Thursday, September 11, 2014

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man

ATAULCOVERWEB

eBook and paperback - available at amazon.com. For more information about this book, go to: ataul.thearmoury.org. For more information about The Armoury Ministries, go to: www.thearmouryministries.org

2 Timothy 3:1,4: "In the last days...men will be...lovers of hedonism [φιλήδονοι]..."

For centuries, the world of professing Christendom has faced countless contests regarding the nature of God's justice and love, as well as the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, is just another illustration of this reality. The entire protest revolving around Bell's book was fairly dramatic, however, it produced more smoke and heat than productive light. Despite the loud complaints leveled against the controversial author of Love Wins, what he unveiled in his book should have produced little surprise. There is a very important and untold story behind the whole Bell debate that must be passed on for the sake of future generations. The mystery and oddity of this conflict has revealed a systemic problem - one that is much greater than the premature protests surrounding Rob Bell. Altar to an Unknown Love addresses the untold story which stands behind the scenes of Bell's particular views of theology. What the reader may find surprising is that Bell's teachings are remarkably familiar, and have even been promoted, whether directly or indirectly, by some of Bell's loudest critics. All of this points to a great opportunity for the church in the present day. The conflict surrounding Rob Bell actually supplies an opportunity to rediscover our need to go back to the Scriptures themselves, rather than to the teachings and traditions of men. This is an opportunity for the church to rediscover the priority of Sola Scriptura, now, and for the generations to come.

Review by Iain Murray:


Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C. S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man Michael John Beasley (www.thearmouryminstries.org): Lightning Source, Milton Keynes, 2011, 146pp, £6.50/$10.49

The last year has seen major controversy in the United States over Rob Bell’s Love Wins, A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. Interest in that book is now passing, but before it does so, Michael Beasley believes there is a wider issue that ought to be addressed. Bell’s thinking, he notes, has been condemned by evangelicals who are, at the same time, professed admirers of authors from whom Bell has drawn, namely, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis. Beasley challenges the consistency of this procedure, and if his book is taken seriously—as it deserves to be—it must promote more controversy, for MacDonald and Lewis are widely respected figures. Lewis is virtually an icon of American evangelicalism; on one occasion the readers of Christianity Today rated him as the most influential writer in their lives. But the only dependable foundation for Christian belief is missing in Lewis. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, with the result that his conclusions are a conglomerate of Bible, imagination, and philosophy. Does the absence of that foundation matter when it comes to understanding the love of God—the subject with which Beasley’s book is primarily concerned? From Acts 17, the Athenians’ worship ‘To An Unknown God’, Beasley shows that the saving knowledge of God is only known by divine revelation. Lost man is as ignorant of that knowledge as were the Athenians. Yet, instead of starting with Scripture, Lewis believed that a consideration of love in man can help us to understand love in God. A major part of Altar to an Unknown Love is a refutation of this error. The love to be found in unregenerate man is self-love— love centering around the pursuit of pleasure, and identified by the Greeks (and by Lewis) as eros. But the love of God (never called eros in the NT) is altogether different, and is unknown until a person is born of God (1 John 4:7-10). ‘Those who do not know God cannot know his love’ (p. 52). ‘Without understanding the nature of his love . . . we are left with nothing but our own shifting sands of human affection’ (p. 39).

A reconstructed presentation of the love of God—to be found in all the authors Beasley is critiquing— produces teaching which carries no offence to the natural man. What is more offensive to the natural man than truth concerning the justice of God and his wrath against sin? But that offence is eliminated by the subjective, man-centered teaching here reviewed. The love of God is such, it is said, that it requires him to respect human freedom, and that freedom should control how we think of heaven and hell. ‘The damned’, wrote Lewis’ publisher of The Great Divorce (Macmillan Publishing, 1976), ‘are under no obligation to return to hell. They can stay on in heaven if they wish—if they are willing to forgo their most precious sins’ (p. 86). Or as Lewis said, ‘The doors of hell are locked on the inside’ (p. 89n). ‘We get what we want’, says Bell. ‘God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option . . . God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins’ (pp. 85, 122). So it is not justice but love that takes anyone to hell. The divine love, which is claimed to be subordinate to human freedom, leads to men being given what they want. Heaven and hell revolve around man, not God (p. 81).

This thinking does not simply take away the offence of biblical truth; ultimately it takes away the gospel itself. For if God’s determination to judge and punish sin is no part of his character, then a substitutionary atonement ceases to be a part of the Christian message. It is not accidental that none of the authors Beasley is examining believed that in the shedding of his blood Christ was bearing the penalty of sin. The author points out correctly that C. S. Lewis did not belong to evangelical circles in Britain in his lifetime. To our mind he proves the case that Lewis is now so widely acceptable in American evangelicalism because non-biblical ideas are not being recognized for what they are. Artistry in writing, effective story-telling, with a mixture of ‘disconnected scriptural references and thoughts’, are able to achieve wide success in a day when discrimination has given way to popular appeal. These are all characteristics of the writings of Bell, Lewis, and MacDonald. This is not to say that all they wrote is equally deserving of condemnation. Beasley’s strictures on Bell’s Love Wins are rightly the most severe (pp. 114-15). Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, now produced on film by Disney for the millions, is not in the same category, but when ‘more and more preachers are eager to cite Lewis in support of their theological positions’ the warning contained in this book is not unfounded. It raises issues of fundamental importance.

Michael Beasley, a science graduate of California State University, and of the Master’s Seminary, has served in pastoral ministry since 1994. We are impressed and thankful for the character of his writings. His valuable book, Indeed, has Paul Really Said? A Critique of N.T.Wright’s Teaching on Justification, has already been reviewed in these columns.

Iain H. Murray


For more information about this book, go to: ataul.thearmoury.org.
For more information about The Armoury Ministries, go to:
www.thearmouryministries.org

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

Relevant articles (re: Worldview Weekend Interview): Victoria Osteen & John Piper’s “Christian Hedonism”: What’s the Difference:
http://www.worldviewweekend.com/news/article/victoria-osteen-john-pipers-christian-hedonism-whats-difference

John Piper’s 1979 article on Ayn Rand (Revised in 2007): http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-ethics-of-ayn-rand

Friday, September 05, 2014

Victoria Osteen and “Christian Hedonism”

Victoria Osteen’s dark moment of honesty before a watching world has generated much buzz and discussion lately. However, one must wonder why there is so much surprise in this – she has simply admitted to the very core of her theology. Her version of “Christianity” is an idolatrous cauldron of hedonistic pleasure. In her world, self reigns supreme – and the name of Christ is simply a nametag that she attaches in an attempt to provide cover for her heresy. Those who didn’t already know of the Osteen’s theology either haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps they have never heard of the bizarre spectacle of their “ministry.”

Simply put, what Victoria Osteen proudly proffered before a watching world should have provoked little surprise. However, what should capture the attention of the church is the response given by John Piper’s desiring God ministry:

Whoever generated this tweet (whether it was John Piper himself or one of his assistants) has managed to give half credit to that which is pure idolatry, and this is no small problem. While I am glad that people are offended by Victoria Osteen’s proud declaration, I fear that those same masses will overlook and ignore the above, disturbing tweet. Nothing that Victoria said made any biblical sense seeing that her worldview is rooted in hedonism – and God is pleased with none of it. But it is this notion of hedonism in Osteen’s comments that led me to predict that there might be some form of private or public affirmation from those who advocate the contrived doctrine of “Christian Hedonism.” When the above affirmation was placed in the public forum, I was sad, but not surprised. Because of this, I want to share a few thoughts and warnings about this disturbing admission from those at Desiring God:

Firstly, I have no desire to disparage any sound teaching others have garnered from men like John Piper. The profound truth is that God, in His infinite wisdom, uses frail and fallible men to communicate His infallible word. This is true for myself and for any other messenger of God's word. When Piper focuses on the Gospel, he is quite solid; however, his repeated attempts to infuse the contrivance of "Christian Hedonism" into his teachings is deeply problematic.In his book, Desiring God, Piper tries to justify using the salacious term, hedonism, as an expression of Christian worship.[1] In his earlier years in the ministry, he credited C.S. Lewis for this idea more directly, but over the years he has attempted to justify it through various other means. In his book, Desiring God, Appendix 4 – Why Call It Christian Hedonism?, Piper issues a strenuous attempt to justify his use of this expression in six different ways:

1. Through a definition supplied by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

2. Through another definition supplied in The Encyclopedia of Philosphy.

3. Through C.S. Lewis’ statement (among others): “You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”

4. By reason that the term “Hedonism” has an “arresting and jolting effect.”

5. He cites Jesus’ mention of coming as a “thief” in the night (Matt. 24:43-44), among other texts, as justification of using scandalous terms in a godly context.

6. He argues that he is able to sanctify, for godly purposes, the term Hedonism by affixing it with the name Christian.

These are all interesting arguments, but the reader should notice that they are rooted in C.S. Lewis, philosophy, and human reasoning more than anything else. As for his attempt to supply scriptural justification for “Christian Hedonism,” perhaps another man could just as well begin advocating “Christian Lust,” “Christian Fornication,” or “Christian (fill in the blank with any corruption here_____)” based upon the same reasoning. Frankly speaking, this is all reckless thinking and continues to be propagated through many today who insist on speaking of Christian faith in sensual, salacious terms. Within this same appendix (Appendix 4), Piper strangely admits that his actions run contrary to the counsel of wise men like J.C. Ryle – who strongly advises against the use of “uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification,” but then proceeds to justify his use of the term hedonism which, scripturally speaking, depicts grotesque self-satisfaction (lust, autonomous delight, similar to eros) as a means of conveying Christian affections.

The problem that Piper has, for himself and for those whom he has influenced over the years, is that his construct of thought has no scriptural basis whatsoever – no matter how hard he tries to justify it. His use of salacious language has produced various forms of spiritual offspring such as Mark Driscoll (Time magazine has called him the cursing pastor) and Ann Vosscamp (who speaks of intimacy with God in very sensual language – see Gary Gilley’s review of One Thousand Gifts here). Whatever his motives, he is begetting a generation of individuals who now believe that the sine qua non of Christian affections is desire, rather than agape love. I could agree with this if it were biblical, but it is not. The Bible never uses “hedonism” as an expression of godly affections because selfish, autonomous delight is at the heart of such a term, whereas epithumea (desire) can be used of godly desire, but is never emphasized on equal footing with agape love. However, agape love is repeatedly given supremacy over every affection mentioned in Scripture. I always like to illustrate the point by encouraging men to drop the word “love” when speaking to their wives. Instead of saying – “I love you” – try saying “I desire you.” This may last for a little while, however, over time your spouse will wonder what has happened to you – and what has happened to the nature of your relationship. Of course a man desires his wife – but he does so out of his relational bond of love with her. The problem of using “hedonism” is that the notion of a relationship is utterly obliterated, as evidenced by the Bible’s use of the term. Mr. Piper may be able to find alternate meanings to the term hedonism in more contemporary works, but the problem remains: he is using this biblical word in an unbiblical way. Additionally, the problem with using the term desire as a near substitute for love is that this procedure denigrates the relational understanding which is intrinsic in the concept of genuine agape love. If everything is about desire and joy, to the diminishment of love, then we end up with a heap of confusion about Christian motives. Thus, out of such confusion, the managers of the Desiring God Twitter account are able to give half credit for Victoria Osteen’s bizarre and idolatrous drivel about going to church for your own, autonomous joy. However, if we were better rooted in the biblical motive of love, then such confusion would be blown away.

If we refuse to be anchored by the language of Scripture, then we will drift into the dangerous waters of human reasoning – perhaps even giving half-credit to heretics. But when it comes to love versus hedonism, the Scriptures are quite clear. God has many attributes (Holiness, wrath, righteousness etc…) – but of all of His attributes, there are very few that have been elevated to the status of this predicate adjective construct: God is love. One thing He is not is hedonism (selfish, autonomous delight) – such a contrivance as this is unscriptural and borders on blasphemy.

Let us be guilty of emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. I have no desire to diminish the concept of our desire for God or out joy in Him – what I do hope to qualify is that these affections can only be understood properly within the context of our love for Him, seeing that He first loved us – 1 John 4:19.

This is what God hath said – and it is good.

For a much more detailed treatment of this important subject (agape vs. eros/hedone, i.e., hedonistic affections), see – Altar to an Unknown Love (link here).  This title is available in paperback or Kindle format:

 

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

******************************
A brief Follow-up:

Some have queried about my interaction (or lack thereof) with the linked article by Chad Ashby, and I wanted to clarify matters relevant to this. For those in doubt, it should be self-evident that I read the linked article since I refer to the specific notion of giving “half” credit to VO, a metric supplied by the article rather than the tweet. However, my article has more to do with my longstanding experiences with the followers of John Piper and those who gladly claim the title “Christian Hedonist.” The core point being made in the article is this: what Victoria Osteen said isn’t mostly wrong, it was completely wrong and disgraceful. Like any other cult, her every word is infected with the corruption of false teaching. Her “God” is a false god; her “joy” is a false joy; her concept of “worship” is false, etc. The linked article was too confused to address directly[2] – my focus was on the legacy of “Christian Hedonism” and the related, yet bizarre notion of trying to harvest edible chunks from the theological sputum coming out of Victoria Osteen (Yes, that’s strong language, but please see Proverbs 26:11). As well, the thought of directing others to such a quest is disturbing at best. Concerning anyone’s objections to my description of the word Hedonism, please note that the philosophical and theological ether that surrounded this term in the 1st century is a subject that exceeds the full focus of my article (it is a lengthy subject that I only partially deal with in my book), but it is impossible to appreciate this term’s history without first understanding the philosophical realm from which it evolved. To learn this, a general knowledge of Greek mythology is needed, replete with an understanding of Hesiod’s teaching on the primordial forces of CHAOS, Gaius, Eros, and Tartarus, along with the various descendants including Hedone. The mythological history of this word (Hedone – hedonism) continued into the 1st century, bearing the idea of lust, autonomous desire, and sensuality/salaciousness (as I stated in my article). The lexical scope of this term is still a broader discussion, but my reference to it comports with the scriptural connotation (Romans 1:24, 1 Peter 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:3, James 1:14, 4:2-3, 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16, 18, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). A serious lexical analysis of this important term should remind any student of the Bible that when Christ, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude employed this term, they were not doing so in deference to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The Encyclopedia of Philosophy; instead, they were employing a term that was well known to the audience of the day – and they knew quite well that such a term was rooted in the notion of sinful, wicked desire. I would encourage the reader to search this matter out and to remember that our allegiance must be to God and to every jot and tittle of His word above anything else.

Once again, Chad Ashby and Desiring God Ministries are entirely free to give half (or partial) credit to the heresy of Victoria Osteen; but this is where we part company – I can offer no credit to a heretic whatsoever. In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, “Christian Hedonism” has been a discussion that has come to my doorstep time and again, but I can assure you that it is not something that I have chosen so seek out for personal entertainment or amusement. Christians need to take these questions and discussions seriously without engaging in crass mockery. The prevalence of “Christian Hedonism” in the modern day, which is a Lewisian construct to the core, will continue to make it so that pastors will have to take a stand on this issue – one way or the other.


[1] See – Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, page 64, footnote #91.

[2] Chad Ashby – “I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home.” (Q. Really? This hits close to home? For whom does this “hit home?”). Chad Ashby - “You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘What its [sic] the chief end of man?’” (Q. Does Chad Ashby really know what VO was “trying” to do such that he can assign half-credit to her?) From: “Was Victoria Osteen Really that Off Base?”

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Bitter-Sweet Lessons of Divine Providence

Last month I stumbled upon some sad and difficult news, the likes of which I will not describe in detail, but will only say that it involves a church in the northern Midwest. I heard about this news via a Christian podcast which aired shortly after the crisis in question. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but to recall to mind several memories concerning one of the most difficult experiences that I have gone through in the ministry. The memories and experiences that I will share will be nameless recollections from the past. To be frank they are difficult memories and past anxieties that I have entrusted to God, lest my own heart be corrupted with a root of bitterness. Yet, these distant memories also bear forth a bounty of important life lessons. Whenever I do think of them, I am immediately drawn to the reflection of God’s kind and faithful tutelage of my soul. Thus, these memories supply helpful goads and warnings as I continue to grow as a Christian, a husband, a father and a pastor. This is the way of God's beautiful providence: the most bitter experiences in life supply an abundance of teaching concerning our great need for Christ; for His wisdom; for His grace; for his love and tender mercies. Therefore, what I share with the reader is given with the design to pass along important life lessons that the Lord continues to teach me as a bankrupt sinner, devoid of wisdom apart from His Word. There may be those who will read what follows and be familiar with the details which lie behind my generic recollections. If this is the experience of the reader, then please know that my only design is to pass along the life lessons that God has ordained for his people – for me; for you; for every member of His church.

When I was in the earliest years of ministry I was serving in a church whose spiritual beginnings came from the hyper-grace teacher: R.B. Thieme. At the time, I was too inexperienced to comprehend what this meant, but I eventually discovered that the seeds planted by this man, and others like him,[1] established problematic roots in the church – and those roots ran very deep. To varying degrees, men like Thieme champion a notion of grace which maligns the precious truths of the Lord’s sovereignty, mankind’s total depravity, God’s irresistible grace, His unconditional election, particular redemption, and most notably - the doctrine of the perseverance of the Saints. Along with these problematic influences in the church, there was a strong thread of “Evangelical Feminism” – a pernicious doctrine that continues to grow with unmitigated acceleration within the professing world of Evangelicalism.[2] Now I should note at this point that, after being a pastor for over 20 years, I would never enter into such an environment like this again. However, as a young pastor, energetic, optimistic, and naïve, it was my desire to teach the word with the hope that many could be persuaded by the clarity of God’s word on these important matters. Yet, in this first pastorate of mine, I began to discover some of the stark realities of pastoral ministry. What I soon discovered is that individuals who disagree with a church’s leadership will soon reveal their true character, for better or for worse. The number of conflicts that I had to face during this season of ministry are too numerous to articulate here, but in just one example I recall having to travel to California with my wife and young children in order to perform my first funeral service in my life - for my father. My wife had just had a miscarriage and so our family was having to face the reality of death in many different ways. The most difficult aspect of the funeral services that I had to perform for my father centered on the fact that he never made a profession of faith in Christ. Not only did I oversee his funeral, but I had to attend to the affairs of his dwindled estate. All of this proved to be exhausting for all of us as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Upon our return home, I was welcomed with a petition demanding my resignation, signed by several devotees of hyper-grace teaching.

Experiences like these can be crushing, especially to a young pastor; however, in God’s good providence these difficult years began to teach me, in a strange and inverted way, the importance of my role as a shepherd in my home first, for an essential reason: every trial that a pastor faces should bring him back to an inspection of his soul, his dealings with his family, and his dealings with the church – in that order. I began to realize that how I responded to these trials before God and men had the potential of blessing or burdening my wife and children. In fact, I should say that any trial has a way of reminding any man why it is that he needs to be a strong leader in his home as a means of protection from all external conflicts from the world and even the church. For this, I am thankful for God’s sweet providences, though they seemed quite bitter at the time. For five and a half years the Lord delivered a steady stream of such experiences as we navigated our way through various conflicts involving theology proper, harmartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, the institution of marriage, the family, and the roles of men and women. Every conflict that I had to face brought me to my knees before God, forcing me to reflect on my attitude, conduct, and demeanor before the flock of my household – before any other consideration of my broader ministry to the church. In short, the Lord was teaching me the simple but often overlooked lesson of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

1 Timothy 3:4–5: 4 He [the overseer – v. 1] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…

They say that sometimes big things come in small packages, and with this very thought I would suggest that one of the biggest lessons of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is packaged within Paul’s parenthetical comment: (“…but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”). I believe that Paul’s lesson on the overseer’s home supplies an important nucleus for all that surrounds it. You see, a man’s singular devotion to his wife, his temperance, prudence, respectability, hospitality, ability to teach, sobriety, self-control, gentleness, peacefulness, and monetary self-restraint are best tested and seen within the crucible of the home before they are tested and seen anywhere else. God does not call shepherds to role-playing or stage-acting; He calls them to the substance of godly leadership in the home as the unimpeachable evidence of his qualifications to lead in Christ’s church. Because of this, the family should be seen as the veritable canary in the coalmine, signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the man who fills the office of overseer. What I began to discover amidst these early trials of my ministry is that the Lord was refining me in ways that I could never have before imagined.

This is the stuff of refinement that no Seminary degree can impart.

It is for this reason that I fully believe that genuine overseers are not created by manmade programs, rather, it is God who sovereignly calls overseers to such an office such that their conduct and character will become evident within a watching church – in God’s time. Such a process as this reminds God’s people that it is God who builds His church, not men, and that the overseer who is truly called by God will be in public what he is in the private. The following 6 principles began to crystalize for me:

1. The Principal Focus of a Pastor’s Leadership: Paul tells us that a genuine overseer must be one who manages his own household [ἰδίου οἴκου] well. This statement points to the principal focus of the overseer – his own [ἰδίου] household. Thus, before an overseer can shepherd other households within the church, his own household must be his first ministry above all. Should he fail here, he fails everywhere. As already stated, his family is the veritable canary in the coalmine signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the pastor.

2. The Nature of His Leadership: Paul reminds us that the overseer/pastor is one who manages his household well. The word manage [προϊστάμενον] literally means “standing before others,” denoting a clear and decisive leadership/management. This concept is important and harmonizes well with Ephesians 5:23, where all husbands are commanded to lead their households because the husband is the “head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” Taken together, these verses obliterate the contemporary mythology of co-leadership between husbands and wives in the home. Many churches actually believe and teach such co-leadership in the present day, however, biblically speaking, the wife is the helper to her husband according to the creation ordinance (Genesis 2:18), but not a co-leader (Ephesians 5:22-6:4, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Decades of feminism in the world have influenced the modern church in such a way that these principles are nearly lost – to the demise of many. However, a man who loves his wife is the one who, in the imitation of Christ, will supply a decisive leadership which provides a haven of protection for her and the children. As an example of this principle of loving leadership, God’s covenant of grace with Abraham reveals an important kernel of truth: “For I have chosen him, so that he may command [H. yatzawe] his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Genesis 18:19. This verb, command - yatzawe/tzawa comes from the root word mitzwa (commandment) and is correctly translated as “command” in the NASB. Whatever else the reader might think or assume about the nature of Abraham’s calling of leadership, it was rooted in a clear and decisive management based upon the “way of the Lord.” Abraham was not called to delegate this responsibility to others; nor was he allowed to neglect it or even share it with his wife Sarah; instead, it was Abraham’s responsibility before God alone. In the end, if a man does not lead his household in this manner, he is not qualified to shepherd the flock of God.

3. His Pedagogy in the Home: According to Scripture, a godly husband must seek the sanctification of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33) and his children (Ephesians 6:4) by means of the ministry of the word. This principle establishes the importance of regular worship in the home (i.e., family devotions/worship). However, spiritual indifference leads men to the neglect of such duties, but love for Christ drives a man to such privileges with great joy. In homes where such a pedagogy of love takes place, one will find the fruit of peace and joy. However, wherever such a pedagogy is weak or absent, uncertainty, sorrow, fear, depression, anxiety, discontentment, provocation, and anger will fester and grow. The overseer must manifest this important duty of family worship for the sake of his own household as well as for the sake of other men who watch his example. As Thomas Manton has said: “A family is the seminary of church and state; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in church and commonwealth. By family discipline, officers are trained up for the Church, (1 Timothy 3:4). Upon all these considerations how careful should ministers and parents be to train up young ones whilst they are yet pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and impression in the knowledge and fear of God.” Simply put, a man is not “apt to teach” if he is not leading and teaching his wife and children in the home first and foremost.

4. The Importance of Hospitality: Paul’s mention of hospitality in 1 Timothy 3:2 isn’t a quaint notion of social etiquette, but has to do with the quality of loving those who are outside of his household. Such a ministry reveals his care for, and generosity with, others in his broader community. However, hospitality is also important because it supplies a means by which the shepherd can interact with, and be visible before, others within the church. Paul’s instruction about hospitality should bring to mind Peter’s important command in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “[shepherd the flock of God among you…] nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” The words, proving to be examples [τύποι γινόμενοι], speak of the overseer’s perpetual transformation[3] as seen and witnessed by the people. Thus, a pastor is not a fixed, motionless statue, but is a living, breathing human being who is being transformed by the power of God’s grace such that his life is one that is becoming a greater example to the people who watch him. Despite his flaws as a human being, he, his wife, and children are all growing in wisdom and grace – and the open act of hospitality avails such progress to a church that is called to emulate such an example. Again, hospitality is more than social etiquette – it is the ministry through which sheep can see their shepherd and his family in a very real way.

5. The Centrality of Love: Interestingly, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is devoid of any explicit mention of love; however, the notion of love is implicitly revealed in every qualification. First, I say this because, as the foremost commandment is indeed foremost in every dimension of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:28-31), so it is with every qualification disclosed for the overseer seeing that love must govern everything in the pastor’s relationship with God and men. Second, a careful perusal of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 reveals that most of the character qualities of the overseer are repeated in this quintessential section on love. Moreover, the overseer’s leadership in his home must reflect that of Christ’s loving leadership of the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). An overseer’s loving devotion and fidelity towards his wife formulates the basis for his capacity to lead his household well, and all of this establishes the requisite foundation of his leadership of Christ’s church, for “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” Though an explicit mention of love is nowhere to be found in the text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it is everywhere by means of the whole counsel of God’s word and is central to everything.

6. The Extent of these Qualifications: As a final point of observation, Paul’s list of qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is to be applied to all overseers – without exception. Though this may seem to be too simplistic an observation for our discussion, it is not. From the beginning of my ministry to the present, I have often encountered a kind of culture of relativity within the church, especially as it relates to elder qualifications. Within such a culture, “staff” pastors are expected to conform to the standards for overseers (at best), while “non-staff” pastors can shirk such standards at will. Such thinking is both unsupportable and disturbing. Though it is recognized that those elders who are primarily focused on public preaching and teaching are to be mindful of James’ warnings concerning teachers (James 3:1), such a notion in no way mitigates the biblical qualifications for “non-staff” elders. Elders who frequent the pulpit as well as those who do not should all be invested in pursuing the elder qualifications stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 - because none of these texts establish any distinction among those who teach frequently versus those who teach with less frequency. The standards for overseers are not just for those with a seminary degree, or for those who readily fill the pulpit, but they apply to all who bear the title and office of overseer; and a conscientious pastor should seek the application of these standards among all overseers within the church so that he might be surrounded with the kind of accountability that he truly needs for the sake of his life, doctrine, and ministry overall. The removal or avoidance of these standards is spiritually dangerous to the pastor and the entire church.

This is just a small summary of lessons that deeply impacted my life and ministry during these times of testing. Though the pressures around me seemed to be overwhelming at times, the reality was that God was crushing me in order to formulate a valuable faith and conviction that cannot be acquired in the academy. What I did not realize at the time is that these seemingly obvious principles would prove to be deeply controversial. The more I became convinced of the central importance of the overseer’s need to exemplify a godly household in his ministry, the more controversy I faced. Though these principles should not be controversial within Christ’s body, I do maintain that the encroachment of feminism within the visible church supplies a veiled yet virulent opponent to such standards.

So what exactly happened during these trying years of ministry? How does this story end? Well, I won’t divulge all of the details (for there are too many), but the ebb and flow of this season of ministry came to a head when I was eventually accused of having standards for marriage and family that were “too high.” Please note, this was not an accusation of being unbiblical or of failing morally; instead, I was given the cryptic charge of having standards that were too high. At the outset, I was both disturbed and concerned over such charges. The reality is that, should I ever exceed what is written, I would clearly be in the wrong. In such a case as this I would gladly be shown my fault by Scripture, however, this never took place. Instead, I fear that behind these cryptic accusations was the veiled confession:

“We want lower standards.”

I must say to the reader that this is a fearful confession for any church. All of us must recognize that our standards fall short of God’s – daily, but this is to be expected. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that our ways are exceedingly low, and God’s standards are always higher than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” The solution to this is not found in the pursuit of standards that are lower than what God prescribes; instead, we must seek out His high standards in our continual pursuit of growth, knowing that we will never achieve perfection in this life - until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In the day of His return, we will be like Him and will be brought into conformity with His image. Until then, we are to reach out for God’s high and holy standard until our last breath, knowing that our sanctification in this life is progressive until the end. This is what I must seek as a Christian; as a husband; a father; and an undershepherd, and it is what I should call others to seek for Christ’s sake and ultimate glory. However, I fear that modern Christendom has divested itself of the high standards of God’s word in exchange for a lesser standard. It seems that many today are looking for a pastor who can become the next power broker in the market of “bigger is better”- Christianity. Simple, quiet, faithful devotion to the ministry of the word is out; market-driven big-religion is the new fad. Though Paul commands us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands,” the world scoffs at this as primitive, puritanical, culturally irrelevant and that which will never “trend” on Twitter.

So be it.

As believers we should cherish the priceless robe of “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3), rather than craving the world’s festal garments. Though such worldly clothing is ornate and eye-catching, it never endures. In all of this, I close by thanking the Lord for His precious lessons to me. Within the crucible of these trials, the Lord refined me and led me to understand my need to grow further as a Christian; to grow as a husband; a father; a pastor; and a heavenly citizen within this fallen world. Without the protective safeguards of God’s high standards, I fear that I would fail in the ministry by shrinking back to a lesser standard rooted in my own wisdom and strength rather than His. In God’s good providence it was through these years that I began to preach and write on the subject of marriage and family, which eventually supplied the foundation for my book, The First Institution.[4] As a result of my work on this book, I came to discover that, if anything, my standards needed to be raised further by the truths of God’s word. In all of this, I am deeply thankful to the Lord for His faithful tutelage in my life such that I can look back on such trials and see the tender providence of my faithful Shepherd.

To Him be the glory forever…

This article is also posted here.


[1] Specifically, the most prominent influences within the church came from R.B. Thieme, Zane Hodges, and George Meizinger.

[2] The reader should note that, throughout my ministry I have maintained that feminism is the indirect product of effeminism – that is, men who are unwilling to “act like men” 1 Corinthians 16:13. Wherever men create a vacuum of leadership (in the home or in the church) they create an indirect incentive for women to take their place. Thus, my concern over the prevalence of feminism in the modern era is not about women, primarily, but is centered on the preponderance of men who are failing to lead in the manner that God has called them.

[3] [G. γινόμενοι] – This present middle participle speaks of perpetual transformation of an individual’s nature and character. Perhaps a better translation would be “becoming examples” which clearly denotes the continued, progressive nature of the pastor’s mature as witnessed and imitated by others in the church.

[4] The First Institution: A Theological and Practical Guide for the Reformation of God's Institution of Marriage and Family [Hardback: ISBN-13: 978-1935358008].

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Does Paul “Invite” or “Anticipate” Human Reason?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Apostle Paul’s pedagogical methodology is his frequent use of staged questions which come from the vantage point of human reasoning. The book of Romans is filled with such a trail of staged questions, and this trail is established early on in the epistle:

Romans 3:1–8: 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

The Apostle purposefully jousts with a nameless opponent in order to demonstrate the dangerous dead end of human reasoning (i.e., speaking according to men - κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω). His descent into such calumnious rhetoric is designed to stage his repeated retort: may it never be! (μὴ γένοιτο). The thought of accusing God of unrighteousness (v.5), conjoined with the licentious consideration of doing evil that good may come, all stem from the madness of human reasoning, as John Calvin rightly says.

Though this is a digression from the main subject, it was yet necessary for the Apostle to introduce it, lest he should seem to give to the ill-disposed an occasion to speak evil, which he knew would be readily laid hold on by them. For since they were watching for every opportunity to defame the gospel, they had, in the testimony of David, what they might have taken for the purpose of founding a calumny, — “If God seeks nothing else, but to be glorified by men, why does he punish them, when they offend, since by offending they glorify him? Without cause then surely is he offended, if he derives the reason of his displeasure from that by which he is glorified.” There is, indeed, no doubt, but that this was an ordinary, and everywhere a common calumny, as it will presently appear. Hence Paul could not have covertly passed it by; but that no one should think that he expressed the sentiments of his own mind, he premises that he assumes the person of the ungodly; and at the same time, he sharply, touches, by a single expression, on human reason; whose work, as he intimates, is ever to bark against the wisdom of God; for he says not, “according to the ungodly,” but “according to man,” or as man. And thus indeed it is, for all the mysteries of God are paradoxes to the flesh: and at the same time it possesses so much audacity, that it fears not to oppose them and insolently to assail what it cannot comprehend. We are hence reminded, that if we desire to become capable of understanding them, we must especially labor to become freed from our own reason, (proprio sensu) and to give up ourselves, and unreservedly to submit to his word.[1]

Calvin is right in his understanding of Paul’s teaching method and message. Paul is neither inviting nor encouraging calumnious responses to truth. Instead, he anticipates what he knows will flow from the human heart as a result of corrupted and limited reasoning. Paul repeats this pedagogic procedure again in Romans 6:

Romans 6:1–2: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be [μὴ γένοιτο]! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Once again, Paul anticipates the natural man’s response to God’s sovereignty over sin and corruption in order to refute such fleshly thinking.[2] This same methodology is again repeated in Paul’s profound treatment of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:

Romans 9:14–21: 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

In many respects, Paul increases the intensity of his warnings to those who would raise calumnious back-talk to the Potter. Paul already refuted the speculation that injustice can be found in God back in Romans 3, and it is repeated here in the ninth chapter for reinforcement to what follows:

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

It is important to note that Paul anticipates (in the indicative mood) the above query, that is to say, he asserts with certitude that men will respond thus (“You will say [Ἐρεῖς] to me…”). Paul’s follow-up to such an anticipated question is extremely important. His reference to God as the molder and potter brings to mind God’s severe displeasure with those who question His authority and sovereignty:

Isaiah 45:9: 9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?

Isaiah 29:16: 16 You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Consistent with all of his other rhetorical questions, Paul’s staged queries in Romans 9 have the design of unveiling the heart of man behind the question. Therefore, Paul’s point of presenting such questions is designed to reveal: 1) the corruption of human reasoning; and 2) the purposes of God in all of His providential dealings with man. Once again, I believe that Calvin is right when he refers to the staged queries of Romans 9 as monstrous madness:

“Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.”[3]

Calvin reminds us that the normal questions raised by the natural man are typically bad questions which flow from the corruptions of the human heart. But such bad questions have a pedagogical purpose within Paul’s instruction. I would submit to the reader that Paul’s method here is designed to remind us all that, apart from grace, we are all madmen who are incapable of comprehending spiritual truth. The universal madness of men is well summarized by Solomon as follows:

Ecclesiastes 9:3: This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Overall, it is important to understand Paul’s rhetorical methodology. For the sake of his readers, Paul anticipated questions that were formulated from the poverty of human reason. He did not do this in order to invite us to think in such terms, but to expose the danger and untrustworthiness of human reasoning. When applying this teaching methodology, we must remember never to shame people when they raise such questions about God; but neither should we invite them to persist in such rebellious thoughts. I believe that the balance is to remind them, as does Paul, that some questions are inherently bad. The problem with such queries isn’t just that they are misleading, but that they convey something quite insidious: blindness, foolishness, and rebellion against God – for all have sinned and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).

In the end we should be thankful that Paul raised these questions at all, for when we consider them carefully, we find that such thinking is a certain reality for all of the descendants of Adam. By exposing these faults within us, Paul reveals the supremacy of God’s revelation to us concerning His transcendent nature and purposes. Moreover, though it can be said that the believer can, by grace, embrace such transcendent truths – it must be acknowledged that our knowledge in this life is still limited and veiled due to our own sin and human frailty, and therefore we ought to confess with the Apostle:

Romans 11:33–36: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Paul’s summary in Romans 11 brings us all to the place that we all belong: on our knees before the Pottertrusting Him in faith while trembling before His awesome power and authority - Isaiah 66:2: 2 “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”


[1] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (electronic ed.). Calvin’s Commentaries (Romans 3:5). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

[2] “We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult. For since everything that is announced concerning Christ seems very paradoxical to human judgment, it ought not to be deemed a new thing, that the flesh, hearing of justification by faith, should so often strike, as it were, against so many stumbling-stones.” Calvin, J. (1998). Romans, (Romans 6:1).

[3] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (9:14).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Note of Background: The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism

I am thankful to the Lord for the continued distribution and use of the book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism. Whether you have read the book already, or are trying to discern whether or not you should get it, the reader should know that this book is the culmination of several years of my own concern regarding the contemporary doctrine of fallible prophecy. The book itself is the product of multiple articles originally posted here at The Armoury from May to September of 2013. Those original posts supplied most of the content of each chapter for public viewing. Shortly thereafter, all relevant articles were revised and compiled into book form which was made available for public consumption on October 1st. The book was then formatted into the Kindle format and published on amazon.com shortly thereafter. The initial distribution of this title then led to Kindle versions in Deutsch (January 1st, 2014, chapter 2 only) and Spanish (February 15, 2014, full book). As a result of a designated donation, paperback versions of the book came out for the English and Spanish titles in February of this year. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this for His glory and for the building up of Christ’s body.

As already mentioned, the teaching of fallible prophecy has concerned me for many years. Though I have been able to sideline this matter for most of those years, John Piper’s public endorsement[1] of the doctrine in January of 2013 became the triggering mechanism that took those concerns from the sidelines to a more public forum. The reason for this is threefold:

1. New Calvinism: When John Piper expressed his support for fallible prophecy on his Desiring God website,[2] he decidedly entered into a new phase of advocacy[3] for this troubling doctrine. His popularity, coupled with his reputation as a father figure within the New Calvinism movement, runs the risk of advancing this troubling doctrine with greater rapidity and breadth than previously seen with men like Wayne Grudem.

2. Evangelical Celebritism: The culture of Evangelical Celebritism,[4] coupled with the rising influence of the Christian-publishing industrial complex, continues to supply a powerful vehicle for various teachings that are deeply problematic, including the Charismatic doctrine of fallible prophecy. For example, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been a central vehicle for fallible prophecy seeing that it “has sold over 450,000 copies and has been translated into eight other languages, with at least eight more foreign translations now in process.”[5] Not only does Grudem’s Systematic Theology teach and advocate fallible prophecy, but it also supplies a 6-point strategy for establishing fallible prophecy within the local church. This poses an increasing danger of the tolerance and proliferation of false prophets within the church via this pernicious doctrine.

3. Sola Scriptura: The doctrine of fallible prophecy leads to the undermining of the priority of Sola Scriptura, and this influence is spreading through a wide variety of popular pastors and seminaries. Though my work is focused on the theology of fallible prophecy, it seemed necessary to mention the various means by which this doctrine continues to be transmitted – whether wittingly or unwittingly. Thus, after completing the five chapters of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, I proceeded to work through the book’s introduction and resultantly felt compelled to include an additional 38 words to the 46,000 already written:

“Unfortunately, I must also report that my Alma Mater (The Master’s Seminary) has used Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology for several years, even though the institution represents a cessationistic point of view, one that is incompatible with fallible prophecy.”

This paragraph is then footnoted with the following:

“By mentioning this fact, it is not my intention to suggest that The Master’s Seminary (TMS) is attempting to spread Grudem’s doctrine of fallible prophecy. I am arguing that there are far better resources available, especially in view of the many time-tested works used by conservative seminaries throughout the years. Though TMS is only using portions of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, I am concerned that it is being used at all. His views on the Holy Spirit and the efficacy of God’s revelation permeate many other topics beyond that of spiritual gifts. Grudem’s writings continue to increase in their popularity and influence, often leading to tolerance or acceptance of his more problematic teachings. It is this indirect and mediated influence that concerns me the most because it is so subtle and often undetected.”

I had never planned to mention this small point when I first started working on the manuscript, however, the culmination of my studies and writing led me to express concern over the subtle, indirect, and mediated influence of Grudem on others. Thus, my respectful disagreement with TMS seemed unavoidable in light of my studies along with my growing awareness of Grudem’s legacy among TMS graduates and others.[6] As an alumnus of TMS, I haven’t the luxury of ignoring the actions and words of those who represent the institution. However, before expressing my concerns in the introduction of my book, I contacted individuals at the seminary in order to confirm that they had been using Grudem’s Systematic Theology at all. Though their use of it is selective, my concern (as already stated) is that it is being used in a positive manner at all, especially in light of the availability of alternative works and the way in which fallible prophecy permeates many other doctrines beyond that of spiritual gifts. Concerning this latter point, I do charge that Grudem’s teaching on spiritual gifts impacts related discussions concerning Sanctification,[7] Theology Proper,[8] Ecclesiology,[9] Hermeneutics,[10] the Roles of Men and Women,[11]and the principle of Sola Scriptura.[12] In view of these considerations, I cannot support the presumption that Grudem’s Systematic Theology contains a trifle amount of error that can be easily ignored. In fact, what he teaches concerning the nature of prophecy must not be ignored. Therefore, I would discourage any church or theological institution from using Grudem’s Systematic Theology. As already stated: there are other time-tested works that do a much better job of honoring God’s gift of prophecy. All of this is more than what I supplied in the Introduction of the book, but it seemed fitting to offer a more thorough explanation for my position, especially since the book has had several months of circulation already. In the end, all of us must carefully weigh not only our words but our actions before a watching world. If we wish to champion Sola Scriptura and the principle of Scriptural Inerrancy, then the very literature that we use and promote should be consistent with that position.

Finally, I should note that the timing of the book’s release was an interesting matter of divine providence. As already mentioned, I began my initial labors on The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism when I first watched John Piper’s advocacy video for fallible prophecy early in 2013. What started as a mere blog series on The Armoury through the Spring and Summer months of 2013 culminated in a book that became available in October of the same year. What I didn’t realize until late in this process was that a conference dealing with some of the same issues was gearing up for October 16th – 18th: The Strange Fire Conference. When I provided courtesy copies of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism to a few leaders at TMS on October 11th, I was made more fully aware of the conference, its content, along with the fact that MacArthur was going to be releasing his title: Strange Fire in mid-November. When I learned all of this, I wondered if my labors might be little more than a duplicate of what MacArthur would reveal in his work, however, through a friend who acquired MacArthur’s book at the conference, I discovered that this was not the case. In fact, I was given a copy of Strange Fire in late December of 2013 and have supplied a lengthy review here. Simply put, our books are quite different in many ways. I mention all of this as a broader background and context for The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism along with the timing of its publication. As an unexpected surprise of God’s providence, the elevated interest in the subject of continuationism/cessationism, as stirred by the conference, has helped to draw attention to the more narrow discussion of fallible prophecy. In everything, our prayer continues to be that the body of Christ would engage the Scriptures, seeking to resolve all questions regarding our Christian life and practice by no other authority – Sola Scriptura.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] John Piper’s continuationist views have had a limited distribution over the years. Those who have read his books would not necessarily know of his Charismatic views thereby, however, it is not as if Piper has hidden his convictions either. In reality, Piper’s advocacy of Charismatic doctrine has been evident throughout the years of his ministry, though it hasn’t been obvious to all those who follow him.

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/piper-on-prophecy-and-tongues.

[3] Should anyone question whether or not Piper is or has been an open advocate of fallible prophecy, it should be self-evident that posting an advocacy video on the world wide web is a very strong expression of public advocacy.

[4] As noted in the book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, this term is, admittedly, an invention in order to denote an increase in blind devotion that many offer to Evangelicals who are quite visible and popular.

[5] http://www.waynegrudem.com/systematic-theology/

[6] I graduated from TMS before the institution became more aggressively open to Wayne Grudem’s teaching and influence. My awareness of TMS’s use of Grudem’s Systematic Theology has come about over the years through my interactions with individuals associated with the institution.

[7] Grudem’s teaching on sanctification is fairly extensive, nearly spanning 100 pages. However, his emphasis on fallible prophecy, and the Christian’s presumed need to pursue such prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1), offers a troubling corruption to this important subject. As I address in the book, Grudem would have us to believe that prophetic exhortations in the church are fallible by the very nature of fallible prophecy. Yet we must wonder how believers can effectively pursue righteous living if their basis of authority entertains the inclusion of such corruption. If a believer’s pursuit of sanctification must rest in a view of prophecy that is fallible, then what hope does the believer have with such a shifting foundation? Moreover, Grudem argues that the lack of personal piety should not serve as a hindrance to the pursuit of the practice of prophecy by nearly everyone in the church. Yet, this stands as a contradiction to Paul’s call to piety and love in 1 Corinthians 13 within his overall instructions concerning the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simply put, Grudem’s teachings on sanctification are infected by his advocacy of fallible prophecy. Contrary to Grudem’s teaching, the fruit of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13) is the basis of all other gifts (1 Corinthians 12, 14).

[8] Grudem’s teaching on fallible prophecy supplies, by inference, a troubling message concerning the nature of God Himself. In the end, fallible prophecy is to be seen as God’s effort to reveal His word, fallibly, to His people. However, the historic lesson of prophecy is that God is always effectual and sovereign in this matter of revelation, such that he can even use the ungodly to utter His words (as in the case of Balaam). Simply put – the sovereign Lord of the Universe doesn’t “try” to do anything. Whatever else might be said about Grudem’s chapters on Theology Proper, his advocacy of fallible prophecy introduces a dangerous seed of corruption to the nature of God Himself.

[9] From the book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, “…the advocates of fallible prophecy argue that the presence of such prophecy in the local church is a sign of God’s blessing, while its absence is a sign of God’s removal of favor from His people. [170] They maintain this view while simultaneously arguing that fallible prophecy has less authority than the teaching of the Scriptures. [171] Though it may not be intended, such a view gravely diminishes non-continuationist churches, even if such churches hold a very high view of the teaching/ preaching of the Word. It should be no surprise, therefore, that fallible prophecy enthusiasts seek to promote and spread their doctrine to others. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem supplies a 6-step process for introducing fallible prophecy to the local church. Within Grudem’s 6-point plan, he advises his readers to seek out permission from their church’s leadership to advance such a ministry.” Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of “Fallible Prophecy” (Pfafftown, NC: The Armoury Ministries), 153-154.

[10] The full force of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism reveals the weaknesses of Grudem’s handling of the Scriptures concerning the doctrine of fallible prophecy.

[11] It is somewhat ironic that Grudem is reputed to be a defender of a biblically conservative position concerning the roles of men and women. His contributions towards the work, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood along with his active participation on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, have forged a strong reputation for Grudem in this manner. However, when one considers the practical realities of the doctrine of fallible prophecy, we find that women are typically encouraged to engage in modes of ministry which contradict scriptural mandates like 1 Timothy 2:12. Though the advocates of fallible prophecy will argue that NT prophecy bears less authority than that of teaching, thereby preventing such a confusion of roles, this simply isn’t the case in view of their overall misinterpretation of the prophetic gift. Simply put, the confusion that is inherent within fallible prophecy spills over into a confusion of roles of leadership in the body of Christ.

[12] As mentioned in footnote 7, Grudem’s repeated emphasis on seeking out fallible prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1) undermines Paul’s actual point. When Paul enjoined the Corinthian church to seek out prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1), he was calling them to pursue genuine prophecy, not the counterfeits of fallible prophecy being proffered by those who claimed to have the genuine gift (1 Corinthians 12:3, 14:37). In every generation, God’s people are called to pursue God’s genuine revelation rather than deceptive counterfeits. Overall, the teaching of fallible prophecy leads the church away from the principle of Sola Scriptura.

 

Editorial Note & Update on The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism:

It should be noted that The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism has undergone a small editorial adjustment in the third chapter: The Case of Agabus. In this chapter there is frequent mention of Rome’s stringent anti-riot laws. The most prominent mention of this is found in a brief citation from the words of Justinian:

“If a man on arrival excites a crowd and incites it to an unlawful object by his shouts or by any act such as making accusations against someone or even by arousing pity, and if damage is committed as a result of his malicious incitement, he will be liable, even if he did not originally have the intent of getting the crowd together… when a person gathers a crowd together himself and beats a slave in front of the crowd in order to do him an unlawful injury rather than with intent to cause loss, the Edict will apply.”

With or without such external sources, the reality of Roman anti-riot laws is inferentially evident in texts like Acts 19:40. However, the broader sphere of Roman law is mentioned in The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism in order to strengthen the reader’s understanding of the profound pressures that fell upon Paul when “all Jerusalem was in confusion” (Acts 21:31). As mentioned in the book, the longstanding history of Rome’s strictures against riotous conduct and treason goes back to its earlier era as a Roman Republic and is evident in legal structures stemming from Rome’s Senatus Consultum de re Publica Defendenda. However, in the autocratic era of the Roman Empire, the legal strictures against treason and riots became more centralized in the sole authority of the reigning Caesar. Simply put, the evolutionary history of Roman law is extensive. Some of this history is helpful when considering Paul’s Roman arrest, however, an exhaustive perusal of Roman law is far more extensive than what is needed for the argument of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism. Because of this, some of this background information supplied in the earliest version of the book has been simplified for the sake of clarity. One such change deals with the mention of the Senatus Consultum de re Publica Defendenda. Though historically relevant to the evolution of laws protecting Roman rule, its repeated mention in the book is simply unnecessary and has therefore been relegated to one brief footnote. Beyond this, the overall content, structure, and argument of chapter 3 remains completely unchanged.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Christ, the Centerpiece of Everything

         “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
         — Romans 3:31

“When the believer is adopted into the Lord’s family, his relationship to old Adam and the law ceases at once; but then he is under a new rule, and a new covenant. Believer, you are God’s child; it is your first duty to obey your heavenly Father. A servile spirit you have nothing to do with: you are not a slave, but a child; and now, inasmuch as you are a beloved child, you are bound to obey your Father’s faintest wish, the least intimation of his will. Does he bid you fulfil a sacred ordinance? It is at your peril that you neglect it, for you will be disobeying your Father. Does he command you to seek the image of Jesus? Is it not your joy to do so? Does Jesus tell you, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? Then not because the law commands, but because your Saviour enjoins, you will labour to be perfect in holiness. Does he bid his saints love one another? Do it, not because the law says, “Love thy neighbour,” but because Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments;” and this is the commandment that he has given unto you, “that ye love one another.” Are you told to distribute to the poor? Do it, not because charity is a burden which you dare not shirk, but because Jesus teaches, “Give to him that asketh of thee.” Does the Word say, “Love God with all your heart”? Look at the commandment and reply, “Ah! commandment, Christ hath fulfilled thee already—I have no need, therefore, to fulfil thee for my salvation, but I rejoice to yield obedience to thee because God is my Father now and he has a claim upon me, which I would not dispute.” May the Holy Ghost make your heart obedient to the constraining power of Christ’s love, that your prayer may be, “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.” Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin.” 

Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism–Available in Deutsch, Español, & English

We are grateful for the Lord’s provision such that The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism is now available in German (Deutsch) and Spanish (Español) versions. Additionally, paperback editions are now available in English and Spanish (links below). Supplied below are book descriptions of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism in German, Spanish, and English:

deutschDeutsch - Die fehlbaren Propheten des Neuen Calvinismus: Analyse, Kritik und Ermahnung in Bezug auf die aktuelle Lehre der "fehlbaren Prophetie" (Kapitel 2: Fehlbare Prophetie - Lexikalische Vorbehalte):

Die fehlbaren Propheten des Neuen Calvinismus: Analyse, Kritik und Ermahnung in Bezug auf die aktuelle Lehre der "fehlbaren Prophetie" (Kapitel 2: Fehlbare Prophetie - Lexikalische Vorbehalte):  Dieses Buch untersucht Dr. Wayne Grudems kontroverse Lehre der fehlbaren Prophetie und seine Analyse auf lexikalischer, exegetischer und historischer Grundlage. Es beschäftigt sich ferner mit der Popularität und der Verbreitung dieser Lehre durch die vielen Charismatiker in der Bewegung des Neuen Calvinismus. Die Lehre der fehlbaren Prophetie ist weder ungefährlich noch harmlos, sondern sie ist vielmehr ein beunruhigendes fremdes Feuer im Leib Christi und findet durch die Empfehlung von populären Vertretern der Lehre des Nichtcessationismus wie Wayne Grudem, D. A. Carson, John Piper und Mark Driscoll weitere Verbreitung. Diese Ausgabe des Buches enthält Kapitel 2: Fehlbare Prophetie – Lexikalische Vorbehalte: Bei seiner Beweisführung für die Auffassung einer “fehlbaren Prophetie” argumentiert Grudem, dass sich der neutestamentliche Begriffsinhalt des Wortes “Prophet” von der autoritativen Bedeutung entfernte, den das Wort einst hatte. Folglich, so Grudem, bezeichnete Christus seine Jünger nicht als Propheten, weil „… das griechische Wort prophetes (‘Prophet’) in neutestamentlicher Zeit … nicht die Bedeutung hatte, dass ‘jemand Gottes eigene Worte aussprach.’” Die Vorstellungen von fehlbarer Prophetie gehen jedoch weit darüber hinaus, lediglich die Bedeutung der Prophetie nach dem Maßstab alttestamentlicher Offenbarung zu verändern – sie stellen das Wesen der Prophetie gänzlich auf den Kopf. Laut Denksystem der Vertreter fehlbarer Prophetie ist der moderne Prophet nicht unfehlbar, sondern er wird nun als fehlbar betrachtet. Das lexikalische Argument für diese Schlussfolgerung steht auf der Grundlage äußerst extremer Anwendungen des Wortes aus dem Profangriechischen sowie anderer außerbiblischer Quellen. Folglich argumentieren die Vertreter fehlbarer Prophetie, dass die Leser des Neuen Testaments im 1. Jahrhundert das Wort Prophetie ganz selbstverständlich in dem Sinne auffassten, dass Prophetie im Alten Testament (unfehlbar) und im Neuen Testament (fehlbar) eine genau entgegensetzte Bedeutung hatte. Indem die Bedeutung und Definition eines solch zentralen Begriffs wie Prophetie umdefiniert wird, kommt es im Zuge der Lehre fehlbarer Prophetie in der Gemeinde zu einer Vielzahl lehrmäßiger Probleme sowie verwirrender Schlüsse, die Fragen über das Wesen Gottes aufwerfen, der verheißen hat, dass sein geoffenbartes Wort nicht leer zu ihm zurückkehren wird, ohne auszuführen, was ihm gefällt (Jes 55,11).

Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-Lehrer, Southern View Chapel: “Da Grudem der führende neo-calvinistische Theologe ist, der versucht, die Auffassung fehlbarer Prophetie darzulegen und zu verteidigen, setzt sich Beasley in erster Linie mit seinen Werken auseinander. Fehlbare Prophetie bringt nicht nur keinen wirklichen Nutzen, sie ist gefährlich und kann den Leichtgläubigen dazu verleiten, sehr bedauernswerte Handlungen zu vollziehen. Beasley hat der Gemeinde einen wunderbaren Dienst erwiesen, indem er dieses Buch geschrieben hat. Meine Hoffnung ist, dass viele es lesen und den Inhalt annehmen werden.”

Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.de in Kindle format.

espaniolEspañol - Los Profetas Falibles de Nuevo Calvinismo: Un Análisis, Crítica y Exhortación a la Doctrina Contemporánea de la "Profecía Falible":

Este libro examina la controversial enseñanza del Dr. Wayne Grudem sobre la profecía falible considerando los diversos puntos de análisis léxicos, exegéticos e históricos. También se ocupa de la popularidad de la enseñanza y su progreso continuo a través de muchos carismáticos dentro del movimiento del “Nuevo Calvinismo.” La doctrina de la profecía falible no es ni benigna ni inofensiva, sino que más bien constituye un fuego extraño inquietante para el cuerpo de Cristo y continúa propagándose a través de la promoción hecha por los continuistas populares como Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, John Piper, y Mark Driscoll. Al reestructurar el significado y la definición de un concepto tan central como la profecía, la enseñanza de la profecía falible crea una serie de problemas doctrinales y puntos de confusión dentro de la iglesia, que plantea interrogantes sobre la naturaleza de Aquel que promete que Su palabra revelada no volverá a Él vacía sin haber realizado lo que Él desea ( Isaías 55:11 ).
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"La profecía falible no solo carece de algún valor real, es peligrosa y puede llevar a los incautos a tomar acciones muy desafortunadas….puesto que Grudem es un teólogo Neo-Calvinista que encabeza el intento de desarrollar y defender la posición de la profecía falible, Beasley interactúa principalmente con sus escritos…. Beasley ha hecho a la iglesia un maravilloso servicio mediante la producción de este volumen. Mi esperanza es que muchos lo lean y absorban su contenido.”
Gary E. Gilley , pastor – maestro de Southern View Chapel en Springfield, IL.
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Michael John Beasley ha servido en el ministerio pastoral desde 1991 y es el autor del Altar a Un Amor Desconocido , La Primera Institución, Todos los Pueblos Bajo Dios , En Realidad lo Dijo Pablo?, Y Los Profetas Falibles de Nueva Calvinismo.

Available at Amazon.com in paperback, Kindle.

englishEnglish – The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism - An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of "Fallible Prophecy":

This book examines Dr. Wayne Grudem's controversial teaching on fallible prophecy in view of various lexical, exegetical, and historical points of analysis. It also addresses the teaching's popularity and continuing advancement through many charismatics within the "New Calvinism" (Neo-Calvinism) movement. The doctrine of fallible prophecy is neither benign nor harmless, rather it constitutes a troubling strange fire for the body of Christ and continues to spread through the advocacy of popular continuationists like Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll. By retooling the meaning and definition of such a central concept as prophecy, the doctrine of fallible prophecy creates a host of theological problems and points of confusion within the church which challenge the very nature of  the One who promises that His revealed word will not return to Him empty without accomplishing what He desires (Isaiah 55:11).

“Not only does fallible prophecy have no real value, it is dangerous and can lead the gullible to take very unfortunate actions...since Grudem is the Neo-Calvinist theologian leading the charge in attempting to develop and defend the position of fallible prophecy, Beasley primarily interacts with his writings. His carefully presented argument leads to the conclusion that Grudem is reasoning from both ignorance of New Testament times, as well as from silence. Beasley has done the church a wonderful service by producing this volume.  My hope is that many will read it and absorb its contents."

Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel
Springfield, Il.

Available at Amazon.com in paperback, Kindle.