Happy Holidays And Sound DoctrineRelated Media
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!
What Theology is This? Dave Hunt’s Misrepresentation of God and CalvinismRelated Media
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!
Husbands Must Focus On Being LoversRelated Media
Arizona Daily Sun
February 12, 1999
Twenty-five years ago next month, my bride and I exchanged our wedding vows of lifelong commitment to one another. Over the past quarter century together (22 years of which I’ve been a pastor), we’ve watched with sadness as the marriages of many friends and acquaintances have hit the skids. While each couple is unique, I’ve noticed some common errors that have led to divorce.
One of the most common problems is the passive (that’s a nice way of saying “wimp”) husband. He assumes that his marriage and family life will run on auto-pilot while he pursues his own career and other interests. He’s often a nice wimp. But he neglects his responsibility as a husband and father. His main goal when he’s at home is peace. When he gets home, he doesn’t want hassles. He wants supper, the evening paper, a couple of TV shows, and usually more sex than his tired wife is ready to give. If she complains about problems with the kids or with running the household, his standard reply is, “Do whatever you think is best, dear.” He thinks that this is an agreeable reply. He can’t understand why his wife is so unhappy.
Over the years, the wife’s frustration with the Wimp increases, along with her frequency in letting him know about it. He runs for cover—more time at the office, more time with his buddies, commiserating with other hen-pecked wimps who just don’t understand why women have to be that way. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say, “Houston, we’ve got a problem here!”
The Wimp needs to dust off and follow the instruction manual on marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Biblical love isn’t a passive feeling that overwhelms you when you see a beautiful body. It’s not something you activate on wedding day and let run on auto-pilot. Biblical love is an active, self-sacrificing commitment to seek the highest good of the one loved. Because we are all self-centered by nature, such love requires careful thought and deliberate, determinative action.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never commands husbands to be the head of their homes. It flatly declares that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23). It does command him to love his wife and to train his children in the things of God. A Wimp neglects these duties. A responsible husband actively pursues them. But the fact of headship means that the husband can’t blame his wife or kids if his home life is not pleasant. He is responsible.
What can a wimpish husband do to take responsibility for his home life? First and foremost, he himself must live daily in a genuine personal relationship with God. This begins with turning from sin and trusting in Jesus Christ as his Savior. It is fostered by spending time often reading the Bible and praying. It requires seeking to please God every minute, beginning on the thought level. A man can’t lead his family where he isn’t walking.
Next, a husband must establish and maintain a climate of love in his family. Any rivalry or competition between him and his wife must be set aside. He must work to build a team spirit with his wife. Sarcasm, put-downs, name-calling, and abusive words must stop, since they destroy caring, loving relationships. The husband’s job is to nourish and cherish his wife and to protect and build up her and the children.
At the heart of all of this is daily dying to self in order to follow Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23). Selfishness is at the core of most anger and conflict. Again, biblical love is by definition self-sacrificing, not self-serving: “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
The main reason Christian husbands should shrug off passivity and actively love their wives and children is not so that everyone will be happy. Paul says that Christian marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Our homes should reflect the sweet fragrance of the love of Jesus to those who come near. Our aim is to exalt Jesus Christ; happiness is a by-product.
Humorist Sam Levenson says, “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 it’s not really a miracle. It’s a result of the deliberate choice to live in obedience to God and actively to love your wife as He commands.
The Inefficiency Of GodRelated Media
(Published in Kindred Spirit, Spring, 1987, in slightly edited form, under the title, “Now, Just a Minute”)
As I was speed-reading the latest book on how to be a more efficient executive, I realized that God is terribly inefficient. I say it reverently, of course. But really, the Lord could have been much more efficient in the way He administered His eternal plan. I’m not sure the Lord would do well in modern America.
We live in a culture obsessed with efficiency. We have instant everything: instant photography, instant coffee, instant copy machines, and instant information available on almost any conceivable subject. Computers can do in seconds what took a whole office full of people weeks to do a few years ago. We have the one-minute manager, one-minute Christian executive, and even the one-minute Christian father! If something is more efficient, we want it.
Take child development. We push our kids toward achievement. To stimulate creativity we are told to play recordings of great music to them while they’re still in the womb. One Christian leader says we ought to read the Bible to them during that time as well, to get a jump on spiritual development. We decorate the nursery for maximum intellectual and sensory development. We waste no time in signing up the little ones for classes to nurture their latent talents in music and sports.
We buy them educational toys and games, enroll them in progressive nursery schools, and get them a personal computer so they won’t be at a disadvantage later in life. Our goal seems to be to make childhood as efficient as possible.
Why did God design the maturing process to take so long, anyway? Most animals mature and reproduce before human beings are out of kindergarten. It seems to me that God could get a lot more use out of people if He had made them that way.
As I think over my own life, I can hardly remember anything from the first ten years. From the next ten years, I can remember a lot of things I’d rather forget. From the third ten there are a lot of things that I thought I knew that the last ten have proven wrong. What a waste! At least thirty years just to get me to a place where I could function not too poorly in serving the Lord. At 40 I feel like I’m just beginning to get up to speed.
When I think of the only perfect Man who has ever lived, I marvel at the inefficiency of God. If I had been His parent, I’d have had the boy out preaching before His tenth birthday. Certainly by the time He was 20 He could have launched His international TV ministry! Why waste 30 years in obscure Nazareth and then give Him only three years to work before His death? Obviously, God must not have read any books on developing a child’s full potential!
Or take sleep and rest. I feel like I could go full bore, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still not accomplish all that needs to get done. Life is short enough as it is. But then my body requires almost one-third of my life just for sleep.
I’ve tried to get by on less sleep. I’ve even prayed about it. With less sleep I could pray more, read the Bible more, write more, read more books, and do all sorts of other productive things. But my body won’t cooperate. If I don’t sleep at least seven hours a night, I can’t function. What a waste!
Then there’s that weekly day of rest, which the Lord ordained and our modern evangelical world ignores. With church morning and evening and with all my projects, I’m too busy to rest on the Lord’s Day. The Lord must not have known about lawns and dirty cars when He ordained a weekly day of rest.
And consider people. God is so inefficient in the way He molds and uses them. Noah was 500 years old before God told him to build the ark. He was 600 when the flood came. He lived 350 years after the flood. What couldn’t I accomplish if I had 950 years! And yet all poor Noah is noted for is building an ark and planting a vineyard. Not much to show for all that time!
Abraham was 75 when he left Haran at the Lord’s command. That’s a lot better than 500, but still not too efficient. The Lord promised Abraham a son when he was 75, but he was 100 before the promise was a reality. That’s 25 years--a quarter of a century. People were growing old and dying. Wars were being fought. The world needed to hear about God’s promise to Abraham.
What did Abraham achieve in that span of time? Do you suppose he had well-defined goals? After all, becoming the father of a great nation is no small undertaking. It must have required careful planning. Did he keep his calendar full of key appointments to help move him toward the mark?
Maybe Joseph is our kind of man. He must have been an efficiency expert to administrate the famine relief program for Pharaoh. God must not have wasted any time with him. Sharp, honest, trustworthy, high moral standards--this young man had what it takes for leadership! After a brief apprenticeship with Potiphar, Joseph would be ready for a top management position in some ministry organization.
But God put this choice young man in an Egyptian prison for the better part of his twenties. At one point he had a good chance to get out. He interpreted the cupbearer’s dream. The cupbearer was reinstated. Joseph’s parting words before the man left the dungeon to resume his duties at Pharaoh’s palace were, “Remember me.” But the cupbearer forgot. Couldn’t the Lord remind him?
In Genesis 41, we read of Pharaoh’s dream, which led to Joseph’s release from prison and rise to power. Don’t miss those words in verse one which are so easy to skim over: “Now it happened at the end of two full years ...” It was two full years from the time the cupbearer was released until Pharaoh had his dream. You can read that phrase in a fraction of a second, but it was two choice years of Joseph’s life. Two years in a stinking foreign prison! Two years of wondering if there was a God in heaven listening to his prayers! Why couldn’t God have given Pharaoh his dream two years sooner? Maybe God would be interested in a seminar on time management?
It’s not hard to multiply example after example. Moses, the great leader, blew it at 40 (why didn’t the Lord call him at 25 or 30?), then had 40 more years tending sheep in the desert before he led Israel out of Egypt. Wouldn’t three or four years of seminary have been adequate?
David, the young man after God’s own heart, was anointed king as a teenager, but then spent his prime twenties fleeing from cave to cave to escape the mad king Saul. The nation had to wait for the glories of David’s reign.
The apostle Paul spent several years in Arabia, then more in Tarsus before his ministry took off. If there was ever a key man in the history of the church, it was Paul. He launched the whole thing in the Gentile world. Surely his few short years of ministry had to have been packed full. His appointment book must not have had a slack hour.
Yet as Paul dreamed of going to Rome, Spain, and points beyond, God saw fit to put him in custody in Caesarea. Sure, it was ultimately God’s way of getting Paul to Rome, all expenses paid. But in Acts 24:27 we read some words which shouldn’t surprise us by now: “But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.”
Two inefficient years sitting in Caesarea! Wasn’t the church praying for his release? Here was God’s greatest apostle sitting around, day in and day out, for two full years while the world was going without the gospel! Two wasted years when he could have been out preaching, planting churches, evangelizing Spain! The Lord sure could have used a course in efficient employee management!
Could God possibly be running His kingdom program differently than I’m running my hectic schedule? Could He be developing His children from a different perspective than I’m training mine? Could God be less concerned than I am about squeezing every spare minute of every day for all its worth?
Could there be any significance that His Word often refers to the Christian experience as a walk, seldom as a run, and never as a mad dash? Could God be less concerned about the efficiency of minutes and more concerned about the efficiency of eternity?
You’ll have to think about these things, if you have time. I’ve gotta run--I’m late for my next appointment.
What We Should Learn From The Tragedy In Central AmericaRelated Media
Arizona Daily Sun, November 27, 1998
The statistics from the recent storm in Central America are staggering—over 10,000 dead, over 600,000 homeless! In Flagstaff terms, that would be one out of five dead and over ten times our population homeless! It’s hard to fathom that much human suffering!
When something like this happens, skeptics always ask, “Where was God in this tragedy? If God is both loving and powerful, why did He allow this to happen?” These are not new questions, of course. For centuries, thinking people have wrestled with the problem of suffering. I can’t resolve it in this brief article, but I would point out that removing God from the equation does not solve the problem. If you assume that there is no God, you should get the bumper sticker that says, “Life is tough; then you die.” If you take God out of the picture, you remove all hope!
The answer to the problem of suffering given in the Bible is the only one I have found to make any sense. In a nutshell, suffering and death are in this world as the penalty imposed by God because of our sin and rebellion against Him (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12). Because He is just and righteous, God cannot dismiss our sin without penalty. But because He is also loving and merciful, God provided a means for us to escape the ultimate penalty, eternal separation from Him (called the second death in Revelation 20:14): He sent Jesus Christ to bear the penalty we deserve. All who trust in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross are completely pardoned and receive eternal life as God’s gracious gift (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
But perhaps you’re thinking, “Does this mean that all those people in Central America who died or lost loved ones were greater sinners than the rest of us?” A story in Luke 13:1-5 answers this question. Jesus refers there to two tragedies that had happened in Palestine around that time. Pilate, the Roman governor, had slaughtered some Galilean Jews while they were offering religious sacrifices. And, in another instance, a tower in the village of Siloam had collapsed and killed 18 people. In both instances, Jesus asks, “Do you suppose that these victims were worse sinners than others because they suffered in this manner?” His answer in both cases is the same: “No, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
What did Jesus mean? Several things: First, when we talk about “innocent” victims in some tragedy, we are using the word “innocent” from a human perspective, not from God’s perspective. From God’s point of view, none are innocent. We all have need of repentance or we will come under His judgment. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). By “perish,” Jesus was referring not to physical death (which we all must face), but to the second death, perishing eternally because of God’s righteous judgment on our sin. By repentance, Jesus meant that we should turn from our selfish, sinful ways to God and trust in His provision for our sin—Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Also, Jesus is saying that when a tragedy hits, we who survive should take it to heart. We never know the day that we will die and stand before the holy God. Are we prepared to face Him should such a tragedy befall us? If not, the tragedy should be a wake up call: It could happen to us! If we do not repent before that day, we will perish!
In Romans 11:22, Paul marvels at both the kindness and severity of God. A tragedy like that in Central America should cause us to do the same. The suddenness and severity of what happened should warn us of the coming judgment which will be far worse (read the Book of Revelation if you need a reminder of what is coming!). You will not escape if you neglect the great salvation God now offers. But, also, marvel at God’s kindness. You are still alive. God is graciously giving you more time. Your first response to what happened in Central America should be to get right with God before it is too late.
Also, the kindness of God should move us to generous compassion toward the victims in Central America. At this holiday season, I urge you to show God’s compassion by sending a generous donation to a reputable charity that is assisting the victims there.
Looking Back From 60Related Media
I cranked over the big 6-0 on my odometer last April. It was one of my most memorable birthdays, and not just because of leaving the fifties behind. My wife and I were in Nepal on a ministry trip, and before I spoke that day, we were able to take a one-hour flight to view the Himalayas and Mount Everest. God is an awesome Creator and a gracious Heavenly Father!
Turning 60 has caused me to do a lot of thinking about where I am at, what I have done with my life, and what I will do with any remaining years that the Lord grants me. By His grace alone, I have been a pastor now for almost 31 years. I really mean, “by His grace alone,” because I went into the pastorate overwhelmed with my own inadequacy for the task. I told the Lord that I would try it for three years and see what happened. He graciously has carried me all of these years, in spite of my many shortcomings.
One day in the early years of ministry, I was jogging in the woods near our house. I had been reading the autobiography of the incomparable C. H. Spurgeon, and as I jogged, I prayed one of those “go for broke” prayers. I asked the Lord to bless my ministry as He blessed the ministry of Spurgeon.
I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the thought popped into my mind with such a jolt that I believe it was the Lord speaking to me. He said, “What about John Spurgeon?” The question hit me with such force that I stopped jogging and just stood there thinking about it.
You may never have heard of John Spurgeon, but he was the father of his better known son, Charles. He was a faithful pastor. He lived into his nineties, whereas Charles died at 57, so he lived beyond Charles’ death. If he had not had a famous son, his name would mean nothing to any of us. He would have served the Lord in his day and gone to his reward without much notice. It was as if the Lord was asking me, “Are you willing to be a John Spurgeon, to faithfully love and shepherd your wife, your children, and My church, even if your ministry is never as phenomenal as that of Charles Spurgeon?” As I thought about it, I realized that my focus had to be on being as faithful as John Spurgeon, not on becoming as famous as Charles.
Some time after that, I read an interview with Jerry Falwell. At the time, he was the head of the Moral Majority, the pastor of a 20,000 member church with a TV show, and the president and founder of Liberty University. The interviewer asked him what he wanted to be remembered for. Falwell’s stock went up in my book when he said that he wanted to be remembered as a godly husband to his wife, a godly father to his children, and a godly pastor of his church, in that order. His fame and amazing accomplishments had not diverted him from his godly priorities.
So as I look back from 60, I haven’t pastored a super-church. I am not in demand around the country at leadership conferences. But, I’m not sorry that I spent time many evenings reading to my children and playing on the floor with them when they were young. My kids are all following the Lord, married to Christians, still coming to hear dad preach each Sunday, and rearing their families to follow Christ. I’m glad that we took time each summer to go camping and enjoy God’s beautiful creation together. I’m thankful that my wife and I maintained our relationship during the child-rearing years. Now that the kids are out of the nest, she and I are best friends with each other and we’re friends with our adult children.
As far as the ministry goes, I’m even more overwhelmed with my own inadequacy than when I began. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t exclaim with Paul, “who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). I’m glad that he went on to say (2 Cor. 3:5), “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” I still stand in awe of Charles Spurgeon and try to learn all that I can from him. But, I’m content to keep on seeking to be as faithful as his father, John.
An open pastoral letter to a young Christian woman considering marriage to an unbelieverRelated Media
Last Sunday at church your parents told me of your wedding plans. Being in love and looking forward to marriage is an exciting time in life. I can imagine your hopes as you look to the future.
Your parents told me that your fiancé is a considerate, well-mannered gentleman with a promising career ahead of him. Knowing you, I am sure that he must have many fine qualities. I am concerned, however, because your parents also mentioned that he has not trusted Christ as his Savior. You know that I care deeply about you. I’m taking the time to write because I want you to experience God’s fullest blessing in your life.
Since you profess to know Christ as your Savior, you know how much He loves us as His people. He has given us His Word to tell us how to live in this evil world so as to experience the abundant life that Christ came to provide. His commandments are always for our good, never for our harm. They are like the rules of the road; if we break them—ignoring stop signs and driving on the wrong side of the road—we and others will get hurt.
Perhaps you have never considered what the Scriptures say about a believer marrying an unbeliever. Please look up the Bible passages I refer to below so that you can study them for yourself. Ask God for an obedient heart. There is much at stake here.
It was through wrongful marriages that Satan corrupted the human race, leading to the awful judgment of the flood (Gen. 6:1-7). Abraham, of whom God promised to make a great nation through Isaac, made his servant swear by the Lord that he would not take a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites (Gen. 24:1-4). Isaac’s son, Esau, married two unbelieving wives. These women brought much grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:34-35; 27:46; 28:8). Later Dinah, daughter of Jacob, got involved with a Canaanite man. There was the danger that God’s fledgling people would intermarry with the Canaanites (Gen. 34:9; 38).
Because of this, God sovereignly (Gen. 50:20) had Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt, resulting in the whole family of Jacob moving there. Eventually they became slaves for 400 years. This solidified the people and hindered them from intermarriage with the Canaanites, which would have thwarted God’s plan to bless all nations through Abraham’s descendants.
Later, through Moses God plainly told His people not to intermarry with the people of the land (Exod. 34:12-16; Deut. 7:1-5). One of the most formidable enemies Moses had to face was Balaam. God prevented Balaam from cursing Israel. So Balaam counseled Balak, king of Moab, with an insidious plan: Corrupt the people you cannot curse. Lure them with your Moabite women. Israel fell for it. For this sin, God sent a terrible plague on Israel, killing 24,000 (Num. 25:1-13).
Throughout Israel’s history, intermarriage to heathen women created problems. Samson’s ministry was nullified through his involvement with Philistine women (Judges 16:4-22). Solomon’s idolatrous wives turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8). The wicked Jezebel established Baal worship during the reign of her weak Jewish husband, Ahab (1 Kings 16:29-22:40). Jehoshaphat, who was otherwise a godly king, nearly ruined the nation by joining his son, Jehoram, in marriage with Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Chron. 18:1). The terrible effects of this sin did not come to the surface during Jehoshaphat’s lifetime. (Sin often has delayed consequences.) But later Jehoram slaughtered all of his brothers and turned the nation to idolatry. God struck him and he died after eight years in office. His son Ahaziah became king, but was murdered after one year. Then Athaliah slaughtered all her own grandsons (except one, who was hidden) and ruled the land in wickedness for six years. The Davidic line, from which Christ would be born, was almost extinguished, all because of Jehoshaphat’s marrying his son to an unbelieving woman (1 Chronicles 17:1-23:15)!
Years later, when the godly Ezra heard that some of the returned remnant had married women of the land, he tore his garment, pulled some of the hair from his head and beard, and sat down appalled (Ezra 9:1-4). This was followed by a time of national mourning and repentance (Ezra 9:4-10:44). When Nehemiah discovered that some Jews had married Canaanite women, he contended with them, pronounced a curse on them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, calling their actions “a great evil” (Neh. 13:23-29)! Malachi also condemned the men of Israel for marrying the daughters of foreign gods, praying that they would be cut off from Israel (Mal. 2:10-12).
The New Testament is equally clear: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16a). When Paul gives instructions for those who are married to unbelieving mates (1 Cor. 7:12-16), he is not endorsing entering such a marriage. Rather he is giving counsel to those who have become believers since marriage, but whose spouses have not. Concerning entering a new marriage, Paul states clearly that it must be “… only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39, emphasis mine).
Perhaps you would agree that marrying a non-Christian is not God’s best, but you may think that it isn’t a serious sin. But in Malachi 2:11, God calls it an “abomination.” The same Hebrew word is used elsewhere to describe homosexuality, sacrificing children to pagan gods, witchcraft, and idolatry. In God’s sight, it is not a gray area!
My point in going through all these Scriptures is to show you that there is a principle that runs throughout the Bible: God wants His people to be holy, separate from unbelievers in life’s important relationships. It is never His will for His people to marry unbelievers.
I know that your emotions run strong at this point. God gives us the feelings of romantic love to enjoy. But if you marry someone who does not love God, you will dishonor God and bring much trouble upon yourself and, someday, upon your children.
I have written strongly because I care so deeply. After all, this is the second most important decision of your life, after receiving Christ. A shepherd who saw a sheep heading toward a cliff would not be a good shepherd if he did not do everything in his power to stop the sheep from its course of self-destruction.
Remember, God loves you. My heart’s concern is that you will consider the Word of God and obey Him. Although it will be difficult in the short run, obeying God is the only course of blessing for your life.
Sincerely in Christ’s love,
Pastor Steve Cole
Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Home, Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Discipleship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Love, Marriage, Relationships, Singleness, Spiritual Life, Temptation, Women
Mining For Gold: What I’ve Learned from Reading Christian BiographiesRelated Media
During a class in my final year in seminary, Dr. Howard Hendricks said something that jumped out and grabbed me for life. The gist of it was, “You will be leaving here soon. Ten years from now, there will be a great difference between each of you in your personal lives and ministries. Some will have failed miserably. Others will be doing very well. Two factors will have the greatest impact on where you find yourself in ten years: the books you read and the friends you make. Guard them both very carefully!”
I’ve been out of seminary about 15 years now. I got to thinking about what, apart from the Bible, has most influenced my Christian walk and ministry. I concluded that it is reading Christian biographies. The people I have read about have become my friends, even though I won’t meet them personally until I get to heaven. Hendricks was right: the friends I have made through the books I have read have had a profound impact on my life.
It’s a gold mine available to all but mined by few. The pressures of ministry and family life in our fast-lane lives crowd out the time for settling down with the greats of the past. What can they teach me about dealing with difficult church members, raising offerings, and other problems of modern church ministry? Plenty! I’ve found that the mine is rich and worth the effort many times over.
W. Robertson Nicoll, the learned British writer, editor of The Expositor’s Greek New Testament and other works, had 25,000 volumes in his personal library, including 5,000 biographies! He wrote, “I have for years read every biography I could lay my hands on, and not one has failed to teach me something” (cited by Warren Wiersbe, Walking With the Giants [Baker], p. 108). Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who has been called the greatest preacher in the English language in the 20th century (no small compliment!) said, “There is nothing more important for preaching than the reading of Church history and biographies” (Preaching & Preachers [Zondervan], p. 317).
The Bible As Biography
There is biblical warrant for studying the lives of great men and women of faith. The rabbis said that God made people because He loves stories. Much of the Bible--far more than the didactic portions--consists of stories about people. God knows that we learn by example. Seeing how different people succeeded or failed in real life situations helps translate faith into practical insights to guide us through life’s many difficult situations and decisions. Bible stories show us that God saw a need to wrap theology in human flesh--the incarnation of Jesus Christ being the supreme example.
Lessons From Reading Christian Biographies
I began reading Christian biographies in the summer of 1970 when I read George Muller of Bristol by A. T. Pierson. God used that book to show me that I could trust Him and that He is a God who answers prayer. Since then I have read about 50 biographies or books on church history--a bit short of Nicoll’s 5,000--but it’s a start! It is rare that I come away empty. Sometimes the lessons are examples to avoid, but that also can be profitable! Here are four ways that reading Christian biographies has helped me:
Heritage: Christian biographies give me a sense of my place in the Christian drama.
A few years ago, Alex Haley’s Roots touched a nerve in our society--the need to know our family heritage. We live in a rootless society where most of us don’t know our family history much beyond our grandparents. Many are decrying the fact that we are losing our grasp of our nation’s history and that this could lead to the disintegration of our society. The stories of our past are a cultural heritage to pass on to the next generation so that they can appreciate the sacrifices made and the lessons learned to forge and preserve our common values in our journey as a nation to this point.
Reading Christian biographies has helped me appreciate my spiritual roots. It helps me put our times and my particular circumstances in perspective. It makes me realize that I am carrying the torch handed to me by those who went before, and that I must hand it off intact to those who come after me.
For example, we live in a culture that values tolerance and open-mindedness. Many pastors have capitulated and tiptoe around difficult doctrines like church discipline, divorce, or hell. Reading the lives of Luther and Calvin and how they stood fearlessly against the establishment of their day gives me courage to take a stand on the truths that really matter.
I’m not deluded into thinking that my convictions and choices will influence history as the reformers did. But I do believe that taking a stand on the common issues of everyday ministry in my small corner of the vineyard matters in shaping God’s kingdom in our day.
One small example: About five years ago, I had a sudden rash of disgruntled marriage partners come to me, independently of one another, informing me that they were going to divorce their mates. When I inquired why, I discovered that in each case the unhappy mate had read a popular book by a well-known Christian psychologist which encouraged them to issue an ultimatum in an attempt to bring their partners to repentance.
Some of the cases involved sexual immorality, but one case involved an alcoholic husband. But in my judgment, none of the situations were beyond hope if the partners were willing to forgive and live in a godly manner with their sinning mates (in accordance with 1 Peter 3:1-12). My understanding of the biblical grounds for divorce does not include alcoholism as a legitimate cause.
The woman whose husband had the drinking problem had come to see me with two of our elders’ wives who had been giving her counsel and who had recommended the approach of this book. When I explained (gently, I thought) that if she wanted to obey the Lord, she could not leave her husband, one of the women exploded at me because of my “insensitivity” for “coldly applying the Bible” to this hurting woman. I calmly, but firmly, held my ground, explaining that counseling someone to obey God’s truth is always the most compassionate approach, even though it may be the most difficult.
The wife of the alcoholic followed my counsel and dealt with her own sin in the marriage. Her husband eventually faced his problem and stopped drinking. She recently thanked me profusely for holding my ground under fire that day, saying that she and her husband would not be together today if I had caved in to the pressure.
As far as I know, even the marriages where there was sexual infidelity are still together today because I counseled the wronged partners with the need for forgiveness and commitment to their marriages in spite of their mates’ sin. My commitment to hold to the Word in the face of strong cultural currents to the contrary, has preserved several families from destruction.
I realize it’s not on a par with Luther at the Diet of Worms, but it helps me to stand firm when I feel pressured to compromise to know that I am linked in an unbroken chain of faithful witnesses who have held to God’s unchanging truth before me.
Modeling: Christian biographies give me great examples to follow.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer was asked what is the best way to raise children. The learned doctor replied, “There are three ways: 1) By example, 2) By example, and 3) By example.” He was right. God has made us so that from our earliest days, we learn from models. We pick up attitudes and actions by watching how our parents and other significant people around us live.
The same is true spiritually. We learn by watching models who “flesh out” Christian principles in their daily lives. When I was younger in the faith, I wanted someone to disciple me. I tried several different men, but it never seemed to work out the way I had hoped. But in a very real sense, I have been discipled by some of the greatest Christians who have ever lived, by reading their biographies. Here are some who have helped me most:
Three of my most influential models have been Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards. Lloyd-Jones is from the 20th century, Spurgeon from the 19th, and Edwards from the 18th. All three were pastors and strong preachers. Their ministries affirm the power of biblical preaching backed by godly lives.
I have always admired men who can combine solid biblical scholarship with practical, down-to-earth preaching. These pastors had that gift. Each drank deeply from the Reformers and Puritans. But their theological depth was combined with a vibrant, practical love for God. Through their deep study of the Scriptures, they knew God and they knew the hearts of people. They were able to bridge that gap with powerful preaching.
Each man had a passion to see lost people coming to faith in the Savior. They each faced times in which many pastors were turning aside from the simple gospel message. There was pressure on them to soften their belief in the depravity of the human race and in the necessity of saving faith in Jesus Christ. But they held the line.
Each was involved in painful controversies which took an emotional toll on them. Edwards was removed from his pastorate and he and his family (ten children at that time) nearly starved, because he came to hold that communicants must give evidence of salvation. Many attribute Spurgeon’s final decline in health to his grief over the famous “Downgrade Controversy.” Lloyd-Jones paid a price by standing alone against what he saw to be the encroachment of liberalism into British evangelicalism.
Reading the lives of these men has motivated me to deepen my theological roots. They have shown me the shallowness of my love for Christ and the need to walk in daily reality with Him. I’ve been strengthened to take a stand on the theological issues that really matter, rather than go with the tolerant mood of our day.. I have worked harder to base my preaching on solid biblical scholarship, rather than the latest pop psychology, but to communicate it in a way that connects with the average person. They’ve shown me that in whatever century, the simple gospel is still the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.
Although Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon, and Edwards are my favorites, I have many more models. Francis Schaeffer has reinforced the need to blend compassion with truth, scholarship with evangelism, and orthodoxy with spiritual reality. His model of strong family life in the midst of fishbowl living has been of great help.
George Muller impresses me with the practicality of a life of prayer and faith. Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, and Bruce Olson all give me examples of men who bucked the Christian establishment and endured hardships to further God’s work in difficult areas.
Adoniram Judson has shown me a model of endurance and faithfulness through horrible trials and discouragements. Judson served 33 years without a furlough, often working 12-hour days. It took him 14 years of disciplined translation work after his first wife’s death (not counting the many years with her at his side) before he sent the completed Burmese Bible to the printer. He endured a horrible two-year imprisonment and torture, after which he lost his wife and baby daughter and went through a time of severe depression. He later lost another wife.
Thinking about Judson helps me put in perspective the lumps and bruises I endure in pastoral ministry! Maybe I don’t have it so bad. If Judson endured all that, I can survive a rough board meeting!
Spirituality And Doctrine: Christian biographies give me theological perspective and balance.
We are all limited by the fact that we are creatures of our time and culture. We tend to view issues from the grid we almost subconsciously absorb from the theological and social climate in which we come to Christ and begin to grow. It’s as if we’re born in the forest and start walking, not quite sure where all the various trails come from or lead to. Reading Christian biographies is like climbing a high mountain so that you can get a feel for the lay of the land.
Reading biographies of men and women who grew up in different times under different cultural influences, broadens me. To read of Anglicans, Lutherans, Plymouth Brethren, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others who loved and served the same Lord widens my understanding of what God is doing. It makes me more catholic (in the sense of “universal”), less sectarian, less consumed with petty issues and narrow viewpoints.
It also gives me perspective on how the Christianity of our day has drifted. For example, take the matter of observing the Lord’s Day. In our day, especially in laid-back California, most Christians view Sunday the same as any other day, except that you go to church if you’re not doing something else. But after church, it’s a day to do whatever you please: Wash your car, work in your yard, go shopping, play soccer, watch TV sports, or whatever. And, if you decide to take the weekend off to go camping or to go to Disneyland on Sunday, it’s no big deal. We’ve lost any concept of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.
I was reading the life of Hudson Taylor and was shocked to learn that his wife, Maria, who was desperately trying to get home to be with a sick child, would not travel on “the sabbath” (Sunday). She would get off the riverboat and wait to catch another boat on Monday, rather than travel on that day. I’ve discovered that if I had lived in colonial America and behaved the way I do now, I would have spent time in jail, my arms and feet locked into the stocks in public humiliation. Why? Because I have traveled on Sunday. It just wasn’t done by respectable people!
C. H. Mackintosh, a popular Plymouth Brethren devotional writer of the last century, wrote, “The idea of any one, calling himself a Christian, making the Lord’s day a season of what is popularly called recreation, unnecessary traveling, personal convenience, or profit in temporal things, is perfectly shocking.” (Miscellaneous Writings [Loizeaux Brothers] Vol. 3, “A Scriptural Inquiry as to the Sabbath, the Law, and Christian Ministry,” p. 6.)
I’m not saying I endorse these views. My point is that by reading about these people from the past, I’ve learned that “we’ve come a long way, baby!” There’s a fair chance that we are out of balance. That drives me back to the Scriptures to seek God’s mind on the matter.
You gain the same kind of perspective on other social issues. For example, what did Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Robertson Nicoll, G. Campbell Morgan, C. S. Lewis, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones all have in common? They smoked, some of them as pastors! In most American Christian circles, that’s enough to brand you as unspiritual, if not to question your salvation. And yet Spurgeon would be aghast that Christians watch TV and go to the movies. He disapproved of attending stage plays and reading secular novels. Such “worldliness” was unthinkable in his day!
In Jonathan Edwards’ colonial America, there was an uproar because the young people of the town got together in groups of “both sexes for mirth and jollity, which they called frolics.” As far as I can tell, these weren’t sexual orgies, but just parties consisting of unchurched young men and women together! Again, “we’ve come a long way, baby!”
Take another contemporary issue of a more serious nature: the debate over “Lordship salvation,” which concerns the nature of saving faith. Must a person believe in Jesus as Lord, meaning submission to Him, in order to be saved? Or, is faith equal to mental assent to the facts of the gospel? Or, is saving faith somewhere between these extremes? By reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ The Puritans I discovered that the same questions were debated about 200 years ago (“Sandemanianism,” pp. 170-190). There is nothing new under the sun.
So reading Christian biographies and church history has taken me up the mountain for a clearer view of my own and others’ theological perspective. This has helped me sort through which issues are crucial and worth fighting for and which issues are more cultural, where I need to be more tolerant.
Humanity: Christian biographies give me an understanding of people and of myself.
I’ve discovered that there are two types of Christian biographies. Many of the older works fall into what I would call the “eulogy” genre. They approach the subject as we deal with the deceased at funerals: They emphasize his good points and overlook his faults. But more recent biographers tend to take a more honest look at their subjects, exposing warts and all.
If you uncritically read biographies of the “eulogy” genre, you can get pretty depressed, thinking, “That guy almost walked on water. I’ll never attain the high level of spirituality he had.” But if you read more honest biographies (and read between the lines of the eulogy-type), you discover that God has used some very rough instruments. You find that the great strengths of some of the giants were also the flip side of great weaknesses and blind spots. Men and women who were unswerving in their commitment to Christ were sometimes stubborn and ran roughshod over people. And yet God used them greatly!
This is not to excuse their problems and sins, nor to excuse my own. But, like many pastors, I am a perfectionist. I tend to be very hard on myself. When I read of others who did great things for God, it helps me to realize that they weren’t perfect. Far from it!
Some of the greats, such as John Wesley and William Carey, had difficult marriages. Carey’s wife didn’t want to go to the mission field, and when she finally got there (due to her husband’s pressure), she went insane. Jonathan Edwards had trouble relating to people socially and tended to stay holed up in his study. I wonder if he would have weathered the theological controversy which cost him his pastorate if he had been warmer relationally.
David Livingstone was a loner who had numerous conflicts with fellow workers. He packed a revolver and sometimes brandished it in the face of belligerent African chiefs. He essentially abandoned his wife and children, who suffered greatly without him. Yet God used Livingstone to open Africa to the gospel!
One of the most tragic stories is that of Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision. It is told by his daughter, Marilee Pierce Dunker, in Days of Glory, Seasons of Night (first published under the title, Man of Vision, Woman of Prayer). Bob Pierce loved the world but couldn’t relate to his own family. He preached the gospel to huge crowds in the Far East and saw thousands respond. He founded World Vision to help the many hurting children he encountered.
Yet his oldest daughter committed suicide. He and his wife were separated at several points in their marriage, apart from the numerous separations due to his incredible travel schedule--he was gone an average of ten months each year! He never tamed his explosive temper, and eventually World Vision fired him. Yet he loved and served the Lord to the end of his life.
Ruth Tucker’s excellent From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya [Zondervan], a biographical history of the missions movement, lays bare the human side of some of the giants. Many great missionaries sacrificed their families for the cause. Some were unable to relate well to people, including their own mates and children.
C. T. Studd, famous for the quote, “If Christ be God and died for me, no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him,” left his wife in poor health and went to Africa, returning to see her only once in the final 16 years of her life. He worked 18-hour days and expected everyone else to do likewise. His intense dedication to the cause of Christ made him intolerant of anyone who wasn’t equally committed. He alienated everyone around him, including his daughter and son-in-law, and was finally dismissed by the mission he had founded.
My point is not to take pot shots at these servants of the Lord nor, by justifying their sin, to excuse my own. But seeing their shortcomings and failures helps me accept imperfect people, including myself. It helps me remember that there never has been a perfect church, so mine probably won’t be. The saints who are extolled as attaining such a high level of spirituality struggled with many of the same problems I do.
And yet God did some significant things with these imperfect men and women. Thousands of lives have been changed. In some cases, the history of nations and of western civilization has been altered through these godly, yet very human, instruments. Maybe there’s hope that God can use even me!
Phillips Brooks wrote, “A biography is, indeed, a book; but far more than a book, it is a man.... Never lay the biography down until the man is a living, breathing, acting person to you.” (Cited by Warren Wiersbe, Walking With the Giants [Baker], p. 13).
Many of the greats from the past have become my living, breathing, mentors and friends as I’ve read their biographies. They have given me a sense of the heritage I have in Christ. They have provided me with models to live by. They have given me theological and spiritual perspective to navigate the tricky waters of our times. They have helped me understand others and myself, as imperfect human beings called to serve the perfect Savior. The gold is there for the mining. Happy prospecting!
Steak And Arsenic: A Review of Neil Anderson’s "Victory Over the Darkness"Related Media
Reading Neil Anderson’s Victory Over the Darkness [Regal Books, 1990, 245 pp.] is like eating steak laced with arsenic. The steak tastes great and makes up the major portion, but the arsenic, imbedded throughout, will kill you.
First, the steak: Anderson strongly sets forth the believer’s position in Christ and the beneficial effects of believing this truth. He underscores the many Scriptures affirming that believers are saints, new creatures, forgiven, righteous, etc. Certainly these are crucial truths for every Christian to believe and act upon.
Anderson rightly affirms that right thinking produces right emotions: “... feelings are a product of the thought life.... Anger, anxiety and depression are usually the result of a faulty belief system. The greatest determinants of mental and emotional health are a true knowledge of God, and acceptance of His ways and the assurance of His forgiveness” (p. 236). Amen!
Sadly, though, the book is laced with arsenic. An undiscerning reader will swallow the poison with the steak. The outcome will be worse than not eating the steak at all!
The main error is that Anderson repeatedly asserts that believers are not to view themselves as sinners, not even as sinners saved by grace, but as saints who occasionally sin. If unsuspecting Christians buy into this aberrant view, they will end up minimizing what Scripture presents as the major enemy against which we must daily fight: the ongoing power of the flesh. Here’s how he puts it:
Many Christians refer to themselves as sinners saved by grace. But are you really a sinner? Is that your scriptural identity? Not at all. God doesn’t call you a sinner; He calls you a saint--a holy one. If you think of yourself as a sinner, guess what you will do: you’ll live like a sinner; you’ll sin. Why not identify yourself for who you really are: a saint who occasionally sins (pp. 44-45).
Satan will try to convince you that you are an unworthy, unacceptable, sin-sick person who will never amount to anything in God’s eyes (p. 56).
(Note the truth and error mingled in that single sentence: We are unworthy, unacceptable, and sin-sick. But by God’s grace we will amount to something in His eyes.)
If you believe that you are part light and part darkness, part saint and part sinner, you will live in a very mediocre manner with little to distinguish you from the non-Christian (p. 71). (See also pp. 69, 83; and his book, The Bondage Breaker [Harvest House], pp. 44, 81, 156).
There are numerous problems with these overstatements (which amount to a serious denial of biblical truth). First, they depend upon picking and choosing certain Scriptures, but ignoring others. For example, on pages 45-47 Anderson has a long list of verses giving the positives of who I am in Christ. Great! But why did he leave out other verses, often in the same context, that aren’t so pretty (Matt. 6:30; 7:5, 11; 5:4; Luke 17:10)? Anderson conveniently skips such “negative” verses.
Concerning Paul’s late-in-life claim to be the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), Anderson explains it as referring to his nature before conversion. But a study of the text in its context shows that Paul was talking about his ever-deepening awareness of his own sinfulness as he grew in grace. As Donald Guthrie comments, “Paul never got away from the fact that Christian salvation was intended for sinners, and the more he increased his grasp of the magnitude of God’s grace, the more he deepened the consciousness of his own naturally sinful state, ...” (The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Eerdmans], p. 65).
A second problem with not viewing ourselves as sinners is that it destroys the basis for growing in humility before God. The most godly men in the Bible all were deeply aware of their own utter depravity in the presence of God (see Gen. 18:27; Job 42:6; Isa. 6:5; Dan. 9:4-19; Luke 5:8).
It is significant that in none of these cases did the Lord say, “That’s not true! You need to see yourself as a saint, not a sinner!” Once the man realized the truth of his sinfulness, the Lord graciously gave words of encouragement to restore (Job 42:7-8; Isa. 6:7; Dan. 9:23; Luke 5:10). But it can be argued that God’s specific intent in every case was to bring these sinner-saints to this lower (and more accurate) estimate of themselves in God’s holy presence.
Third, Anderson’s view undercuts the need for self-distrust. The more I realize my own sinfulness, the less I’m inclined to trust myself and the more I’m inclined to cling desperately to the Lord, lest I fall into sin (1 Cor. 10:12). When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Fourth, Anderson minimizes the need for ongoing self- examination (2 Cor. 13:5). But this is the requirement for every Christian, especially before partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28).
Fifth, Anderson’s view will lead to an anemic view of God’s grace, which is the chief motivation for holy living. If I do not grow to see my own sinfulness in a deeper way, I will not grow in appreciation for the “mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.” Those who love God much know that they’ve been forgiven much (Luke 7:47). Jesus’ point was not that some are forgiven more than others, but rather that those who realize how much they’re forgiven are those who love God much. If I’m not growing to see more of the depths of my sinfulness, I will not love God more.
Sixth, Anderson minimizes the major hindrance to holy living. If I am “a saint who occasionally sins,” then “No big problem!” That is precisely what Satan would have me believe! God wants me to see the gravity of my sin problem so that I will take responsibility to put to death the deeds of the flesh. The more I grow, the more I discover that my problem is much bigger than I ever realized! (This error is magnified if you add Anderson’s book, The Bondage Breaker, which places much of the blame for Christians’ problems on evil spirits, not on the flesh.)
Seventh, if I am not to see myself as a sinner, then how can I deny myself (Mark 8:34)? Clearly, self-denial is to be a daily, ongoing exercise (Luke 9:23). Do I deny a slight tendency I have toward an occasional sin or do I deny my continual propensity toward selfishness, pride, and the deeds of the flesh?
Eighth, Anderson’s error runs counter to the experience and teaching of the most godly men in church history. Augustine, Calvin, Luther, John Owen (the great Puritan theologian), Jonathan Edwards, Charles Simeon, J. C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and many others all taught the ongoing depravity of the human heart, even after conversion. How then can Anderson claim that if you see yourself as a sinner “you will live in a very mediocre manner with little to distinguish you from the non-Christian” (p. 71)! Those men were hardly mediocre Christians!
Ninth, Anderson’s false teaching denies the facts of every revival in church history. As Lloyd-Jones points out (Revival [Crossway], p. 231),
And there has never yet been a revival of religion, but that the moment that God’s people have this experience, though they may have been Christians for years and years, they feel utterly unworthy, they see themselves as sinners as they have never done before. Some of them have even doubted whether they have ever been Christians. They are wrong, of course, but the sight of the holiness of God, the realisation of it, has made them see nothing but their own sinfulness and their own unworthiness. It is invariable.
Indeed, Dr. Lloyd-Jones makes this point repeatedly (see pp. 41, 70-71, 80-83, 101, 156-157), thus showing how far Anderson is off.
Tenth, not seeing myself as a sinner would lead to my shrugging off the many repeated Scriptural warnings against the power and dangers of sin. Why worry about it if I’m just a saint who occasionally sins? Why should pastors preach against sin if Anderson is right? Just preach positional truth. Why preach the need for an ongoing life of repentance? Occasional repentance for occasional sins will do!
Thus Anderson’s unbiblical assertion that believers are not to view themselves as sinners is the major dose of arsenic in the steak. But other minor traces can be found in his penchant for overstatement. Some examples:
Feelings “are neither good nor bad; they’re amoral, just part of your humanity” (p. 182). If so, why does the Bible label certain feelings as sin (lust, selfish anger, bitterness, jealousy, etc.)? Anderson encourages a counselee to vent sinful anger and uses one of David’s imprecatory (and Christological) psalms as justification for “being honest with our feelings” (pp. 186-187)!
Concerning sharing with a grieving friend, he overstates what would be sound counsel if it were in balance, namely that we’re to respond to emotions with emotions, not with words (p. 189). He cites Jesus’ weeping with Mary and Martha as biblical warrant. But he conveniently omits Jesus’ pointed words (not just emotions) to Martha from the very context he cites as “proof” (see John 11:23-26).
Anderson argues (p. 215) that it is always wrong to defend oneself, since if we’re wrong, we should accept the criticism; if we’re right, God will defend us. Please snip 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians 2, and many other portions from your Bible (excuse my sarcasm). Paul defends himself rather vigorously in those places, sometimes with sarcasm, even!
We’re told that it’s always wrong to judge character; we’re only supposed to judge actions (p. 221-222). But don’t repeated deeds reflect inner character? In the same context that we’re told not to judge we are told to discern and avoid false prophets who inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt. 7:15). Paul often judged the motives and character of his critics, based on his observation of their deeds (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 1:8-10; Titus 1:10-16).
Anderson draws a false dichotomy between being and doing (pp. 237-239). The subtle implication of his teaching here is that we can’t (and perhaps even shouldn’t) obey God (“doing”) until we’re squared away with who we are in Christ (“being”). He states (p. 237),
One of the great failures of Christian ministry is to expect people to behave as Christians ... before they have matured as Christians .... In so doing we are asking people to behave in a manner that is inconsistent with their perception of their identity and their level of maturity, and that’s an impossible task.
No! Obedience is always right, whether I understand “who I am in Christ” or not. We grow to understand our identity in Him as we trust and obey (see 2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Overall, the book, in common with many modern “Christian” books, has an underlying selfistic bent: “You will be motivated in life by what you believe will bring you success, significance, fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness, fun, security and peace” (Table of Contents description of Chapter 7, which elaborates on this bent). That’s a far cry from the self-denying faith of the martyrs! I have trouble imagining Latimer and Ridley thinking about success, significance, fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness, and fun as the flames were lit around them!
In short, Anderson’s book contains a lot of good ol’ American selfism wrapped in a lot of truth to fool the unsuspecting—steak laced with arsenic! Dear brethren, do not be deceived!
Related Topics: Book Review
The Real Shock In The Presidential ScandalRelated Media
Arizona Daily Sun,
October 9, 1998
The real shock for me in the current presidential scandal is not the President’s behavior, as bad as that is. The real shock is the public reaction to the scandal. The Arizona Daily Sun recently ran the responses of a random sample of Flagstaff residents. One 27-year-old woman said, “I think it’s much to do with nothing. He gets (oral sex) in the Oval Office—so what? I don’t understand the uproar. Why is everyone making such a big deal out of someone’s sex life? I don’t care who Clinton had sex with.”
A retired U.S. District Court judge basically concurred and added that his friends abroad cannot believe that America is willing to destroy its president because of an extramarital affair, especially when the country “is doing so well economically.” A recent National Public Radio report echoed the judge’s sentiments. It said that people in France don’t understand why are Americans so upset over a little adultery. That country used government funds to support former President Mitterand’s mistress and her child by him.
Others will go so far as to say that the President was wrong (as he himself has publicly admitted), but since he is doing a good job running the country, he shouldn’t be impeached. Others say things like, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “Judge not, lest you be judged.” One political cartoon showed Clinton being judged by congressmen who were themselves guilty of former affairs and other shenanigans. The caption read something like, “At least he will be judged by his peers.” Many portray Kenneth Starr as a puritanical attack dog who is prying into this poor man’s private life. The clear implication is, “Lay off!”
These public reactions concern me more than the President’s failure because they reveal that America is morally adrift with no compass. Even the honorable retired judge doesn’t seem to have a clue about the moral (if not legal) issues involved!
Setting aside the sexual moral issue for a moment, why are Americans not concerned with a President who lied under oath? Did he not swear to uphold our Constitution? Isn’t telling the truth under oath an essential part of our legal system? And, clearly it’s not the first time Mr. Clinton has lied until he was forced to admit it. Remember Gennifer Flowers? Why isn’t the public concerned about a public leader whose word cannot be trusted? Are we so naïve as to think that the man carefully restricts his lying to “his private life”?
Why are Americans not holding our Commander-in-Chief to the same standard that was imposed on Lieutenant Kelly Flynn, who was relieved of her commission and discharged from the military for adultery? Why are we not concerned about a President who uses his power to obstruct justice and to obtain special favors (a well-paying job) for his mistress to keep her quiet? Richard Nixon abused his power and lied and we forced him out. Why are we hesitant to give Clinton the heave-ho? Perhaps the judge’s comment about the economy reveals America’s true god!
Where is the outcry from the feminist camp? We’ve heard so much about sexual harassment on the job lately that men hesitate to complement a female employee on her new hairdo for fear of losing their jobs. What would happen if a local 50-year-old male school principal had sex in his office with a 22-year-old female student teacher? Wouldn’t the whole community demand his resignation, and rightly so? Would he be able to argue that the community should not interfere with his “private life”? If the improper behavior took place in his office during working hours, could he rightly claim that it is none of our business?
Why isn’t the American public concerned about our President’s poor example for the institution of marriage? Are marriage vows passe? What kind of example does this set for our children?
But the most disturbing thing is the way the American public shrugs off biblical standards of morality: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). If God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanites, and the Roman Empire for moral perversion, can America go on much longer? Those who shrug off Mr. Clinton’s behavior as no big deal had better prepare to meet God! Remember, He didn’t give the Ten Suggestions!