Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

April 2006

April 30, 2006

gospel_ministry.gifLast year I had the great privilege of attending the Shepherd’s Conference held at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. I was blessed to be able to sit under the teaching of such well known teachers as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, J. Ligon Duncan and Mark Dever. I benefitted greatly from being challenged by the messages these men delivered. Yet I believe that the greatest blessing of the week spent in California was not in hearing these speakers, wonderful though they were, but in being in the presence of thousands of pastors. There is no vocation I hold in higher esteem than the gospel ministry and it was a profound blessing to be able to spent a week with so many of these ordinary men who have dedicated their lives to sharing and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

April 29, 2006

Note - This is, apparently a transcription of the document and it contains a few typos and so on. The T4G guys will be releasing a final version soon. So take this one only as a guide while you wait for the real mccoy.

We are brothers in Christ united in one great cause - to stand together for the Gospel. We are convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many churches and among many who claim the name of Christ. Compromise of the Gospel has led to the preaching of false gospels, the seduction of many minds and movements, and the weakening of the church’s Gospel witness.

As in previous moments of theological and spiritual crisis in the church, we believe that the answer to this confusion and compromise lies in a comprehensive recovery and reaffirmation of the Gospel - and in Christians banding together in Gospel churches that display God’s glory in this fallen world.

We are also brothers united in deep concern for the church and the Gospel. This concern is specifically addressed to certain trends within the church today. We are concerned about the tendency of so many churches to substitute technique for truth, therapy for theology, and management for ministry.

We are also concerned that God’s glorious purpose for Christ’s church is often eclipsed in concern by so many other issues, programs, technologies, and priorities. Furthermore, confusion over crucial questions concerning the authority of the Bible, the meaning of the Gospel, and the nature of truth itself have gravely weakened the church in terms of its witness, its work, and its identity.

We stand together for the Gospel - and for a full and gladdening recovery of the Gospel in the church. We are convinced that such a recovery will be evident in the form of faithful Gospel churches, each bearing faithful witness to the glory of God and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Article I

We affirm that the sole authority for the Church is the Bible, verbally inspired, inerrant, infallible, and totally sufficient and trustworthy.

We deny that the Bible is a mere witness to the divine revelation, or that any portion of Scripture is marked by error, incompleteness, or the effects of human sinfulness.

Article II

We affirm that the authority and sufficiency of Scripture extends to the entire Bible, and therefore that the Bible is our final authority for all doctrine and practice.

We deny that any portion of the Bible is to be used in an effort to deny the truthfulness or trustworthiness of any other portion. We further deny any effort to identify a canon within the canon or, for example, to set the words of Jesus against the writings of Paul.

Article III

We affirm that the truth ever remains a central issue for the Church, and that the church must resist the allure of pragmatism and postmodern conceptions of truth as substitutes for obedience to the comprehensive truth claims of Scripture.

We deny that truth is merely a product of social construction or that the truth of the Gospel can be expressed or grounded in anything less than total confidence in the veracity of the Bible, the historicity of biblical events, and the abilityof language to convey understandable truth in sentence form. We further deny that the church can establish in its ministry on a foundation of pragmatism, current marketing techniques, or contemporary cultural fashions.

Article IV

We affirm the centrality of expository preaching in the church and the urgent need for a recovery of biblical exposition and the public reading of Scripture in worship.

We deny that God-honoring worship can marginalize or neglect the ministry of the Word as manifested through the exposition and public reading. We further deny that a church devoid of true biblical preaching can survive as a Gospel church.

Article V

We affirm that the Bible reveals God to be infinite in all his perfections, and thus truly omniscient, omnipotent, timeless, and self-existent. We further affirm that God posesses perfect knowledge of all things, past, present, and future, including human thoughts, acts, and decisions.

We deny that the God of the Bible is in any way limited in terms of knowledge or power or any other perfection or attribute, or that God has in any way limited his own perfections.

Article VI

We affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is a Christian essential, bearing witness to the ontological reality of the one true God in three divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of the same substance and perfections.

We deny the claim that the Trinity is not an essential doctrine, or that the Trinity can be understood in merely economic or functional categories.

Article VII

We affirm that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, in perfect, undiluted, and unconfused union throughout his incarnation and now eternally. We also affirm that Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, as a sacrifice for sin, and as a propitiation of the wrath of God toward sin. We affirm the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ as essential to the Gospel. We further affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord over His church, and that Christ will reign over the entire cosmos in fulfillment of the Father’s gracious purpose.

We deny that the substitutionary character of Christ’s atonement for sin can be compromised or denied without serious injury, or even repudiation, of the Gospel. We further deny that Jesus Christ is visible only in weakness, rather than in power, Lordship, or royal reign, or, conversely, that Christ is visible only in power, and never in weakness.

Article VIII

We affirm that salvation is all of grace, and that the Gospel is revealed to us in doctrines that most faithfully exalt God’s sovereign purpose to save sinners and in His determination to save his redeemed people by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to His glory alone.

We deny any teaching, theological system, or means of presenting the Gospel that denies the centrality of God’s grace as His gift of unmerited favor to sinners in Christ can be considered true doctrine.

Article IX

We affirm that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s means of bringing salvation to His people, that sinners are commanded to believe the Gospel, and that the church is commissioned to preach and teach the Gospel to all nations.

We deny that evangelsim can be reduced to any program, technique, or marketing approach. We further deny that salvation can be separated from repentence toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Article X

We affirm that salvation comes to those who truly beleive and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We deny that there is salvation in any other name, or that saving faith can take any form other than conscious belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving acts.

Article XI

We affirm the continuity of God’s saving purpose and the Christological unity of the covenants. we further affirm a basic distinction between law and grace, and that the true Gospel exalts Christ’s atoning work as the consummate and perfect fulfillment of the law.

We deny that the Bible presents any other means of salvation than God’s gracious acceptance of sinners in Christ.

Article XII

We affirm that sinners are justified only through faith in Christ, and that justification by faith alone is essential and central to the Gospel.

We deny that any teaching that minimizes, denies, or confuses justification by faith alone can be considered true to the Gospel. We further deny that any teaching that separates regeneration and faith is a true rendering of the Gospel.

Article XIII

We affirm that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers by God’s decree alone, and that this righteousness, imputed to the believer through faith alone, is the only righteousness that saves.

We deny that such righteousness is earned or deserved in any manner, is infused within the believer to any degree, or is realized in the believer through anything other than faith alone.

Article XIV

We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God’s purpose is evident in fait

April 29, 2006

Donald Miller’s popularity continues to grow. His mostly autobiographical book Blue Like Jazz put him on the map as a notable author and his subsequent books and speaking opportunities have served to increase this popularity. He is particularly well-liked by teens and young adults. It is to a portion of this audience that To Own A Dragon is addressed.

Miller grew up without a father. He does not reveal exactly where his father went or why he left, but only that his was a single parent home throughout his youth. It was only as an adult that he came to realize just how profoundly this effected him and impacted his life. As he came to understand this, he felt it worthwhile to write a book reflecting upon growing up without a father. Miller, with his trademark honesty, self-deprecation and borderline crudeness, reveals the journey that brought him at last to a place of redemption.

April 28, 2006

The final session of the conference will be led by none other than John MacArthur who will speak about “40 Years of Gospel Ministry” and who was introduced by Al Mohler.

He had us stand and read for us the first two chapters of 1 Thessalonians (from our new MacArthur Study Bibles) and then proceeded to reflect on 40 years of gospel ministry. It was a biographical address, of sorts, and one that was very interesting to hear. He told about his slow start in the ministry, introduced us to his mentors, and shared the lessons he has learned over the past four decades. Because of the somewhat rambling, reflective nature of MacArthur’s speech, it was a little more difficult to encapsulate than some sessions this week. Therefore, I have merely taken down some of the themes and individual points, perhaps without a clear thesis or theme running throughout.

MacArthur believes that a committment to expository preaching will bring about the following benefits:

1) It establishes the authority of God over the mind and soul. There is an issue in the church today over who has the right to speak in the church. Even Jesus said He spoke only that which the Father showed Him to speak. When you preach in this way people understand Who has sovereignty over their souls.

2) It exalts the lordship of Christ over His church. This may be the most assaulted doctrine in the church today. “This doctrine has sailed down to us on a sea of blood.” When you bring to the people the mind of Christ contained in the Word of God you exalt the lordship of Christ over the church.

3) It is the Word of God which the Spirit uses to save and sanctify. This is so simple: the Spirit uses the Word! If pastors won’t submit to the Word of God, what will they submit to?

4) If I never preached a sermon I would thank God for the sanctifying grace of the day after day, year after year, sanctifying grace of studying the Word of God.

5) You honor by example the priority of Bible study. People get it. They know that the Word matters to you more than anything else because the Lord matters to you more than anything else. “You are a living demonstration of hermeneutics.”

6) I never want to be guilty of giving people the illusion that they’ve heard from God when they haven’t. This is why study and proper interpretation is so critical. Expository preaching guards against say what is against the Word of God.

7) It has a massive impact on the experience of worship. Transcendence of worship is directly related to the depth of understanding of the Word of God. Those who know God best, worship God deepest.

8) It protects people from the error and carnality which is deadly to the church. You can do sermonettes for Christianettes, but this does nothing to protect them from sin, error and temptation. You give them nothing at all; you are no shepherd at all. This leaves your people absolutely defenseless.

9) The pastor should want to be a person who fully understands the mind of Christ in so far as this is possible. No matter where he is, what he does, MacArthur wants to tell people what he knows of the mind of Christ. “We should be the voice of God on every issue in our time.”

“I could say more…that’s what we all say when we run out of material.”

Having discussed the benefit of expository preaching, he turned to the benefits to the church in this type of consistent, Bible-focused ministry:

1) A church full of genuine Christians who think biblically. “I go to church at a real church.” We can go to a real church with real believers. It is the real deal!

2) People develop conviction where they have clarity. Conviction makes strength and strength has impact.

3) When you exposit the Word of God, everyone’s belief is tested at every text. “Everything I’ve ever taught has had to survive the scrutiny of the text.”

“I know what it is to be exposed in a church.” After almost four decades his people know everything about him—all of his strengths and weaknesses. He looks at this people and sees a reflection of himself and these same strengths and his weaknesses. He is constantly overwhelmed by the love of his congregation for its shepherd. He knows what it’s like to be loved, challenged, forgiven.

In the end he reflected on how stunned he is by what has come of his ministry. He insists that he really only just preaches the simple truths of the Word. “I preach what captures me. I preach what thrills me.” He sits in his study week after week just trying to get the passage right. It may be that there is no more simple, pure way of describing the task of a minister of the Word.

Bob Kauflin led us in singing “It is Well With My Soul.” We will return for one final panel session which will feature John MacArthur sitting with Dever, Duncan, Mohler and Mahaney.

April 28, 2006

We began this morning with a medly of sorts that combined “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” with “The Gospel Song.” Mark Dever than dispensed a few thank yous and introduced the final series of books we will receive at this conference. They are Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. Mahaney, Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison,Why One Way? by John MacArthur and a hardcover N.A.S.B. MacArthur Study Bible. He then introduced his good friend and this morning’s speaker C.J. Mahaney who will speak on “Watch Your Life and Doctrine.”

C.J. Mahaney began by asking us to lower our expectations from the amazing level of preaching we have experienced this week. He spent a little bit of time poking fun at himself, saying that once a person writes a book on humility he ends up being slotted to preach after John Piper (and before John MacArthur!). He described what he assumes people will be thinking while he speaks this morning: “Well, he’s no John Piper…I can’t wait to get home and make love to my wife.” He then confessed that when he first wrote this sermon he did it to attempt to impress us, but later repented of this and now seeks simply to serve those in attendance.

C.J.’s text will be 1 Timothy 4: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul cares for Timothy as a son in the faith. Beginning in verse six of this chapter Paul begins to address Timothy in a very personal manner. We are able to overhear this fatherly conversation and can be challenged by it as well. God wants to have a very personal word with pastors through this text. He wants to address everyone personally and care for each person’s soul.

This verse has a succinct summation of the job of the pastor. Feel the weight of this verse. Feel the implications of this verse upon your soul. Through God-appointed means, the preservation of yourself and your congregation is at stake in your obedience to this verse. Faithful, pastoral ministry could not be more important and the implications could not be more important—they are eternal.

Watch Your Life - In C.J.’s experience, it is most difficult to watch his life closely. It is easier to study doctrine than to study his heart. Reading and studying are easier than examining his motives. Pastors spend great time in sermon preparation but do they spend as much time in soul examination? All pastors are tempted to devote more time to public ministry than to personal piety. Aware of this temptation, God has given this command: keep a close watch on yourself.

The sobering reality for pastors is that skill and fruitfulness in ministry is not a substitute for personal piety. It is a man’s godly character that is the fundamanetal characteristic of pastoral ministry. The foundational assumption of Scripture is that a man provide a godly (though not perfect) example of character to his congregation. He quoted Spurgeon: “Our characters must be more persuasive than our speech.” The presence or absence of godly characteristics display whether or not a pastor is watching his life in this way. The effect on the pastor, his family and his church can be devastating when this commandment has been neglected.

He provided reflections on what Sovereign Grace has learned in dealing with pastors who have not obeyed this commandment.

1) The limitations of sound doctrine. Knowledge of Scripture is essential, but not sufficient, for we must also be obedient. Merely listening and being moved is not enough. It leaves us vulnerable to deception if we do not have a high view of specific application of truth to our lives. True knowlege is the prelude to action, and it is obedience to the word that counts in the end. The prelude cannot become the pinnacle. Truth must be both proclaimed and applied, preached and practiced, learned and obeyed. John Owen says, “As we learn all to practice, so we learn much by practicing.”

2) The war within never ends. Within each of us is a deadly companion actively opposed to our pursuit of God and godliness. We are commanded to keep a close watch on our lives because of the enemy within. He quoted at length from John Owen, whose writings he considers indispensible when dealing with the issue of sin. “There is no pastoral privilege in relation to sin.” Watching our hearts and lives is an invaluable means of protecting our hearts from the opposition of sin. If you do not watch, you will weaken.

3) We can’t effectively watch ourself by ourself. The limitations of sound doctrine and the presence of sin means that we require others. We need the discerning eyes of our friends on our lives. We simply cannot do it by ourselves. I can too often assume that because I can see your sin so clearly I have no problem discerning my own. But because sin deceives and lies, I need friends to help me discern the sin that is obvious to them but not to me. He quoted Paul Tripp who wrote, “Personal insight is the product of community.” He encouraged those in attendance to find people who we can ask about the sin we may not see in ourselves, beginning with our wives and extending that to pastoral teams and friends. When appropriate, a pastor should even share his sin with his congregation, though it requires wisdom to know when to do this.

Watch Your Doctrine - Because of all that has been said already through this conference he will accent only one aspect of Paul’s admonition: in watching doctrine we must never lose sight of Calvary. There must always been some sighting of Calvary in a sermon and people should experience this sight in each and every sermon that is preached.

What Your Savior Work - At the end of verse 16 is an unexpected promise. Obviously Paul is not teaching self-atonement but is accenting human agency in the experience of salvation. This verse reminds us of the vital importance of godly leadership. If we watch our life and doctrine closely, we can expect God to preserve us and those we serve until that final day. If it were not for the Savior, the burden of this verse would be too much to bear. As we watch our lives and doctrine, we can have confidence that the Savior will work.

We will return very shortly with John MacArthur, the final speaker of the conference.

April 27, 2006

The conference is now already more than half finished. We have only three general sessions and two panel sessions remaining. We will still hear from John Piper, C.J. Mahaney and John MacArthur.

I just shared a nice dinner with Josh Harris at that same restaurant I went to at lunch that most other people have not yet discovered. This is not to say that he and I shared a plate of food, but that he and I (and my buddy Paul) sat in an establishment that dispenses food and eventually at least some of us ate the food served by that establishment. I enjoyed meeting Josh, with whom I had only had a relationship via email and web sites (and, of course, I’ve read one or two of his books). He is clearly a humble, godly, teachable guy. Having sat with him and talked to him, even if only for a while, I can see that C.J. was obviously correct in his assessment of Josh and that he has left the church he began in very good hands.

This evening we will hear John Piper speak on “Why Expositional Preaching is Particularly Glorifying to God.” First, though, C.J. introduced the books we received tonight. They include a paperback copy of the ESV, God Is The Gospel by John Piper and Counted Righteous in Christ, also by John Piper.

Tonight’s message will be, to the best of Piper’s ability, a portrayal of the glory of God. It will be composed of four sections. He longs for this conference to summon into being a particular kind of preacher.

Section 1 - Reflections on the kind of preaching he prays God will raise up in these days - preaching that is aware of the glory of God

He quoted Whitefield at length as he reflected on his longing for men to preach the Word. Here is what Whitefield wanted of those who would become preachers of the Word: They were to be mighty in the scriputures; aglow with the truths of the doctrines of grace; dead to self; willing to labor and suffer; indifferent to the accolades of man; broken to sin; dominated by a sense of the greatness and majesty and the holiness of God. He believed that preaching was heralding the Word of God from that kind of heart. Preaching is not talk, teaching, discussion, but the heralding of a message permeated by a sense of God’s holiness and majesty. It can be any topic, but that topic must be taken into the blazing center of the holiness of God in the Word of God. In the last century, the man who embodied this best was Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Where will the weight of God’s glory be felt if not in the preaching of the Word? If not from the man in the pulpit, where? God planned for His Son to be crucified and for hell to be terrible so we would have the clearest witnesses possible to what is at stake when the pastor preaches. What makes preaching seriousness is that the mantle of preaching is soaked in the blood of Jesus and singed in the fire of hell.

What is tragic is that many evangelical voices today diminish the horror the cross and the horror of hell. The cross is stripped of its power to bear punishment that is coming. Oh, that God would raise a generation that would see that the world is not overrun with a sense of God’s seriousness! Earnestness is rare these days. Today, the joy of millions of Christians is paper-thin. By the millions, people, including pastors, are amusing themselves to death with what our culture calls entertainment while leaders of world religion write letters to the West condemning it and all Christian influence. Yet even in this age, people are telling pastors to lighten up, to get funny, to be amusing. To this John Piper wants to say, “where is the Spirit of Jesus?” How are people denying themselves and taking up Christ’s cross? How are they losing their lives for Him? How are they rencouncing possessions and hating family for the sake of being His disciple? How are they leaving their dead and following Him?

Section 2 - What you believe about the glory of God?

What you believe about the necessity and nature of preaching is governed by your sense of the glory of God and how you believe people awaken to it. From the beginning to end of the Bible, nothing is more ultimate in the mind and heart of God than the glory of God, the beauty of God, the radiance of his perfections. That is the ultimate allegience and commitment in the mind and heart of God. Everywhere you look, without exception, every place God makes explicit the ultimate reason for what He is doing what He is doing is for His glory. We are predestined for His glory, created for His glory, elected for His glory, saved from Egypt for His glory, rescued from the exile for His glory, He sent Christ so the gentiles would praise Him for His glory, we are to eat and drink and do everything to His glory, Christ will return so the redeemed will marvel at His glory. The mission of the church, therefore, is to declare His glory to the nations.

Nothing affects preaching more deeply than to be struck almost speechless (almost!) by the passion of God for the glory of God. What is clear from the range of biblical revelation is that God’s ultimate allegiance is to know Himself perfectly and love Himself infinitely and then to share that with His people.

From all eternity the always-perfect God has known and loved Himself perfectly. He has eternally seen His beauty reflected back to Him in His Son and has savored His beauty. He has no needs for He has no imperfections. He has no inclinations to evil because He has no tendencies to do wrong. He is the holiest and happiest being that is or can be conceived. Knowing and enjoying His glory is the reason He created the world. He would bring us to know and enjoy Him the way He knows and enjoys Himself. This knowledge and joy can become our knowledge and our joy (see John 17:26). God’s love is displayed in allowing us to know and enjoy Him in this way. It is God’s very nature to share the knowledge He has of Himself and the joy He has in Himself, though it cost Him His Son. God’s aim to display His glory and my delight in that glory are in perfect harmony. God is glorified by being known and so enjoyed that our lives are transformed into the kind of lives that display His infinite worth.

Jesus said two things to emphasis His role in giving us the knowledge and joy of God (see Matthew 11:27 and John 15:11). We know the Father with the knowledge of the Son. We know and enjoy the Father with the joy of the Son. Jesus has made us partakers of His own knowledge of God and His own enjoyment of God. That has got to become visible. Knowledge and joy are invisible—only God sees and know them. They will be invisible to the world until they change you. This is why Jesus said “let your light so shine that men may see your [sacrifical, radical] good deeds and give glory [not to you but] to your Father.” The challenge is so to live that men don’t glorify you for living that way.

When the glory of God is the treasure of our lives we will not lay up treasure on earth but spend them for the spread of His glory. We will not crave the praise of men. Every sin flows from a failure to treasure the glory of God above all things. Therefore, one crucial, visible way to display the truth and value of God is humble, sacrificial service of other people.

Section 3 - How do people awaken to the glory of God?

This is the goal of a pastor. He should want to so live, lead, preach, suffer that his people will rejoice at a message like this. The answer is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 - 4:6. God is the Gospel is Piper’s overflow of meditation on these verses. These verses show that people are changed the way and at the speed that God wants them to change. Far too many people abandon these verses for a new technique. They may produce change, but it may not be the change that God wants in His people. The job of the pastor is to make the glory of God seen so that people are changed.

How does this happen? See verses 3-6. In verse three we see that there are people who will never see. A pastor cannot allow failure with these people to change his method! The gospel is a gospel of the glory of Christ. We behold the glory of the Lord most clearly and most crucially in the gospel. This is so much so that Paul calls it the gospel of the glory of Christ. Here is why this is so important for preaching: the gospel is a message. It is words, sentences, proclamation. Here is the paradox: we must see glory by hearing what comes from the mouth of the preacher. You see with your ears! Your people see with their ears!

In Samuel’s day there was a famine of seeing and savoring the glory of God. God raised up Samuel. But in 1 Samuel 3:21 God revealed Himself through the Word. He appeared by the Word of the Lord.

The way you see glory today in this dispensation between the first and second coming is by hearing the gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing from the Word of Christ because through the Word of Christ, Christ appears. And what appears is glory—the glory of the cross. The glory of the incarnation. That is the job of the pastor.

Section 4 - How does this relate to “expository exultation” (Piper’s definition of preaching)?

If it is the purpose of God to display His glory in the world, and if come to know and enjoy it by beholding it, and if we behold it best in the gospel, and if the gospel is proclamation, then preaching is absolutely essential. It is heralding the gospel and the glory of Christ in the gospel. This is our central job.

Expository - This is necessary because the gospel comes in word. Here are five essential components of the gospel. 1) The gospel is a message about historical events—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 2) The gospel is a message about what those events achieved. For example, the payment for our sins, the completion of perfect obedience, the removal of the wrath of God, the installation of King Jesus, the destruction of death. These all beg for exposition. 3) The gospel is a message about the transfer of the achievements to particular persons. How this happens is the gospel. If this happens through works, there is no gospel. Only by faith are we grafted into Christ. 4) The gospel is the message about the good things that are now true about us because the achievement has been applied to us. For example, God is now only merciful to you and not wrathful (propitiation), you are now counted righteous in Christ (justification), etc. 5) The gospel is a message about the glorious God Himself as our final, eternal, all-satisfying treasure. Even gospel-loving pastors tend to stop at number four and this is why Piper wrote God is the Gospel.

Woe to the preacher who does this without exultation.

Exultation - The face and tone and life and demeanor, if dull or downcast, betrays the value of the gospel. If you do not value the gospel, you perish, no matter how many right thoughts you think. When he defines preaching as expository exultation, he means two wings on a plane. When one wing falls off, the plane crashes.

His prayer is that God may be pleased to raise up, here, preachers whose exposition of Bible texts is worthy of the truth of the Bible and whose exultation over it is worthy of the glory of God revealed in the texts of the Scripture.

Piper than led in prayer and, after singing “I Will Glory in My Redeemer,” we were dismissed until the evening’s final session, a panel session.

April 27, 2006

I just got back from a nice Italian lunch with my friend Chris whom I met at The Shepherd’s Conference and a friend from his church who is attending this conference with him. We ate the meatiest pizza I’ve ever laid eyes upon. They don’t make pizza like that back home in Canada! Of greater significance, we seem to have found a restaurant that has significantly less traffic than the other local hangouts. This may serve us well through the remaining day-and-a-half of this conference.

This afternoon we have the privilege of hearing R.C. Sproul speak on “The Center of Christian Preaching: Justification by Faith Alone.” It seems to me that if we could want to hear any man in the world today speak on the subject of “justification by faith alone,” it would be Sproul. Few men have dedicated more time to understanding and preaching this critical doctrine. Few men are more qualified to speak to share with us this: the very heart of Christian doctrine.

Justification is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls, and ultimately, the doctrine upon which you and I stand or fall. This doctrine is the “Atlas” upon which the whole of Christianity rests. Were Atlas to shrug, the entire structure of the Christian faith would fall to the ground and be shattered. This is not a common understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in our day. It is now considered, tragically, the small print of the gospel. The battle over justification by faith alone is considered, by so many, a tempest in a teapot. Many have declared the Reformation to be over since Catholicism and Protestantism have supposedly mended their fences and now stand together. The New Perspective tells us that both sides completely misunderstood Paul’s true teaching on justification. Yet it should not be surprising that we see a minimalist attitude being expressed about this doctrine. Towards the end of his life, Martin Luther warned (rightly it seems) that in every generation the gospel will have to be reaffirmed because this doctrine, when proclaimed boldly and accurately, will produce conflict. We are those who, when faced with the options of fight or flight, prefer to flee conflict even if the stakes are as low as being burned not at the stake but at the payroll of a local church. With this increasing significance comes an eclipse of the understanding of this doctrine.

Dr. Sproul will discuss the Roman Catholic understanding of the doctrine of justification so we can understand the Reformation understanding up against the Roman Catholic.

Rome did teach and does continue to teach that justification is a sacerdotal matter. The grace of justification is administered by and through the church, by the priesthood, through the sacraments. Justification begins by the sacrament of baptism which functions by the working of the works (near-automatically) and in baptism the grace of baptism is infused into the recipient of the sacrament, which is to say it is poured into their soul. This grace is sometimes called “the righteousness of Christ.” This does not fully justify the recipient because the person needs to assent to and cooperate with this grace to such a degree that he actually becomes righteous. If you are righteous, then you will be justified and remain in a state of grace as long as you keep yourself from mortal sin. Mortal sin is defined as sin that kills the justifying grace that has been infused into the soul. A person who commits moral sin loses his justifying grace. When mortal sin occurs, and justifying grace is lost, that can and often does happen, while authentic, genuine faith remains. A person can have real faith and not be justified. Once mortal sin has been committed, the church requires the sacrament of penance which is called “the second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.” The sacrament of penance gains “congruous” merit, which makes it fitting that God once again restores a person to grace and gives him a new infusion of the grace that is needed.

Too often Protestants slander the Roman Catholic Church by not being accurate in regards to Catholic doctrine. Rome teaches that, in order to be justified, a person needs to have faith. The Church says that faith has three functions to perform in justification: the initiation of justification, the foundation of justification, and the root of justification. They maintain the importance of faith. It is a necessary condition for justification, but not a sufficient condition. Protestants believe that faith is a sufficient condition. The presence of genuine faith links you to Jesus and His righteousness and becomes the instrument by which you are justified. This distinction alone is enough to generate a reformation. The difference, then, is faith versus faith alone. Rome teaches grace plus merit. Christ plus your own righteousness is necessary to be redeemed. You cannot be justified without grace, but you also cannot be justified without merit.

A great debate during the Reformation was “the instrumental cause.” The church, beginning as early as Augustine, made us of Aristotle’s distinctions between different types of causes: material cause (the material out of which something is made), a formal cause (a blueprint or a plan), a final cause (the purpose for which something was made), and an efficient cause (the person who does the making). Rome says that the instrumental cause, the tool, is the sacrament of baptism followed by the sacrament of penance. They affirm that the efficient cause is God’s declaration. The Reformers said that the instrumental cause is faith. Faith is the instrument of our justification. This does not mean that faith is a work or carries its own merit. Christians—those who are justified—are at the same time righteous and sinners. The Catholic Church declared this a legal fiction.

Luther said that this is the heart of the gospel. God counted or reckoned Abraham as righteous by virtue of imputation—the single most important term in the debate. So much of the controversy focuses on this single idea of imputation. The meritorious cause that we have to be justified, the only ground of our justification, is the imputation of the righteousness of God to us. Don’t ever negotiation the imputed righeousness of Christ! This is not an abstract doctrine! It is not merely important for us to believe this, but to defend it and to contend with our all for this doctrine.

We are given a righteousness that is outside of us—apart from us. The only righteousness that will justify us is the righteousness of Christ. Without this we are naked and helpless. We need to be covered in Christ’s righteousness.

We are not justified by the doctrine of justification by faith. We can give assent to this doctrine and contend for it without having the faith that alone will justify you. Justification is not accomplished by a profession of faith. It is the posession of faith, not the profession of it, that saves. We must not give people a false sense of security by making them believe a profession is enough! The doctrine simply describes what it is that brings us into a state of justification.

Dr. Sproul recounted the testimony of his own conversion and shared how this doctrine leaves us as the publican, who cannot even lift his head but cries out “have mercy on me, a sinner!”

The gospel of Rome is no gospel at all. It saves no one. There is no other gospel than this one: justification by faith alone. This is a simple matter. It is not a difficult doctrine. But we must be careful. It is an easy doctrine to get into a head, but far more difficult to get into the bloodstream. For this reason we must hear this doctrine again and again and again. Satan constantly seeks to deceive us, thinking that we must add our own merit to Christ’s. But we must stand firm on this doctrine. “Do not move from that.”

Following Dr. Sproul’s speech, Bob led us in song again, singing “Before The Throne of God Above.” We will resume again with another panel session after a short break.

April 27, 2006

Interspersed throughout this week’s conference are panel sessions. There are five of them: two featuring the Together for the Gospel foursome and three others, each featuring one of the special guests (R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur and John Piper). These sessions are an opportunity for those in attendance, most of whom are pastors, to listen to these men chat amongst themselves in a somewhat informal context. It is an opportunity to see a group of men learn from each other and discuss what is of utmost importance to them. They are loosely moderated but clearly without a strict agenda.

By the very nature of these sessions they are very difficult to transcribe or summarize in the same way as the general sessions. So much of the panel discussions depends on the relationships between the men, their jokes and jabs, and their interaction that I don’t feel I could do justice to them. Because of this I will not attempt to “liveblog” those sessions. If you are able in the future to obtain audio (good)or video (better) of these sessions, I would recommend that you do so. I’m sure they will prove both entertaining and edifying.

Having said that, if I can pull a few quotes or pearls of wisdom from these sessions, I’ll be sure to let you know about them.

In the panel session that just passed, Mohler, Duncan, Mahaney and Dever walked us through a statement of belief which was in the classic form of a series of affirmations and denials. I do not know when this will be publically available (it may be already). It has clearly been written within a cultural context and addresses many of the common errors within modern evangelicalism. Through their affirmations they bring the gospel to the forefront while critiquing so much of what we are told is Christian. They deny, though not by name, open theism, aspects of the new perspective on Paul, modalism and other Trinitarian errors, church growth, gender roles and more. It is a short document but well worth reading and meditating upon.