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Why I Am Not Dispensational
June 23, 2016

As you know, I am well into a series that tells what I believe by discussing the things I do not believe. To this point I have told why I am not atheist, Roman Catholic, liberal, Arminian, or paedobaptist. That means we are hastening toward the end of the series with just three articles remaining. Today I will tell why I am not dispensational, and I warn you in advance, it may prove disappointing. Each of us has areas in which our theological convictions are deeply developed and others in which they are not quite so much. In this area I have not carried out the same level of study as, for example, the doctrines of salvation or scripture. My convictions are developed but not nearly as much as I might hope and, indeed, as you might hope.

If you are still reading after that warning we will move on to definitions. All Christians profess with the Apostle’s Creed that at some point in the future Christ will come “to judge the living and the dead.” But exactly how and when this will unfold are matters of intense and ongoing debate. This field of study is called eschatology which Greg Allison says “covers the return of Christ and its relationship to the millennium (amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism) and the tribulation, the resurrection, the last judgment, the eternal blessing of the righteous and the eternal judgment of the wicked, and the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.” In other words, eschatology is the study of what’s next and of what’s last.

Dispensationalism is a kind of framework for history that is organized around seven dispensations—seven orders or administrations. Particular to this framework is the eschatological position known as “premillennial dispensationalism” which holds that Christ will return prior to a literal one-thousand-year reign on earth. When I say I am not dispensational, this is primarily what I mean—I do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism. Allison points out “It differs from historic premillennialism by its belief that prior to the tribulation, Christ will remove the church from the earth (the rapture); thus, it is also called pretribulational premillennialism. Revelation 20:1-6 pictures Christ’s rule over the earth (while Satan is bound) for a thousand-year period, which is followed by Christ’s ultimate defeat of a released Satan, the last judgment, the resurrection of the wicked, and the new heaven and new earth.”

As I’ve mentioned before, most of my childhood was spent in Dutch Reformed churches and Dutch Reformed schools (despite, as I’ve also mentioned, my complete lack of Dutch heritage). This means I was raised on a steady diet of the Heidelberg Catechism which my parents supplemented with the Shorter Catechism. Neither one of these documents places much emphasis on the end times. For example, the Westminster simply asks, “In what does Christ’s exaltation consist?” and answers “Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day; in ascending into heaven; in sitting at the right hand of God the Father; and in coming to judge the world at the last day.” There are no follow-up questions about that coming judgment. Most who treasure these catechisms adopt amillennialism or postmillennialism and, indeed, I was raised amillennial. It was my understanding that the world will continue roughly along its current tragic trajectory until, at last, Christ returns. (Allison: “With respect to eschatology, the position that there is no (a-) millennium, or no future thousand-year period of Christ’s reign on earth. … Key to this position is its nonliteral interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6: Satan’s binding is God’s current restraint of him, enabling the gospel to advance everywhere. Saints who rule are Christians who have died and are now with Christ in heaven. At the end of this present age, Christ will defeat a loosed Satan, ushering in the last judgment, the resurrection, and the new heaven and earth.”)

The first I ever heard of an alternative was through Christian music. In my teens I began to listen to Petra and though I discovered them in the Beyond Belief era, I eventually went back and bought their older albums. There I encountered songs like “Gonna Fly Away,” from their 1974 self-titled debut. It is hardly brilliant songwriting, but does discuss Christians being removed from the earth while non-Christians remain.

Dreamin’ about flyin’ since I was a boy
Never thought I’d see the real McCoy
I think it’s safe to say, I finally found a way

Gonna fly away
Gonna fly away

Every day I’ve been looking in the sky
Hope it’s not raining when I start to fly
I bet you think I’m strange, wait until I’m changed

Where you gonna be when the trumpet blows?
All that’s left of me is gonna be my clothes
I’d really like to see, you flyin’ next to me

It wasn’t until twelfth grade that I actually met someone who held to this position and could explain it to me. I heard her explanation—rather a good one, I think—but couldn’t reconcile it with my understanding of the Bible. I realized quickly that premillennial dispensationalism was going to have a long uphill climb if it was ever to displace my latent amillennialism. To this day it never has.

So why am I not dispensational? I’d like to say that I have studied the issue very closely, that I have read stacks of books on eschatology, and that I can thoroughly defend my position against every alternative. But that’s not the case. It’s more that my reading of the Bible, my years of listening to sermons, and my study of Christian theology has not been able to shake or displace the amillennialism of my youth. To the contrary, it has only strengthened it. Paul Martin’s recent sermon series through Revelation strengthened it all the more. The very framework of dispensationalism appears to me to fall into a similar category as paedobaptism in that they both, in the words of Tom Hicks, “wrongly allow the Old Testament to have priority over the New Testament.”

While I am not dispensational and do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism, I do wish to express my love and respect for many who hold this position and especially to John MacArthur who has been as important as anyone in forming and shaping so many of my convictions. I am thankful that this is one of those issues in which Christians can joyfully agree to disagree.

How Will You Serve and Surprise This Week
June 22, 2016

I am a dutiful person who is usually happy enough to carry out life’s basic responsibilities. I am a husband with responsibilities toward my wife, a father with responsibilities toward my children, a pastor with responsibilities toward my congregation, a neighbor with responsibilities toward the people who live around me. My success as a husband, father, pastor, and neighbor is dependent upon being dutiful in all of these relationships.

Dutiful is good, but not good enough. Living well involves duty to be sure, but it also involves delight. Living well is made up of those things I must do, but also those things I get to do. For this reason I take time every week to consider each of life’s areas of responsibility and to ask not only how I can be dutiful in that area but also how I can express delight in it. I do this by asking a simple two-part question: How can I serve and how can I surprise? (I owe “serve and surprise” to a series of articles written by C.J. Mahaney.)

Like most people, I live within a kind of system that brings structure to my life. I spend a few minutes each morning getting my day organized, deciding which of the many things I could do today I actually will do—or at least attempt to do. Once each week I take a look at life in a broad way, and this is where I prayerfully pause to ask, “How must I serve this week and how can I surprise this week?” Or “What have I got to do this this week to fulfill duty and what do I get to do this week to express delight?”

The question of service is usually quite simple. To serve my wife I need to ensure I am present in body and mind, to serve my children I need to ask them about their friendships and to make sure they are completing their homework, to serve my church I need to be present at our services and to come well-prepared to lead them, to serve my neighbors I need to spend time with them. Those are all good and basic duties that fall to me, and I am happy enough to carry them out. But I want to be more than dutiful. I want to go beyond the basic duties of my life to also express delight. I don’t want to merely serve but also to surprise.

The question of surprise takes a little more thought and creativity. It requires me to know others and to understand what brings them joy and pleasure. How can I please Aileen and let her know that she is loved? How can I surprise my children and bring them joy? How can I express delight in my church? These are the kinds of questions I ask and then, in one way or another, I answer them by turning them into actions or plotting them into time. I may choose to take certain actions in the week ahead: Buy flowers for Aileen. Rent a movie with the kids. Send a gift to someone in the church. Or I may choose to reserve time on my calendar so we can do things together: Take Michaela out for breakfast. Have a family night of silly games and activities. Invite some church families over for Sunday lunch. These actions and activities go beyond basic service to pursue and express delight.

Do you see it? Life is never less than duty, but at its best it is so much more. Duty usually comes easily enough whereas delight requires thoughtfulness, effort, and creativity. Duty can be impersonal—the duty of one father toward his children may not differ very much from the duty of another father toward his children. But delight is customized and requires study, it requires personalized knowledge (another strength of Mahaney’s approach.)

If we are to live in such a way that we bring glory to God by doing good to others, we owe it to them to serve and surprise, to fulfill duty and express delight. So who do you need to serve and surprise in the week ahead?

If you need more help here, consider reading Do More Better. Image credit: Shutterstock

I Forbid You To Say These Things at My Funeral
June 20, 2016

YouTube told me I ought to watch a clip from a recent episode of America’s Got Talent. After all, who doesn’t like to see some unknown person make it or blow it on the big stage? In this case the young man did a tremendous job of imitating Frank Sinatra and, of course, received thunderous applause for his effort. When the cheering had subsided he was told by the judges that his dear grandmother must be looking down from heaven aglow with pride. Somehow that kind of clichéd syrupy sentimentality is just what people want to hear in those moments. It got me thinking about some of the absurd statements I’ve heard over the years, and especially the ones I’ve heard at funerals. Here are a few things I sincerely hope no one will say about me at my funeral or any time thereafter. In fact, I hereby forbid it.

He is looking down on you. The Bible gives us little reason to believe that the dead keep an eye on the living. And, frankly, I rather hope they don’t. When I am dead I will finally, blessedly be more alive than I’ve ever been because I will be free of sin and its consequences. I can’t help but think that the very last thing I’d want is to look down (or up or sideways or whatever direction earth is in relation to heaven) and have to witness more of sin and its effects. I love you all plenty, but I don’t particularly want to kick off forever by watching you sin. Not only that, but there’s no earthly or heavenly reason you’d want or need me to. Surely you aren’t indicating that God’s watchful eye is insufficient and that it somehow needs to be supplemented by mine, are you? No, I’m not looking at you. I’m looking at Jesus as he’s looking after you. You’ll be fine.

He’s with the angels now. This one gets me. Listen, I’m eager to meet some angels and to learn what they are all about. I’m especially eager to meet the angel who comforted Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. What I wouldn’t give to know what words he spoke in that moment! But here’s the thing: When I die I won’t be with the angels. I’ll be with Jesus. To say I’m with the angels is like watching a man walk into Buckingham Palace and saying, “He’s with the queen’s secretary now.” While that is strictly true, it’s also completely missing the point. He’s with the queen! And when I’m no longer with you, I’ll be with the king.

God needed another angel. Please don’t say this. Please don’t say this because if you know me you know that I’m no angel. But even more, don’t say this because it completely misrepresents both men and angels as if human beings aspire to evolve or transform into some kind of supernatural being. Angels and humans are completely different orders of being! Iguanas don’t die and become giraffes and men don’t die and become angels. I’m a human being now and will be a human being for the rest of eternity.

He was a good man. He is now, but he wasn’t always. He is good now that he’s in that place where he has been perfected by an instantaneous act of God. He is good now that God has transformed him to take away all desire for ungodliness and unholiness. He’s good now, but he wasn’t on this side of the grave. Frankly, he could be kind of a jerk at times. He could be moody and arrogant and self-centered. He was bad. But he was also forgiven and battling to kill his love of sin and desire for sin. He was learning and growing and displaying God’s grace. But he wasn’t good. Not like he is now. Not like God had created him to be.

He wouldn’t want you to cry. Go ahead and cry. You don’t need to cry for me, of course. But I wouldn’t tell you not to cry at all. Every funeral is an opportunity to consider the harsh reality of human mortality and the treasonous acts that made this mortality inevitable. There is no virtue in a stiff upper lip. There is no virtue in suppressing grief. There is no virtue in thinking that the joy of one man entering heaven ought to dispel the grief of those who are left behind. Funerals are a perfectly appropriate time to mourn—to mourn for the one who died, to mourn for others you miss, to mourn your own mortality, and to mourn the One who died so we could live.

We’re not having a funeral; we’re having a celebration. Why pit the two against one another as if only one can be true? We are having a funeral and it is a genuinely sad occasion. Yet we do not, can not, must not mourn as those who have no hope. A Christian funeral marks both a departure and an arrival; it provides an occasion for both grief and joy. As the poet says, “One short sleep past we wake eternally, and death shall be no more.” A sunset brings cold darkness but also the warm hope of dawn. Death brings the end of a very short life and the beginning of a never-ceasing one. It’s as wrong to refuse to mourn as it is to mourn without hope.

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.