Gospel-Driven Quote of the Week

June 15, 2009

“A message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors. By ignoring the sinfulness of man that makes even our best works tainted before God and by neglecting the grace of God that make obedience possible and acceptable, such messages necessarily subvert the Christian message. Christian preachers often do not recognize this impact of their words because they are simply recounting a behavior clearly specified in the text in front of them. But a message that even inadvertently teaches others that their works win God’s acceptance inevitably leads people away from the gospel.

Moral maxims and advocacy of ethical conduct fall short of the requirements of biblical preaching…

A textually accurate discussion of biblical commands does not guarantee Christian orthodoxy. Exhortations for moral behavior apart from the work of the Savior degenerate into mere pharisaism even if preachers advocate the actions with biblical evidence and good intent.”

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, pp. 268-269

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Easter in the Octagon

April 8, 2009

Forest Griffin

Pastor Tom Skiles and the Spirit of St. Louis Church are hosting “Easter In the Octagon: The Ultimate Fighter,” this coming Sunday.

You may wonder why a church would be doing this for Easter. The interviewer, Keegan Hamilton, for the River Front Times, did. So he asked a really good question to the pastor:

    “Now then. The two big questions: Is this actually going to be in the church? And what does two nearly naked men beating each other to a pulp have to do with Christ’s resurrection?”

Here is the pastor’s answer:

    We want to make Easter relevant again. We don’t want to make it about lilies and nice dresses. When they walk in we’ll have a chain link fence set up, it’ll be set up like an octagon. We’ll talk about fact that Jesus didn’t tap out, he was an ultimate fighter.”

The interviewer’s question makes the point: “What does two nearly naked men beating each other to a pulp have to do with Christ’s resurrection?”

“Relevance and what is helpful must be defined by the gospel.”

The idol of relevance is making the church totally irrelevant in authentic gospel ministry. Gerhard Forde’s comments in his book, The Preached God, is apropos:

    “It was Karl Barth, I believe, who said that trying to make the gospel relevant to the contemporary age was like running after the train that has just left. ‘The World’ that we are supposed to address with the gospel, that is, is a moving target. By the time we think we are finally getting to understand it, it is too late…When a historical, tragic accident occurs we investigate the causes. We search the wreckage for the ‘black box.’ We understand, if at all, when it is too late…

    The fact that many churches – even of our own – do not seem to have learned the simple but apparently hard lesson is no doubt the reason for the transformation of many churches into service organizations, social reform clubs, and support groups, rather than proclaimers of the coming reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Seeking to be relevant to the age, they just succumbed to it. Claiming to be wise, as St. Paul put it, they became fools. The most serious mistake of theological attempts to understand the age is the assumption that the gospel could somehow be made to appear relevant to old beings.

    ‘The unspiritual’…, Paul tells us, ‘do not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to them, and they do not understand because they [the gifts] are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14)- always a favorite passage used to caution against being overly optimistic about appeals to relevance,” (pp. 165-166).

Train

Relevance and what is helpful must be defined by the gospel, as Graeme Goldsworthy points out in his book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,

    “The gospel not only defines the problem and God’s response to it, it should also define the Christian buzz words that we use to assess sermons and talks. One might be tempted to say that two thousand people at a convention can’t be wrong when there is almost total approval of the speaker’s addresses. At the risk of sounding a little cynical, I would have to say that it is entirely possible for them to be wrong. So much depends on what people have been taught to expect. It is not only possible but highly probable, unless we are constantly vigilant in this matter, that human nature will take over. In short, what is relevant is defined by the gospel; what is helpful is defined by the gospel. The first question we all need to ask is not, “Was it relevant?”; “Did I find it helpful?”; or “Were we blessed?”; but “How did the study (the sermon) testify to Christ and his gospel as the power of God for salvation, (p. 62).

“The method (proclamation/preaching) cannot and must not be separated from the message (God’s Word/gospel) without risking irrelevance.”

God relates to and rules His creation by His word. And preaching is the method God has chosen to disseminate His word/gospel and thereby establish His rule in the hearts of men (“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” 1 Cor. 1:21).

Graeme Goldsworthy makes an important observation when he notes that though the foolishness Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 1:21 refers primarily to the content of the proclamation, the message (i.e., the gospel) cannot be separated from its method (i.e., the act of proclamation). Thus, not only the message (gospel) but also the method (proclamation) defies the logic of man’s wisdom yet it is God’s chosen way (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 45).

The method (proclamation/preaching) cannot and must not be separated from the message (God’s Word/gospel) without risking irrelevance.

However, the ever present tendency of man is to assert his independence from the authority of God’s Word. The Serpent’s question, “Has God said,” not only characterizes man’s desire to reject God’s rule but also includes the rejection of God’s ordained methods.

In his wisdom, man challenges God’s rule and questions His ordained methods. The lack of emphasis and valuing of preaching in the church today is nothing more than a rejection God’s wisdom. It is the assertion of human autonomy from the authority of God’s Word and the sufficiency (relevance) of God’s methods. To put it another way, the “relevance” of preaching doesn’t make sense, octagons do.

The implications then of 1 Corinthians 1:21 for “relevant” ministry need to be considered very carefully. Paul defines the parameters of “relevance,” namely, “…it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” (emphasis mine).

What is more “relevant” to the conversion of a sinner than a clear, faithful proclamation of Christ as revealed in the gospel?

The preacher’s task of proclamation is sobering (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1) and must be carried out faithfully (2 Tim. 2:2).

Every Evangelical preacher and church ought to seriously ponder Goldsworthy’s question, “How does our preaching testify to Christ? That is a solemn and challenging question that we cannot avoid,” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 45).


Effective Ministry and the Gospel

April 6, 2009

What makes a person or church effective in ministry?

Note carefully the following words of Graeme Goldsworthy, “The life and ministry of the local church needs to be self-consciously gospel-centered if it is to maintain any kind of effectiveness for the kingdom of God,” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 129).

In Galatians 1:13-16, it is plainly evident that before Paul was sent on mission to proclaim Christ, Christ had to be revealed to him!

John Brown writes,

    “…here I cannot but call the attention of all aspirants to the sacred office to the fact, that when God intended to make Paul a public teacher of Christianity, He ‘revealed Christ in Him.’ They have no reason to expect such an internal revelation as he received; but unless, in a very important sense, God ‘reveals His Son’ in them, they cannot be fitted for the office to which they are looking forward. The words of Perkins are weighty: ‘Ministers of the gospel must learn Christ as Paul learned him. They may not content themselves with that learning which they find in schools; but they must proceed further to a real learning of Christ. They that must convert others, it is meet that they should be effectually converted. John must eat the book, and then prophesy; and they who would be fit ministers of the gospel, must first themselves eat the book of God. And this book is indeed eaten, when they are not only in their minds enlightened, but in their hearts are mortified, and brought in subjection to the word of Christ. Unless Christ be thus learned spiritually and really, divines shall speak of the word of God as men speak of riddles, and as priests in former times said their matins, when they hardly knew what they said,” (Galatians, pp. 62-63).

The importance and necessity of knowing the gospel for effective ministry cannot be overstated.

Before I lost my voice, I was unfit for ministry. Though I thought I was fit for ministry, I wasn’t. Even after nine years of theological education and training, I had no clue that the Bible was primarily about God as He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ (Note: I am not discounting the importance of theological training. I am simply discounting insufficient or bad theological training. Sound theological training is critically important.).

Let it be stated clearly and firmly, the Bible is first and foremost about God as He reveals Himself in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and it is the preacher’s calling and responsibility, as Graeme Goldsworthy points out to “be absolutely scrupulous in making this clear,” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, pp. 60-61). Before seven long and heart breaking years, I wasn’t clear on this at all!

Prior to my seven year trial, I had a bad hermeneutic that led to legalistic and moralistic preaching. I had no clue that the gospel was the interpretive key that unlocks the whole meaning of Scripture. Thus, the Lord had to literally and graciously shut me up so He could give me a real learning of Christ, as Brown states above.

Regrettably and tragically, the gospel for many Christians is nothing more than a narrowly defined and isolated message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, which unbeliever’s believe in order to be “saved.”

After this initial experience of the gospel, churches quickly move their new converts on to the duties of discipleship and spiritual transformation. This is a terrible mistake. It is the bewitching of Evangelicalism (Gal. 3:1).

Graeme Goldsworthy speaks of this problem as pastors and churches possessing a theoretical gospel (what one says he professes) and an operative gospel (what actually influences and drives a person’s life/ministry; see Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 81).

In other words, pastors and churches today may theoretically profess a belief in the person and work of Christ (i.e, the gospel), but in practice the operative gospel becomes the dominant focus of all the preaching and teaching (e.g., Three Keys for a Happy Marriage and so on).

The problem with this understanding of discipleship is that it is not integrally related to the gospel. Such a truncated, narrow view of the gospel is one of the greatest problems plaguing the Evangelical church today.

The relationship of the Bible’s imperatives (i.e., the things we are commanded to be and do; e.g., “Be holy,” [1 Pet. 1:15]; “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” [Eph. 4:26] etc…) to the Bible’s indicatives (i.e., the things that are already a fact; e.g., “we have redemption through His blood,” [Eph. 1:7]; “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” [Rom. 5:1]) is critical.

Sadly, a great majority of preachers, believers and churches have no idea of this essential distinction, it is not even on the radar screen. Yet, without this distinction, one doesn’t possess a true knowledge of the Christian faith and therefore effective ministry is impossible.

What results is some thinly veiled, ineffective form of so-called “gospel” ministry (regardless of the size or apparent vigor of the church). This thinly veiled “gospel” is nothing more than moralistic, ethical, legalistic, soul-killing exhortations. When imperatives are consistently divorced from the wider context of the indicatives (i.e., the gospel), the default message so many churches end up communicating is that being a Christian is simply a matter of trying to live a good life.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: Preaching exhortations without the gospel is legalistic!

“The life and ministry of the local church needs to be self-consciously gospel-centered if it is to maintain any kind of effectiveness for the kingdom of God.”

Because fallen human nature is wired for the law not gospel, the propensity is to divorce the matters of ethics and godly living from the gospel. When this happens, the primary focus becomes law, not gospel and thus all the moral exhortations in sermons and Bible lessons become legalistic.

Typically, this kind of sermonic moralizing is done in the name of “relevance.” Quite frankly, I grow weary of this idea of “relevance.” Should the preacher be understandable. Of course! This is not the issue when it comes to the idol of “relevance.” Graeme Goldsworthy writes,

    The gospel not only defines the problem and God’s response to it, it should also define the Christian buzz words that we use to assess sermons and talks. One might be tempted to say that two thousand people at a convention can’t be wrong when there is almost total approval of the speaker’s addresses. At the risk of sounding a little cynical, I would have to say that it is entirely possible for them to be wrong. So much depends on what people have been taught to expect. It is not only possible but highly probable, unless we are constantly vigilant in this matter, that human nature will take over. In short, what is relevant is defined by the gospel; what is helpful is defined by the gospel. The first question we all need to ask is not, “Was it relevant?”; “Did I find it helpful?”; or “Were we blessed?”; but “How did the study (the sermon) testify to Christ and his gospel as the power of God for salvation, (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 62).

The primary means of effective ministry and church growth, according to the New Testament, was through the preaching and teaching of the gospel (e.g., Acts 2:14-47). Paul told the Corinthians that he was determined to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23: 2:2).

Yet today, instead of constituting the essence of the Christian life and ministry, the gospel, at best, is typically viewed as secondary and tangential (i.e., unrelated and unconnected). This is totally contrary and in complete disagreement with the Bible’s focus on and teaching of the gospel.

The Bible presents the gospel as an all-encompassing truth. The gospel is not only the interpretive key to the Bible (e.g., Lk. 24:44), but it is also the essential truth that holds together and drives the Christian life, justification in action (Gal. 2:20)!

The gospel is much more than a doctrine that provides an escape-out-of-hell-free-card, though it certainly includes this! The gospel is more than a doctrine to die with, though again it most definitely includes this. In addition to these, the gospel is also a divinely revealed truth to live by each and every moment of our lives (cf. Gal. 2:20).

Until an aspiring pastor (or any member who desires to serve in the church) comes to see the overarching emphasis and centrality of the gospel for every facet of life and ministry, he is not fit to lead the church or prepared for effective ministry.

In his chapter entitled, “Can I Preach a Christian Sermon without Mentioning Jesus?”, Graeme Goldsworthy frames the issue thus, “If we are not going to proclaim some aspect of the riches of Christ in every sermon, we shouldn’t be in the pulpit,” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 126).

Effective ministry must be defined by the gospel. In light of this fact, Goldsworthy writes,

    “To the evangelical preacher, then, I would address one simple but pointed question, a question every one of us should ask ourselves as we prepare to preach (and certainly the answer should be crystal clear in our minds before we get up to preach): How does this passage of Scripture, and consequently my sermon, testify to Christ? There are two main grounds for this question. The first…is that Jesus claims to be the subject of all Scripture. The second is the overall structure of biblical revelation, which finds its coherence only in the person and work of Christ. To these we could add a third: it is no accident that the Christian Church has come to understand the Bible to be the word of God, while at the same time acknowledging that this title also belongs to Jesus (John 1:1-14).

    Given these considerations of the nature of the Bible, I can think of no more challenging question for the preacher’s self-evaluation than to ask whether the sermon was a faithful exposition of the way the text testifies to Christ,” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 21).


Gospel-Driven Quote of the Week

March 8, 2009

“It is quite clear that the New Testament shows us that the person of Jesus Christ is worthy of imitating. In fact the imitation of Christ is an important dimension in the teaching about the Christian disciple’s existence. Yet, most Christians would understand the imitation of Christ is not the center of the teaching of the New Testament. We are saved and made into the image of Christ not by our efforts to imitate him. Such an idea reduces the gospel to ethical effort. We recognize that the gospel tells us of the absolutely unique work of Christ, both in his living and his dying, by which we are saved through faith. We cannot imitate or live the gospel event as such. We can only believe it. We cannot work our way to heaven by moral endeavor. We can only depend on the finished work of Christ for us. We cannot command other people to live or do the gospel. We must proclaim the message of what God has done for them in Christ.

We follow the New Testament in calling on people to live out the implications of the gospel, but we cannot urge people to actually live the gospel, for that was the unique work of Christ. This distinction between the gospel and its fruit in our lives is crucial. If we reject the notions of liberal Christianity that reduced the work of Jesus to ethical example, the implications are far-reaching for the way we handle the Bible. It is clear from the New Testament that the ethical example of Christ is secondary to and dependent upon the primary and unique work of Christ for us.”

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, p. 4


Gospel-Driven Quote of the Week

September 14, 2008

“…some will assure us that it is a waste of time preaching to modern hearers about the law and sin, for (it is said) such things mean nothing to them. Instead (it is suggested) we should appeal to the needs which they feel already, and present Christ to them simply as One who gives peace, power, and purpose to the neurotic and frustrated- a super-psychiatrist, in fact…

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as a Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are, in effect, bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is “another gospel, which is not another.”

“…if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible.”

Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else. An imaginary Christ will not bring a real salvation. The minimizing approach leads us to deal in half-truths about salvation; and a half-truth presented as the whole truth is a complete untruth. Thus the minimizing approach threatens to falsify the gospel by emptying it of doctrinal elements that are essential to it.”

(J.I. Packer, Puritan Papers, vol. 1, 1956-1959, pp. 256-257)


A Better Way To Live

July 1, 2008

While on family vacation, we attended a local, Evangelical church for two consecutive Sundays. Both Sunday services clearly illustrated one of the great problems with the Evangelical church in America, the prevalence of Exemplary and Moralistic preaching and the near non-existence of true Gospel preaching.

(Note: For those who may not be familiar with the concepts of Exemplary and Moralistic preaching, here are two definitions:

Exemplary preaching– Preaching that uses Biblical characters and situations as moral examples to be imitated. This kind of preaching dominated all of my summer youth camps while growing up and the vast majority of the Sunday School material I was taught [e.g., Life Lessons From David and How to Slay the Giants in Your Life].

Moralistic preaching– Preaching that centers on informing believers of the necessity, value and particulars of right conduct as revealed in Scripture and then exhorting them to apply themselves to such conduct.)

Each Sunday we were given fill-in-the-blank outlines of the sermons. Here are the two outlines:

Sermon 1: (An example of Exemplary preaching)

God’s Model For Manhood
Father’s Day
Phil. 2:19-30

Paul used two men as examples of the kind of man who will make a difference in the world:

(Timothy) “I have no one else like him.” vs. 20
(Epaphroditus) “…hold men like him in highest honor.” v. 29 (Both verses taken from the Phillips Paraphrase)

1. Compassion: Men who put relationships before results. vv. 20-21

2. Consistency: Men who put character before conformity. v. 22; Prov. 10:9

3. Cooperation: Men who put cooperation before competition. v. 25a; Judges 20:11

4. Commitment: Men who put the cause of Christ before comfort. vv. 25b-27; James 2:17

5. Courage: Men who put service before security. vv. 29-30; Rom. 12:1-2; Mark 8:35 (Note: We were told that Mark 8:35 teaches men to have a “spirit of adventure.”)

Sermon 2: (An example of Moralistic Preaching)

How To Make The Most Of Your Career: How To Be At Peace Under Pressure
Colossians 3

1. Do it all in the name of Jesus. v. 17

2. Just as if we’re doing it for God. v. 23

3. Do it all for the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31; John 17:4

Conclusion:

Job description for every Christian:

1. Pray, Col. 4:2

2. Be an example, Col. 4:5

3. Share your testimony, Col. 4:6

So much could be said. The lack of proper exegesis and exposition (Phil. 2 has nothing to do with “Models for Manhood,” and Colossians 3 and 4 are not business building seminars or job descriptions for Christians). Ghastly hermeneutics. 100% moral, value-driven exhortation. Not one hint of Good News. Both sermons being more an expression of humanism than Biblical Christianity. What I found particularly interesting was the pastor’s statement for the driving motive for what he called “practical preaching.” He asked, “How do we make the Bible practical? WWJD is what we must ask.”

As I sat each week my heart was grieved for the congregation. I kept thinking of Paul’s stinging indictment of the Galatians, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?…Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh,” (3:1, 3)?

Such a sad state of affairs is indicative of a declining church. It is evidence of a dark and confused understanding of the difference between the law and the gospel at best and perhaps a complete and total ignorance of both the law and the gospel at worst (in most cases it is regrettably the latter).

While reflecting on this experience, I was reminded of the pertinent words penned by Thomas Boston during The Marrow Controversy. He wrote,

    A rational religion is like to be the plague of the day…Legalism is one of the dangerous engines the gates of hell are directing this day against the church built upon a Rock: this is an attempt against the grace of Christ, bringing in a scheme of religion that that has no relation to Jesus Christ and his Spirit, and putting virtue or a virtuous life in the room of Christ’s righteousness, for acceptance with God, and the exerting of our natural powers in the room of the influences of his Spirit, by which means the corruption of nature, and the necessity of regeneration, are buried in deep silence, and living by faith, attending the Spirit’s influence, and communion with God, are branded as enthusiasm:

    Thus a refined heathenism is palmed on us for Christianity…In a sinking state of the church, the law and gospel are confounded, and the law justles out the gospel, the dark shades of morality take place of gospel light; which plague is this day begun in the church, and well far advanced. Men think they see fitness of legal preaching for sanctification; but how the gospel should be such a mean, they cannot understand…(John Brown of Whitburn, Gospel Truth, p. 106)

Thomas Boston’s words are pertinent, profound and prophetic. The endless desire and pursuit for the “practical and relevant” within Evangelicalism has resulted in what Thomas Boston describes as “a refined heathenism palmed on us for Christianity.” In many Evangelical pulpits and churches, “law” has jostled out the Gospel and dark shades of morality have cast large shadows upon Good News.

The pastor’s question, “How do we make the Bible practical? WWJD is what we must ask,” reveals how so many Evangelicals think they see the fitness of legal preaching for sanctification; but, O, how the gospel should be such a mean!

During both services, I kept wanting to stand up and shout out to everyone present, “There is a better way to live!” This better way is laid out for us by Paul in Galatians 2:20,

    “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Justification is a doctrine to live by each and every moment. The great need of the Evangelical church today is as Thomas Boston exhorted,

    “Be of a gospel-spirit, having high thoughts of the free grace of God, and deep impressions of the nothingness of man, and all he can do, Gal. vi. 14. Learn and hold fast gospel-principles in your heads, and keep up a gospel-frame in your hearts, and have a gospel-practice in your walk. Learn the art of living by faith, believing the promise, and on the credit of the promise, going out in duty; let love constrain you to obedience, and be strict and tender in the whole of your walk,” (Note: This is what it means to be gospel-driven!-J.F.; Gospel Truth, p. 106).

Our family vacation renewed in me a greater earnestness and conviction of the great need for Gospel centered/driven ministry and living, beginning with myself! The purpose of the Gospel is:

-to exclude all self-confidence and boasting
-to debase the pride of man
-to usher in self-denial
-to exalt the glory of Christ and His divine perfections
-to extol His righteousness
-to establish His law
-and to bring men to a true and active faith of the free grace and mercy of God, which results in the only solid root and spring of true peace, heart-holiness, and practical godliness.

These are the things we must insist on, as Ralph Erskine wrote,

    “…the more people have their minds spiritually and evangelically enlightened, so as to have just and distinct apprehensions of these subjects, the more will the life of holiness and comfort take place in them, and the life of glorious liberty and freedom, both from the power of corruption and the prevalency of mental confusion, discouragement, and despondency; as our Lord Jesus says, John viii. 32, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Many Christians are kept in great bondage, partly by legal doctrine, and party by their own legal disposition, both much owing to dark and confused apprehensions of these weighty points, and particularly of the difference between…the law and the gospel,” (Gospel Truth, p. 78).

Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Why We Must Preach Christ from Every Text

June 2, 2008

Russel Moore has written an excellent piece at the Henry Institute regarding why we must preach Christ from every text:

Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Why We Must Preach Christ from Every Text

See also here for a related article: What the Bible is All About

HT: Already Not Yet