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October 20, 2013

RG LeTourneauRobert Gilmour LeTourneau was an influential businessman and inventor of machinery that shook the world (since, after all, much of the earthmoving equipment used in World War II was made by LeTourneau’s factory). Born in Richford, Vermont in 1888, LeTourneau became a wealthy and generous Christian philanthropist who worked hard and shared freely.

With the reluctant support of his parents, LeTourneau dropped out of school in sixth grade to work in the mechanical field. In 1919, he married Evelyn Peterson whose father owned a company that built hay wagons. Throughout his lifetime, he lived in numerous places and practiced numerous vocations including cutting wood, mining, carpentry, farming, and, of course, mechanical work. Such a variety of experiences contributed to his impact and equipped him to leave a significant legacy.

His Conversion

God blessed LeTourneau with godly parents who shared the gospel with him from his birth. Although resistant for a season, he professed faith in Christ at the age of sixteen. Around the time he got married, LeTourneau told his pastor that he wanted to do more for God. Much to his surprise, his pastor told him, “God needs businessmen too.” At the time, he was $100,000 in debt because of a large-scale construction job that had gone poorly. But even though he was in the midst of such financial difficulties, he trusted God with his money, family, and life, knowing that God uses man’s weakness to showcase His strength.

LeTourneau became a leader in the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church through the numerous speaking opportunities he had in the US and overseas, and through his work as the president of both the Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC) and Gideons International (known for their vast Bible-distributing efforts). The fact that he had become such a renowned public speaker is a testimony to God’s enabling power in light of the fact that LeTourneau previously had a lifelong fear of speaking in front of others.

October 16, 2013

I never met my father’s father. He died several years before I was born and I knew him only as the mysterious “grandpa,” a tall and powerful figure in black and white photos and old newspaper clippings. But my mother’s father I knew well. He was “Bapa” to his grandchildren, a name bestowed upon him by my brother who, with his privileged position as the first grandchild, had his infantile attempts to say “grandpa” turned into a proper name.

Bapa died many years ago, and one of my final and fondest memories comes from when he lived with my family for a time. My grandmother had died and Bapa was descending into Alzheimer’s, but though his memory was fast fading, he would still engage in conversation and would sometimes take an interest in me. One evening I mentioned my interest in computers and his response made me smile then and now. He said, “Computers are amazing these years. They can add….and subtract…and…” And he could go no further. That was all he had.

He was amazed by computers and knew they had stupendous capabilities, but he had no real knowledge of what those capabilities were. He was familiar with only their most basic functions and knew there had to be much more beyond that.

For some reason I thought of that little episode last week when I was at Creation Museum. Of all the exhibits I saw there, the one I may have enjoyed most was the planetarium. The planetarium is a state-of-the-art theater that allows you to recline and gaze up into “space.” The presentation there is meant to display just some of the beauty and vastness of space and in it all to display the obvious hand of a designer who means to make a statement about himself (and, by comparison, to make a statement about us as well).

October 13, 2013

John D RockefellerJohn Davison Rockefeller was a Christian, an industrialist and a great philanthropist who founded, among other institutions, the University of Chicago and The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now known as Rockefeller University) in New York City.

Born in 1839 to William and Eliza Rockefeller, John was the second of their six children and their oldest son. In contrast to his father, who was known as an unproductive schemer, John gained a great reputation for being an honest, generous Christian.

From his work in the oil industry to his interest in education and science, Rockefeller had a significant, lasting impact on others. In fact, through the trusts and foundations he established, Rockefeller shaped modern philanthropy. Thus, he was the first American worth more than a billion dollars and, when accounting for inflation, many regard him as the richest person who has ever lived.

His Conversion

Though his father was known as a dishonest peddler, he did teach Rockefeller how to earn and keep money. However, it was his mother who taught him to make God central in his life, to pursue integrity, and to give to others. Thus, he once said, “From the beginning, I was trained to work, to save, and to give.

In 1864, Rockefeller married Laura Spelman and together they had five children. Laura was also a strong Christian and they always made a high priority of worshipping as a family at their local church. His wife was also a wise counselor to Rockefeller. He once commented, “Her judgment was always better than mine. Without her keen advice, I would be a poor man.”

October 11, 2013

I spent a couple of days this week speaking at a conference at the Creation Museum—my first time visting it. Before I arrived I decided to put a little bit of thought into why I am a six-day creationist. I wanted to affirm in my own mind that I was walking into the museum already convinced of a position.

I believe God created the world in six days—six literal twenty-four hour periods. I believe the earth is young—probably less than ten thousand years old. I have always believed this. But why? As I considered this position, I realized there are three main reasons I hold to it.

The Bible Teaches It

The first reason I am a six-day creationist is this: I believe it is what the Bible teaches. There have been endless debates about the meaning of the word we translate as “day” in Genesis 1 and so much of the debate stands or falls right here. There have been many attempts, some of them quite compelling and some bordering on the ridiculous, to make it express something other than “day.” But in the end, I believe a natural reading of Scripture, and a natural reading of the author’s intent in the passage, leads to the most natural and obvious conclusion: God created all that exists, from nothing, in six literal days. This is what the author said, because this is what the author meant to convey, because this is what the author believed, because this is exactly how God did it.

The Writers Believed It

The second reason I am a six-day creationist is that I believe this is what the other biblical writers believed. When the subject of creation arises elsewhere in the Bible, I see no evidence that the writers held to any position other than literal six-day creation. If we hold that Scripture interpets Scripture, I see the Bible confirming the simplicity of God creating all things in six literal days.

October 06, 2013

As we saw last week in the first article in this series on Christian Philanthropists, Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, lived from 1707–1791. This week, we are considering the life and giving of one of her contemporaries, John Thornton, who lived from 1720–1790.

Thornton’s family was from Yorkshire, England. His father, Robert, directed the Bank of England which, along with Thornton’s own work as a merchant in the export trade, helps explain his great wealth. In 1753, he married Lucy Watson and together they had four children. The famous hymn writer Isaac Watts had a strong, godly impact on Lucy and, through her, on John as well.

His Conversion

Thornton trusted Christ under the ministry of Henry Venn in 1754 and became a convinced evangelical. Venn was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect, a noteworthy evangelical group in the Anglican Church. Because of his strong Christian beliefs, Thornton was ridiculed by his fellow merchants and even the laity of the church. In fact, according to the nurse that cared for him on his deathbed, Thornton’s faith was so strong that when his children asked him whether he was now happy he replied, “Yes, happy in Jesus; all things are as well as they can be!” The last words he was able to speak were, “Precious, precious.” I’d like to think he intended to tell of the preciousness of Jesus, but instead went to be with his Lord. Either way, there is no doubt that Thornton’s life displayed the beauty and supremacy of Christ.

October 03, 2013

Sometimes I wish we were all just a little simpler, a little bit closer to the extremes of black and white. It would be a lot easier if there were only good guys and bad guys, the fully orthodox and the outright heretic, with no overlap, no shades of gray, nothing in between.

But we are not so simple. They say that a broken clock gets it right twice a day—that is what we say about them, no matter who we and who they are. But then even the best of men are but men at best. We are all deeply flawed. Even our Christian heroes are full of shortcomings and blind spots. I am often amazed at how inconsistent other people are. I shake my head when I see the things they do, when I hear the things they believe—things that are otherwise so at odds with all they hold dear. Why can’t they see it? How can’t they see it? Yet in moments of honest clarity I know that I must be equally inconsistent and that I must be equally blind to my own peculiarities.

I could make a long list of reasons I so value biography, and if I did so this would be right near the top: Biography wrecks the easy categories of all-good and all-bad. A good biography displays its subject in his strengths and his weaknesses, and it does not minimize the tension of paradox. Our heroes have flaws and our villains have virtues.

A recent biography of A.W. Tozer exposed some of his unusual inconsistencies. Tozer saw his wife’s gifts for hospitality and encouraged her in them; yet he disliked having visitors in his home. He preached about the necessity of Christian fellowship within the family of Christ, yet refused to allow his family or his wife’s family to visit their home. He loved to challenge others with the gospel, yet woefully neglected the mission field of his own family. For every laudable area of his life there seemed to exist an equal and opposite error. No one can doubt his salvation or his love for the Lord, but neither can we or should we overlook such serious sin.

October 02, 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to participate with a group of pastors in a round-table discussion. The topic was corporate prayer (i.e. prayer meetings), and each of the pastors spoke of his church’s practice of prayer. It was a fascinating discussion and I thought it might be helpful to share a few of my takeaways.

Prayer Is Difficult. We all know this theoretically and we all know it experientially. It was both encouraging and discouraging to see it and own it together. It was encouraging to know this is a shared battle and discouraging to know that real victory will be elusive. I don’t think there was one pastor there who believed his church was excelling in prayer and who was really comfortable with his leadership and the church’s participation in this area. We should not be surprised. If prayer is the means through which God works, Satan will inevitably make it an area of concentrated attack.

Many Have Given Up. While every church has had a weekly or otherwise regular prayer meeting at one time, many have since abandoned it. Usually this is a result of the church losing its enthusiasm for prayer and their belief in its necessity. Many have made prayer supplemental instead of instrumental in the life of the church. Some have replaced the prayer meeting with programs or small groups, and some have not replaced it with anything. It seems clear that the pastor needs to show leadership here; it is unlikely a church will be more enthusiastic about prayer than its pastor is.

September 30, 2013

We all know, we all love, we all quote, and at some point we all rely on Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is a powerfully encouraging verse, a powerfully encouraging promise from God. In the middle of hardship, at the moment of crisis, it is sweet comfort to know that God is at work and that in some way he is bringing good from what seems so bad, and bringing joy from what feels so painful.

The verse comes to us in the context of suffering. Paul explains that the ways we suffer here and now are real and painful, but that they simply do not and will not compare to the eternal weight of glory that is being prepared for us. And even as we endure these times, looking ahead, we can believe and trust that our suffering is not wasted or purposeless. God is at work in our pain, and he speaks comforting words to us through the Bible.

We need to be reassured and comforted that difficult circumstances work for good, but what about the rest of life? Have you paused to think about that little word all before? All things work together for good. If we take that word seriously, we need to extend it beyond the difficult times and allow it to touch the good and even the mundane.

All joyful things work for good. We do not have much trouble accepting this one. But then again, we sometimes enjoy joyful circumstances without pausing to reflect on what God may be accomplishing through them. We take our joys for granted. We may not know God’s purposes in the good moments, but we can and must believe that he is at work, that these too are working for our good.

September 29, 2013

Today I am beginning a series of short biographies of great Christian philanthropists—men and women who used their God-given wealth and privilege to advance his work. We begin with a woman who was the “Queen of Methodism,” an influential leader in the 18th century revival movement, and a great philanthropist.

Selina Hastings was born on August 24, 1707, the daughter of Lord Washington Shirley and Lady Mary Shirley. A child of privilege, she spent her childhood in Leicestershire and her family’s Irish estates. In 1728 she married Theophilus Hastings, the ninth Earl of Huntingdon, and this marriage gave her the title Countess of Huntingdon.

In his biography of George Whitefield, Arnold Dallimore notes “the remarkable Christian witness that [Lady Huntingdon] maintained among Britain’s nobility.” In fact, as one of her own biographers tells us, “Lord and Lady Huntingdon constantly attended wherever [Whitefield] preached.” As a result, she grew to be a devout Christian, passionate about inviting others of British nobility to hear this remarkable preacher and the gospel he preached. Or, as another Whitefield biographer, Luke Tyerman, wrote, “Wherever she went she took her religion with her, for her religion was a part of herself.”

Her Conversion

How did Lady Huntingdon come to trust in Christ? Here’s a lengthier excerpt from Dallimore’s biography:

Since her earliest days Lady Huntingdon had lived an exemplary life, remaining aloof from the coarse pleasures of high society and conducting herself in a highly virtuous and religious manner. In turn she rested in the assurance that her personal righteousness was sufficient for the saving of her soul.

But this assurance was shaken under the hearing of the Gospel. This was first as she listened to the twenty-two-year-old Whitefield in 1737 and then in 1739 when her sister-in-law, Lady Margaret Hastings, who had been converted under the ministry of Benjamin Ingham, testified to an experience of “the new birth” and to a peace and certainty that “the Christianity of creed and ritual” could not provide.

But it was as she lay on a sick-bed and seemed near to death that she especially felt the worthlessness of her self-trust.

Helen Knight continues the narrative:

Then … from her bed she lifted up her heart to God for pardon and mercy through the blood of his Son. With streaming eyes she cast herself on her Saviour: “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!” Immediately the scales fell from her eyes; doubt and distress vanished; joy and peace filled her bosom, and with appropriating faith she cried, “My Lord and my God!”

Her Contributions

After her conversion, Lady Huntingdon founded dozens of chapels and funded many of them. Using her right as a peeress, she appointed evangelical clergymen to each. She also supported missionary work in America, and even contributed to the first Methodist theological college, Trevecca College (later Cheshunt College, now part of Westminster College in Cambridge). After embracing Whitefield’s Calvinism (instead of John Wesley’s Arminianism), she founded “The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion” in 1783, a society of English preachers and churches that continues to this day.

In fact, Whitefield acted as one of Lady Huntingdon’s chaplains and, because she built chapels for some of his followers, they too joined her Connexion. Here, a form of Calvinistic Methodism similar to Whitefield’s was taught. As Tyerman writes, “The services had been attended by considerable numbers of the aristocracy, who would have declined to enter an ordinary Methodist meeting-house.”

Why did she give so much? After her husband died in 1746, she decided to live her life, as Dallimore says, “labouring in prayer, exercising her personal witness and using her wealth and influence to the fullest extent possible in the furtherance of the Gospel.” Or, in her own words, “None know how to prize the Saviour, but such as are zealous in pious works for others.” As Paul says in Romans 1:14–15, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Likewise, the love of Christ constrained Lady Huntingdon to worship God and give to others so that more might trust in Him.

She died on June 17, 1791, and left behind a wish that no one would write a biography of her. It would be 90 years before someone finally wrote an account of her life. In death, as in life, she had no desire to be recognized, so God might receive all the glory.

September 26, 2013

It’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? We can’t all be right and we can’t both be right. Sooner or later we have to have a discussion about charismatic (continuationist) theology and whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit remain in operation in the church today (or, if you prefer, about cessationist theology and whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased in the church today). We have wanted to make sure New Calvinism is large enough for both, that it will not fracture along this particular line, and this has delayed the conversation. But at some point we just have to talk about it.

John MacArthur is forcing the issue with a book and a conference titled Strange Fire. The conference is still several weeks away and the book will not be widely available until a few weeks after that. However, I recently received an advance copy of the book and have read it a couple of times now. I want to begin a conversation today, and my purpose is really to get an idea of how people feel about the whole issue.

I am going to make just a few observations about the book and what I think MacArthur is attempting to accomplish. First though, some terminology.

  • Continuationism is “the teaching that (at least some of) the miraculous gifts assumed and described in the Bible ought to continue in the church and, in fact, do continue to be given to the church.” When we think of miraculous gifts, we typically refer to prophecy, speaking in tongues, and miracles.
  • Cessationism is the opposite and “teaches that all the miraculous gifts have ceased to be given to the church today.” (Both definitions are taken from Sam Waldron’s To Be Continued?)
  • Continuationism is a subset of charismatic theology, and generally refers to more moderate and theologically-minded charismatics who are attempting to distance themselves from a wider and more distressing movement that includes all of your least-favorite prosperity preachers, miracle crusaders, and anointed prayer cloth hawkers.

By way of context, John MacArthur is a cessationist while leading continuationists include men like John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson.

And now, here are a few observations to get us started.


Self Examination. I want to begin with this: We will learn a lot about ourselves in this conversation, about the maturity of whatever this theological movement is. This is going to be a difficult conversation because for each of us to explain what we believe is to state that others are wrong, to explain how they are wrong, and to suggest why it matters. Here’s the thing: If the continuationists are right, cessationists are calling good evil, ascribing to Satan what is of God if the cessationists are right, the continuationists are calling evil good, ascribing to God what is of Satan. We all love to be outraged, to react indignantly, and a conversation like this one may push our buttons and cause us to lash out with anger or self-pity. We are about to learn if we can have a conversation like this with maturity.