Interview with Phillip Jenson

I stumbled across this interview while looking up the newest release from Matthias Media The Archer and the Arrow. It’s an hour long video of Mark Dever interviewing Phillip Jenson, one of the authors.

Mark Dever interviews Phillip Jensen – full version from Audio Advice on Vimeo.

I haven’t read the book yet, but if broadens my thoughts on preaching, as much as The Trellis and the Vine did on discipleship, then I’m sure it is another great contribution.

Church Covenants

Does your church have a covenant? If you’re not sure, or you don’t really know what a church covenant is, I hope to answer those questions (and raise a few more) for you in this article.

Church covenants mainly have to do with Church Membership. So, this may be more of a discussion on the importance of church membership. And while church membership isn’t directly addressed in the New Testament we believe the early church had some way of keeping up with who was part of the church and who wasn’t. We see this in some of the practices of the early church, as in 1 Tim. 5. So, let’s presuppose you believe strongly in healthy church membership.

The church covenant is the the covenant that you would acknowledge and submit to when you join a local congregation. It’s a document, usually composed of points, written by the leadership of the church. It’s content informs the prospective member what they are entering into in terms of accountability with the congregation they would like to become a part of.

Not only has our culture gotten away from the importance of church membership (the broader issue) but many churches do not even have covenants anymore. Churches that do uphold a model of healthy church membership typically have covenants. I believe covenants can be a sign of a church who takes membership seriously.

This raises a few more questions for churches. Do you welcome just anyone into the congregation that wishes to join? What do you base their acceptance on? Is it even wise to allow people to join when they haven’t submitted to a church covenant?

If these questions are ignored, I would suggest that this could endanger the purity of the congregation. People need to know just exactly what they want to become a part of. And they also have to know that if, and once they do, become a member certain things are expected of them as members of the congregation.

We have grown far too passive in today’s church culture. You may have heard it said that we’ve become ‘consumers’ of church. No one (very few) approaches church today as “what can I give?” or “how could I serve this church?”. No, today our mindset is more along the lines of “what can this church do for me?” or “I just want a church that fits my lifestyle.”

Of course these problems are rooted in individualism, egocentrism. We’ve got to reclaim what it means to functions as a church body. We’ve got to learn once again what it means to be unified as a church. Ultimately because of the words that Jesus spoke,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, italics mine).

We must love one another so the world will know, as Mark Dever says, what the “gospel made visible” looks like.

I believe establishing a church covenant is one way to begin the reclamation process.

Begin asking other members how they feel about this issue and what you think you could do to encourage this growth in your church.

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I discovered another article this evening written by Matt Schmucker of 9Marks. It’s a comprehensive look at church covenants: Membership Matters – What is Our Church Covenant?

These are some of the best resources I know regarding church membership:
The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love
What Is a Healthy Church Member?
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church

The Gospel & Personal Evangelism

This is part 2 of 4 in a series that I’m writing on Evangelism. Mark Dever is the pastor at Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and also serves as the executive director of 9Marks.

Mark Dever, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway, 2007), 124 pages

If you were clinging to a piece of wood in the freezing waters of the Atlantic shortly after the cruise liner you were on (the Titanic) just sank, would you have been shouting into the darkness, “Man, are you saved?” at someone floating close by? So were the final moments of John Harper’s life, remembered and retold by the man whom he was shouting to. He finishes, “Then losing his hold on the wood, [Harper] sank. And there, alone in the night with two miles of water under me, I trusted Christ as my savior. I am John Harper’s last convert.”

Why don’t we evangelize? Dever asks the probing question then turns to address barriers that stand in the way of our evangelism. Generally it’s because we’ve come up with too many excuses. We have even made up excuses on behalf of the non-believer. We tell ourselves “They probably already know the gospel”, “It probably won’t work, I doubt they’ll believe.” Isn’t it a good thing it isn’t up to us to save people! Dever then lays out a few suggestions for us as a way to be intentional about removing these excuses. The better prepared we are through planning, prayer, loving people, and a few others the more faithful we will be to evangelize. “Out of the overflow of the heart our mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). All our excuses will be forgotten in light of our love for God.

Once the barriers are removed, Dever turns his focus to the foundation of evangelism. What exactly is this good news that we want to share? He defines the evangel (the good news) by dispelling a few ideas prevalent in today’s culture. Ultimately these ideas in themselves aren’t bad, but as Dever warns, problems arise when these ideas are used as sole explanations of the gospel. They distort the true message. They become one-sided and do not teach the whole character of God.

We then look at the “Who’s” and “How’s” of evangelism. This section should be challenging for any Christian who doesn’t think they need to be involved in evangelism, or for those who don’t think they are “gifted” in that area. Dever also gives some practical suggestions in this part of the book that will encourage you while you are actually sharing with someone.

Continuing to define the message, we’re told about the confusion in our culture regarding evangelism. There are certain activities that have become synonymous with evangelism, when in fact they aren’t. Dever takes a look at a few of these and talks about why they can’t be considered evangelism, and how this has hurt sharing the gospel.

Evangelism evokes many responses and here again Dever takes a good practical look at typical responses, what they mean, and how we can handle them.

In closing, Why Should We Evangelize? The final question, which is really asking what is the ultimate goal in evangelism and what is our motivation? We can have wrong motivations for evangelizing. The Bible is filled with good news, and Jesus commands us to share this good news. This pleases God when we speak of his glory to others. Dever ends with a few practical encouragements for us, then this challenge:

“We do not fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not subsequently converted; we fail only if we do not faithfully tell the gospel at all.”

This book is a good read. I think one of its strength is clearly defining what the gospel is (and isn’t) against many false claims and practices that are rampant in today’s culture. As always Dever’s arguments are grounded in the Scriptures. We first see the example in the Word of God, and then how it applies to the specific point. I recommend this book as an encouragement to those who want to grow in evangelism, and for those who are just beginning to ask questions about what exactly evangelism is.

I also hope this book raises that question for those who have yet to ask it.

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The New, But Also The Old

Some time ago I was listening to Ligon Duncan’s address from the 2010 T4G conference, Did the Fathers Know the Gospel? (which I highly recommend) and he opened by reading the Introduction C.S. Lewis wrote for the modern version of Athanasius’ book On The Incarnation. Since hearing it that day, the words have fixed in my mind and have acted as a counterpoint to many things I see going on around me in the church.

Then, in this past months edition of Tabletalk, Bob Kauflin wrote an excellent article that made me think back to Lewis’ Introduction. Receiving the Baton was the title. His emphasis was lessons for passing along the message of the Gospel from generation to generation. Not too far removed from what Lewis wrote about.

Finally, the other night I was reading Mack Stiles book, Marks of the Messenger (which I will review shortly) and Chapter 3 is all about the dangers of assuming the Gospel. This is what links the previous two references.

So, there are three things I think we need to consider from these readings. I think there is a progression of thought through them like a common thread. Each one building on the other.

C.S. Lewis writes that if we are totally steeped in the modern, we lose the old. The old has become old and is still around for a reason. Modern thought has to be “tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.” Each generation (age) has its own outlook, he says. We can see certain truths applicable to our time, yet are liable to make certain mistakes as well. So we need the ancient writings to correct those.

Kauflin states that as Christians running the race of our lives and ministries, we’ve got to have a a relay mindset. Hebrews 11 is saying that “we are but one piece of the glorious tapestry God is weaving together for His glory.” And we have got to be the faithful men Paul speaks of to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:2. A few cautions he mentions: rarely interacting with those from another generation, reflecting mainly on the ideas of your peers, and “reading only books that were printed within the last decade— or worse confining your reading to the blogosphere or Twitter.”

Stiles states it very clearly, “to assume the Gospel is the first step to losing the Gospel. An assumed gospel leaves the message of the gospel unspoken and implicit”.

Therefore, if we continue on in our generation by assuming the gospel it will be lost in the following generations. We have to continue the dialogue with the past generations of Christian thinkers who have made the gospel explicit in their writings. We’ve got to bring the gospel truth back to our generation. Not only in the books that we are reading and writing, but also back into our conversations, back into our homes, and back into our churches.

Vintage Packer

This is the first in a series of posts that I’m going to be writing on Evangelism. Written almost 50 years ago, this book still has much to offer us concerning evangelism. I’m also confident this book will continue to be relevant for years to come.

J.I. Packer. Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1991), 126 pages

Because of a few conversations at work recently, I’ve been devouring all the books on evangelism that I can find. Luckily this was my second read, because it is a good one. Mark Dever’s The Gospel & Personal Evangelism being the first (also very good). I’ll review it next.

J.I. Packer does an excellent job approaching the subject of evangelism. Here’s a look at how this book is organized. Divided into four parts, Packer begins where every topic of Christianity should be broached, Divine Sovereignty. Though, he doesn’t spend much time here because in his words, “There is no need; for I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers.”

The second part, Divine Sovereignty & Human Responsibility is a very interesting section. Here Packer discusses how these two seeming contrasts relate in a specific word: antinomy. Almost. For in theology there isn’t a real contradiction between theses two subjects, only and “apparent” one. So, this occurs when “a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable”. How are we to deal with these ideas that are difficult to grasp? We simply must accept them as truths from Scripture and not question God. Packer explains that there can exist an unhealthy view if one of these truths outweighs the other. We must keep them in balance. In the Bible divine sovereignty and human responsibility are friends, they work together.

Part three is on Evangelism. This chapter is addressed by asking four questions. What is evangelism? What is the evangelistic message? What is the motive for evangelizing? By what means and methods should evangelism be preached? Packer’s answers are beautifully written, and with great Scriptural depth. Evangelism from the NT is the proclamation of the evangel, the good news of Christ and him crucified. Of which this proclamation should be to glorify God and as a response to loving our neighbor.

The concluding chapter, Divine Sovereignty & Evangelism Packer argues that God’s sovereignty doesn’t effect the duty or nature of evangelism and that it actually gives us our only hope in evangelizing. God’s grace creates the certainty that evangelism will be fruitful. Left to human enterprises, it is a hopeless task. Finally, “it is a commission, not only to preach, but also to pray; not only to talk to men about God, but also to talk to God about men. Preaching and prayer must go together; our evangelism will not be according to knowledge, nor will it be blessed, unless they do.”

This book is definitely more of a foundational read on the theology that undergirds evangelism. While Packer does mention a few recent trends and methods of evangelism, this is more a critique of them and their sufficiency to righty be called evangelism. The type of “evangelistic meetings” that he references is also somewhat dated. However, it is still applicable to our time and doesn’t detract from the significance of his words of the message of the book.

So, if you’re looking for an approach that is more practical and has suggestions, etc. this book isn’t it. But I would suggest that you need to read this book first no matter what. Packer will set your thinking straight and give you the real motivation for your desire to evangelize.

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A Child’s Call to Conversion

This morning’s musing was spurred on by an article I read in Tabletalk Magazine, a publication from Ligonier Ministries. It’s a wonderful periodical with daily devotionals and a specific focus each month with related articles.

The article is titled A Child’s Call to Conversion: Faith as a Christian Mark. In the article Dr. Ted Tripp examines the threefold definition of faith as historically defined by the Reformaiton: notitia (knowledge), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust). And just how exactly it relates to children coming to faith in Christ.

I’m not a father (yet, Lord willing), but I have a nephew, and many other children that I deeply care about. What care is there of greater importance than that of their eternal security?

So, Tripp exhorts us to teach our children about the truths of Scripture. But knowledge isn’t enough. They have to believe these truths, assent to them, that “Christ died and rose from the grave”. And finally, they have to put their trust in Christ to save them from their sins.

He breaks the power of reigning sin,
He sets the captive free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

As captured by Charles Wesley in “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”.

How does all of this impact the way we shepherd our children? By always putting on display the Truth of the Gospel in our homes before our kids, in the areas of family devotions, modeling belief in these truths, and praying for the Holy Spirit to work in them to rest in Christ.

What a noble task. Let us not think, though, as we are part of the Body of Christ that this solely relates to our own children…

Books on the Church

Books

I’ve been ordering books lately. This isn’t too out of the ordinary. It’s safe to say the wife and myself splurge on books. It’s what depletes our entertainment budget. Something I came across a while back has led me to these specific books.

9 Marks

“a ministry dedicated to equipping church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources. Our goal is simple: churches that display the glory of God.” (from their website).

I first found 9 Marks through Together for the Gospel. A biennial conference that encourages pastors to take their stand together for the gospel. Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan began the conference. And so I started listening to all the sermons from past years. It’s amazing how the Lord speaks through his word being preached.

Back to 9 Marks. It began at Capital Hill Baptist in Washington D.C. where Mark Dever is the pastor. A well read pastor in Ecclesiology, he has studied the church for many, many years and makes very apt observations concerning the state of modern evangelical churches.

From 9 Marks I’ve been led to a few books:

The one I’m currently reading: The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer.

Biblical Theology by Michael Lawrence. Who was the associate pastor at Capital Hill but is now the lead pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, OR.

The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

and finally Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin

I commend all of these resources to you and will hopefully get a chance to write a little more on them individually.

To the Golden Shore

To the Golden Shore

To the Golden Shore is the biography of Adoniram Judson. I could hardly put this book down once I began reading it. A missionary to Burma, Judson translated the entire Bible into the Burmese language. He left as a young man and only returned to America once, after 35 years on the field, in the hope of his wife recovering from an illness. He later returned to Burma and spent the rest of his life where he lived the most of his life, on the golden shores…

This is truly an inspiring book. And it is by far the best Valentine’s Day gift I’ve ever received. Thank you, my Dearest. May the Lord use the life and the story of this man to further his Kingdom.

If you enjoy biographies, I highly recommend this one. Even if you don’t, and you want a little Baptist history, I suggest you pick up a copy of this book.

You will be challenged and forever changed.

Counterfeit Gods

counterfeit gods

Counterfeit Gods is the title of the book I just recently finished by Timothy Keller. As you can see, if you click the “Books” category to the right, we haven’t really written too much about what we’ve been reading lately. This isn’t for lack of reading that’s for sure. In fact, I meant to post something about the previous book I read too (Hudson Taylor And Maria) It too was a great read.

Timothy Keller’s book was eye-opening. I highly recommend you pick up a copy that you may have revealed to you the truths that this book proclaims. The title is appropriate because what the book really deals with is idols. But as he mentions in the opening, the word idol brings a lot of imagery along with it. It can easily be passed over, cast off to the side. “This book isn’t for me.” he could hear one saying.

But that’s just it. That’s exactly what this book reveals.

We ALL have idols. We have all set up things in our lives that have become counterfeit gods. Things that we look to that we want find satisfaction in, things other than God.

This is a very convicting book. If you want to be challenged, then you should read this book. If you want to grow in your affections for Christ throughout every area of your life, then you should read this book.

But especially…. especially if you just said to yourself… “I don’t have idols or counterfeit gods in my life.” then you should read this book.