Bible Reading: As a Means of War and Worship | pt. 2

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The most significant day in my life was the day I was regenerated and sought the LORD for forgiveness of my sins. One of the things that I recall very clearly from that night was not just the strong conviction of my specific sin, but a conviction of sin in general. I had an acute awareness of what was morally right and wrong. Sins that I tried to justify in the past, I could now easily see that they were offenses against God. It was truly a sign of God’s work of redemption. Later, I would come to understand that I had been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Despite my elation with Christ, I realized that I still had remaining sin that I needed to deal with (Romans 7: 7-25) as well as I needed to learn how to live in a world of full of sin.
At that point in my Christian walk, though I had the desire, I hadn’t yet found a church home. In many ways, I felt alone as none of my friends were Christians. Without knowing that Christians were commanded to share the gospel, I began telling my friends about Jesus and my salvation, but they were not interested. Again without knowing what spiritual warfare was, I began to experience mild persecution (i.e. name calling and social ostracization). I realized that my allegiance to Christ meant that I was at war against the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Christ told His disciples, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) and this was what I was beginning to experience. However, in my excitement and sadness, I diligently sought the Scriptures for understanding, comfort and as a means of war – war against the world, my flesh and Satan.

The Bible: A Means of War
Let me be clear – we will make no progress in the faith apart from life-long reading, memorizing and studying Scripture. Both testaments clearly state that God’s people are to be students of His Word, which not only instructs us about Him, but also about how we are to walk in holiness (the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 20-23; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 19:7-11; Psalms 119; Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12, etc.). We will make no progress in holiness unless we make it a daily practice to fight sin – sin within us and around us. One of the chief methods of fighting sin is fighting the lies sin tells us and fighting temptations by reminding ourselves of truth, which is God’s word.
As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10 – the weapons of our warfare are not flesh, but have divine power. He also goes on to say that we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. Though not the only weapon, I believe one of the weapons Paul has in mind that has the power to destroy thoughts against God is God’s word. Ephesians 6:10-20, also written by Paul, reminds us that our enemy isn’t flesh and blood, but instead are rulers, authorities and cosmic powers (i.e. demons) and the last weapon mentioned in the Christian’s suit of armor imagery is the sword of the Spirit – which is the word of God. The Bible is our means of war!

Jesus’ Temptation and War with the Devil
Before Jesus began his public ministry, he was baptized by John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22). After he was baptized, both accounts note that the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and the Father publicly affirmed that Jesus was indeed his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. In this Trinitarian scene, the Spirit descending on Jesus was very significant. As a human, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience to the Father. Yet, the Father publicly declared him to be his Son, which points to Jesus’ deity. This was a reiteration of the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary (Luke 1:26-35).
But what happens next is significant. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil for forty days (Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-2). Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness for forty days is likened to Israel’s forty year wandering in the wilderness en route to Canaan – the promised land. Israel, God’s son, was called to faithfulness during the journey from Sinai to Canaan, yet failed. Jesus, God’s Son, remained faithful to God during that time of testing. Israel’s downfall was a failure to believe God despite all he’d done for them and shown them in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Jesus’ victory was rooted in obedience to God’s word.
At the onset of his public ministry, Jesus is tempted by the devil repeatedly. Both accounts detail the same series of temptations by the devil, but in different order. Two times the devil asks Jesus, “If you are the Son of God,…..” and one time he blatantly asks Jesus to worship him in exchange for the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3-13). It is interesting to note that the devil’s questioning Jesus regarding his Sonship comes right after the Father publicly declared Jesus as his Son. What’s at the heart of the devil’s temptation is seeing what kind of Son of God Jesus will be – a faithful one or a faithless one like Adam and Israel. But note Jesus’ response. Jesus, the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit and the Logos of God quotes Scripture to the devil! “It is written…..” Jesus goes to war with the devil with Scripture! In response to the devil’s temptations and misuse of Scripture, Jesus responds to the devil from Deuteronomy.
If Jesus, the Son of God, relied on Scripture during his time of temptation, how much more do you and I need to have it written on our hearts and etched in our minds to fight sin that wages war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and to stand against the cosmic powers (Ephesians 6:12)?
If we will do our souls well, we will take up the joy and necessity of reading the Word of God frequently. For temptations will always be within and the devil waits for opportune times to assail us (Luke 4:13).
Read. Stand firm.

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Abundant Grace

Spurgeon: A New Biography   -             By: Arnold Dallimore    Finally, I am getting around to reading a biography.  Some have differing opinions on the value of biographies, but I think they can be very helpful.  By definition a biography is a written account  of another person’s  life and usually written because they have had a significant impact on mankind in either helpful or unhelpful ways.  Biographies tend to be written by those that have been influenced or intrigued by the person they’ve written about.

The biography I am reading now is Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore.  I’ve always desired to read a Spurgeon biography, but didn’t know which one to read.  At the recommendation of my pastor, I am reading this one. I actually received the book from my now wife for Christmas in 2010 when we were dating and I am really looking forward to it. I found it interesting that the author’s grandfather and mother used to attend the Metropolitan Tabernacle during Spurgeon’s time there.

The reason why I am reading a Spurgeon biography is because he is an example of God’s grace on a man submitted to Him. As it seems, there has been no pastor that has been more fruitful in the modern era than Spurgeon. His accomplishments and fruit are unrivaled for the short life he lived. It is said that he read an average of six books a week and retained the information remarkably.  His sermons were published in newspapers.  He started orphanages.  He founded a pastor’s college.  He was also noted as a remarkable evangelist…..as a Calvinist! (some of you will get that joke) All of this the Lord accomplished through him despite health issues he and his wife suffered from.  Sparing you the details, Spurgeon was a remarkable example of endurance as He held on to the Word of Truth deeply in his heart.  Thus he became known as the Prince of Preachers.

d.

50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die |reason 1|

To Absorb the Wrath of God

Key TextsGalatians 3:13, Romans 3:25 and 1 John 4:10

Piper strategically starts off the book stating this reason – Jesus came to die to absorb God’s wrath.  This is no small thing and is loaded with several important implications.  The implications are  (1) God is holy and righteous (2) He has been offended (sinned against) (3) God is just and therefore He must judge offenses (4) He is loving, gracious and merciful to send Jesus to absorb His wrath (5) Christ loved the Father and sacrificed His own life as a guilt offering, though He is sinless (6) God’s wrath is satisfied by the death of His Beloved Son.

These 6 implications provide a shell of the gospel, but also much more than that.  These 6 implications help us to see something about the three parties involved  – God the Father, man, and God the Son – Jesus Christ.  Two things we see about God are He is wrathful and He is loving. We see man is a sinner. We see Christ is loving, perfect, and God’s ordained Sacrifice for sin.

It seems reasonable for Piper to begin here because the world’s biggest problem is sin.  It is imperative that we know that we are naturally rebellious to God and worthy of His eternal wrath.  Yes, God is full of wrath.  Piper makes mention that sin is no light thing and it is not light because of whom we sin against – Sovereign God.  Sin is great because God is great.  One of the terrible tragedies of sin is that it blinds us to the perfections of God and the beauty of Christ.  We are all born with sin-stained views of God and of ourselves. The stain of sin hides the true essence of God from us and blinds us to our own sin.  Sin is exceedingly sinful.

However, God is also love and in love He sent His Son to rescue rebels from His wrath. God poured out His just wrath against sin on His Son, the Sinless One.  This is the meaning of John 3:16 and Romans 5:8.   He sent His one and only Son to soak up His wrath for the sins we commit.  God pouring out His wrath on Christ exhibits His justice (sin must be dealt with) and His gracious and merciful love (He sent Christ to stand in our place to absorb His wrath) toward those who place their faith in Christ.  Those who admit their rebellion (sin) and accept God’s provision of righteousness (Jesus Christ) by faith, their unrighteousness is atoned for in Christ’s death and Christ’s righteousness is imputed or credited to that person. It’s the great exchange! (See 2 Corinthians 5:21)

But we cannot fail to mention one important issue. Behind every act that God does is a reason.  That reason is to glorify Himself. In sending Christ, the Father is drawing attention to many of His excellencies – His justice, His holiness, His righteousness, His patience, His love, His mercy, and His grace.  Though believers are the beneficiaries of salvation, the chief end of salvation is the glory of God! (See Romans 11:36)

Next Reason:  Jesus came to die to please His heavenly Father.

Grace & Peace,

d.

50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die |intro|

Last night, my wife and I started going through John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die.  The main reason why I thought this book was worth reading, thinking about and discussing is that it focuses on the implications of the gospel.  When we hear the word “gospel” we probably tend to think of the good news that God has graciously, mercifully and lovingly reconciled sinners to Himself through Jesus Christ sparing us from His eternal wrath. We are right to think and rejoice over these truths. However, there is much more to the death of Christ than our justification. In other words, there is more to our salvation than our positional standing before God. There are practical results that flow from the Cross of Christ that are meant to be demonstrated in the life of each believer. In other words, the gospel is not only the power for salvation, but also for sanctification.  There is much more involved in the death of Christ than we often think of and Piper’s desire is to help us grasp that in these 2-3 page chapters. In his own words, Piper said,

“I have gathered from the New Testament fifty reasons why Jesus came to die. Not fifty causes, but fifty purposes. Infinitely more important than who killed Jesus is the question: What did God achieve for sinners like us in sending his Son to die?” (17).

That last sentence is the focus of the book.

I also think this book is fitting to read considering that the holiday season is near, which always poses the temptation to get us caught up into its commercialization and materialism traps.  It’s battle reading.  It’s also reading designed to increase our affections for our Savior as we consider the bounty of His work.

My aim is to provide thoughts about each chapter as they’re read.

Desiring God currently offers this book as a free downloadable PDFFree Book

Grace & Peace,

d.

J.C. Ryle on “Holiness”

“I fear it is sometimes forgotten that God has married together justification and sanctification.  They are distinct and different things, beyond question, but no one is ever found without the other.  All justified people are sanctified, and all sanctified people are justified.  What God has joined together let no man dare to put asunder. Tell me not of your justification, unless you have also some marks of sanctification.  Boast not of your Christ’s work for you, unless you can show us the Spirit’s work in you.  Think not Christ and the Spirit can ever be divided.” (Holiness, Ryle, pp.59)

Ryle’s point should be very clear here.  It is simply an explanation of two basic, but extremely controversial, implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Those that have been chosen by the Father in eternity past (Eph. 1:4) were redeemed by Christ’s blood, upon faith in the gospel.  Christ bore the wrath of God, becoming a curse for the sins of man. Those that receive Christ as their Righteous Substitute by faith have their sins atoned for and receive the righteousness of Christ. They are declared righteous and this is what is meant by justification.  Choosing or election is done by the Father and justification is accomplished through the Son. Sanctification is the process by which the believer progressively grows in Christlikeness, repenting of sin, for the rest of his/her life.  This process is accomplished by the work of the Spirit in the heart of believers, because the flesh is wholly incapable of rendering holiness. The giving of the Spirit was an Old Testament promise of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:26-27), effected and accomplished by Christ (Lk. 22:20, Heb 9:15).  To miss the harmony of the Godhead in salvation is to miss its incomparable beauty and strength.

In fact, this harmony is what Ryle is speaking of.  If one has truly been justified because of Christ, then he will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit.  There will be no disruption in the harmony of the Trinity.  The Father did not send the Son to remove the penalty by dying for a people (church) who would remain unchanged and passionately pursuing sin.  That is illogical.  Scripture clearly tells us there will be a people, holy to the Lord, in the new heavens and new earth from every tribe, tongue and nation who love Jesus, which some have endured fiercest of persecutions, even death, for His namesake.  Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murders and idolaters, and everyone WHO LOVES AND PRACTICES FALSEHOOD. (Rev 22:15)

It is abundantly clear that those who love and practice falsehood are outside the presence of Christ reflecting they were never justified or born again.  But those who have truly been justified, their lives will be a demonstration of faith and good works because what God begins, He completes. (Phil. 1:6)

Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine themselves, to see whether or not they were in the faith. (2 Cor. 13:15)  This living Word is for us today.

Do our lives bear the marks of holiness?  Let us examine ourselves at the heart level and see whether or not we’re in the faith.

If you’re truly born again, praise God for His grace and persevere by faith which comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ – the Scriptures (Rom. 10:17) and continually give yourselves over to prayer.

Without holiness, no one shall see the Lord. (Heb:12:14)

Holiness: It’s Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Attributes of God: The Knowledge of God

“God is omniscient. He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events and all creatures, of the past, the present, and the future.  He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth and in hell.”  (Pink, p. 21)

“For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.” (Ezekiel 11:5)

How do these two truths affect your actions and your view of God?  It should affect us (mankind) a great deal if we contemplated them on a regular basis.  As it is, mankind is separated into two spheres: God’s redeemed children and God’s enemies.  For God’s enemies, these truths are readily rejected and as Pink stated, “Men would strip Deity of His omniscience if they could…”  This is because we’re naturally wired to oppose God in every measure and don’t want to feel the weight of guilt and shame.  But man will never have this “luxury”. Psalm 90:8 says,

 

You have set our sins before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

 

Man cannot escape from the knowledge and the all seeing eye of God.  

For the redeemed, Pink said God’s omniscience should bring much comfort. Why?  For the Lord knows all things and has a covenantal love with His children.  When we doubt, He knows and is readily available to assure us. When we are wearied, He knows that we are but dust and strengthens us by His might.  Even when we find it difficult to pray, His omniscience trumps our difficulties. Isaiah 65:24 assures us that:

Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.

 

Another reason the believer can rest in God’s knowledge is because God’s will is not contingent on man or secondary causes. Remember from chapter 2, God decreed all that has happened, what is happening now, and what will happen. The future is not only known by Him, but designed by Him.  Recorded and fulfilled prophecies readily point us to this fact.  We can’t think that future events just happen on their own accord and God simply has knowledge of them. To think that is to reduce the supremacy & sovereignty of God.  Pink logically states, “The cause of all things is the will of God.”  Psalm 33:10-11 says,

10The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
   he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
   the plans of his heart to all generations.
 

This is the grounds of His omniscience! What will be has been from eternity past because the Great I Am is!  

So what should our response be to His perfect knowledge? We should be amazed. We should be humbled. We should worship. We should grow in our confidence and trust.

Pink closes this chapter by saying, “He foresaw my every fall, my every sin, my every backsliding; yet, nevertheless, fixed His heart upon me.”

What love this is! 

Grace & Peace,

d.

The Attributes of God: The Decrees of God

“The decree of God is his purpose or determination with respect to future things.” (Pink, p.15)

Open Theism is a position held by some that deals with the knowledge of future things.  Moderate Open Theists will claim that God knows the future, but voluntarily limits His knowledge of the “free choices” of man to preserve man’s freedom.  Hyper Open Theists claim that the future is unknowable, even by God, because the future is non-existent.  Both of these positions are unbiblical and problematic for numerous reasons, which we will soon see.

In my first installment, one of the characteristics of God that was listed was God’s eternal nature. Eternity is no respecter of the dimension of time. Therefore, God is not bound by time.  “In the beginning, God…” (Gen. 1:1a)  He eternally exists outside of time and has created time.  This remains to be a difficult reality for us to grasp because our very existence is bound in time and in many ways defined by it. We are limited by the Limitless One.

God has disclosed to us in His Word that He acts according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).  He consults no one about His will and He has purposed to glorify Himself in all that He decrees.  He will not let the exaltation of His Name ultimately be left in the hands of creatures.  Because He is eternal, His decrees are eternal.  With respect to His decree, we see this most clearly in the death of Christ.  The LORD spoke through Isaiah in the 53rd chapter,

10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes
an offering for guilt, 

It was the will of the LORD to crush him. It was the decree of God the Father to crush His Son, Jesus, for the atonement of His people. Luke records for us in Acts 2:22-23, 

22“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

The crucifixion of Jesus was according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, though done by the hands of lawless men.  God decreed Jesus’ death and the method by which he would die before time, and in time Jesus died exactly how the Father decreed it.  God always accomplishes His will. 

* To say God doesn’t know the future is to deny God’s omniscience.

* To say God doesn’t know the future is to deny God’s omnipresence. 

* To say God doesn’t decree all things is to deny His sovereignty, wisdom and omnipotency.

To believe in that kind of god leaves us hopeless and living in a world predicated by fate and chance. 

Believer, continually be comforted by Romans 8:28.

d.

The Attributes of God: The Solitariness of God

Recently, I outlined an extra-biblical reading list for the remainder of 2011 to aid in keeping my mind and heart focused and sharpened against the desires of my flesh, the world and the devil.  However, my reading is not only as a means of defense, but also to aid in serving the brethren and engaging the lost.  My goal is to read key works on the basics such as Theology Proper (the study of God), Christology (the study of Christ), Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit), Soteriology (the study of salvation), Ecclesiology (the study of the church), Eschatolology (the study of last things), personal holiness and the like.

Today, was the beginning of my trek and I started with a A.W. Pink’s classic book, The Attributes of God. I started with “Theology Proper” because it establishes the foundation and interpretation of all other reading since everything stems from the nature, character and will of God.  Without a proper knowledge of God, the source of all truth, we abandon ourselves to lies and continue to lay bricks for the road of destruction.

In the preface, Pink starts by quoting Scripture:

23Thus says the LORD:”Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me,…” (Jeremiah 9:23-24a)

Do we understand and know the Lord as we ought?  Do we possess that desire?  If we’re honest, we’ll answer that we don’t.  Much to our dismay, we are unjustifiably preoccupied by lesser things; some necessary and some unnecessary.  Plus, we’re in a lifelong battle of killing the sin in our hearts that vies strongly against God.  However, we are not without power.  We have the Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ and allows us to cry out “Abba! Father!”, as reconciled and adopted sons and daughters.  Therefore, we should strive in His power and by His strength to endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of God.

Pink begins the first chapter, The Solitariness of God, by declaring people generally don’t meditate on the perfections of God; namely His solitariness or His essence of being untouchably distinct or separate from all of His creation.  Because we were created in the likeness and in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), there is the ability to understand some particular things about God because we share certain qualities.  These are commonly referred to as communicable attributes.  Some of these are love, grace, mercy, holiness, righteousness, and justice.  However, His solitariness is something we cannot share in, nor understand apart from the help of the Spirit.

Consider how the Holy Spirit moved Moses to speak of God in Exodus 15:11:

11“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
   Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
   awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

These questions rhetorically speak of God’s unmatched character and excellency.  Consider a few more observations Pink made concerning the solitariness of God.

  • There was a time when creation, even heaven, didn’t exist, but God’s glory did because He is from everlasting.
  • There was a time when angels, nor humans were praising Him and He was still altogether wonderful.
  • He is self-contained, self-sufficient, and  self-satisfied.
  • He was under no compulsion to create out of necessity or deficiency.
  • He created all things simply to display His glory.
  • God could’ve very well chosen not to create and He still would be The Perfect One.

Perhaps one the most humbling observations  Pink made was that God gains nothing from our worship as it pertains to His intrinsic worth.  What Pink is saying is that God’s glory and worth isn’t contingent on our praise or adoration.  Surely, we are called to praise Him, which Pink terms our praise as manifestative glory, but not intrinsic glory.  God’s glory isn’t increased or diminished by any outside agency’s recognition, acceptance or rejection of Him. He is altogether lovely!  We are very small.  He is big!  Ponder Isaiah 40:9-31.

Behold your God!

Grace & Peace,

d.

A Few Thoughts on Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity

It all seemed to have happened in an instant. The knowledge of my sin.  The knowledge of His wrath.  The knowledge of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.  The knowledge of the gospel.  Though I’d heard the gospel many times prior, this knowledge and faith came in an instant during a heated argument with my then girlfriend in September 1998.  This knowledge came when I heard a voice say, “It’s time to come home.”  This voice wasn’t audible, but it was other.  It was piercing, yet tender and loving.  I knew it was the voice of the Lord.  In the midst of an argument, I was converted by the grace of God.  However, I’ve often hesitated to share my conversion experience because it sounded so mystical and atypical as far as what I knew about conversion. I  wasn’t in church being emotionally pulled.  No one was walking me through the gospel.  I wasn’t at a crisis in my life that might have made me more sensitive to sin and the need for a Savior.  I was loving life; loving my sin.

Looking back on my conversion experience, I see it was the sovereign gracious election of the Father and the conviction and regenerating work of the Spirit causing me to “see” the beauty of the work of Jesus Christ.  But it would be six years after my conversion before I could see that sovereign grace of God in election.  It was through the patient explanations of my brother in the faith, shai linne, and biblical expositors like John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul that the Spirit used to cause me to embrace, love and cherish biblical soteriology.  But were there anymore like me in my city?  Were there any other young black men rejoicing with me about this treasure?  How come I did not see the black preachers on television laboring over and teaching this?  In essence what I was asking myself was, “Is it okay to be African-American and Reformed?”

I honestly can’t think of any other book that accurately describes my theological journey as a black man in America. Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity has been a tremendous blessing and encouragement to my soul. Edited by Pastor Anthony J. Carter, Glory Road is a compilation of ten endearing, enriching, transparent, and humble testimonies of men, including Carter’s, who upon discovering the truths of Reformed salvation, though filled with extraordinary joy, found themselves swimming against the current of modern African American Christianity.

Consider this picture.  The general doctrinal framework of American Christianity is Arminian, so to be Reformed in America is to be a minority. From a church culture perspective,  modern African-Americans generally fall into several Arminian denominations and conventions, such as the African American Methodist Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Church of God, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.  So to be black and Reformed is to be an unfavored minority within a minority.  Each author noted how their embrace of Reformed Theology, to one degree or another, ushered them into an internal cultural conflict as well as a short-lived uncomfortable assimilation into white Reformed culture.

Through the lens of the African-American Church, Reformed Theology is often seen as something foreign, impractical, problematic and another subservient act toward the white man. Specifically, the thought of trying to reconcile the African Slave Trade with God’s sovereignty is the excuse many African Americans use to reject Reformed Theology. I can understand this point of view. However, another cause of rejecting biblical soteriology partly is owing part to the heresies of James Cones’s  Black Liberation Theology that arose during the Civil Rights Era. Contributing author and Assistant Professor of Bible & Theology at Washington Bible College, Eric C. Redmond, refutes this idea masterfully by saying:

“If a person would allow himself to be pigeonholed into becoming a person of nationalistic or ethnocentric thought out of the fear of being viewed as an Oreo or Uncle Tom, then Reformed Theology is not for that person. But then neither is the gospel, for the gospel calls each of us to stand against an ethnic-centered philosophy of one’s own race, for such philosophy is naturally conformed to this present world and is in need of redemption. If you cannot stand against your own culture where it does not square with the Scriptures, you are the one who is ashamed of Christ, and such shame has nothing to do with the philosophical or ontological blackness; it only has to do with your view of majesty of the God who call you to deny yourself in order to follow Christ.” (p. 150)

In essence, Redmond is saying people that place too high of an emphasis on their race and allows their anthropocentrism to shape their views of God actually have a warped view of God and will find themselves at odds with the biblical gospel. Some of us are too black to be Christians.

Aside from the social and cultural implications, Reformed Theology forced some of these men to examine and change their ecclesiological traditions. Contributing author, Pastor Ken Jones, senior pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, CA and co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The White Horse Inn, recounts his experience.

“….the change in my preaching began with a different aim. My aim was to no longer move the people, but rather to open the Word of God and expound the person and work of Jesus Christ. I no longer saw the need to be motivational or to be a cheerleader. It became clear to me that the tradition that I had been reared in had, intentionally or not, confused the power and the presence of the Spirit with human emotions…Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 became my aim in preaching……We made significant changes to our order of service, changes that made the Word of God and the person and work of Christ central to the service. As a result the tone of the services changed…..And it was through teaching that we were able to call attention to the content of our songs that we sang…Bible teaching provides the theology of worship, and the songs old and new should be selected on the basis of their consistence with that theology.” (p.87-88, 90-91)

Out of the Protestant Reformation, 5 significant doctrinal affirmations were declared that marked key distinctives of Christianity. Out of the five, Sola Scriptura (Latin for “scripture alone”) is what led to the change in Pastor Ken Jones’ teaching style and song choices. Sola Scriptura is the affirmation that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for the Christian faith and it contains all knowledge for salvation and holiness. After seeing the sufficiency of the Spirit inspired Scriptures, Pastor Jones no longer felt the need to “whoop” and move people emotionally. Such pragmatism and other forms of it are abandoned when expository preaching resulting from exegesis is commonplace for the shepherd.

I praise God simply for the preservation of His truth and for His justified desire for glory of His name that will arise from all ethnicities. (Revelation 7:9-12)

While much more could be said about this book, I’ll refrain from further comments hoping that you will purchase and read the accounts of these ten African-American men and their journeys.

 Soli Deo Gloria!

d.

Other Resources:

1. Anthony Carter, Pastor of East Point Church (Atlanta, GA)

Buy Glory Road

2. Anthony B. Bradley, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology & Ethics at Covenant Seminary (St. Louis, MO)

Buy Liberating Black Theology (New Release)

 

3. Thabiti Anyabwile, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman (Cayman Islands, U.S.)

Buy Decline of African American Theology

Buy What Is A Healthy Church Member?

 

4. Eric Redmond, Assistant Professor of Bible & Theology at Washington Bible College (Lanham, MD)

Buy Where Are All The Brothers?

Update:  Ken Jones is  the pastor of Glendale Baptist Church in Miami, Florida. He has taught seminary extension courses on the Book of Galatians and Church History. Rev. Jones has contributed articles to Modern Reformation and Tabletalk. (courtesy of  whitehorseinn.org)

A Few Thoughts on Redemption: Accomplished and Applied

redemption-accomplished-and-appliedIt is my conviction that if there is any doctrine worthy of study and repeated study, it is the doctrine of redemption or atonement, which is the focal point of the Christian faith. Before I offer my thoughts on the book, it is worthy to note the etymology of atonement.

The word atonement was created by the multi-lingual English Protestant reformer and scholar, William Tyndale. Realizing there was no English word to accurately describe God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, he described it as “at” “onement”. Let us not also forget, it was Tyndale who first translated the Scriptures into English in 1525 under severe persecution which he was eventually hanged and burned.

The last two years have been particularly rich for me regarding my soteriological studies, maybe almost to a fault, somewhat neglecting other doctrines of the faith. But since this is the centrality of the faith, logically I assume that it will benefit me in the other areas as I continue to study the Scriptures from this reference point. I admit that I am in awe of God’s grace toward us in Christ before time began and when mentally digested and meditated on, who wouldn’t be? The gospel is beautiful and taking time to gaze at the intricacies of that beauty does my soul well.

The title aptly describes the two perspectives of redemption which Murray richly explores: its accomplishment by Christ and its application for the believer.  Specifically, part one of the book looks at the necessity, the nature, the perfection and the extent of the atonement.  Part two takes the reader through the application of the atonement looking at the ordo salutis from effectual calling to glorification.  Murray’s reformed soteriological views are biblically linked with well thought precision.  Though his verbosity can make the read laborious, it is well worth the time and effort to understand and appreciate so great a salvation.

From whence does God work His own

redeeming plan to its end

From His sovereignty He did atone

and freed us from our sin

 

Part I – Redemption Accomplished

The onset of the book delves into the necessity of the atonement.  But Murray’s intent isn’t to elaborate on the necessity itself, but rather the necessity of the peculiar manner in which our redemption was met.  He calls it “consequent absolute necessity”. Concerning consequent, Murray’s point is that salvation arose merely out of the pleasure of God’s good will, though He didn’t have to.  Concerning the absolute necessity aspect, he labors from Scripture to show why Christ alone is uniquely qualified to secure the salvation of God for sin, which includes redemptive eschatological implications.

Next, Murray leads us to understand the nature of the atonement, highlighting in thoughtful detail, the propitious and reconciliatory nature of Christ’s sacrifice stemming from God’s love. (1 John 4:10)  Murray says, “God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory.”

It would do no man any good to celebrate atonement if for some reason it lacked security and could be perverted.  So as to establish men with confidence, from Scripture, Murray draws out the perfection of the atonement. Murray defends the perfection of the atonement from four perspectives: its historicity (Gal. 4:4-5), its finality (Heb. 1:3, 5:12, 25-28), its uniqueness and its intrinsic efficacious nature. (Eph. 2:4-5, Heb. 5:9) Murray stresses why Christ’s atonement is perfect in a few, but resounding words. “Christ procured redemption and therefore he secured it. He met in himself and swallowed up the full toll of divine condemnation and judgment against sin.”

Concluding the first part of the book, Murray now turns his attention to the extent of the atonement.  After defending the sufficiency of atonement, it is only natural to focus on to whom is the atonement applied.  In other words – For whom did Christ die?  Was Christ’s death meant to make men savable? Or was His death meant to actually save men from God’s wrath?  Both views contain the idea of limited atonement, but with contrasting ends in mind. From one perspective, Christ died for the sins of every person, but only those who effect the atonement by their resident faith will be saved. From the other perspective Christ died for those given to Him by the Father and procured salvation, including saving faith.  The first view is typically noted as the Arminian view which limits the effect of the cross while widening the scope of the cross.  The second view is typically noted as the Calvinist view which limits its scope but effectually saves the elect.  In his interbiblical defense of justification, Murray says, “Christ did not come to make people redeemable, but to actually redeem a people to Himself.”

Part II – Redemption Applied

After laboring to show the sufficiency and beauty of atonement in Christ, Murray turns his attention to the order of the acts and processes of each stage of redemption or ordo salutis.  The chief text that sheds light on God’s wisdom in salvation is Romans 8:28-30. Murray keenly points the reader to the first cause of redemption, namely the purpose of God as the end of verse 28 declares.  It is this fact that sets in motion the succeeding acts and processes of redemption in verses 29-30 : foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. This unbreakable chain starts in eternity, continues in time and culminates in eternity.

Dutifully, Murray adds implicit links to this chain and spends a few chapters explaining how each implicit issue links to the explicit issues perfectly together to give us a detailed view of God’s redemption. Respectively and logically ordered, the chapters focus on effectual calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Christ and glorification.

In my estimation, Murray’s thoughts on the believers mysterious union with Christ is the pinnacle of the entire book.  Murray draws out the trinitarian aspects of our union with Christ and makes this definitive statement:

Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.

Murray closes the curtain spending the last chapter discussing glorification and its Christocentric implications (Philippians 3:21). Murray says the congruity of redemption shall be revealed when the glory of Christ and the glory His body, believers, are revealed on that day. What an amazing scene!

If you have an appetite for understanding the doctrine of the atonement or redemption, I highly encourage you to purchase and thoughtfully read this book.

About the Author (from back cover)

John Murray (1898-1975) was born in Scotland and educated in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Princeton. He spent most of his distinguished career teaching systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  He also wrote Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics and the volume of Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series.