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June 19, 2016

It comes as no surprise that an article about my position on baptism generated quite a number of letters to the editor. What surprised and delighted me was that they came from all over the world. Not only that, but many of them added nicely to the conversation. Here are a few representative samples.

Comments on Why I Am Not Paedobaptist

I, too, have gone back and forth on this issue. I was raised in a credobaptist tradition and was baptized as a believer. A few years ago, I started attending a Lutheran church (although I do not hold to all of Lutheran doctrine, this was the only church in my area, that I could find, that preached the Gospel). I read and listened to various arguments for both positions (including the Sproul-MacArthur debate you mentioned). Both sides seemed to have a compelling argument, so I was undecided for awhile. A debate on baptism with Dr. James White and Gregg Strawbridge finally convinced me of the credobaptist view. Specifically, Dr. White argued that paedobaptists apply an Old Testament paradigm to a New Testament teaching. Essentially, circumcision applied to the biological descendants of Abraham, while baptism applies to his spiritual descendants. Since it is only by a profession of faith that we can know who are Abraham’s descendants, we cannot baptize infants.
—Gary G, Fontana, CA

Tim: I have watched some, though not all of that debate. I will keep watching it. I appreciate this kind of friendly, informative debate as a means to come to convictions, to deepen existing convictions, and to better understand alternative viewpoints.

***

I agree with most of what you say in your article, and understand the tentativeness you express in declaring your view “right” and the view of those—who are otherwise clearly evangelical and orthodox in their Christian beliefs—as “wrong.” However, I believe their is a much more significant harm introduced by the paedobaptist view than what you describe, and it is this: Despite verbal (and written) insistence that the act of baptism is not what “saves” the child (i.e., it is not what brings the child out of the kingdom of this world and into the kingdom of God), the act of baptizing that infant speaks an entirely different message to that child’s family, as well as to the congregation of that church and to non-believers who are present (or who are even aware of the church’s practice). Paedobaptism is unbiblical. We are not acting in truth (nor in love) when we do not clearly declare it to be so.
—Larry O, Grayson, GA

Tim: I would caution you to be careful when using the word “unbiblical” in this context. I know it is strictly true that one of the two positions is unbiblical, but we also need to acknowledge that both are within the bounds of orthodoxy and the gospel thrives under both beliefs. It is undoubtedly true that some streams of Protestantism fall into the trap of assuming that baptizing a child somehow saves him, but there are many others where the parents and church fully understand that baptism does not regenerate and that they still very much need to preach the gospel to their children and call on them to respond to it.

***

I appreciate your honesty and respectful tone in this article. I was baptised as a child and grew up in the church, but am now excluded from membership of my current church due to my not having received credobaptism. The situation is difficult because both positions make a strong case, and I do not want to a) get baptised just to become a member b) devalue or undermine the meaning of baptism c) (most importantly!) disobey Christ. Your article summarised the issues nicely, and helps frame my thinking as I read and pray about this issue further. Thanks.
—Greg D, Glasgow, Scotland

Tim: I’m glad to hear it, Greg. Baptist churches are like most others in that they will not welcome people into membership who have not been baptized. They do not recognize infant baptism as a valid baptism and, hence, require that each member first be baptized as a believer. There is a clear path of progress from professing faith to being baptized to becoming a member. While this is not universal among Baptists, it is the common practice.

***

Thank you for your brotherly love toward us who are paedobaptists. Often when I read a credobaptist’s description of paedobaptists, I feel mischaracterized as one who believes in baptismal regeneration or as one who feels good that my child is a member of the covenant with God and so is careless in bringing up my child in the training and discipline of the Lord. We had our children baptized because we were following our best understanding of God’s Word, and we did teach them and disciple them in the Christian faith as we continued to follow our best understanding of God’s Word.

I am grieved by the fact that while most Baptists will admit with you that we are within the bounds of orthodoxy and are Christian brothers and sisters, we are kept from joining in the family meal of the Lord’s supper in their churches. We are warned away just as if we are unbelievers or unrepentant adulators. The Lord knows how to make his commands perfectly clear, but he did not give specific requirements for baptism as concretely as he provided the directions for the making of the items used in worship in the tabernacle. I pray that one day all Christ’s visible church may meet at his table in all his congregations and proclaim together the Lord’s death until he comes again.
—Susan R, Allen, TX

Tim: I think there is another way of seeing this, and it’s to be thankful that churches are taking seriously the responsibility to fence the Lord’s table. I’d much rather be excluded from participating in Lord’s supper in a church where they are serious about purity than participate in one that opens the doors far too wide. I think most sound churches work hard to find the proper balance.

***

Thank you for your brief article. This is an issue that really tore my family up for a time. It was even suggested I was abusing a covenant child by not baptizing her. I maintained my view that both views were within orthodoxy and that obedience in this and bringing the child up in the nurture and admonition of the LORD was what was most important. It got ugly at times. We weathered it and it was dropped eventually. It still hurts at times though. I stay quiet about it as I think it could flare again and bring more discord when we have had much loss and pain over the past few years. I too have tried, being raised in the Presbyterian Church and from a family of pastors for centuries in the Presbyterian Church, which I was reminded of frequently, to find a way to be convinced. That never happened. Unity with those of differing convictions on this and other non-essential theological positions is my aim, and worship with a precious church family of mostly paedobaptists currently. We disagree but do not divide over it. I still celebrate with parents when they bring their child to be baptized. If we agree on the essentials then we can fellowship freely and in love as the Body of Christ.
—Colin F, Clarksville, TN

Tim: Unfortunately the beautiful doctrine of baptism has too often turned into a battleground. I am sure many convinced paedobaptists can tell how they’ve come under fire for making the alternate choice.

***

Thanks for your article on “Why I’m not a Paedobaptist.” As someone who has grown up in “reverse” to you - dedicated as a child in the Baptist Church and Baptised as a Believer in my teens, yet now a part of the Anglican Church - I found it stimulating. I’d like to ask about your thoughts on “baptism of membership.” In your article, you wrote a line regarding being baptised for membership into a church. “…in order to become a member, I had to be baptized as a believer.” As far as I can tell, there is no scriptural basis for a second (or even more!) baptism to indicate membership into a specific local church. Would you be able to elaborate?
—Tim B, Adelaide, Australia

Tim: Yes, I’m glad to elaborate. All I meant was that I had not yet been baptized as a believer and, therefore, according to Baptist doctrine, had not been baptized at all. In order to come into the membership of that church I first had to be baptized. I didn’t mention a more difficult issue—this church was only willing to accept baptism by immersion. Aileen had been baptized as an adult but not by immersion. She had to wrestle through the issue of whether or not she could in good conscience be “rebaptized,” this time by immersion.

***

Thank you for writing about this issue with grace and honesty. I grew up in a baptist church, and now I’m a member of one. There are virtually no Presbyterian churches in my area. The closest practice to baptizing children I’ve seen is the Roman Catholic Church, though I know their belief system is works-based, therefore, they do not baptize children out of the same orthodox convictions Presbyterians do. I’m a single Christian girl, and I also believe in credobaptism. Anyway, you mentioned in your article that though this is an important issue, it is not a critical one…which allows us to work together with those who are paedobaptists. My question is, how would you advise a single Paedobaptist and a single credobaptist who wish to marry each other? Are these opposing views a deal-breaker for marriage? Would love to hear your take on this. Thanks!
—Katherine B, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Tim: This is a difficult issue and one that probably needs to be taken case-by-case rather than in broad ways. It also demands more space than I can give it here. So very quickly, it is difficult to see how, if such a couple marries and has children, they will have unity in raising their children if one believes it will be disobedient to baptize children and the other believes it will be disobedient not to. One of them will have to violate convictions and conscience, something that is never wise nor safe. I might point you to Russell Moore’s thoughts on marriage with theological divisions. The context is different but the questions and concerns will be much the same. Either way, such a situation needs to be approached carefully, prayerfully, and with input from other mature Christians.

***

Hi Tim. While I would also associate myself with being a credo baptist, I earnestly try to understand why paedobaptists do hold to infant baptism. In some of my searching, I have heard those who do hold to it question why credo baptists practice baby dedications. What are your thoughts on baby dedications and do you see them as a similar practice to those who practice infant baptism?
—Kaleb P, Kitchener, ON

Tim: That, too, is a little outside what I can answer here. But let me say this: Our Baptist church does not practice baby dedications. We do not consider them unbiblical as much as a-biblical. The Bible neither commands nor forbids them which gives us freedom to practice them or not practice them. We have chosen not to. I will see if I can expand our reasons into an article and share it here in the future.

Comments on The Things You Think You Can Handle on Your Own

I appreciated this article’s call to pray for the things I don’t think to pray about, and it’s a worthy thing to consider—I intend to spend some time prayerfully thinking about in which areas I need to pray more. On the flip side, though, I do want to offer an attitude of prayer that perhaps was missing in the article. In the instances of daily provision and safety while traveling, I tend to see those as places where it is more faithful to depend on God as my Father to take care of me. A child fully expects there to be food at each meal, and has every confidence in his daddy’s expert driving skills; he doesn’t ask his father to be sure there will be lunch or to drive safely. So I find myself wondering if perhaps the best way to be prayerful about some things is to simply trust that God has already provided and is an expert in caring for those needs, and to thank Him for His provision.
—Jordan S, Lawrenceville, GA

The Bestsellers
June 17, 2016

In this ongoing series of articles I am taking a look at books that have won the Platinum or Diamond Sales Awards from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. The Platinum Award recognizes books that have achieved one million sales while the Diamond Award recognizes the few that have surpassed the ten million mark. Today we turn our attention to the 2010 debut from David Platt.

Radical by David Platt

David Platt (born July 11, 1979) is one of America’s best-known young, evangelical leaders. Known today for his books and his preaching, he was first an academic, earning two undergraduate and three advanced degrees, including a Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Philosophy from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. That same seminary employed him as a dean and assistant professor until, at just 28 years of age, he was called to serve as senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Already a megachurch, it grew steadily under his preaching and leadership until it swelled to nearly 5,000 attendees. In 2014, after 8 years in that position, he announced that he would step down to take up a new position as President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He continues in that role today. He is also a regular speaker at conferences, including the bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

Platt’s first book, released May 4, 2010, was Radical, a book about escaping the allure and the doldrums of the American dream. The American dream, one that is shared by all of the western world, calls us to a life of complacency, comfort, and ease. We live in big houses, drive nice cars, and worship in multi-million dollar buildings custom-built around all of our favorite programs. We give away bits of our wealth but rarely enough to impede our comfort. Occasionally we are stirred by images of starving children or by tales of God’s work in foreign lands, but we quickly forget and go on with our lives, growing our portfolios and filling our homes with stuff. “We have in many areas blindly and unknowingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the gospel [Jesus] taught.”

It is in this context that Platt proposes something better, something more consistent with Scripture, something downright radical. “Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.” Radical is, then, a call to radical Christian living. It is a call to put aside our complacency to instead embrace and pursue God’s mission in the world. According to the publisher, “David Platt invites you to encounter what Jesus actually said about being his disciple, and then obey what you have heard. He challenges you to consider with an open heart how we have manipulated a God-centered gospel to fit our human-centered preferences. With passionate storytelling and convicting biblical analysis, Platt calls into question a host of comfortable notions that are common among Christ’s followers today. Then he proposes a radical response: live the gospel in ways that are true, filled with promise, and ultimately world changing.”

Sales & Lasting Impact

Radical was an immediate success, quickly surging to the New York Times list of bestsellers where it remained for more than a year. By 2011 it had crossed the 500,000 mark and surpassed one million in 2013. All the while rumors circulated that Platt was practicing what he preached by giving away the substantial royalties that come from a bestseller and, indeed, his web site includes this notation: “All of the royalties from David’s published works go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.” Radical indeed.

But, inevitably, Radical received a number of critiques. In most cases these were offered with genuine affirmations of the book’s gospel focus and spiritual value. Kevin DeYoung’s review at The Gospel Coalition is representative. He affirms his friendship with Platt and his enjoyment of the book, then offers 5 critiques “with the book and with some elements of the larger ‘get radical, get crazy Christianity’ that is increasingly popular with younger evangelicals.” The foremost critique is that Platt did not sufficiently ground his call in the gospel. “In a book-length treatment of such an important topic I would have liked to have seen ‘all we need to do in obedience to God’ growing more manifestly out of ‘all God’s done for us.’” In other words, he is concerned that Platt’s call to sanctification does not adequately flow out of the Christian’s existing justification.

The second critique revolves around the concern that radical Christianity cannot be sustained over the entirety of the Christian life. “If the message of Jesus translates into ‘Give more away’ or ‘Sacrifice for the gospel’ or ‘Get more radical’ we will end up with burned out evangelicals. Even when Jesus said his hard sayings (and he said a lot of them) it was not his basic stump speech. His message was repent and believe in the gospel. … We need to find a way to attack the American dream while still allowing for differing vocations and that sort of ordinary Christian life that can plod along for fifty years.” He also expresses concern with the utilitarian ethic that pervades radical living, with an under-developed understanding of poverty and wealth, and with conclusions that are at times overstated. DeYoung’s critiques were gentle but substantial. They were echoed and expanded upon by a number of others, including Michael Horton. On a popular level Radical was a triumph. It currently has 1,436 reviews at Amazon and averages 4.5 stars.

Since the Award

Platt has since written a number of other books including Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God which addressed the thread of individualism in Radical that clashed with the Bible’s emphasis on church communities. Interestingly, and in a testament to the influence of Radical, we saw the publication of a significant number of works that provide an alternate perspective on the Christian life. They have titles such as Ordinary, Normal, Boring, and Mundane and are meant to highlight the reality that most people’s lives look very un-radical. They demonstrate that the New Testament is full of calls for Christians to simply dedicate their lives to working hard at very normal jobs, to serve in their very ordinary churches, and to be content to live in ways that may seem quite bland.

A Personal Perspective

I read Radical a year after it was published and rather enjoyed it. I was encouraged by Platt’s deep and biblical understanding of the gospel. I said “Before I began reading Radical I assumed it was just another of a long list of books that would build upon a shaky theological foundation. I was delighted to find that one of Radical’s great strengths is that it is firmly grounded in the gospel. Platt spends a good bit of time discussing the gospel, the real gospel, and calling the reader to embrace it and live as if it is true. And then, on the basis of that gospel, he calls the reader to do what is radical, to let go of the American dream, a dream that is as alive within the church as it is outside of it. It’s a powerful message that falls on eager ears.”

I saw this book as part of a whole crop of similar works featuring superlative titles calling us toward a life of bigger, higher, greater, and more radical Christian living. I expressed my concern that we first pursue radically Christian character and, from there, that we learn to be content with very obedient but mundane lives. Later I wrote a series of articles on being ordinary—articles that seemed to resonate with many readers.

As Platt has released further works, I have been pleased to see that he clearly heeded many of the critiques of his work. I was equally pleased to see that he has remained every bit as zealous. Such mature zeal is sadly lacking in the church today, but remains a powerful tool in God’s hand.

Why I Am Not Paedobaptist
June 16, 2016

For the past few weeks I have been taking a day a week to tell how I have arrived at my various theological convictions. I’ve done this by telling you why I am not what I am not: I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, or Arminian. Today I want to tell you why I am not paedobaptist. But first, of course, definitions are in order.

While all Protestants affirm the necessity of baptism, there are two broad understandings of who should be the recipient of this act, and both are within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. Some hold to believer’s baptism (credobaptism) and state that only those who make a credible profession of faith ought to be baptized. Others hold to infant baptism (paedobaptism) and believe that the children of believers ought to be baptized. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defends this position: “…the infants of such as are members of the visible church, are to be baptized.” The same catechism says, “Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

By rights I ought to be a convinced paedobaptist. I was baptized in an Anglican church by parents who soon developed Presbyterian convictions. I spent most of my childhood in a Dutch Reformed church that affirmed the Heidelberg Catechism which asks, “Should infants, too, be baptized?” It answers, “Yes. Infants as well as adults belong to God’s covenant and congregation. Through Christ’s blood the redemption from sin and the Holy Spirit, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to adults. Therefore, by baptism, as sign of the covenant, they must be incorporated into the Christian church and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the old covenant by circumcision, in place of which baptism was instituted in the new covenant.” This was my understanding of baptism as I grew up, as I transitioned into adulthood, as I married, and as I became a father.

When our first child was born, Aileen and I prepared ourselves to baptize him. But just before the day arrived, a series of events unfolded that stopped us in our tracks. It would be fourteen years before he was baptized and, even then, only after he professed faith in Christ. By that time I would be a pastor at a Reformed Baptist church. Here’s what happened.

Nick was born early in 2000 and we soon began planning a date for his baptism. However, by that time my parents had moved to the States and we wanted to wait for their next visit so they could celebrate with us. It can’t have been more than a few weeks after his birth when one of our elders, a sweet and godly man, approached us to ask about our plans. We told him that we wanted to wait until my parents could be with us. He reported back to the other elders and their reaction surprised and confused us. They communicated to us their expectation that we would baptize him right away. We loved and trusted those men, so were perplexed. Why the rush? If baptism is simply a sign and seal that communicates no saving grace, why the urgency? What difference would a few weeks make? Right here, for the first time, a hint of doubt entered my mind.

I asked the elders if they would grant us a bit of time. A week’s reflection had shown me that while I could explain infant baptism perfectly well, I couldn’t satisfactorily defend it from the Bible. I was beginning to wonder if paedobaptism was even in the Bible. The elders felt that this hesitation was a rejection of both our profession of faith and our church membership vows. It looked like Aileen and I were going to be placed under the discipline of the church.

Thankfully, we found a compromise. Right around this time I received a job offer in a distant town and, since we would soon be leaving the church anyway, I asked the elders if they would be willing to terminate our membership on that basis. They were willing, and we parted as friends. (I should add that Aileen and I were young and foolish enough that we undoubtedly handled this situation poorly at times and do not count ourselves blameless. We have nothing but love and respect for that church and its elders.)

When we moved to our new home we began attending Baptist churches. We eventually settled into one and, in order to become a member, I had to be baptized as a believer. By then my convictions had grown and deepened enough that I believed it was the right thing to do. Since that day my convictions have grown all the more.

So why am I not paedobaptist? I am not paedobaptist because, quite simply, I cannot see infant baptism clearly prescribed or described in the New Testament. I see believer’s baptism and so, too, does every paedobaptist. We agree together that we are to preach “believe and be baptized” and extend that baptism to those who have made a profession of faith. That is perfectly clear. And, indeed, Aileen was rightly baptized as an adult believer in a paedobaptist church.

The pressing question is whether the Bible calls for a second kind of baptism—the baptism of the children of believers. It is this baptism that I do not see despite my efforts to do so. The New Testament contains no explicit command to baptize the children of believers and likewise contains no explicit examples of it. (To be fair, neither does it expressly prohibit infant baptism or show a second-generation Christian being baptized as a believer.) Instead, the doctrine has to be drawn from what I understand as an unfair continuity between the old and new covenants and from assuming that children were part of the various household baptisms (Acts 16:15; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16). I suppose I am credobaptist rather than paedobaptist for the very reason most paedobaptists are not credobaptists: I am following my best understanding of God’s Word. My position seems every bit as obvious to me as the other position seems to those who hold it. What an odd reality that God allows there to be disagreement on even so crucial a doctrine as baptism. What a joy, though, that we can affirm that both views are well within the bounds of orthodoxy and that we can gladly labor together for the sake of the gospel.

If you have never considered your position or the opposite one, consider reading or listening to this exchange between R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur. While affirming mutual love and respect, they each defend their position very well. It is a model of friendly disagreement on an issue that is important, but not critical.

The Things You Think You Can Handle On Your Own
June 15, 2016

It’s one of those little quotes that is well worth pondering, well worth chewing on for a while: “The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.” Those words come from H.B. Charles Jr. and they’ve caused me to pause and to consider—exactly what a good quote ought to do.

If this quote reflects reality, and I think it does, it challenges me to ask a question: What kinds of things do I not pray about? The things I neglect to pray about are the things I believe I can handle on my own, the things for which I don’t think I need God’s wisdom, perspective, or intervention. I may never say or even think such terrible thoughts, but my lack of prayer proves my independence, my lack of God-dependence. So what are those things I don’t pray about? I (prayerfully) considered this and came up with a few.

Worship. Too often I find myself participating in a church service and have the ugly realization that I have not prayed for God’s grace. In fact, Charles’ quote flashed into my mind last Sunday as we were about an hour into our Sunday morning service. Right then I had that ugly realization that I had not prayed for myself and for the other members of my church. I should have done that on Saturday evening and early Sunday morning. But I didn’t. Instead, I showed up to worship as if that worship would do me any good or have any benefit without God’s presence, without God’s power. I need to pray that God will allow me to worship him in the way he deserves to be worshiped. I need to pray that he will bless, equip, and strengthen me through this worship. Who am I to worship without prayer?

Writing. I spend a good portion of every day dreaming up words and writing them down. Every morning I share some of those words with the public. There have been periods of time when I’ve done this with lots of prayer, when I’ve been careful to pray when writing and careful to pray just before hitting that “publish” button. But there have also been stretches where prayer has faded, where I’ve been content to write and publish without asking God for his grace, his favor, his help, his wisdom. And in this way I’ve shown that I think I can handle this on my own, that I have enough wisdom within that I don’t need to seek his.

Provision. God has been so faithful to Aileen and me over the years. Though I’ve had jobs and lost them, though there have been times where money has been tight, God has always provided for our every need. Somehow God’s provision has led to my complacency or my sense of entitlement. I don’t pray like I used to. I certainly don’t ask God to provide like I did in those times when it was more difficult to see how we would pay that next bill. In those days I prayed fervently and rejoiced with every answer to prayer. I want to return there. I want to pray earnestly and praise God for his every gift. But to do that, I first need to recover the awareness that he is the source of every good gift.

Travel. Like most people, I spend a fair bit of time on the road, and undoubtedly take it as normal that we hurtle along at highway speeds, surrounded by other vehicles going every bit as fast. Even though I often pass by accidents and see how quickly normal travel can lead to tragedy, I seldom pray for safety. I take it for granted that I’ll get where I’m going without trouble, without consequence.

Preaching. I have never prepared a sermon without prayer and I have never preached without praying for God’s blessing on me as I deliver that sermon. But I don’t think I’ve ever prayed the way I want to and the way I know I ought to. Even while studying God’s Word and preparing a sermon I can pray prayers that are merely light and trite and dutiful. I want to pray like one who knows my utter insufficiency and my utter dependency upon God if I am to say even a single word that has any lasting significance. I want to pray with a deep awareness that I am to be nothing more (and nothing less) than God’s mouthpiece, speaking forth his Word.

In all of these ways, and undoubtedly many more, I’ve allowed prayer to be supplemental rather than instrumental. I’ve lived with an alarming lack of prayer and in that way proclaimed that I’m okay, that I can handle these things just fine on my own.

What are the things you trust you can handle on your own?

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Worst Form of Failure
June 13, 2016

I’m not afraid of failure. I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” You may recognize those words as belonging to the great missionary William Carey who was giving voice to thoughts many of us have had at one time or another. There are a lot of things in life we could do, there are a lot of things in life we could succeed at, but we come to realize there are very few that actually matter. There are very few that will make a difference to the world and to the people we care about. We know it would be tragic to look back on life and see that we had succeeded at all kinds of lesser things but we had failed at the greater things.

Just think how many people have gone to the grave with extravagant wealth and all kinds of nice possessions but with a broken marriage and with children who barely know them. I recently stayed with a family whose next door neighbor had built a huge home but who lived there alone. He and his wife had built it to live in together and then doubled it so they could host great parties. But their marriage had failed and she had left and now he was living alone in ten thousand square feet. By one measure he had succeeded—he had a giant home and an amazing car and the wealth to support it all. But by more important measures he had failed. By those measures he had nothing. He was wealthy but destitute all at once. He was an object of envy but an object of pity.

Don’t we all live with this fear that we will succeed at the lesser things in life while failing at the greater things? It’s not like those lesser things are always bad things. Some of them are actually very good. It’s just that they are, by definition, lesser things. They are not the matters of first importance. There is an order to life and we all know that sometimes those lesser things can look so attractive. They can be so distracting. They can keep us from giving attention to the things that matter far more.

See, succeeding at the lesser things at the cost of the greater things is its own form of failure. What does it matter if you become CEO but lose your family? What does it matter if you win the gold medal but lose your wife? Or like Jesus said: What does it matter if you gain the whole world but lose your soul (Matthew 16:26)? We are so bad at making these assessments. We are so tempted to throw away all the big things to succeed at the lesser things. But we can’t deny it: Succeeding at lesser things at the cost of the greater things is the worst form of failure.

There is a solution. The solution to this kind of failure is productivity—productivity that is rightly defined according to the Word of God. It’s this kind of Bible-based and Bible-defined productivity that helps us identify what matters most and then helps us accomplish it. It helps us identify and pursue those very few things God means for us to succeed at and helps us avoid the million-and-one lesser things that matter so much less. Or, at least, it helps us put those million-and-one lesser things in their proper place.

The art of productivity is the art of succeeding at things that matter. At its best, productivity is ensuring that you succeed at the things that matter most. It is meant to ensure that you don’t look back over your life someday and realize you’ve only succeeded at the fleeting things, the minor things, the things that just don’t matter.

I believe we can read through the Bible and see something like this: Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. What matters most in life, what matters most in the universe, what matters most to God, is the glory of God. God calls us to bring glory to him in every way we can in every area of life and especially by doing good to others (see, for example, Matthew 5:16). We do good to others and God gets the glory. That means that the greater things in life are the things we do for others, not the things we do for ourselves. The greater things in life are the things meant to benefit other people. The lesser things are the things meant to benefit ourselves.

Do you want to succeed at life’s greater things? Then direct your life toward glorifying God by loving others. Take everything you are and everything you’ve got and deliberately direct it at doing good to others so God can receive the glory.

Do you want to think more about this? My book Do More Better is a challenge to live this kind of life. Also, everything I have written here is drawn from a recent seminar at the Ligonier Ministries West Coast Conference and perhaps you will find that video helpful.

June 12, 2016

I received quite a lot of interesting letters to the editor this week and their topics ranged from Arminianism to ebooks and just about everywhere in between. I have captured a few of the most noteworthy and hope you enjoy reading them.

Comments on Why I Am Not Arminian

First off, I love this series you are doing “why I am not…” It has been extremely edifying to me personally and has helped answer a lot of questions, especially regarding Roman Catholicism. I really appreciate your willingness to share your experiences with these differing view points.

I was wondering if you had thought about putting in more scripture references throughout the next steps in your series? From this post forward (based upon your schedule of this series), we’re dealing with differences between brothers and sisters in Christ (as you stated in this article about Arminianism). I know that you said in your introductory post to this series, you’re not writing this to persuade us to believe what you believe, however, I think that Scripture references, even if they are not exposited, would be extremely beneficial.

Again, I really appreciate all of the work and thought you put into these articles, and you certainly are in a better position to know what would be beneficial to include in your posts. I guess I just wanted to hear your thoughts on including more scripture references in these future posts. Thanks so much for having this feature on your site, I appreciate having the opportunity to communicate with you easily.
—Charlie L, Marietta, GA

Tim: I appreciate the suggestion. I feel a bit “caught” between keeping the series descriptive and prescriptive, especially as we move into these finer points of theology. A defense of adult baptism, for example, is different from my story of coming to embrace it. But I will definitely keep your suggestion in mind as I go forward.

Comments on 10 Lessons from 10 Years of Public Schooling

Tim: I am not in the habit of posting letters to the editor based on “Flashback” articles, but did want to make an exception since I appreciated this young lady getting in touch. Then it only seemed fair to share the second letter on the topic as well.

I am a 16 year old public school student. If you would like a bit of background of who I am: I take a mix of AP and IB classes; I run my own blog, and I am looking into a future in missionary aviation. In 2 weeks I will be at a Christian aviation camp, and I am terribly excited.

I do not think that public school has ruined me. That said, my public school has about 2000 kids. We have 2 different Bible Clubs (Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Bible Club) and also sing a 20 minute long “Song of Christmas” in our winter concert- complete with a cast of student actors who carefully complete the nativity scene as we hum, recite, and herald the Christmas message.

Still, I have had teachers that hate religion, the sort that parents choose to either homeschool or private school because of. And there are plenty of students who listen to their memos. But I agree with Tim’s statement that those who have good, faithful parents and an active tie to the church will make it out (spiritually) alive and well.

At the same time, I don’t deny that schools are definitely changing. I remember days when we used projectors and wet erase markers and today, we sit in a world a million times more wired. In light of the different changes happening, I have noticed when adults look at high schools, there is a lot of fear about what the future will look like. Or maybe not so much the schools, but what America will look like in ten or twenty years. I write this letter because there is one thing I would like us to remember: It can never be “us” and “them.” We are all in this together.

I have had teachers who have voiced being hurt by Christians and friends who have only had bad church experiences. I have watched friend and after friend struggle with identity and mental illness. It’s not just in schools: If you look around, there are so many people who feel shattered, youth who are lonely and no one gives them a hug. Soon, “maybe a little depressed” turns into a life certain that there is no hope and no one would understand.

It’s so easy to think we are better than the “them.” It’s so easy to point fingers at the trans kids or to look at someone who denies the existence of God and raise our voice a little. But we must consider that the gospel requires all of us to go through some pretty critical “heart surgery” and we must create communities that will help us share the hope of the gospel with all people.

I am going to propose something fairly radical, but hear me out: In a few months when school starts up, it likely wouldn’t be too difficult for you to take a day off from work and visit the local public high school. We are probably never going to have prayer in schools again, but I think if we want schools to be places where God is welcome we must listen to the young generation, learn what the struggles feel like through a student’s eyes. Instead of looking at the differences, it’s time to focus on our own hearts and how we can demonstrate the love of God; kids’ll notice, I promise. After all, we are all in this together.
—Kate G, Chambersburg, PA

Your work has been a blessing for me in my life, especially your work with modern struggles, such as technology. Recently, we used The Next Story in my adult Sunday school class at our church. But I wanted to write a quick note concerning this article in defense of public schooling. I think you should remember the influence you have over many believers right now and know this post will be used by parents who should not have their kids in the local public school, to continue in that stead, even though you say it’s not meant to defend that choice in every place and every time. What I have noticed is that those sending their children to public school see that choice through very rose tinted glasses, I would challenge you and your wife to do this as well. Make a list of scripture verses that cover how we should be educating our children, what they should be taught, when they should be taught (how often) etc. Then make your choice off what you think is the most biblically accurate path. Often time it’s easy for us Christians to become post modern in our thinking on certain issues, in other words, we think we can make our own choices in areas where I believe scripture is actually very clear. I will continue to follow you, read your books, etc, and am very thankful for the work you are doing here, but since I am hoping a very direct email will be easiest here, I want to say, that I think you are wrong here. The article is not wrong, but it doesn’t really have any argument as to why you think public school is more scriptural than homeschool or Christian school. I truly believe that if you are 100% honest with yourself here, meditate on the Lord’s revealed will through scripture and pray on this, you would change your position. I would suggest listening to Voddie or Sproul Jr’s arguments, and consider very closely what Dueteronomy 6 is requiring that we provide as Christian parents to our children. Thanks again for all you do.
—Anthony S, Kansas City, MO

Tim: Aileen and I have done those very things. We have considered what the Bible demands of us as parents as well as what it does not demand of us, and we are comfortable with our choice. We consider this the kind of conscience matter Paul addresses in Romans 14 where you and I may come to different conclusions each while affirming the other’s right to come to such a decision.

Comments on Imagine If eBooks Came First

Your article posed some major advantages of electronic books over paper books. However, I wondered if you had considered some of the advantages of paper books that are not typically offered. For example, those without access to electricity for charging a device cannot access electronic books (we cannot assume that electricity will continue to be widely available in decades to come as our country is in a state of decline). Daylight should continue to be available until the end of the world, however! Also … our living room is filled with bookshelves and when I sit there, alone, and look at the rows of books, I feel as if I were surrounded by friends. Iain Murray and the Puritans, biographies of John Newton, Mary Winslow and Elizabeth Prentiss, favorite children’s books and novels gather around me. It is perfectly delightful. I am sure that even in the triumph of ebooks, paper books will continue to be used as decorations in many homes, because as your article’s featured image shows, a Kindle just can’t compete for sense of presence.
—Alyssa B, Ridgeway, WV

Tim: So much comes down to what we are accustomed to and to matters of personal preference. I do not disagree with anything you say here, but we could also flip many of them. Consider, for example, the pastor in the developing world who can be given a device containing thousands of books that take up no space and can easily recharge using solar power. We can give him an entire library in one simple device. Since migrating to ebooks I do miss being surrounded by books at times, but not nearly as much as I would have imagined.

***

From the tone of this article, I am assuming your “year of the eBook” challenge is going quite well! I have considered transitioning my book purchasing to all-digital, but I am concerned by the near-monopoly that Amazon has on the market. I know there are other ways to buy eBooks, but as far as eReaders, the Kindle is king and has little serious competition. I worry, as Amazon corners the market, that the proprietary nature of kindle could lead to an unsafe pricing or even censorship of content. Maybe you could speak to this at some point, but it has always been a concern of mine when going “all-in” on a particular content platform
—Colin S, Dayton, OH

Tim: I quite agree and share your concerns. It is not enough to keep from going all-in, but it is enough to cause me some concern and to hope that proprietary formats will eventually be relaxed.

***

In your article, you refer to the challenge of “proprietary or defunct formats in ebooks.” Speaking as an IT guy with nearly 30 years of experience, I can confirm that one of the biggest challenges with digital information is the migration of that information from a dead or dying format to a newer format. I understand that there is much digital information that’s only accessible if you load a floppy disk, hoping that the magnetic information is still readable, and fire up an ancient program that understands its format.
—Dave U, Belvidere, IL

Tim: Quite right and, again, that is one of my concerns. I would like to think that as our digital technologies mature and become less dependent upon a particular medium (such as a floppy disk) we will see less of those situations where our files become unusable.

***

The part I found most interesting in this was the “security” section. Interestingly enough, I don’t see eBooks as having more security than physical copy, only having a “different” kind of security. Take for instance the ironic Kindle snafu with George Orwell’s 1984. Amazon pulled the book remotely from people’s Kindles without any kind of confirmation. They just woke up one day and the book was gone.

Now, consider this with the Bible. If we are trusting an organization to supply us with an un-edited version of the Bible, how do we verify that? The excellent thing about paper manuscripts and physical books is that if you read a book a year ago, returning to it guarantees the same content. Even if someone were to sneak into your home and replace it with a changed copy, there are other existing copies to which it can be compared for accuracy. Contrast that with a company that routinely issues “updates” to books, some of which have been the Bible! Who ultimately controls the content in the book? This underpins the importance of a “purchase-to-own” rather than a “license-to-read” model of eBook commerce as well as DRM-free alternatives to Amazon’s (as well as others) model of “ownership” (i.e. you don’t own it, you have a license to read it).

We should take what happened with the Qur’an and Uthman, when the disagreeing Qur’an were burned, as a warning. Text can be validated against human altering by widespread dissemination so that human-introduced changes can be detected, not by consolidating responsibility with a single person or company.
—Matthew H, Denver, CO

The Bestsellers
June 10, 2016

Some time ago I began a series called “The Bestsellers” and am picking it up again after a hiatus. In this series I look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian book sells only a few thousand. We have already encountered books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris and Randy Alcorn all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson, and William Young. Today we continue the series by looking at a book that has become a perennial fixture on the bestseller lists and one of only a handful of Christian books to top the ten million mark.

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Gary Demonte Chapman was born on January 10, 1938. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he went on to become a pastor, a counselor, the director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants, and the host of a radio program devoted to relationships and marriage.

In 1971 Chapman joined the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Even as a young pastor he had a heart for marriage and family and began to host seminars for couples. Naturally, many of the people he taught approached him to ask for help with their marriage conflicts. He met with many of these couples and over time came to see that a common root cause of their conflict was poor communication that left one or both spouses feeling unloved. “Adults all have a love tank,” he says. “If you feel loved by your spouse, the whole world is right. If the love tank is empty, the whole world can begin to look dark.” Different people have this love tank filled in different ways, he observed, and he came to describe these as “love languages.” He encouraged spouses to learn their partners’ love language and then to deliberately display their love in that way. What he taught in his church formed the basis for his 1992 book The 5 Love Languages.

The heart of the book is a description of the five common languages people use to express love: affirming words, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and acts of service. Each person has tendencies toward some of these languages and away from others. And, indeed, most of us can look at the list and quickly put them in order of personal preference. The key application is that each person needs to understand his or her spouse’s love language and then learn to show love in that way. It is implied that the spouse will reciprocate and a happy marriage will ensue—the communication mismatch that lies at the heart of so much conflict will be resolved.

5 Love Languages

Sales & Lasting Impact

The 5 Love Languages was released by Moody Publishers in 1992 and immediately exceeded the publisher’s modest expectations. Remarkably, for 19 of its first 20 years it would outsell its total from the previous year. In 1998 it surpassed 500,000 copies sold, just two years later surpassed 1 million, and in 2015, after selling its 10 millionth copy, received the Diamond Award from the Evangelical Christian Booksellers Association. Twenty-four years after its publication date, the book remains at the top of the New York Times Love and Relationships list of bestsellers and is fixed at number 2 overall on the ECPA list, bested only by Jesus Calling. It has been translated into 50 languages.

While The 5 Love Languages has proven undeniably helpful to many struggling couples, it has not been without its critiques. The most notable of these is expressed by David Powlison in a 2002 edition of The Journal of Biblical Counseling. Powlison explains that “Part of considering the interests of others is to do them tangible good. But then to really love them, you usually need to help them see their itch as idolatrous, and to awaken in them a far more serious itch! That’s basic Christianity. 5LL will never teach you to love at this deeper, more life-and-death level.” In other words, the book subtly teaches that the desires we feel within are legitimate needs even though they may actually be idolatrous lusts.

A second critique is that “Chapman’s model is premised on a give-to-get economy: ‘I will give to fill your love tank. But in the back of my mind I’m always considering whether and when I’ll get my own tank filled.” In Powlison’s words, “The 5 Love Languages replaces naked self-interest with civilized self-interest. ‘I give, hoping to get.’” The love languages can mask a kind of selfishness that is the very opposite to the Bible’s selfless love.

Those critiques lead to this one: “The love language model does not highlight those exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak your language.’ … The greatest love ever shown does not speak the instinctively self-centered language of the recipients of such love.” The saving love of God, expressed in the death of Christ, does not speak anyone’s natural love language. And yet it is the greatest love and our most desperate need. In this way Christ fails the love language test! We wanted to be loved in all sorts of ways—but none of us wanted to be loved in the way Christ has loved us, by dying for us, sending his Spirit to indwell us, and being Lord over us. And yet this is what we needed more than anything in all the world.

These critiques do not render the book or its “love languages” terminology invalid, but they do demand that we approach it with care and discernment.

Since the Award

The overwhelming success of The 5 Love Languages begat an entire industry of related material including God Speaks Your Love Language, The 5 Love Languages for Men, The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, The Love Languages Devotional Bible, The 5 Love Languages of Children (which has surpassed 500,000 copies sold), and many others. Chapman hosts a daily radio spot called A Love Language Minute and regularly hosts marriage conferences and seminars. He remains Senior Associate Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church.

A Personal Perspective

I find the love language terminology helpful and use it quite often. Aileen and I are sure to bring it up in pre-marriage counseling and in one session have the engaged couple place the languages in order of their preference. They also try to guess the preferences of their future spouse and compare their results. We are confident that this helps them better understand how to communicate their love for one another. However, we always make sure to provide the caveats Powlison expresses. Not only that, but we turn it all the way around to help them understand that they need to learn to receive love in their spouse’s language. It is more important for a husband to learn to receive love as his wife gives it than to demand that she learns to offer love in the way he wants to receive it. This, I think, is the book’s most important lesson.

Sources: Wikipedia, New York Times, 5 Love Languages, Journal of Biblical Counseling.

Why I Am Not Arminian
June 09, 2016

Today I am continuing the series titled “Why I Am Not…” and in these articles I am telling what I do believe by looking at what I do not believe. So far I have told why I am not atheist, why I am not Roman Catholic, and why I am not liberal. Today I want to tell why I am not Arminian. (If you are uncertain of what I mean by Arminian, Theopedia has a brief but excellent article that explains its key tenets.) I was raised within the Reformed tradition, left it as a young adult, and returned to it a few years later. Let me explain how and why that happened.

For most of my childhood my family was involved in the Canadian Reformed Church. This denomination arose in the 1950s after a wave of post-war emigration from Holland. At the time we attended, their membership was still almost exclusively Dutch and we were among the very few exceptions. Nevertheless, we were warmly welcomed and for many years were comfortably part of those churches, first in Toronto and then in Ancaster.

The Canadian Reformed churches took as their foundation the Three Forms of Unity: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. These documents were woven into the life and fabric of the church. Each Sunday evening the pastor preached a sermon based on the Heidelberg Catechism or one of the other documents. We learned Reformed doctrine and history in the denominational schools and even attended catechism classes on Tuesday evenings. Along the way I became thoroughly versed in Reformed doctrine.

As I grew into adulthood, though, I began to grow wary of it. For all the strengths of the Dutch Reformed churches, they showed little concern for evangelism and, not surprisingly, saw almost no conversions. I longed to be part of a church that was reaching the community around it and began to believe there was something within Reformed theology that was opposed to evangelism. After all, my primary experience of that theology was through this Dutch tradition. I began to listen to Christian radio and heard non-Reformed preachers like Charles Stanley who had a soul-stirring love for the lost. I began to listen to Christian music and heard songs that spoke to me, that fed me, even though they clearly came from an Arminian perspective. My horizons began to widen a little as I encountered Arminians who were preaching, singing, and celebrating truth.

Let me pause here for a brief aside. I need to affirm that somewhere between Roman Catholicism and Arminianism we have crossed an important line. The Roman Catholic church denies that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone and, for that reason, teaches a false gospel. Arminians affirm that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone and for that reason teach the true gospel. Even as I explain why I am not Arminian, I need to affirm that I am looking at a difference between brothers and sisters in Christ.

In 2000, now married and with a young child, I got a job in Oakville, Ontario, and Aileen and I moved to this new community. When we set out to find a church, we deliberately looked outside of the Reformed tradition, partly because of these concerns and partly for reasons I will recount when I tell why I am not paedobaptist. When we learned that a new Baptist church (Southern Baptist as it turned out) was beginning in our neighborhood we decided to visit on its launch day. We stayed for six formative years. To this point my Reformed theology was largely untested. I had not encountered the alternative in a compelling way. But now, at last, it would be challenged.

For a time we were thrilled with what we saw and experienced. We saw diversity, community, and conversions. It was an exciting and fulfilling time. But after a few years we found ourselves dealing with a growing sense of disquiet. Church leaders had asked me to read books by Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and others like them and those books didn’t sit quite right. The pastor preached through Romans and did not have compelling explanations of certain key texts. The church began to prove that it was unhealthy and built upon a shaky theological foundation. I took my concerns to this relatively new platform called the internet and even began to explore my questions and concerns through a blog. Those old doctrines I had learned as a child and teen just wouldn’t let me go.

Then there was that momentous day when I wandered into a local Christian bookstore and selected two books that, by rights, had no reason to be there: Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur and Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Montgomery Boice. The first book spoke to the structure and purpose of the church we attended and the second to its theology. I ordered Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, R.C. Sproul’s What Is Reformed Theology?, and James White’s Justification. And that was that. I realized that in leaving Reformed theology I had walked away not only from a theological system, but from truth. It was at this time that I discovered Grace Fellowship Church, a congregation that was both baptistic and Reformed. This church loved Reformed theology but also loved to reach the lost. As it happens, this pastor was also preaching through Romans and had deep, compelling explanations for those key texts. We soon withdrew from that other church—and from Arminian theology—on amicable terms. We have never looked back.

So why am I not Arminian?

I am not Arminian because Reformed theology is backed up by the Bible. When I honestly examined both Reformed and Arminian doctrine in light of the Bible, I saw evidence of Reformed theology everywhere I looked. Reformed theology depends not only on key verses but on the warp and woof of the entire Bible. It offers a far more compelling explanation of Scripture than Arminianism, both in its broad outlines and in its fine details. I do not see libertarian free will in the Bible. I do not see universal prevenient grace, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, or any of the other keys to Arminian doctrine. But I do see a God who is utterly sovereign, who has set his love on his people even in the depths of their total depravity, who draws them by irresistible grace, and who then holds them fast forever.

I am not Arminian because Reformed theology motivates evangelism. I came to see that my Dutch Reformed experience was not typical for Reformed theology and actually quite inconsistent with it. At its best, Reformed theology provides the greatest motivation to share the gospel locally and to the ends of the earth. It does this by assuring us of God’s sovereignty in both election and calling. Our task, then, is to take the gospel far and wide so that God can draw his people through his appointed means, the preaching of the gospel. Evangelism and Reformed theology are not enemies, but the best of friends.

I am not Arminian because Reformed theology creates the healthiest churches. We began to see that Reformed theology does not begin and end at the five points, but extends into the entire life and structure of the church. It provides the foundation to build healthy, multiplying local churches. 

In short, I am not Arminian because I tried it and found it wanting, both in my experience and in my attempt to reconcile it with Scripture. I am not Arminian because Reformed theology is just too good to not be true.