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September 2008

September 30, 2008

Death by Love by Mark DriscollDeath by Love is Mark Driscoll’s fourth book (or eighth if you count the “A Book You’ll Actually Read” series of booklets released earlier this year by Crossway) and the second to be released in the 2008 calendar year. It follows Vintage Jesus, Confessions of a Reformission Rev. and The Radical Reformission. Along with Vintage Jesus it is the second to be co-written with Gerry Breshears. Death by Love is unique among Driscoll’s books in that it is serious in tone from the first page to the last; gone is the sometimes-irreverent humor and gone is the biographical theme. In place comes a deadly-serious look at deadly-serious theology.

September 30, 2008
West Coast Conference
Ligonier had their West Coast Conference this past weekend and have posted a round-up of each of the conference sessions.
Can You Not Sin?
Mondays with Mounce are fast becoming a favorite blog feature of mine. Check out this week’s entry at Zondervan’s blog.
The NY Times on “Fireproof”
What’s this? The New York Times gave Fireproof a positive review! Who knew? “Only at the end do the filmmakers get heavy-handed. Until then, though, this is a decent attempt to combine faith and storytelling that will certainly register with its target audience.”
Video Answers
The Gospel Coalition and Christianity.com have combined to bring some good videos featuring answers to tough questions.
Dave Ramsey on the Financial Crisis
He offers his take on many of the questions people have about the financial crisis. Of course this was before yesterday’s big “no” vote…
Two New Editions
Russell Moore lets us know that new editions of Touchstone and Salvo are hot off the press. “Both will go a long way in getting you in touch with ancient truths and contemporary culture.”
Five Trends in the Church Today
Acts 29 blog shares the five trends D.A. Carson says are impacting the church today.
September 29, 2008

One of the joyful challenges I face in maintaining this blog is answering the questions of Christians who are wrestling with issues related to Reformed theology. I receive many questions from people who are new to the doctrines of grace or who are fighting through them for the first time. I try to answer as many of these questions as I can, though admittedly, a few do get away. Some time ago a reader asked about Calvinism and evangelism. He wrote this: “Given the tenets of total depravity (the spiritually dead are unable to choose God), unconditional election (saved through God’s sovereign choice) and irresistible grace (once God chooses you and regenerates you, you can’t NOT embrace Him)… what does a Calvinist see as the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel? Does a gospel presentation simply provide the context in which God ‘pulls the trigger’ of regeneration and faith for those He has already chosen? (cf Acts 13:48.)”

I understand the confusion many Christians feel when they consider evangelism in a Calvinist context. After all, if God is entirely sovereign, and if His grace is irresistible, what possible use can God have for us? Why would He bother using us in evangelism? This question introduces an apparent antinomy—an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary. The antinomy we face is what we perceive as tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In short, how does our responsibility to evangelize interact with God’s absolute sovereignty in the salvation of souls?

I went about answering the question by first looking at several things that, according to Scripture, God has not called us to do in our evangelism.

We cannot help others realize the desperation of their situation or convince them that God exists It is the Holy Spirit who must do these things. Men are willfully ignorant of them. 2 Peter 3:5 says “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God.” The hearts of men are hard and only God can soften them.

We cannot convince unbelievers of their sinfulness. It is the Spirit who convicts men of sin. Before He died Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit and said “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). I believe this is one area we tend to get wrong. We often feel it is our job to convict others of their sin. But while we can tell people that they are sinful, it is only the Spirit who can actually convict them.

We cannot convince them of the necessity and wonder of Christ. A man needs the grace of the Spirit in his heart before he can see this. Isaiah 53:2 prophecies about Christ saying “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Sinful humans can neither appreciate nor desire Christ without the Spirit first working in them.

We cannot produce repentance or faith. Once again, those are God’s works and His alone. We can speak of the reality and importance of them, but cannot bring them about in others.

The Bible also teaches us several things things that we must do in regards to evangelism. These are things God tells us we must do if we are to obey Him and faithfully represent Him.

We must pray for the lost. God delights in using our prayers to accomplish His purposes. We should pray for salvation and pray that God would grant the person a heart of flesh; pray that God would use circumstances, either specific or general, to bring people to a realization of their desperation; pray that God would confirm what we are saying through other people or circumstances; pray that God would remove the peace they have in their unrepentance; and pray that God would put people in our lives that we can share our faith with.

We must show our faith in our lives. We need not only to speak about God and what He has done, but we also need to show in our lives that we have changed. Our day-to-day lives are a great testimony to unbelievers.

We must share our faith. When opportunities present themselves we are to act as the messenger to deliver the message, free from our prejudices and opinions. We are to present the purity of the gospel, not our spin on it. This, of course, requires knowledge of the Bible and of God’s character. A prerequisite to sharing our faith is strengthening our faith by learning about God and growing closer to Him.

We must invite others to hear the message. We are to invite people to church and other evangelistic occasions. I Corinthians 14:25 speaks of the potential of church services where it speaks of an unbeliever hearing the “secrets of his heart [being] disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” The Bible asks how a person can believe unless he hears the message. It is our job to share that message.

So here are the things we need to do—the things God invites and commands us to do so that He might reach His people.

To be consistent with Reformed theology we must say that if a person is one of the elect, he will come to faith and repentance. It is divinely predestined that this will happen and it is impossible for it not to happen. But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are and how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible (within the bounds He sets in His Word). Charles Spurgeon once said “if all the elect had a white stripe on their backs I would quit preaching and begin lifting shirt tails” (or something to that effect). God has not put a visible mark on the elect, so we are to treat all men as if they are among the elect, and are to share the Gospel far and wide. We need to share it with a sense of urgency.

It is critical that we realize that we are not to measure success by the visible results. A convincing response to evangelism does not necessarily indicative of a biblical method of evangelism. Perhaps this was best proven by the Catholic Church during their “convert or die” campaigns among the native populations of South America. Allow me to post a length quote from J.I. Packer’s wonderful book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

If we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray.

Let us work this out. If we regarded it as our job, not simply to present Christ, but actually to produce converts—to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully —our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. We should conclude that our basic equipment, both for personal dealing and for public preaching, must be twofold. We must have, not merely a clear grasp of the meaning and application of the gospel, but also an irresistible technique for inducing a response. We should, therefore, make it our business to try and develop such a technique. And we should evaluate all evangelism, our own and other people’s, by the criterion, not only of the message preached, but also the visible results. If our own efforts were not bearing fruit, we should conclude that our technique still needed improving. If they were bearing fruit, we should conclude that this justified the technique we had been using. We should regard evangelism as an activity involving a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing. And we would not longer be able to argue, when such a similarity is asserted to be fact, that this is not a proper conception of evangelism…

…It is right to recognize our responsibility to engage in aggressive evangelism. It is our right to desire the conversion unbelievers. It is right to want one’s presentation of the gospel to be as clear and forcible as possible. If we preferred that converts should be few and far between, and did not care whether our proclaiming of Christ went home or not, there would be something wrong with us. But it is not right when we take it on us to do more than God has given us to do. It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish…only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault.

It is not difficult for a Christian to know if he has, indeed, evangelized. He has done so if he has proclaimed the message of sin, death, Savior and forgiveness. If he has done this he has evangelized successfully. He cannot and must not evaluate his efforts in the light of who responds to the message. Don Whitney likens the evangelist to the mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his concern. And the same is true of the evangelist. He faithfully delivers the message and leaves the results to God.

Ultimately we need to understand that God has not seen fit to share with us exactly how human responsibility and Divine sovereignty interact in evangelism. While we need to always remember that God is the only one who can bring about salvation, He has decreed that we will be the instruments He uses to take the Good News to the world. And that is what we must do, all the while asking God to equip us to be worthy ambassadors for Him.

September 29, 2008
Read Books, Not Blogs
Stephen Altrogge explains why. But what about blogs about books?
Desiring God Conference Video
Desiring God has posted videos of each of the sessions from last weekend’s conference.
Overturning Roe v. Wade
Dr. Mohler: “The question posed at “On Faith,” the project of Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post, had to do with whether the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion should be reversed. The responses from columnists were very revealing, if tragic. My own column was brief, but to the point…”
September 28, 2008

Here is another prayer drawn from The Valley of Vision. It is a prayer of penitence. What particularly appealed to me in this prayer was the first section which sets much of a days’ sin in the neglect of private prayers. “My first sin of the day leads into others…” I think every Christian can identify with this and pray with this old Puritan, “O quicken my conscience to feel this folly, to bewail this ingratitude.”

O Lord of grace,
I have been hasty and short in private prayer,
    O quicken my conscience to feel this folly,
    to bewail this ingratitude;
My first sin of the day leads into others,
    and it is just that thou shouldst withdraw
    thy presence
    from one who waited carelessly on thee.
Keep me at all times from robbing thee,
    and from depriving my soul of thy due worship;
Let me never forget
    that I have an eternal duty to love, honour
    and obey thee,
    that thou art infinitely worthy of such;
    that if I fail to glorify thee
I am guilty of infinite evil that merits infinite punishment,
    for sin is the violation of an infinite obligation.
O forgive me if I have dishonoured thee,
Melt my heart, heal my backslidings,
    and open an intercourse of love.
When the fire of thy compassion warms my
    inward man,
and the outpourings of thy Spirit fill my soul,
    then I feelingly wonder at my own depravity,
    and deeply abhor myself;
    then thy grace is a powerful incentive
    to repentance,
    and an irresistible motive to inward holiness.
May I never forget that thou hast my heart
    in thy hands.
Apply to it the merits of Christ’s atoning blood
    whenever I sin.
Let thy mercies draw me to thyself.
Wean me from all evil, mortify me to the world,
    and make me ready for my departure hence
    animated by the humiliations of penitential love.
My soul is often a chariot without wheels,
    clogged and hindered in sin’s miry clay;
Mount it on eagle’s wings
    and cause it to soar upward to thyself.

September 27, 2008

Last week’s poll (where do you buy books?) continues to fascinate me. After almost 1200 votes Amazon is the clear winner, holding steady with over half of the total vote. This week I thought I’d lighten things up a bit and ask a question that is really pure curiosity. It’s simply this: How old are you?

Do note that if you are reading this via RSS, you’ll have to click through to the site to actually answer. All voting is anonymous so there is no shame in adding your age to the poll!

September 26, 2008

It’s Friday and that’s a good day to ramble. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share just a couple of items of “miscellania.”

Personal Updates

I’ve had a couple of people ask for updates as to what I’m up to these days. So here goes. My fall travel schedule is very light, for which I’m grateful. In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading to Chicago to blog the True Woman conference. Yes, feel free to make fun of me for it. It is going to be a huge conference with over 6000 women in attendance. Speakers include John Piper, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Joni Eareckson Tada, Janet Parshall, Mary Kassian, Fern Nichols and Karen Loritts. It’s hardly my usual live-blogging gig, but it should be fun nonetheless. The week after that I’ll be speaking at Chinese Gospel Church here in Toronto. Beyond that, I don’t have a lot on my schedule. And, of course, in early November I’ll be heading to Dominican Republic with Compassion International to see what they are up to over there.

I’m currently putting my spring schedule together. I’ll be teaching at a youth retreat in Michigan for a weekend in February. When conference season begins (typically March, April and May) I’ll be heading to The Gospel Coalition and, in all probability, the Moody Pastors Conference (in both cases to blog about them). In March I’ll be reading a paper at the Toronto Pastors Fellowship. And I’m evaluating a few other opportunities.

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment continues to sell, I guess. It has just gone to a third printing which is a great encouragement. To be honest, I do not have much of a sense of what that translates to in numbers, so don’t ask! I am not yet working on my next book, at least beyond the “gathering ideas” stage. I just haven’t quite found that idea yet—the one I can spend a year writing about.

Incognito

It’s not like we really need proof of the increasing prevalence of pornography in our society, but if we did we could look to the newest crop of web browsers. The browser that has made the greatest splash in recent days is Google’s Chrome; it overshadowed the release of a beta version of Internet Explorer 8. And, of course, a new version of Firefox is coming soon (a minor update—3.1). One feature of all of these new browsers (and a feature Safari has had for some time) is what is known as “private browsing” or, more commonly, “porn mode.”

Porn mode allows a user to browse the internet without the browser maintaining a history. Google describes it this way when you open an “incognito window:” “You’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close the incognito window. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.” In other words, you can browse the web without leaving on your computer any trace of what you’ve done or where you’ve been. I’ll grant that there are useful applications of this technology beyond pornography—it may be useful if you are using a computer in a public library or if you have logged onto a friend’s computer to do some quick banking. But the most obvious application and the one it will undoubtedly be used for most, is finding and viewing pornography. I’m quite convinced that this is yet another example of pornography driving technology. This presents a bit of a conundrum to parents who may be accustomed to keeping tabs on their children’s browsing habits. So parents, be warned; your kids may be going incognito.

The Solas

The SolasA little while ago I was asked to collaborate on an interesting project—writing a curriculum on the five solas appropriate for teens. So I worked with InQuest Ministries and together we came up with The Solas. “When only the best will do, then the best is all you need. The 5 Solas of the reformation that make up this study are the best means for understanding the basic theological foundation on which our faith rests. By engaging with and applying the principles covered in this 5 session study we will gain an understanding of the uniqueness of our faith and why it is the best to build our life on.” In five sessions it leads students through each of the five solas. It is available online as a downloadable product. You can find information about it at InQuest Ministries.

September 26, 2008
A Baby’s Growth Timeline
GE, who developed 4D ultrasound technology, has a website of images that follow the timeline of the unborn’s development from six weeks to birth. (HT: STR)
Winter is Coming
Money Magazine gives tips that can help you knock hundreds or thousands off your utility bills even in just one winter.
800 People Read Grudem’s Systematic Theology
Now here’s a good idea. “The format of the group was simple: read one chapter each week, meet to discuss (and not debate) and do so for 15 months. Though this initially sounds like just the story of one small group, to date 800 Hunter Street members have participated in similar groups (aptly dubbed “TRG’s” - Theology Reading Groups) and each chose Systematic Theology as their beginning text.”
Why I Love John Piper
Driscoll explains why he loves Piper. Of course everyone loves Piper, but Driscoll offers four great reasons for his affection.
iTunes Under Threat
Here’s an interesting story saying that iTunes, currently America’s biggest seller of music, may be under threat. Artists are suddenly realizing that they can experience success (and greater profits) with iTunes.
The Superiority of Canadian Football
Admittedly I prefer American football to its Canadian counterpart, but there are at least two reasons the Canadian version is better. First, more than one person can be in motion (and even towards the line of scrimmage) and second, there is no ban on touchdown celebrations. Both are illustrated in this video.
Watching Fireproof
Ted Slater has a clever article on Fireproof (which opens today!). “Last night we watched the movie for the second time. And though we tried to engage with the story, a number of production ‘artifacts’ were a bit distracting.”
Faith, Doubt, + Unbelief
C.J. Mahaney writes about Os Guinness and his helpful teaching on the subject of doubt.
Do Warehouse Stores Save You Money?
“Priya Raghubir, a marketing professor at New York University, says there’s a good deal of research that shows larger portion size is linked to higher consumption. “My personal opinion is that people actually spend more” in the end by going to Costco, she says.”
National Punctuation Day
Tom Neven celebrates this rather uncouth day, but his article is well worth reading. Be sure to read about how a misplaced comma cost a company over two million dollars.
The Green Bible
Because we don’t already have enough editions of the Bible. “The Green Bible…calls attention to more than 1,000 verses related to nature by printing them in a pleasant shade of forest green, much as red-letter editions of the Bible encrimson the words of Jesus.”