In The Man in the Leather Hat, veteran missionary Paul Long tells story after story about his three decades as a missionary pilot and church planter. When he served in Brazil, he would fly into the deep interior of the country and plant churches where people had not interacted much with the outside world. A lot of the stories, however, don’t end the way we might like.
In one story, Long went to an African village, flipped open his Bible, and began to preach. The locals warned him, saying he couldn’t preach in the place where he stood because it was the devil’s property. As he started to speak, he suddenly felt like there were icy fingers grabbing his throat. Not only could he not speak, he couldn’t breathe. As he gasped for air, the villagers began laughing at him. It wasn’t until he closed his Bible and walked away a few feet that he was able to breathe again. “We told you!” the people said. The villagers pointed him to a different place, where he was able to preach the Word. People came to faith and he was eventually able to plant a church in that village.
What do you do with that? That doesn’t end the way we would like it to end. God would not have needed any significant display of strength to defeat the devil in that situation, so why didn’t he? Long’s only explanation was that it was not a power encounter God had ordained for him; it was one he took on for himself, much like the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. Spiritual warfare is serious business, and no one should go looking for fights like that.
It concerns me when people in our culture fail to take this kind of spiritual warfare seriously. Many think spiritual warfare is something only mystical or weird Christians think about. The truth is, spiritual warfare is very real, and we should expect it. The devil hates you and has a horrible plan for your life. Although he cannot take your salvation, he does not want you to enjoy a life growing in sanctification, to be effective in ministry, or to be happy. He wants you to constantly fall into sin and constantly struggle with discouragement. The attacks come in many ways, and the goal is to destroy your ministry and effectiveness for the gospel.
Paul was clear about this spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, one of the most famous passages about spiritual warfare in the Bible. I pray through this passage in my quiet time every day, asking for God to equip me with the full armor of God:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual force of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” – Ephesians 6:10-13
This is especially true about overseas missions. When I speak on missions, I’m frequently asked a similar question. At conferences, events, or just after classes, people will come up to me and ask, “Do you think missionaries encounter more warfare than others?” I tell them that they certainly do, but not in the way you probably think. Spiritual warfare is an ever-present reality for missionaries, but not because it necessarily happens more often. It’s simply more easily recognized.The ‘Flaw of the Excluded Middle’
More than 40 percent of the world holds to some sort of animism, or the belief in personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces that have power over human affairs. In animistic cultures, adherents consider natural objects to be animated by spirits. Everything holds a life force. For many people around the world, human beings must discover what beings and forces influence them and figure out a way to manipulate their power — whether through a shaman, witch doctor, or medium.
Say you’re a new missionary, and you’ve just arrived at your unreached people group. You’re here to teach the Bible — to teach all the systematic theology you learned in seminary. So you gather together the whole indigenous group and start to teach. But you quickly realize your message isn’t connecting. Why?
The spiritual world of most American Christians features two categories: the divine realm (where God lives) and the earthly realm (where humans live). There are religious matters — faith, miracles, and other-worldly problems — and scientific matters — the senses, natural order, and this-worldly problems. There is a sacred realm and a secular realm.
Much of the rest of the world does not see it this way. For animistic people throughout the world, almost all of life is instead found in the spiritual “in between” — what missiologist Paul G. Hiebert calls the “excluded middle.” They think about local gods and goddesses, ancestors and ghosts, demons, and dead saints. There are no seminary classes for dealing with the regular onslaught of evil spirits. We know things like that existed during Bible times, but we don’t think about it. In this area, missionaries often confuse people and don’t communicate well because of their Western, two-tiered view of reality.Fighting the war
When dealing with spiritual warfare, we must avoid two extremes: a denial of the reality of Satan and the spiritual battle within and around us, and an undue fascination with, and fear of, Satan and his hosts. Spiritual warfare is real; perhaps we’ve excluded more than we should have of the “excluded middle.” Regardless of whether every form of superstition you face is legitimate spiritual warfare, remember many people throughout the world believe it is real. When you are on the mission field, remember that to the degree it is real in their minds, it is real to them. When you preach truth, remember what people perceive, so that you can give them the real truth so they can experience real salvation and deliverance.
Don’t see an evil spirit and spiritual warfare every time the sound system at your church feeds back, or every time your car won’t start, or every time someone in your church gets a cold. Understand there is real spiritual warfare, but maintain a biblical perspective. Don’t deny the presence of Satan and warfare; don’t run from it either. Do not be afraid of the spirits.
There is a spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of humans, but Satan has no power over God’s people other than what God permits him for the testing of their faith. God is ultimately in control. Don’t despair, wring your hands, and furrow your brow — as if we don’t know how the battle between God and Satan will conclude.
Satan and his hosts can also demonize people, but those with a demonic presence are to be pitied more than feared. If you encounter legitimate demonization — whether possession or oppression — on the mission field or in your ministry, don’t be so afraid of them. Pity them instead. They are prisoners of war, and you are there to preach the truth that can liberate them.
The focus of the Christian minister or missionary should be on love, reconciliation, peace, and justice — not on going around and looking for opportunities to engage in spiritual warfare. Don’t put “exorcist” on your business card. Regardless of all the supernatural opposition you might face, always remember that the supreme event of spiritual warfare is the cross of Jesus Christ. Consider Colossians 2:13-15:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-15
On the cross, Jesus put to shame the principalities and power that are at war against us. He is the Lord, the king, and the master of all creation. At his command, the storms of this natural world and the forces of the supernatural world alike are silenced.
Even over a century after her death, the name of Charlotte “Lottie” Digges Moon stands as perhaps the most recognizable Southern Baptist in history.
Born on December 12, 1840, Moon was baptized upon her profession of Christian faith in December of 1858, and she served as a Southern Baptist missionary to China between 1873 and her death on December 24, 1912. Any consistent attender of a Southern Baptist church will likely associate her name with the annual Christmas offering for the International Mission Board, which began in 1888 but was rechristened to honor Moon following her death.
Moon also holds a special connection to Southern Seminary. It was John A. Broadus who led the revival in Virginia under which Moon experienced Christian conversion and baptism after years of resisting the gospel. For some years afterward, she maintained close ties and correspondence with SBTS professor Crawford Toy, who was himself considering foreign missionary work and was an eligible bachelor. Toy gradually shifted toward liberal theology, and he and Moon never progressed further in their relationship. In the first half of the 20th century, Southern Seminary served as the campus for the Woman’s Missionary Union Training School, and many items associated with Lottie Moon came under the seminary’s stewardship.
During her lifetime, Moon maintained a strong direct influence upon Baptist perceptions of foreign mission work through her contributions published in the SBC’s Foreign Mission Journal. In various columns, she updated Baptists on the challenges of the Baptist China mission, particularly emphasizing the spiritual battles. On the spiritual climate from Tung Chow, she wrote:
“The Chinese fully believe in demoniacal possession. They also speak of persons as ‘possessed of the fox,’ or ‘possessed of the weasel.’ Witches worship the spirit of the fox, and are supposed to have its help in injuring others. These witches also have the reputation of being able to cure diseases.”1
Burial customs were an evident effect of the power that spiritual beliefs held over the people of China. While visiting a friendly acquaintance at home, Moon encountered a coffin containing the body of the hostess’s deceased mother-in-law in the center of the kitchen. The family delayed burial until they could raise enough money to pay a fortune-teller to select a lucky burial place, a priest to perform funeral rites, and musicians to participate in the ceremony.2 Moon also explained the burial ritual of leaving a hole in the grave because of the popular belief that persons possess three souls, one which remains interred with the body while the other two transverse to temples and ancestral tablets.3Though the custom had apparently fallen out of favor by the time of Moon’s arrival in China, she heard stories of a time when persons 60 years of age were entombed with a little food and left to die.4
Despite the prevailing influence of pagan superstitions, Moon had the highest praise for the common people of China, noting, “the Chinese are a kind-hearted, friendly race when once you know them and come to live among them in a familiar way. They are disposed to be neighborly, and are kind in sickness.”5 She spoke frankly about the spiritual hunger of the country, recalling that during a lesson one woman interrupted with the question “If we don’t worship the idols, what must we worship?” To Moon’s delight, another girl answered “Worship the True God. Worship Jesus.”6
Moon expected that membership in a Christian church should necessitate the abandonment of certain Chinese cultural traditions. Particularly notable among them was the practice of polygamy, which she called a “horrible system.”7 While at Pingtu in 1886, Moon visited a polygamous household in which the husband had cast off his first wife and replaced her prominence in the home with another woman, simply because all their male children had died. For Moon, repentance from polygamy and its cruel injustices against displaced Chinese wives was a matter essential to proving the sincerity of spiritual conversion and admission into Christian fellowship.8
Despite all the challenges, Moon remained steadfast in her mission and urgently pleaded for continued Southern Baptist participation and support for the work in China:
“No heart that has truly caught the Master’s spirit can look out on the vast multitudes of heathen and fail to be moved with a like piety. . . . How are these people to be saved without the gospel? . . . The majority of the natives look upon [the itinerant missionary] as a ‘devil’ to be hated . . . There are family influences, there are superstitions of ages, there is obloquy and hatred. The newly awakened man needs the moral support of the missionary’s presence. Is it a wonder that many give up in despair, thinking it is no use to try, and that they can’t walk this hard path alone? Suppose there are converts; they need to be taught how to live the Christian life. They need before them actual examples of holy Christian living.”9
More resources on Lottie Moon can be found in the Archives and Special Collections at the James P. Boyce Centennial Library. A transcribed collection of Moon’s correspondence and articles can be found in Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, ed. Keith Harper (Mercer University Press, 2002).
1Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings, ed. Keith Harper (Mercer University Press, 2002), 203.
2 Ibid., 204.
3 Ibid., 202.
4 Ibid., 207.
5 Ibid., 205.
6 Ibid., 207.
7 Ibid., 212.
8 Ibid., 213.
9 Ibid., 227.
Christians not only encounter spiritual warfare overseas, but also in daily Christian life and ministry. Towers editor Andrew J.W. Smith talked with William F. Cook, professor of New Testament interpretation, about warfare in the Bible, how to teach kids about it, and how congregational singing is a “blow against hell itself.” Cook is co-author of the forthcoming book, Spiritual Warfare in the Storyline of Scripture.
AJWS: How should Christians think about spiritual warfare in the Christian life?
WC: First, there’s a maximalist and a minimalist understanding of spiritual warfare. The maximalist understanding sees demons under every rock and behind every tree and attributes every sickness and every sin to demonic activity. That’s the extreme charismatic approach. Most evangelicals, however, probably affirm the minimalist approach — acknowledging the reality of cosmic warfare, spiritual warfare, angels, demons, and Satan, but not allowing it to affect anything about the way we evaluate life. It doesn’t affect how we pray, nor how we evaluate circumstances and situations.
From beginning to end — beginning with Genesis and ending in Revelation — the Bible is about a cosmic conflict. But while the maximalist position overemphasizes the role of cosmic conflict in the life and day-to-day activity of the church, the traditional evangelical minimizes it. In Ephesians 6, which is probably the most important passage in the New Testament on spiritual warfare, the reader should come away with the determined conclusion there’s a battle going on, and that battle primarily takes place in the moral life of believers. While Satan is involved in the hearts and lives of unbelievers, a significant part of his strategy is to depreciate the glory of God in the life of Christians, to stop them from growing spiritually, and to minimize their effectiveness as gospel witnesses.
Both in training ministers and in the discipleship of regular church people, we need to do a better job of teaching them how to wear the gospel armor — the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and prayer, which is essential.
AJWS: Western Christians often hear stories about incredible things happening overseas, but don’t typically experience “demonic activity.” Are we witnessing spiritual warfare and just not aware of it, or does spiritual warfare take different forms for us in the West?
WC: We do see in third-world countries, and in other parts of the world, spiritual warfare in a more visible manner, where people are much more open to spiritual realities. Most of us raised in the West are naturalists.
We’ve been raised in a system of scientific approach to life: If you can’t see it, taste it, and test it it doesn’t exist. So naturalism, I think, hinders us, and it also aids demonic activity because I don’t think it’s any less real. It’s just under the cover of darkness in a way that’s less evident in third world countries that are more animistic. They’re more open to the reality of demons. They see demonic manifestations on a regular basis in many places. They’re much more involved in witchcraft, the occult, astrology. And we reject those things.
So Satan would rather work under the cover of darkness, and he does an effective job by just leading most of the western hemisphere not to believe in the realities of spiritual warfare. I think that what’s happening is that Satan is just as active, but in a less visible way. And while I don’t hold to territorial spirits in the traditional way that Peter Wagner teaches it, I do believe that there is significant demonic activity in our culture. I think you see it in the movie industry. I think you see it in our entertainment. So he’s working behind the scenes, in an invisible way, but every bit as real because there is a world every bit as real as the physical world.
AJWS: There’s a strange passage in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul is talking about women wearing head coverings “on account of the angels.” How can we observe supernatural realities present in the life of the local church?
WC: I think in the local church, particularly in 1 Corinthians 11 in that unusual passage about women’s head coverings and angels observing our worship, I think when you look at the implications, our worship is viewed in some way by angels and demons. I think genuine, authentic worship is a means of spiritual warfare. I don’t want to overemphasize this verse in Nehemiah, but “Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” I think that when we sing, we are actually engaging in a form of spiritual warfare. I often will tell my congregation in my opening comments before pastoral prayer, “We’re getting ready to confront the enemy. We want to sing loud and bold and courageously about what we believe about Jesus and how we feel toward Jesus. In doing that we’re striking a blow against hell itself as we affirm the reality of the one true and living God.”
We can either give too much attention or too little attention to it, and we also have to keep in mind that when the early church gathered they didn’t give a lot of attention to the reality of angels and demons. Acts is where I often turn to to see how the early church worked out the teaching of Jesus. They saw Jesus minister, they heard Jesus teaching, particularly the Apostles. So how did it work its way out in Jerusalem and in Antioch? You don’t see them giving a lot of attention to those kinds of things in worship.
I think that we need to pray that Satan be kept at bay during the preaching. You see, for example, at the upper room during the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Judas was in that upper room and Satan was in that upper room. When Jesus dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas, Satan entered into Judas. Satan can be present in the most holy of places, or more likely his demons, but in that particular instance Satan himself. In the most holy of settings, he can be present.
So we need to be cognizant, particularly as ministerial staff, that we’re going into a battle, we’re going into a war. Our members are not going to recognize what’s going on. Satan will be trying to distract them, divert them in a variety of ways. We need to make sure we’ve prayed for our congregation and prayed that the Word and the Spirit would manifest the power of Christ in the life of his people.
AS: What about teaching children and high schoolers about these truths? How do you teach kids about spiritual warfare in a sensitive, faithful, but not creepy or Halloween-glorifying manner?
WC: Whether you’re teaching junior highers or adults, when you come across something in the text, you have to explain it in a way they can understand. As shepherds and ministers of the gospel, we ignore the topic to our own demise. The key to explaining it well is to simply follow what the text says. If we spend too much time on it we’re out of balance with where Scripture inserts it in key passages and places. If we skip by it all the time, we’re subverting it on the other side. So I think it’s best to allow preaching through the Bible expositionally: when it comes up, just spend considerable time on it, then you let it go as long as the Bible lets it go.
Book and Music Reviews: ‘Surviving and Thriving in Seminary’; ‘Hope of Every Promise’; ‘The Economics of Neighborly Love’; ‘Theology, Church, and Ministry.’
Surviving and Thriving in Seminary by H. Daniel Zacharias and Benjamin K. Forrest (Lexham Press 2017)
Review by Andrew J.W. Smith
Seminary is hard. Whether you’re single or married, seminary is probably going to push you in ways you didn’t expect. Beyond simply learning time management or sharpening their research skills, prospective seminary students need an array of practical and spiritual tools in order to navigate their studies. Students also need to wrestle with their souls before they start their first class, preparing for a time of spiritual dryness as they start to experience God and his Word in a brand new and often disorienting way.
This book, written by two former seminarians who now teach at divinity schools, provides a helpful guide to the challenging and often discouraging world of seminary education.
“We want not only to help you understand the reality of what you are getting yourself into, but also to equip you with the skills to succeed — spiritually, relationally, and academically,” they write. “We’re not going to coddle you or pull any punches. We know exactly how students sabotage themselves and procrastinate because we’ve done it and seen it done. Being a seminary student is rewarding, but it is also demanding. You need to know this ahead of time so you are not blindsided.”
The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity by Tom Nelson (IVP Press 2017)
Review by Tabitha Rayner
“Poverty is lacking relationships that bring flourishing,” Tom Nelson writes in his insightful and helpful guide to understanding what loving your neighbor means, The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity.
When I moved to Louisville almost four years ago, I moved into the neighborhood touted as being the poorest zip code in Louisville. It was a shocking, life-altering, eye-opening experience that has entirely shaped the way that I relate to the world around me. As I read this book, I found myself wishing that everyone could read it. Nelson writes about poverty as someone with experience, wisdom, and compassion. He encourages Christians to be good workers who contribute to society with their finances and strong work ethic, arguing that this is one of the best ways to care for the poor. If you are looking to be encouraged toward a biblical work ethic and a godly view of economics and finances, read this book.
Hope of Every Promise by Kenwood Music (Kenwood Music 2017)
Review by Aaron Cline Hanbury
Longing weighs on Hope of Every Promise. And while you probably shouldn’t call this EP a concept album, you can’t miss the continuity of the project. Taken together, the six tracks anticipate an audience walking a spectrum of suffering, discouragement, and exhaustion — Christians longing for rest.
This collection of singable, churchy songs, out last month from the Louisville, Kentucky-based Kenwood Music, invites you to reflect on God’s promises, to remember his love, and to reclaim the fulfillment of each in Jesus Christ.
The opening track, “Hope for Every Promise,” acts like a summary of the EP, identifying the kind of impatience characteristic of the Christian life and celebrating the source of fulfillment and hope. The standout track, “Good to Know the Father,” offers a soul-filled, mournful recitation of God’s love. It’s a weary celebration reminiscent of the third Psalm.
Five of the six tracks on Hope of Every Promise are the work of Southern Seminary alumnus Matt Damico.
Theology, Church, and Ministry: A Handbook for Theological Education edited by David S. Dockery (B&H Academic 2017, $30.00)
Review by Caleb Shaw
In his new book, Theology, Church, and Ministry David S. Dockery, president of Trinity International University, explains theological education and its relationship to the church. Dockery has gathered some of the brightest minds in evangelicalism to write about their own areas of expertise within theological education. Dockery and other contributors, such as Southern professor Gregory A. Wills, explain theological education and its history, survey the many areas of the theological education curriculum, and show the relationship between education and ministry in the church.
“Wherever the Christian faith has been found,” Dockery writes, “there has been close association with the written Word of God, with books, education, and learning.” Institutions like Southern and others advance the faith and join in this great tradition of Christian thinking by participating in theological education.
Dockery summarizes the purpose of theological education well by writing, “Theology and healthy theological education provide the backbone for the church. The work of theological education, done well, helps develop mature believers, strengthening heart, head, and hands, and resulting in the praise and exaltation of God.”
Theology, Church, and Ministry is a helpful introduction to what theological education is and why pastors should pursue it. If you have lost sight of the purpose of your long hours of reading, writing, and studying at seminary, I would encourage you to let this book remind you of the important task of theological education with which you are involved– a task that Christ uses to build up his church.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Brian K. Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and expository preaching at Boyce College and pastor of First Baptist Church of Fisherville, Kentucky, Jim Orrick, professor of literature and culture at Boyce College, and Ryan Fullerton, lead pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, talk with Towers writer RuthAnne Irvin about their new book, Encountering God through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence Through God’s Word.
RAI: Why did you all collaborate to write the expository preaching book?
BP: It began with Jim Orrick’s vision and dream, and at the time, he was in Ryan’s church, and he’s told me this on numerous occasions, “Ryan’s the best preacher in the city.” I would agree with that. He wanted Ryan’s insights. He wanted Ryan to be a part of this project. But we saw a need. I mean, there are some great books on preaching out there, but we felt like the topics we addressed had never been assembled together in one book. We were really passionate and convictional about the particular issues we addressed in this book, so that’s why we felt like the Lord gave us the burden for it.
RAI: How is this book unique?
RF: There are a lot of preaching books, and we’re not aware of a preaching book that brings together both character and hermeneutics, the role of the Spirit and the role of careful exegesis, and then even includes worldview issues in terms of hermeneutics and theology, which Brian handles so well. We tried to run the gamut. So there are books that go deeper on all those subjects, but not an entry level book that brings them all together.
RAI: You talk about bringing your people along with you to experience God’s truth. So for our readers who haven’t picked up the book, can you give a brief explanation of what expository preaching is?
RF: Well, the whole book really tries to unpack one phrase, that “expository preaching happens when a man of God says to the people of God, ‘Come, experience God with me in this text.’” So probably more Christians have experienced that than they have ever read the book. There are Christians who have just said, “Boy, when I heard the Word this morning I heard the Lord.” And you hear from people all the time, “Did you have my number or were you reading my email?” And of course we weren’t but God was unpacking the heart.
JO: Expository preaching is exposing the truths and ideas in a chosen text of scripture and explaining, proclaiming and applying those truths with the authority of God’s Spirit. The main idea of the text ought to be the main idea of the sermon. The supporting ideas of the text ought to be the supporting ideas of the sermon.
RAI: You encourage pastors to preach through whole books. Are there times where you would say it’s okay to step away from the series and address other things, like with the mass shooting in Las Vegas?
RF: I think what we’re trying to argue in the book is the best main diet for a congregation is going to be walking through books of the Bible. That’s going to teach them to think God’s thoughts after him and learn how to argue. By going through books, God sets the agenda in a unique way. We kind of talk about how it can be good, and even necessary at times, to walk through topics because it allows you the ability to pinpoint something.
JO: If there is a crisis in the church, interrupt your series from the book you are preaching through, and help your people understand what God says in his word about the crisis. Do the same if there is a national crisis or issue that is weighing heavily on everyone’s mind. I was pastoring in Kansas City when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001. Everyone was heavy with the event. I interrupted whatever I was preaching through at the time, and I devoted two weeks to helping my people think through from a Christian perspective what had happened. In 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, I was interim pastor in Frankfort, Kentucky. On the Sunday morning after the decision was handed down, I announced that I would address the issue of same-sex marriage during the evening service. I think our Sunday night attendance doubled that night. People wanted to hear what the Bible said about the issue.
RAI: So what practical things have you found helpful in consistently preparing to preach expositionally? Has it changed over the years?
BP: First of all, he begins so well in the book on you have to be a man of God. You have to walk with God. You have to be repentant vertically and horizontally and have a vibrant walk with God. I can’t lead people where I’m not going. If Christ is not my treasure, in the pulpit I’m just performing, I’m faking. That’s the first step.
JO: Memorization has been such a revealing way to encounter revelation! I sometimes wonder if I thoroughly understand anything that I have not committed to memory. If you start early and continue plugging along for 35 or 40 years, you end up with a lot of material committed to memory. When I preach from a book of the Bible that I have committed to memory, I have already put many hours of meditation and prayer into every passage in that book. I know the general message of the book, and I have considered every passage in its context.
RAI: There’s a chapter where you talk about expectations. Are there ways you deal with unmet expectations, either from your congregation or from yourself, like when you prepare and the sermon falls flat?
JO: Realistic expectations while seeking faithfulness: Do not seek great things for yourself. Be faithful day by day. The seeds of truth that you quietly sow in your day-to-day life will grow. If God has sent you to school, study like a son of God. If you die the day before graduation, you will have died in the field where God sent you to work. The great work of a preacher is not sermon preparation; it is preacher preparation. God knows where you are and what he intends to do with you. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage. “The stone that is fit for the wall will not be left to lie in the ditch” (ancient proverb).
RF: You have to set your goal as faithfulness rather than a certain vision of success. There is some link between our faithfulness and the fruitfulness of our ministries, but not a direct link. There are many, many godly men who labor in small places who are godlier than you but that are not seeing the fruitfulness you’re seeing. One of the things I think it’s important to remember is whether you’re a large church or a small church, whether your church looks like it’s not growing or whether it looks like it’s experiencing exponential growth, most of the work preaching does is secret work. That is, most of the things that happen in people’s hearts as you preach, you don’t hear about. Or maybe they’ll mention it to you five years after they heard the sermon. Unless people are going to line up and tell you everything they think God did in their hearts during every sermon, you’re not going to know most of it, yet he’s doing a deep work in every heart, every Sunday.
RAI: What advice do you guys give in your preaching classes or training courses to those who are just figuring out the ropes of expository preaching?
JO: Saturate yourself with the Word of God. Meditate on it day and night. Stop wasting your life reading social media, sending text messages, reading tweets and blogs, watching sports, and playing video games. Redeem the time. The thing you do crowds out the thing you might have done. Walk with God. Realize the dignity that God has conferred on you as a son of God and as a preacher of God’s Word. Do not be a parrot. Do not clomp around in some other preacher’s shoes. God called you to preach, and he intends to communicate his truth through your voice and your personality. If you abide in Christ, and his Word abides in you, you will bear much fruit.
BP: You have to know your Bible. There’s not a preaching class that’s really going to make a preacher. God makes the preacher. But the preacher’s responsibility is to be a man of the Word. I try to make it a daily discipline to read in theology outside of my daily reading of Scripture. I try to read in theology, biblical theology, systematic theology. I try to read current events. I read an article recently that said “The two most important books on a pastor’s desk are his Bible and the church directory.” So as you’re exegeting the text, you’re thinking about your people.
The post Making the truth plain: Authors discuss new book about expository preaching appeared first on Southern Equip.
Encountering God through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence through God’s Word (B&H Publishing 2017, $19.99) Jim Scott Orrick, Brian K. Payne, and Ryan Fullerton
He preacher’s task is not just a Sunday morning endeavor. Instead, it involves much preparation and investment — seven days a week. While this task is essential to the flourishing of the church, expositional preaching is often lacking in many of today’s churches, at the detriment of the people who fill the pews each week.
In their new book, Encountering God through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence through God’s Word, Boyce College professors Brian Payne, Jim Orrick, and Immanuel Baptist Church’s senior pastor Ryan Fullerton explore various reasons expositional preaching is necessary for pastors to implement in their church services.
“Making the truth plain is what an expository preacher does,” they write. “When the main point of the text is the main point of the sermon, the preacher has the assurance that the Lord himself is coming to speak and act. That is, the Lord’s power, authority, and presence are eruption to make things new.”
From the beginning, the authors integrate the importance of expositional preaching with an equal need: the holiness of the preacher himself. “He [God] blesses men actively seeking holiness in all of life’s struggles right alongside God’s people.”
The authors emphasize the definition of preaching as the invitation of a pastor to his congregation to “come and experience God with me in this text.” If the preacher is not experiencing the holiness of God, they write, the congregation cannot follow them. The holiness of the preacher is the first place to begin. “God desires the ministry of preaching and teaching to be done by men who are holy, qualified, and progressing.”
Each of these aspects — holiness, qualifications, and progressing in faith and skills — all work together to help a preacher as he grows in expositing Scripture. Encountering God through Expository Preaching provides readers with helpful anecdotes and biblical evidence for the benefits of expositional preaching. The authors address common topics of discussion regarding preaching, like topical sermons, various methods of sermon preparation, preaching from a manuscript versus preaching without notes, and the indispensable aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work during the preaching of the Word of God.
Three chapters are dedicated to “The Sermon and the Spirit,” emphasizing the Spirit’s involvement in moving within hearers’ hearts during sermons. “The Spirit of God who wrote the Bible,” they write, “is also the Spirit of God who illumines the Bible. The One who inspired the objective Word of God also illumines our darkened hearts to delight in it and proclaim it.”
In addition to the Holy Spirit’s work through preaching, the authors encourage preachers to “seek answers from the text that the text itself is asking.” Preachers accomplish this through asking what the text says in relation to the whole counsel of Scripture. Preachers need to evaluate four “horizons” of the text: contextual (immediate context), covenantal (context of the period of revelation), canonical (context of the entirety of revelation), and contemporary. Each of these aspects help preachers discern what to focus on in their sermon, and how to exegete while remaining faithful to the original intention of the text.
Orrick concludes the book with an exhortation to young preachers to focus on preaching the Word of God with sobriety and faithfulness that proves fruitful, even when difficult. “Be a holy man of God,” he writes. “Ask him to fill you with his Holy Spirit. Spend your days walking with God. Every time you have the opportunity, stand up like a man, open the Word of God, look your hearers in the eye, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and say with every fiber of your being, ‘Come! Encounter God with me in this text.’”
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Karen Swallow Prior
Professor of English at Liberty University
How do you uphold a biblical view of gender roles while also promoting the importance of women faithfully serving in the public square?
The distinctions in gender roles prescribed by both special revelation (Scripture) and natural revelation (biology) are pretty few relative to all that all human beings made in the image of God can do.
The fact is that the division between the public and private spheres is cultural, not scriptural. We uphold Scripture, nourish the church, and bless the world by encouraging and supporting women to pursue their gifts, even as we affirm the different roles men and women play in the church body and in the family.
What is your favorite place to vacation?
My husband and I worked for years to achieve our dream of owning an old home in the country. God allowed us to achieve that dream, and after nearly 20 years on this homestead, it’s still my favorite place to be. I travel more than enough for work, so I want to spend all my vacation time at home. We have dogs, chickens, and horses here, and there’s no lovelier or more comfortable place to do all my favorite things: read, write, run, swim, and sleep.
If there is any other place in the world that whispers to my heart now and then, that would be England. Fortunately, its climate is tolerable, but not sunny enough to tempt me.
What do you think is the biggest need for Christian students to understand about the world they are going into as professionals, pastors, writers, and more?
I think it’s important to remember, first of all, that there is such a thing as truth. Our inability to see it, understand it, or grasp it does not make it exist any less. Second, because we live in what has been dubbed a “post truth” age, the work of the church in cultivating understanding, bridging divides, and living out the truth with our whole lives has never been harder—or more important. Where truth is missing, tribalism reigns. Christians must transcend the tribes in order to point to the truth.
A while ago, I received an email from Ed Stetzer asking if I knew when spiritual gifts inventories first became prevalent. I gave him a quick reflection based on what I remembered at that time, but his question created a curiosity that sent me on a longer investigation. While this is certainly not the final word on the question, it may serve as a beginning point for other researchers. Here is what I have discovered ...
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One of the most important things we do in my Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs class is to identify scripture passages on which a hymn is based and examine how they are used. As is evident from a comparison of this hymn text with Psalm 46, Luther chose not to paraphrase the whole of that Psalm. Instead, he focused on the flood scenes in the first three verses and the cosmic battle in the latter part of the Psalm, where Yahweh shows himself victorious over the rebellious nations of the earth.
Luther’s original contribution in this Psalm paraphrase is a vivid, near-cinematic depiction of the battle in which the “flood of mortal ills” and a “world with devils filled” (both lines recalling the Psalm’s opening images of rising torrents) are at war with the armies of the living God. Particularly gripping is his portraiture of the “ancient foe” and the victorious Christ. The unifying refrain found at the middle (46:7) and end (46:11) of the Psalm, “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge,” resonates throughout Luther’s hymn in spirit if not in exact wording.
It may seem a bit presumptuous to try to improve upon the theme song of the Reformation, or even its venerable 1852 English translation by Frederick H. Hedge, the one still sung by most American Protestants. Incidentally, his is hardly the only translation available. The version by Scottish essayist, social commentator, and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) has long been the accepted translation in England, according to the late leading hymn scholar Erik Routley, and still holds that place in many British hymnals.1 Since German is my first language, and since I grew up hearing this hymn from my parents first in German, I wanted to attempt a fresh version that might clarify a few obscure spots in the English text. It appears in italics below, one line at a time, with my annotations and translation notes.2The Fortress and the Foe (stanza 1)
A massive fortress [fortification] is our God. What exactly are we looking at here? The adjective fest means strong.3 A Burg is a castle, a Festung is a fortress, a Festungsanlage is a military fortification.4 In medieval Europe these three were often rolled into one; if anyone needed to be protected in the case of enemy attack, it would be the king. The medieval Festung in Salzburg, for example, is a stunning fortified castle in the Austrian Alps built high up directly into the face of a mountain, a massive stone structure overlooking the city. Like ancient Jerusalem, there’s a strong wall around it (about six feet thick). I love that mental picture for God as our refuge. Never a worry of floodwaters here.
A strong defense and weapon. This phrase neatly covers both offensive and defensive warfare.
He alone helps in all the needs / That have us overtaken. Contrary to one transliteration I’ve seen, frei in the phrase Er hilft uns frei does not mean “He helps us free,” which makes no sense. It means “singlehandedly, without a single other means, agency, or crutch;” that is, he alone rescues and delivers us from every spiritual attack and any devastation which has overtaken us.”5 Carlyle used the phrase, “He’ll help us clear” for frei−a Victorian wording that I think does not communicate well to American congregations today. The message is: Spiritual victory is accomplished by Christ alone, period.
Our ancient, vicious foe / aims to seek and destroy. Satan is on a seek-and-destroy mission and Christ-followers are in his cross-hairs. He hates Christians to death, is hell-bent on their destruction. The word jetzt (“now”) seems to carry special weight, as if to say the battle has just gotten fiercer and he has pulled out his biggest guns, now employing deadly force.
And armed with might and lies, / he wars and terrifies. The German here says: “Great might and deceit are his cruel, dread armor”−and arms, I would add. Hedge’s couplet, “His craft and power are great / and armed with cruel hate,” is perfectly accurate. “Craft” here indicates deceitfulness.
And none on earth can match him. No one, no power on earth. A cautionary note to both lead pastors and worship leaders: Never, never end this congregational hymn after the first stanza in the interest of time or anything else. Why would you want to send your congregation home with a stanza about the enemy’s might instead of Christ’s?The Man Whom God Has Chosen (stanzas 2-4)
In our own power we’d only fail, / we would be lost forever. This couplet was hard for me to write because I dearly love the concision, force, and economy of “Did we in our own strength confide.” I’m a huge fan of subjunctive case, which can speak powerfully in few words, and “confide” is a strong verb. The bottom line here, intensified by Luther’s use of both superlative and sharp contrast, is that our strongest strength is only weakness. We would be quickly swept out to sea by the floods of sin and evil if we were trusting in ourselves. You’ve seen it happen.
But fighting for us is the Man / Whom God himself has chosen. I regretted having to drop the word “right” here (“rechte Mann”) in order to fit the line meter. The point is: Jesus is the Man, not in the gangsta sense of being the coolest, but in the sense of Ecce homo (“Behold the Man”), the words spoken of Him by Pontius Pilate at Christ’s trial (John 19:5). So the word “right” is still clearly implied.
You ask who that might be? / Christ Jesus is His name,6 / Captain of heaven’s hosts.
I wanted to convey here the biblical title of heaven’s Commander-in-Chief, the true meaning of the title “LORD Sabaoth” in the refrain of Psalm 46. Chris Tomlin’s release of 2013, “Whom Shall I Fear?” [“God of Angel Armies”], is one of the few recent worship songs to honor Christ with this name. In Hebrews 2:10, speaking of the redeemed, Jesus is called the “Captain of their salvation.” The translation in the current Lutheran hymnal7 uses the title “Champion” here for Christ.8 We should praise him as such! This is Luther’s moment of greatest intertextuality in the hymn.
Weaving together Old and New Testament truths, he first asks the rhetorical question, then answers it dramatically with an emphatic declaration: The Old Testament God of armies, the LORD of Hosts who journeyed with His people, is Christ Jesus himself. This picture of Jesus as Commander of the heavenly hosts also points forward to his return, vividly reminding us that, to quote one Bible teacher, at Christ’s next appearance he will “have a sword coming out of his mouth and a tattoo on His thigh, and will be meting out judgment on His enemies.”9
There is no God but He, / and He will hold the field [or: He must win the battle]! Hedge injected here “From age to age the same” to emphasize that Jesus is not only ancient but eternal. This is a great line but is not found in the hymn. Luther is saying here, in the words of Peter’s famous sermon, “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus has to win, will win, will hold the battlefield and never give up an inch.
And though this world were full of fiends [or: Though evil spirits filled this world] / all trying to devour us. This is not far from the truth, though it sounds like hyperbole. Jesus said the thief’s mission is to steal, kill and destroy. In Hedge’s version the German meaning is muted; the verb verschlingen really does mean to devour, as a carnivorous animal does. I Peter 5:8 is clearly the basis of this line: “Be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.”
[We know] we do not have to fear, / Our God will still empow’r us. We need not live in fear. The original states: “We still would succeed.”
The ruler of this world, / however much he roars. The actual verb is, “grimaces.” Demonic powers can terrify. Carlyle uses the title here the “ancient prince of hell,” which may sound authoritative and vaguely goth but is completely unbiblical and is found nowhere in Scripture. When Jesus calls Satan “the prince of this world” in John 14:30 he is describing a temporal, temporary situation; Satan will not be ruling anything in hell, he’ll be tormented there forever.
He can do us no harm, / he is already judged. I had always envisioned Hedge’s phrase, “One little word shall fell him” to mean felling Satan as in bringing down a tree. Actually, fällen also means to hand down a verdict, to pronounce a sentence, in this case, a death sentence, to bang the gavel.10 Satan’s death sentence has been pronounced, his ruling has been handed down. We’re not chopping trees here. One little word or, better, one single word that we speak from the Word of God condemns him to death row. Thus Hedge’s phrase, “Lo, his doom is sure,” gets us back on track.
That Word no powers of hell can touch, / It stands, though demons swarm us. It stands, despite their raging, though evil powers rage.
God with His Spirit surrounds his church, / with holy gifts he arms us11. He is filling and equipping the church today for what she needs to face, just as he equipped believers at Luther’s time to meet their hour.
At the end comes the hardest part—the fourth stanza. Who of us in the West, with our homes, networks, accomplishments, aspirations, or positions, can sing these lines? Another question related to this stanza would be: Whatever happened to honor (Ehre), which used to mean everything for a man or a woman? Today personal honor receives less attention than someone’s reputation, buzz, and numbers of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
While the previous stanza is about God’s giving lavish gifts to his church through his Spirit, this stanza is about our giving up, our losing everything for him, though it cost us our lives.
Though they [men] may take our lives,
goods, honor, children, wives,
Nothing will they have won,
His kingdom still will stand;
It must endure forever.The Final Word
Through the truth of God’s Word, the spiritual Zion will be established; the church of Christ, Augustine’s “city of God,” will be unstoppable. As Paul wrote in his chains: “I suffer . . . but the word of God is not bound.” (2 Tim. 2:9) We as his followers may die, Luther wrote, yet that for which we will have given our lives, the truth of Christ’s gospel, will not die, but must move inexorably forward until his righteousness covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.
This abiding truth alone−not the adulation of an historic leader who though used by God beyond description remained frail and sinful to the end−the gospel’s final Word is cause for the church’s lasting, eternal joy evoked by the title of another great hymn of his, that on justification. Beloved by Lutheran congregations worldwide, although not nearly as universally known as his greatest hymn, its first stanza reads:
Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice, . . .
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won,
What price our ransom cost him!12
A massive fortress is our God,
A strong defense and weapon.
He alone helps in all the needs
That have us overtaken.
Our ancient, vicious foe
Aims to seek and destroy,
And armed with might and lies,
He wars and terrifies,
And none on earth can match him.
In our own pow’r we’d only fail,
We would be lost forever.
But fighting for us is the Man
Whom God Himself has chosen.
You ask who that might be?
There is no God but He −
Christ Jesus is His name,
Captain of heaven’s hosts,
And He will hold the field.
And though this world were full of fiends
All trying to devour us,
We know we do not have to fear,
Our God will still empow’r us.
The ruler of this world,
However much he roars,
Can do our souls no harm;
He is already judged,
One word of God condemns him.
That Word no powers of hell can touch,
It stands, though demons swarm us.
God with His Spirit surrounds His church,
With holy gifts He arms us.
Though men may take our lives,
goods, honor, children, wives,
Nothing will they have won,
His kingdom still will stand;
It must endure forever.
–E.R. Crookshank, transl.
Esther Crookshank is Ollie Hale Chiles Professor of Church Music at SBTS and is director of the Academy of Sacred Music.
1 Erik Routley, Panorama of Christian Hymnody, expanded and edited by Paul A. Richardson (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2005), 288. For Carlyle’s full text see “A safe stronghold our God is still,” https://hymnary.org/text/a_safe_stronghold_our_god_is_still, accessed October 26, 2017, 3:20 p.m. This is the comprehensive, scholarly online resource for texts, tunes, and biographical and publication information.
2 While not a perfect singing translation, I preserved the German line meter nearly throughout.
3 Also “solid, tight, tough, firm, strong, fixed, firmly established.” “Fest. Adj.,” The Concise Oxford Duden German Dictionary, Rev. Ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), 915:3-916:1. To put this into a regional colloquial English expression, “Ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
4 “Burg, die,” Oxford Duden Concise, 833. “Festung, die,” ODC, 916. “Festungsanlage, die,” ibid. “Anlage” is a structure, complex, or installation, as in a military installation or military base. “Anlage, die,” ODC, 743:2-3. Altogether rather hefty images.
5 I don’t use “befallen” here, since nothing is accidental to God, and Satan’s attacks on the church are in no sense an accident like falling into a ditch.
6 I have borrowed only this line from Carlyle’s version, the rest of which, although richly poetic, is dated in its language.
7 Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg; Philadelphia: Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), 228, 229.
8 “Champion” evokes for me also Psalm 19:4, where that word is used to personify the sun in its strength with Christological overtones, according to many commentators.
9 Westte Williams, “Lecture on Exodus” (Adult Bible class, Cedar Creek Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky), October 1, 2017.
10 Einen Schiedsspruch fällen means “to make a ruling.” “Fällen, tr. V.” ODC, 909:2.
11 Or: “With charismata arms us.”
12 “Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice!” Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 299. The German title is, Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein.
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The 16th century church was in dire need of a Reformation. What about today, a half millennium later? Is the 21st century church due for another Reformation, a Re-Reformation? Professor Williams shares his thoughts ...
About half the world is made up of women. Books such as Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) and Half the Church (Carolyn Custis James) highlight how important it is for the Evangelical church to consider God’s vision both locally and globally for women. In the light of the Gospel, the church during the Reformation also wrestled with women’s place, in the church, marriage, and society. While the Protestant Reformers did not set out to define women’s roles, as they fleshed out their theological convictions of sola Scriptura and the priesthood of all believers, they were faced with addressing the question of how women are to participate in the church and the world as both receivers and conveyors of the Gospel. Did the Reformers’ responses result in “constraining” women by moving their ministry from the convent to the home (as Jane Dempsey Douglass argues), or did it provide them with “new dignity” (as Stephen Nichols suggests)? The answer to that question is complicated ...
As a philosopher, I love ideas. I poke and prod them all day long, in class with students, in writing during research, in the margins of books in study. Ideas are important. They have consequences, as philosophers like to say. But ideas are not all that matter. Images do too. So do the things we make, if Andy Crouch is right.
We often forget that ideas and images, reason and the imagination, work together to lead one to the truth. Consider C.S. Lewis, who in describing his pre-conversion mindset, portrays how the imaginative and rational parts of his mind were pulled in opposite directions:
The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest conflict. On the one side a many-island sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow “rationalism.” Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.
Lewis longed for a certain kind of story, a story nourished through the imagination, that was filled with beauty, mystery, longing and transcendence. The intelligentsia of his day, like the new atheists in our own, told him that there is no deep story of the world. But his mind refused to settle for a kind of cold rationalism; his imagination sustained his longing for a story that was alive and true. Christianity, Lewis eventually discovered, is the perfect blend of reason and romance, ideas and imagination. Christianity is “true myth”: a story that is both true to the way the world is and true to the way the world ought to be.
One question that continues to animate me as a Christian who is a philosopher is this: How can we help others see the truth, goodness and beauty of Jesus and the Gospel? Some think Christianity is implausible or unreasonable. Science, they say, is the prophet, priest and king of modernity, ushering man into a new age of progress, peace and prosperity. Others think Christianity is undesirable. Christianity, they say, is oppressive and antiquated; a kind of slave morality that sucks joy out of life.
Philosophers tend to argue for the reasonableness of Christianity, and rightly so. I’ve come to realize, however, that arguing for reasonableness of Christianity alone is not enough. We must also argue for Christianity’s desirability. One way to do that, I suspect, is to utilize that aspect of man that was foundational in Lewis’ own story—the imagination.
So, while I’m more comfortable defending sterile propositions safely tucked within deductive arguments, to help others see and understand the Gospel, I realize I must learn how to argue with imaginative reason. Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s notion of man as sub-creator, I decided to make something that might reveal through image, rhythm and story the beauty and brilliance of the Gospel. Taking a step of faith, I gathered together some of my artistic friends—spoken word poets—and we got to work. Could we write a story that awakened longing in others and pointed to the Gospel as both true and alive?
The result of our effort is the spoken word poem linked at the bottom of this article. What did I learn from this exercise in imaginative reason? I learned that making art is hard, as all creating must be (nor is it ever perfect). I also learned that it is fun; there is joy in the hunt for beauty and truth; there is a special bond that is forged as Christians work together to make something beautiful. Most of all, my own imagination was stirred: in cultivating—yea, even creating—beauty, the curtain pulled back, even for a moment, and I caught a glimpse of the divine.
As followers of Christ, we are part of a story that is alive and true. The story of God’s pursuing love ought to move us to share this love with others (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The Gospel story is the greatest story ever. It is more, even. It is the greatest possible story. It understands you. And it is true. We must, in this age of cynicism, disenchantment and despair point others to the truth and beauty of Jesus and the Gospel. May we learn to cultivate our imaginative reason so others might find rest and forgiveness in this God who pursues.
Andy Crouch, Culture Making (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008).
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, 1955), 170.
Consider the atheist physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, who tells us that science, not the Bible, provides us “the greatest story ever told” (The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far [New York: Atria Books, 2017], 2). What is the story of our existence according to science? It is that “there is no obvious plan or purpose to the world we find ourselves living in. Our existence was not preordained, but appears to be a curious accident” (ibid., 4).
When considering why God might allow evil and suffering, Alvin Plantinga suggests “perhaps all the best possible worlds contain incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement.” See Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 59.
Twenty years ago, Reformed Theology made landfall on the shores of my life with the force of a category 5 hurricane.
I had been in ministry only a few months, had preached a few times, when God, in his kind mercy, put a few good men in my path who gently and patiently guided me toward sound doctrine. They introduced me to Augustine and his Confessions, Luther and his Commentary on Galatians, Calvin and his Institutes, the five solas, the TULIP, Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress, Spurgeon and his steel backbone in the Downgrade Controversy, Lloyd Jones and his Romans series.
Consistent with the Reformed way, I hadn’t been looking for a big God theology—it found me.
Soon, through a relatively new invention called the internet, I began to order and read books by Tom Nettles, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, Timothy George, and John Piper. I found sermons by these men and others of like doctrine. God’s grace was claiming new ground in my life it seemed every hour. I must have read 200 books and pamphlets those first couple of years as I weighed the biblical veracity of these sublime propositions.
And like the landscape after such a massive hurricane, my mind, my heart, and my ministry have never been the same.
I’ve been a pastor for the past several years and my ministry has been deeply shaped by the Reformation, it’s key figures, its theology, and those who have followed in its tradition such as the Puritans and our Particular Baptist fathers. Space and perhaps reader patience would fail me were I to list all the ways the Reformation has shaped my life and ministry, but here are eight.1. The five solas have built a strong gospel foundation beneath my feet and if I preach them faithfully, I will always be relevant.
At its most fundamental level, the Reformation was a recovery of relevance because it was a recovery of the gospel. The gospel, purely preached in terms of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as found in Scripture alone, done to the glory of God alone is relevant in every single age. And God’s Word is powerful “out of the box.” I don’t need to revise it, improve it, mold it, or update it. Scripture comes equipped with its own affirming power and if I proclaim it faithfully both to the lost and the found, it will do its work through the Holy Spirit’s power.
A recovery of the gospel was the heart of the Reformation and keeping the gospel front and center will always be the heart of faithful gospel ministry. Michael Reeves said it well in a recent article, “The Reformation was not principally a negative movement about moving away from Rome and its corruption; it was a positive movement, about moving toward the gospel.” In my exegesis, my exhortation, my application, in my own life and leadership in both the home and the church, I must always be moving toward the gospel.2. I don’t have to search for a silver bullet for growth in godliness, God has already given it to me in his Word
The formal principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura, is all we need. Indeed, Luther summed up his massive contribution as the unwitting founder of Protestantism in this fashion: “I did nothing, the Word did everything.” As a faithful minister of God’s Word, it is enough for faith and life in the church. God’s Word provides us with the inspired framework for the pure worship of God, for discipleship, for evangelism, for counseling.
God has a people and he is sovereign, which is to say, he will certainly save and sanctify sinners when we preach His Word. Yes, we must do evangelism and missions if we would obey Scripture. Yes, we must take the gospel to our neighborhood and the nations with compassion and zeal. But we must trust the Word, that it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. We press for repentance and faith, but the Word does everything in converting a sinner, we do nothing.3. God has told me how to interpret his Word and how he expects to be worshiped
Jesus makes clear in Luke 24 that we are to interpret the Old Testament as finding its fulfillment in him. Thus, the New Testament writers tell us how to interpret the Old Testament in terms of the person and work of Jesus. In the Institutes, Calvin helped set this in stone as the Reformed tradition’s bedrock method of interpreting and exegeting the sacred text:
“It follows that the Old Testament was established upon the free mercy of God, and was confirmed by Christ’s intercession. For the gospel preaching, too, declares nothing else than that sinners are justified apart from their own merit by God’s fatherly kindness; and the whole of it is summed up in Christ. Who, then dares separate Jews from Christ, since with them, we hear, was made the covenant of the gospel, the sole foundation of which is Christ? Who dares to estrange from the gift of free salvation those to whom we hear the doctrine of the righteousness of faith was imparted? Not to dispute too long about something obvious—we have a notable saying of the Lord: ‘Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad (John 8:56). And what Christ there testified concerning Abraham, the apostle shows to have been universal among the believing folk when he says, ‘Christ remains, yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb. 13:8). . . . If the Lord, in manifesting his Christ, discharged his ancient oath, one cannot but say the Old Testament always had its end in eternal life.” (Inst. 2:10:4)
Intrinsic to God’s Word is also a complementarity between law and gospel. The moral law of God as summarized in the 10 Commandments demonstrates God’s holy character, exposes man’s sinfulness, his need of a mediator, and provides a guide to sanctification. The law breaks us, but the gospel heals us. The law says “run,” the gospel gives us legs. You need both to properly understand either.
In addition to graciously giving us an inspired hermeneutic, God has also given us a regulative principle for worship in his Word. God knows best how he is to be worshiped as I argue in this article. It is an often-neglected Baptist doctrine that stands in need of recovery in local credobaptist churches. Chapter XXII of The Second London Confession of Faith, “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day,” in Article I summarizes my point well:
“The Light of Nature shews that there is a God who hath Lordship, and Soveraigntye (Sovereignty) over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore, to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the Heart, and all the Soul, and with all the Might. But the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.”
The regulative principle is by no means a straight jacket, but opens the entire Bible to us.4. Knowledge of God and knowledge of self are the pathway to genuine wisdom
Calvin’s opening words in the Institutes represent an accurate summary of biblical anthropology and theology and are irreducible pillars for life and ministry. When I see myself as a great sinner and Christ as a great Savior, then my thinking is ordered rightly. God is holy, I am not, and because of this, I need his holiness, power, strength, and wisdom every moment both as a follower of Christ and a leader in his church.
This critical truth has profoundly shaped both my devotional life and my preaching. Without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of self. As Calvin wrote,
“It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating hi to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. . . we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured.5. I need older, wiser (living) mentors to help me along the way
In short, I need dead mentors, too. Being my own pastor has always felt a bit schizophrenic. Every pastor needs a pastor. Timothy had Paul, Augustine had Ambrose, Luther had Von Staupitz, Calvin had Bucer, Beza had Calvin, Whitefield and Wesley had each other, Sproul had Gerstner.
I need at least one seasoned godly mentor, too, one who is able to guide, direct, chasten, and encourage me in the things of God, one who is positioned to keep a close watch on my life and doctrine.6. I need to engage the past and allow it to inform the present and shape the future
We do not stand alone. As is often said of church history, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We were not the first to tread this territory, and we certainly will not be the last. Therefore, we need the insights of Scripture-saturated, God-entranced church leaders from the past to help affirm, amend, or correct our interpretation and application of Scripture. While history does not play a magisterial role for us, it can and should play a ministerial role in our lives and ministries both through the figures and doctrines from our rich evangelical heritage.
Not only do I need a living mentor, I also need heroes from the past. These men come with one benefit that living heroes do not: the final chapter of their lives has been written, and we know how they turned out. Though they are flawed like our living mentors, neither Twitter, Facebook, nor lurid locations on the internet will topple their ministries.7. Proclaiming God’s Word will not make me popular
John the Baptist’s declaration in John 3:30 ought to be that of every faithful gospel minister: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Faithful preaching of God’s Word will make enemies both in the church and in the world. It will make enemies in the church because every congregation—even those who hold fast to regenerate church membership—is a mixture of wheat and tares. It will make you enemies in the world because Paul told the Corinthians that the gospel is offensive to the natural man (1 Cor. 1:18).
The sacred desk is no place for the theological hobbyist, the intellectually curious, the trafficker in homespun yarns, the wise-cracking hipster, the weak of backbone or him who seeks a laid-back middle-class living. As the lives and ministries of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, the Puritans, Edwards, Spurgeon, and thousands of other sons of the Reformation have proven, gospel ministry is a death sentence for self-love and the craving for rock star status. There is no crown without a cross.
As Luther put it, there are ever and always two theologies warring for supremacy within our hearts: a theology of glory vs. a theology of the cross. A call to follow Christ is a call to lay down our glory, take up a cross, and walk the Calvary road for his glory alone. Theology properly begins above, not below.8. Reformation continues until Jesus returns
The battle for the Bible was not over when Protestantism germinated and blossomed in Luther’s train. It was not over in the Southern Baptist Convention when key offices at last bulged with conservative evangelicals. It is not over in local churches. Our cry will always be “semper reformanda”—reformed, always reforming (according to Scripture).
Our hearts are prone to wander from orthodoxy, thus in every age we must reaffirm and guard our confessional integrity and our submission to God’s inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word. I’m not as young or restless as when this journey in grace began, but I will always be reforming—both in my heart, in my family, and in my congregation.
Praise God that it pleased him to work through ordinary men like Luther and Calvin to unleash afresh an extraordinary gospel to work in all its grace-driven power in my life and in the lives of countless millions of other believers and pastors through the centuries. I am deeply grateful for 500 years of its leavening power in the church. Every evangelical, no matter the denomination, is deeply indebted to Luther, Calvin, and those who courageously followed in their wake.
Until Jesus returns, may it please God to continue building his church through the sin-killing, life-transforming gospel of the reformers, which is nothing other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!
The phrase or hashtag #MeToo became viral in social media in recent days. “Me Too” is not a new phrase; the African-American social activist Tarana Burke started using it ten years ago, but it became a media trending topic recently. This phrase represents a public acknowledgement that a person (although women are sadly the vast majority) has been sexually harassed or assaulted. It has been heartbreaking to read the countless testimonies of people who had the courage to share their abuse stories—many of them for the first time—with openness and frankness ...
La frase o “hashtag” #metoo (yo también) se ha hecho viral en las redes sociales en los últimos días. No es una frase nueva porque desde hace 10 años la activista afroamericana Tarana Burke intentó hacerla pública, pero no ha sido sino hasta estos días que su uso se ha convertido en una tendencia social. La frase indica un reconocimiento público que una mujer, principalmente y en su gran mayoría aunque también incluye hombres, ha sido víctima de cualquier tipo de acoso sexual o incluso violación. Ha sido desgarrador leer los innumerables testimonios de personas que han tenido la valentía de contar sus historias y hablar de frente, en muchas ocasiones por primera vez, sobre el abuso que sufrieron ...
Justin Brierley is the host of " Unbelievable?" the UK-based apologetics radio/podcast show (which is one of my personal favorites!). I have had the privilege of being on the program twice to discuss the martyrdom of the apostles and talk about why I am a Christian with Ryan Bell, the pastor-turned-atheist.
For over ten years, Justin has been leading discussions between Christians and atheists, and yet he still believes in God. This Thursday he releases a new book Unbelievable? which I had the privilege to endorse. In the UK, it is available here: www.unbelievablebook.co.uk. Brierley offers some lessons from his conversations as well as the evidence he finds most compelling. Check out this interview and consider ordering a copy of his excellent book ...