Calvinism in the SBC- Some Verses Addressing Evangelism

September 26, 2008

If a Calvinist is a soul winner it is in spite of Calvinism, not because of it.” -Dr. Jerry Vines, a sermon entitled Calvinism: A Baptist and His Election

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” -Acts 1.8

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” -Romans 10.14, 17

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” -Esther 4.14

Looking back at the debate over whether Calvinism is acceptable in the SBC, I will give the opponents the benefit of the doubt in saying that their main concern is with a Calvinists commitment to evangelism. I agree, if Calvinism leads people to not share the Gospel with the lost nations of the world then it is a thing which needs to be fought against. However, what I am here to say is that, not only is consistent Calvinism not non-evangelistic, but in fact evangelism should be at the core for any Calvinist.

How can I say that, you may wonder, seeing as how the generic mindset of a Calvinist is that “God will save who he will save”? Well, simply because Calvinists do believe that God will save who he will save, and that whomever he has elected he will ensure that they hear the Gospel and are irresistibly drawn to it, the fact remains that the only authorized vehicle ordained by God for making sure people hear the Gospel is by the preaching and teaching of his word. As Peter says in Acts 4.12, “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [than Jesus Christ].” And, if that is the case, then combining this with Paul in Romans 10, we find that the only way people will be saved by that name is by the sending forth of preachers and missionaries to deliver it.

Yet still we are left with that balance: if we are certain that God will accomplish the work, what is it that keeps us from being lazy and just leaving it to someone else to do? Well, the first reason I would give is because what other activity under the sun could be more personally rewarding than seeing a fellow human being come to the knowledge of their Savior through what God does in your personal ministry? The excitement of knowing that God chose you to be the deliverer of the Good News to a soul which no longer has to live under fear of dying and going to hell is a priceless experience that one would have to be a fool to pass up. Still, maybe Calvinists are those fools, what then?

If this were possibly the case then I guess my next retort would be to turn to a passage we just looked at on here, that being Esther 4.14. This is where Mordecai is pleading with Esther to step up and work to secure the preservation of the Jewish people under the hand of her husband Xerxes and he says to her,

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

To me this statement embodies what a consistent Calvinist should be about when it comes to evangelism. Yes, God will save who he will save. But, is it worth the disobedience to his commands (Matthew 28.18-20, Acts 1.8) to just sit back and let others do it? And, for someone who cherishes the role of God’s providence and sovereign decrees, as any 5-point Calvinist must, who are you to say that God isn’t planning on using you to do his work here?

Simply said, to claim that adherence to the classical 5-points of Calvinism makes a person naturally inclined against evangelism is a faulty argument and one which needs to be considered more carefully if we are to choose to drive a wedge through the SBC over it.

Everything May be Spiritual, but Only the Gospel Saves- A Commentary on Acts 10.1-11.18

September 2, 2008

And Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.’” -Acts 10.30-33

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” -Romans 10.14-17

One of the most overlooked New Testament stories, in my opinion, is the interaction between Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11. And even when we do focus on this it seems that all we say is “And here we see the Gospel opened up to the Gentiles” (which is true, don’t get me wrong, but just read on). However, I think in focusing on that we miss a really interesting commentary which speaks to a large objection to orthodoxy arising in our emerging culture these days.

It’s cool to be semi-universalist. On the heels of Rob Bell’s tour Everything is Spiritual and in light of past comments by figures such as Brian McLaren and Billy Graham, we see a swelling tide towards, if not universalism, at least a universalism where all “spiritual people” are saved. The idea from Bell is that the Gospel is Jesus telling us that we live in an “integrated holistic spirituality” and so, as in his title, everything we do is spiritual, and de facto, everything we do is worship to God (a thesis which, think about it for a minute, is completely false).

But, instead of fighting over the words of men, let’s look at what the Word of God says in Acts 10 and 11. This passage presents us with the story of a non-proselyte Roman centurion who, though not officially a Jew, nevertheless offered devotion to and feared the one-true God (Acts 10.1-2, 28 ), and as a result of his devotion God decides to use him as the entry point of the Holy Spirit and salvation to the Gentiles. This we usually state and then move on to Peter’s vision and the eventual evangelization and regeneration of the Gentile gathering. But, let’s take a closer look at the setup.

Who are we presented with? A non-Jewish Roman who through some set of circumstances and interactions has taken to worshiping the one-true God. We know that his worship is of the God of the Jews because the text states that he was “a devout man who feared God with all his household.” So, not only is Cornelius spiritual, but his spirituality is directed towards the living God, even though he is not a member of God’s covenant people Israel. And what does this spirituality get him? Under popular theology that is enough. Cornelius is a spiritual person, living a spiritual life, and doing his best to please whatever God is there. This seems to be the criteria in our society, and certainly in the theology expressed by people like Graham, for salvation. For all intents and purposes Cornelius should expect to find himself in heaven when it’s all said and done just by what he has already demonstrated.

Yet is it enough? Is his spirituality and devotion enough? Using no other text besides Acts 10 and 11 I would argue that the answer is a resounding “No.” Why do I say this? Well, look what happens. First, we see that an angel comes to him and delivers a cryptic message about sending men to Joppa to retrieve the apostle Peter (10.3-6). Then, when the men return with Peter we see that Peter’s response to why God called him was to preach the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected to this gathering of Gentiles (10.34-43). Upon hearing the Gospel the Gentiles receive the gifting of the Holy Spirit and are baptized by Peter and the believers that accompanied him as a sign that they have gained salvation and been brought into the covenant people of God (10.44-48). Finally, after all of this, we see Peter testify to the fact that he was brought to give the message of how Cornelius “[would] be saved” (11.14).

Do you see it? Peter came to preach how Cornelius “[would] be saved.” As in, he wasn’t saved already. Regardless of his spirituality and devotion, it was not until he believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Cornelius was saved. He was even devoted to the one-true God and yet that still was not enough without his ascending in faith to the message of the Cross. If Peter or someone else had not come and presented the Gospel then Cornelius would never have been saved, no matter how spiritual and good of a life he led.

And still people miss this. It is clear as day. If Jesus saying “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life” is not enough (as Rob Bell argues in Velvet Elvis) then hopefully this testimony will be sufficient to convince us. There is no salvation without faith in Christ. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). Please get this, lives are at stake. It may not be cool, but at least people won’t be going to hell because we wanted to feel good about ourselves and be liked.

Be Killing Sin Always!- John Owen on Mortifying Sins

July 18, 2008

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” -Romans 8.13

If you have been reading my recent posts on Jeremiah and others you may have noticed occasional references to John Owen and the idea of “mortifying sins.” These thoughts have been coming out of an amazing book I read recently by Owen titled Of the Mortification of Sins in Believers. The words in this treatise really cut to the center of my idea of how a Christian should view the handling of their own forgiven sins. The phrases and ideas, which came from the mid-17th century, were incredibly pertinent to me here in the early 21st century. It truly is a wonder how God-filled works have this ability!

Because of the effect this book has had on me I would first like to recommend it to you guys and then lay out some quotes which I found particularly strong. The book, which is available in various forms, I would like to recommend as a part of the volume Overcoming Sin & Temptation, which contains two other Owen works on sin as well, and was compiled and notated by Justin Taylor and Kelly M. Kapic a few years back. Many people will complain about the difficulty of Owen’s writings, but if you are ever to read him, this volume would certainly be the best place for you to go. The editors did an excellent job of smoothing language and providing helpful footnotes to ease the reader through various rough spots.

Now, onto some quotes:

Unless a man be a believer- that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ- he can never mortify any one sin.

This is very challenging. So frequently we see our friends in need of help with some sort of addiction or harmful lifestyle choices and we want to help. However, the truth of the matter is that unless that person is a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ they stand no chance of ever truly killing off that sin.

There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.

This is so easy to forget and so often denied these days, but is there any honest argument which shows it to not be true? Of course not. Thus, we must be convinced and humbled by this amazing reality.

Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him? No. God says, ‘Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this or he is lost.’

The fact that God sometimes leaves difficult sins with us in order to further our sanctification and obedience to him cannot be denied. There are many smaller sins which I have noticed as a result of the battle I have fought with the larger ones, that I probably would have just glossed over otherwise.

Such a man as opposes nothing to the seduction of sin and lust in his heart but fear of shame among men or hell from God, is sufficiently resolved to do the sin if there were no punishment attending it.

Ooo, this hurts! What is my motivation to avoid a sin? Is it my desire to be obedient to God or is it my desire to avoid the adverse consequences of my actions? This seems such an easy answer, but in practice it is so hard. I have to be focused always on maintaining the right motivation in my adherence to God’s commandments.

“Lust is such an inmate as, if it can plead time and some prescription, will not easily be ejected. As it never dies of itself, so if it be not daily killed it will always gather strength.

This gets to the heart of the issue. If there is a sin which I still struggle with, I must be in the habit of daily killing it because otherwise it won’t just go away but will only grow stronger with each moment spent ignoring it. When the first inkling comes to sin I must be prepared to kill it or else soon my flesh will grow weary of fighting the temptation and would rather give in than be obedient. Be killing sin or else it will be killing me!

Why is This World Accursed?- A Sermon by John Piper

June 19, 2008

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” -Romans 8:18-25

Last week at the Resolved 2008 conference, John Piper gave an excellent message on why it is that there are so many disasters, natural and not, that occur in our world. He also touches the ever so controversial issue of human suffering. Dr. Piper has such an amazing heart and his passion for pursuing and preaching the things of God is so evident in all of his messages. This one is no exception and is especially pertinent for us to observe in the wake of this weeks flooding in the Midwest. I encourage you guys to take a few moments and spend time in listening to John Piper’s words for us in this never-ending world of suffering. Enjoy!

John Piper- The Echo and the Insufficiency of Hell

Thoughts on a Question from Dawkins about Faith

December 29, 2007

I was watching a video today of an interview between Richard Dawkins, a well-known athiest, and Alister McGrath, a Christian scientist and writer, in which they discuss many questions that Dawkins has about Christianity. One question that Dawkins asks in particular caught my attention. He describes the situation in which militant Islamists, girded by an extreme faith in the Muslism teachings, choose to strap a bomb on themselves and use it as a method for advancing their cause. To this, Dawkins asks, “Faith, as it is taught to children, something that they are taught to believe because they believe because they believe, isn’t that a dangerous thing to teach children?” My surprising answer to Dawkins is “yes.” Yes, this is dangerous, but not in the way Dawkins desires.

It is Dawkins desire to show that faith is a dangerous thing to have and that it is thus better for all of mankind to live as he does, i.e. as an athiest whom believes in no god. However, the actual, Biblical reason for why this is dangerous rests simply upon the fact that faith is not something just to be taught.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” – Romans 12:3

Thus, we see that faith is a gift from God, something which he has allotted for us, and not a “good principle” about religion which we are taught as children. Yes, we are taught about faith, and as it says in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing…”, but this is not the hearing which we do as a child, growing up listening to Sunday School messages. This is the hearing, as Romans 10:17 continues, “… and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is the gearing of the “good news”, the hearing of the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected so that we may be free from sins.

It is not just that we can hear about faith and what a good thing it is and then we have it. No! It is that we hear the good news, realizes that we are sinners, realize that we can do nothing outside of God (Ephesians 2:1-3), and fall on our knees, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). That is faith.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5:1

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” – Romans 8:29-30

So, in conclusion, yes, it is dangerous to have faith that is just something we learn and that we “believe because we believe.” But on the other hand, to have a faith which is a gift from God, allotted to us, so that we may be justified, glorified, and live for all eternity with our heavenly Father, now that is a most wonderful thing!