New Blog and Podcast

I will no longer be blogging at this site.  I will, however, leave this site up and running so that people may continue to make use of the many resources available.  If you are interested, I started a new blog and podcast with my dear friend, Dale Stenberg, called According to Christ.  Please check us out, and may the Lord bless you and keep you and cause his face to shine upon you.


Drew Mery

Interview with Sean Cole: Reformed SBC Pastor and Adjunct Professor

dsc0326It is with great pleasure that I make available to my reading audience this interview with pastor Sean Cole.  You can listen to Sean’s podcast, Understanding Christianity, and watch his video sermons here.

1) Tell us a little about yourself: How you came to Christ; Where you went to school; What your favorite subject was/is; Where you pastor; etc.

Romans 1:16 says,  “. . . the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”  I can take no credit for my salvation because God in His sovereignty reached down from heaven in power through Jesus and raised me from spiritual death to spiritual life.  I had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home by godly parents.  As a young “preacher’s kid” growing up in church, many Sunday School teachers and leaders sometimes just assumed that the minister’s children were already saved and thus did not invest as much time in them.  Through Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, the Lord used teachers willing to invest in my life and present Jesus to me.  On a Sunday night after church in 1979 when I was 8 years old, I asked my parents to come into my room and pray with me to confess my need for Jesus. That night on the corner of my bed, I admitted that I was a sinner, believed that He is the only way to salvation through his death and resurrection and that He needed to be my Lord and Savior.  As one “dead in trespasses” (Ephesians 2:2) and “unable to please God” (Romans 8:6-7) my favorite passage of Scripture is Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates his love for us in this—while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  When Christ entered my life and adopted me into His family, I started on a journey of grace and growth in Him.  I believe in the eternal security of the believer and am confident that I will one day see Christ face to face.  Jesus is both my Savior and my Lord and I thank Him daily for His grace and sacrifice for me on the cross and for His resurrection.

I graduated from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs in 1994 with a B.A. in Communications and Film Studies.  I received my Masters of Divinity from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (Rocky Mountain Campus) in 2004.  In 2016, I received a Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I have been the Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Sterling, CO, for almost 13 years.  I have been married for 23 years to my wife Dawn and I have two boys—Aidan and Zachary.

2) Who/What was a major influence in your journey to embracing Reformed Theology?

Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries served as my Apologetics professor in seminary and challenged my thinking with his book, The Potter’s Freedom.  As I began to explore Reformed Theology, my greatest influences in the initial stages almost 20 years ago were John Piper’s The Pleasures of God, R. C. Sproul’s Chosen by God, J. I. Packer, John Owen, and the SBC Founders Movement.  Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s there were very limited resources on the internet, so I bought a bunch of books to read primary sources.  One of the best books I read during this journey was Michael Horton’s, Putting Amazing Back into Grace, as well as his magazine, Modern Reformation, and podcast, White Horse Inn.

3) You’ve had several interactions with non-Calvinists, especially Dr. Leighton Flowers (Traditionalist) who is a major voice in the continuing debate on Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Why do you think this debate over Calvinism is important?  Does it really matter?

It is vitally important for all Christians to articulate what we believe and why we believe it.  In an age of biblical illiteracy and moral relativism, nothing is more important than understanding (1) the nature of God, (2) the nature of man, and (3) soteriology—how sinful man can be accepted in a right relationship with a holy God.

Within the Southern Baptist Convention (my tribe) Calvinists and non-Calvinists have always peacefully co-existed.  Lately, I have been concerned with leaders within the Traditionalist movement calling for “loyal opposition” to the rise of Calvinism within the SBC.  It appears that Traditionalists view Calvinism as a cancer that must be eradicated from our Convention.  I believe they feel threatened because the vast majority of seminary students are graduating with theologically Reformed convictions. They perceive a hostile takeover of the SBC by Calvinists and in their view are losing power and influence that they enjoyed for the past 75 years.

The reason this debate matters is because there are so many straw men and caricatures on both sides.  Calvinists have a very hard time understanding Traditionalist theology and often wrongly label it as Arminianism. Traditionalists often misunderstand or misrepresent Calvinism as well. I think it is vitally important that the two sides not speak “past each other” but attempt to truly understand each others’ respective viewpoints.

In the end, as Southern Baptists, we have much more in common than we have differences.

4) What advice do you have for those currently struggling with Calvinism, Arminianism, and Traditionalism?

First of all, embrace the struggle. Every serious believer must personally come to grips with key doctrines such as predestination, God’s sovereignty, human depravity, the nature of grace, and the extent of the atonement.

I have often run into believers who make the claim: “I don’t believe in predestination!” I have to gently correct them and say that they have no choice but to believe in predestination as it is not only a biblical word but a truth that runs throughout Scripture. The issue is not whether you believe in predestination or not, but what view of predestination you will hold to?  What is the foundation or basis for God’s choosing?  Is it unconditional, conditional, or corporate?

Second, please do not engage in strawman argumentation or caricatures, but truly try to understand the other side’s views.  One of the best disciplines to learn in theological debates is to clearly articulate back to your opponents what they actually believe or assert in such a manner that they will agree that you’ve accurately represented their view.

At the end of the day, the doctrines of grace are NOT the gospel proper.  Instead, they are secondary issues that help us understand the depth of the gospel.  A person is not saved by holding to unconditional election, but by personal faith in Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord.  We need to always remember that these doctrines are secondary.  We should be zealous to defend our views and present robust exegetical arguments from the text of Scripture but to do this with gentleness, respect, and love.

I am very concerned right now with the caustic level of vitriol and acidity between believers over these issues, especially on social media.  We have forgotten how to confront, discuss, engage and debate in patience and love.  We must not compromise on how we understand the truth, but we need to communicate with a tone of love, respect, and gentleness.

I have hopefully tried to model this attitude in my interactions with non-Calvinists both in my church, among my family and friends, and through my podcast and social media interactions.

5) What would you say to someone who says that “Calvinism kills evangelism”?

I would first ask them to do two things for me: (1) Define what you mean by Calvinism and (2) define what you mean by evangelism.  I need to understand if we are speaking the same language and if they hold false views of what Calvinism is.  Usually, they protest that Reformed theology does not allow for alter calls, the sinner’s prayer, and other potentially manipulative means of getting people to “make a decision for Christ.”

Secondly, I would tell them that no sinner is ever saved without repenting and believing in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins.  While many are elect UNTO salvation, they are not automatically saved without conscious faith in Jesus.  Evangelism is God’s appointed means of calling His elect to Himself in salvation. [1 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:10]

Third, I would simply point to the empirical evidence of great evangelists in church history who have been zealous evangelists such as George Whitefield, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, Lottie Moon, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and others.  [I would add to this list contemporary figures like Paul Washer of HeartCry Missionary Society, Jeff Rose of JeremiahCry Ministries, Kevin Williams of Grace Fellowship Manchester, and the outreach arms of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN (John Piper), Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA (John MacArthur), and 9 Marks (Mark Dever).]

6) Do you think there needs to be a reforming of evangelism in the SBC?  Why or why not?

I think things have gotten better in recent years with more pastors critically evaluating past methodologies of evangelism that are more man-centered and manipulative such as alter calls and the invitation system and high-pressure sales techniques.

With so much discussion about low baptism numbers and the sinner’s prayer and alter calls, etc., living in Colorado we are on the front lines of lostness in a postmodern culture. Hardly any SBC church in our state employs those older more Traditionalist methods that may be more prevalent in the South.  I hesitate to make a blanket statement about the need for reforming evangelism when I have not witnessed how the vast majority of SBC churches practice it.

I would say that the older method of a “come forward alter call”, “Repeat after me prayer” and “giving immediate assurance of salvation” are becoming less frequent because our culture is more postmodern and are not “culturally conditioned” to the older models of Billy Graham style evangelism techniques.

I like the way J. I. Packer defines evangelism in his great book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God: “To evangelize, is to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.”  [I highly recommend the book by Greg Gilbert, What Is the Gospel?]

7) While you hold to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, you also hold to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, which is what I also hold to.  Why do you think it’s important, not only for churches or denominations to affirm a confessional standard, but for individual Christians to read, understand, and hold to a confessional standard?

We live in an anti-authoritarian culture that prizes self-expression as the highest ideal. This elevation of individualism has sadly crept into the church. Many evangelical Christians hold to a vague theology and are more concerned with either pragmatic techniques for spiritual living or psychotherapy.  Confessions serve as anchors that tie believers to the robust theology of the past where faithful believers wrestled over many years to clearly and precisely articulate a common theology.

To be confessional means that you are not creating your own theology in a vacuum, but stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  Confessions are by no means the inerrant and inspired Word of God but serve as helpful summaries of the collective doctrine of a group of believers.

Confessions are so helpful because they are thoroughly biblical [assuming it’s an orthodox confession], but also precisely written so that there is no ambiguity in what is being asserted.

I would encourage all believers to read the 1689 BCF devotionally as well as theologically and to truly wrestle with each chapter.  Take the time to read the supporting Scriptures and then meditate on why the framers worded the doctrine in its particular way.

A confessional standard also protects the church from heresy but also unites the church around a common written faith that can be a source of reference when theological disagreements arise.

Enabling Power of the Gospel?: A Response to Dr. Leighton Flowers

I’ve listened to a fair amount of Dr. Leighton Flowers.  Not only have I spoken to him three times on his podcast, but I’ve also engaged him in discussion on the subject of Calvinism via Facebook.  One thing I’ve heard him say quite regularly is something along the lines that the power of the gospel message is that it enables people (all people) to believe when it is brought to them.  So recently I asked him to provide me with some Scriptures that he believes teach this view.  Keep in mind that his view is raised in opposition to the Reformed or Calvinistic view that God effectually calls His chosen people through the gospel message.

Following is the list of verses that Dr. Flowers provided.  Several of these verses are similar in character.  Therefore, rather than comment on each verse, I will provide a response to Dr. Flowers’ use of these texts as a whole.  That being said, I will provide specific comments on two of the verses in the list.  I encourage you to read these verses and ask yourself, “Do these verses teach that the revelation of God somehow enables all who hear it to believe, or is Dr. Flowers reading that into the text?”


Ps. 18:30 “This God – his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”[1]

Ps. 119:130 “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

Prov. 30:5 “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Isa. 55:11  “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Matt. 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Lk. 11:28 “But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”

Jn. 8:31-32 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

Jn. 20:31 “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Acts 28:23-28 “When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers.  From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.  And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.  And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’  Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

Rom. 1:16-18 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

2 Cor. 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

2 Tim. 3:15-17 “And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Heb. 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

1 Pet. 1:23 “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”


What these passages teach us, at least in part, is the necessity of revelation – special revelation.  That is, if someone is to believe the message of Christ, they must first hear that message.  I cannot believe X if I have not heard of X.  The same concept is expressed by Paul in Romans 10.  This, however, is not the same thing as saying that the message itself enables people to believe, only that they must come in contact with the message if they are to believe.

Some of these verses speak of the blessings upon those who obey God’s word, but they do not speak of this enabling concept put forth by Dr. Flowers.  A call to be reconciled, or a statement on the blessings of obedience to the word, is not the same thing as the word having some enabling effect on people.  Dr. Flowers has to assume that.

Dr. Flowers assumes, as do non-Calvinists in general, that if there is a call to believe in the word, that of necessity means that man is morally able to do so.[2]  Yet, in John 6:35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  Here is a verse that falls in line with these other verses Dr. Flowers referenced.  However, two verses later, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37).  So here we see that the Father’s giving results in the sinner’s coming to Jesus.  Again, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 44).  There is an inability of man expressed in this verse that is only overcome by the effectual drawing of the Father, ultimately leading to the glorification of the one drawn (raised up on the last day).

I want to now provide a specific comment on Romans 1:16 and 1 Peter 1:23. First, Romans 1:16.

The power that Paul speaks of here is not a mere enabling of sinners to believe, but a saving power.  As Paul says, it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.  It is a power unto salvation.  The power of the gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God through faith.  It destroys the idolatrous ways of the Gentiles and the legalistic ways of the Jews.  Yes, it is through faith; one must believe.  But that is not the same thing as Dr. Flowers has been asserting regarding enabling.  Again, he must assume this.

We see a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  Here Paul is again saying that God saves those who believe in the gospel, essentially what he asserts in Romans 1:16-18.  Yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, we again find the effectual calling of God:

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” [Emphasis added. Cf. 1:30-31]

God has a chosen people in the world (Jew and Gentile).  To them, Christ is seen as the power and wisdom of God for salvation.  Look, power is used of the gospel again.  Yet, as is obvious to any honest reader, this has nothing to do with a general enabling to all who hear.

Finally, 1 Peter 1:23.  I have to wonder if Dr. Flowers views the statement, “born again through the living and abiding word of God,” as the enabling power of the gospel he speaks of so frequently.  If he does, then he must believe that everyone who hears the gospel is saved because all who are born again are saved, and he believes that all experience this enabling power when they hear God’s word.  If he doesn’t view this statement as the enabling power of the gospel, then I have to wonder why he referenced it.  Again, all this verse teaches us is the necessity and power of God’s word in bringing salvation.  Any concept of enabling all people who hear God’s word is wholly absent from the text.

Now, let me say something to avoid any confusion regarding the Calvinist view of the gospel and its power.  Dr. Flowers has said essentially the following on other occasions:

“We Traditionalists actually believe in the sufficiency of the Bible to lead people to salvation.  According to the Calvinist, the Bible can’t lead a reprobate or non-elect person to salvation.  It doesn’t have the sufficiency to do so.  God has to do an extra work of grace.  They have to be regenerated, made alive, and then the Bible is sufficient.  The Traditionalist perspective is that, since the word is brought by the Holy Spirit, it’s the means by which anybody can be saved.  So we have a higher view of Scripture than Calvinists do.”[3]

There is much that is misrepresentative of Calvinism in this statement, but I will attempt to be brief.  First, the reason why Reformed/Calvinist churches are historically known for placing the Scriptures at the center of their worship services is that they whole-heartedly believe in the sufficiency of God’s word to accomplish that which God wills (Isa. 55:11, to reference one of Dr. Flowers’ verses).  Second, when Dr. Flowers says that, according to the Calvinist, “the Bible can’t lead a reprobate or non-elect person to salvation,” he’s operating on his supposition.  A reprobate is someone that God has justly passed over in the administration of His redemptive grace, leaving them to justice for their sins.  However, Dr. Flowers doesn’t believe the Bible can lead a reprobate or non-elect to salvation either, because he doesn’t believe in the reprobate/non-elect; at least, not in the Reformed perspective.  Further, if God does this “extra work of grace,” then they’re not reprobate/non-elect.  Rather, what we Calvinists affirm is the consistency of God in His redemptive plan.  We see this, for example, in Ephesians 1:3-14:  The Father chooses a people to the praise of His glorious grace; the Son dies in their place, accomplishing the grounds of their redemption; the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ, sealing them as a promise of their glorious inheritance.  Lastly, tying the previous two points together, Calvinists believe that the Spirit sovereignly works through the proclamation of the gospel to sanctify and save God’s people.  You see, we don’t believe that the gospel enables people, we believe that the gospel effectually saves people.  In fact, the Baptist Catechism, Q/A #3 reads:

Q. How may we know there is a God?

A. The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners. [Emphasis added.]

I will end this post with two Scriptures that sum this up well.

1 Thess. 1:4-5 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction….”[4]

2 Thess. 2:13-14 “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


[I want everyone to know that Dr. Flowers and I have had friendly conversations on this, often inflammatory, debate in the past.  I may have strong disagreements with his perspective, and at times am troubled at some of the things he says, but I view him as a brother in Christ, and I believe he views me as a brother in Christ.  I have not attacked Dr. Flowers in this post, but have sought to explain why I disagree with his theological perspective.

Grace and peace…]



[1] All Scripture quotations are from the ESV, 2001.

[2] Moral inability is different from physical inability.  Non-Calvinists often confuse the moral inability expressed by Calvinists as a physical inability, leading to straw man characterizations of the Calvinist perspective.  For example, using an analogy that involves a man beating his deaf dog because it repeatedly disobeys his commands is a misrepresentation of the Calvinist perspective, as it references a physical inability, not a moral inability.  I use this analogy as an example because Dr. Flowers has used it before.  This either means that Dr. Flowers is still confused on the difference between moral and physical inability or that he is purposefully misrepresenting the Calvinist view.  All I know is he shouldn’t be confused over it because he’s been corrected several times before.  Another problem with Flowers’ analogy is that the dog is neutral; it hasn’t committed any positive disobedience; it’s merely ignorant of the commands of its owner (I’m thankful to Sean Cole for pointing this out).  Instead, a moral inability illustration would involve a dog who can hear just fine and who knows better but continually disobeys his master anyways due to an innate dislike of the master (or of humans in general).  You could even add that the dog is rabid to better communicate the sinful nature and its corruption.  Of course, even with moral inability being introduced, it’s still a woefully trivial analogy when compared to the testimony of Scripture regarding the sinful disobedience of man to his holy Creator.  Again, man’s inability to do that which is pleasing to God is a moral inability.  That is, they cannot because they will not or desire not do.  They cannot because they prefer the life of the flesh and therefore do not will or desire to do that which is pleasing to God (e.g. Rom. 6:20; 8:5-8; Eph. 2:1-3).

[3] This is taken from his podcast episode, “REFORMING THE SBC: 500 Year Anniversary of Calvinism?”, starting at time-stamp 0:29:45.

[4] There’s the word “power” used again in relation to the gospel.  Again, this is a saving power, not a mere enabling power.

In Accordance With the Scriptures

It should be readily accepted that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian faith.  After all, if there was no crucifixion, then there is no atonement made for the forgiveness of our sins, and if there was no resurrection, then the crucifixion was unsuccessful.  This is why the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  Rather explicit, isn’t it?

Okay, but what about the Bible?  Is it really all that important to view the Bible as foundational to the Christian faith?  Isn’t it enough to simply tell people to rest in the resurrection of Christ, especially in light of all the attacks against the trustworthiness of the Bible?  Unfortunately, some professing Christians would say “Yes”.  But this is not the Apostle Paul’s answer.

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 (vv. 1-5) Paul says the following about the gospel:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. [emphasis added]

According to Paul, both the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior are according to the Scriptures.  This is to simply say that the Old Testament Scriptures foretold of these gospel events.  Paul does not merely rely on eyewitness encounters, but on the Scriptures that foretold of this redemptive event.  We actually see in the book of Acts that this was in fact the approach Paul took in some of his preaching encounters.  Acts 13:32-38 reads as follows:

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’  And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’  Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’  For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.  Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. [emphasis added]

You see, the Apostle Paul did not preach the historical fact of the resurrection in isolation from the Scriptures, which he here, and elsewhere (e.g. 2 Tim. 3:16-17), affirmed to be God’s very word.  Rather, he emphasizes the resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Paul does not merely rest his proclamation of the resurrected Christ on the fact that he was an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ, but that what he had witnessed was rooted in and founded upon the Scriptures.  The ultimate authority here is not the resurrection itself, but the Scriptures which give theological meaning and understanding to the resurrection.  According to Paul, the Scriptures and the resurrection go hand-in-hand.

You cannot in one breath belittle the Bible by denying its infallibility and then in another breath affirm the resurrection as the foundation of the Christian faith.

Why do I write this?  Well, as many are already aware, Andy Stanley, of Buckhead Churh (and several off-site campuses) in Atlanta, GA, has essentially affirmed this very thing in a sermon titled “The Bible Told Me So”.  In this sermon he essentially denies the infallibility of the Bible, claims it is not the foundation of the Church, but tells people that the resurrection is the foundation.  My purpose here is not to provide a critique of his sermon.  I simply provide this post as a quick rebuttal to Stanley’s central affirmation.  For a full critique by Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries, please go here (starts at 00:41:30).

Q & A: God’s Sovereignty in Vietnam

A brother in the Lord who ministers the Gospel in Vietnam reached out to me a while ago.  The ministry website is God’s Sovereignty in Vietnam (GSiV).  We had a Q & A exchange and this is the result.  Praise the Lord for His faithful ministers.  May you be blessed and encouraged.

Q & A: God’s Sovereignty in Vietnam

1. What is God’s Sovereignty in Vietnam?
We want to be a resource for nurturing God-centered Christians and churches related to the Vietnamese people. GSiV has a mixture of info in Vietnamese and in English, even though it’s geared mostly for Vietnamese Christians in Vietnam. It’s a site where Vietnamese Christians can enjoy God’s supremacy.

2. How did GSiV begin?
I suppose it began as our prayer request for Christ to make his sovereign riches known in Vietnam. Then the idea occurred that the Lord might use a website to serve as a connecting point for Vietnamese, or those who love the Vietnamese people, who are also interested in the doctrines of grace. We could say it began out of our desire to see more Christ-centered believers and churches in Vietnam. (One day here on earth or perhaps in heaven, we would love to discover that we were also an answer to someone else’s prayer who had been asking God to do this for a long time.)

3. What is the current state of the Church in Vietnam?
It sort of depends. At one level there are healthy things going on–some discipleship, some evangelism, some expository Bible preaching. At another level there’s many churches locked into a very Western way of doing ministry which has them trapped in traditions that aren’t actually derived from the Bible. Also the ‘prosperity gospel’ influences a large percentage of confessing Protestants. On another note, some churches seem to be very Arminian, or worse, Pelagian. Many are undefined at this point in their theology so it leads to bad practice. Quite a few sermons and gospel presentations call the sinner to open his heart to Christ but perhaps never stress God’s work in a sinner’s heart to open it so the dead man can repent and believe. Positively, some evangelicals seek to spread the gospel so the lost will come to Christ.

4. Give some examples of evangelistic encounters.
The Vietnamese people are very easy to talk with. They are hospitable and open to discuss spiritual issues with someone they just met. Many know nothing more about Jesus than that his mother was Mary. We recall one man we talked with in the last few months. We said “Hi,” and immediately we started to chat. Before long we shared the gospel. He said that he used to know some things about the God of the Bible but then drifted far from that. He thought our encounter that day was God telling him to repent. To my knowledge he still hasn’t repented and believed, but we’ve met with him a few times since then, and the Lord very well may be opening his eyes.

5. What are some goals that GSiV has for the future?
We have to be a bit vague here. But we would like to connect with more Christians interested in Vietnam and the doctrines of grace. We particularly want to connect with reformed Baptists. We pray the Lord will save many of his sheep in Vietnam and then bless them with a robust but humble theology that sees him as sovereign in all things, especially in salvation. And that they carry the gospel to the nations.

6. What are some specific things we can pray for regarding GSiV?
Please pray for more contacts with nationals who have a heart for God’s glory to flourish in Vietnam. Pray that solid Christians in Vietnam wouldn’t move to other countries looking for an easier life. Pray for more unity among evangelicals. Pray that in the next few years God will save many and raise up numerous healthy reformed churches that reproduce for the name of Christ. We hope the Lord will provide some sort of a reformed prayer network. And we’re open to some bloggers (English or Vietnamese) at GSiV. We hope people will link to us and pass the link on to their friends even if they’re not Vietnamese.

A Guide for Communicating Biblical Truth at an Abortion Mill

You may view a PDF of this post here: A Guide for Communicating Biblical Truth at an Abortion Mill.

Ministering the word of God at an abortion mill, where preborn babies are being murdered and mothers and fathers may lash out in hatred toward the truth, is an extremely challenging thing. Emotions are high and the enemy is fast at work. No matter what, however, we must remember why we are there – to plead for the lives of these babies being led to the slaughter, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and to call on men and women to repent and believe.

I provide this brief outline of Scriptural material for the purpose of aiding those engaged in abortion ministry, or those preparing to do so. It will be to our benefit if we go into such an environment with a sort of framework in mind by which we intend to communicate biblical truth that is especially relevant to this context. The following guide is not exhaustive by any means, but seeks to provide a Scriptural and theological foundation upon which one may build.

Before getting into the main content of this material, consider the following proverbs and how they apply to the area of ministering at an abortion mill.

Proverbs 12:5, 26, 28 “The thoughts of the righteous are just, but the counsels of the wicked are deceitful…. The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray…. In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”

Proverbs 24:11-12 “Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, oh hold them back. If you say, ‘See, we did not know this,’ does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?”

I. Man is made in the image of God
Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6
Psalm 139:13-16

The fact that man is made in the image of God is one of the most precious and foundational truths in all of Scripture. It basically tells us that we were created in a unique relationship with God, are moral beings, have innate dignity, and are to represent the character of God on Earth. This is true of the pre-born as much as it is of those who have already been born. The baby in the womb is a human being – made in the image of God – and for that reason is to be protected as such.

II. Children are a blessing from the Lord
Psalm 127:3
Genesis 1:28; 9:7

The Bible refers to children as a gift, a reward from the Lord! Unfortunately, our society tends to view children as a “burden” and a “problem”. In the eyes of many, children are a hindrance to self-fulfillment and progress, and therefore their lives need to be prevented, at whatever cost. Abortion is a direct attack, not only against the blessedness of children, but against God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply”. Life is a beautiful thing, and God takes pleasure in it. But abortion only brings death, and unjustly so.

III. God is holy and righteous and ought to be feared and obeyed
Psalm 5:4; 7:11; 89:14
Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 5:21; 15:3

We must not shy away from proclaiming the fearful expectation of judgment upon the wicked by the holy and righteous God and Creator. We must warn them of the coming day of wrath. Abortion destroys God’s image-bearers and transgresses His holy law (“You shall not murder.” Ex. 20:13). God will not hold back His wrath forever; justice will be served.

IV. There is forgiveness of sins in and through Jesus Christ alone
Genesis 3:15
John 3:16-18, 36; 5:24
Romans 5:6, 8; 6:23; 8:1
2 Corinthians 5:21
1 Peter 3:18

If your ministry at an abortion mill is without the gospel, then it can hardly be called a ministry. We are not merely seeking social justice (as necessary and important as that is) by pleading for the lives of these babies being led to the slaughter, but we are heralds of King Jesus’ Good News. The ultimate remedy for such wickedness as abortion is widespread repentance brought about by gospel proclamation and the Spirit’s sovereign work. In short, we are not only seeking to save lives, but to save souls. It’s not an either-or ministry, but a both-and ministry.

Jesus’ Parables as Judgment: A Response to Leighton Flowers’ View of the Purpose of the Parables

You can view a PDF of this post here: “Jesus’ Parables as Judgment: A Response to Leighton Flowers’ View of the Purpose of the Parables”

Professor Leighton Flowers has recently written an article titled, “The Messianic Secret,”[1] wherein he explains his understanding of the purpose of the parables.  According to Flowers, the reason Jesus spoke in parables was to prevent the Jewish people from coming to repentance and faith, so as to bring about the crucifixion, otherwise the crucifixion would not have taken place.  While I will not address every single point and Scriptural reference in his article – and I don’t necessarily disagree with everything he says in the article – I do want to respond to a few of his key points.  Before I do so, however, let me first briefly explain my understanding regarding the reason Jesus spoke in parables.

Why Jesus Spoke In Parables

I believe the primary reason Jesus spoke in parables – though I do believe there exists a two-fold nature to the purpose of the parables – was to enact a form of judgment on the Jewish people.  Let us give consideration to Matthew 13:10-17 in making this point:

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

To these close disciples of Jesus – those who had ears to hear and eyes to see – the parables were a means of explaining the kingdom of God.  To those who did not have ears to hear and eyes to see, but hardened their hearts at the teachings of Jesus, the parables were a means of judgment, confirming them in their rebellious way.  Note that Jesus explicitly says that he speaks in parables “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”  He does not say that he speaks in parables so that they won’t see and hear and understand; it’s that they already don’t see and hear and understand. Verse 15 makes clear that the people’s hearts had already grown dull, that they had already closed their eyes, otherwise they would see and hear and understand and turn and be saved.  But that is not what they wanted.  Note, the parables did not harden the people or prevent them from understanding so that they would not repent and believe (and otherwise thwart God’s redemptive plan).  Their hearts were already hard, and they had already failed to understand the truth of Jesus and his redemptive mission.  John MacArthur’s words are spot-on:

While the parables do illustrate and clarify truth for those with ears to hear, they have precisely the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ.  The symbolism hides the truth from anyone without the discipline or desire to seek out Christ’s meaning.  That’s why Jesus adopted that style of teaching.  It was a divine judgment against those who met His teaching with scorn, unbelief, or apathy.[2]

MacArthur goes on to explain this two-fold nature of the parables:

In short, Jesus’ parables had a clear twofold purpose: They hid the truth from self-righteous or self-satisfied people who fancied themselves too sophisticated to learn from Him, while the same parables revealed truth to eager souls with childlike faith – those who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Jesus thanked His Father for both results: ‘I thank You, father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight (Matt. 11:25-26).[3]

Two final points need to be made before moving on to consider some of Flowers’ points.  First it is important to keep in mind that Jesus did not always teach in parables.  There are plenty of times in the Gospels where we find Jesus teaching in a more straight-forward and didactic manner (e.g. Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:14-30).  The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the best example of this.  Even though it concludes in a brief parable, “the substance of the message, starting with the Beatitudes, is delivered in a series of direct propositional statements, commandments, polemical arguments, exhortations, and words of warning.”[4]

Second, there are times when Jesus used parabolic language – the use of provincial imagery meant to communicate a spiritual truth/reality – and the intent was not to hide the truth, but to reveal and clarify the truth.  Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are good examples of this (Jn. 3-4).

In summary, Jesus used parables to teach those with ears to hear and eyes to see, as well as to confirm those with hard and unbelieving hearts in their rebellion.  The parables were not used to keep people from repenting and believing, because the people were already unrepentant and unbelieving.  Further, Jesus did not always teach in parables, but often taught in a straight-forward and didactic manner.

Responding to Leighton Flowers

Early on in the article Professor Flowers references 1 Corinthians 2:8-9 in support of his perspective.  I find this very interesting, considering the context in which this passage is found.  First, let’s look at Flowers’ words and then I’ll respond:

As the Apostle Paul noted, “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8-9). Jesus knew that had they believed in Him before the right time then they would not have crucified Him. Therefore, the Lord graciously taught in parables “to those on the outside…so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:11b-12).

In essence, Flowers is asserting that God actively blinded or hid the wisdom of his redemptive plan from these rulers so that he could bring about the gospel – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  This, however, is the exact opposite of the meaning of the text.  Paul is not addressing the concept of hiding the truth, but of revealing the truth.  The truth was hidden from them, not because God was actively hiding it from them, but because they themselves did not understand it (i.e. a spiritual inability to understand the things of God).  It’s not that the truth had not been made known to them, but it’s as Paul goes on to say, these things are revealed by God through the Spirit.  We understand these things because we have received the Spirit of God (vv. 10-13).  So why did the rulers not understand this mystery of God?  Because God was actively hiding it from them?  No, it’s because “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14).  This point is all the more striking when we consider the fact that Paul just spent numerous verses speaking of the unique/effectual call of God’s chosen people (1:17-2:5).  To make this a general call is to flip Paul’s teaching on its theological head, stripping it of all its polemical and pastoral power.

Further, in regards to Flowers’ reference of Mark 4:11-12, Mark basically quotes several Old Testament passages that speak of the people’s hearts already hard, their eyes already unseeing, their ears already plugged, and of the need for God to give them an understanding heart, seeing eyes, and hearing ears (Deut. 29:4; Jer. 5:21; Ezek. 12:2).  In short, it is a word of judgment on the people.  Flowers seems to think that this passage undercuts the concept of the inability of man and God’s effectual calling.  It does no such thing.

Here is another example of Flowers’ understanding of the purpose of the parables:

Jesus is not attempting to persuade everyone to come to faith in great numbers as we see following Pentecost when Peter preaches (Acts 2:41). Quite the opposite seems to be the case, in fact. To accomplish the redemptive plan through Israel’s unbelief, we see Jesus actively instructing His apostles not to tell others who he is yet (Matt. 16:20; Mark 8:30; 9:9).

In other words, Jesus used parables in order to prevent the vast majority of the Jews from repenting and believing, because if they did so, then they would not have crucified him.  Again, Flowers’ attempt here is to undercut the concept of the moral inability of man and God’s effectual calling, while putting forth his perspective of judicial hardening.[5]  Is this actually what we find though?  I think not.

First, the fact that Jesus went around preaching repentance and faith, sending out his disciples, and identifying himself as the Messiah at times, disproves Flowers’ first assertion (e.g. Mtt. 4:17; 10:5-14; Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:15-21; 10:1-12).

Second, the reason Jesus hid his identity was not to prevent the vast majority of Jews from repenting and believing so as to accomplish God’s redemptive plan of the cross, but to prevent the Jews from attempting to carry out their false concept of the Messiah – a ruler of an earthly kingdom who would free them from Roman suppression.  Even his close disciples were confused about the Scriptural witness of the Messiah (Mtt. 16:21-28).  It took Jesus’ supernatural ability to open the minds of the disciples so that they could understand the Scriptures (Lk. 24:44-47).  So Flowers is correct to assert that it was for the purpose of bringing about the redemptive plan, but he’s in error to think that the crowds would have repented and believed in him if his true identity had been broadcasted.  It’s at this point, regarding the fact of Jesus not broadcasting his identity as Messiah and Jesus’ use of parables, that Flowers seems to conflate the two.  He says the following:

Moreover, Jesus purposefully speaks in parables in order to prevent the Jewish leaders coming to faith and repentance (Matt. 13:11-15; Mark 4:11-13). When great numbers began to believe Jesus was truly prophetic, notice how Jesus responded: “’Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself” (John 6:14-15). Earlier in the same gospel we learn that “many people saw the miraculous signs He was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them” (John 2:23b-24a).

Flowers seems to be asserting here that the reason Jesus spoke in parables was to conceal his identity as the Messiah.  Yet, the parables were primarily about the nature and expansion of the kingdom, not the person and work of Jesus.[6]  Further, John 6:14-15 only confirms the point that Jesus hid his identity as the Messiah, not to prevent the Jews from repenting and believing, but to prevent them from attempting to carry out their false ideas of the Messiah’s mission.  Lastly, Flowers seems to be implying that “Jesus would not entrust Himself to them” has something to do with Jesus concealing his true identity and speaking in parables so as to prevent mass conversions.  This is not the case, however.   Rather, Jesus did not entrust himself to them because he knew their hearts (Jn. 2:25), which means he knew their true intentions and motives.  This again confirms that Jesus was preventing them from attempting to carry out their false view of the Messiah’s mission, not that he was keeping them from truly repenting and believing.  Needless to say, this paragraph by Flowers is somewhat muddled, and it seems that he may be mixing categories.


The purpose of the parables is not so much on the subject of the ability/inability of man, but on the providence of God to accomplish his redemptive purposes in the way in which he ordained them to be accomplished.  It cannot be overlooked, too, that Jesus did not always teach in parables.  It would certainly seem that, for Flowers’ interpretation to hold water, one would have to conclude that he always taught, or at least primarily taught, in parables.  Yet, this is simply not the case.  What is more, Jesus hiding his identity as the Messiah is not the same thing as Jesus teaching in parables.  Flowers seems to conflate the two, which causes some confusion regarding his point and perspective (in my opinion at least).

The primary purpose of Jesus teaching the people in parables was to confirm the unbelieving Jews in their rebellion.  It was a form of judgment on the people.  To those with ears to hear and eyes to see, however, it was a means for Jesus to communicate the truth of his kingdom.

[1] Flowers, Leighton. “The Messianic Secret”. Accessed on January 3, 2016.

[2] MacArthur, John. Parables (Thomas Nelson, 2015), xix.

[3] Ibid., xxi. Emphasis is his.

[4] Ibid., xxi.

[5] Note, judicial hardening is not a concept that contradicts Calvinism.  Judicial hardening is a biblical concept.  Flowers has repeatedly stated that Calvinists believe that mankind is born judicially hardened.  This, however, is not the case, and actually mixes categories.  What Calvinists believe is that mankind is born with a sin nature due to their federal head – Adam.  This means that we are born with corrupt hearts, and therefore our desire from our youth is that of wickedness (this takes various degrees and forms).  We do not desire the things of God; we are enemies of God and by nature children of wrath (note, man is not morally neutral).  This does not mean that man is as wicked as he can be.  By God’s common grace the world of men continues to thrive in its institutions with relative progress (though man’s work continues to be tainted by corruption and sin).  Throughout redemptive history God may judicially harden a nation (or individual) for his redemptive purposes (e.g. Pharaoh and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt).  Judicial hardening, however, and the state in which man is born are not the same thing.

[6] Of course, the kingdom of God is established through the redemptive work of Christ, but this is not overly clear in his parables, which primarily focus on the kingdom itself.

Rightly Understanding the Nature of Man & Effectual Calling: A Response to Leighton Flowers, Pt. 1

You can read a PDF version of this post here: “Rightly Understanding the Nature of Man and Effectual Calling: A Response to Leighton Flowers”

Lately I have been spending quite a bit of time listening to Leighton Flowers’ podcast and reading through his blog.  He is one of the very few non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention that is actually willing to stick his head out there and dialogue with Calvinists.  For that I give him credit.  I very much appreciate his willingness to speak with me and Dale Stenberg (my fellow partner in crime on the Reformasium Podcast[1]).  I do, however, have great concerns regarding his position on certain theological topics, and I greatly question his abilities in rightly addressing our biblical argumentation.

This article is specifically in response to one of his podcast episodes titled, “Total Inability and the Effectual Calling” (Nov. 10, 2015).[2]  This post will only deal with his statements on total inability.  I plan on providing a second post shortly to address his arguments against effectual calling and his presentation of his view regarding the power of the gospel.

I will provide key quotations of Flowers from this podcast episode and then respond in kind.  These may not be 100% verbatim quotations, but I’ve tried my best to write his words exactly.  In some instances I’ve condensed lengthy quotations for the sake of simplicity (getting to the point).  At the very least, they should be accurate representations of his views.  Leighton Flowers is more than welcome to correct me if I have misquoted or misrepresented him in any way.  That is certainly not my intention, and I will make attempts to fix such errors.  I would of course also encourage anyone reading this to first listen to the podcast episode.

Leighton Flowers: “If someone has the ability to have the mental ascent of the facts being given through the Scripture, and they have the ability to be convicted by that, then they should have the ability to respond to that in faith.”

“Man can understand and place their trust in Buddha, or in Joseph Smith, or in Satan, or whoever, even giving their lives for these people and their systems, but for some reason, according to Calvinists, God decreed for mankind to be incapable of placing their trust in the truth claims of the gospel.  They cannot, by nature, put their trust in it.”

“It’s God’s doing, according to the Calvinist, that man is in the sinful state they’re in and can’t savingly believe in the gospel unless enabled to do so by his effectual calling.”

Response: Leighton Flowers seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the biblical teaching on the nature of man, as well as what Calvinists actually believe and mean with respect to the inability of fallen mankind.  Based on his statements, he seems to think that we are speaking of a physical inability.  I see no other way of understanding the connection he makes between understanding facts and being able to put one’s faith in those facts.  The same goes with his connection regarding being able to devote oneself to these false religions and their leaders, but somehow not being able to devote oneself to Jesus Christ.  In other words, if one is physically able to mentally ascent to the facts of the gospel (i.e. at least have an intellectual understanding of gospel truth), then we ought to conclude that they are physically able to respond to that truth in faith.  Again, if one is physically able to be devoted to Joseph Smith, for example, then how else can we conclude than that they are physically able to devote themselves to Jesus Christ, if they so choose.

This, however, is erroneous to the core.  First, the inability that Calvinists speak of regarding man’s response to the gospel is not of a physical nature, but a spiritual or moral nature.  This has to do with their sinful nature.  Thomas Schreiner brings this out wonderfully in his commentary on Romans, Chapter 8 verse 8:

But Paul’s argument goes further.  Not only do they refuse to submit to God’s law; they ‘cannot’ keep it.  And ‘those who are of the flesh are not able to please God’.  Paul is certainly speaking not of a physical inability to keep God’s law but of a moral inability to do so.  He does not conclude that those of the flesh are not responsible for their sins because of their inability.  Rather, he holds them responsible for their sins even though they cannot keep God’s law.  Paul apparently did not believe that people were only culpable for sin if they had the ‘moral’ ability to keep commandments.[3]

Leighton may want to object that Paul is speaking of man’s inability in relation to the law, not the gospel.  However, the point still stands, because it speaks to man’s nature in and of itself.  Not to mention that this is not the only text that we derive the teaching of total inability from (e.g. Jn. 6:44).  We could also point out that the text says that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God”.  Yet, believing in the gospel is certainly something that is pleasing to God.  Again, Paul is here contrasting those who are in Christ, those who set their mind on the Spirit, with those who set their mind on the flesh – they are hostile to God.  This is fundamentally why they are unable to respond to the truth of God; as hostile enemies of God, they have no desire to do so.  Paul Washer comments on this point as well:

Finally, total depravity does not mean that men do not possess the necessary faculties to obey God.  Man is not a victim who desires to obey but is unable to because of factors beyond his control.  God has endowed man with an intellect, a will, and a freedom to choose.  Man is therefore responsible before God as a moral agent.  Total depravity does mean that man cannot submit himself to God because he will not, and he will not because of his own hostility toward God.[4]

Yet, this is precisely what Flowers overlooks.  The inability in man is not a physical inability (which would include a mental inability), but is a moral inability.  In other words, they act according to their sinful nature, and unless the grace of God opens their eyes to see and their ears to hear, then they will continue in their willful rebellion against their Creator (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16).  So yes, men and women entrust their souls to false religious systems; but that just proves the point.  They do so because they’re enemies of God and choose to serve the lie rather than the Creator (Rom. 1).

Another way of stating this biblical truth that God deals with men according to their moral (and covenantal) standing before God is to say that “God deals with man according to his obligation, not according to the measure of his ability.”[5]  Dr. Robert L. Reymond goes on to say,

Before the Fall, man had both the obligation and the ability to obey God.  As a result of the Fall, he retained the former but lost the latter.  Man’s inability to obey, arising from the moral corruption of his nature, does not remove from him his obligation to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself.  His obligation to obey God remains intact.  If God dealt with man today according to his ability to obey, he would have to reduce his moral demands to the vanishing point.  Conversely, if we determined the measure of man’s ability from the sweeping obligations implicit in the divine commands, then we would need to predicate total ability for man, that is to say, we would all have to adopt the Pelagian position, for the commands of God cover the entire horizon of moral obligation.[6]

Second, Flowers mixes categories, and in so doing, puts the emphasis and focal point of the discussion where it shouldn’t be.  This only muddies the water.  For instance, he says, according to the Calvinist “God decreed for mankind to be incapable of placing their trust in the truth claims of the gospel.”  I find it interesting that he has to bring in God’s decree when Calvinists themselves don’t address the issue of man’s inability from that angle, but from the angle that is presented to us in Scripture – the moral responsibility of mankind.  Flowers seems to want to go where the Scriptures don’t lead us.  It seems like a desperate attempt at producing an emotional response, rather than producing an exegetical response.

Another problem I have with this response by Flowers against the inability of man, is that it assumes a fatalistic determinism.  Yet, Calvinists do not put forth a fatalistic determinism with regard to God’s decree and man’s responsibility.  Rather, what we hold to is known as compatibilism – the belief that God’s exhaustive sovereignty and man’s responsibility/choices are compatible with one another; man’s responsibility is of a moral nature before their Creator.  Several passages serve to demonstrate this compatibility between God’s sovereignty and man’s will (e.g. Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 4:23-28; Phil. 2:12-13).  In other words, Calvinists readily assert the moral responsibility of mankind, and we do so while at the same time affirming the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all things, even in the matter of our salvation.  Why do we do it?  Because that’s what the Scriptures clearly teach.  So Flowers’ presentation is overly simplistic at best and woefully misleading at worst.

With regard to this compatibility, Louis Berkhof remarks:

There is not a single indication in Scripture that the inspired writers are conscious of a contradiction in connection with these matters.  They never make an attempt to harmonize the two.  This may well restrain us from assuming a contradiction here, even if we cannot reconcile both truths.[7]

I might add that the only place where such an attempt is made is in the person of Paul’s interlocutor in Romans 9, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault?  For who can resist his will?’”  I don’t think Flowers recognizes it, but this is in essence the objection he raises as well.  So I will supply the same response that the apostle Paul did:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

In conclusion, I would very much like to ask professor Flowers his understanding of God’s sovereign outworking of the gospel itself.  Does he believe that God sovereignly decreed that Christ be crucified for the forgiveness of sinners?  If so, then how does he, according to his theological system, work in the many sins of man that were necessary in bringing about that redemptive plan?  If he asserts that God merely foresaw the sinful acts of man, then he places the cart before the horse, essentially asserting that man committed these sinful acts before God even decreed Christ’s crucifixion, and ultimately it would put the redemptive plan itself in the hands of man, not God.  So, what of passages like Acts 4:23-28?  I would very much like to see professor Flowers address such passages, and if he has already, then I’m sure I will come across them in due time, and most certainly provide some response to them.

[1] Reformasium Podcast “Lively Discussion from a Reformed Perspective”

[2] “Total Inability and the Effectual Calling” Podcast episode by Leighton Flowers. Accessed on December 16, 2015.

[3] Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans (MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 412-413.

[4] Washer, Paul. The Gospel’s Power & Message (MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 117. Emphasis is his.

[5] Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 454. Emphasis his.

[6] Ibid., 454-455. Emphasis his.

[7] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (MI: Eerdmans, 1941), 106.

G.O.S.P.E.L: The Six Points of Calvinism

I hereby recommend to the Reformed community a change in the acronym that currently stands to represent the Doctrines of Grace (also known as the Five Points of Calvinism).  As it currently stands, this long-received acronym is T.U.L.I.P.   As beautiful of a flower as this is, I believe an acronym should give some idea — a hint if you will — of the things it represents.  A flower simply does not do justice in communicating these doctrinal truths.

I not only suggest a change in the acronym itself, but the addition of a point.  In truth, this point has always been present, though it has been assumed rather than explicitly stated in the five points.  This additional point is the first point in this suggested acronym: God’s glory.  Finally, I believe a few of the new terms will serve as more accurate summations of the doctrinal meanings.

I look forward to input from fellow Reformed Christians on this suggested change.  Let me make it explicitly clear here that I am not suggesting a change in doctrine.  I am only suggesting a change in the acronym, along with the explicit inclusion of an additional point that has merely been assumed in the T.U.L.I.P. acronym.  Neither is this post intended to serve as a biblical defense of Calvinism, though a few Scripture references are supplied.  That has been done in numerous other places, and my intention here is to speak to those who already call themselves Calvinists.

So, what is the suggested acronym?  G.O.S.P.E.L.  What better way to make reference to the Doctrines of Grace?  Calvinism, after all, is about the sovereign grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Doctrines of Grace are the biblical teachings regarding G.O.S.P.E.L. grace and glory.  Allow me, therefore, to supply a brief explanation of this acronym.


God’s Glory: Foundational to the Doctrines of Grace is the biblical teaching that God’s redeeming work is to the praise of His glorious grace (Eph. 1:3-14 especially vv. 6, 12; Rom. 11:33-36).  Reformed Theology begins with God, because that’s where the Bible begins and where the emphasis throughout remains.  This is what gives strength to this new acronym — it begins with God!


Original Sin: This point replaces Total Depravity in T.U.L.I.P.  The doctrine of original sin is greatly lost in our day, which is one good reason for making this change.  What is more, the doctrine of original sin carries with it an implicit reference to Covenant Theology.  Original sin assumes the existence of a covenant between God and man in the garden of Eden, prior to the Fall.  (The rise of Dispensationalism, in my opinion, is one major reason for the negligence of this biblical doctrine in our day; but the recovery of Covenant Theology is advancing in our day, and this particular change in the acronym may help to further this advancement.)  This gives understanding to the guilt of all mankind due to the sin of their covenant head — Adam (e.g. Rom. 5:12ff).  Whereas total depravity, as biblical of a concept as it is, supplies more of a systematic approach to the concept of sin, original sin forces us to think more in a biblical-theological aspect.  This is an important, and I believe a needed, shift in our thinking.  Finally, I think it significant that the Canons of Dort, from which the Doctrines of Grace are secondarily derived (primarily from Scripture), states at the outset that “all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death….” (First Head of Doctrine, Article I).  This statement is, of course, a statement of original sin.


Sovereign Election: This point replaces Unconditional Election in T.U.L.I.P.  The point of unconditional election is that God’s choice of His redeemed people was not rooted in anything they have done, but simply in the sovereign and good purposes of God (otherwise it’s not grace).  In other words, unconditional election is sovereign election.  It is according to God’s sovereign will (Eph. 1:11; Deut. 7:6-8).


Particular Atonement: This point replaces Limited Atonement in T.U.L.I.P.  We Calvinists are often forced to clarify the meaning of limited atonement, and our clarifications nearly always include the use of the word “particular”.  That is to say, what we mean by limited atonement is that Christ’s sacrificial death was limited, not in its power, but in its scope.  It was for a particular people — God’s chosen people (Tit. 2:14; Heb. 2:14-18).  This change would provide much needed clarification and therefore make things a bit easier for us.


Effectual Grace: This point replaces irresistible grace in T.U.L.I.P.  Like the previous point, I believe this point will also provide much needed clarification.  The concept of irresistible grace is often misunderstood by non-Calvinists (not because clarifications haven’t been made available!).  Many seem to think that all they have to do to refute this doctrine is point to a text of Scripture that demonstrates that men can and indeed do resist God’s grace.  Such demonstrates their failure to fully grasp the meaning of this point.  By changing this point to effectual grace we may help to minimize this misrepresentation from the other side.  In short, God’s sovereign grace in salvation is effectual — it accomplishes God’s intended purpose to save His elect (Acts 13:48; 1 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:13-14). – Update (11/28/2015): I meant to name this point “effectual calling”.  Either one works of course.


Lasting Grace: This point replaces Perseverance of the Saints in T.U.L.I.P.  The change in this point will, I believe, make a clearer connection with what comes before, especially effectual grace.  In other words, the grace of God that effectually called His people will continue to work in His people unto glory (Rom. 8:28ff; Phil. 1:6).  This is to simply say that salvation is all of God’s grace, through and through.

Once again, I look forward to hearing from my fellow Reformed brethren on this matter.  I believe this change in acronym will further help us to remember what it is we’re dealing with here — things that pertain to the Gospel.  I also believe this new acronym will supply much needed clarification on certain doctrinal points.  In either case, may God be glorified and may His people be edified.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Introducing the Reformasium Podcast: Lively Discussion from a Reformed Perspective

My dear brother in the Lord, Dale Stenberg, and I recently started our own podcast, called Reformasium.  The focus of the podcast is to equip the Christian in the pew – the laymember – in the areas of evangelism and apologetics.  We’ll of course discuss other matters, but that’s where our heart is and what we seek to edify the Church in.  Please check out the Reformasium website to find out more and listen to our first episode!  Be sure to check out the “Meet the Hosts”, “About the Pod”, and “Our Beliefs” pages.  We pray that you will be edified and God will be glorified.

Book Review: The Roman Catholic Controversy: Catholics & Protestants – Do the Differences Still Matter? (by Dr. James R. White)

I just finished reading Dr. James White’s book, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Bethany House Publishers, 1996), and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  The sub-title of the book, Catholics & Protestants – Do the Differences Still Matter?, is a question that apparently still needs to be addressed, though this should not be so.

With the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States a lot of discussion surrounding this very issue has ensued.  No doubt, the large number of so-called Protestants that welcomed Pope Francis with open arms and open hearts is the major cause for this frenzy.  But is all the uproar really necessary?  Should there really be protests at such partnerships?  Can’t Protestants and Catholics finally put their differences aside and once and for all join hands?

If one truly understands the issues at hand — what it is that the Roman Catholic Church dogmatically teaches in relation to what the Bible teaches — the answer to these questions must of necessity be “No”.  For the sake of the truth of the Gospel we cannot embrace the Pope as a fellow brother in the Lord and welcome him with open arms.  The differences are simply to great.  The cost of compromise accords with the degree of the differences — eternal punishment in Hell.

Now, there will likely be people who read this post who disagree with my position.  To them I simply say, read this book!  If you value truth, honesty, and the word of God, then read this book so as to become educated in that which truly divides Roman Catholics from those who hold the Bible as their ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice.  For those who are already familiar with the differences, and who claim to hold to the Bible as their ultimate authority, and yet rejoice in the Pope (in particular) and Roman Catholics (in general), I can only conclude that you have betrayed your commitment to the Bible as God’s ultimate authority.  One cannot truly hold to the Bible as their ultimate authority, believing what it so clearly and bountifully teaches us in matters of faith and practice, especially with regard to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet welcome the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church he officially represents.  Truth and falsehood do not go hand-in-hand; they cannot be equally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

I suppose now would be a good time to supply a review of James White’s book.

Anyone who is familiar with Dr. White knows the great effort he takes to accurately represent his opponents and to focus on those things that truly matter.  He has demonstrated this honesty countless times in his numerous debates and books.  This book is no different.  In the preface of his book, Dr. White clarifies his approach:

This book arises out of a sincere attempt to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps with reference to the glory of God and the truth of the Gospel.  My motivations are transparent.  I love God and I love the Gospel He has revealed in Jesus Christ….

To believe in the God who has revealed himself in Christ is to be a lover of truth.  How can we claim to follow the One who called himself ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’ if we do not take such a claim seriously?  And if we believe in truth, we must be diligent in making use of the means God has given us to know and apply His truth.  This requires that we be students of His Word, the Bible, constantly seeking to learn more about its teachings and to bring our own beliefs into line with it.  It is also imperative that we think as clearly and logically as we can.  God is not honored by muddled thinking. (p. 14)

Dr. White’s deep concern for the Gospel is evident throughout, as he’s constantly examining the teachings of Rome according to the infallible, God-breathed Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15-17; cf. Tit. 2:9).

In Chapter 2, “Cutting Through the Fog,” Dr. White dispels the fog (i.e. confusion and distraction) that is often created by Protestants and Catholics alike.  Often times misrepresentation, emotionalism, focus on side-issues, and the like, create a hazy scene that is difficult to navigate through.  Such practices must be forsaken and discernment needs to be implemented if we are to focus on those matters of greatest significance.  The essential issue here is the Gospel of peace, and it’s this very thing that Dr. White addresses in the following chapter.

Chapter 3, “The Essential Issue: The Gospel of Peace,” is the heart of this book.  Everything else ought to be read in light of its contents.  This is the main issue, and the question is whether or not the Roman Catholic Church possesses this Gospel of peace.  Peace with God, and how one may obtain it, is no light matter.

Lest we lose our focus, let me remind you of the issue at stake: peace with God.  People on both sides of the Roman Catholic/Protestant debate who are honest realize that these arguments have to do with nothing less than people’s eternity destiny (sic).  If you take nothing more from this book than the content of this chapter, I will have accomplished what a Christian author desires to do: communicate the core truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (p. 39)

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to a brief examination of key Scriptures that teach us about this Gospel that brings us peace with God, and how this is achieved by grace through faith (e.g. Acts 10:36; Rom. 3:24-26, 28; 4:4-5, 16; 5:1).

A discussion of such issues, however, necessitate a discussion of the question of authority.  That is, who defines this Gospel?  How can we know for certain what the Gospel truly is?  The next five chapters are devoted to this issue of authority, each chapter having its own unique emphasis:

Chapter 4: “Who Defines the Gospel?”

Chapter 5: “Sola Scriptura: God Speaks Clearly”

Chapter 6: “The Thousand Traditions”

Chapter 7: “Sola Scriptura vs. Sacred Tradition”

Chapter 8: “The Claims of the Papacy”

Due to the recent visitation of Pope Francis, I will simply provide a brief overview of Chapter 8.

Early on in the chapter Dr. White supplies a dogmatic declaration from the Church of Rome regarding the office and person of the Pope.  It reads as follows:

We, therefore, for the preservation, safekeeping, and increase of the Catholic flock, with the approval of the sacred Council, do judge it to be necessary to propose to the belief and acceptance of all the faithful, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy. (First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution, ‘Pastor aeternus,’ April 24, 1870)

With further quotations from Roman Catholic sources, Dr. White goes on to clarify that the official teaching of Rome regarding the Papacy is that Christ bestowed on Peter primacy of honor, jurisdiction, and rulership, and that such primacy applies to Peter’s successors (the bishops of Rome).  Further, it is the belief of the Roman Catholic Church that this view has “been the ancient and constant faith of the Christian Church”.  Dr. White goes on to demonstrate the high position the Bishop of Rome possesses in the Roman Catholic Church by quoting Unam Sanctam, a papal bull by Pope Boniface (November 18, 1302):

Consequently we declare, state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (p. 107)

The remainder of the chapter consists of an examination and refutation of the Church of Rome’s claims regarding the Papacy.  A look at Matthew 16:18-19, the role of Peter in the life of the Church in Acts 15, and some of Peter’s own words regarding himself (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:1-2) follows.  An examination of John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:31-32 are also supplied, noting that Cyril of Alexandria (c. 370-444) provides an interpretation of John 21:15-17 that is in line with the Protestant view, not the Roman Catholic view (p. 113-114).

Dr. White also provides a section on the early Church’s view regarding Matthew 16:18-19, documenting that the early Church primarily viewed “this rock” as referring, not to Peter, but to the faith that Peter confessed, or to Christ himself (pp. 118-122).  While there were Church Fathers who viewed “this rock” as referring to Peter, it does not mean that they believed the bishop of Rome was a Pope (p. 120).  A quote by a Roman Catholic, the Jesuit Maldonatus, is one such evidence:

There are among ancient authors some who interpret ‘on this rock,’ that is, ‘on this faith,’ or ‘on this confession of faith in which thou hast called me the Son of the living God,’ as Hilary, and Gregory Nyseen, and Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria.  St. Augustine, going still further away from the true sense, interprets ‘on this rock,’ that is, ‘on myself Christ,’ because Christ was the rock.  But Origen ‘on this rock,’ that is to say, ‘on all men who have the same faith.’ (p. 121; quoted from Dr. Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church, p. 335)

The exegetical studies and historical documentation in this chapter alone ought to cause any serious-minded Roman Catholic to give second thought to the lofty claims of the Church of Rome.  At the very least, further investigation should be ensued.

The next four chapters center around the biblical doctrine of justification:

Chapter 9: “Justified Before God: Rome’s View”

Chapter 10: “Justified Before God: By Grace Through Faith Alone”

Chapter 11: “What of the Mass?”

Chapter 12: “The Divine Waiting Room” [i.e. Purgatory]

For the sake of time, and due to the central place of the Mass in the worship of the Church of Rome, focus will be given to Chapter 11.

Once again Dr. White begins the chapter with numerous quotations from Roman Catholic sources, such as the Council of Trent, so as to accurately represent the Catholic position, making it very clear as to what it is the Church of Rome officially teaches with regard to the administration of the Mass.

After providing such documentation, Dr. White summarizes the Roman Catholic teaching on the Mass as follows:

(1) Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist following the words of consecration.

(2) Transubstantiation involves the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ, and the change of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of the blood of Christ.

(3) Since Christ is said to be really present in the Eucharist, the elements themselves, following consecration, are worthy of worship.

(4) The Sacrifice of the Mass is properly called ‘propitiatory’ in that it brings about pardon of sin.

(5) In the institution of the Mass at the Lord’s Supper, Christ offered His own body and blood to the Father in the signs of the bread and wine, and in so doing ordained the Apostles as priests of the New Testament.

(6) The Sacrifice of the Mass is properly offered for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, not only for the living but for the dead as well.

(7) Finally, anyone who denies the truthfulness of any of these proclamations is under the anathema of God. (p. 164)

What follows is a biblical examination of the Roman Catholic teaching that the Mass involves transubstantiation and is a propitiatory sacrifice.  Since the main, “go to” passage of Roman Catholic apologists for the Mass is John 6 (especially vv. 53 and 57), Dr. White spends a good deal of his time examining this text in its context, to include those sections that are often overlooked by the Roman Catholics, thus supplying proper context to accurately interpret Jesus’ words found in vv. 53 and 57.  In short, an honest study of the greater context demonstrates that “eating” and “drinking” are utilized as a metaphor for Jesus’ previous words “coming” and “believing” (pp. 169-172).  Dr. White concludes, “The literal meaning, given the parallelism already firmly established in this passage, has to refer to the union of the believer by faith with Jesus Christ, not a participation in the Roman Catholic Mass” (p. 172).

The final section in this chapter focuses on the effectual nature of Christ’s sacrifice, examining closely Hebrews 9 and 10 (see especially 9:12, 14, 24-28 and 10:10-14).  The following are key points from this section:

Rome teaches that believers can approach this ‘re-presentation’ of the sacrifice of Christ a thousand times or more in their life and still die ‘impure,’ needing yet to undergo the suffering of atonement in Purgatory before being able to enter into the presence of God. (p. 177)

Christ did not need to ‘suffer often.’  His one act of suffering is sufficient, since He was able to ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.’ The old sacrifices could not put away sin and therefore had to be repeated.  Repetition demonstrates insufficiency. (p. 177)

The repetitive nature of the Mass stands in stark contrast to the completedness of the Cross. (p. 179)

Chapter 13, “When Sola Scriptura Is Rejected,” is an examination of the kind of doctrines man can develop when they reject the perspicuity and ultimate authority of the Bible. In this case, the Marian dogmas.  Dr. White looks at the teachings of Rome regarding the immaculate conception of Mary, the distinctions Rome places on the terms dulia and latria, and the exaltation of Mary.

The discussion of the exaltation of Mary in Roman Catholic theology is by far the most disturbing, as it clearly demonstrates (numerous quotes are given) the unbiblical devotion that the Church of Rome gives to Mary, even to the point of directly associating her with the accomplishment of our salvation.  For example, Pope Pius X (February 2, 1904) is quoted as referring to Mary as “the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces” (p. 215), and Pope Pius XII (October 11, 1954) as referring to her as “His [Christ’s] associate in the redemption” (p. 215).  Karl Keating is quoted as referring to Mary as “the Mediatrix of all graces” (p. 217).  Perhaps most shocking to anyone who seeks to believe that which the Scriptures teach, especially with regard to Christ and the Gospel, are the following words by St. Alphonsus Ligouri (The Glories of Mary):

But now, if God is angry with a sinner, and Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the avenging arm of her Son, and saves him.

St. Anselm, to increase our confidence, adds, that ‘when we have recourse to this divine Mother, not only we may be sure of her protection, but that often we shall be heard more quickly, and be thus preserved, if we have recourse to Mary and call on her holy name, than we should be if we called on the name of Jesus our Saviour,’ and the reason he gives for it is, ‘that to Jesus as a judge, it belongs also to punish; but mercy alone belongs to the Blessed Virgin as a patroness.’ Meaning, that we more easily find salvation by having recourse to the Mother than by going to the Son.

And shall we scruple to ask her to save us, when ‘the way of salvation is open to none otherwise than through Mary’?

The holy Church herself attributes to the merits of Mary’s faith the destruction of all heresies: ‘Rejoice, O Virgin Mary, for thou alone hast destroyed all heresies throughout the world.’ (pp. 216-217)

If only Mary could destroy the heresy of the Marian dogmas that Rome has espoused.  It is suspicious indeed how the Church of Rome can place such central emphasis on the place, role, and merits of Mary in their theology, yet somehow the apostles themselves, those who walked with Jesus, who were taught by Jesus, and who actually lived during the time of Mary, never taught such things.  It is completely lacking from their writings; writings, I might add, that are God-breathed.

Well, the book concludes with one more chapter, “Sola Gratia,” a summary of sorts, emphasizing yet again that the biblical Gospel is the Gospel of God’s sovereign grace, all to the glory of God.  This is the Gospel that Rome does not possess, as is clearly demonstrated throughout the pages of this book.

Of special note is the mention of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) in this final chapter.  This seems to be, at least in part, why Dr. White took up the duty of writing this much needed book.  The spirit of Evangelicals and Catholics Together continues, as has been recently witnessed with the visitation of Pope Francis to the United States.  Yet such a spirit is a deceiving spirit, as it calls for the blurring of lines, the muddying of water, the ignorance of Church history, and rejection of the Gospel itself, without which no one will have peace with God.

This book may have been published in 1996, nearly twenty years ago, but it continues to speak to our times, calling for a fresh and continued examination of the things that truly matter — the Gospel itself — especially in relation to the teachings of Rome.  Let the reader understand, there is indeed a dividing line that exists between Catholics and Protestants, and that dividing line is the very Gospel that bleeds on every page of Scripture, the redeeming blood of Jesus our Savior running from Genesis to Revelation.  We must not, indeed we cannot, back down from this issue.  The spiritual battle rages on, but Christ has the victory, and all those who have truly placed their faith and hope in Him and His perfect and sufficient work alone (life, crucifixion, and resurrection) have the victory in Him.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Gospel & Apologetics…& You! (A Lesson Outline)

The purpose of this lesson is to present a few fundamental principles regarding evangelism, and then to call God’s people to action by providing examples of apologetic encounters and, most importantly, a sample presentation of the Gospel. Much more could be said, however, and for that reason I have supplied numerous resources at the end of this outline for your consideration and study.

I. Evangelism: The Gospel & Apologetics In the World’s Marketplace
We live in the context of various -isms of the world (Evolutionism; Materialism; Postmodernism; Roman Catholicism; Islamicism; Mormonism; etc.). We must respond to these -isms with the truth of God’s word.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Acts 17:2-3

1 Peter 3:13-18

The mission of the Church is the making of disciples of all nations, and this is achieved through the proclamation of the Gospel and the defending of the Gospel by exposing the folly of all other worldviews.

II. Apologetic Encounters

Two Principles for a Sound Apologetic: Know the Bible (fundamental doctrines and key Scriptures); challenge the consistency of the unbeliever

Theological Consistency: A true/biblical view of God leads to a true/biblical view of man, which in turn leads to a true/biblical view of Christ and the Gospel.

Framework for Thinking About Jesus: Jesus is:

God –> man (through the incarnation) –> Messiah/Christ (Prophet, Priest, King) –> Mediator

Giving an Answer (examples):

1. “Jesus can’t be God, because in John 20:17 Jesus referred to God as his God and our God. How can God have a God above Himself?” (see Jn. 1:1-18; Heb. 2:10-18)

All of John’s Gospel account must be read and interpreted in the light of the prologue (1:1-18).  John clearly teaches the Deity of Jesus in the prologue, so it is erroneous to think he contradicts himself later in the account.  Further, the Son of God took on flesh – He became a man like us – in order to properly represent His people (those He came to save).  Lastly, this verse does not contradict a proper understanding of the Trinity, but it does pose a problem for other (unbiblical) views, like Modalism.

2. “The only place in Scripture where ‘faith alone’ is mentioned is in James 2:24, and there it says that we are justified by works and not by faith alone.” (see Jms. 2:14-26; 1:22-25)

Context, context, context.  In 2:14-16 James is addressing the issue of true saving faith in contrast to a mere profession of faith.  He’s not addressing how one is declared righteous before God, but how that reality is evidenced in the Christian life.  It is not enough to merely say you believe in God (even the demons believe and shudder); rather, one must evidence their faith by good works.  Paul presents the same concept in Ephesians 2:8-10 (good works are a natural result of true, saving faith, which is the work of God in the sinner).

3. “If there was a God, and if He was good and all-powerful, then there wouldn’t be all of this evil in the world.”

Most often it’s atheists who sound this objection.  Challenge their objections with the consistency of their atheistic worldview.  Good and evil don’t categorically exist in such a worldview.  Therefore, if such a worldview is true, why even bother worrying about “good” and “evil”.  That’s just the way things are (naturally so).  They know God exists, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18ff), and that’s ultimately why they raise the question (further suppression of the truth).  Point them to the evil of their own hearts (e.g. Mk. 7:21-23).  Point them to the greatest evil ever committed – the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God – and how God brought the greatest good out of it – eternal life for undeserving sinners (e.g. Rom. 3:21-26; 5:6, 8; Gal. 3:13).  Then call them to repent of their hostility towards God and to believe in the Gospel of Christ, for it is only in Him that refuge from the coming wrath of God toward sin is to be found.

IV. A Gospel Presentation
Simply put, the Gospel is the good news about what God has done in and through Jesus Christ to reconcile sinful man to Himself.

God  There is only one true God and He has revealed Himself to us in His word (the Bible). He is the holy and just Creator of all things, sovereignly ruling over His creation. All praise, honor, and glory are due Him.

Man  God created man (men and women) in His image and likeness, meaning we share certain characteristics with God and manage the earth under God’s kingship/rule. However, we have sinned against God by breaking His holy commandments, seeking instead to live life in our own rebellious and idolatrous way. Man is therefore separated from Him, spiritually dead (turned off to the things of God), and will one day physically die, because the result of sin (breaking God’s law) is death. Since God is holy and just, there will come a day when He will judge mankind for their sins.

Christ  In light of the previous two truths regarding God and man, what we need is a holy and righteous mediator (one who reconciles two parties). Jesus, the eternal Son of God who became a man in order to properly represent us, is this holy and righteous mediator between God and man. He did what we could not do. He lived in perfect obedience to God’s law, suffered and died on the cross in the place of sinners (bearing their sin, guilt, and judgment), rose in victory from the grave (defeating sin and death), and now sits at the right hand of God the Father where He reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. There is salvation in no one else, for God has provided no other means by which we may be saved from the coming judgment. Peace with God is only found in Him.

Command/Response  The question remains, “How does this become good news for me?” Do you recognize that you have lived a life of sin against God, thus deserving His just wrath and judgment? Are you broken over these things? Do you desire to be forgiven of your sins and reconciled to God? Then repent and believe the gospel. To repent is in essence to have a radical change of mind regarding sin and God. It’s a change from loving sin and hating God to hating sin and loving God. To believe means to trust in the promises of God as revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s to believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is and that He has done what the Bible says He has done. Believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior and you will be saved!

Resources for Further Study Articles:

“Preparations for Evangelism: Seven Disciplines for a Faithful and Effective Witness”

“The Gospel (Good News) of Grace”

“Exclusivism vs. Inclusivism: A Brief Case for the Exclusive Nature of the Gospel & Salvation”

“Justification: Infused or Imputed Righteousness?: A Biblical Case for the Reformed View in Contrast to the Roman Catholic View”

“’Is Jesus Really God?’: Defending the Eternal Glory of Jesus Against the Objections of Islam”

“’Who Invented the Trinity?’: Defending the Triune Nature of God as Revealed in His Word”

“The Trinitarian Nature of Christianity: A Doctrinal Overview & Scriptural Compilation”

Books: See the above article, “Preparations for Evangelism” for a list of recommended books.

YouTube Videos:

Jeff Durbin Answering ‘The Problem of Evil’

Jeff Durbin Engaging Cults and False Religions with the Gospel

Jeff Durbin Engaging Mormons on the Street

Alpha & Omega Ministries YouTube Channel

Berkhof on the Threefold Use of the Law

In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof briefly lays out the threefold use of the law, that is the Ten Commandments.  Understanding these uses is not only important for our study of Scripture, but also for our lives as a whole.  I will supply a few Scripture references for each use of the law in brackets below.  Berkhof writes:[1]

It is customary in theology to distinguish a three-fold use of the law.

THE THREE DEFINED.  We distinguish:

a. A usus politicus or civilis.  The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness.  Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin.  It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large.  This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word. [Rom. 2:14-15a; 13:1-7; Gal. 3:19; 1 Pet. 2:13-17]

b. A usus elenchticus or pedagogicus.  In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law.  In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption. [Mk. 10:17-27; Rom. 2:15b; 3:19-20; 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 10:4; Gal. 3:24]

c. A usus didacticus or normativus.  This is the so-called tertius usus legis, the third use of the law.  The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation.  This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians. [Mtt. 5:13ff; Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 6:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:19b; Jms. 2:8-13]

[1] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1941) 614-615.

[A Mini Evangelistic Sermon] Jesus: Judge & Savior (Based on Acts 10:34-43)

People are quick to accept Jesus when they have false ideas of who He is.  Many like to think of Him as a friendly teacher who simply advocated friendliness toward others.  Some think of Him as a failed political figure.  Others think of Him as merely a Savior, and nothing more.  Still others give little thought of Him at all.  But know this; Jesus is Lord of all (v. 36).  Whether you like it or not, that is what He is.

What is more, His lordship is vindicated by His resurrection from the dead, after He had given His life over as a ransom for sinners (He taking their place of condemnation, that they may live and have peace with God).  But know this, Jesus is both Judge and Savior, and how you respond to His gospel will determine whether or not He pronounces you as “guilty” on the Day of Judgment or as “justified/righteous” on that Day.  In the end, will you find Him to be your Judge or your Savior?  Ask yourself that question today.

I. Jesus as Judge

All judgment and authority has been given to Christ, that all should honor the Son as they honor the Father (Jn. 5:22-23).  The day is coming when the living and the dead will appear before the holy and fearful presence of Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8).  All mocking will cease, and laughter will turn into mourning, and confidence into fear and trembling.  There will be no escape from the justice of His rod, as your countless sins are brought before Him and judged in righteousness.

Do you tremble at God’s word?  O, that you would, for “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).[1]  If you do tremble now, know this, Jesus is also the Savior.

II. Jesus as Savior

The whole Bible testifies that Jesus is the Savior (Lk. 24:25-27, 44-47), the One promised of God to take away the sins of the world.  If you desire forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and to appear before Him in holiness and righteousness, then you must come to Christ – He is your refuge!

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Galatians 3:13 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).”

Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Turn from your sinful way of life today and call on the name which is above every name (Phil. 2:9-11), the name of Jesus Christ, in faith.  You will find Him to be a perfect Savior!

[You may view a pdf of this post HERE.]

[1] All Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.

Kurt Eichenwald’s Attack on the Bible Soundly & Thoroughly Refuted

Newsweek’s recent article on the Bible, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin, has garnered a lot of attention, both on the web and the media.  It has especially grabbed the attention of some leading evangelical apologists and theologians who decry the article as nothing but a caricature and misrepresentation of the facts; and indeed, that is exactly what it is.  Any Christian who is at least vaguely familiar with Church history, the transmission of the text of Scripture, and the fundamentals of the faith will find the article, written by Kurt Eichenwald, difficult to take seriously.  But there is a sense in which we must take this article seriously.  This is nothing but a “hit piece” intended to cast further doubt on the Bible and muzzle the voice of Christians in our nation.  As Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. noted in his article, “He [Eichenwald] has an axe to grind, and grind he does” (Newsweek on the Bible–So Misrepresented It’s a Sin).  Eichenwald’s accusations are essentially the same as what you will likely hear on the web and in college halls every day.  That’s why we must be quick to answer, ready to silence the foolishness represented in this article.  Leave it to Dr. James White to help us in this area of apologetics.  Dr. White provides a sound and thorough refutation of Eichenwald’s gross misrepresentations, both of the Christian community and the Bible itself.

Part 1

Part 2

Renewing Your Mind Radio: The Offices of Christ

A while back I engaged in a series on the offices of Christ (Prophet, Priest, and King).  It is one of my favorite studies to engage in.  Such a study not only directs our focus upon Christ, but it affords us with a deeper and broader understanding of the gospel, as well as opens up so much of the Bible to us, as these offices of Christ are present from Genesis to Revelation.  Well,  Renewing Your Mind Radio, with R. C. Sproul, has recently put out a brief lecture on this subject of the offices of Christ (below).  I would also like to point you to the series I did on this subject on my blog.

The Offices of Christ (Renewing Your Mind Radio)

Forgiving as God has Forgiven Us

I was doing some devotional reading through Ephesians and this verse really stood out to me: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).  About how many times do you think you’ve come across this verse in your Bible reading and sermon hearing?  If you’re a regular Bible reader, and if you’ve been a Christian for a decent number of years, then you’ve probably come across it numerous times.  I know I have; but it can be real easy to miss the full force of such biblical truths.  We tend to keep reading and therefore neglect to meditate on such weighty commands and glorious indicatives.  Don’t we?

You do realize that this is a command, right?  Paul’s not simply giving good advice on what he thinks is going to be most beneficial in our relationships with others (especially those of the household of God).  No, he’s laying down a command for those who name the name of Christ to obey.  What is more, it’s not an empty, groundless command.  As is true of all of Paul’s commands, he grounds it in something.  What does Paul ground this command in?

…The gospel!  Look at it again: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, [that’s the command] just as God in Christ also has forgiven you [that’s the gospel; the indicative].”  This is huge!  The way in which we relate to others — in this case, showing kindness, gentleness, and forbearance — is to be according to the way in which God has related to us in and through His Son, Jesus Christ.  You see, it’s pretty easy to forgive someone when they openly confess to us and ask for forgiveness.  In other words, they’re actively seeking reconciliation; restored relationship.  (Of course, how frequently do we continue to contain resentment and hold grudges for that person?  That, of course, is not true forgiveness).  But here’s the reality of the situation.  We didn’t go to God seeking reconciliation.  We didn’t go to Him while He was far off, pouring out our hearts to Him in remorseful words.  No, we were His enemies, actively engaged in rebellion and hostility.  We were the offending party, yet it was God who sought us and redeemed us through the blood of Christ’s cross.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

This is indeed amazing grace.  God saved us, not when we were seeking to be on good terms with Him, but while we were actively rebelling against Him.  If anyone has reason not to forgive, it’s the holy and righteous Judge of the universe.  However, He has been gracious and merciful to us.  Now He calls on us to demonstrate the same kind of forgiveness to those who wrong us.  If we don’t, then what are we saying about our own salvation?  How can we appreciate the forgiveness that God has shown to us, if we’re not willing to forgive others, especially when they seek out reconciliation?  When we choose not to forgive those who have wronged us it’s as if we’re saying the following: “Look.  I’ve been in your shoes before, and grace and mercy was extended to me, of which I am eternally grateful; but I simply can’t bring myself to show that same kindness to you.  Therefore, I’m going to resent you and remain angry at you.”  Too harsh?  Not at all.  That’s exactly what we’re saying, not in words, but in action (or lack of action).

This is a truly sobering verse that should cause us to pause a while and recall God’s lovingkindness toward us in forgiving us of all our sins through the shed blood of His holy Son, in whom He was well pleased.  Oh, for grace to obey this command to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ.

(See also Matthew 18:21-35)

Infant Baptism: New Wine in Old Wineskins?

I am a Baptist, (namely, a Reformed Baptist),[1] not because I was raised to be so, nor because I’ve neglected to study the theological issues that divide Baptists and those of other denominations.  No, I am a Reformed Baptist by conviction.  That means, I’ve studied the issues and can confidently say that I am convinced of what I have believed as being thoroughly biblical.  And while I have the highest respect for my Paedobaptist brethren, especially those of the Presbyterian denomination, I cannot bring myself to accept the practice of infant baptism as an apostolic, biblical teaching/practice.  It is, to paraphrase the words of Christ, pouring new wine into old wineskins (Mtt. 9:17).  Alan Conner, in his book, Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual?, notes this as a crucial point in the debate over infant baptism and covenant membership.

Covenant Membership the Key Issue

The general view set forth in these Confessions [i.e Heidelberg Catechism; Second Helvetic Confession; Westminster Confession of Faith] is that the infants of believers are in the New Covenant, are members of the church, and therefore, should be baptized.  If this principle of infant membership is found in the New Covenant, then infant baptism has a strong ally.  But, if the New Covenant presents a different principle of membership, one based on personal faith in Christ and actually possessing the blessings of the New Covenant, then infant baptism comes up against a powerful foe.  Without the principle of infant membership, the view of infant baptism expressed in the Confessions above would suffer a major and perhaps irrecoverable blow.

New Wine in Old Wineskins?

Credobaptists believe that baptizing infants based on the principle of membership in the Old Covenant is similar to the faulty practice of trying to ‘pour new wine into old wineskins.’  The concept of membership in the New Covenant cannot be poured back into the old worn out wineskins of the Old Covenant.  We believe that those who practice infant baptism do not take seriously enough that the New Covenant is, in fact, a ‘New’ Covenant, not like the Old Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-32).  We affirm that there are important elements of both continuity and discontinuity [added emphasis] between the Old and New Covenants.  Yet, the practice of infant baptism is based upon a mistaken view of continuity in the area of covenant membership.

We also believe that the principle of membership taught in the New Covenant is at the heart of its essential ‘newnewss.’  No longer is membership in the New Covenant defined by the genealogical principle of the Old Covenant.  For, as Paul taught, ‘be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham’ (Galatians 3:7) and ‘it is not the children of flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants’ (Romans 9:8).  These ‘children of promise’ are determined not by physical lineage, but by the sovereign choice of God who chooses Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau (Romans 9:9-13).  The New Covenant ‘children of God’ are not those ‘born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:12-13).  Thus, Old Covenant membership was based on physical birth, whereas in the New Covenant it is based exclusively on spiritual birth from above (John 3:3,5).

If these convictions are true to the teachings of the Bible, then membership in the New Covenant is restricted to those who have faith, and they alone should receive the covenant sign of baptism.  This is a clear departure from membership in the Old Covenant, but it is one made necessary by the fact that new wine requires new wineskins.

The rest of Conner’s book is essentially an argument or justification for the above quote.  Throughout, he demonstrates the clear biblical shift from an emphasis on the physical principle, characteristic of the Old Covenant, to the spiritual principle, characteristic of the New Covenant.  This is a book that every Reformed Baptist should read.  Of course, I do believe that paedobaptists should take the time to read such books as well, so as to better understand the Reformed Baptist position and conviction.

Happy reading…


[1] I do not mean merely a Calvinistic Baptist (i.e. a Baptist who’s “Reformed” convictions extends no further than the Doctrines of Grace).  I know that there are those who would say that Baptists can’t truly be Reformed or Covenantal, because we don’t practice infant baptism.  To that I reply, why do you have such a small view of Reformed/Covenantal theology?  Infant baptism, as important as it may be in paedobaptist Covenant Theology, is not the be-all-end-all of the Reformed faith.  What is more, this often comes from the lips of one who knows little to nothing of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology, and the various arguments that exist for it.