So let us disregard the English language contortions necessary to parse all the way down to the difference between definite and indefinite articles. And let us even disregard that – despite Johnson’s assurances of what MacArthur allegedly meant – in the video, MacArthur very distinctly says “the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine).

Let’s pretend that Johnson’s reasoning was completely sound and convincing; and instead, let us focus on the timing of the explanation. As I stated, the controversy started over a month before the conference. That left plenty of time to clarify what MacArthur meant, and quite possibly win over (at least for the consideration of ideas) some who would be able to affect the changes that MacArthur was allegedly seeking. And yet no effort was made toward that end.

Once more, let’s borrow from MacArthur’s playbook and put forth guesses to explain the uncertain.
  1. The entirety of the Grace to You organization was under a rock for the last month before the conference, and so wasn’t aware of the (alleged) misinterpretation.
  2. MacArthur was aware of the (alleged) misinterpretation, but just didn’t care to take a few minutes to engage with people whom he “appreciate[s],” has “benefited from,” and whom he “love[s]” and “regard[s] as brothers in Christ.”
  3. There was no misinterpretation, Johnson was wrong, and “that” really is what MacArthur meant.
None of these options (ignorance, callousness, or heresy) are very flattering. Am I missing a fourth alternative?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Monday, January 27, 2014

hamilton and grudem on prophecy

It seems there is very little new under the sun. Here Ian Hamilton and Wayne Grudem discuss the continuation/cessation of prophecy. I didn't hear any new arguments but thoroughly enjoyed the Scriptural, intelligent, respectful and loving exchange. I am reminded of a similar discussion between Adrian Warnock and Doug Wilson. Both exchanges stand in sharp contrast to the disgrace of John MacArthur's Strange Fire.

grammy love

Denny Burk posts this great analysis; What Macklemore got wrong ... and right:

Last night on the Grammy’s, hip-hop artist Macklemore performed his song “Same Love” as Queen Latifah presided over a “wedding” ceremony for about thirty couples. Many of the couples being married were same-sex, and that was the point of the entire event—to show that there is no moral distinction between same-sex marriage and conjugal marriage. It’s all just the “same love.”

The lyrics to Macklemore’s song took aim at Christians and their views on marriage. To be more precise, it takes aim at the God that Christians worship and offers another god in His place—a god that bears no resemblance to the God of the Bible. Nevertheless, these performers were obviously grasping for divine approval. All of the trappings of Christianity were invoked to bless “same love”—a stage decorated to look like a church, a “minister” presiding, and a gospel choir singing the words of 1 Corinthians 13. You might say that it had the form of godliness while denying its power (2 Tim. 3:5).

What struck me about the performance, however, was not what Macklemore got wrong but the one thing that he got ironically right. In one line from “same love,” Macklemore says this:
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
This statement is profoundly true, although Macklemore is probably not aware of its true implication. We all really do come from one creator God. From one man, God made every nation of mankind (Acts 17:25). As the Psalmist writes,

Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. – Psalm 100:3

God made us. Every single one of us. And that is true whether or not you believe it. It is true even if you believe in a false god. But that truth does not imply that God approves of everything that His creatures do (as Macklemore appears to believe). It does imply that God is God. And He is not accountable to us, but we to Him (Heb. 9:27).

The Bible is crystal clear that all of us have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Because of this, all of us have earned God’s judgment (Rom. 6:23). Every one of us stands in need of salvation from this horrific prospect (Rev. 20:15).

The good news of the gospel is this. God loves sinners (John 3:16). And because of His great love, He has made a way for sinners to be reconciled to Himself. He sent His one and only son Jesus to the world. Jesus succeeded where all of us have failed. He lived a perfect life. In the fullness of time, he gave himself over to be executed on a Roman cross. Three days later, he rose bodily from the grave. He is now seated at the right hand of God in heaven (Rom. 8:34). Through his death he offers us the forgiveness of sins, and through his resurrection he offers us the promise of eternal life.

We cannot earn our salvation. Jesus earned it for us. We can only receive it by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). Repentance means turning away from our sin. Faith means putting our trust in Christ alone to save us based on his death and resurrection. God is lavish in His invitation. He offers this salvation to anyone who will have it—to gay, straight, red, yellow, black, and white. Anyone is welcome to come by repentance and faith. Anyone.

So here’s the question for everyone watching the Grammys and wondering what God really thinks about all of this spectacle. Are you going to believe in the God of the Bible and His way of salvation? Or are you going to trust yourself to the god of “same love.” The god of “same love” says no repentance and no savior is required. That god approves you just the way you are. The God of the Bible says you need repentance and salvation. That God will save you just the way you are. And He will take you to Himself and remake you into the image of His own dear son (Rom. 8:29). But you must repent, and you must believe.

In the wake of the Grammys, the big question is not what you thought of Macklemore. The big question is which God you will believe in. The false god of “same love,” or the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ? Which one will you choose?

Sunday, January 26, 2014


CH Spurgeon:

"Love is the true way of soul-winning."

We win by love. We win hearts for Jesus by love, by sympathy with their sorrow, by anxiety lest they should perish, by pleading with God for them with all our hearts that they should not be left to die unsaved, by pleading with them for God that, for their own sake, they would seek mercy and find grace.

Yes, sirs, there is a spiritual wooing and winning of hearts for the Lord Jesus; and if you would learn the way, you must ask God to give you a tender heart and a sympathising soul.

I believe that much of the secret of soul-winning lies in having bowels of compassion, in having spirits that can be touched with the feeling of human infirmities. Carve a preacher out of granite, and even if you give him an angel’s tongue, he will convert nobody.

Put him into the most fashionable pulpit, make his elocution faultless, and his matter profoundly orthodox, but so long as he bears within his bosom a hard heart he can never win a soul.

Soul-saving requires a heart that beats hard against the ribs. It requires a soul full of the milk of human kindness; this is the sine qua non of success. This is the chief natural qualification for a soul-winner, which, under God and blessed of him, will accomplish wonders.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

love the church

Charles Spurgeon:

The church is not perfect, but woe to the man who finds pleasure in pointing out her imperfections!

Christ loved his church, and let us do the same.

I have no doubt that the Lord can see more fault in his church than I can; and I have equal confidence that he sees no fault at all. Because he covers her faults with his own love—that love which covers a multitude of sins; and he removes all her defilement with that precious blood which washes away all the transgressions of his people.

women in battle

From Doug Wilson last year (I'm cleaning up some archives):

No one should be surprised at the announcement that women are now going to be serving in combat roles in the U.S. military. This has been heading toward us for a long time, and the only thing surprising about it is that so many people are surprised. Now the only thing that stands between your daughter and involuntary combat service is a determination by some president (or other) that we need to return to conscription, followed by one court decision.

There are three points to be made about this in response. First, opposition to this monstrosity is a function of biblical faithfulness. This is a straightforward application of the teaching of Scripture — to which we must all submit. But once we have understood the Scriptures on the point, those of us in the CREC should reflect on what our communion has said about it. And if that were not sufficient, we should look at the issue dispassionately, in the light of nature. Hold it up and look at it, out in the sunlight.

First the Scripture:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Dt. 22:5).
This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. But the restriction placed on women here is not simply the reverse of that. When a man is getting kinky in the way described here, it is a straightforward transvesite problem. But going the other way, we should notice a different problem. Notice the odd construction — “that which pertains to a man.” The Hebrew underneath is keli geber, and should be read as the “gear of a warrior.” Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we.

Another scriptural argument that should be noted is this. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” Dt. 14:21b). Just as Paul noted that the law about not muzzling oxen was not simply about oxen, so this passage is not just about baby goats. The principle latent in this law is that we must not take that which was intended for the giving of life and transform it into an instrument of death. The milk was intended by God for sustenance, and so it should not be turned into death. Women were created and exquisitely fashioned by God to be life-imparters, and so they must not be transformed into death-dealers.

Having said this, we should remember that Scripture gives us the law, and Scripture gives us the parameters of any exceptions. It is not unlawful for a woman to take life under any and all circumstances. The woman on the tower was apparently a decent shot (Judg. 9:53), and Jael the wife of Heber knew she was supposed to do (Judg. 5:24). She didn’t cook a baby goat in milk, but she did serve it up to Sisera. But these blows to the head were given to us as a type, and pointed toward the fundamental way that the woman would have her revenge on the serpent and his seed. Her child would finally crush the serpent’s head, and would be bruised himself in the process.

Secondly, in our memorial on terrorism, the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches has declared the following:
“It is not lawful for women to be mustered for combat service, for our Lord has declared it an abomination for women to don the martial attire of a man (Dt. 22:5). Christian fathers must protect their daughters from being seduced or coerced into such a circumstance, and the Church must support them as they do so.”
It is therefore the formal position of the CREC that this egalitarian move, putting women into combat roles as standard operating procedure, is an abomination. We believe further that Christian fathers have a moral and biblical obligation to prevent their daughters from being seduced, such that they sign up for such a thing voluntarily, or coerced, such that they have no option. Both her family and her communion must stand against this terrible thing.

It is worth noting that those Reformed denominations which have declined to go on the record in this matter are far more vulnerable when the inevitable court battles come. This is a matter of conscience for us. If you have spent a great deal of time arguing that it is not a matter of conscience, it will be hard to turn around and find that conscience later on when you think you need it. If you have few principles, it is hard to take a principled stand. This is why Quakers don’t have to fight, and why cowardly Presbyterians do. I believe that the pacifistic position is wrong, but at least those folks have the courage of their convictions. Presbyterians? Convictions? What are those?

And last, let me make one quick appeal to the light of nature. The egalitarians who are pushing for this are not true egalitarians — they want the same access to the same positions for men and women, but they don’t want the same qualifying requirements. A true egalitarian would insist that all positions should be open to both sexes, provided they both were able to meet the same standards. But this whole (very rigged) joke depends on running two entirely different sets of standards simultaneously, and shouting down anybody who notices. So then, o ye treat-everybody-the-samers! When do you think you will start doing that? It’s your religion. Why won’t you practice it? It’s your temple. Why won’t you go in? Is your god scary?

If we eliminated the double-standard here, we would still have the theoretical problem, but we sure wouldn’t have a practical problem at all.

So then, in sum, Scripture is clear, clear-headed Christians are clear about it, and the science is settled. Boys and girls are different.

functions of the holy spirit

The chief and principal ends for which the Holy Spirit is promised and received may be reduced to these four heads:—(1.) Regeneration; (2.) Sanctification; (3.) Consolation; (4.) Edification. There are, indeed, very many distinct operations and distributions of the Spirit, as I have in part already discovered, and shall yet farther go over them in particular instances; but they may be reduced unto these general heads, or at least they will suffice to exemplify the different manner and ends of the receiving of the Spirit. And this is the plain order and method of these things, as the Scripture both plainly and plentifully testifies:—(1.) He is promised and received as to the work of regeneration unto the elect; (2.) As to the work of sanctification unto the regenerate; (3.) As to the work of consolation unto the sanctified; and, (4.) As unto gifts for edification unto professors, according to his sovereign will and pleasure.

Friday, January 24, 2014

why i am a continuationist

When I read posts like the below from Sam Storms I wonder so many godly men and women can get caught up in the nonsense spun by some in the cessationist camp.

So, why am I a continuationist? My reasons follow. (Please note that I've written several articles that provide more extensive evidence for the points I make, but space limitations permit me only to mention them by name. All of them are found at my website.)

Let me begin with the consistent, indeed pervasive, and altogether positive presence throughout the New Testament (NT) of all spiritual gifts. The problems that emerged in the church at Corinth were not due to spiritual gifts, but to immature people. It wasn't the gifts of God but the childish, ambitious, and prideful distortion of gifts on the part of some that accounts for Paul's corrective comments.

Furthermore, beginning with Pentecost and continuing throughout the book of Acts, whenever the Spirit is poured out on new believers they experience his charismata. There is nothing to indicate these phenomena were restricted to them and then. Such appear to be both widespread and common in the NT church. Christians in Rome (Rom. 12), Corinth (1 Cor. 12-14), Samaria (Acts 8), Caesarea (Acts 10), Antioch (Acts 13), Ephesus (Acts 19), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5), and Galatia (Gal. 3) experience the miraculous and revelatory gifts. It's difficult to imagine how the NT authors could have spoken any more clearly about what new covenant Christianity is supposed to look like. In other words, the burden of proof rests with the cessationist. If certain gifts of a special class have ceased, the responsibility is his or hers to prove it.

Extensive Evidence

I'd also point to the extensive NT evidence of so-called miraculous gifts among Christians who are not apostles. In other words, numerous non-apostolic men and women, young and old, across the breadth of the Roman Empire consistently exercised these gifts of the Spirit (and Stephen and Philip ministered in the power of signs and wonders). Others aside from the apostles who exercised miraculous gifts include (1) the 70 who were commissioned in Luke 10:9, 19-20; (2) at least 108 people among the 120 who were gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost; (3) Stephen (Acts 6-7); (4) Philip (Acts 8); (5) Ananias (Acts 9); (6) church members in Antioch (Acts 13); (7) anonymous converts in Ephesus (Acts 19:6); (8) women at Caesarea (Acts 21:8-9); (9) the unnamed brethren of Galatians 3:5; (10) believers in Rome (Rom. 12:6-8); (11) believers in Corinth (1 Cor. 12-14); and (12) Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 5:19-20).

We must also give room to the explicit and oft-repeated purpose of the charismata: namely, the edification of Christ's body (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:3, 26). Nothing I read in the NT or see in the condition of the church in any age, past or present, leads me to believe we've progressed beyond the need for edification—and therefore beyond the need for the contribution of the charismata. I freely admit that spiritual gifts were essential for the birth of the church, but why would they be any less important or needful for its continued growth and maturation?

There is also the fundamental continuity or spiritually organic relationship between the church in Acts and the church in subsequent centuries. No one denies there was an era or period in the early church that we might call "apostolic." We must acknowledge the significance of the personal, physical presence of the apostles and their unique role in laying the foundation for the early church. But nowhere does the NT ever suggest that certain spiritual gifts were uniquely and exclusively tied to them or that the gifts passed with their passing. The universal church or body of Christ that was established and gifted through the ministry of the apostles is the same universal church and body of Christ today. We are together with Paul and Peter and Silas and Lydia and Priscilla and Luke members of the same one body of Christ.

Very much related to the previous point is what Peter says in Acts 2 concerning so-called miraculous gifts as characteristic of the new covenant age of the church. As D. A. Carson has said, "The coming of the Spirit is not associated merely with the dawning of the new age but with its presence, not merely with Pentecost but with the entire period from Pentecost to the return of Jesus the Messiah" (Showing the Spirit, 155). Or again, the gifts of prophecy and tongues (Acts 2) are not portrayed as merely inaugurating the new covenant age but as characterizing it (and let us not forget that the present church age = the "last days").

We must also take note of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Here Paul asserts that spiritual gifts will not "pass away" (vv. 8-10) until the coming of the "perfect." If the "perfect" is indeed the consummation of God's redemptive purposes as expressed in the new heaven and new earth following Christ's return, we can confidently expect him to continue blessing and empowering his church with the gifts until that time.

A similar point is made in Ephesians 4:11-13. There Paul speaks of spiritual gifts (together with the office of apostle)—and in particular the gifts of prophecy, evangelism, pastor, and teacher—as building up of the church "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (v. 13; italics mine). Since the latter most assuredly has not yet been attained by the church, we can confidently anticipate the presence and power of such gifts until that day arrives.

I'd also point to the absence of any explicit or implicit notion that we should view spiritual gifts any differently than we do other NT practices and ministries portrayed as essential for the life and wellbeing of the church. When we read the NT, it seems evident that church discipline should be practiced in our assemblies today and that we should celebrate the Lord's Table and water baptism, and that the requirements for the office of elder as set forth in the pastoral epistles still determine how life in the church should be pursued, just to mention a few. What good exegetical or theological reasons can be given for why we should treat the presence and operation of spiritual gifts any differently?

Consistent Testimony

Contrary to popular belief, there is consistent testimony throughout most of church history concerning the operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. It simply isn't the case that the gifts ceased or disappeared from early church life following the death of the last apostle. Space doesn't permit me to cite the massive evidence in this regard, so I refer you to four articles I wrote with extensive documentation (see "Spiritual Gifts in Church History").

Cessationists often argue that signs and wonders as well as certain spiritual gifts served only to confirm or authenticate the original company of apostles and that when the apostles passed away so also did the gifts. The fact is no biblical text (not even Heb. 2:4 or 2 Cor. 12:12, two texts I explain in articles here) ever says signs and wonders or spiritual gifts of a particular sort authenticated the apostles. Signs and wonders authenticated Jesus and the apostolic message about him. If signs and wonders were designed exclusively to authenticate apostles, we have no explanation why non-apostolic believers (such as Philip and Stephen) were empowered to perform them (see especially 1 Cor. 12:8-10, where the "gift" of "miracles," among others, was given to average, non-apostolic believers).

Therefore, this is a good reason for being a cessationist only if you can demonstrate that authentication or attestation of the apostolic message was the sole and exclusive purpose of such displays of divine power. However, nowhere in the NT is the purpose or function of the miraculous or the charismata reduced to attestation. The miraculous, in whatever form, served several other distinct purposes: doxological (to glorify God: John 2:11; 9:3;11:4; 11:40; and Matt. 15:29-31); evangelistic (to prepare the way for the gospel to be made known: see Acts 9:32-43); pastoral (as an expression of compassion and love and care for the sheep: Matt. 14:14; Mark 1:40-41); and edifying (to build up and strengthen believers:1 Cor. 12:7 and the "common good"; 1 Cor. 14:3-5, 26).

All the gifts of the Spirit, whether tongues or teaching, prophecy or mercy, healing or helping, were given (among other reasons) for the edification, building up, encouraging, instructing, consoling, and sanctifying of the body of Christ. Therefore, even if the ministry of the miraculous gifts to attest and authenticate has ceased, a point I concede only for the sake of argument, such gifts would continue to function in the church for the other reasons cited.

Still Final and Sufficient

Perhaps the most frequently heard objection from cessationists is that acknowledging the validity of revelatory gifts such as prophecy and word of knowledge would necessarily undermine the finality and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. But this argument is based on the false assumption that these gifts provide us with infallible truths equal in authority to the biblical text itself (see my article "Why NT Prophecy Does NOT Result in 'Scripture-Quality' Revelatory Words").

One also hears the cessationist appeal to Ephesians 2:20, as if this text describes all possible prophetic ministry. The argument is that revelatory gifts such as prophecy were uniquely linked to the apostles and therefore designed to function only during the so-called foundational period in the early church. I address this fundamentally misguided view at length here. A close examination of the biblical evidence concerning both the nature of the prophetic gift as well as its widespread distribution among Christians indicates there was far more to this gift than simply the apostles laying the foundation of the church. Therefore, neither the passing of the apostles nor the movement of the church beyond its foundational years has any bearing whatsoever on the validity of prophecy today. One also hears often of the so-called cluster argument, according to which supernatural and miraculous phenomena were supposedly concentrated or clustered at unique periods in redemptive history. I've addressed this argument elsewhere and demonstrated that it's altogether false.

Finally, although it's technically not a reason or argument for being a continuationist, I cannot ignore experience. The fact is I've seen all spiritual gifts in operation, tested and confirmed them, and experienced them firsthand on countless occasions. As stated, this is less a reason to become a continuationist and more a confirmation (although not an infallible one) of the validity of that decision. Experience, in isolation from the biblical text, proves little. But experience must be noted, especially if it illustrates or embodies what we see in God's Word.

Editors' note: See also Thomas Schreiner's companion article, "Why I Am a Cessationist."