Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Celebrating the Reformation: A Lesson in God's Sovereignty over Human Sin

Most of us would like to think that the Protestant Reformation, whose 490th birthday we celebrate today (October 31st), was always driven by godly motives on the part of people whose greatest desire was for a recovery of the New Testament gospel. Of course, this was indeed the intent of prominent figures such as Martin Luther (who nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg on this day in 1517) and John Calvin, just to mention two more well-known names.

But such was not always the case. In fact, we see in certain events associated with the Reformation how sinful and politically motivated decisions were made that affected the course of human history and how God, in his sovereignty, used them (without justifying them) to bring about the much-needed renewal of the church.

I have in mind particularly the so-called “English Reformation” and the events surrounding King Henry VIII and his progeny. I’m especially intrigued by what happened in England given the release of the film, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” a sequel to the earlier “Elizabeth” (both of which star Cate Blanchett in the title role; although not flawless, I highly recommend both films).

The reformation in England differed from that on the continent in several ways. For example, it was dominated by political events rather than theological convictions. In addition, there was no one figure who stood out in the way Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli did in Europe. And perhaps most important of all, the struggle in England, at least in its early years, focused less on doctrinal issues of grace and the authority of Scripture and more on the nature, function and worship of the church.

There were undoubtedly influences present in England that tilled the soil, so to speak, for what was to come. I have in mind the presence of the Lollards, the English followers of John Wycliffe; the humanists such as John Colet (1466-1519) and Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), as well as certain intellectuals at Cambridge who regularly met at the White Horse Inn, a pub that acquired the name “Little Germany” where the latest Reformation intelligence fresh from the continent was discussed. Luther’s writings were being widely circulated in England at this time in spite of the papal decree in 1521 that they be burned. And we should never forget that William Tyndale (1494-1536) published two editions of 3,000 copies of an English New Testament in 1525, while Miles Coverdale provided the world with the first English translation of the entire Bible in 1535.

However, the primary impetus for reform in England had little if anything to do with popular disdain for late medieval Catholicism or the spiritual appeal of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. It must be traced to the political ambition, sexual lust, and overblown ego of Henry VIII.

Henry was driven by many things, one of which was his passion to ensure that he had a legitimate male heir to succeed him on the English throne. Henry was a well-educated and scholarly man, a competent theologian and musician, who spoke Latin, French, Spanish and English.

Henry's father had arranged for Henry's brother, Arthur, to marry Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain). But Arthur died, forcing the elder Henry to press his younger son to marry Catherine. Pope Julius II first had to set aside Arthur's marriage to Catherine lest Henry be guilty of incest. He did so reluctantly. Henry and Catherine had one child, a girl named Mary (Catherine suffered numerous miscarriages, still births, and infant deaths). By 1525 Catherine was forty and had gone seven years without a pregnancy. Henry's desire for a son, plus his growing attraction for Anne Boleyn (with whose sister, Mary, Henry had already had an affair), led him to divorce Catherine (he appealed to Lev. 20:21), an action denounced by the Pope. The Pope had come under the influence of the emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew!

Henry proceeded to secretly wed Anne (who was pregnant by this time), while deposing Catherine. The Pope demanded he do away with Anne and reinstate Catherine, under threat of excommunication. Henry gained control of the English church and manipulated the Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which declared him, the king, to be the supreme head of the Church of England. This constituted the political break with Rome.

Not all of Henry's advisors agreed with his assertion of authority. Sir Thomas More, the brilliant humanist and author of Utopia, refused to renounce allegiance to Rome and was subsequently beheaded for treason. His head was displayed on London Bridge on the end of a pike as a warning to others whose loyalties might be divided between pope and king.

In 1536 Henry dissolved all the monasteries in England, largely because he desired their wealth. Still, it was not Henry's desire to break theologically with Rome, as the doctrinal affirmation known as the Six Articles (passed by Parliament at the king's request, 1539), demonstrate: they reaffirmed transubstantiation, celibacy of priests, and other RC distinctives. The fact is, Henry appears to have had little interest in the reforms advocated by Luther or Zwingli. His aim was to retain an English form of Catholicism stripped of its allegiance to the Pope (an allegiance Henry coveted for himself alone).

Henry soon tired of Anne Boleyn, who had given him only a daughter (Elizabeth), so he had her tried and eventually executed for adultery (along with five of her lovers). Henry persuaded Thomas Cranmer to declare his marriage to Anne void so that the child Elizabeth could not succeed to the throne. Ten days later he married Jane Seymour who bore him the son he always wanted, Edward. Nine days after Edward's birth, his mother died.

Henry's next marriage was politically motivated. He married Anne of Cleves (without having laid eyes upon her), sister of a German prince, hoping thereby to solidify relations with that country and strengthen his position against France. When Henry finally saw her, he was repulsed and divorced her six months later. He then married Catherine Howard, whom he had executed in 1542 (she was charged with numerous adulterous affairs), and lastly Catherine Parr, who alone of his many wives outlived him.

When Henry died he arranged for Edward to rule first, followed by Catherine's daughter, Mary, and then Anne's daughter, Elizabeth (about whom the two films noted above are concerned).

Several important changes were made during Edward’s short reign (1547-1553): the reading of the Bible in public services was approved, the Six Articles of Henry were abolished, the clergy were allowed to marry, and the cup was granted to the laity. In 1549 the Book of Common Prayer was published, reflecting a conservative, Calvinistic theology. A doctrinal confession called the 42 Articles was drafted, largely by Thomas Cranmer, with the help of John Knox of Scotland (1553). Three weeks after signing it, Edward died. The significance of Edward's reign is that during this time England broke with Rome theologically. But this was not to last.

It was also during this time that a number of Reformed theologians from the continent settled in England and were assigned by Cranmer to influential positions at several universities. Among the more influential were Martin Bucer (Strasbourg reformer and mentor of John Calvin), Peter Martyr Vermigli (an Italian by birth), and John a Lasco. Their contribution to the Protestant movement in England was profound.

Bloody Mary, as she became known to history, was Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon and thus had ties with the RCC. Her reign, although only five short years (1553-1558), coincided with the Catholic Counter-Reformation on the continent and she was undoubtedly influenced by it. She forced Parliament in 1553 to repeal everything Edward had done and returned England to the religious conditions that prevailed under her father.

Persecution was intense and martyrdom frequent [Foxe's Book of Martyrs chronicles much of what occurred]. Among the more than 300 who died for their Protestant faith were Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) and Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555). These two stalwarts of the reformation were ordered to be executed outside the city gate of Oxford. As they were being led to the stake, they passed the prison in which Thomas Cranmer was jailed, hoping to catch a glimpse of him and shout a word of encouragement. Indeed, Cranmer was brought to the tower of the prison by the government to watch the proceedings. Their aim was to frighten him out of his defiance. Whereas Cranmer was overcome with anguish by what he saw, falling to his knees and bewailing the event, he remained steadfast.

Engulfed by flames, and with his last breath, Latimer uttered the famous words: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and is generally regarded as the founder of English Protestantism. He was imprisoned when Mary ascended the throne. He was brainwashed while in solitary confinement and was compelled to write a denial (recantation) of his Protestant faith.

Despite his recantation, the law required that he suffer death. He was led to a packed church on the day of his execution, at which time the government and RCC anticipated that he would publicly denounce the reformation and affirm the authority of the Pope. Much to everyone's surprise, Cranmer seized the opportunity to proclaim his faith in the doctrines of the reformation. "And as for the Pope," he shouted, "I refuse him, as Christ's enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine."

Shocked, the authorities rushed to pull Cranmer from the pulpit and led him immediately to the stake. As he stood before the flames, he fulfilled a promise which he had made in his last shouts in the church. He stretched forth into the fire the hand that earlier had signed the document of recantation, declaring aloud:

"Forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished for it."

Virtually all those who were martyred lost their lives because they would not embrace the RC mass and its doctrine of transubstantiation. Those who were able to escape Mary's bloody persecution fled to Geneva (called Marian Exiles) where they studied under Calvin and Theodore Beza (among whom was John Knox).

When Mary died in 1558 she was succeeded by Elizabeth (1558-1603), daughter of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth sought a middle ground between Protestantism and Catholicism (although her inclinations were toward the former). She passed the Act of Supremacy in 1559 that made her supreme ruler in both ecclesiastical and temporal affairs. She re-instituted the Book of Common Prayer with slight revisions and adopted the 39 Articles, a revision of Edwards' 42 Articles. In 1571 the 39 Articles were adopted by Parliament as the official creed of the Anglican Church and remain such to this day.

Pope Pius V proceeded to excommunicate Elizabeth and sent Philip of Spain to take back England for the RCC. Philip himself laid claim to the English throne via his marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary's grandmother was Henry VIII's sister). Philip's Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588. Countless explanations have been given for the demise of the purportedly superior Spanish fleet, one of which is noted by Thompson:

"As the armada came around the northern coast of Scotland and met the gales of the Atlantic Ocean, what remained of the great Spanish engine of war was hurled against the rocks or swamped in mid-ocean. No more than half of the Spanish Armada managed to struggle back to Spanish ports in 1589. History interprets the defeat of the Spanish Armada as an English victory. It was not thought so at the time. The armada had not sunk under English bombardment, but under the wind of God. 'Afflavit Deus,' said the English --- 'God blew!' (And the God who blew was no doubt Protestant). . . . It is probably an instance in which Divine Providence is given too much credit" (656-57).

Whatever explanation is most cogent, the fact remains that divine providence can hardly be given “too much credit”! Indeed, if we learn nothing else from these remarkable and often sordid events, let it be that divine sovereignty alone is sufficient to turn the arrogant, selfish, and sinful choices of men such as Henry VIII for his glory and the recovery of the gospel of grace.

Happy Reformation Day!

- Sam Storms

Seeker Friendly Church Leader Admits They Have Done It All Wrong

If you are older than 40 the name Benjamin Spock is more than familiar. It was Spock that told an entire generation of parents to take it easy, don’t discipline your children and allow them to express themselves. Discipline, he told us, would warp a child’s fragile ego. Millions followed the guru of child development and he remained unchallenged among child rearing professionals. However, before his death Dr. Spock made an amazing discovery: he was wrong. In fact, he said:

We have reared a generation of brats. Parents aren't firm enough with their children for fear of losing their love or incurring their resentment. This is a cruel deprivation that we professionals have imposed on mothers and fathers. Of course, we did it with the best of intentions. We didn't realize until it was too late how our know-it-all attitude was undermining the self assurance of parents.

Something just as momentous, in my opinion, just happened in the evangelical community. For most of a generation evangelicals have been romanced by the “seeker sensitive” movement spawned by Willow Creek Church in Chicago. The guru of this movement is Bill Hybels. Hybels and others have been telling us for decades to throw out everything we have previously thought and been taught about church growth and replace it with a new paradigm, a new way to do ministry.

Perhaps inadvertently, with this “new wave” of ministry came a de-emphasis on taking personal responsibility for Bible study combined with an emphasis on felt-needs based “programs” and slick marketing.

The size of the crowd rather than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, “felt needs” and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t “cutting edge” and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensationalism.

Thousands of pastors hung on every word that emanated from the lips of the church growth experts. Satellite seminars were packed with hungry church leaders learning the latest way to “do church.” The promise was clear: thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn’t be wrong. Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers? If you dared to challenge the “experts” you were immediately labeled as a “traditionalist,” a throwback to the 50’s, a stubborn dinosaur unwilling to change with the times.

All that changed recently. Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study’s findings are in a new book titled Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: it seems that the “experts” were wrong.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

If you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it’s a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Just as Spock’s “mistake” was no minor error, so the error of the seeker sensitive movement is monumental in its scope. The foundation of thousands of American churches is now discovered to be mere sand. The one individual who has had perhaps the greatest influence on the American church in our generation has now admitted his philosophy of ministry, in large part, was a “mistake.” The extent of this error defies measurement.

Perhaps the most shocking thing of all in this revelation coming out of Willow Creek is in a summary statement by Greg Hawkins:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.

Isn’t that what we were told when this whole seeker-sensitive thing started? The church growth gurus again want to throw away their old assumptions and “take out a clean sheet of paper” and, presumably, come up with a new paradigm for ministry.
Should this be encouraging?

Please note that “rooted in Scripture” still follows “rethink,” “new insights” and “informed research.” Someone still doesn’t get it. Unless there is a return to simple biblical (and relevant) principles, a new faulty scheme will replace the existing one and another generation will follow along as the latest piper plays.

What we should find encouraging, at least, in this “confession” coming from the highest ranks of the Willow Creek Association is that they are coming to realize that their existing “model” does not help people grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ. Given the massive influence this organization has on the American church today, let us pray that God would be pleased to put structures in place at Willow Creek that foster not mere numeric growth, but growth in grace.

(Distributed by

An additional thought about all this:
Hybels states: We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians,..."

Whether it is Hybels or most any fundamental/evangelical congregation-- Many engage in a most DEADLY practice:
Like insurance salesmen, presentations are made,
the net is closed,
a profession is garnered...
and then the religious salesman plays God and the Holy Spirit
And ON THE SOLE BASIS OF a 'repeat-after-me-prayer' having been completed, the religious salesman proudly decrees, "YOU ARE SAVED!"

It is no surprise that MILLIONS who have been 'pronounced saved' NEVER show forth any evidence of actually being saved disciples of Jesus Christ!
Holy Spirit conviction of sin,
grace empowered repentance
and genuine child-like faith were BYPASSED.

The sole benefit of the man-centered way?
It all looks good on the church reports!

True salvation gives forth evidence!-

Acts 2: 41-42-- Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

John 10:27-28-- JESUS: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand."

- James Bell

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jars of Clay and the Glory of God

2 Cor. 4:7

All of us, at one time or another and some more than others, fear that our weakness is a barrier to God’s purposes. We feel so very keenly the promptings of our flesh, the lack of emotional energy, our ignorance of basic truths, not to mention physical exhaustion or sickness, anxiety, and self-doubt. Then, of course, there is the absence of political and social influence, the ridicule incurred for following Christ and, for some, oppression and more severe forms of persecution and suffering.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if God wants to accomplish something of greatness he needs great people to do it. He needs, and will choose, people with power, personality, charisma, money, people who are physically impressive and verbally eloquent, people whose names appear regularly in the newspapers or on the blogs, people whose lives seem to make a significant impact on our culture, people that history will remember with fondness and appreciation.

I’m not suggesting that such people are of no use to God or that their earthly achievements can’t be redeemed for the sake of the kingdom. But they do have one distinct disadvantage (that’s right, disadvantage, not advantage). They are far more prone to take for themselves credit that belongs to God. Weak people apologize far more than they boast. Strong people, beautiful people, people with money and status, are more inclined to draw attention to themselves and divert praise from the One to whom alone all glory is due.

Make no mistake about it, God is determined to secure all the glory for himself! I hope you’re o.k. with that, for your ultimate joy is dependent on God being God. Were God to be less than supremely glorious and praiseworthy, we are the ones who stand to lose. Our ultimate and eternal satisfaction is dependent on his being ultimately and eternally satisfying. If God should ever be less than infinitely deserving of all praise and honor and credit for whatever good is achieved, our delight in him is to that extent diminished. His capacity to enthrall us is to that extent undermined. A God who gets only partial credit is a God who is worthy of only partial praise, and such a “god” would hardly warrant our adoration or be capable of eliciting, much less sustaining, our eternal enjoyment.

This alone makes sense of Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 4:7 - “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” If any degree of power derives from us or if the praise it deserves should go to someone or something other than God, to that degree we endure irrevocable loss.

This is why Paul was so unaffected and undisturbed by his obvious weaknesses. He was keenly aware of his shortcomings, his lack of eloquence, as well as his physical frailty. “If I must boast,” said Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” He had in mind such things as “greater labors, far more imprisonments, . . . countless beatings” and near death experiences. (2 Cor. 11:23). Add to that being “beaten with rods” and being “stoned” and suffering shipwreck and in constant danger from thieves and both Jew and Gentile, not to mention what he encountered while on the sea or in the wilderness (2 Cor. 11:24-26). Then there were times of toil and hardship and sleepless nights, even hunger and thirst and cold and exposure (2 Cor. 11:27).

These aren’t typically the sort of things we associate with greatness. It’s not likely that such a person would evoke much praise or attain to great heights of earthly prominence. And that’s fine with Paul, because it meant that whatever might be accomplished through him would redound to the glory of God alone. This is why he would “not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished” through him (Romans 15:18a).

It’s hard to envision anything more glorious or inherently majestic than the gospel that Paul has just described in 2 Corinthians 4:5-6, a gospel that embodies and expresses the radiant splendor and glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. But lest anyone think that Paul had a hand in its creation or was in any way or to any degree responsible for the marvelous, Christ-exalting, life-giving, soul-cleansing, sin-killing effects it produces, he is quick to declare that God has entrusted this indescribable “treasure” to “jars of clay” like himself.

As Philip Hughes has said, "There could be no contrast more striking than that between the greatness of the divine glory and the frailty and unworthiness of the vessels in which it dwells and through which it is manifested to the world. Paul's calumniators had contemptuously described his bodily appearance as weak and his speech as of no account (10:10; cf. 10:1; 11:6; 12:7), hoping thereby to discredit his authority. But it is one of the main purposes of this epistle to show that this immense discrepancy between the treasure and the vessel serves simply to attest that human weakness presents no barrier to the purposes of God, indeed, that God's power is made perfect in weakness (12:9), as the brilliance of a treasure is enhanced and magnified by comparison with a common container in which it is placed" (135).

The unmistakable, inescapable design behind this incredible contrast between the splendor of the treasure and the earthiness of the vessel is so that the surplus or excess or exceeding abundance of the power may be seen to be wholly of God and not from any one of us. Indeed, contrary to the beliefs and expectations of the world, which thinks only in terms of human ability and accomplishment, "it is precisely the Christian's utter frailty which lays him open to the experience of the all-sufficiency of God's grace, so that he is able even to rejoice because of his weakness" (Hughes, 137; see also 1 Cor. 1:26-29).

If a treasure were deposited in a chest laden with gold and covered with precious jewels, people might focus on the container and ignore the contents. This accounts for why those who bring the greatest glory to God are often those who are least impressive when judged by human standards alone.

There would appear to be something of a tension in this truth. On the one hand, as Christians we must always strive for excellence. We must never think that being “jars of clay” requires mediocrity or a slip-shod approach to life, far less that we slack off in our use of all the opportunities God has given us. Failing to employ every resource at our disposal or taking on any task or ministry carelessly or half-heartedly is never endorsed in God’s Word.

On the other hand, we dare not ever think that what we achieve we do so without God’s help or energizing presence. We must never put forth ourselves as preeminent or in such a way that the glory of God is obscured or his sustaining grace is marginalized.

The weakness in view here is primarily reflected in our suffering for righteousness’ sake. Although persecuted, Paul persevered. The former revealed his frailty, the latter God’s strength. You may not be extraordinary (according to human standards), but God is.

It is often the case that believers in Jesus are marginalized in society and rarely gain access to the corridors of power. Their voice is muted and their lives are oppressed. When judged by the standards of the world, the church appears insignificant and inconsequential. How can people who value humility above pride and self-sacrifice over ruthless ambition be taken seriously? Those who are called upon to love their enemies rather than kill them, to forsake vengeance, and to do good to those who hate them are especially vulnerable to mistreatment and disdain.

Yet these are the people perfectly positioned to ensure that whatever they achieve be credited to God. God has sovereignly orchestrated the salvation of the weak and despised, the foolish and the frail, so that when much is achieved he, rather than they, will be honored.

Not everyone is willing to embrace this divine design. They resent being clay jars. They deserve better, or so they think. Faith, so called, will deliver them from the weakness and finitude of being human. Ministry, so called, is simply a tool for transforming the earthen pot into a priceless vase. Such folk do, undeniably, appear more powerful and appealing and successful. And God less so. That’s a high price to pay.

- Sam Storms

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Divine and Supernatural Light

2 Cor. 4:5-6

If Satan is actively blinding the minds of unbelievers to compound and perpetuate their bondage in spiritual darkness (2 Cor. 4:3-4), what possible hope is there? We seem left only to despair of unsaved loved ones. What, if anything, can bring the unregenerate into life? What, if anything, can dispel the darkness of unbelief and awaken the heart to the beauty of Christ? What, if anything, can we do in the face of such Satanic opposition?

The answer, said Paul, is to proclaim the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord (2 Cor. 4:5)! Through the gospel, and only the gospel, is the light that brings life to be found.

In August of 1734, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) preached one of his most famous sermons, rather cumbersomely titled: A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be both a Scriptural, and Rational Doctrine. In this sermon, among other things, he explained the essence of the saving experience. What is it, precisely, that occurs when God causes new life to erupt from within the depths of a spiritual corpse?

The answer of the apostle Paul is that “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, . . . [shines] in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). “You cannot go beneath this,” said John Piper. “There is no deeper reality and no greater value than the glory of God in Christ. There is no prize and no satisfaction beyond this. When you have this, you are at the end. You are home. The glory of God is not a means to anything greater. This is ultimate, absolute reality. All true salvation ends here, not before and not beyond. There is no beyond. The glory of God in Christ is what makes the gospel gospel” (A God Entranced Vision of All Things, 259).

Seeing this light and knowing this knowledge and relishing the beauty of God’s glory as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ are utterly impossible for fallen and depraved people unless God sovereignly shines his regenerating and saving mercy into our hearts, thereby dispelling the darkness of unbelief and hostility, and bringing to us a new sense of the sweetness and majesty of Jesus.

The contrast between v. 6 and v. 4 is shocking. Unbelievers are blinded by Satan. Believers are enlightened by God. Satan takes one from unbelief into total darkness. God takes one from total darkness into the brilliance of Christ's light!

The obvious background for Paul’s language is Genesis 1:2-3 (cf. Acts 26:12-18). The original, primeval darkness that enshrouded the creation was dispelled by the divinely creative command: "Let there be light!" Likewise, by way of analogy, in sovereign, creative mercy, God fixes his gaze upon the darkness of sin, death, and blindness in the human soul and says: "Let there be light!"

We must not miss the emphasis Paul places on the glory of the gospel as it is proclaimed and what it means to those who believe. Paul himself literally saw the glory of God revealed in the literal face of Jesus when he was encountered on the Damascus road. That which Paul saw, he now sets forth by means of "the truth" (v. 2) of the gospel addressed to the ears of his hearers (i.e., to the Corinthians, to you and me).

When we by grace respond in faith, light from the glorified Christ shines into our darkened hearts (v. 6). As Paul Barnett points out, "such 'seeing' of 'the light . . . of the glory' is, of course, metaphorical for hearing. The gospel of Christ comes first not as an optical but as an aural reality (see, e.g., Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2,5; cf. 3:1). Nonetheless, his words are not merely figurative. The intensity of Paul's language suggests that he is appealing to shared spiritual experience, his own and his readers'. When the gospel is heard and the hearer turns to the Lord, the veil is removed so that he now 'sees' the glory of the Lord (see on 3:16,18)" (219-220).

Don't miss this: the glory of God is present in the proclamation of the gospel (4:4-6)! This is why Paul is so offended by the “peddlers of God’s word” (2:17) in Corinth and those who “tamper with” the gospel (4:2). This is not a matter of mere words or a routine speech or a competitive attempt to appear more powerful or persuasive or verbally impressive than the other guy.

The proclamation of the truth of the gospel is not entertainment. It is not a platform for a preacher to enhance his reputation or pad his pocketbook or impress people with his eloquence. A preacher or teacher must never open the Scriptures flippantly or casually, as if setting forth the truths of the gospel were no different from any other form of communication.

The same applies anytime anyone shares the gospel with a passing stranger in a restaurant or distributes a tract to a friend. Just think of it: when you speak or write or share the message of the cross, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [as revealed] in the face of Jesus" (v. 6) is shining forth. What an awesome calling we have! What an exquisite treasure we carry (4:7)!

Edwards referred to this phenomenon as the shining forth of a divine and supernatural light. This experience, he argued, is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience. The Spirit can act upon the soul of an unbeliever without communicating himself to or uniting himself with that person. Nor is it to be identified with “impressions” made upon the “imagination”. It has nothing to do with seeing anything with one’s physical eyes.

The divine and supernatural light, said Edwards, does not suggest or impart new truths or ideas not already found in the written word of God. It “only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the Word of God” (110).

We must also be careful not to identify it with those occasions when the unregenerate are deeply and profoundly affected by religious ideas. One may be moved or stirred or emotionally impacted by a religious phenomenon without believing it to be true (consider, for example, the widespread popular reaction to Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion”).

So what is this “divine and supernatural light” that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:6? Edwards defined it as “a true sense [or “apprehension”] of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them, thence arising” (111). This is a profoundly supernatural experience in which a person doesn’t “merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but . . . has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart” (111)

If you are wondering what the difference is between “rationally” believing that God is glorious and having a “sense of the excellency” of God’s glory, it is the difference between knowing that God is holy and having a “sense of the loveliness” of God’s holiness. It is not only a “speculatively judging that God is gracious” but also “a sense [of] how amiable God is upon that account” or sensing the “beauty” of God’s grace and holiness.

An unregenerate person may have a cognitive awareness or knowledge of the terms of the gospel of Christ. But to recognize and relish the beauty or amiableness or sweetness of that truth and feel pleasure and delight in it are due wholly to the regenerating work of the Spirit. As Edwards said, “there is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness” (112). In other words, “when the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension” (112).

How does God shine this light into our hearts? He first “destroys the enmity, removes those prejudices, and sanctifies the reason [of a person], and causes it to lie open to the force of arguments for their truth” (112). He also causes the gospel to be more lively and enables the mind to focus and think and concentrate with more intensity on what is known. But this divine and supernatural light also enables the mind and heart, by “a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence”, to be convinced of the truth of the superlative excellency of what is proclaimed in the gospel of Christ as Lord. Said Edwards:

“Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things; but this is nothing to that joy which arises from this divine light shining into the soul. This light gives a view of those things that are immensely the most exquisitely beautiful, and capable of delighting the eye of the understanding. This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart” (123).

It’s hard to put into words the enjoyment, delight, and sense of the sweetness of God that is imparted by the Spirit to the soul of man! Peter calls it “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). What a marvelous blessing, indeed, with which nothing else in heaven or earth can compare, that hell-deserving sinners have imparted to them a “new sense of the heart” that consists in delight and enjoyment and an intuitive awareness or apprehension of the sweetness of God’s beauty as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.

Let us by all means “praise God from whom all blessings flow,” and in doing so remember that this, dear friend, is the greatest blessing of all.

- Sam Storms

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What is Hyper-Calvinism?

I recently received an email from an honest inquirer who ask me to define hyper-calvinism for them; this following was my brief and inadequate reply.

Dear David,

Thank you for your good question; before giving a brief reply, let me mention a few resources for you on this issue.

The Banner of Truth Trust has published a wonderful book that addresses this issue well; the book is Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching- by Iain Murray; it is a paperback book, which we have available; it addresses the issues of calvinism and hyper-calvinism as well as any book you could ever read; the author is one of the best Christian historians ever and I would encourage you to read any books you can find by him.

Also, I have sent to you 2 articles that address somewhat the heart of biblical, evangelistic calvinism; let me know if for any reason you cannot open the two attached.

Yes, we are calvinistic in our theology; but we don't use these terms very much because such terms often mislead people when people don't know what the terms truly mean historically.

True historic Calvinism is rooted in a passion for God-centered truth, combined with a passionate, missionary attitude to take the gospel to all men. Historic calvinism is greatly different from hyper-calvinism, which is an extreme and heretical perverted form of the biblical theology which has been nicknamed calvinism.

Regarding your question, one should simply ask themselves:

Does the Bible teach election? Where?Does the Bible teach predestination? Where?Does the Bible teach that all men are truly spiritually dead in sins and cannot bring themselves to life spiritually? Where?etc;

Every biblical and theological question ought to be put to this test and then we must search the Scriptures ourselves with open hearts to see if the Bible clearly and directly teaches these doctrines; if we see that it does, then that settles the truth for us. My opinion or your opinion, does not really matter; what matters is this-- What saith the Scriptures? Let God be true and every man a liar. If I argue with or disagree with Scripture, who is right?

Briefly, calvinism is the historic theology that arose out of the entire unity of the Bible which holds the view that God Himself is the supreme and glorious center of all things in the universe, and that His glory, not man, is the primary beginning point and end of everything. This truth and all other truths related to salvation and God's glory came to be seen in a greater way at the time of the Reformation period after the darkness of Catholicism was broken over much of Europe;

It was a return to the Bible and its major truths: God's sovereignty, man's original sinfulness and depravity, that grace is absolutely free and without merit, that salvation in Christ is solely by grace through faith alone, and that Christ's death actually saved all who would ever believe in Him; the cross did not make fallen men SAVABLE by their meritorious faith and effort, but it actually atoned for the sins of anyone who would ever trust Christ as Lord.

Hyper-calvinism became an extreme and imbalanced view of some of these biblical truths; the following three points are the main errors of hyper-calvinism:

1. hyper-calvinism teaches that God has no love for the non-elect, but only for the elect; this is not a biblical view, but is an error the hyper-calvinist holds to. To the hyper-calvinist, God's has no compassion or general love for mankind, but only for the redeemed.

2. hyper-calvinism teaches that because sinners are dead in trespasses and sins and have no ability within themselves to repent, therefore the hyper-calvinist says that sinners have no DUTY to repent and believe the gospel; the only ones who would be responsible to repent would be the elect. This is gross error. This denies the duty of repentance and faith on the part of all people. Remember that 1 John 3:23 teaches that God commands faith in His Son and Acts 17:30 teaches that God commands all men everwhere to repent. These 2 verses alone discredit count hyper-calvinistic views on this point.

3. hyper-calvinism also teaches that because God has elected some to life in Christ, therefore there is no genuine offer of Christ to everyone; this is called the denial of the free offer of the gospel, that Christ would only genuinely be offered as a Saviour to the elect; but the Bible does not make such a distinction; it shows a universal and genuine offer of Christ as Lord to anyone, anywhere, anytime, who will hear and believe the gospel. Whosoever will come, let him drink of the waters of life.

This is the essence of hyper-calvinism; I hope this helps you with your journey in seeking God's truth; Let the Scriptures alone speak with authority;

Let me also add that those who deny the idea that God is sovereign over all things, including all wicked men, all nations, all history, and the salvation of all men, will generally misrepresent biblical calvinistic truth as being hyper-calvinism; such people don't know what they are talking about; if such a person were asked to define hyper-calvinism historically, they could not do it. The above 3 points directly show the main errors of hyper-calvinism directly.

Finally, we must ever remember that the Bible is the only and final authority on all such questions and we continually need the eyes of our understanding opened by the Holy Spirit for Him to give us understanding of the Word. May the Lord help us both to grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Son through the holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation.

Please let me know if I can serve or help you in any way in your desire for knowing God's truth.

Yours warmly in Christ,Mack Tomlinson

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always topray, and not to faint." Luke 18:1

The importance of the element of persistence cannot be exaggerated. You find it, not only in biblical teaching, but also in the lives of all the saints in the past. If we really want to be men and women of God, if we really want to know Him, walk with Him, and experience those boundless blessings which He offers us, then we must persist in asking for them day by day. We have to feel this hunger and thirst after righteousness, and then we shall be filled. And that doesn't mean that we are filled once and forever. We go on hungering and thirsting. Like the Apostle Paul, leaving the things which are behind, we "press toward the mark." "Not as though I had already attained," says Paul, "but I follow after."

That is it! This persistence, this constant desire, asking seeking, and knocking. This, we must agree, is the point at which most of us fail. Let us hold onto that first principle. Let us examine ourselves in the light of this Scripture... persistence, continuance in well-doing, "always to pray and not to faint"-- that is the first thing. The realization of the need, the realization of the supply, and persistence in seeking after it.

- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cleaving to the Lord Unconditionally

A few years ago a pastor brought a troubled man to me for counselling. When I asked him about his problem, he replied, 'I want to serve the Lord but I am having a terrible time.'

'What seems to be hindering you?' I asked.

'Everything and everybody, it seems,' he said.

'Let's get down to particulars,' I insisted.

'I have a smoking problem. I know I shouldn't be smoking. It is harmful to me and a blight on my testimony, but I am having a hard time giving it up. Then there is my wife. She thinks I am a fanatic and she says if I insist on living a Christian life, she is going to leave me. She wants to have some fun, and I don't want to go back into that kind of life; but I don't want to lose my wife.

Then there's my business partner. He is not a Christian and we are having a conflict over some unethical business deals he wants to pull. He says I am holding back the business with my stupid morals and if I don't shape up he is going to force me out.

Then, last week I was down in Tucson in a restaurant feeling sorry for myself and this young divorcee approached me. She liked me and made some obvious suggestions and approaches. I almost fell into what she was proposing. But, I don't want to live like that. I'm just in a terrible mess.'

'You surely are,' I said, 'but maybe I can help you get some things settled. It seems to me you have about four options here. You can only take one of them so you may as well eliminate the other three. Let's find out which ones you can take and which ones you cannot and then see what we have left. Here is your first option. You can walk out that door the same way you came in with nothing changed and nothing settled. Can you do that?'

'I don't want to.'

'But can you?'

'If I had not wanted help I would not have come here.'

'But can you leave without it? Are you willing to walk out of here the same way you came in? Can you do that? Can you go on living the way you are now? Think about it. Because if you can, you will. There is no use of me wrangling around here with you for two or three hours only to have you refuse to do what you must and leave the same way you came in. If you can do that, then go ahead and do it now. Let's not waste anymore time.'

He looked at me, saw I meant it, thought about it a bit and then said, 'No, I can't do that. I have got to have some help. I cannot live any longer the way I am. Something has to be settled.'

'Then we can eliminate that option. It no longer exists. Something has to be settled before you leave here tonight. Now we have only three left. Here is your second option: Forget about being a Christian and serving the Lord. Put the thought of it out of your mind and go ahead and do what you like. If you want to smoke, stop feeling guilty about it and puff away. If your wife wants you to go out and get drunk and raise hell with her, go ahead. If your partner wants to pull some fast deals that can make you rich and won't get you in jail, go to it. Take advantage of anybody you can, make as much money as you can, do what you like and live it up. If you see that divorcee again, take her up on the proposition. Whatever you feel like doing, help yourself.'

He stared at me incredulously. 'Can you do that?' I asked.

He shook his head, 'No, I can't do that. I can't live that way.'

'Are you sure?'

'I'm sure.'

'Think about it now, and settle it. If you can do that then you ought to go ahead because you will sooner or later. But if you can't, then settle it in your mind that you can't and forget about it. It's no use you ever thinking about it anymore. It is an utter impossibility.'

'I can't do that.'

'All right, that eliminates two options and two more are left. Here is your third one: Go home. If you do not have one at home, stop off at a pawn shop and pick yourself up a pistol. Get out in the yard so that you won't make a mess in the house for someone to clean up, take good aim so that you don't miss and put a bullet in your brain.'

He jerked his head back and stared at me. 'I can't do that. I'd go to hell.'

'Probably so,' I said, 'but at least you wouldn't have to live in this mess till you get there.'

'No, I can't do that.'

'Then it looks like you have only one course left. Follow the Lord. Obey Him. If your wife leaves you, follow the Lord. If you lose your business and all your money, follow the Lord. If it costs you all your pleasures, follow the Lord. You really don't have any other option. You cannot do anything else. Live, die, swim or sink, you must follow Him.'

He thought awhile, then lifted his head and slowly as the truth began to dawn upon him, a relieved smile spread across his worried face. 'That's right isn't it? It's really very simple. He is my only hope of life. There is nothing else to do.'

I prayed with him, shook his hand and dismissed the meeting. Nearly two years later I was back in the same city and this man came to the meeting. His wife was with him, clinging to his arm. They had been, it seemed, through the greatest difficulties. His faith had been tried in the fire. The devil had exhausted his resources in his attempt to shake him from the commitment he made that night. But when he had left that counselling session, he was a single-minded man with only one place to go. His eyes were steadfastly fixed upon God as his deliverer. He and his wife both wore the broad sweet smiles of a victory that endures. They had learned indeed that faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Such as these can give unerring testimony that God is indeed worthy of our trust.

No matter what one goes through, if he or she wants God above all things, they must cleave to the Lord regardless of everything.

- Conrad Murrell

When You Can't be in Church

"And he called the name of that place Bethel." - Gen. 28:19

Bethel means "the house of God"; wherever God meets with His people, that place may be thus very appropriately designated as such. There was no temple or building there where Jacob met God and yet, says Jacob, "This is none other than the house of God."

This is confirmed by Jehovah's own declaration: "The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? for all these things hath mine hands made, saith the Lord; but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word."

It is also confirmed by the conversation of our Lord with the woman of Samaria. Her countrymen imagined that God must be worshipped at Samaria and nowhere else, and the Jews supposed that He must be worshipped at Jerusalem or not at all. But our Saviour takes this opportunity to teach her that His services and worship are not confined to a particular place.

Nothing makes a people dear to God except their conformity to Him; that which makes a place of worship sacred is the divine presence of God. As to external holiness, we cannot attach anything to wood and stone. There were no physical temples before the flood. The patriarchs had altars, but no temples. Until the end of the third century, there were no official places for Christian worship and preaching. The apostles preached and prayed wherever they could find a place. Our Saviour preached from on board a boat, in private homes, on the side of mountains and in the open streets.

"Where'er we seek Thee, Thou art found,And every place is hallowed ground."

There are several cases in which this remark will afford encouragement.

First, when by sickness, accident, or distance, we cannot meet with other believers in an assembly of God's people. It is our duty to go there whenever it is in our power; a real Christian will feel it to be a privilege to be there with the saints of God. His past experiene enlivens and encourages him when he thinks of it; he has seen God's power and glory in the sanctuary; he remembers this and therefore he is glad when they say to him, "Come, let us go to the house of the Lord!"

But we might be providentially the Lord's prisoners, and when we are and we find ourselves deprived of meeting with other believers in corporate worship, we need to remember that there are three things to which we have access all the time regardless if we are able to be with other Christians.

First, we have access to the word of His grace. Then we have access to the throne of grace, and finally we have access to and the presence of the Spirit of grace. Thus we will never be deprived of what we truly need from Him, who is our all in all, though we be deprived of the public gathering of the saints when God removes us from it.

Secondly, it should encourage those whom God has removed geographically from a sound gospel church. If a person removes themself from a sound church to being without one through vanity, seeking of selfish worldly advancement, or through discontent, worldliness or rebellion, then they are completely out of the will of God. But if in the providence of God a person is stationed in a place of spiritual barrenness, they have every hope that the presence of the Fountain of grace will make provide their streams, and that the God of all grace will be with them, though they may be deprived of some of the means of grace.

Thirdly, it will also encourage us in the weekdays between the Lord's Day meetings. The Lord's Day does not always last; we cannot be always with the saints. But we can be with God in the closet, as well as in the public worship. We can walk with God through the day. The spirit of devotion may influence us in the absence of outward forms. Any place, by prayer and meditation, may become to us the house of God. And then we can sanctify every situation and render it sacred and happy.

- William Jay

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tampering with God's Word

2 Cor. 4:2

Earlier in 2 Corinthians 3:17, the apostle Paul spoke of those who were “peddlers of God’s word”. In our meditation on that passage, I explained that he had in mind someone who dilutes the full strength of the gospel, perhaps eliminating (or at least minimizing) its offensive elements, or altering certain theological points, so that the finished "product" will be more appealing to the audience. The aim was obviously to gain as large a following as possible, and especially the money that comes with it.

In 2 Corinthians 4:2 Paul returns to that theme, but with a slightly different emphasis. Here he declares that he refuses “to tamper with God’s word,” but instead is committed to “the open statement of the truth.” Whereas in 3:17 the motivation appears to be monetary gain, in 4:2 the agenda is unclear. Certainly money may still be in view, but other factors ought also to be considered.

People often “tamper” with God’s word either to retain or expand their power base, to increase their popularity, or to avoid controversy and the discomfort it often creates. Some do so because of personal distaste for the hard truths of Scripture, to protect themselves against the contempt of those whose respect and acceptance they cherish, or in the interests of any number of personal agendas that require God’s truth be treated as malleable and merely a means that may be manipulated to achieve whatever end is in view.

A brief glance across the broad spectrum of professing Christendom, if only here in America, reveals several expressions of the sort of “tampering” that Paul might well have in view. Let me cite a few examples.

One of the more explicit instances is the increasing trend toward either marginalizing or rejecting altogether the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Such folk often insist they haven’t rejected penal substitution but wish only to recast it in such a way that its unsavory elements are discarded lest we give unnecessary offence to a society that longs for a more compassionate and less “violent” Christianity. Others argue that they still embrace penal substitution but have simply repositioned it to a subordinate, tangential role in our understanding of atonement. In other words, penal substitution isn’t altogether denied, it is simply de-throned from its formative status as the dominant and controlling model for what Christ accomplished and relegated to “one of many valid metaphors” for the sake of maintaining a more “holistic” view of Christ’s saving work. Once this is done, the notion of penal substitution is, for all practical purposes, never heard from again.

In the final analysis, few if any of these efforts to redefine the doctrine of atonement can escape the charge of having “tampered” with God’s word. The unadulterated, sharp edge of the message of the cross in which Jesus Christ has, in our stead, propitiated the wrath of a holy God is more than they can swallow. Many contend that they’ve merely adapted the gospel to a post-modern world but have stopped short of tampering with the truths of Scripture itself. I’ll leave it for you to judge if that’s true.

Another example of “tampering” with the text is the tendency to disregard certain teachings because of the difficulty they pose for life in the 21st century. I’m thinking particularly of the explosive growth among evangelicals of egalitarianism and the repudiation of any distinctions in role or responsibility between male and female, whether in marriage or ministry.

Again, of course, those who’ve yielded to this temptation would never countenance my use of the word “disregard”. They would consider that an unfair, inflammatory, and pejorative assessment of what they’ve done. What they insist has occurred is that a new hermeneutical paradigm or model for reading Scripture has emerged that enables them to see that certain NT guidelines or principles previously thought to be timeless and binding on the conscience of Christians everywhere were, in fact, culturally accommodated or merely part of a trajectory of truth that liberates us from the explicit boundaries of NT teaching and elevates the church into that “ultimate ethic” toward which the text is, allegedly, pointing.

I’ve found that in many cases (not all, mind you, but many) it wasn’t that complementarianism was found to be biblically deficient or lacking in exegetical consistency. Rather, it made them feel like “fundamentalists” and threatened their acceptance and status within the broader evangelical community, especially the academy. Not wanting to be perceived as obscurantist or theologically naïve or culturally out of step, they relished these new proposals that appeared to undermine the traditional “hierarchical” (their word) understanding of the relationship between male and female in home and church. Wanting to be seen as progressive and in touch with the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship, a complementarian view of men and women was abandoned for an “easier” and “more palatable” perspective.

Another example of what I consider “tampering” with God’s word would be the growth of what George Barna has called, in the title to his most recent and popular book, the Revolution among professing evangelicals who now find active participation in local church life unappealing and, worse still, unnecessary.

Then, of course, there are those who don’t like being branded as narrow-minded and arrogant exclusivists when it comes to the issue of salvation. The redemptive work of Christ may well be necessary as the foundation for any possibility of eternal life, but conscious faith in him alone is being discarded in favor of an inclusivism that now recognizes saving power in all (or most) non-Christian religions. The next (and seemingly inevitable) step for many is salvific universalism. Hell exists only in this life and on this earth, but is denied its eternal and penal dimensions.

Much could also be said of those who’ve tampered with God’s word to justify in their own minds an embrace of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle and same sex marriage as a “right” that should be recognized in our society.

Perhaps the most egregious and destructive example of “tampering” with the text doesn’t involve any one doctrinal issue but reflects a diminishing loss of confidence in the functional authority of Scripture and a failure to believe and act upon the life-changing power of God’s word.

I’m persuaded that this is why we see so little expository preaching in our pulpits today. Although they would be extremely reticent to admit it publicly, countless pastors simply no longer believe that the biblical text, accurately explained and passionately applied, has the power to build the church. Operating with a secular standard of what constitutes “success” and under pressure to facilitate church growth (in every sense of the term), they have resorted to gimmicks, props, marketing techniques, and entertainment to the obvious detriment, and all too frequent abandonment, of exposition.

This inevitably leads to a loss of the functional authority of Scripture in church life. Whereas most would be quick to affirm the inspiration of the Bible in their statements of faith, few actually bend their beliefs to conform with Scripture or subordinate their personal preferences to the principles of the text. Affirmation of biblical authority is all too often only affirmation, with little effort made to actually yield or submit to the dictates of what God has revealed.

An illustration of this latter point is found in the national survey recently conducted by Christianity Today International and Zondervan Publishers, the results of which were given in Leadership magazine (Fall 2007). To cite only one example, a man named James Smith identified himself as a Christian but said that he does not necessarily believe that his God is any different from the one his Muslim friend worships. “I don’t think that God would be a God who would shut others out of heaven because they don’t use the word ‘Christian’ to describe themselves,” said Smith (19-20).

With all due respect, and allowing that I may have misinterpreted his comments, it doesn’t matter what Smith (or Storms) thinks. Christians are not free to retain what they want to be true and spurn the clear teaching of Scripture. If Scripture is inspired, it is authoritative. And if it is authoritative, we must bow to its principles and truths even when they are uncomfortable, unpopular, or put a strain between us and friends who may believe otherwise. We dare not tamper with God’s word. Ever.

Whatever our calling in life, whatever our career or ministry, my prayer is that we would say with Paul: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).

- Sam Storms

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Enemy That Yet Lurks Within, Pt. 3

"Al orgullo le sigue la destruccion; a la altaneria, el fracaso."(Proverbios 16:18)

Confused? Welcome to one of the many "destructive" results of pride -- the confusion of languages at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Not only does pride go before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling (the above passage in case you don’t know Spanish), but this sin by itself carries within it the seed for every other sin. It was the first committed and it will be the last judged when all bow before Christ (Phil. 2:10-11). It has brought down angels, destroyed the human race, aroused anger in God, and is the result of every soul that now suffers in hell at this moment.

Defining this "malady of maladies" isn’t as easy as Merriam-Webster would have us to believe, as its manifestations are legion -- the most notorious being unbelief (Hab. 2:2-4). Notice how John Piper puts it: "Pride is difficult to define because its manifestations are subtle and often do not look like arrogance. We can see this if we compare boasting and self-pity as two forms of pride. Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, "I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much." Self-pity says, "I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much." Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. Boasting sounds self-sufficient. Self-pity sounds self-sacrificing. The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego, and the desire is not really for others to see them as helpless but as heroes. The need that self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride." (Desiring God, pg. 302).

Pride is the only sin that when we lift our hands to God to give Him everything, will still find a home in the very hands we use. Never confuse thinking less of yourself with thinking of yourself less. Pride is far more subtle than that. The first beatitude, poverty of spirit (Mt. 5:3), is first for a reason -- it’s the entrance for every other beatitude and the only way God gives faith and grace (Js. 4:6). Until God deals with your pride, dealing with any other sin will be a waste of time -- and that’s true in any language.

- Mark Lacour

Fighting Discouragement

2 Cor. 4:1
How do you fight discouragement? Or do you? Are you among those who simply yield to its relentless onslaught and give up?

People who fall into the latter category typically deal with disappointment in one of two ways. Some continue to work and “minister” (if that word is even appropriate to describe what they do) but do so with murmuring and impatience, bitterness toward God, self-pity within, and anger at anything that moves.

Others respond to the pain of disillusionment by anesthetizing their souls with sex, alcohol, or some other form of sensual self-indulgence, and then justify it by pointing to how poorly they’ve been treated (whether by God or people in the church or others from whom they’re convinced they deserved better).

If anyone had a “right” to be discouraged, it might appear to be Paul. When one thinks of what he endured in the course of life and ministry, he seems to be the perfect candidate for a “victim” mentality and the countless ways people use it to rationalize sinful behavior. Yet, here in 2 Corinthians 4:1 he happily declares, “we do not lose heart”!

I can almost hear some say, “Well, for heaven’s sake, I wouldn’t lose heart either if I had Paul’s gifts and eloquence and insights into the truth of God. And if I had been translated into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:1ff.) and seen great and glorious things, I could probably hang in there like he did.” It’s true, of course, that Paul was uniquely gifted of God and had been the recipient of numerous supernatural encounters. But that’s not what kept him going. That’s not what accounted for his ability to resist the temptation to throw in the towel.

To understand and account for his refusal to “lose heart” we need to look at v. 1 in its entirety: “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” There are actually two reasons Paul gives for why he overcame discouragement. They are related, while yet distinct.

First, he had been entrusted with “this ministry,” a reference to the ministry of the New Covenant in the power of the Holy Spirit (described in chapter three). Had he been called and commissioned to a ministry devoid of the Spirit’s presence, I doubt he would have persevered as he did. Had “this ministry” been one characterized by legalism, a “ministry” energized by human effort rather than the power of the Spirit, Paul’s response to persecution, slander, and imprisonment may well have been different.

What sustained him, at least in part, was the fact that he proclaimed a message of grace and the assurance of the Spirit’s sanctifying presence (2 Cor. 3:18)! Had he known that those who embraced Christ as Lord would be left to themselves, dependent on their own resources, confronted by an external code of conduct without the guarantee of inward enablement, I doubt we’d be looking to him now as a model of maturity and a paradigm of perseverance!

But there’s another reason why Paul did not lose heart or succumb to the otherwise natural human tendency to seek out safety and ease and opulence: Paul, like you and me, was a recipient of mercy! He certainly didn’t deserve to be the minister of a gospel of grace or a covenant of divine power and promise. Paul, again like you and me, “was a privileged participant in the ministry of the new covenant purely on account of God’s gratuitous favor” or mercy (Harris, 323; emphasis mine).

The phrase translated “by the mercy of God” is similar in force to Paul’s statement in Romans 11:31 where he speaks of being “shown mercy”. The verb in the original text (eleethemen) is what commentators call a “divine” or “theological passive” and could be rendered, “we were shown mercy (by God).” Neither his calling as an apostle nor his competency to serve in that role nor his conversion by which he came to Christ had anything to do with his own efforts or initiative or resources. It was simply and solely and sufficiently the fruit of having been made the object of divine mercy.

Undoubtedly Paul was encouraged and upheld by reflecting on the nature of the new covenant ministry. But even more important still was his awareness that he was a participant in it, and a minister to others of it, solely by the sovereign kindness, compassion, and mercy of God. If you should ever think that your position in the kingdom of God is a reward rather than a gift, there will be little to sustain you in seasons of hardship and anguish. Only so far as you confess that although you deserved eternal death you instead received eternal life will you find power to persevere.

But how is it, precisely, that embracing divine mercy as the sole source of all you are and do, like Paul did, is a remedy for discouragement? The answer is that sovereign, saving mercy is incompatible not only with boasting but also with bitterness.

Consider Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians in his first letter: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). This is simply another way of saying, “Did you not receive everything by mercy rather than merit? OK, then act like it!” Knowing the truth of this text will turn your life inside out and upside down. The reality of sovereign, saving mercy transforms your view of both success and failure, both praise and persecution, both triumph and tragedy.

If your life and labors are, as Paul indicates, “by the mercy of God,” you can neither take credit for what you’ve achieved nor complain about how you’ve been treated. All credit goes to God for the good and all blame to yourself for the bad.

One of my spiritual mentors, Russ McKnight, now with the Lord, would always respond to the question, “How are you doing?” with the simple answer, “Better than I deserve!” He wasn’t trying to be cute, but recognized that whatever benefits or blessings might come his way were not the payment of a debt but flowed from the fountain of divine mercy.

Paul said much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 15:10 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” If pressed to elaborate, I suspect he might have said:

“Yes, people have betrayed me, but I never deserved friends in the first place.”

“Yes, many have slandered me, but I have no ‘right’ to be well spoken of.”

“I was the chief of sinners, but I was shown kindness! I deserved hell, but I got mercy!”

“How can I feel sorry for myself: justice demanded my death but I received life!”

“How can I resent another’s success when I never deserved any myself?”

Clearly, Paul’s understanding of the role of mercy was the sustaining power in his soul that left no room for discouragement and gave no quarter to bitterness: “How can I possibly ‘lose heart’ when I deserved neither life nor breath nor opportunity nor eloquence nor a positive response on the part of those to whom I minister?”

Do you see your life in the same terms that Paul understood the ministry entrusted to him? What about your family? Your career? Perhaps the effective use of some spiritual gift or your status in the church? Are you in good health? Are you finances stable, even flourishing? What of the praise of your peers?

Can you look at everything in your life and honestly say, “It was by the mercy of God?” If not, you are a likely candidate either for arrogant boasting or for discouragement and the disheartening frustration that breeds bitterness and resentment. Mercy is medicine for the discouraged soul. The recommended dosage is daily.

- Sam Storms

Monday, October 15, 2007

Interview with Iain Murray

Iain H. Murray, born in Lancashire, England, in 1931 was educated in the Isle of Man and at the University of Durham. He entered the Christian ministry in 1955. He served as assistant to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel (1956-59) and subsequently at Grove Chapel, London (1961-69) and St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Sydney (1981-84). In intervening periods he has worked full-time with the Banner of Truth Trust, of which organisation he was the co-founder (with Jack Cullum) in 1957 and remains the Editorial Director. He is the author of numerous books, including The Life of A. W. Pink, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, The Life of D. M. Lloyd-Jones: 2 Volumes, Pentecost Today: Understanding Revival, and Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism: 1750-1858, Wesley and the Men who Followed, and Scottish Christian Heritage. The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, and Evangelicalism Divided.

Mr. Murray was interviewed by Men for Ministry, and here shares some of his thoughts about preaching, reading, the call to ministry, and the state of Bible teaching within the UK and US.

1.Could you tell us briefly about your own call to preach and teach God’s Word?

Strangely, I believed my destiny was to be a Christian minister before I was converted although no relatives were so engaged. But I did not speak of this to others – for my life was inconsistent – before I came to know Christ at the age of seventeen.

2. How do you believe men are called to a preaching ministry? Can you suggest any tests that an individual can apply to themselves regarding whether they are gifted in this area or not?

I believe God puts a concern upon men’s hearts, which is shown by their taking every opportunity to serve and speak for Christ; perhaps first to a Sunday School class (as Spurgeon) or in visiting an Old People’s Home. There must be desire for the work – a pull stronger than any other pull – and the subjective needs testing by the counsel of older Christians and a local church.

3. Would you mark any differences between evangelical attitudes to preaching in the UK and in the USA? If so, what are they?

There are a great many variations in the US, as there are here. I do not think I could generalise. In both countries there has been a danger that Calvinistic preaching has not been distinguished by evangelistic concern and passion. ‘Expository preaching’ has moved too far from the type of preaching we find in Spurgeon’s sermons; the danger is that it becomes like a weekly commentary on a passage (rather than a text) of Scripture.

4. Recently almost fifty men from our Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland attended a seminar dealing with the issues of ‘the primacy of preaching’ and ‘the passion for preaching’. What are your thoughts on these two issues as applied to the work of God in the UK presently?

I have partly covered this. I believe that true passion for preaching arises, by the Holy Spirit, through love of the people we are serving. It is more important to love people than to love preaching! That means that pastoral work should never be downgraded. Read Hobson’s work in Liverpool1 as an example of pastoral zeal.

5. Many of your books, particularly your celebrated two volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, continue to influence many preachers. Which books have most blessed and enriched your own preaching?

I find this hard to answer. I do believe that God directs books into our hands as we need them, and our need varies at different stages of our lives and ministries. As a young Christian I was much helped by Andrew Bonar’s Life of M'Cheyne; the latter’s sermons; Merle D’Aubigné on the Reformation ( thrilling stuff!); Jonathan Edwards, and several of the Puritans (notably Thomas Brooks and John Owen). Later, I came to prize Spurgeon. His All-Round Ministry is a wonderful book for a young pastor, as is his Commenting and Commentaries.

6. What effect has postmodernism had on preaching in recent years? How do you feel preachers can best respond to it?

I never did understand what postmodernism is! I doubt the helpfulness of such labels and think they are greatly overdone. The natural man is basically the same in every generation: that is why the scriptures are more relevant and up-to-date than any other document. The first business of preaching is not to address intellectual problems but to reach the heart and conscience. One of our great dangers is the constant preaching of salvation by faith in Christ to numbers who have never truly been smitten with a sense of sin. I try to deal with that subject in The Old Evangelicalism.

7. How can a preacher who is concerned with being theologically and exegetically precise in their preaching avoid the danger of becoming dry and academic in their presentation of God’s Word?

Keep visiting the sick and the dying; that will keep ‘scholarship’ in second place. And beware of being concerned about what people think of our preaching. The great aim of preaching must be to do good to our hearers, good for eternity.

8. If you could give a young preacher three essential pieces of advice as they embark on teaching God’s Word, what would they be?

Guard you inner life; love people but keep a healthy distrust of human nature; make faith in God’s promises the daily duty.

9. Your book Evangelicalism Divided has been a seminal work in terms of gauging the spiritual climate of the evangelical world during the past fifty years. One common issue that a variety of critics have picked up on is your absence of reference to the ‘Proclamation Trust’. How would you assess their work and influence on pulpit ministry in the United Kingdom in recent decades?

Yes , I think there is weight in the comment of critics on this point. I should have made it clearer, I was not attempting a history of evangelicalism in the last 50 years. I think one reason why the Proclamation Trust has gained respect and support is that leaders, such as Dick Lucas, were not associated with the comprehensive/ecumenical policy that I criticised. I am sorry I cannot speak more of the Trust from experience. I think the practical advice and direction that the Proclamation Trust has given on preaching has been helpful to many; though I would have reservation lest the method advocated leads too much to a kind of running commentary on Scripture, which is not the same as preaching. There is danger in seeing preaching primarily as giving instruction; whereas, as Lloyd-Jones used to say, the primary need is to give our hearers stimulus, so they will eagerly want to read and learn themselves. Strong churches need more than just a weekly diet of teaching.

10. Could you tell us of a time when God particularly touched and challenged your heart through the preaching of another? (We know there will be many instances to choose from!)

A few weeks ago I was much uplifted and helped by listening to a man who was entirely unknown to me, and perhaps to the world at large. It reminded me forcibly that God has his men, and that those who faithfully preach Scripture, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, are certain to do good.

- Iain Murray

Thursday, October 11, 2007

'Bumped along' the Pathway to Glory

2 Cor. 3:18
There are times when I worry if I’m making progress in the Christian life. Honestly, there are times when I’m quite sure I’m not. I’m not talking about overt backsliding or moral regression, but a feeling of spiritual inertia that causes me to wonder if I’m moving forward toward greater conformity to Christ.

Of course, if I weren’t making progress I probably wouldn’t be worried about whether I am or not! In other words, I take comfort from the fact that I’m bothered (the more spiritual word is “convicted”) about those seasons when I don’t seem to be living as I ought. It angers me not to see or sense an increase in holiness. There’s a sense in which that itself is holiness, or at least the presence of a longing for it and a keen awareness of how far short I am of the righteousness of God.

I say all this as a way of highlighting the encouragement that is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18. For here I’m reassured that I’m not standing still, that the Spirit is at work within me, if only, at times, in small and often imperceptible ways. In the inner core of every Christian, in the depths of the heart, there is movement, as Paul says, “from one degree of glory to another” (v. 18). Literally, he writes that we are being transformed “from glory unto glory.” The preposition “from” points to source and “unto” highlights the ultimate goal in view. In other words, God began a work of grace in us at regeneration or the new birth that consisted of the experience of his glory that is building momentum and progressively moving toward the final experience of the fullness of that glory at the return of Jesus Christ.

The ultimate glory in view here is described in other texts as follows:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

“When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2; cf. 1 Thess. 5:23).

Murray Harris put it best when he described this phenomenon as “a body suffused with the divine glory and perfectly adapted to the ecology of heaven” (317). I like that!

But there’s so much more in this passage that must be noted. Paul writes:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Perhaps the best way to mine this text for all its treasure is to make a series of observations.

First, Paul describes us, all Christians, as those who are “beholding the glory of the Lord” and doing so, unlike the Israelites of old, “with unveiled face.” It was the distinct privilege of Moses alone to glimpse the “glory” of God when he saw his “form” (Numbers 12:8) and his “back” (Exodus 33:23). But now in the New Covenant “all Christians without distinction are privileged to witness that glory” (Harris, 313). And unlike the people of Israel who looked upon the glory as reflected in Moses’ veiled face, we see with permanently uncovered faces.

Second, Paul's mirror analogy suggests that we see the "glory of the Lord" indirectly, "mirrored", as it were, in "the face of Jesus" who is "the image of God." But where exactly do we "see" or "behold" that glory? Paul saw the glory of God on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 22:11 - "the brightness [lit., “glory”] of that light"; see also Acts 26:13). In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 he suggests that God shines the glory of that light "in our hearts" through "the gospel." Thus as Barnett explains, "paradoxically, therefore, Paul's readers see the glory of Christ as they hear the gospel, which in turn gives the knowledge of God" (206).

It is important to point out that Paul's "mirror analogy" is not meant to suggest that we see the glory of Christ indistinctly or in a distorted way, but indirectly "as over against our eschatologically seeing him 'face to face.' The imagery, therefore, is something quite positive, and it worked for Paul precisely because it allowed him to postulate a real 'seeing,' yet one that in the present age falls short of actually seeing the Lord 'face to face' as it were" (Fee, God's Empowering Presence, 317). Or again, the apostle’s point is that although our vision of this glory is mediated it is inescapably clear, because the person of Christ who is revealed in the gospel is the exact and altogether perfect representation of God.

Third, the process that we call sanctification comes only as or because we behold the glory of God. Apart from beholding there is no becoming. The more we know him and behold him (cf. Ps. 27:4) in the splendor of his glory, the more we are changed into the very image of Jesus himself, in whose face God's glory has shined or is reflected (2 Cor. 4:4,6). Sanctification, therefore, is the fruit of seeing and savoring. Ignorance, on the other hand, breeds moral paralysis (if not regression).

Fourth, Paul is clearly talking about the transformation of the inner person. “When Jesus was transfigured, the change was outwardly visible (Matt. 17:2), but when Christians are transformed, the change is essentially inward, the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2), and becomes visible only in their Christ-like behavior” (Harris, 316). Of course, as we saw in several texts above the inner change will consummate in an outward transformation at the time of Christ’s return. Until then, as Paul says later in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

Fifth, as much as we all might wish otherwise, sanctification is progressive, not instantaneous. As noted earlier, we are gradually moving by the power of the Spirit from one stage or degree of glory (first "seen" in the gospel when we turn to Christ) to another (that of the glorified Jesus, whose glory we will not only see on that day but in which we will also participate).

Sixth, sanctification is by grace (we "are being transformed"), the agent of which is the Spirit of Christ. This doesn’t eliminate human effort but rather makes it possible. We act because acted upon. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling because God, who is always antecedent, is at work in us to will and to do for his good pleasure (cf. Phil. 2:12-13)!

Seventh, and finally, we see here that “beholding is a way of becoming” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, 17). That is to say, we always tend to become like or take on the characteristics and qualities of whatever it is we admire and enjoy and cherish most. Fixing the eyes of our faith on Jesus is transformative. Gazing on his glory as seen in the gospel and now preserved for us in Scripture has the power to bump us along, as it were, whether minimally or maximally, whether in short spurts of sanctification or great and notable triumphs, toward the fullness that is found in Christ alone but will one day be found in us, by grace, as well!

So, be encouraged! Be strengthened! Be reassured! For he “who began a good work in you [‘from glory’] will bring it to completion [‘unto glory’] at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

- Sam Storms

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Enemy That Yet Lurks Within- Pt. 2

Pride is such a choking weed that nothing will prosper near it.- Joseph Alleine

There is no room for God in the person who is full of himself. - Anonymous

Proud man would perish unless a lowly Redeemer found him. - Augustine

A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves. - Henry Ward Beecher

The most effective poison to lead men to ruin is to boast in themselves, in their own wisdom and power. - John Calvin

Pride and grace never dwell in one place. - Thomas Fuller

A proud heart and a lofty mountain are always barren. - William Gurnall

When pride begins, loves ceases. - Johann Lavater

Pride is the cause of all other sins. - Thomas Manton

God has nothing to say to the self-righteous. - D. L. Moody

Pride will make hell insufferable. - William Plumer

God can do little with those who love their lives or reputations. - C. T. Studd

Pride stops the current of gratitude. - Thomas Watson

The greatest hindrance to revival is pride among the Lord's people.- Arthur S. Wood

Pride is there the moment we wake up and the moment we lay down to sleep; we must deny it and kill it all day long, by humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God.

- Mack T

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Making Idols and Mocking Hell

Making Idols and Mocking Hell: "Theology" in the News
I’m addicted to USA Today. It’s not the best in American journalism, but it’s entertaining and moderately informative (especially the sports section). Today, Tuesday, September 25, 2007, it was just sad. Two stories in particular caught my eye, both of which are tragically indicative of the state of mind in Hollywood and around the globe.

(1) The first thing I noticed was a short piece concerning the Indra Jatra festival in Katmandu, Nepal. The eight-day festival, celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists, “is named after Lord Indra, the god of rain” (p. 9a).

What caught my eye wasn’t the headline announcing this pagan festival but the picture that accompanied it. Two unidentified people, a man and a woman, are seen putting the final touches on the face of a hideous idol. Its features include protruding eyes, flaring nostrils and four oversized and undoubtedly sharp teeth, two of which are protruding from the top much like one would expect from a vampire in some B-horror movie. I have no way of knowing if this is a representation of the pagan deity Indra or perhaps some other “god” or “power” believed to work in tandem with or in opposition to “the god of rain”.

I immediately felt three responses rising up in my heart. One was anger that yet again people refused to honor or give thanks to the One True God and instead were futile in their thinking and, while claiming to be wise, became fools and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:21-23).

It angered me that anyone but our great and glorious God would be praised or given credit for the gift of rain, for he alone “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45). Neither “Indra” nor any other so-called “god” is capable of doing what Yahweh does, for “he covers the heavens with clouds . . . [and] prepares rain for the earth” (Ps. 147:8). Perhaps I should let God speak for himself, as he did to Job: “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?” (Job 38:25-27).

A day is coming when those who worship “Indra” and other deities to whom they give credit for natural phenomena will stand before the Lord and hear him say: “Why did you not repent and give me glory for the manifestation of my goodness and greatness in creation, the consistent witness to my ‘eternal power and divine nature’ (Rom. 1:20) that are ‘clearly’ seen ‘in the things that have been made?’ (Rom. 1:20-21). You are ‘without excuse’” (Rom. 1:20b).

My second response was one of sadness to think of such people who give themselves over to the worship and adoration of a “deity” who is utterly impotent to intervene on their behalf, utterly impotent to redeem them from sin, utterly impotent to bring this chaotic world to its consummation in Jesus Christ. It reminded me of Psalm 115:4-11,

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is [your] help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is [your] help and their shield. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is [your] help and their shield.”

As over against such pathetic incompetence and inability, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3)! And as I looked at those two anonymous figures in the photograph, I only wish that I could have said to them, “Don’t you realize that ‘those [like the two of you] who make them [i.e., dead, lifeless, hideous idols] become like them’? Is this the image according to which you want to be conformed?”

My third reaction was one of gratitude for friends of mine like H_____ and M_____, and B_____ and N_____, and B_____ and S_____ who labor daily in Nepal, joyfully sacrificing the comforts I take for granted to bring the gospel of eternal life to those who would otherwise forever remain in spiritual darkness.

(2) The second eye-catching story was easier to see. The large headline in the Life section of the paper read: “Reaper” shows viewers a hell of a good time (p. 1d). The story concerned a new TV show scheduled to premier tonight at 9:00 eastern time. No, I won’t be watching.

The show concerns a “hapless young Sam” (praise God, not me!) who is sold to the Devil by his mother and father. And what is his job in service of his new master? He is forced to work “as a hellish bounty hunter, recapturing escaped souls.” As expected, Satan is portrayed as being in charge of hell, overseeing the torment of those consigned to spend an eternity there.

Aside from the fact that a show like this fails to communicate the very real and literal existence of eternal torment, it perpetuates any number of misconceptions about hell that, sadly, even many Christians mindlessly embrace. Contrary to the plot, there is no such thing (and never will be) as “escaped souls.” There are no “second chances” or opportunities to “redeem” oneself. Once consigned to hell by the righteous and irreversible verdict of a good and holy God, there is no escape. Perhaps those in Hollywood, if they know anything of the biblical portrait of hell, are aware of the liberties they are taking with this story. But I doubt that they care. After all, it makes for a good laugh and an interesting twist in their efforts to gain as many viewers (and thus dollars for their commercial advertisements) as possible.

There is another distortion in this scenario, and it concerns the role of Satan in hell. Contrary to what many believe, he is not in charge there. God is. The “eternal fire” of hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41), not that he (and they) might oversee its application to others but precisely so that he (and they) might suffer its torments. According to Revelation 20:10, in which we find a description of the final judgment, “the devil . . . was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” It is God who inflicts righteous punishment on the rebellious and unbelieving, not Satan. The latter is himself a deserving object of eternal punishment, not its administrator.

I suppose some will tell me to lighten up and enjoy the show for what it is, a mindless, slightly entertaining diversion at the end of a long day at work. But may I suggest that it is precisely because of such an endless run of jokes, TV shows, and misguided feature-length films that we Christians struggle to get people today to take hell seriously. Is it any wonder that professing evangelicals are themselves beginning to question the existence of an eternal hell in favor of some version of annihilationism or universalism?

Watch this show if you must, laugh if you will, but as you do, think about those two people in Nepal preparing “Indra” for their pagan festival in Katmandu. For they and all others who exchange “the truth about God for a lie” and serve “the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25) will one day, and forever, be in that very hell which so many casually mock. And there too, but for the grace of God, go I.

Let me close by telling you a story. A friend of mine who worked in a high-rise office building in Dallas told me of an incident one day in an elevator. It was August and the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees. As my friend entered the elevator, so too did a man who was sweating profusely and had obviously been jogging in the summer heat. “Whew,” he virtually spewed out, “it’s as hot as hell out there!” Without intending to be in the slightest way humorous or flippant, my friend replied, somberly, “No sir. It isn’t.”

So much for my experience today in reading USA Today.

- Sam Storms