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Elijah And The Pastors’ Conference

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(A fictional story about a minister who embraced the modern psychobabble culture and abandoned God’s Word.)

As he eased his BMW along the freeway in the crowded morning traffic, Dr. David Shaw reflected on the stunning success of his ministry. Just fifteen years before he had been the pastor of a struggling little church that wasn’t growing. And Dave had a nagging feeling that somehow his message wasn’t quite what people needed.

Then he had stumbled onto the idea that had made him famous. Although he had never told anyone, he had seen it in a women’s magazine while he was waiting to get his hair cut. The author was a successful young woman who had broken free from a restrictive religious upbringing. She had always felt put down as a child. But then a college professor had told her that she saw great potential in her if she would just believe in herself and act with more self-confidence. It had worked wonders for her!

The words had jumped off the page at him – Believe in herself! As Dave had thought about it, he realized that he was perpetuating the kind of thing that the woman had grown up under – negative preaching that always confronted people with their sinfulness. No wonder people weren’t flocking to hear him preach!

As he reflected further he had to admit that he didn’t really like what he preached. He had grown up under it, too. As a dutiful son, he had gone into the pastorate to do what was supposed to be done. But his approach didn’t seem to be working.

At first it didn’t gel. But then he hit on his theme: “Believe in You Ministries!” He got it from John 14:1, where Jesus told his disciples, “You believe in God, believe also in Me.” Dave had thought, “God wants us not only to believe in Him and in Jesus, but to believe in ourselves, too, because He believes in us enough to die for us.”

So he began a subtle shift in his approach. He started preaching on passages that were more uplifting. People had great potential if they would just recognize it and start believing in God and in themselves. “God doesn’t want you dumping on yourself! That’s where true success begins.”

A few disgruntled old timers left the church, but a lot of new young families began coming. Finally, the church was growing! It felt good to succeed for a change.

Then Dave had written the article for Living Faith magazine. He never dreamed how it would hit a nerve. Dozens of positive responses flooded the magazine. And, to his surprise, an editor at Reader’s Digest had seen it and wanted to run a condensed version!

From there things had snowballed. A leading Christian publisher approached him for a book contract. The book was an immediate best-seller, even in secular bookstores. A nationwide Christian television network invited him to come to several talk shows and then offered him his own show. People started flooding into his church, so that the church had to buy new property and build a 5,000 seat auditorium. The rest was history.

Dave jolted back to the present as he pulled into the crowded church parking lot. Two thousand ministers from all over the world had gathered for his “Believe in You” leadership seminar. Dave pulled into his reserved parking spot, adjusted his tie and went in the side door to avoid the crowded main entrance.

Before he could check in with his secretary, two nationally prominent pastors stopped him to shake his hand and exchange greetings. They each had brought their entire church staff and were raving about how the conference had liberated their ministries.

Twenty minutes later Dave was seated on the stage waiting to deliver his final challenge. Dave scanned the audience. There were many young American pastors, of course, including quite a few women. Also there were about twenty African pastors who had come on the scholarships Dave had been able to provide through a wealthy donor. A good number of pastors from the Far East sat together in another section.

Dave’s executive associate introduced him. As he approached the podium and the applause died down, out of the corner of his eye Dave saw him stand up just before he heard him. A radical-looking guy with a beard was on his feet, shouting to everyone in the auditorium!

“How can you claim to be a Christian minister and never preach against sin? How can you claim to follow Jesus and never talk about hell and judgment? How can everyone here endorse this man’s ministry when he has deviated so far from the Word of God?”

Dave froze for a brief moment. By the time he had hit the switch under the podium signaling the ushers, they were already headed for this Looney Tune. It took them a minute – that seemed like an hour – to get him out of the auditorium, while he continued to shout his anathemas.

Dave could feel the tension in the audience. He tugged at his collar and joked, “I assure you that he was not a planned part of the conference!” Laughter rippled across the expansive room and died down. “I think he must have taken a wrong turn from the fundamentalist conference on the other side of town!” They roared.

Dave relaxed. He knew they were still on his side. He launched into his final message, “Who is Adequate? You Are!” based on 2 Corinthians 2:16. From their radiant faces and the enthusiastic responses afterward, he knew that the conference had been a success in spite of the crazy guy with the beard.

A couple of hours later as Dave pulled out of the parking lot he thought, “I wonder who that nut was, anyway? Probably thought he was Elijah or something.” Then it hit him: He was probably just a struggling, frustrated pastor like he himself had been fifteen years before. “Poor guy! He must really be churning inside to get up in public and do a dumb thing like that. He’ll never build a growing church if he doesn’t change.”

Dave popped a CD into the slot and enjoyed the soothing sounds as he thought, “It’s great to enjoy God’s blessing on my ministry after years of being where that poor guy is!” Then he whispered out loud, “Lord, help him to see the light!”

“For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians. 11:14-15, NASB)

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors, Teaching the Bible

Enjoying Your Kids While You Can

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(WORLD, 6/14/97, under title, “Quantity quality time”)

A couple of years ago, around the time of her sixteenth birthday, my middle daughter said to me, “Dad, do you remember how you used to take each of us somewhere special for our birthday, just time alone with you?” I remembered, of course. Not every year, but on three or four of the kids’ birthdays, I had set aside a Saturday, or sometimes a Friday night through Saturday night, where just that child and I would do something together.

She continued, “Well, do you think that for my birthday we could go down to Sedona and look through some art galleries, since you and I both like doing that? And, maybe we could take a hike, too?”

“Sure,” I said, “that sounds like fun!” And, just a few Saturdays later we were able to do just that.

That daughter graduates from high school this year. My oldest is half-way through college. My youngest, a son, is rapidly approaching driving age. I often wonder, “Where did those years go when I had young children?”

I do not regret for a minute that when my kids were young, even though I am a busy pastor, I was home most evenings to play with them, read them a story, and help tuck them into bed. I’m glad that every summer we have taken a family vacation together--nothing expensive, but just time together, camping, seeing God’s beautiful creation. It’s gone by too quickly, but we share some warm memories that bind us together.

One of the most important things you can do for your children is to give them your time and to enjoy being with them. Kids aren’t dumb--they sense when you feel like they’re a bother. They also sense when you genuinely like them and enjoy their company. You communicate your attitude toward them, in part, by little gestures: a warm smile, eye contact, a gentle nudge or hug, a shared laugh.

Just putting down what you’re doing for a minute and giving them your undivided attention says, “You are important to me and I want to hear what you have to say.” Even though what they want at the moment may not be an important issue, if you express a welcome response, it can open the way for communicating at other times on more important things, such as spiritual values and character issues. Influence is imparted through time together, genuinely enjoying their company.

I see so many parents, even in Christian families, and especially dads, who destroy their relationships with their kids by being perpetual­ly angry. Their only communica­tion toward them seems to be the high-decibel rhetorical question: “How many times do I have to tell you ...!!!” Or, their anger burns through with sarcastic remarks, name-calling, and put-downs: “Hey, stupid, use your head!” Sometimes they just shake their heads in disgust, communi­cating non-verbally, but unmistakably, to the child, “You’re an idiot!” I’ve seen people in public places talk to their children in ways that wouldn’t be appropriate for correcting your dog. Then, when the kids rebel as teenagers, the parents shrug their shoulders and say weakly, “It’s just a normal phase they have to go through!”

The Bible commands us to put off such rotten speech, and instead use words that build up others. It tells us to put off anger and to be kind and tender toward one another (Eph. 4:29, 31-32). It specifically tells fathers not to provoke their children to anger, but rather to nurture them in the training and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

In other words, we parents need to confront and deal with our own anger before God if we want to rear our children properly. The only way to do that is to trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord (Acts 16:31), confess your every sin to God (1 John 1:9), and continually submit all of your thoughts, words, and deeds to His lordship (Gal. 5:15-26).

“Dad, do you remember when ...?” Yes, of course, I remember. But the significant thing is that she still remembers and that she still wants to spend a day with dad. And as her dad, I truly enjoy spending a day with her! Take some time today, this week, this month, to enjoy your kids while you can. And, treat them kindly. They’re God’s special gifts, entrusted to your care for a few short years.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting

Why Good Men Fail As Fathers

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I’d like you to accompany me as we study the corpse of a father who failed. What you learn may help you save the lives of your children and grandchildren.

You’ll find the cadaver in 1 Samuel 2-4.

Name: Eli.

Occupation: High priest in Israel.

Description: Overweight.

Age at death: 98

Cause of death: Broken neck suffered when fainting and falling off chair after hearing bad news.

A Good Man

Please observe that our subject had many excellent character qualities.

Note his morality. In his long life you will not find any record of terrible sin. He did not drink, steal, lie or swear. He never divorced his wife, committed adultery, or abused his children.

Observe his kind treatment of the boy Samuel. Eli knew that Samuel would be his replacement as spiritual leader of Israel. Yet there is no trace of jealousy. Instead, when Samuel revealed God’s judgment against Eli, Eli responded quietly and submissively: “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes” (1 Samuel 3:18).

Furthermore, it is clear that the old man had a deep love for the ark of God, which symbolized God’s presence. When the ark was carried into battle, Eli’s heart feared for it (see 1 Samuel 4:13). And when he heard of the capture of the ark of God, he fell off his seat, broke his neck and died (see verse 18). Right to his death, this man was deeply concerned about the things of God.

A Colossal Failure

Yet Eli failed miserably both as a father and as a priest. He knew God, and yet God pronounced judgment upon him and his descendants (see 1 Samuel 2:27-36; 3:14). Why?

Two clues point us to the answer. The first is in 1 Samuel 2:30: “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.” Eli despised the Lord.

The second clue is in verse 35: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest.” Eli was unfaithful as a priest. So how did Eli despise the Lord? How was Eli unfaithful as a priest? Both questions find their answer in a common malady: Eli was a passive father.

A Passive Father

Speaking of Eli, God said, “I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13). In 1 Samuel 2:29, Eli not only tolerated his sons’ sin, but also participated in it by eating the portion of the sacrifices intended for the Lord.

But didn’t Eli correct his sons? Not really. In effect he said, “Now boys, you shouldn’t do these things. People are talking!” (see verses 23-25). Too little, too late!

A good man? Yes, very good. But he did not have enough backbone to stand up to his sons and say, “We aren’t going to tolerate your sin around here.”

It applies today: Passivity as a father toward the things of God will damage you and your family. So that there will be no confusion, let me explain what I mean by “passivity.”

What is “Passive”?

First, passivity means having religion without reality. Eli was immersed in religion. He worked at the tabernacle – he lived there! But the reality of walking with God was not present in Eli’s life.

Eli was tolerant of personal and family sin but harsh on the sins of others. When Eli thought that Hannah was drunk at the door of the tabernacle, he scolded her (see 1:12-17). But when his own sons were committing adultery at the door of the tabernacle, it wasn’t until the worshipers started complaining that Eli came out with his feeble, “Now boys, you shouldn’t do that” (see 2:22-25).

And as for the sons’ corrupt practice of confiscating the sacrifices and eating the best parts (which should have been offered to the Lord), Eli knew he shouldn’t eat those choice pieces, but he loved prime rib (see verse 29)!

Any time a person grows soft on obedience to the Word of God, you know that he’s just playing the religion game. When you are not obeying God, you have lost reality.

Nothing corrupts children more than to see a parent who has the form of religion but who lacks reality with God. Kids know when you are putting on the pious act.

Second, passivity means shirking responsibility for shepherding your family. Eli’s boys were grown men. Perhaps Eli shrugged his shoulders and protested, “What can I do?” But God held him accountable. Instead of drifting with the evil currents of his day, he should have taken the helm and said, “Our family is going to be distinct!” But he let his family drift. Chances are he had acted the same way when the boys were younger.

Men, if you do not assume responsibility for shepherding your own family, God will hold you accountable! If that scares you, it should!

We’ve got to buck the trend. Pastor Charles Swindoll asked a Christian counselor, “What is the number one problem you face?” Without hesitation, the counselor shot back, “Passive males!”

What Should I Do?

Maybe you’re thinking, I’d like to shepherd my family, but I don’t know how. What do I do?

Walk in personal reality with God – don’t play the religion game. And don’t shirk your responsibilities.

Beyond that, our text suggests four aspects of shepherding your family.

First, lead your children to personal faith in Christ. Eli’s sons, “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12, NASB). You cannot just let your children grow up neutral so that they can decide for themselves about God. They’re growing up in a world that is hostile to God.

Second, teach your children God’s ways. Eli failed to impart to his sons a respect for God’s ways, including the sacrifices and offerings (see 2:13, 27-29). So they disobeyed God and disregarded the rebukes of God’s people (see 2:16).

God’s ways are the principles revealed in His Word. For example, your children need to know that disobedience has consequences. They need to learn the importance of prayer and Bible reading by seeing those things modeled as a way of life in the home. We live to serve others, not indulge ourselves. Our lives are governed by God’s Word.

Third, to shepherd your family you must teach your children to reverence God and the things of God (see 2:16, 17, 29, 30). I never want my children to hear me joking about God or His Word. At the same time, I do want them to know that a Christian home is a fun and happy place to live.

Finally, correct your children when they need it. Eli was in his 90s, so his boys were probably in their 40s or 50s, at least. Parents can’t correct their adult children as if they were first graders, but that doesn’t mean you must be passive. Proverbs 29:17 says, “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; he will also delight your soul” (NASB).

Perhaps you’ve seen yourself in this postmortem of a passive father. Perhaps you think it’s too late now. Your children may be grown and gone. But, by God’s grace, it’s not too late to seek God’s forgiveness and actively to seek to influence your children – and even grandchildren – from this moment on.

Will you choose to follow the Lord fervently and actively? Then we will not need to gather around your corpse, as we have with Eli’s, and ask, “Why did this good man fail?”

Reprinted by permission from Steven J. Cole, originally printed Confident Living, @ 1988 by the Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Christian Life, Failure, Fathers, Men's Articles, Parenting

What American Families Need Most

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Arizona Daily Sun, June 19, 1998

Nausea, grief, anger, fear—these were some of my feelings a few weeks ago when I heard about yet another student who took a gun to school and opened fire. I fear because I’m a parent: What if it happens at my son’s school? What can we do to halt this frightening trend?

Obviously the problem is linked to the overall moral decay of our society. Kids who get no moral training or example at home are exposed to filth and violence on television, in movies, and in rock music. Most kids have easy access to the Internet, where over 300 new pornographic sites are added every day. Garbage in, garbage out. Coupled with this is the frustrating leniency of our judicial system that often treats violent criminals as if they were the victims.

Many are advocating political solutions: tougher penalties on violent criminals, returning the Bible and prayer to public schools, teaching morality (not “values clarification”) in our schools, boycotting the supporters and purveyors of smut on TV, passing laws to protect and promote traditional family values, etc. While there is some merit in many of these approaches, the reality is that the ACLU and others who promote immorality under the banner of “freedom” will try to block every such attempt to stop the moral skid.

So what, if anything, can we as parents do? I believe that the solution begins in our homes. Rather than pointing our finger at the corruption of the society or system out there, we need to face squarely our own failures. All of these delinquent children grew up in homes where, to a great extent, the parents were delinquent. I am not absolving the kids of responsibility for their own wrongs. They are accountable to God for what they have done. But invariably these children have grown up in homes where the parents did not set the example of godly living and did not properly train the children to love and fear God. If my teenager rebels, rather than offering the lame excuse, “I did the best I could,” I need to examine my own life and make some needed changes.

Every parent should ask himself or herself, “Have I genuinely repented of my sins and trusted in Jesus Christ to reconcile me to God? Do I truly know God and walk in personal reality with Him each day? Do I spend consistent time alone with God in His Word and prayer? Are my attitudes, my words, and my behavior toward my family pleasing in God’s sight? When I sin against my family, do I humbly ask their forgiveness and seek to change?” We must be able to say with the apostle Paul, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

The late Senate Chaplain, Richard Halverson, once spoke to several hundred men at a church’s men’s dinner. He asked the men how many believed in prayer in the public schools. Almost every hand went up. Then he asked, “How many of you pray daily with your children in your home?” Only a few raised their hands. As James Baldwin has observed, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

In addition to my example, I need to spend adequate time with my kids for godly values to be seen, heard, and felt. In 1994, Bo Jackson announced his retirement from baseball. His reason? His then six-year-old son had asked his mother why his father was never home. When he didn’t get a satisfactory answer, he asked her if his father had another family somewhere else. “If that isn’t enough for any man to make up his mind, then he isn’t a man,” said Jackson. “And he isn’t a father.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. in child psychology to figure it out. If your kids spend hours with the TV and with their friends, but they only see you occasionally in passing, which will influence them the most? I’m often surprised at how few families consistently eat dinner together (with the TV off) and how few families take regular vacations together. No time together, no influence imparted. It’s not a quick fix for the massive problems infecting our society. But if it doesn’t start with us in our homes, everything else is just a Band-Aid on the cancer.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Cultural Issues, Fathers, Mothers, Parenting, Pastors

Of Football And Love

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February, 1993

With football season behind us (that high church holy day, Superbowl Sunday, is now past) and Valentine’s Day just ahead (as I write), maybe it’s a good time to put in a word for marriage, especially to husbands coming out of “football hibernation” (that period of winter when husbands’ bodily functions slow down as they sit for months in front of the tube watching game after game). Some of you wives may need to read this to your husband if he’s forgotten how during the football season.

The combination of football and marriage reminds me of a true story I read in Reader’s Digest. A woman married for 34 years to a coach said that she had learned that a ball game always has top priority. But one particularly frustrating day she burst out, “Frank, you’d miss my funeral to go to a ball game!”

Very calmly her husband the coach replied, “Roberta, what ever made you think I’d schedule your funeral on the day of a game?”

A marriage is a lot like a new diet or exercise program—easy and even fun to begin, but difficult to hang in over the long haul. As humorist Sam Levenson puts it, “Love at first sight is easy to understand. It’s when two people have been looking at each other for years that it becomes a miracle.”

But I think it’s not so much a miracle as it is the result of taking marriage off autopilot and giving it our energy and attention. God’s Word says as much when it commands us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

Several things arrest my attention in this verse. First, it’s directed to me (the husband), not to my wife. I think that as American men we tend to think of love and romance as women’s stuff. But the Bible plops it squarely in our laps as men. We are to be the lovers.

Second, it’s commanded, not just a helpful hint for whenever I get in the mood to try it. That means that to be obedient to Christ, I must concentrate on what it means to love my wife as He loves His church. As Tim Stafford has pointed out, “Nowhere does the Bible say that love is the basis for marriage; marriage is the basis for love. Paul’s command is ‘Husbands, love your wives’ rather than ‘Men, marry your lovers’” (Christianity Today [1/16/87], p. 22). If love in a marriage has grown cold, it is precisely in that marriage that it must be revived.

Third, I look in vain for any command that says, “Husbands, get your wives to submit to you.” The command to me says nothing about getting my wife to do anything! It does confront me with the ongoing responsibility of loving my wife.

Fourth, it’s an impossible command in that Christ’s love for the church is a never-attainable standard. But that doesn’t mean that I should give up. Rather, I must keep working at it. The suggestions that follow are directed at myself first, as well as at each husband in the church:

* Make time to be together. Cut out some of the busyness of your life and carve out time to talk, take a walk, or do something fun together. Shortly after taking over as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, someone asked Ray Perkins if his wife objected to his 18-hour workdays. His reply: “I don’t know. I don’t see her that much.” But as someone else pointed out, “Not many men get to be 65 and say, ‘I sure wish I’d spent more time on my business.’”

* Don’t disparage the small talk. As men, we tend to make light of the “unimportant” details of life and focus on the “big” stuff. But it’s important just to ask, “How did your day go?” and then to give my focused attention as she tells me (rather than saying, “Uh, huh” as I read the paper). Simone Signoret made a profound observation: “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” Make sure you don’t discount the threads of daily small talk.

* I need to love my wife in ways that make her feel loved, not in ways that I think ought to make her feel loved. I may think that working hard to earn a good living shows her that I love her; but she wants my time and attention more than anything else. To make her feel loved, I need to do what makes her feel loved, not what I think ought to make her feel loved.

* I need to check my tongue. Are my words kind, encouraging, and accepting or sarcastic, critical, and angry? Do I tell her often that I love her? Do I respond to her anger toward me with a counter-attack or with a blessing (1 Pet. 3:8-9)?

* Am I giving spiritual leadership to her and the family? The Bible consistently directs commands for spiritual leadership to the husband and father. A lot of men feel inadequate here, since their wives know more about the Bible than they do. But how can you lead unless you start? Your own times with the Lord must be the foundation. Pray for your wife and children. Then, lead the family in Bible reading and prayer as consistently as possible. Talk with your wife about the things of the Lord, being vulnerable to admit your own struggles. Read a book on the spiritual life with her and discuss it.

So how about giving your marriage a check up? Not many guys hit 65 and say, “I sure wish I’d spent more time watching football!” (or whatever your particular time-consumer may be). But quite a few wish they’d spent a bit more time working on their marriage.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Devotionals, Marriage, Men's Articles

Why Good People Don’t Go To Heaven

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A question I frequently ask people is, “If you were to die and stand before God and He said, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?” Most people recognize that it’s a crucial question!

The answer I most frequently hear goes like this: “I’ve tried to do the best I could. I’ve never hurt anyone intentionally. I’ve been a pretty good person.” In other words, basically decent people will get into heaven. Only really bad people—thieves, prostitutes, and murderers—will go to hell.

There’s a “slight” problem with this common notion: It is totally opposed to what Jesus taught! In Matthew 9:12-13 Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus spoke these words to the religious crowd—to the “good” people of His day. These folks were at “church” every time the door opened. You could set your watch by their prayer times. They tithed not only their money, but even their table spices. We’re talking outwardly good people!

What sparked the confrontation between them and Jesus was that Jesus had attended a dinner party thrown by a crook and attended by the crook’s unsavory friends. These people never darkened the door of a church. They didn’t even pretend to be good people. To make matters even worse, Jesus had just invited the crook to be one of His disciples, and the guy had accepted the offer! The religious folks thought that it was wrong for Jesus to offer God’s forgiveness to such riffraff. Let them clean up their act first!

When Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” He was not implying that the religious crowd were acceptable before God and didn’t need the forgiveness of sins He came to provide. Rather, He was getting at the point that there’s one thing worse than being sick, namely, being sick and thinking you’re well! Then you won’t go to the doctor for the cure. At least the crooks knew they were spiritually terminal. By confessing their sinfulness and by accepting God’s cure (His undeserved mercy through Jesus), they were made well. But those who thought they were spiritually well were terminal without knowing it.

Some years ago in a church I England, the pastor noticed that a former burglar was kneeling at the communion rail beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England, the very judge who, years before, had sentenced the burglar to seven years in prison. After his release the burglar had been converted to Christ and had become a Christian worker.

After the service, as the judge and the pastor walked home together, the judge asked, “Did you see who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail?” “Yes,” replied the pastor, “but I didn’t know that you noticed.” The two men walked on in silence for a few moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace!” The pastor nodded in agreement, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace!”

Then the judge said, “But to whom do you refer?” The pastor replied, “Why to the conversion of that convict.” The judge said, “But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself.” “What do you mean?” the pastor asked.

The judge replied, “That burglar knew how much he needed Christ to save him from his sins. But look at me. I was taught from childhood to live as a gentleman, to keep my word, to say my prayers, to go to church. I went through Oxford, took y degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-righteousness, to get me to admit that I was not better in the eyes of God than that convict whom I had sent to prison.”

Jesus taught that good people don’t go to heaven because their pride keeps them from admitting their need for a Savior. The only ones who go to heaven are those who see their sinfulness before a holy God and cry out to Him for mercy. What will you say when you stand before God? Are you hoping to get into heaven by your goodness? Jesus didn’t call “the righteous”! Is your hope in God’s grace toward sinners through Jesus Christ? You’re in!

You may want to express your trust in Christ in prayer to God. A suggested prayer is, “Heavenly Father, I acknowledge my sin, rebellion, and self-centeredness to you. I rightly deserve your holy judgment. But I put my trust in your Son, Jesus, and His death on the cross, as the just payment for my sings. Thank you for giving me eternal life according to your promise.”

If you have just put your trust in Jesus Christ, you have been born into God’s family. As a spiritual baby, you need to grow by feeding on God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). Purchase a good modern translation Bible and begin prayerfully reading it. I suggest you start in the New Testament, such as the Gospel of John or Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. As you read, ask two questions: “What are You, Lord?” “What do You want me to do?”

Also, you need to join a church where the Bible is taught and where God is truly worshiped. God bless you as you begin your new life with Him!

Related Topics: Character of God, Heaven, Soteriology (Salvation)

The Gospel Boomerang

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Preaching, I have discovered, is a hazardous occupation.

I first learned this a short time after starting in the pastorate, when I made the mistake of preaching a series on the Christian and his money.

I did not consider the subject personally threatening. My finances were above reproach. I sought to live a simple life style. I was not in debt. I was tithing my income to the Lord’s work. I was honest on my income tax.

I also was not blind. I had seen the nice cars in the church parking lot and the VCR’s and computers in people’s homes. “These people need to learn what God has to say about this important subject,” I thought. “They’re victims of living in materialistic America.”

I chose my texts as carefully as a hunter selecting his best arrows.

What I found was that God’s word works like a boomerang as well as like an arrow. I shot it at my congregation, and it came back and hit me. Over the weeks when I was preaching on money, the Lord nailed me on a number of areas.

For example, I came to realize that my “10-percent tithe mentality” was out of line. God owns it all; I am just the manager. Giving 10 percent does not get me off the hook so that I can squander the other 90 percent on myself. I had to start asking, “Lord, how much do you want me to give?” Since then, by faith, I have stretched to increase my giving. It turned out to be a very expensive sermon series.

Applying It to Myself

Experiences like this began to teach me that before I preach God’s truth to other, I must apply it to myself. If I don’t, God will.

The main benefit that results can be summed up in one word: integrity. This integrity runs in three directions.

1. Integrity toward myself. John Calvin said, “It would be better for the preacher to break his neck going into the pulpit than for him not to be the first to follow God.” Applying the truth to myself first enables me to say without pride, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” This enables me to preach God’s word with greater conviction, because I know experientially that it works.

If I have not “been there,” I have got to be careful not to imply in my sermon that I have. If I am struggling, I must admit it. I want people to know that I’m walking with God, but I don’t want them to think that means that I walk on water.

Feeling Their Struggles

2. Integrity toward my hearers. If God’s truth has hit me first, I can relate to where people are at in their struggles. This causes them to identify more with what I say, because they can sense that I understand what they are going through.

This perspective keeps me from raining down denunciations from the pulpit. While sometimes it must be done (a al the Old Testament prophets), too much scolding can be counterproductive. People come to church with their spiritual umbrellas ready, so that the preacher’s imprecations run off onto their neighbors. Scolding seldom motivates people to change.

Integrity toward my hearers gives me greater compassion and patience. I know how hard it is to apply God’s truth to myself—and I come from a Christian home where my parents loved me and taught me God’s ways. Those who have not enjoyed such blessing must struggle even more than I do.

Avoiding Formulas

3. Integrity toward God. If I have felt God’s truth hit me before I preach it to others, I know that I am not just sermonizing. I have met with God and have heard from him. I know that I have got his word for his people. With a clear conscience before God, I can preach with greater power and less fear.

Quite often after I have preached, someone will ask me, “Did anyone tell you what I’ve been going through lately?” They will proceed to tell me how my message dealt with specific things in their lives, as though I had been following them around that week. It is a great joy to reassure them, “I honestly had no idea what you were going through when I prepared this message. But it’s obvious that the Holy Spirit knew, and he prepared this message for you.”

Every preacher faces the danger of cranking out messages by formula. After you do it a few hundred times, you get the system down pretty well: “Attention-grabbing introduction; three main points; a dramatic story for the conclusion.” But maintaining integrity before God by applying his truth to myself first keeps me from formula preaching.

Before Hugh Latimer, the English martyr, preached before the high and might king, Henry VIII, who is able, if he think fit, to take thy life away. Be careful what thou sayest. But Latimer, Latimer, remember thou art also about to speak before the king of kings and Lord of lords. Take heed thou dost not displease him.”

That is the hazard of preaching—that we speak before the one to whom all things are open and laid bare (Heb. 4:13).

Related Topics: Christian Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Pastors, Spiritual Life, Teaching the Bible

Grateful Or Grumbling?

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October, 1997

Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, wrote, “I have always thought it would be a blessing if each person could be blind and deaf for a few days during his early adult life. Darkness would make him appreciate sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound.”

Her words lead me to ask, Do we truly appreciate each day as God’s gracious gift to us? Are we filled with gratitude for the many blessings He gives us? It’s so easy to slip into a grumbling, negative attitude, frustrated by the problems and irritations we face, not seeing even these things as sent from the hand of a loving God. As His redeemed people, our lives should daily overflow with gratitude for His gracious salvation, even in the midst of trials (see Col. 1:10-12; 2:7).

I just finished reading a wonderful section in Calvin’s Institutes in which he argues that God’s providence rules over every aspect of His creation. Even inanimate powers, such as sun, moon, and stars, wind and rain, obey His every command. As he puts it, “It is certain that not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command” (1.16.5). He reminds us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s will. How much more, then, does He care for us!

I just read this yesterday. This morning during my quiet time, a small gray junco flew into the window outside where I was sitting and fell to the ground. It stayed there for a few minutes, so I went outside and picked it up. It seemed to be alive, but stunned by the impact. It sat on my finger for a few minutes, blinking as if it was trying to come back to full consciousness. I tried to put it on the limb of a tree so the cats would not get it, but it took off over my shoulder. I thought it had flown off and I was about to go back in the house when I realized that it was sitting on my shoulder. Finally, after a few more minutes, it flew off into a tree, seemingly okay. Having just read Calvin on God’s providence over such trivial happenings, I rejoiced in the loving care of God for all His creatures, especially for my family and me.

After citing many biblical references that show God’s fatherly care for His people, Calvin concludes, “Indeed, the principal purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone [Ps. 91:12]” (1.17.6). In the next section, he applies this to the theme of gratitude: “Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge [of God’s providential care].” He goes on to show how God’s servants should relate every incident in life, even everyday common blessings, to His beneficent care. He concludes the section, “Admonished by so many evidences, [the Christian] will not continue to be ungrateful” (1.17.8). The beauty of Calvin’s teaching here is how he relates all of life, even the so-called trivial and commonplace happenings, to the providential care of the loving Sovereign of the universe. As he states, “If you pay attention, you will easily perceive that ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it” (1.17.11).

In a “Peanuts” cartoon, Lucy and Linus are looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain. “Boy,” said Lucy, “look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?”

“It will never do that,” Linus replies confidently. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow ”

“You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” says Lucy with a relieved smile.

“Sound theology,” states Linus, “has a way of doing that!”

Precisely! Sound theology should make us grateful people, not just once a year at Thanksgiving time, but every day, in every incident, no matter how trivial. And our grateful lives should radiate the loving care of God to a world filled with gloom. Are you growing in gratefulness, or groveling in grumbling? Maybe you’d better re-focus on your theology!

Related Topics: Character of God, Christian Life, Devotionals, Spiritual Life, Thanksgiving

Happy Holidays And Sound Doctrine

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Nov./Dec., 1996

I sat staring at my computer screen for over an hour, trying to think of some warm, fuzzy thoughts on the holidays for this issue of our church newsletter. I’m sorry to disappoint some of you, but I’m just not a warm, fuzzy holiday sort of person. I truly hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, but I often feel that articles on those themes tend to evoke wide yawns. If that’s not true for you, I’m sure you can find lots of warm, fuzzy articles in other publications you receive.

It’s not warm and fuzzy, but an issue that continues to be on my heart (I wrote about it in a newsletter article earlier this year) is the current push toward Christian unity. I received something today that informed me that it is indefensible if our church does not cooperate with other churches and ministries. If the proper biblical and theological parameters are added to that statement, I would agree. But it’s the blanket statements to the effect that we must drop all denominational and doctrinal differences and work together that concern me.

Another example: We received an invitation for our church to attend a prayer seminar in town, sponsored by many of the local churches. I feel that by not participating, I’ll be labeled as separatistic and even against prayer! But the seminar includes instruction in the latest fad, “spiritual mapping.” This involves identifying and praying against the territorial demons who have spiritual jurisdiction over our city. It’s a highly subjective practice with scant biblical support. There’s not a verse or an example of Paul doing this in his missionary endeavors. And yet we’re being told we must learn this latest technique if we want to evangelize our city! How can I be a faithful shepherd and support such spiritually weird stuff (Titus 1:9)?

Another example comes from a message given by Max Lucado to the 40,000 pastors at the Promise Keepers pastor’s conference in Atlanta earlier this year. Clergy from evangelical churches, the liberal National and World Councils of Churches, Roman Catholic churches, and even some from Mormon churches were there. Many Flagstaff pastors attended.

Lucado compared the Christian church to a ship and rebuked those who refused to acknowledge the presence of another group on the ship. He stated that the sin of disunity is at the root of our prayers not being answered and is a cause of people going to hell. He asked, “Would it not be wonderful not to be known as either Protestant or Catholic?” He then pled that every pastor who had ever spoken against another group or denomination find a member of that group and apologize. If Martin Luther and John Calvin had been there, they would have had to apologize to the Pope!

I’m sure that there has been much sinful sectarianism in the past on the part of pastors and denominational leaders. But the important question is, What does Scripture say about unity among churches? What about the importance of sound doctrine (read 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus in this light)? The current push toward unity and prayer de-emphasizes doctrine as being unimportant at best and divisive at worst. But in John 17, where Jesus prays for the unity of the church, He also prays, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Love without doctrinal truth is not biblical love.

We should be as loving and inclusive as we can be without compromising sound doctrine. But doctrine is not an impractical subject for theologians to argue about. It is the meat of the Word that nourishes healthy Christian living. I want us to be on guard against the “drop all doctrinal differences and just love one another” wave that is currently sweeping the American church. Unity is important, but not at the cost of biblical truth. Biblical love goes hand in hand with sound doctrine. So as you chew on your Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey, chew on these thoughts as well. They’re not warm and fuzzy, but I think they’re spiritually nourishing!

Related Topics: Christmas, Devotionals, False Teachers, New Year's, Thanksgiving

What Theology is This? Dave Hunt’s Misrepresentation of God and Calvinism

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As I read Dave Hunt’s latest book, What Love is This? subtitled, “Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God,” I felt both profound sadness and righteous anger. I was sad because many unsuspecting and uneducated Christians will believe that Hunt is accurate and thereby miss out on one of the richest spiritual gold mines available, namely, the life and writings of John Calvin and his heirs in the faith. I was angry because Hunt deliberately misrepresents and slanders both Calvin and Calvinism, and in the process grossly misrepresents God Himself. I know that his misrepresentation is deliberate because many Calvinists, including myself, wrote repeatedly to Hunt as the book was being written, pointing out his errors and asking him to stop misrepresenting what we believe. But sadly, he stubbornly ignored our corrections and went full steam ahead.

The resulting book is a first magnitude theological and spiritual disaster. If you rely on the supermarket tabloids as your reliable source of news, you’ll probably find Hunt satisfying for your theology. It will give you the same sort of sensational slander as the tabloids, only it is presented as if it were biblically and historically based. But if you want to grow in your knowledge of the living God, I advise you to leave this tabloid theology on the shelf.

I have had to deal with the book because a former elder is giving it to some of my elders and others, telling them that it is a balanced critique of Reformed theology. On the back cover of the book are glowing endorsements from Chuck Smith, Elmer Towns, Tim LaHaye, and others. LaHaye even states, “Calvinism … comes perilously close to blasphemy” (ellipsis in the quote). Several families have left my church over this issue, because I teach what Scripture plainly affirms, that God sovereignly chooses to save some, but not all. Our salvation rests on the foundation of God’s sovereign choice of us. His choice of us is the causative reason that we choose to believe. Thus no one can boast in his salvation, but only in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:26-31; Gal. 1:15; Eph. 1:3-12).

Hunt’s main gripe with Calvinism is its view that God is not totally loving toward every person. He argues that if God could save everyone, but chose only to save some, He is immoral and unjust, just as someone who could save a drowning man, but chose not to, would be immoral (pp. 111-112, 114-115). Hunt’s view is that God wishes for everyone to be saved and He has made salvation available to all. Now it’s up to the individual to respond and every person is capable, in and of himself, to respond. If people are not able to respond to the gospel by their own free will, then God’s offer of salvation would not be genuine, but a mockery. It would be as if God were dangling a rope above the grasp of a man trapped in a deep well, saying, “Grab the rope.” These are Hunt’s arguments.

These arguments are quite in line with human logic, but the crucial question is, are they in line with biblical revelation? Hunt wrongly assumes that the free offer of the gospel to all requires that those to whom it is offered are able to respond. But there are many Scriptures that directly state the inability of the sinner to respond to spiritual truth (John 6:44, 65; 8:43; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:6-8; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-3; etc.). Hunt dismisses or waters down all of these texts, saying that they could not mean what Calvinists say they mean, because if they did mean that, sinners could not respond to the gospel and thus the offer of the gospel would not be valid. In other words, he reasons in a circle, assuming what he later “proves.” But he does not accept the plain teaching of God’s Word on the human inability to seek after God due to the fall. In so doing, Hunt pulls God in His absolute holiness down, making Him accessible to fallen man. And he lifts up sinful, proud man by telling him that he is able to choose God at any time he pleases.

Rejecting depravity (inability), he proceeds to reject all five so-called points of Calvinism. Hunt asserts that God could not possibly have sovereignly elected some to salvation, because then He would be unloving and unjust. Never mind that in one of God’s earliest revelations of Himself, He plainly states, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exod. 33:19). That statement loses all meaning if God is gracious and compassionate to every single person equally. From the outset, God establishes His right as the holy God to choose some and reject others, not based on human merit (there is none), but based on His sovereign will. But Hunt denies God this prerogative, in spite of abundant scriptural revelation.

In the process of setting forth and defending his humanistic (and unbiblical) view of God, Hunt rips Calvin and Calvinism, or at least he thinks that’s what he’s doing. Actually, Hunt does not understand even some of the basic teachings of Calvinism, although he thinks he does. Thus from the very start, and on virtually every page, Hunt misrepresents what Calvinists believe. Even though he does not agree with what they truly believe, for the most part he is setting up and attacking a caricature that at times has some resemblance to the real thing, but more often is so far removed that biblically informed Calvinists would attack it too. They just would not label it as Calvinism, as Hunt erroneously does. Here are a few (of many) examples:

*Hunt says that Calvinism limits God’s saving grace to a select few, leaving the majority of mankind without hope or possibility of salvation (p. 78). The offer of salvation is extended only to the elect (p. 103). The truth is, Calvinists believe that God’s saving grace is freely offered to the whole world, and that there will be an innumerable company in heaven from every tribe on earth, purchased by Jesus’ blood (Rev. 5:9-12).

*Hunt says that Calvinism puts the blame for sin and the damnation of sinners totally upon God who predestined everything to turn out that way (p. 84). God causes all men to sin (p. 42). The truth is, Calvinists believe that while all things are under God’s sovereign decree (Eph. 1:11), He is not the author of sin. Sinners are responsible for their own damnation, and none can blame God for being in hell. I personally referred Hunt to the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3, paragraph 1, for the Reformed statement of how God is sovereign over all and yet not responsible for sin. But Hunt chose to ignore this and persist in his slanderous charge.

*Hunt says that Calvinism denies any genuine choice for mankind (p. 89). Coupled with this, Calvinists deny that men have a will (p. 94). “According to Calvin, salvation had nothing to do with whether or not a person believed the gospel” (p. 42). The truth is, Calvin and Calvinists believe in human choice and will. They assert, however, that fallen men are, as the Arminian Wesley even put it, “fast bound in sin and nature’s night,” unable to choose salvation apart from God’s sovereign working in their hearts. I’m not sure where Hunt dug up the ludicrous charge that Calvin separated salvation from faith. A simple reading of his chapters on faith and repentance in The Institutes (Book 3, chapters 2 & 3) will show that Hunt either has not read Calvin or he is deliberately misrepresenting him.

*Hunt says, “Calvinism presents a God who fills hell with those whom He could save but instead damns because He doesn’t love them” (p. 116). Hunt brazenly states that if God did not show mercy to all when all were equally guilty, then He perverts justice (p. 115)! The truth is, Calvinists affirm that God is mighty to save all whom He chooses to save (e.g., the apostle Paul). But He owes salvation to none. For reasons known only in the secret counsel of His will, God chose to be glorified both in the salvation of His elect, and in the just damnation of those who have rebelled against Him. Paul’s entire argument in Romans 9 is that as the divine potter, God has the prerogative to make some vessels for mercy and some for wrath, and that we have no basis to question what He does. The Bible is also clear that God’s love is not uniformly revealed to all. He loved Israel, but He did not choose to love the surrounding nations to the same degree (Deut. 7:6-8). In His inscrutable will, He permitted the nations for many centuries to go their own way in spiritual darkness. He gave them the witness of His goodness through creation and common grace, which is enough to condemn them, but not sufficient to save them (Acts 14:16-17; Rom. 1:18-32). Oddly, though, against both Scripture and history, Hunt argues that God loves all the heathen exactly the same as He loves His elect bride, the church. I would like him to answer how God loved the American Indians who lived here 3,000 years ago to the same degree that He loved King David and revealed Himself to him? A quick glance at the world today shows that not all have an equal chance of hearing and responding to the gospel.

In order to discredit Calvinism, Hunt has to discredit Calvin and his famous Institutes. Incredibly, Hunt dismisses the Institutes in one sweeping judgment by pronouncing that they came from the two primary sources of Augustine and the Latin Vulgate Bible (p. 38)! Since Calvin was a new convert when he wrote the first edition of the Institutes, they “could not possibly have come from a deep and fully developed evangelical understanding of Scripture.” But Hunt does not mention whether or not they actually do reflect such an understanding! If they were as shallow as Hunt alleges, why did they have such profound impact, not only on his generation, but also on godly Christian scholars through the centuries, up to the present day? I can testify personally, that of the hundreds of human books I have ever read, none rival The Institutes for their profound spiritual insight. Calvin uses Scripture to exalt God and humble me as a sinner as few writers can do.

As for the man Calvin, Hunt asserts that he was so heavily influenced by Augustine that he never really broke free from his Roman Catholic roots. He totally rejects Augustine’s writings by asserting, “Calvin drew from a badly polluted stream when he embraced the teachings of Augustine! How could one dip into such contaminating heresy without becoming confused and infected?” (p. 51). I must wonder, has Hunt even read Augustine? I have read substantial portions of Augustine’s works, and while he obviously was tainted in a bad way at points by the Catholic Church, he also had a solidly biblical grasp of much essential Christian doctrine. To dismiss the man as “a badly polluted stream” and as promoting “contaminating heresy” shows Hunt’s, not Augustine’s, ignorance and error.

Also, while Calvin often quotes Augustine favorably (because there is much favorable to quote, and because Calvin did not have nearly the theological resources to draw on that we possess), he often disputes with Augustine when he thinks that he failed to interpret Scripture rightly. Calvin’s sole source of truth was the Bible, as T. H. L. Parker’s excellent book, Calvin’s Preaching [Westminster/John Know Press] so capably demonstrates. Again, if Hunt had carefully read either Augustine or Calvin, he would have seen that these men sought to base their teachings on the Bible alone. Of course both men made errors. Who doesn’t? But read these men and you will sense, “They knew God in a way that I do not know God!”

Hunt portrays Calvin as the evil tyrant of Geneva who sought to force Irresistible Grace on the people, in line with his view of denying all power of choice to man (pp. 62-63). “Calvin exerted authority much like the papacy which he now despised” (p. 63) Hunt accuses Calvin of exercising “dictatorial control over the populace” (p. 64). He approved the used of torture for extracting confessions, including the cruel 30-day torture of a victim who was then tied to a stake, his feet nailed to it, and his head was cut off (p. 65). And, of course, Hunt blames Calvin for the burning of Servetus without giving any of the historical context for his readers (pp. 68-70). Hunt concludes, “Calvin’s conduct day after day and year after year was the very antithesis of what it would have been had he truly been led of the Spirit of God” (p. 72). In all of these accusations, Hunt is echoing militantly anti-Christian critics, such as Voltaire, Will Durant, Erich Fromm, and others (see Christian History [Vol. V, No. 4], p. 3).

Of course, Calvin had enemies, even in his own day, who picked up on his weaknesses and exaggerated them in an attempt to smear him, because they did not like his teaching. Every godly man can expect such treatment, to one degree or another (Matt. 5:11-12; Luke 6:26; 2 Tim. 3:12). But anyone who has read T. H. L. Parker’s life of Calvin, his Calvin’s Preaching, or Beza’s life of Calvin (Beza was Calvin’s understudy and successor in Geneva), will be horrified at how a professing Christian can attack a great man of God like Calvin as ruthlessly as Hunt does. Of Calvin, Beza said, “I have been a witness of him for sixteen years and I think that I am fully entitled to say that in this man there was exhibited to all an example of the life and death of the Christian, such as it will not be easy to depreciate, and it will be difficult to imitate” (Christian History, ibid., p. 2).

The plain fact of history is that the godly Puritans, including John Bunyan and John Owen, plus the spiritual giants Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Simeon, Charles Spurgeon, the Princeton theologians, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Francis Schaeffer, and a host of others have all looked to Calvin not only as an astute theologian, but also as a great model of godliness. I have read the Institutes, about a half dozen biographies of Calvin, thousands of pages of his commentaries, numerous books about Calvin and his theology, and several books of his sermons. I have never picked up anything even close to resembling Hunt’s caricature of the man. I agree with the learned Scottish theologian, William Cunningham, who said, “Calvin is the man who, next to St. Paul, has done most good to mankind” (Christian History, ibid.). Hunt’s attack is simply impossible. An evil, cruel tyrant could not have written such exalted views of God and such deep insights into God’s Word as you find in Calvin’s writings. When so many great men of God pay tribute to Calvin, shouldn’t Hunt at least have stopped to consider that he might be missing something?

Another major problem with Hunt’s work is his unscholarly manipulation of source material to suit his purposes. For his attacks on Calvin, he often quotes the militant anti-Christian, Will Durant, without ever acknowledging that he is quoting an enemy of the faith. He often quotes the liberal, Frederic Farrar without acknowledging his theological bias. Even though Hunt in his other writings is militantly anti-Catholic, he uses the pro-Catholic leader of the Oxford Movement, Pusey, when he sides with Hunt against Calvinism. But there is no mention from Hunt, even in a footnote, of the theological bias of his sources. Ignorant readers would think that he is quoting great men of the faith.

But far worse is the way that he uses sources to “prove” blatant historical errors! He cites a source (p. 19) that claims that, among others, Richard Baxter, John Newton, and John Bunyan opposed Calvinism! Anyone who has read those men knows that they all were strong proponents of God’s sovereign election. (Baxter held to a universal atonement, but he also strongly held to human depravity and God’s sovereign election.) On the same page, he pulls a quote from Spurgeon’s Autobiography to prove that Spurgeon was against limited atonement. But in the original context, Spurgeon was arguing in favor of limited atonement (Autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon [Banner of Truth], 1:171-172)! In fact, Spurgeon states (1:172) that the teaching that Christ died for everyone is “a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption.” Later (p. 122), Hunt cites “a British scholar who thoroughly knew Spurgeon’s writings and sermons” again to the effect that Spurgeon definitely rejected limited atonement and that he ascribed freedom of will to men. Yet in his bibliography (p. 428), Hunt lists Spurgeon’s sermon, “Free Will a Slave,” where Spurgeon refutes free will. Iain Murray (The Forgotten Spurgeon [Banner of Truth], pp. 81 ff.) cites numerous references to show that Spurgeon not only affirmed “limited atonement”; he also argued that those who deny it weaken and undermine the entire doctrine of the substitutionary atonement. In his autobiography (1:168), Spurgeon called Arminianism (which is Dave Hunt’s view, even though Hunt denies it, since he holds to eternal security) heresy and states plainly, “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” Either Hunt is a very sloppy scholar, or he is deliberately trying to deceive his readers into thinking that Spurgeon is on his side when he very well knows that he is not.

On page 102, Hunt quotes Spurgeon again and claims that he “could not accept the teaching that regeneration came before faith in Christ through the gospel.” Obviously, he is quoting Spurgeon out of context for his own ends (as he frequently does), without any understanding of Spurgeon’s theology. Murray (ibid., pp. 90 ff.), thoroughly documents how Spurgeon believed that faith and repentance are impossible before God regenerates the sinner. For example, Murray (p. 94) cites Spurgeon as saying that repentance and faith are “the first apparent result of regeneration.” And, “Evangelical repentance never can exist in an unrenewed soul.” Murray cites many more examples. Spurgeon believed “that the work of regeneration, conversion, sanctification and faith, is not an act of man’s free will and power, but of the mighty, efficacious and irresistible grace of God” (p. 104).

On page 100 is another example of how Hunt uses quotations out of context to make his opponent look bad and himself look good. He quotes R. C. Sproul to sound as if Sproul is fully endorsing the view “that God is not all that loving toward” sinners. But in the preceding and following context of Sproul’s book, Sproul is raising an objection that a critic might ask, conceding the critic’s objection as true for the sake of argument, and then raising a further question to show that the critic’s question is misguided. Hunt omits the context and thus makes Sproul appear to be saying something he isn’t stating at all! This is incredibly bad scholarship and argumentation on Hunt’s part.

On page 99, Hunt reveals his ignorance of theology when he says that J. I. Packer contradicts his fellow Calvinists and even himself in declaring that regeneration follows faith and justification. Hunt then quotes a sentence from Packer that speaks of justification by faith, not regeneration! Those are distinct theological terms with distinct meanings, as anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of theology would know! But never mind, Hunt discredits Packer to the unsuspecting reader, which is all that matters to Hunt.

It would be easy to expand this review to book length, since the errors, faulty logic, and gross misrepresentation of Calvinism and the God of the Bible just keep on coming. My quandary both in personal correspondence with Hunt prior to the publication of the book and in reading the book itself has to do with Hunt’s personal integrity. If he is honestly ignorant about what Calvinists believe, he should not have written the book until he gained a fair understanding of their views. It’s not that Hunt was not confronted with this beforehand. A number of Reformed men besides me warned him that he was misrepresenting the Reformed faith. But he ignored these warnings and persisted in blasting away. He acknowledges as much in chapter 2, claiming that Calvinists are elitists and that if Calvinism is so difficult to understand that Hunt can’t understand it, it must not be biblical. However, I know many who are young in their faith who understand these doctrines quite well. Hunt should have stopped long enough to understand the opposing view so as not to misrepresent it. His attacks on his straw man simply discredit him as a reputable critic.

Although Hunt would vigorously disagree, I believe that at the root of his slanderous attack on Calvin and Calvinists, and his blasphemous charges against the God of the Bible, is his refusal to submit to clear biblical revelation that does not fit human logic. After stating that God has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires, Paul raises the objection, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” (Rom. 9:19). Dave Hunt’s logical answer is, “The reason that God rightly can find fault is that He has given free will and the opportunity for salvation to every man.” It makes perfect logical sense. But the problem is, that is not the biblical answer! The biblical answer is, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” In other words, God’s answer is, “You don’t have a right to ask the question!”

I admit, that answer is not logically satisfying! Years ago, as a college student, I used to fight with Paul over it, accusing him of copping out right where I needed my question answered. Then one day as I was contending with Paul, the Lord opened my eyes to see. He was saying, “I did answer the question, you know! You just happen not to like the answer!” I realized then that I had to submit to what God had written through Paul. On that day, I became a “Calvinist,” although I had not yet read a single page of Calvin. If Dave Hunt would submit his logic to God’s revelation in Scripture, he would also become what he now hates and so grossly misrepresents—a Calvinist! Don’t waste your time reading Dave Hunt. Pick up a copy of Calvin’s Institutes and begin to feast on the majesty of God!

Related Topics: Book Review, Character of God, Election, Predestination, Scripture Twisting