One question that seems to come up regularly in conversations about Biblical doctrine is the subject of “free-will”. Does man have free-will? Is he a robot? Is he incapable of choosing God? These questions and more abound. We should note that these are not new questions. People have been debating the topic throughout church history. And, church history is a valuable resource for us in understanding not only our topic but how we got where we are today.
R.C. Sproul has been evangelicalism’s smart uncle for over a generation now. We are blessed to have his biblical clarity and faithfulness at arm’s length. A number of years ago he wrote a book entitled, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. The book aims to provide a historical and theological survey of the doctrine.
I found the book to be accessible and fair. It is tempting when writing on a polemical subject to throw haymakers in the periphery or to suffocate people with rhetorical skills. Sproul doubtlessly could do both well. He is a brilliant man. Instead, he helps to introduce us to the key players and their teaching throughout church history.
He introduces us to the following figures with the subtitle of the chapter summarizing the teaching:
Pelagius: We are capable of obedience
Augustine: We are incapable of obedience
Cassian (Semi-Pelagian): We are capable of cooperating
Luther: We are in Bondage to Sin
Calvin: We are voluntary slaves
Arminius: We are free to believe
Edwards: We are inclined to sin
Finney: We are not depraved by nature
Chafer: We are …
I have not been in ministry for a long time (10 years) but I have seen a very big shift. The number one question I have gotten in the last 3 years has to do with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I don’t think that in the previous 7 years combined I’ve had as many conversations about this topic as in these last 12 months. It seems that everyone is talking about it, whether inside and outside the church.
People often ask for resources or more information on the topic, but most of the real good stuff out there is pretty dense and off-putting to the curious church member or biblical illiterate. I’m thankful that Kevin DeYoung has brought his pastoral heart and lucid pen to this subject. In his book What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? DeYoung writes a most helpful book on this subject.
The book breaks into two parts. Part 1 deals with what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. DeYoung shows that the Bible teaches unequivocally that homosexuality is a sin. And, that this is the teaching throughout the Bible and not limited to some obscure, non-applicable portion of the Scripture. In doing this he helps to educate his readers that it is not just the expression of sin that God is opposed to (though he is), but the depravity of the heart, the nature that is rebelling against God’s rule. I thought Kevin was particularly helpful in his careful lexical work to show the continuity between Paul’s …
When I became a Christian I fell in love with the doctrine of justification. I confess to you that I did not know right away how to define it perfectly or even defend it properly, but I did now that I loved it passionately. When I understood that God had declared me righteous based on the work of another—I was undone with love for basis of my righteousness, Jesus Christ, and the God who justifies me by his grace.
As I was making my way along in understanding this doctrine, a brother recommended that I read this new book that came out on justification. He said, “It’s kind of technical but, man, it is so good.” So, being appropriately warned, I picked up The God Who Justifies by James White. That was 2002. And this book remains one of my absolute favorites on this topic.
Last summer our elders and I were talking about trying to find some of the best books on the call to ministry. As we talked we realized that we did not have many of these books on hand. After doing a fair bit of research I read through a number of books to try to find the best resources for our context. We were looking for a shorter book that helped men to discern whether they should pursue ministry as a pastor. In particular, we were looking for resources that involved the congregation in the process. Below are the best books that we found and reviewed according the this criteria.
Prepare the to Shepherd, by Brian Croft. Like most books on the subject Brian talks about the moral and spiritual qualifications for the office. But, the additional stuff you get from Brian would include a peak into how he prepares guys for the ministry. He lets us into his internship process at his church. Why is this important? Because he shows how the congregation comes to recognize and affirm the man’s gifting. It is short and very helpful.
Church Elders, by Jeramie Rinne. I love Jeremy’s book for new elders or for elder preparation. It is so very helpful. I also think it is helpful for helping guys to discern what an elder looks like and then to see if the gifting is evident. This book does the same thing for the congregation. Put this alongside Croft’s book.
Called to …
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve heard that phrase dozens of times and it never loses its ring of simple profundity. The humbling, and somewhat disconcerting truth is, we don’t know the things that we don’t know about until they are pointed out or we learn them. Perhaps another phrase is also true: you don’t see what you don’t see.
In his book Blind Spots Collin Hansen is pointing out that we don’t tend to see the weaknesses in ourselves. This is a particularly relevant problem for us to consider today. Tim Keller observes in the forward that as the culture is rapidly becoming post-Christian the church seems to be fragmenting as we consider how to respond. Hansen groups these fragmenting responses into three groups, each with their own blind spots, and each becoming increasingly critical of the other two responses.
The three groups that Collin see believers fragmenting into are: courageous, compassionate, and commissioned. Each group tends to see through the lenses of their particular leaning. The courageous are the ardent defenders of theology and doctrine; the compassionate seek to help and serve those who are hurting; and the commissioned are those who see the ultimate priority of winning souls. Obviously none of these are bad, however, Hansen is arguing, most of us tend to gravitate towards one of these, and when we do, we also tend to gravitate away from the other two. Sometimes this is more passive (omitting them) and other times it is more active (attacking …
Awhile back I was having a bad day in the middle of a bad week. I was knee-deep in self-pity and was on the 3rd stanza of a country song about the ministry. Then suddenly the dog started barking. It broke my concentration on myself and I decided to go and see who was at the door. It was the mailman and he had a box. I tore into the box hoping to find something awesome, and was happy to find something very helpful. Inside the box was a copy of Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification. I sat down in the chair and read the introduction and the first chapter. Then I made some coffee and crushed the next several chapters. It was done the next day. I loved it. It was something awesome. And timely.
Let me explain. As pastors we have this devilish proclivity to make everything about ourself. We are tempted to the following sinful and unhelpful patterns: if the ministry is going “well” then we are validated and if the ministry is going “bad” then our identity is hanging in the balance. It is very tempting for pastors to tell everyone else how to apply the work of Christ while neglecting to do it ourself. We could preach justification by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone; but subtly believe justification by success, by works, through the church, to the glory of self. This is deadly.
How do you …
Perhaps you’ve heard or even yourself said, “I have no creed but the Bible.” This phrase used to promote biblical fidelity is also commonly deployed as a missile against creeds, confessions, and other historic, man-made documents such as catechisms. But is this dichotomy helpful? Is it even biblical? Are historic documents and biblical fidelity mutually exclusive?
Carl Trueman wrote The Creedal Imperative to address this question and its apparent tension in some people’s minds. His short answer is: no. The dichotomy is not helpful. It is not biblical. The documents and the Bible are not mutually exclusive. In fact, says Trueman, these documents are very helpful and important.
Trueman investigates the suspicion people have of these documents and lends a possible solution that people are more shaped by the spirit of this age than they appear. He shows how science, consumerism, and technology all serve to eschew the past as they triumphantly march into the future only to take a brief bow in the present. On the other hand, creeds and confessions have a link to a time that many people in various sectors view with some degree of suspicion and superiority. In some cases this is right. We would be quite alarmed to find our doctor looking up how to do medicine from books in the 1700’s. However, the medicine of the soul is a bit different. The symptoms and treatment do not change with time. We should guard against such unbiblical thinking that resists our past.
I recently reviewed Compelling Community from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, the latest in the 9Marks series of publications. I really enjoyed the book. I quote a portion of the review below, but you can read the full review here.
Often the word community is casually tossed around like a Frisbee at a church picnic. Most are familiar enough with it to comfortably “give it a toss” but don’t often think deeply about its dynamics. What would you say community is in your church? Is it small groups? Perhaps it’s a fellowship meal. Maybe it’s men or women getting together. Whatever the case, community likely involves church people getting together for one reason or another. This is a good start, but there is more.
In the latest release from 9Marks, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop thoughtfully advance the conversation in Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive. Dever and Dunlop serve together as pastors at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dunlop discloses that while the book is written in his voice, it includes significant influence and input from Dever. Therefore, they are co-authors.
Dever and Dunlop distinguish between “gospel-plus” community and “gospel-revealing” community. I found this distinction to be most helpful.
“Gospel-plus” community is characterized by people’s natural similarities to build community. ”In gospel-plus community, nearly every relationship is founded on the gospel plus something else,” the authors observe. ”Sam and Joe are both Christians, but the real reason they’re friends is that they’re both singers in their 40s, or share a passion to combat illiteracy, or work as doctors” (22). This might be a fine thing, but it says little about …
Brian Croft has proven himself to be a shepherd of shepherds. I can attest to this personally as I’ve benefited from the Practical Shepherding website and seminars, and even phone conversations with him and my elder team. The book The Pastor’s Ministry is like a roundtable discussion with Croft as he instructs on 10 priorities of a pastor. This is a much needed book for us “younger” reformed guys who may know theology like the back of our hand but could definitely benefit from deepening our wells in the practical side of pastoral care. Although I think every pastor should read the classic, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, it’s not necessarily a book I would hand a busy pastor to help him get back to the basics of shepherding. Croft’s book, on the other hand, can be read in a few hours and bring immediate reform.
As a pastor I find myself reading and rereading books on pastoral ministry. When written well these pastors serve others in the fraternity by providing thoughtful and practical insights into their own ministries. Sometimes the smallest detail can translate to a large impact in other setting.
I recently read through On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. Most likely you have heard of Begg while perhaps you are not familiar with Prime. Derek Prime served at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh for over 30 years. In fact, it was here that Alistair Begg served as an assistant pastor. This book was originally written in 1989 towards the end of Prime’s ministry and served to capture many items that he did well while also exhorting a new generation unto faithfulness. Later it was decided that the original should be revised and expanded a bit to fit a wider context. Begg joined the team and they labored together to produce this volume.
Like most books on pastoral ministry there is detailed treatment of the qualifications for ministry as well as the responsibilities of ministry. This book also spends time talking about things such as leadership, delegation, leading a worship service, family life, and leisure. If that sounds ambitious it is—and it’s not a short book (weighing in at nearly 300 pages).