Friday, June 30, 2006

The "Cage Stage" Calvinist

"A lot of new and ignorant Calvinists need to...well, shut up. I know that isn't the politest phrase in the book, but it is the truth. Most of the damage done in these matters is done by people who are in what Calvinists call the "cage phase," those inaugural few months when you know very little except some version of TULIP and you won't be quiet about that. These are people who need to get a very large stack of books and get some roots going, but instead they go and pick a fight with whoever is least likely to understand what they are talking about. These converts- often impressionable students or very unread laity- can be obnoxious, immature and thoughtless in their assaults. They've done a lot of damage and there is no apologizing for them. I would say they should be recognized for what they are- untaught, ignorant, and often, young. Most them will grow out of it. A few remain that way until their next phase." - Michael Spencer
This post is an important reminder to all of us, and especially to me, who are passionately and unapologetically Calvinistic. I would imagine that every Calvinist who first embraces and experiences the joy in discovering TULIP would have undergone the "cage" stage where we were extremely zealous for the doctrines of grace (I do believe I still am!). The new Calvinists would typically display a disdain for anything and anyone remotely Arminian, often times go around looking for debates with Arminians to fuel their hyper-evangelistic zeal for the absolute sovereignty of God.

While I believe that having zeal for the doctrines of grace is not a bad thing, what’s also important is that we must always show grace and kindness to those who have not yet arrive at our Reformed position. After all, we are preaching the doctrines of grace! The reason we are now able to rejoice in these biblical truths is solely due to the grace of God and not because of our own intellect. Hence, the doctrines of grace are supposed to humble us, not to make us spiritually proud.

That being said, I do regard historic Arminianism as heresy. I strongly believe that Arminianism qualifies as a false gospel because of its opposition to biblical truths. However, in spite of this, I also believe most Arminians are quite inconsistent in their theology. Most Arminians, in actual fact, do pray like Calvinists and have not fully examined the worked-out implications of Arminianism. And this is why I generally regard Arminians as my brothers and sisters in Christ and will continue to have Christian fellowship with them.

There are two extremes we must avoid. The first is to abandon the truth for the sake of love, while the second is to speak the truth without love. The former is regrettably quite common in Christianity today, while the latter is perhaps why we Calvinists are sometimes accused of being self-righteous and judgmental. I do think that in most cases, the accusations are often without basis and are usually cheap shots fired at us when our critics find themselves cornered in arguments.

Therefore, let us always bear in mind the teaching to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Even as we fervently believe as Spurgeon believed, that “Calvinism is the gospel,” we must constantly be conscious of our attitude towards others. Our goal should first and foremost be to preach Christ, not merely to win theological arguments.

Further reading:
  1. Why Calvinists Have a Poor Reputation
  2. Baby Calvinists Should Be Shackled!
  3. Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism
  4. Reformed Theology vs. the Reformed Attitude
  5. A Farewell to Calvinism
  6. You Might still be in the Caged Calvinist Stage If....
  7. Top Ten Signs You’re a Calvinist– Who’s Still in the “Cage Stage”
  8. Loving Calvinists: An Oxymoron?
  9. Is Arminianism a False Gospel?
  10. Are All Arminians Unsaved?

Combating the Calvinist Virus

This is a hilarious satire of Calvinism that was posted by nateNotes some time back. The satire makes reference to Ergun Caner, an anti-Calvinist who, like many critics of Calvinism, has a poor understanding of Calvinism.

For those who have not been following the exchange between James White and Ergun Caner, the compilation of emails can be found here and here. Frankly speaking, I must say I am appalled at the unbecoming manner that Caner conducted himself.

Combating the Calvinist Virus

My fellow Arminians:

It is with a deep and abiding sense of responsibility that I offer this public statement. As you may know, the esteemed Dr. Ergun Caner recently alerted us to a virulent strand of theological plague that threatens all our churches. The technical name of this virus is Voluntatem Dei, more popularly known as Calvinism. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
  • fewer, shorter, or non-existent altar calls
  • narrower parameters of baptism
  • elevated levels of expository preaching
  • shallow interest in the latest Christian fads
  • accumulation of old theological texts
  • heightened indignation at popular worship
  • obsession with tulips
Early detection is key to fighting Calvinism. Presymptomatic signs include increased interest in Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. If you suspect a preliminary infection of Calvinism in your church, follow these steps immediately:
  1. Quarantine the affected Christians from other church members. Unfortunately, you can't kick them out of the church right away, but you can tell them to shut up or face church discipline. Don't let their weak excuses about "Bible study" and "the truth" shake your resolve. Logic and reason are one of Calvinism's most insidious routes into the church, and you must limit exposure to the best of your ability.
  2. Isolate the affected Christians from Puritan books. John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon are particularly crucial to deny your church members. Popular contemporary authors in the Puritan tradition are R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and John MacArthur. Other contemporary writers include C.J. Mahaney, Steve Lawson, Ligon Duncan, and Sinclair Ferguson. Other authors should be avoided just as strenuously; this list is not exhaustive.
  3. Inoculate the affected Christians with hyper-Calvinists. Tell them of hyper-Calvinists you know who won't share the gospel with anyone while destroying every church they infest. If you don't know any hyper-Calvinists, make one up. As part of the isolation process, don't let them know about churches pastored by any of the authors listed above. It won't do to let them know of loving, growing, evangelistic Calvinist churches.
  4. Inject heavy dosages of anthropocentric theology. Begin by hinging God's actions on man's choice. Tell your patient it would be immoral for God to let anyone go to Hell without a completely libertarian choice. Then tell them God doesn't want to love robots, and that a totally libertarian will was God's greatest gift to man. Make God's salvation completely contingent on man's response. Again, isolate your patient from Calvinist mutterings about God's free choice, His self-defined righteousness, or His use of means in the accomplishment of His will.
  5. Feed the affected Christians a steady dose of Evangelism. Make altar calls, decision cards, revival week, aisle-walking, and hand-raising equivalent to apostolic evangelism in the minds of your patients. Then hammer away at Calvinists who don't do these things for lacking evangelistic zeal. Again, isolate your patient from examples of Calvinists who call for repentance in ways you don't approve.
  6. Bring down the affected Christian's expectations. If they want to talk about Greek, call them elitists. If they bring up church history, make up your own. And if they mention exegeting John 6, divert them with an alternate interpretation of a completely unrelated verse in an entirely unrelated context. Gradually ease your patients away from the biblical text, and remind them that knowledge puffs up, but Evangelistic love edifies.
In the end, no measure of success is guaranteed. Despite your best efforts, you might lose some of your church members to Calvinism. If that happens, the best thing you can do is cut them loose. If you don't actually throw them out of your church, create such an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia that they leave of their own accord. Let them join a Calvinist church if they wish. Leper colonies have their place.

Finally, be aware that the greatest threat comes not from your own church members studying their Bibles and reading Puritan-style writers. If you're leading your church responsibly, you have them so busy with the latest program and so involved with the latest Evangelistic crusade that they don't have time for indepth study and meditation. No, the greatest threat comes from other Calvinists infiltrating your ranks and releasing their deadly toxin among your church members.

This is biological terrorism. Treat it as such, and show no mercy to Calvinists who would threaten your church with an outbreak of 'Tulip's Disease.' To aid churches in guarding against theological terrorism, I'm proud to institute the Department of Arminian Insecurity (DAI). The following chart represents the current Calvinist threat level nationwide; you should refer to it frequently as the threat level will fluctuate radically around the Founder's Conference and near the end of October:

Since he is the man most responsible for the creation of this department, I'm proud to introduce Ergun Caner as the first Secretary of the Department of Arminian Insecurity. Rest assured that the next secretary will be someone who equals or excells Secretary Caner in bombast, rhetoric, and cheap shots. Calvinist terrorism can't be treated with kid gloves. All further questions will be answered by my press secretary, Dave Hunt. Although I believe he's already fully answered any question you might have, and further questioning would be a waste of time. Good day.

P.S. The DAI is a little cash-strapped, being a new department and all. If there are any patriotic Arminians out there who want to design a more graphically pleasing Calvinist Advisory System, the DAI is certainly interested in hosting said graphic.


Update! Another announcement from the DAI, titled Calvinist Propaganda, can be found here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Arminian Grace

A funny parody of one of the most well-known Christian hymns, which I came across at
Arminian "grace!" How strange the sound,
Salvation hinged on me.
I once was lost then turned around,
Was blind then chose to see.

What "grace" is it that calls for choice,
Made from some good within?
That part that wills to heed God's voice,
Proved stronger than my sin.

Thru many ardent gospel pleas,
I sat with heart of stone.
But then some hidden good in me,
Propelled me toward my home.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Because of what we've done,
We've no less days to sing our praise,
Than when we first begun.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kim Riddlebarger: Some Dos and Don'ts of Evangelism

Kim Riddlebarger has given a couple of excellent advice on evangelism from a Reformed perspective. These points are taken from his lectures on evangelism, Telling People the Truth in Love. Here are some of the points that resonates with me:
  1. The essence of evangelism is communicating the correct information about sin and grace, simply and clearly. Talk about the law and the gospel, not about infralapsarianism and divine simplicity. That comes later!
  2. Avoid the use of Christian jargon. Speak about real sin, real guilt, real shed blood!
  3. Stick with the subject—don’t get side-tracked. When the conversation wanders, pull it back to center stage—the law and the gospel.
  4. Evangelism is not about winning an argument, but leading people to Christ. Discussions may get heated and intense at times—that’s okay. But the purpose of evangelism is not to show why you are right and they are wrong. It is to communicate the truth of the gospel. The message is to be the offence. Not you!
  5. Don’t rush things. Just because someone is not ready to trust in Christ after one encounter does not mean that effective evangelism has not taken place. Pre-evangelism is equally vital. You may plant, but someone else may have to water.
  6. Treat people as objects of concern, not notches in your belt. Establish relationships and friendships whenever possible.
  7. Don’t force things. If people balk, ridicule and otherwise are not interested, back off. Find another time and place. If after repeated attempts to communicate the gospel, and someone still shows an unwillingness to hear what you have to say, "shake the dust off your feet and move on to a new town!"
  8. You don’t have to become a practical Arminian to be a faithful evangelist! A Reformed approach to evangelism simply means telling people the truth in love.
For more of the points (20 in all!), click here to view them.

I would encourage readers to download Riddlebarger's article too. Here are some excerpts from the article on the topic of pre-evangelism:
  • Pre-evangelism entails two-way communication between the Christian and the non-Christian: “If we wish to communicate, then, we must take the time and the trouble to learn our hearer’s use of language so that they understand what we intend to convey [p.130].” Thus pre-evangelism entails understanding what the non-Christian is saying. It means listening to them and then communicating to them in terms they can understand. This is what we call finding and establishing “common ground.”
  • Pre-evangelism entails getting a non-Christian to see the futility of unbelief and leaving him in the tension between the real world and his own set of beliefs: “Every person we speak to, whether shop girl or university student, has a set of presuppositions, whether he or she has analyzed them or not....But, in fact, no non-Christian can be consistent to the logic of his presuppositions.
  • Pre-evangelism entails making sure that the non-Christian understands that these issues are about objective facts of history and not subjective feelings or opinions of individuals: “we must make sure that the individual understands that we are talking about real truth, and not about something vaguely religious which seems to work psychologically. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking about real guilt before God, and we are not offering him merely relief for his guilt feelings. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking to him about history, and that the death of Jesus was not just an ideal or a symbol but a fact of time and space. If we are talking to a person who would not understand the term `space time history’ we can say: `Do you believe that Jesus died in the sense that if you had been there that day, you could have rubbed your finger on the cross and got a splinter in it?’ Until he understands the importance of these things, he is not yet ready to become a Christian [p. 139].”

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Suffering and Martyrdom: God's Strategy in the World

What will you do if you are called to a ministry that, in human terms, has no chance of success?

Until ten years ago, Romania was a Communist country that persecuted true Christians severely. By a miracle, Josef Tson was able to leave the country in the 1960’s; called to the ministry, he studied theology in England. Upon completion of his studies, he announced that he was returning to Romania.

Some of his friends counseled him: "Josef, don’t do that! What chance of success do you think you have?"

Josef replied: "Success? Success? That’s a typically Western way of thinking. In Romania, when one becomes a Christian, one doesn’t think of success. You think of losing your job, losing your income, of beatings, slander, and possibly martyrdom. I’m called to preach the gospel in Romania. So I’ll go."

-- Taken from a sermon on Suffering and Joy
The following article is written many years ago by Josef Tson, who is the President of the Romanian Missionary Society in Wheaton, Illinois, and the President of Emmanuel Bible Institute in Oradea, Romania.

Suffering and Martyrdom: God's Strategy in the World

JESUS CHRIST, as King of kings and Lord of lords, calls people to Himself and demands from them total allegiance to Himself. Nothing of this world, not father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter, or material goods, ought to stand between Him and His children. Jesus expects them to learn from Him and to become like Him. Then Jesus sends them into the world as His Father sent Him into the world, to spread His message and to be His witnesses. He knows that the world will hate His witnesses and will turn against them with merciless violence. Nonetheless, He expects them to meet that hatred with love, and to face that violence with glad acceptance, following His example by suffering and dying for the lost world. Their suffering and martyrdom are prompted by their allegiance to His own Person and are endured for the purpose of spreading His gospel. Christ's disciples do not seek these things for their own sake, and they do not inflict these on themselves. Their goal is not to suffer and to die; on the contrary, their goal is Christ's Person and Christ's cause in the world, the spreading of His gospel.

Suffering for Christ is not only the suffering of persecution. It begins when one leaves close relatives for the service of Christ. For some, it means selling their possessions and giving them to the poor, which often means giving them for the propagation of the gospel. For others, suffering for Christ may mean agonizing in prayer for the cause of Christ, or agonizing and toiling for the building up of the body of Christ and the perfecting of the saints. Again, to clarify this concept, suffering for Christ is not a self-inflicted suffering. The disciple of Christ seeks to do the will of Christ and to promote the cause of Christ. However, suffering for Christ does mean that the disciple will voluntarily involve himself in suffering and in sacrificial living for Christ and His gospel.

Furthermore, a disciple of Christ thinks as a slave of Christ: he is totally at the disposition of the Master. It is the Master who decides what kind of service this particular disciple should perform. The first duty of the disciple is, therefore, to discover the will of his Master and to do it with joy and passion. If and only if the disciple does his duty can he be certain that his Master is always with him, living in and through him to accomplish His own purposes.

Martyrdom is the function God gives to some of His elect to literally die for the sake of Christ and His gospel. From what the Scriptures intimate, it is apparent that there is a fixed number of God's children who have been predestined by God for this supreme sacrifice. For some, martyrdom might be a quick event, like being shot or beheaded, but for others it could also be preceded by torture. God may have in His plan a long martyrdom of toiling in a labor camp or the misery and pain of a long imprisonment. In such a situation, even if the Christian is released after some time and the actual death occurs at home because of his health having been shattered by the long detention and suffering, I believe that God still reckons the death as a martyrdom. In our more sophisticated age, martyrdom might also take the shape of an imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital a modern form of torture that is possibly the most cruel form of martyrdom where one's mental health and even one's personality are utterly ruined by means of drugs and other psychological torture.

God does everything with a purpose. If He chooses to call His children to suffering and self-sacrifice, He must have very important purposes to achieve through them. Hence, it is the duty of the children to obey their Father even if they do not understand the purpose or rationale behind the Father's command. But the Father wants His children to understand Him because He wants them to develop a mind like His. Therefore, He has revealed His mind, His purposes, and His methods to His children in His written Word and in His Incarnate Word.

God entered into history by sending His Incarnate Son as a suffering slave who would end His own earthly life enduring torture and martyrdom. In this event, God revealed to us that suffering and self-sacrifice are His specific methods for tackling the problems of rebellion, of evil, and of the sin of mankind. Self-sacrifice is the only method consistent with His own nature. For instance, God cannot respond to hate with hate, because if He did He would borrow not only the method but also the nature of the one who is the originator of hate, the evil one. God can only respond with love because He is love, and by suffering and sacrificing Himself for the ones who hate Him, He expresses the essence of His own nature.

Now, the ones who are born of God have become partakers of the nature of God (2 Pet 1:4). Therefore, the children of God are called to tackle the problems of this world with the same agape love which is the nature of God (1 John 4:4-21). More than this, Christ united Himself with His brethren in a union that is comparable to His union with the Father (John 17:21-26). Christ lives in them and continues His work in the world through them. But He has not changed the strategy He used when He was in the world. His method is still the method of the cross. With this in mind, Christ told His disciples that He would send them into the world just as His Father had sent Him into the world; in other words, He sent them to be in the same position and to conquer by the same method, namely, the method of the cross. For precisely this reason, Jesus asked them to take up their own crosses and to follow His example by going into all the world to preach the gospel (to witness), to serve others, and to die for others. Their crosses represent their voluntary, sacrificial involvement in the fulfillment of their Father's purposes with mankind.

Three basic things are achieved by the deaths of the martyrs:
  1. The triumph of God's truth
  2. The defeat of Satan
  3. The glory of God
Martyrdom and the Triumph of God's Truth
The unredeemed world lives in spiritual darkness. The eyes of unbelievers have been darkened by Satan, resulting in their hatred of the light of truth. For people who have lived a long time in darkness, a bright light that suddenly shines upon them produces pain. They cannot stand the light. They hate the light, and they do their best to put it out. Jesus explained the world's reaction to His own coming into the world in these terms (John 3:19-20), and He told His disciples to expect exactly the same kind of treatment.

Speaking in modern terms, each group of people on this planet considers its own religion to be one of its most precious treasures. Thus telling them that their faith is wrong or untrue becomes an unforgivable offense and insult against them. The attempt to change their religion is perceived as an attack on their "national identity." This is why Christian missionaries are met with hostility and violence in every place to which they carry the gospel. For his part, the missionary must be convinced that the population to which he takes the Word lives in the lie of Satan and is damned to hell as a result of it. If the missionary is not convinced of this, he will not risk his life to kindle the light in their midst.

However, when the ambassador of Christ speaks the truth in love, and meets death with joy, a strange miracle occurs: the eyes of unbelievers are opened, they are enabled to see the truth of God, and this leads them to believe in the gospel. Ever since the centurion's eyes were opened at Calvary, ever since he believed that Jesus was the Son of God because he had seen the manner of His death (Mark 15:39), thousands and thousands of Christian martyrdoms over the centuries have produced the same results. Moreover, this was precisely what Tertullian had in mind when he wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed out of which new Christians are born. Many, many groups of people on this planet have testified that the darkness which had been over them was dissipated only when a missionary was killed there. However, countless areas and peoples of the world today so experience a darkness that will be vanquished only when enough Christians have given up their lives in martyrdom.

Martyrdom and the Defeat of Satan
Jesus saw His own coming into this world as an invasion of the strong man's house in order to spoil his goods (Matt 12:29). He saw the Prince of this world being cast out at His own death (John 12:31-33), and as a result of the ministry of His own disciples (Luke 10:17-19). Jesus taught them not to be afraid of the ones who can kill only the body, and He charged them to bravely lose their lives in order to gain the victory (Matt 10:26-39). Hence, John was simply following the teaching of his Lord when he depicted the casting out of Satan and his defeat through the deaths of the martyrs in Revelation 12:9-11.

Satan has two instruments with which he keeps humans in bondage and slavery. His first instrument is sin. The sins of people are Satan's "certificate of ownership." But this document was nailed to the cross of Calvary and was canceled by the death of Christ (Col 2:14-15). Satan's second instrument is the fear of dying (Heb 2:14-15). Again, by His own death, Jesus liberated His own from the fear of death. When the martyrs meet their death without fear, Satan's last instrument is rendered powerless, and he is crushed and defeated.

As the deceiver of the nations, Satan maintains their enslavement by keeping them in the darkness of his deception. When the martyrs cause the truth of God to shine brightly among the nations, those who were formerly in the bondage of darkness respond by turning back to God. The death of the martyrs opens the eyes of unbelievers, and when they see the light, Satan's power over them is gone. We have further proof of this reality in the Book of Revelation, where we see the knowledge of God coming to all the nations as a result of the deaths of the martyrs (Rev. 11:1-19; 14:1-12; 15:2-4). The martyrs are shown to defeat Satan by bringing all the nations to God through their witness and death.

The story of Job shows us another aspect of Satan's defeat by the faithfulness in suffering of God's people. Job's refusal to curse God demonstrated to the whole population of heaven that God had genuine worshipers on the earth, thus proving Satan wrong. The suffering of Job was watched by the hosts of heaven as an extraordinary spectacle. It appears that Paul had the experience of Job in mind when, speaking of the suffering of the apostles, he said that they "have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (1 Cor 4:9).

Writing from prison about his own ministry, Paul told the Ephesians that "the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" now have the opportunity of knowing God's "manifold wisdom" as it is being manifested in the Church (Eph 3:10). Paul was talking about the same wisdom of God that he had earlier described in 1 Corinthians 1: 17-31. This is the wisdom of God which the world considers utter foolishness: that He sent His only Son to die on the cross. However, the manifestation of God's wisdom in this world did not end with Jesus on the cross; it is continued in His children when they obey God's commission to go into the world and to sacrifice themselves for the cause of Christ. As they conquer by dying, God's children demonstrate His wisdom to the whole cosmos. Moreover, by their witness and death, Satan is discredited and defeated.

Martyrdom and the Glory of God
Jesus described the outcome of His crucifixion as both His own glorification and as the glorification of God (John 12:27-32; 13:31-32). Yet death by crucifixion was one of the most shameful and barbaric modes of execution; how could that be considered an act glorifying to God? The answer becomes clear when one sees what that act has revealed to the world. In Christ's voluntary suffering for the salvation of mankind, the true nature of God was revealed. His essence was shown to be perfect love, utterly and unconditionally giving itself to others, even enduring pain and death for them. The glory of God shines through the beauty and splendor of self-sacrifice as nowhere else and, most importantly, this glory of God, the glory of His self-sacrificing love, shines out in each martyrdom. For this reason, John referred to the martyrdom of Peter as "the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God" (John 21:19, NIV). It was also the reason why Paul was so determined to glorify Christ by his own dying (Phil 1:20, NASB).

Martyrdom has the power of revealing the love of God to those in darkness. Herein lies its power to convince and to persuade: people see the love of God in the death of the martyr and are compelled to believe in God's love and sacrifice for them. Paul expressed the same idea in the concept of reflecting the image of Christ or the glory of God to other people through our suffering and our loving self-sacrifice for others (2 Cor 3:18; 4:1-15). As the knowledge of Christ and the grace of God is spread to more and more people through the sacrifice of the children of God, there is more and more thanksgiving, praise, and glory given to God.


Recommended reading:
Romanian Josef Tson recounts God’s grace amid suffering, BPNews

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Albert Mohler on Calvinism

I was reading FIDE-O when I came across the article “Patterson, Mohler: Calvinism shouldn’t divide SBC” by the Baptist Press (BP), which is the daily national news service of Southern Baptists. Albert Mohler has made an excellent case for Calvinism’s strong impact on evangelism during the 2006 SBC Pastors' Conference, which was held on 11 and 12 June 2006. In a sense, all true believers affirm some, if not all, of the doctrines of Calvinism, whether they want to openly admit it or not.
  • "In your local church, when you send out an evangelism team, you don't say, 'Good luck,'" he said. "You pray that God will open hearts and open minds. When we listen to ourselves pray, we really do hear a strong confidence in the sovereignty of God."
  • " … The doctrine of election explains why we go with confidence to share the Gospel -- because God does call sinners to Himself, through the blood of Jesus Christ. "
  • "As the parable of the sower of the soil makes clear, we cannot read the human heart. We do not know who is the fertile heart and who is the resistant heart. … We just know there are sinners who need to hear the Gospel, and thus we preach the Gospel to all persons, knowing that God does save."
  • “Why do we go?” he asked. “We go because we honestly believe that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. … God always blesses the preaching of the Gospel. And He does so because He is not a spectator, but He is the God who saves through the means of the Gospel.”
  • “The Lord’s will –- as the initiating will -– wills the human will to will what the Father wills,” he said. "… When Dr. Patterson shares the Gospel and when I share the Gospel, we do so honestly and urgently believing that if that person to whom we shared the Gospel of Christ responds in faith, she or he will be saved.”
  • "The question is, how is the atonement limited and by whom?" he said. "… I would prefer to speak of particular redemption. I do believe before the creation of the world God determined to save sinners -- and not just in a general sense, but in an actual sense, persons who would come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
  • "I feel no accountability to John Calvin. I feel an indebtedness to him, but I'm not accountable to him nor would I wish to wear his name, nor, I believe, would he wish anyone to wear his name,” Mohler said. “[Calvinism] is a categorization which I don't deny if you're talking about a strain of theology. But I am accountable to the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ. "
  • "It is not healthy to have a person who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won't even drive across the street to share the Gospel," he said.
Mohler listed the areas in which all Southern Baptists are “one form of Calvinists or another”:
  1. A belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. "It is not by accident that there are no great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture," Mohler said. "… We really do believe that God can work in such a way that the human will wills to do what God wills that will to do. And that is exactly why we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. We do not believe that the Apostle Paul was irresistibly against his will drawn to write the Book of Romans.”
  2. A belief in the substitutionary atonement. The logic of this doctrine fits only within “the umbrella of a Calvinist scheme.” "The entire worldview in which substitution makes sense is a worldview in which the sovereignty of God and the righteousness of God and the saving purpose of God are vindicated in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ."
  3. Affirming the "omniscience of God." "At the very least … God created this world knowing exactly who would come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," Mohler said. "Some of us believe more than that, but certainly none of us here believes less than that.... If that be so then … the precise identity of all the persons who would come to faith in Christ was known by the Father before the world was created.”
  4. A belief in the eternal security of the believer. "Once this work of salvation is accomplished in the life of a sinner, and that sinner is transformed by the grace and mercy of God, He can never fall away," he said.
Update 19 June 2006! A transcript of the exchange between Al Mohler and Paige Patterson can be found at this link.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version

While I was at SKS Books Warehouse on 31st May getting Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out, I have decided to purchase The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version too.

I was already thinking of getting this study Bible for quite some time. Now I am currently immersing and enjoying myself in reading this study Bible! Let me say that so far, I have found no complaints with this Bible at all even though I am skimming through quickly. It is absolutely fantastic, filled with excellent study notes from a Reformed/Calvinist perspective.

Like many others who bought the Reformation Study Bible before me, I do wholeheartedly recommend this Bible to those who seriously desire to engage in a systematic study of the Scriptures.

From the website of the Reformation Study Bible:
Post Tenebras Lux - "After darkness, light."

The Latin phrase found on the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland, encompasses the purpose of both The Geneva Bible and The Reformation Study Bible: to bring the light of Scripture to a darkened world.

In 1988, a group of publishers envisioned a Bible in the tradition of the original Geneva Bible with study notes from a reformed perspective. They requested Dr. R.C. Sproul to be the general editor. Energized by the idea, Dr. Sproul was in charge of assembling a team of international scholars who would be able to put together this resource.

In searching for a team of scholars, it was important that the study notes stay true to Reformed theology and thinking. An editorial committee was established and included Dr. James Montgomery Boice, Dr. Edmund Clowney, Dr. Roger Nicole, and Dr. J.I. Packer as associate editors, Dr. William Evans and Dr. John Mason as assistant editors, Dr. Bruce Waltke as the Old Testament editor, and Dr. Moises Silva as the New Testament editor. In addition, fifty other international scholars were chosen to work on each book of the Bible with the New International Version serving as their foundation. Once a book was completed, it was routed to the appropriate editor, passed to Dr. Sproul, the entire editorial committee, and then back to Dr. Sproul. It took three years before all of the preliminary study notes were finished.

In 1992, the decision was made to switch to the New King James Version under a new agreement with Thomas Nelson Publishers to carry on the project. Due to the change in translation, it took the scholars an additional three years to re-write all of the study notes to agree with the NKJV. In the process however, they were able to refine the notes and make them even more accessible to the layman. Finally, The New Geneva Study Bible was released in 1995.

In 1998, The New Geneva Study Bible was renamed The Reformation Study Bible. Now in 2005, we are pleased to announce the release of The Reformation Study Bible in the English Standard Version. The distinctive attribute of The Reformation Study Bible is not the Scripture translation. The content of explanatory notes and reformation theology found in this Bible greatly benefit the layperson trying to study Scripture. In this day and age, there is a constant assault on the integrity of Scripture, which has served to undermine people's confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible. The contributing scholars of The Reformation Study Bible have the highest academic credentials. Each is committed to the inerrancy of the Word of God and willingly submits to the authority of the Book they are trying to explain. In addition to the study notes, Dr. J.I. Packer includes more than one hundred sidebars on the core doctrines of the Christian faith.

The English language is only a small part of this continuing project. It is our hope that one day The Reformation Study Bible will be available to anyone in any language. "I believe that this is the most important project that I have ever been engaged in or involved with in my entire life." said Dr. Sproul. "It is my prayer that this Bible will be as useful to you as the original Geneva Bible was to our forefathers in the English-speaking world."

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Call to Reform Modern Worship

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
'Cause I want to know You more

I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing onward, pushing every hindrance aside, out of my way
'Cause I want to know You more
I absolutely hate this song, which is made popular by the Christian group Sonicflood. The title of this song is “In the Secret (I Want to Know You).” This must be one of the shallowest songs ever to be sung in churches. No mention of God, Jesus Christ or Holy Spirit. Even someone like Osama bin Laden would not have any problem singing this terrible song. Seriously.

There is an upcoming worship event at my church this Friday, in which I will be involved as a guitarist. A couple of worship bands will be there, leading the congregation into a time of worship. During the full-dress combined rehearsal that was held yesterday afternoon, I watched with mixed feelings the songs that were performed by another band. The song “In the Secret (I Want to Know You)” is being performed, along with a couple of Hillsong / PlanetShakers type heavy rock songs that I absolutely cannot worship to.

Tim of comments of this song,
I was led to conclude that song really says nothing of great substance about God. As the Christian sings this song he pleads to know God more, to hear His voice and to see His face, yet all this time he probably has the Bible sitting on the pew beside him! As Carson says, after you have sung this song through a few times you are no farther ahead. This song will not help you know Him, hear Him, touch Him or see Him.
Yes I am aware that the typical charismatic answer is that you guys are worshiping God. But come on… You must seriously ask yourselves: are you worshiping worship or are you worshiping God through worship? Is the real reason you “worship” to go through a delirious, euphoric and emotional high experience?

Contrast many of these modern 21st century songs with the classical hymns and you would see a marked difference. Well, maybe we don’t need to look so far back. It was not too long ago many contemporary Christian songs, perhaps up to the mid-90s, tie lyrics to solid biblical theology. Please do not give me the response that it is a generation gap or a cultural issue. Regardless of the era we live in, I strongly believe worship must have solid biblical theology. Why it is that nowadays many lyrics are so superficial and bland?

John MacArthur provides the following reason:
Hymnology is tied to theology and where you have depth you have height. Where you have a shallow theology you have a shallow hymn knowledge. Where you have a superficial understanding of divine truth, you have superficial expression of it. But where you have a people who have come to grips of divine truth and who have grandiose and glorious thoughts about God produced by an understanding of the profound realities of divine truth, they're not content with a shallow expression.

We love the old hymns because they are profound. They have a certain poetic genius that reaches into the depths of our theology and gives it expression. We don't need to be seduced by a sort of a saloon melody. It's enough for us to sing great words, we don't need a mantra to induce an emotion. Our thoughts of truth and our thoughts of God catapult us into lofty hymns.
I am not asking to hold back our emotions during worship. Nor am I calling for all churches to sing only hymns or psalms. No, what I am asking is to return to a proper form of worship where God is glorified through songs with solid biblical theology. It is high time churches draw people through solid preaching of the Word rather than depend on shallow worshiptainment. If a church has a high view of the Scriptures and a passion for grounding Christians in sound doctrine, I believe its praise and worship would conform and reflect its stand.


Bob Kauflin has provided a couple of excellent pointers in his article How Do We Move Away From "Worshiptainment"?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Problem of Religious Pluralism

John Piper has written an extremely relevant message not long after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which reminds all of us of the importance of evangelism and showing love to our enemies. When people persecute us, we might fall into the extreme of letting our hatred and vengeance consumes us, leading us into demonizing these people. However, there is the other extreme, which is that of religious pluralism.

Living in a culturally and religiously pluralistic society like Singapore, we are bombarded with propaganda that all religions are essentially good. Evangelizing people of other faiths is frowned upon because of political correctness. We are told that all religions lead to God. Good works is the goal of all religions rather than the worship of the one and true living God.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for intolerance, for intolerance is the unwillingness to recognize and respect differences in religious beliefs. Intolerance would only lead to religious persecution, which I am wholly against, no matter what religion you belong to. But is religious pluralism the answer?

The second greatest commandment in the Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. And pray tell me, what is the greatest gift of love that we can offer our neighbor? Is it material needs like food? Clothing? Money? Well, maybe these things might temporarily satisfy our neighbor’s wants, but our neighbor will never be fully satisfied with these temporal things.

John Piper made popular the saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Reverse this saying around and what do you get? We are most satisfied in God when God is most glorified in us.

There you have it. Full satisfaction can only be attained when we are able to worship and glorify God in spirit and in truth. Full satisfaction is found by walking with Jesus Christ. Health and wealth will not satisfy. Humanitarianism will not satisfy. Religious pluralism will not satisfy our neighbor. Religious pluralism is not love because we do not love our neighbor by withholding the truth from them. Religious pluralism wrongly makes false gods the way to everlasting joy.

In Psalm 16:11, we read, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” It is only the gospel that satisfies. The truth is, our neighbor can only be completely satisfied when he or she repents and acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Thus, we should not deny our neighbor eternal life because of hate. And neither should we deny our neighbor eternal life by withholding the gospel of Jesus Christ in the name of religious pluralism.

Obstacles to the Eternal Life of Muslims

September 24, 2001

Paradoxically, hatred and tolerance are teaming up to take eternal life from Muslim people. Jesus said - and we say it with tears - "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). In other words, nominal Christians, devoted Muslims, pious Hindus, faithful Buddhists, orthodox Jews, devout animists, sincere agnostics, secular atheists - everyone who does not hold fast to Jesus Christ as the supremely valuable Son of God and Savior - will perish and not have eternal life. "He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life" (1 John 5:12).

Whatever obscures this message for Muslim people obstructs their way to eternal life. For them Christ is a prophet, but not the divine Son of God who said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). For Muslims Jesus is not the Savior who died for their sins and said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Unless Muslims - and all others who deny Christ's deity - hear and embrace the good news that "the fullness of deity" dwells in Jesus (Colossians 2:9), they will be without eternal hope. This has always been true, but today things are different. Two seemingly opposite forces gather to block the gospel from Muslim minds.

First, there is the fire of hatred, fanned by the flames of September 11. Second, there is a twisted tolerance fed by the fear of man.

My son called me from Chicago to say that one of his Muslim friends had been beaten on the street. No reason. He just looked like one of "them." The spirit of revenge against Muslims in our nation these days is indiscriminate. Rage boils just beneath the surface. This is not the way of Christ. He calls his people to suffer for the sake of love, not seethe with the fire of hate. "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Hatred from Christians keeps Muslims from seeing the superior worth of Jesus Christ. The spirit of revenge sends the false signal that Christ is not an all-sufficient, all-satisfying Savior. We justify our own little jihad, and seek our satisfaction by injuring the adversary. But true Christians treasure Jesus above vengeance, and do not rob Muslim people of truth and hope in this way. Christians would rather suffer to show the supreme worth of Christ. They crucify the craving of hate in their own hearts. They long for Muslims to see Jesus for who he really is. They know that eternal life is at stake - for both.

In reaction against indiscriminate hate there is now a stampede to pluralism and twisted tolerance. If Muslims are hated, then let us call ecumenical gatherings, and let us all praise the virtues of Islam, and the wisdom of Allah and the goodness of Mohammed. But let no one speak the intolerable and indispensable truth that Jesus is the only way to God.

Once upon a time tolerance was the power that kept lovers of competing faiths from killing each other. It was the principle that put freedom above forced conversion. It was rooted in the truth that coerced conviction is no conviction. But now the new twisted tolerance denies that there are any competing faiths; they only complement each other. It denounces not only the effort to force conversions, but the very idea that any conversion may be necessary for eternal life. It holds the conviction that no religious conviction should claim superiority over another.

When Muslims are protected from hate with this "tolerance," they are cut off from eternal life. And what promises deliverance proves to be death. If, in the name of this new tolerance, we are forbidden to say of Jesus, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), then eternal life is concealed and we are cruel.

Therefore let us open the door of life for all Muslim people by renouncing hate, showing love, conquering fear, commending the King of the universe, Jesus Christ, and suffering willingly, if we must.

Praying with you for a stunning breakthrough,

John Piper