DBG Weekend Spotlight (3-24-17)

DBG Weekend Spotlight (3-24-17)

I am very grateful for the upcoming documentary by Stephen McCaskell about Martin Luther that will seek to tell a balanced story about the man who was imperfect in many ways, but was used by God to spark what we know as the Protestant Reformation. Watch the trailer and preorder your copy of LUTHER (order your copy here).

Should We Baptize the Dead? — “Baptism demonstrates and symbolically reenacts our spiritual death, burial, and resurrection in Christ. But it does not save anyone.”

Legalism and Assurance — John MacArthur explains that, “Scripture contains great and glorious promises for the believer who struggles with sin in this life. And quite simply, we need to take God at His word and believe those promises because they hinge not on what we do, but on what God has already done.”

$5 Friday: Ethics, Truth, & the Atonement — Some good book options from Ligonier for only…$5.

Dispel the Myths About Down Syndrome — “World Down Syndrome Day was started to dispel myths about the disorder. Down syndrome itself is complicated, and as a “spectrum disorder,” each person with Down syndrome (and thus, their families) will experience it in different ways. Some people with Down syndrome will grow and experience a certain level of independence as adults; most will require help and supervision for their entire lives. Many also will experience significant, lifelong health complications. Some are sassy and engaging and bold. Some can’t speak at all. Some have families and churches who love and cherish them. Some are bullied every day in their communities and schools.”

Churches, Get a Calvinist Pastor! — Tom Nettles writes, “If pulpit committees and churches would look below the façade of scare-tactic accusations and warnings being rolled out like taffy at the Mississippi State Fair, they would discover something healthy and very desirable in the men and the message preached by those against whom they are warned. No one wants a nasty confrontation between church and pastor that leads to a confused and often divided congregation and a battered pastor and his family. These are charitable warnings. Some congregations, however, might desire to consider why Baptists for so long guarded their confessional Calvinism with great care and endured many storms undergirded by that foundation. They might consider that opening themselves to embrace that which is truly “traditional” could elevate the sense of the divine presence of grace in their lives.”

Princeton Seminary Cancels Award to Tim Keller After LGBT Complaint — “A week after disgruntled Princeton Theological Seminary alumni complained that Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, should not receive the school’s Kuyper Prize because of his church’s position on the ordination of women and LGBT individuals, the seminary decided Wednesday not to give the award this year.”

Visualize the Bible in a Whole New Way — Visual tools in Logos Bible Software add great elements for teaching and studying God’s Word.

Paul Washer Recovering After his Recent Heart Attack — After suffering a heart attack on Monday night, Paul Washer has been in the hospital recovering under the care of doctors.  He is making good progress and is scheduled to be released soon.

Michael Kruger to Speak at G3 2018 — The G3 Conference announced on Thursday that Michael Kruger will be speaking in their 2018 conference next January.  Reserve your seat (G3Conference.com).

Theology Word of the Week:  God

God, the object, as revealed in Scripture, of the church s confession, worship and service.

1. The identity of God

The Christian view of God comes from the biblical revelation, in which mankind’s maker appears as mankind’s redeemer, unchangeably and unchallengeably sovereign in creation, providence and grace. Since he is not open to direct observation, a meaningful account of him can only be given by indicating at each point his relation to ourselves and the world we know. Scripture does this, setting an example that this article will follow.

a. The names of God. In mainstream Christian usage, ‘God’ (capital ‘G’) functions as a proper noun; that is, it is a personal name, belonging to one being only, which draws into itself all the thoughts that the biblical names and descriptions of God express.

The main names of God in the OT, all proclaiming aspects of his nature and his link with mankind, are these:

i. El, Eloah, Elohim (Eng. ‘God’, following ho theos in lxx), El Elyon (‘God most high’). These names convey the thought of a transcendent being, superhumanly strong, and with inexhaustible life in himself, one on whom everything that is not himself depends.

ii. Adonay (‘Lord’; kyrios in lxx). This means one who rules over everything external to him.

iii. Yahweh (‘the Lord’ in av(kjv), rv, rsv, niv, following ho kyrios in lxx), Yahweh Sebaoth (‘Lord of [heavenly, angelic] hosts’). ‘Yahweh’ is God’s personal name for himself, by which his people were to invoke him as the Lord who had taken them into covenant with himself in order to do them good. When God first stated this name to Moses at the burning bush, he explained it as meaning ‘I am what I am’, or perhaps most accurately ‘I will be what I will be’. This was a declaration of independent, self-determining existence (Ex. 3:14–15). Later God ‘proclaimed’—that is, expounded—‘the name of the Lord’ as follows: ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means dear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation’ (Ex. 34:6–7, rsv). Thus in sum ‘Yahweh’ carries the thought of a marvellously kind and patient, though also awesomely stern, commitment to the covenant people as the path chosen by the self-sustaining, self-renewing being whom the theophany of the burning bush depicted.

The NT identifies the God who is Father of Jesus Christ and of Christians through Christ as the God of the OT, the only God there is (cf. 1 Cor. 8:5–6), and it sees the Christian salvation as the fulfilment of God’s OT promises. Thus it rules out in advance all dualisms that oppose the God, or the idea of God, which the OT sets forth, to the redeemer-God seen in and described by Jesus. ‘Father’ appears as the invocation of God that Jesus, who himself prayed to God as Father, prescribed for his disciples (cf. Mt. 6:9; 1 Pet. 1:17); ‘Lord’, used as in lxx to imply deity as well as dominion, becomes the regular term for characterizing, confessing and invoking the risen and enthroned Christ (Acts 2:36; 10:36; Rom. 10:9–13; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 12:8–10; Rev. 22:20; etc.); and the ‘name’ (singular) into which disciples of Jesus are to be baptized, as a sign of God’s committed salvific relationship to them and their responsive commitment to him, is the tripersonal name of three distinguishable though evidently inseparable agents, ‘the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’ (Mt. 28:19). This is God’s ‘Christian name’, as Barth happily put it.

b. The concept of theism. Views of God of the Judaeo-Christian type are called theism to offset them from deism and pantheism, and monotheism to offset them from polytheism. Deism, first formulated in the 17th century, sees the cosmos as a closed system with its maker outside it and so denies God’s direct providential control of events and his miraculous creative intrusions into the ongoing life of the physical world-order. Pantheism, which goes back to pre-Christian Eastern religion, recognizes no creator-creature distinction, but sees everything, good and evil included, as a direct form or expression of God; so that as William Temple said, God minus the universe equals nought. (For theism, by contrast, God minus the universe equals God.) Polytheism, the constant form of the ancient near-Eastern and Graeco-Roman paganism which Scripture denounces, posits many supernatural beings limited by each other, none of whom is omnicompetent, so that worship must be spread and allegiance divided among them all, since we cannot know whose help we may need next. The biblical idea of God is thus diminished by deism, dissolved by pantheism, and debased by polytheism. Creation and control of the cosmos, and a beneficent disposition to rational creatures within it, are the essential tenets of theism in all its forms.

c. Trinitarianism. Distinctive to Christian theism is the belief that the personal creator is as truly three as he is one. Within the complex unity of his being, three personal centres of rational awareness eternally coinhere, interpenetrate, relate in mutual love, and cooperate in all divine actions. God is not only he but also they—Father, Son and Spirit, coequal and coeternal in power and glory though functioning in a set pattern whereby the Son obeys the Father and the Spirit subserves both. All statements about God in general or about the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit in particular, should be ‘cashed’ in Trinitarian terms, if something of their meaning is not to be lost. This form of belief, argued by Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers and stated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in the 4th century, and analysed in the so-called Athanasian Creed of the 5th–6th century (see Creeds), reflects the conviction that Jesus’ recorded teaching and attitudes with regard to the Father and the Spirit (cf. Jn. 14–16), and the pervasive triadic thought-forms whereby the NT regularly presents salvation as the joint work of the three persons together (cf., e.g., Rom. 3; 1 Cor. 12:3–6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 1; 2 Thes. 2:13–14; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:4–5), actually reveal God rather than obscuring him. Being unique, the Trinity is to us a mystery, that is, a matter of incomprehensible fact, and rationalistic thinkers and sects have often attacked the doctrine of God’s tripersonality on that account. But the implications of the NT material are too clear to be denied.

d. The language of belief. Human language is all that we have for worshipping, confessing and discussing God, and it is adequate; but it has to be systematically adapted for the purpose. Scripture itself unobtrusively exhibits this adaptation, for it regularly presents God as the super-person who made mankind in his image (see Image of God) and whose life, thoughts, attitudes and actions are basically comparable to our own, though they contrast with ours in being free both from the limitations of our creaturely finiteness and from the moral flaws that are part and parcel of our fallenness. The Bible’s narrative and descriptive language about God is thus used in a sense analogous to, though never quite identical with, the sense that the words would carry if used of humans, and the language of theology must self-consciously follow the Bible at this point. The ontological basis for this rule of thought and speech is what Thomas Aquinas called the analogy of being that exists between God and ourselves, i.e. the qualified similarity between his existence as creator and ours as creatures (see Analogy).

When Christianity moved out of Palestine into the wider Greek-speaking world, Christian spokesmen borrowed words from Hellenistic culture. Platonic, Aristotelian and Stoic thinkers saw the world as shaped somehow by a principle, in some sense divine, that was immaterial, impassive, immobile, immutable and timeless. Apologists and theologians took over this vocabulary to express the transcendence of God and the difference between him and man. Arguably these impersonal static Greek terms were a poor fit by biblical standards, but those who have used them from the 2nd to the 20th century have never let them obscure the fact that God is personal, active and very much alive.

2. The being of God

The ‘attributes’ of God—that is, the qualities that may truly be ascribed to him—concern either his way of existing as compared with ours, or his moral character as shown by his words and deeds. The main points in historic Bible-based, time-tested Christian theism with regard to the way in which God exists are these:

a. God is self-existent, self-sufficient and self-sustaining. God does not have it in him, either in purpose or in power, to stop existing; he exists necessarily, with no need of help and support from us (cf. Acts 17:23–25). This is his aseity, the quality of having life in and from himself.

b. God is simple (that is, totally integrated), perfect and immutable. These words affirm that he is wholly and entirely involved in everything that he is and does, and that his nature, goals, plans and ways of acting do not change, either for the better (being perfect, he cannot become better) or for the worse. His immutability is not the changelessness of an eternally frozen pose, but the moral consistency that holds him to his own principles of action and leads him to deal differently with those who change their own behaviour towards him (cf. Ps. 18:24–27).

c. God is infinite, bodiless (a spirit), omnipresent, omniscient, and eternal. These words affirm that God is not bound by any of the limitations of space or time that apply to us, his creatures, in our present body-anchored existence. He is always present everywhere, though invisibly and imperceptibly, and is at every moment cognizant of all that ever was, is, or shall be. Individual theists have denied that God knows the future, but this imposes on him an unbiblical limitation and is thus eccentric.

d. God is purposeful, all-powerful, and sovereign in relation to his world. He has a plan for the history of the universe, and in executing it he governs and controls all created realities. Without violating the nature of things, and without at any stage infringing upon human free agency, God acts in, with and through his creatures so as to do everything that he wishes to do exactly as he wishes to do it. By this overruling action, despite human disobedience and Satanic obstruction, he achieves his pre-set goals. Some question the reality of the eternal decree (that is, decision) whereby God has foreordained everything that comes to pass, but this also imposes an unbiblical limitation on such texts as Eph. 1:11, and it too must be judged eccentric.

e. God is both transcendent over, and immanent in, his world. These 19th-century words express the thought that on the one hand God is distinct from his world, does not need it, and exceeds the grasp of any created intelligence that is found in it (a truth sometimes expressed by speaking of the mystery and incomprehensibility of God); while on the other hand he permeates the world in sustaining creative power, shaping and steering it in a way that keeps it on its planned course. Process theology jettisons transcendence and so stresses the immanence of God and his struggling involvement in the supposedly evolving cosmos that he himself becomes finite and evolving too; but this is yet another unbiblical oddity.

f. God is impassible. This means, not that God is impassive and unfeeling (a frequent misunderstanding), but that no created beings can inflict pain, suffering and distress on him at their own will. In so far as God enters into suffering and grief (which Scripture’s many anthropopathisms, plus the fact of the cross, show that he does), it is by his own deliberate decision; he is never his creatures’ hapless victim. The Christian mainstream has construed impassibility as meaning not that God is a stranger to joy and delight, but rather that his joy is permanent, clouded by no involuntary pain.

3. The character of God

Character is personal moral nature revealed in action. In God’s dealings with mankind his character is fully displayed, supremely in the incarnate Son: God is Jesus-like, for Jesus is God in the flesh. Concerning God’s character the key statements appear to be these:

a. God is holy love. The essence of all love is giving prompted by goodwill, with joy in the recipient’s benefit. The statement, ‘God is love’ (agapē, 1 Jn. 4:8) is explained in context as meaning that God gave his Son as a sacrifice to quench his wrath against human sins and so bring believers life. Agapē is the regular NT word for love that gives even to the unlovely and undeserving. Behind the statement, however, must be held to lie the Johannine conviction that love is the abiding quality of inter-Trinitarian relations (cf. Jn. 5:20; 14:31). Both internally and externally, therefore, giving in order to make the recipient great must be understood as the moral shape of the Triune God’s life.

But God is also ‘the holy one’ (some 50 references), and holiness (purity, hatred of moral evil, and inner compulsion to show judicial anger against it) always qualifies the divine love. The need for retributive judgment on our sins through Christ’s cross (‘the measure and the pledge of love’, cf. Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8), as a basis for the free gift of justification and forgiveness (see Guilt and Forgiveness), is rooted in this fact, and so is the requirement of holiness in the justified (Rom. 6; 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1; 1 Thes. 4:3–7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16).

b. God is moral perfection. God’s revealed ways with mankind render him not only awesome but also adorable by reason of his truthfulness, faithfulness, grace, mercy, loving-kindness, patience, constancy, wisdom, justice, goodness, and generosity—all of which find exercise as functions of his love to believers, as well as in his sustained dominion over a rebel world which he governs with both goodness and severity. For the display of these glorious qualities God is worthy of endless praise, and right-minded study of God’s moral character will always end in doxol. [1]

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 274–277.


Do Not Worship the Reformers: John Calvin

Do Not Worship the Reformers: John Calvin

Today I’m continuing a short series on the Reformers.  The aim of the series is to point out why we love and respect these men, but at the same time, we should not hold them up to an unhealthy level of adoration and appreciation.  The Reformers accomplished many things for the glory of God, but like us all, they were born with feet of clay.

John Calvin stands as a giant of church history.  His name stands as the headline for a system of theology—Calvinism, although he never invented it or organized any system under his personal name.  He was a prolific author, a noted theologian with a brilliant mind, a fearless leader, and a powerful expositor of God’s Word.  Steven Lawson has stated that if Martin Luther was the hammer of the Reformation, John Calvin was the pen. [1]  Although many people have hailed John Calvin as a hero of church history, some have, to the same degree, sought to vilify him as a monster.  Many people who write blog posts about Calvin or form negative positions about the man have never read one paragraph from his Institutes, one sentence from his commentaries, or read one of his many sermons.  They simply believe lies about John Calvin, a man who was used by God in the days of the great Reformation.  While Calvin was certainly no monster, he was also not a superhero.  Calvin was a real man who did many great things, but he should not be worshipped because he had feet of imperfect clay.

John Calvin was born on July 10th, 1509, in Noyon, France.  Martin Luther was 25 years old at the time of Calvin’s birth.  When he was 14, Calvin’s father sent him to study theology at the University of Paris.  He would later leave to study law for a period of about three years.  He mastered Greek and completed his study of law.  After the death of his father at the age of 21, Calvin started feeling the need to turn back to his pursuits in theology.  Over the next couple of years, Calvin would be born again.  From this point forward, Calvin’s heart would be devoted to the study of God’s Word and through this one man, the world would be impacted with the gospel.

Calvin and his Preaching

Calvin’s resume is quite impressive.  He stood in great opposition to the Roman Catholic Church and the perversion of God’s grace.  Calvin was many things, but at the heart of his ministry, he was a preacher.  Calvin labored tirelessly for 12-18 hours per day in God’s Word.  He would preach nearly ten sermons every two weeks and all of it was exposition—nothing superficial and topical.  Consider his preaching ministry:

  • He began his series through Acts in 1549. He completed it in 1554.
  • He preached 46 sermons through 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
  • 1 and 2 Corinthians – 186 sermons.
  • He preached 86 sermons through the pastoral epistles.
  • His series through Galatians was 43 sermons.
  • He preached 48 sermons through Ephesians.
  • 159 sermons through Job. Many modern preachers haven’t preached one sermon from a text in Job.
  • His series through Deuteronomy was 200 sermons long.
  • He labored through Isaiah in 353 sermons.
  • His series through Genesis was 123 sermons in length.

We get a glimpse into his commitment to expository preaching as he finished his sermon on Easter in 1538 and was banished by the City Council from his pulpit.  He would not return for more than three years. On the first Sunday back in the pulpit, he picked up in the very next verse. He was making a clear statement. He wasn’t finished. His work was not complete.

Calvin and his Writing

Before being thrust into the pulpit, Calvin planned to fan the flame of the Reformation through the power of the pen.  He felt that he was most suited for writing.  After being converted at the age of 24, he would take up a pen and write his famous Institutes at the age of 25.  One year after it was completed, in March of 1536, the first edition of the Institutes were published. Over the next twenty three years, the Institutes would go through five substantial revisions and enlargements until it was finally complete in 1559.

Calvin would write a substantial commentary on almost every book in the New Testament and many from the Old Testament.  Calvin covered 75% of the Bible in his commentaries.  He was a prolific author who wrote many tracts, treatises, confessions, and contributed to the study notes of the 1560 Geneva Bible that was brought to America on the Mayflower.

Calvin and his Zeal for Missions

As Calvin’s preaching thundered from his pulpit in Geneva, he was preparing men to go plant churches in France, and at times, die for their faith in Christ.  He organized, trained, developed, and sent out hundreds of these zealous hearted missionaries who proclaimed the good news of the gospel.  These missionaries stood upon the firm foundation of a robust sovereign grace.

As these men were convinced of God’s sovereignty in salvation, such knowledge became the fuel in the furnace of their hearts as they went out to plant churches and preach the gospel.  By 1562, Calvin (with the aid of other surrounding cities) had planted over 2,000 churches in France.  Some of the missionaries who were sent out from Calvin’s church died as martyrs.  Edward Panosian writes the following:

From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel.  Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin. [2]

Harry R. Leader points out that “Calvin’s beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries.” [3]  The point is clear, John Calvin, the very man who is often accused of being lifeless and cold in the area of missions, had a burning heart for souls to be saved by Jesus Christ and trained thousands of missionaries and sent them out from Geneva.

Calvin and his Feet of Clay

John Calvin is often misunderstood and misrepresented.  He has been accused of being the “cruel and unopposed dictator of Geneva.” [4]  He is often accused of being a murderer who burned people at the stake for disagreeing with him.  Not only is that a misrepresentation of John Calvin, it’s a historical inaccuracy and intellectual dishonesty.  Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian and physician who lived from 1511-1553.  He had developed a doctrinal heresy and proved to be a false disciple.  In short, Servetus was a heretic who was disrupting the Reformation.

Although Servetus was burned at the stake, it was not based on Calvin’s will alone.  He had been arrested in Geneva as he was on the run as a criminal,  Calvin did consent to his death, but the context of Geneva was one where the church and the state were interwoven during the sixteenth century.  To call Calvin a murderer for the fact that a criminal received the death penalty is a gross error and historical falsehood.

Calvin’s Imperfect Tongue:  Although John Calvin is free from murder in the case of Servetus, he did at times have a tongue that was sharp.  He referred to Menno Simons by stating, “Nothing could be prouder, nothing more impudent than this donkey.” [5]  Calvin is quoted as stating some things about the Jews that are not exactly pleasant to say the least.  What can we learn here?  We can learn that Calvin was not perfect.  Calvin was a man with imperfect flesh, imperfect tongue, and as we shall see in his theology—an imperfect theology.

Calvin’s Imperfect Theology of Baptism:  From a Baptist perspective, I would argue that Calvin’s theology of baptism was not pristine.  Although he practiced the mode of pedobaptism (the sprinkling of infants), he once stated, “The word baptize means to immerse. It is certain that immersion was the practice of the early church.” [6]  As we know, just as all Presbyterians, Calvin was saying something far different in infant baptism than the Roman Catholic Church, it seems inconsistent to believe the early church practiced immersion in baptism while actively committed to pedobaptism.

Calvin’s Imperfect Theology of the Lord’s Supper:  Although the Reformed position views the Lord’s Supper as more than an “imagination” or “reflection” — Calvin seemed to press the issue too far at times in his opposition to Zwingli which positioned him far too close to Lutheran theology (consubstantiation).  John Calvin writes:

We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it. [7]

At one point, Calvin asserted that when we receive the bread and wine, “let us no less surely trust that the body itself is also given to us.” [8]  For Calvin, the signs and the things signified must be distinguished without true separation.  Although Calvin rejected the false doctrine of transubstantiation, he did see the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in a different manner and for a different purpose.  In order to reach his position, he entered the theological debate of his day by embracing the locality of Jesus during the Lord’s Supper under specific language.  The Roman Catholic Church speaks of the real presence, but for Calvin, Christ’s human body is locally present in heaven, but it does not have to descend to the alter of the Lord’s Supper table in order for believers to partake of it.  This is based on his understanding of how the Holy Spirit is involved in the worship of Christ at the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin stated:

But we must establish such a presence of Christ in the Supper as may neither fasten him to the element of bread, nor enclose him in bread, nor circumscribe him in any way (all which things, it is clear, detract from his heavenly glory). [9]

In short, Calvin firmly rejected the Roman Catholic’s position of Jesus’ actual bodily presence in an ongoing atoning sacrifice.  Calvin explain that the Lord “has given us a table at which to feast, not an altar on which a victim is to be offered; He has not consecrated priests to make sacrifice, but servants to distribute the sacred feast.” [10]  Calvin wanted to protect the Lord’s Supper, and that’s why he defended the Lord’s Supper from vile men who sought to defile the Lord’s Table.

A controversy had arisen among Calvin and the Council of the city who overturned a ruling of the church to prevent a man from observing the Lord’s Supper.  He was known to be living in open sexual sin (known as the Libertines), and this grieved Calvin’s heart.  He protested the Council’s decision, but went on to preach on the Lord’s Day.  When the sermon was finished and following a time of prayer, he descended from his lofty pulpit to the Lord’s table.  The man who was under discipline was in the church on that particular day with his friends.

After Calvin fenced the table, a sudden rush came from the trouble makers toward the Lord’s table.  They insisted that they would partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin protested as he flung himself around the vessels containing the elements of the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin’s voice echoed through the congregation, “These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God.” [11]  According to Theodore Beza, Calvin’s first biographer, after this protest by Calvin, “the sacred ordinance was celebrated with a profound silence, and under solemn awe in all present, as if the Deity Himself had been visible among them.” [12]

At one point, we question Calvin on the Lord’s Supper and at other points we applaud him.  No matter what you think of John Calvin the preacher, the disciple of missionaries, the pastor, or the theologian—it must be noted that he was a giant of his day and for that very reason, he has not been lost in the pages of history.  We still have Calvin with us today, and it’s not because of some evil that he did, as some seem to purport.  It’s because of his gifts given to him by the Holy Spirit and how he used them for the glory of God.  John Calvin was a real man, a real sinner, and he certainly held to positions that were, at times inconsistent, and imperfect.

When we examine Calvin’s life, we find chinks in his armor, but he should not be vilified.  On the flip side of the equation, Calvin should not be worshipped.  He should be respected and appreciated, but as Calvin would direct us, our worship should be directed toward God.  Charles Spurgeon, a man of great respect once said the following about John Calvin:

Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin; no age, before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival. In theology, he stands alone, shining like a bright fixed star, while other leaders and teachers can only circle round him, at a great distance — as comets go streaming through space — with nothing like his glory or his permanence…the longer I live the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system is the nearest to perfection.

  1. Steven Lawson, John Knox, (Scotland, U.K.: Christian Focus Publications, 2017), 15.
  2. Edward Panosian, “John Calvin: The Theologian” in Faith of Our Fathers, ed. James Cardinal Gibbons, (New York: Aeterna Press, 2015), 109.
  3. Harry R. Leader, “The Churchman of the Reformation” in John Calvin: A Heart for Doctrine and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons, (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), 68.
  4. From ‘John Calvin’ in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by FL Cross and EA Livingstone, (OUP: New York, 1974, 2nd ed.), 223.
  5. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII, p. 594ff. Schaff cites The Secret of the Strength by Peter Hoover, p. 63; Calvin, IV, 176; HRE XII, 592.
  6. See “Is Infant Baptist Biblical?” sermon, by: John MacArthur,
  7. John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper, 17.
  8. John Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.10.
  9. Ibid., 4.18.12.
  10. Ibid., 4.17.19.
  11. David Mathis, “The Fateful Years: Life of Calvin, Part 8” – DesiringGod.org
  12. John Piper, John Calvin and his Passion for the Majesty of God, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 43.
DBG Spotlight (3-22-17)

DBG Spotlight (3-22-17)

In the recent 2017 Ligonier National Conference, Steven Lawson pointed to how the preaching of the Reformers was at center stage of their work during the Reformation era.

Paul Washer’s Heart Attack — Late Monday evening, chatter started to spread through social media about Paul Washer and a possible heart attack.  Although several stories have been spread that have inaccuracies, Paul Washer did suffer a heart attack at his home in Virginia on Monday evening.  He has undergone surgery and is under the care of doctors.  Please continue to pray for him and his entire family as he recovers.  For updates, you can follow his Twitter account (@PaulWasher) or see updates on the HeartCry Missionary Society Facebook page.

ChristianAudio – Free Download — For a limited time, you can download Paul Washer’s The Gospel Call and True Conversion on audio.

Legalism and Salvation — Some good words here from Grace To You on a popular word that’s often tossed around in casual conversations in evangelical circles.

Why I Love the Psalms — Robert Godfrey explains his passion for the Psalms.

Is My Desire Sour? 4 Questions To Consider — Melissa Kruger writes, “As people living in a fallen world, we know what it is to have desires. We experience physical pain, witness injustice, suffer under various trials, and ache with loneliness and grief. Even when all is going relatively well, our minds imagine how wonderful it would be if we had just a tad more.”

Why Pastors Should Catechize Their Congregations — This is a guest post by J. V. Fesko, author of The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights. The post anticipates the release of The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds.

Who Are ‘The Least of These’? — Kevin DeYoung looks at a popular phrase and explains what Jesus was referring to.

To the Unknown Pastor — “If you attend a church like this, you are incredibly blessed, Thank God for His grace in your life, show thankfulness to your pastor, thank him for his great attitude and his joy in teaching the Word.  Chances are he isn’t doing it for the money or for the fame, but he is doing it for your eternal good and for his Savior.”

How John Piper’s Seashells Swept Over a Generation — Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra points to one big sermon in a big field full of college students that had a big ripple effect.  Denny Burk looks back at his “Top Ten Memories of OneDay 2000” and points to some interesting memories from his perspective.

The Benedict Option, Tim Keller, South Africa and London, and an Important Announcement — James White is back and in this Dividing Line he explains his recent overseas ministry trip.


What If April the Giraffe Had an Abortion?

What If April the Giraffe Had an Abortion?

One of the biggest news stories today is the much anticipated birth of a giraffe.  Yes, April the Giraffe is past due, and many people are watching live around the clock.  April the Giraffe has her own website and is being filmed on a livestream feed from her own YouTube channel where millions of people are watching live from around the world to see her give birth.  April the Giraffe not only has a website and a YouTube channel, but she also has a GoFundMe page.  Not only can you follow April the Giraffe on social media, you can purchase apparel in her name to raise money for the Animal Adventure Park in New York.

As we consider the frenzy created by a 15-year old pregnant giraffe, what can we learn from this whole event in our culture?  There are some good lessons to observe about our culture along with some blatant inconsistencies.  What if April the Giraffe had an abortion?  Would her abortion be newsworthy?  If giraffe life matters, why does human life continue to be devalued in our modern society?

Giraffe Life Matters

When big news stories online, on the radio, and on the television all point to a pregnant giraffe in New York, it’s clear that giraffe life matters.  Has anyone asked if April is pregnant with a blob of cells or a real living giraffe calf?  Is that a relevant question worthy of our consideration?  Soon enough, it will happen.  April will give birth to a giraffe calf, and when that calf falls out onto the ground where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people will be watching live—it will not come as a shock to anyone that a real living giraffe was in April’s womb.

As the whole world watches with joyful anticipation for April to give birth, not one argument is being made that the “thing” in April’s womb is something other than a living giraffe.  In fact, everyone across the board seems to agree that April is actually carrying a real giraffe calf.  On the Animal Adventure Park’s website, they are using the language of “calf” in reference to April’s pregnancy.  In their “Things To Know” section on the website, it clearly states:

The calf will weigh around 150lb and will be about 6′ tall at birth.

If everyone agrees that a giraffe is pregnant with a real giraffe calf and not a blob of cells, why is there such a raging debate in our society about human life?  In 2009, an undercover study was done to point to the inconsistent lies and counsel given by Planned Parenthood to women who were seeking medical advice and potential abortions in their clinics.  In one such case, an abortion doctor said, “A fetus is what’s in the uterus right now. That is not a baby.” Dr. Polhaska, the abortion doctor, claimed, “It’s not a baby at this stage or anything like that.” Polhaska also claimed an abortion will be “much safer than having a baby…You know, women die having babies.” [1]

You can see much of the same in the firestorm controversy of Planned Parenthood that erupted in 2015 on the website of The Center for Medical Progress.  The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is the largest abortion provider in the U.S., performing nearly 330,000 abortions per year. [2] This accounts for 32% of the total 1,058,000 abortions per year in the U.S., or about 1 in 3, according to the latest data. [3] According to Dr. Deborah Nucatola, former Senior Director of Medical Services for PPFA (Hawaii Medical Director, Planned Parenthood), as of 2014 Planned Parenthood performed up to 40% of U.S. abortions. [4]  We’ve proven that animal life matters to us, but we must face the question about human life.  Does human life really matter to us?

A Question to Consider

What if a special announcement was made by the zoo keepers at Animal Adventure Park stating that a decision had to be made about the expected calf and the pregnancy of April the Giraffe.  Suppose the zoo keepers announced that after a lengthy meeting with their staff, they decided that in order for April the Giraffe to be truly happy and fulfilled in the future, she would need to be released from the responsibilities of a calf to care for which would give her added freedom to live life.  Therefore, in the best interest of April the Giraffe, the staff decided that her pregnancy would need to be aborted.

What if the abortion of April’s calf was captured live as millions of people watched on the Giraffe Cam?  Do you think there would be outrage or support?  What would be the response by PETA?  How long do you think it would take before Animal Adventure Park was shut down?  How would our culture respond to such a decision?  It seems obvious that giraffe life matters to our culture and that such a decision would lead to a massive fury of outrage.

What if something far worse was happening as you read this article?  What if a similar thing was happening to a human rather than an animal?  What if little babies were being killed in professionally operated and medically licensed clinics just a few minutes from the Animal Adventure Park where everyone is anticipating the delivery of April’s calf?  The reality is, just a few miles down the road from the location of Animal Adventure Park in New York, babies are being murdered.  It’s not a big story.  It’s not making a big stir.  In fact, I called one of the abortion clinics not far from the zoo and found that they’re accepting appointments for this week.

While we’ve been taught to value the life of animals, we’ve likewise been taught to devalue the life of humans.  We live in a culture of death in 2017.  With all of the technology available to us—including 3D and 4D ultrasound imaging, we continue to support the legal termination of life in the womb.  It has become normal to us.  Why should we question the choice of the mother, right?

It may be the legal choice of the mother in America to remain pregnant or to terminate her pregnancy through abortion, but her choice doesn’t negate the fact that a pregnant mother has a living human in her womb.  Technology and just plain good logical sense will tell you that a pregnant woman is carrying a living baby in her womb.  The dark side of politics and medical practice in our modern age has attempted for many years to avoid the reality of life in a human pregnancy.

Sometimes we find ourselves, as it were, sitting in a room with an oversized and obvious elephant that needs to be addressed.  Today, we have a pregnant giraffe in the room with us.  The pregnant giraffe isn’t April—it’s abortion.  This pregnant giraffe deserves attention from lawmakers, politicians, the medical community, and every human being in our culture.  Not only does giraffe life matter, but so does human life.  I’m not opposed to people watching a giraffe and celebrating the birth of this calf.  However, it should concern us when our culture celebrates the birth of a giraffe but has lost the ability to weep over the murder of unborn babies.

Today a little less than 3,000 babies will be killed in America through legal abortion while we seem to be more interested in the birth of a giraffe.

  1. See:  Planned Parenthood:  “That’s not a baby growing inside of you.”
  2. “2013 Affiliate Services Medical Data,” Services. Planned Parenthood Federation of America May 2015. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/4514/3316/9332/PP_Services_05-28-15.pdf
  3. Jones et al, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability In the United States, 2011,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health March 2014. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/psrh.46e0414.pdf
  4. See: Pg. 25, PPFA Transcript, The Center for Medical Progress. 7/25/2014. http://www.centerformedicalprogress.org/wpcontent/uploads/2015/05/PPFAtranscript072514_final.pdf



The Christian Life Explained

The Christian Life Explained

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching Ephesians 5:7-21 in our series through the book of Ephesians.  As we consider the life practical outworking of Christian doctrine into everyday life, Paul does a great job, over the course of three chapters, of laying out examples of what Christianity in action looks like.  In this section of verses, we get a glimpse into three areas of the Christian life, all of which are vital.

Christian Life: A Life of Light in a Dark World

Christians are called to a life of light.  As we live in a dark world where people enjoy the sins of the shadows, God has planned for us to shine the light into this world of sin.  Paul explains that we were all darkness, but we are now light in the Lord.  He does a good job of pointing to the past tense life and contrasting it with the present tense reality in Jesus.  We are commanded to be distinct from the world.

Paul goes on to command the church at Ephesus to expose the unfruitful works of darkness.  This work of exposing sin is not a pleasant experience for the Christian, because it will result in being labeled negative, narrow-minded, and various other choice descriptions.  However, it’s obvious that light cannot be hidden.  As we note from Matthew 5:14, as a city on a hillside cannot be hidden in the darkness of night, neither can a Christian be hidden in a world of darkness.  With both life and lips, we are called to expose such sins.

Christian Decisions:  A Call to Wisdom

Life is full of decisions, and we must make sure that we are exercising wisdom from God as opposed to worldly wisdom.  The world’s wisdom will run contrary to God’s wisdom.  Paul points to three specific areas where we must exercise wisdom:

  1. The use of time
  2. Pursuit of God’s Will
  3. The use of wine

In each of these areas, God’s wisdom is necessary.  Time cannot be recycled, God’s will should not be confused with our own fleshly pursuits, and wine can lead to drunkenness which is debauchery.  It’s essential to avoid missing the mark in any of these areas.  Although wine was a common drink in Paul’s day, the mixture of alcohol content was quite different.  Even children would drink wine in Paul’s day, because they would often mix it 20 parts water to 1 part wine.  Paul points out that wisdom is necessary here.

The calling of the Christian is to be led by the Spirit of God.  If we will make the best use of time, pursue God’s will, and avoid abusing wine — we must be under the constant control of the Holy Spirit as opposed to other things.  The idea here in this text is to “be being filled” with the Spirit.  The word in the Greek has in mind a passive process whereby the Spirit is working in the hearts of people who are simply living in submission to His control.  We are called to position ourselves under the control and guidance of God.

Christian Worship: Led by the Spirit of God

As we are led by the Spirit of God, we will have a life of worship that honors Him.  What does this look like in the life of a church?  First, Paul points to the area of singing.  Interestingly enough, we are called to address one another in our singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as we make melody in our hearts.  There is both a horizontal and vertical aspect to singing the gospel.  Both are necessary and vital in the life of the church.  This is an area where congregational music and the importance of it should be clearly seen from the pages of Scripture.

The vocabulary used here should not be chopped up and made too distinct.  It’s difficult to separate the different types of songs that Paul is referring to here, but there are some notable differences.  From Old Testament psalms to more festive arrangements used in worship, but the point is clear – the church was using different styles and different types of songs.  We would be wise to do the same in our day as well.

This Spirit led worship leads us to a spirit of thanksgiving.  We are reminded of our salvation as we sing the gospel.  It causes us to think about how we were once darkness but now we are light in the Lord and this was not our own doing, it was the gift of God so that none of us may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).  It should cause us to be thankful for the Spirit’s power to enable us to live the Christian life.  We will likewise be thankful for the church and the value of such a gift to us as Christians.

Finally, Paul makes a point that we are to live in submission to one another.  This is vital for the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace to be present in the church.  We are not islands.  We are not lone ranger Christians.  We are to be involved in a local, tangible, visible New Testament church as present, visible, and active members.  We are to submit to Christ (John 14:15), to elders (Heb. 13:17), and to the church as a whole.

As you look at your life and examine yourself in contrast to Ephesians 5:7-21, do you see yourself as a true Christian?  Is the fruit of the Spirit evident in your life?  Do you constantly live as a rebel to Godly authority?  Do you resist accountability among the church?


DBG Weekend Spotlight (3-16-17)

DBG Weekend Spotlight (3-16-17)

A number of years ago when I was in seminary and serving as a pastor of a small country church, a member in our church handed me a little CD of a sermon titled, “Shocking Youth Sermon” by: Paul Washer.  I listened to it, but then discarded it.  To be truthful, I didn’t really like it.  Years later, I have come to appreciate the ministry of Paul Washer and I’m also grateful for how He has used that one sermon to “shock” so many people back into reality.  Many people today would not know Paul Washer if it wasn’t for that one sermon in Alabama.  You can watch the sermon below.

$5 Friday: Worship, Providence, & Faith — You can always find something good for $5 on Friday from Ligonier.

An FAQ on Shaping Your Ministry Culture Around Disciple-Making — Justin Taylor explains why everyone in ministry needs to read the book,  The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture around Disciple-Making.  It’s authored by the same two men who wrote The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything—Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

10 Things I Did Not Do that Improved My Congregation’s Singing — This is a helpful list to evaluate and consider in relation to your own congregation.

The Gospel of James: Open Letter to Martin Luther — As I noted in my new series yesterday, Luther was a great man worthy of respect, but he had feet of clay and should not be worshipped.  His theology was flawed in places, just like ours.

Reflections on the 2017 Shepherds’ Conference — Bob Kauflin reviews the recent Shepherds’ Conference.

Sam Storms: 10 Observations on the Judgment Seat of Christ — This is a helpful (and short) list related to the Judgment Seat of Christ taken from Sam Storms’ book, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 1-6), Volume 1: 100 Daily Meditations on 2 Corinthians.

J. I. Packer on One of the Most Urgent Needs in the Church Today — Some really good wisdom here from a really wise man.

Thinking Biblically about Authority: An Interview with David Wells — In a day where Christians have a natural tendency to oppose authority (really all cultures at all times struggle with this), this is a helpful interview.

MLB Baseball’s Dirty Secret — Why are MLB baseballs not as bright as new baseballs from the first pitch of the game?  You may be surprised to find out that they use a “secret” rubbing mud and apply it to every baseball before every MLB game.

2018 G3 Conference — Registration for the English and Spanish conferences are now open, including children’s registration which is FREE for a limited number of seats.

Theology Word of the Week:  Heresy

Heresy connotes doctrinal deviation from the fundamental truths taught by Scripture and the orthodox Christian church, and active propagation of the same. The primary Gk. word hairesis, which appears nine times in the NT, fundamentally meant a school of thought or sect: so the sect of the Sadducees (Acts 5:17), the Pharisees (15:5; 26:5), the Nazarenes, i.e. the Christians (24:5; 28:22). In Acts 24:14, Paul substituted ‘way’ (hodos) for ‘sect’ (hairesis) when referring to the Christian movement, probably because hairesis, even then, possessed a negative connotation. Hairesis, secondly, developed the meaning of schism or faction that developed within the church due to a strong party spirit or lack of love (1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20). Paul’s use of the adjective hairetikos in Tit. 3:10 suggests that a heretic is a person who is divisive or factious. The shade of meaning that came to predominate in Christian usage is that of false theological doctrine. Thus 2 Pet. 2:1 refers to the ‘destructive heresies’ of certain false teachers who denied the person and work of Christ.

The writings of the church fathers contain numerous warnings against heretical teaching. Ignatius (d. 98/117) compared heresy with the working of lethal drugs (Trall. 6:1–2) and the attacks of wild beasts and rabid dogs (Eph. 7:1). Irenaeus wrote the treatise Against Heresies to refute the various Gnostic errors in the 2nd-century world. He urged Christians ‘to avoid every heretical, godless and impious doctrine’ (Against Heresies III. 6.4). Clement of Alexandria insisted that heresies spring from self-conceit, vanity and the deliberate mishandling of Scripture (Strom. VII.15). Tertullian claimed that ‘the philosophers are the fathers of the heretics’ (Against Hermogenes 8). Cyprian added: ‘Satan invented heresies and schisms with which to overthrow the faith, to corrupt the truth and to divide unity’ (Unity of the Church 3).

In a sense, the history of the church is the history of heresies. In the 2nd century, Gnosticism and Marcionism perverted the orthodox doctrine of God. Later, various forms of modalism (see Monarchianism) and Arianism corrupted the doctrine of Christ. Apollinarianism, Nestorianism and monophysitism dealt inadequately with the two natures of Christ. At the time of the Reformation, Socinianism denied the Trinity and the efficacy of Christ’s atoning work, as did later Unitarianism. In modern times neo-Protestantism has denied the personality of God, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and the divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

The early church defended itself against heretical teaching by appealing to ‘the rule of faith’ or ‘the rule of truth’, which were brief summaries of essential Christian truths (see Creeds). Irenaeus lamented that heretics follow neither Scripture nor the tradition that originates from the apostles and was preserved in the churches through the succession of elders (Against Heresies III.2). Tertullian added that ‘to know nothing in opposition to the rule of faith is to know all things’ (Prescription of Heretics 7). The fluid ‘rule of faith’ gave way to more precise instruments for refuting heresies and defining faith, namely, credal formulations such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon and the Athanasian Creed (see Councils, Creeds). From the time of the Reformation, Protestant bodies have distinguished truth from heresy in numerous confessional statements such as the Formula of Concord, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Westminster Confession.

Walter Bauer (1877–1960), in his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934), advanced the radical thesis that the Roman church rewrote the history of the early church, making its interpretation of primitive Christianity the ‘orthodox’ view and depicting other early Christian teachers as ‘heretical’ and immoral. According to Bauer, forms of Christianity that came to be understood as ‘heretical’ were prior to and more widespread than the so-called ‘orthodox’ teaching. Thus, many Christian movements in the early church commonly viewed as heterodox are said to constitute authentic primitive expressions of the religion of Jesus.

Canon H. E. W. Turner rejected Bauer’s thesis in his book, The Pattern of Christian Truth (1954). While allowing for certain flexibility in early Christian teaching, Turner argues that primitive Christianity universally held to three kinds of ‘fixed elements’: 1. crucial ‘religious facts’, such as the creator God and the divine Christ as the historical redeemer; 2. the centrality of biblical revelation; and 3. the creed and the rule of faith. ‘Christians lived Trinitarianly before the evolution of Nicene orthodoxy’ (p. 28).

Most evangelical authorities agree that the data of early church history and theology show that orthodoxy was earlier and more widespread than Bauer allowed. Indeed, the teachings of Jesus and the apostles were summed up at an early date in the ‘rule of faith’ and the writings of the apostolic fathers. The orthodox faith was attacked by heretical opponents (Gnostic sects, Marcion, Arius, etc.), but the latter were opposed by the apostles and early church fathers in both the East and West. Evangelical authorities likewise agree that Bauer’s account of the triumph of Roman ‘orthodoxy’ falls short of credibility.

Given the modern bias against timeless, propositional truths and the belief that faith is a matter of lived experience, the notion of heresy has been substantially diluted in non-Evangelical Christianity. For example, Karl Rahner, working from the ethical view of truth as a lived reality, views heresy as the failure to attain authentic existence at the point where God meets a person. Rather than the repudiation of particular doctrines, heresy embraces subjective attitudes, such as spiritual indifference and a critical spirit. Primary responsibility for this ‘latent heresy’ lies with the individual Christian rather than the magisterium. Yet the NT expresses serious concern for ‘false doctrines’ (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3) and places the highest priority on maintaining ‘the pattern of sound teaching’ (2 Tim. 1:13; cf. 1 Tim. 6:3). Scripture urges Christians to be alert to doctrinal deception (Mt. 24:4) and to avoid heresy by carefully guarding the pure content of the gospel (1 Cor. 11:2; Gal. 1:8). [1]

  1. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 296.