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... While I do not wish for anyone to be a non-theist, I must confess that Alex Vilenkin’s being an agnostic about God is dialectically advantageous for the proponent of the kalām cosmological argument, since it pulls the rug from beneath anyone who claims that belief that the universe began to exist is due to one’s theological commitments or that dreaded disorder of “confirmation bias.” Vilenkin has no theological axe to grind concerning this scientific question and so can be ruthlessly objective ...
Charles Spurgeon’s body slumped beneath the cruel pain of gout and kidney disease. He was downcast in the dark valley of depression. And, he was embroiled in the last great theological battle of his life, the Down-Grade Controversy (1887-1890). During that time, he picked up his Bible to meditate deeply on the promises of God contained therein. It was then that he began writing his devotional work, The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith.
“I commenced these daily portions when I was wading in the surf of controversy. Since then I have been cast into ‘waters to swim in,’ which, but for God’s upholding hand, would have proved waters to drown in. I have endured tribulation from many flails. Sharp bodily pain succeeded mental depression, and this was accompanied both by bereavement, and affliction in the person of one dear as life [Susannah]. The waters rolled in continually, wave upon wave. I do not mention this to exact sympathy, but simply to let the reader see that I am no dry-land sailor. I have traversed those oceans which are not Pacific full many a time: I know the roll of the billows, and the rush of the winds. Never were the promises of Jehovah so precious to me as at this hour. Some of them I never understood till now; I had not reached the date at which they matured, for I was not myself mature enough to perceive their meaning.”
Spurgeon was 53 when he wrote those words. He died four years later.
Spurgeon writes for Christians who are tossed about in threatening waters of trouble. His words are valuable for all Christians, but especially for those in local church ministry.
For Spurgeon, it was theological controversy, physical illness, mental depression, and the grief that he felt over the afflictions that wracked his dear Susannah’s body. It is interesting that he made the connection between mental depression and physical pain. It is well-known now that either one can produce the other in an individual suffering from either a sad spirit or bodily illness.
Susannah Spurgeon wrote: “Depression of spirit is frequently the outcome of oppression of the flesh.” She warned that it is during those times that “Satan, ever on the alert to vex, if he cannot harm us, takes advantage of our sad condition to insinuate doubts and fears which we should not tolerate when in vigorous health.”
Both Charles and Susannah were ahead of their times in understanding the connection between mental health, physical pain, and spiritual challenges. Both encouraged their readers to fight spiritual temptations, resulting from such difficulties, by prayer and by embracing the promises of God.The anvil of theological controversy
Spurgeon’s experience offers a few helpful observations for the poor soul who is cast into the dangerous waters of trial.
Spurgeon found, in the “wave upon wave” that battered him, that the promises of God were especially precious. It was during the Down-Grade Controversy that he truly understood some of God’s promises for the first time. The suffering Christian is looking for hope when swimming in the treacherous ocean of suffering. Spurgeon found such hope in the promises of God.
While enduring “tribulation from many flails,” Spurgeon’s appreciation for the Bible grew. He asserted:
“How much more wonderful is the Bible to me now than it was a few months ago! In obeying the Lord, and bearing his reproach outside the camp, I have not received new promises; but the result to me is much the same as if I had done so, for the old ones have opened up to me with richer stores.”
Along with the decline of Spurgeon’s health, and his sadness of heart, the “Prince of Preachers” lost a number of friends during the controversy. Sounding the warning about theological declension was an alarm that was not appreciated by those whose first priority was unity. Spurgeon too desired unity, but not at the cost of Biblical truth. As we stand back these 127 years and reflect on the Down-Grade Controversy, it is difficult for us to understand the depth of Spurgeon’s pain. Susannah felt that it was this last great theological battle that ultimately cost Spurgeon his life.Words of encouragement
Perhaps you are presently facing the “roll of the billows, and the rush of the winds.” If so, Spurgeon’s counsel is medicinal for you, especially if you are suffering on the front lines of gospel ministry. Here are seven words of encouragement from Spurgeon’s pen:
- God is good. Spurgeon declared that it was his desire to “comfort some of my Master’s servants! I would say to them in their trials—My brethren, God is good.”
- God will not forsake you. Because God is good, he will never abandon his people. Spurgeon encouraged his readers “that God will bear you through.”
- God awaits your prayers of faith. “There is a promise prepared for your present emergencies; and if you will believe and plead it at the mercy-seat through Jesus Christ, you shall see the hand of God stretched out to help you.”
- God’s Word will not fail you. “Everything else will fail, but his word never will.”
- God is supremely trustworthy. Spurgeon offers a personal testimony: “He has been to me so faithful in countless instances that I must encourage you to trust him. I should be ungrateful to God and unkind to you if I did not do so.” He further said: “God is glorified when his servants trust him implicitly.”
- God’s power is necessary. “I know that, without his divine power, all that I can say will be of no avail; but, under his quickening influence, even the humblest testimony will confirm feeble knees, and strengthen weak hands.”
- God is a loving heavenly Father. “Our young ones ask no question about our will or our power, but having once received a promise from the Father, they rejoice in the prospect of its fulfillment, never doubting that it is as sure as the sun.” Spurgeon wanted his readers to “discover the duty and delight of such child-like trust in God” as they read The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith.
What must we do with God’s promises? Spurgeon taught that the believer is “to take the promise and endorse it with his own name by personally receiving it as true. He is by faith to accept it as his own. He sets to his seal that God is true, as true as to this particular word of promise.”
Do you believe that God is trustworthy? Spurgeon declared, “God has given no pledge which he will not redeem, and encouraged no hope which he will not fulfill.” Dear sufferer, as Spurgeon did in the heat of battle, run to your Bible, rediscover the promises of God, and trust him who has made such gracious pledges to his dear children.
Dr. Kevin Lawson (Professor of Educational Studies at Talbot School of Theology) recently co-edited and published Infants and Children in the Church: Five Views on Theology and Ministry in partnership with Dr. Adam Harwood (Associate Professor of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary). We wanted to learn more about this book, so we had Dr. Lawson respond to some questions ...
Do you want to be a faithful man? Do you long to be a man who “stays the course” in the midst of so many who are failing? Have you known failure and now you are determined to make the best of a second chance? I assume that the answer to any of the above questions, which are applicable to you, is “yes” since you are reading through this article ...
Christian Megapolis is conducting a project, which considers the following two issues: (1) the nature of doctoral education and (2) actual national Ukrainian doctors and doctoral students as living, interesting personalities. To this end we invite you to enjoy this interview of Eduard Borysov by Rostislav Tkachenko ...
Having recently completed a discussion of Plato’s Republic with a terrific group of college students, I am once again reminded of its beauty and depth. When teaching the Republic, I am always struck by the seemingly innocent back and forth of the dialogue that inevitably entices us straight into discussing life’s deepest issues. I am convinced that the genius of Plato is that we, in a way, cannot help but become a participant in his dialogue.
The influence and importance of the Republic as a single work is hard to match. It finds its way onto every self-respecting list of the most influential books, often ranking in the top five. Alfred North Whitehead famously said, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
Many philosophical topics that are live discussions today are traceable to Plato’s Republic. In short, the Republic is really, really good and worth our time.
One of my favorite discussions to have with students in reading the Republic is Plato’s allegory of the cave. In the dialogue, the main character, Socrates, tells a story according to which people are held captive within a cave and are bound such that they are only able to see the shadows on the wall of the cave. They have been there their whole lives, and so they think the shadows are all there is. It is possible to escape, but it is exceedingly difficult and no one really wants to because they are not sure there is anything beyond the shadows. The way of escape is an arduous journey, and, if one is successful, one encounters blinding light. It is so bright it’s painful. It takes some time for one’s eyes to adjust, but once they do, one sees the true world—the world as it really is.
The allegory is intended to illustrate how philosophy can free us from a fixation on the world of sensation. We are, in a way, bound by the shifting and ever-changing material world—the shadowlands, to use C.S. Lewis’ turn of phrase. For Plato, the material world is not necessarily evil, but it is a world in a constant state of flux and change. Thus, one cannot have genuine knowledge or even say true things, because before one finishes one’s inquiry, the world has already changed. The true world—what Plato calls the world of the forms—is the world of eternal and fixed ideas. This is a world discoverable not by empirical inquiry, but by philosophy.
In the shifting material world, one experiences things that have beauty to some degree. Or one may experience things that are somewhat good. But these are, at best, the mere shadows of beauty and goodness as they really are in themselves. In the world of the forms, one experiences beauty and goodness themselves along with the rest of the forms. And by knowing beauty and goodness themselves (as well as the rest of the forms), we are able to live well—at least, better—in the material world since there will be less confusion about what is beautiful, good, etc.
At this point in our discussion of the Republic, I always try to show how profound this is. What motivation to do philosophy! You can gaze on beauty and goodness themselves in doing philosophy! But here’s the thing. As good as that is, there’s something better still. For the Christian philosopher, there’s something (or someone!) that stands behind the forms.
I’m definitely interested in philosophy for its own sake. That is, I think the philosophical pursuit has intrinsic value and is a good. But, if I’m honest, my interest in philosophy sometimes waxes and wanes. What remains is a deep longing in my soul for something that makes sense of it all. Plato’s view, though interesting, strikes me as ultimately unsatisfying. For him, the forms, like beauty and goodness, just exist without any further explanation. They just eternally are. But why? Is this really all there is?
In a Christian view, we can gaze on beauty and goodness, and, given their value, we should do so. But we should not forget what stands behind it all. We can look further and gaze on God Himself as the ultimate foundation. This strikes me as far more satisfying in that this God created you and me to know Him. The ultimate metaphysic of reality loves you.
So here’s the vision. I do philosophy as a Christian because, for any philosophical question I may pursue, it seems to me that God stands behind that question as the ultimately satisfying answer. When I get out of the cave, as it were, I find God. It all leads to God, and this truly satisfies.
This is not, of course, to say that deep philosophical reflection is necessary for knowing God. We can certainly meet God in the mundane. It is to say, however, that philosophy done Christianly may be motivated by deep devotion and the desire to know God more fully. Moreover, philosophy done Christianly results in worship. The knowledge of God and philosophy are certainly not at odds. We should, as Christians, be interested in philosophical reflection precisely because it leads us to the God who is the foundation of all.
 Process and Reality, p. 39 [Free Press, 1979]
Our church sits in the most unchurched county in the state of Alabama. While “unchurched” and “Alabama” don’t seem like they should go in the same sentence, our churches have grown at half the rate of the population. Since 1990 the population has more than doubled and our churches have grown by only fifty percent.
We planted Chelsea Village Baptist Church eight years ago, and in that time I have had conversations with many men who want to plant churches. Because of the trends I have seen in church planting in our context in particular, and in the broader culture generally, the talk I have with potential church planters has changed significantly.Dangerous, not glamorous
For the last decade church planting seems to have been in vogue. Aiding this phenomenon has been the success stories of men who started a church and saw explosive growth in a short amount of time. Enough people have heard these stories that it feels like the norm in church planting.
Many men have felt called into church planting thinking they will move to a town, put up a sign, and see hundreds fill the chairs on the first Sunday. They come convinced their preaching will be the most compelling people have ever heard and their “worship experiences” will wow people in a way they have never seen.
What many men don’t understand is that the “success stories” stand out because they are so rare. Many more men see their churches close than see the kind of growth in their churches that gets them invited to speak at conferences. Everyone who plants hears about the high body count, yet they somehow still think they will be the exception to the rule.Profound need
Millions of people in the United States do not know Jesus and millions more claim to know him but have no connection to a healthy local church. Many regions in our nation do not have enough churches to reach the large number of people who live there. Therefore, we need an influx of churches who will proclaim the gospel to their communities, train disciples, and plant more churches who will do the same.
Unfortunately, for us to plant the kinds of churches we need to plant the men who feel called to planting must change their expectations and their definition of “success.” We cannot bear another generation of church planters who want to be the next big thing. Men hungry for acclaim will do nothing to make a dent in the number of people in our culture who do not know Jesus.
When numerical success becomes the primary benchmark for evaluating the success of a church, a man will sacrifice his principles and build his ministry on all the wrong things to achieve his goal. Churches built on hype, great music, and a charismatic personality may reach some people who do not know Jesus, but it will mainly pull Christians from other churches. We don’t need more churches characterized by this mentality; we need thousands less.Seek faithfulness, not tweet-worthy moments
The task of planting churches who are faithful to share the gospel, make disciples, and plant more church calls for an army of men who are content with no one knowing their names except the people in their community and those whom they shepherd. These men must be willing to move into communities and plant their lives there. This means they work, not just for their church to grow, but for the good of the whole community by being a good neighbor and a witness to the gospel.
The task of planting churches demands we plant churches on a sound foundation so they will still be bearing fruit in 50 years if the Lord tarries. This involves consistent teaching from the Bible, discipling believers, developing godly leaders, helping believers connect their faith to their work, and building a good reputation in the community. Every ounce of this work must be fueled by fervent prayer, asking God to strengthen us for the task to which he has called us.
The man who plants this kind of church must be willing to do work that doesn’t make for interesting tweets. He must cultivate his relationship with Jesus, his wife, and children every day. He has to be willing to spend hours glued to his chair with his head in the Bible so he can faithfully teach it to others. This man will dedicate significant time each week to purposeful conversation with other Christians, helping them to understand how to follow Jesus.
We need the man willing to work in obscurity because the real task of church planting is not easy or glamorous. But the task is worth every ounce of effort. What can compare with seeing men and women pass from darkness to light? How joyful is it to see young believers maturing and progressing in their faith? And how great a blessing is it to see people we knew as young Christians become faithful leaders who are also called to plant churches?
I once heard Mark Dever say that men often overestimate what they can accomplish in five years and underestimate what they can do it ten. When our desire is immediate numerical success, we never stick around long enough to see the real glories of gospel ministry. However, when we plant our lives in one place, doing hard and anonymous work which for the sake of the gospel we have the opportunity to see great things happen.Less rock stars, more Jesus freaks
When I talk to church planters who want to plant churches, the talk I have with them sounds something like this:
“We need new churches because so many people need the gospel, but we do not need any more churches that are going to try to be the next big thing. We don’t need any more big shows who desire to grow at all costs. If your plan is to build your church by luring as many people as possible from other churches, we have that already and don’t need more of it. If you’re going to go and compassionately proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, build a church on Scripture, plant your life in the community so you can be an effective witness in it, disciple the new Christians God sends you, and plan to plant more churches that plant more churches so more people can know Jesus, then please plant because our culture needs that kind of man starting new churches.”
We don’t need more rock stars. We don’t need more men seeking the limelight. We need more anonymous, plodding church planters who labor faithfully for the spread of the gospel and the glory of King Jesus.
A couple of weeks ago I had the chance of visiting the beautiful land of Israel. My wife and I went with Israel Collective, an organization dedicated to peace-making in Israel. We saw remarkable sites, met unique people (Israelis, Palestinians, Druze), heard powerful lectures, and ate some of the best food I have ever had—period ...
... Suffering is not only physical. It’s also emotional, psychological, relational and spiritual. Victims and their families have internal wounds and struggles; some find this pain equal to or even greater than that of their external wounds. Sufferers need comfort, love, a taste of goodness, a measure of peace. They need hope ...
... Before I address your questions, Marc, let me say how much I admire you for your willingness to allow your son to follow, if he desires, religious convictions different than your own and not to forbid him. What you would be “depriving him of exactly,” should you forbid him to follow the path of Christian discipleship, is freedom of conscience and freedom of religious expression, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, are pretty fundamental rights ...