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March 20, 2009

This morning Alistair Begg preached on “The Breath of the Almighty: The Holy Spirit” and used as his text John 16:5-15. I jotted down some notes…

The nature of this topic, he said, makes it virtually horizonless. Considerations of any doctrine, but particularly this one, that are not grounded within the controls of the Bible itself, may lead to all kinds of flights of fancy. There has been as much confusion within evangelicalism about the person and work of the Spirit as there has been in any other part of the Bible.

There are many places we might have gone to in Scripture but Begg chose this one, John 16. The main dimension that is represented in these words which speak of the necessity of his departure. This news has been a source of consternation and grief.

He broke his talk into three parts:

1. The necessity of Christ’s departure
2. The identity of the Helper who is sent
3. The activity of this Helper or Counselor

The Necessity of Christ’s Departure

He tells them that he is leaving and reveals that this is to their advantage. If he does not go away, the Helper will not come to them. The disciples were clearly in need of his help but he told them not to be unduly troubled because help is on the way. We are familiar with all of this but it is perhaps helpful to ponder at what expense this promise was accomplished. Jesus is not just speaking to the pragmatic benefit of another Helper. If you read the gospels you’ll see the intimacy between the Father and the Son and it is meaningful and precious to Christ. Here he says he will ask the Father who will send this Helper on the Son’s behalf.

The nature of this necessity lies not just in the benefit to the disciples but in the entire drama of redemption. That which the Father planned, the Son in his death will procure, and that which the Son procures, the Spirit will apply. By the time the Apostles are writing their letters, that which is introduced in the gospels is being explained.

The Identity of the Helper

This word has a legal dimension of an advocate, but also has dimensions of counsel, guidance and so on. He is also called the Spirit of Truth.

We first need to notice that the Holy Spirit is a unique person and not simply a power or an influence. He is spoken of as “He,” not as “It.” This is a matter of import because many people refer to him in the neuter as an “it.” We have to understand that the third person of the Trinity is personal and as a person he may be grieved, as a power he may be quenched, in terms of the exercise of his will, he may be resisted.

Second, we need to see that he is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. It is the Father who is sending AND the Son who is sending and the Spirit acts for them both. The giving of the Spirit is never done in isolation from the work of Christ and the will of God.

Third, we need to see that the Holy Spirit was the agent of Creation. It is the breath of the Almighty that hovers over the face of the waters. It is the power and energy of the Spirit that is referenced in the act of Creation. It is the Spirit who is the irresistible power by which God accomplishes his will.

Fourth, we need to see that the Holy Spirit is the agent of God’s new creation in Christ—he is the author of the new birth.

Fifth, we need to see that he is the author of the Scriptures.

His identity is as “another” helper, another of the same kind rather than another of a different kind. He comes along side, he is the one whom Jesus says is with you and will be in you. His ministry is personal and permanent. He is the one who will remain with you forever.

The Activity of the Helper

What are the active dimensions to which Jesus introduces us here?

He will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment. What else would a Holy Spirit do? How could he come into an impure world without confronting the sin within it? We think of Jesus who, out of divine necessity, had to cleanse the temple. And the Holy Spirit also confronts the world by proving the world guilty—guilty of unbelief, of being out of line, of lives that are crooked, of culpability.

The work of the Spirit will be to bring the fact of that guilt home to the lives of individuals. You have a small foretaste of this before Christ dies on the cross. The two criminals are at first jeering at him but then the one thief turns to Jesus in faith. The Spirit of God confronted the thief at the very end of his life with the fact of his unbelief, with the fact that he faced the judgment of God.

In all of this the work of the Spirit is to be understood Christologically—always in the relationship to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The activity of the Spirit is also to glorify Jesus. He takes what is Jesus’ and declare it to the world. He glorifies Christ both to the disciples and in the disciples. He comes and he makes his home with them. And as he does this, they become increasingly like him (because you become like people you spend time with). The communion to which Christ refers does not negate the dimension in each of our lives that we have a right expectation of intimate communion with God. Part of the work of the Spirit is to come to us when Satan rightly convicts us of sin to remind us that we have an advocate with the Father. It was a tremendous thing for Jesus to go away because until that time he was able to be in only one place. But the sending of the Spirit universalizes the person of Jesus. It also internalizes the presence of Jesus; he was with them but now he is in them. What is the ultimate work of the Holy Spirit if it is not to conform the child of God to the image of the Son of God? God’s eternal purpose is to conform us to the image of his Son. And this is what he does right now so that we are now being transformed into that same image. And when he finishes his work he will appear and we shall be like him. Everyone who has this hope within him purifies himself even as he is pure.

March 19, 2009

The subject of God’s holiness has been a theme at Ligonier Ministries since its infancy and it is good to revisit that theme this year, one year before Sproul’s book The Holiness of God reaches its twenty-fifth anniversary. And who better to introduce the subject and kick of the conference proper than Dr. Sproul? He preached tonight from Isaiah 45:1-8.

This is one of the strangest portions of divine revelation found anywhere in Scripture. At the time of its writing, Israel was in captivity to Babylon. But the message in this text is not addressed to somebody from Babylon. It is addressed to the future king of the Persian empire which would defeat the Babylonians and eventually liberate Israel to return to their homeland.

In verse 45 we read this word: “Thus says the LORD to his anointed (his messiah), to Cyrus.” This verse scandalizes the Jewish people that God would call a future gentile king his anointed. He is saying that he will give power to this king and his armies to lay waste to the dominant power. God is going to do all of this so Cyrus might know that God is the Lord.

Sproul has tried to imagine what would be going through Cyrus’ mind when he hears this prophecy for the first time. He sees Cyrus hearing these words in which this foreign deity announces that he would like to have a word with this king. Cyrus may well think “this is the lord of Israel but I am the lord of Babylon. This other lord must want to get together with me to plan out this military campaign.” But God does not allow him to rush to this conclusion. He adds to his declaration, “…there is no other. Besides me there is no God.”

Tonight we want to focus on this refrain: I am the Lord, there is no other. This declares the uniqueness of God, of the God of the Old Testament. We will consider what it is about the God of the Bible that is unique.

When we talk about the holiness of God, the term “holy” has two references:

  • God’s otherness, the sense in which he is different from anything in the created world.

  • His perfection in righteousness, his purity.

Only the second of these is a communicable attribute; the first belongs to God alone. It refers to his transcendent divine nature in which he is other than us.

In systematic theology when we try to detail the attributes of God, we struggle with the limitations of human language to do this. Theologians have relied on three distinct methods in which we describe the being and character of God.

The favorite of Augustine is the way of negation. In this way we define something by saying what it isn’t. God, then, is infinite. All this means is that God is not finite. A second way we use this way of negation is with the term “immutable.” All this tells us is that God is not mutable. Nothing defines creaturely existence like the idea of change. We are all constantly changing. That is simply the world in which we live in; but this category cannot be applied to God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

The second way is taking normal, earthly categories and exalting them to the nth degree. So we say that we, as humans, have the capacity to learn and to increase in knowledge. We may have plenty of knowledge, but we do not have all knowledge. We may have science, but God has omniscience. We all exercise some degree of power, but none of us have all power, omnipotence.

The third way is the way of affirmation. And this begins to take us to the extreme edges of our ability to comprehend God. We say that God alone is eternal and self-existent. Of all the theological attributes of God that are found in the theological tomes of history, the one that most sends chills up Sproul’s spine is the word aseity. If there is any word in the English language that captures the otherness of God, it is this one. It refers to his self-existence, that God and God alone has the power of being in and of himself.

A great quote as he discussed modern science which posits creation without a Creator: “Nothing has no is-ness.”

If there ever was a time when nothing at all existed, what could possibly exist now? Nothing! But if something exists now, it tells us that there never was a time when there was nothing. Everything that we know of, including the universe, had a beginning. Everything is contingent, derived from something outside of itself to lend being to it…except for God. He is not created. There was never a time when he was not. Eternally he is. He has that power of being in and of himself. There is nothing more profound to say about God than the way he reveals himself in the name “I Am Who I Am.” I Am the LORD and there is no other.”

Aquinas’ offered two proofs for God’s existence that rose above all others and Sproul discussed each of these quite briefly.

The first proof is that God is the “ends necessary,” that he possesses necessary being. He alone has being that is necessary and this makes him holy. We can define necessary being in two ways, ontologically and logically. When Aquinas said God has necessary being, he was saying that he’s the kind of being who cannot possibly not be. God is who he is from everlasting to everlasting and he cannot be anything other than what he is eternally in and of himself. His being is also logically necessary. There is no reason why Sproul should exist. There was a time when he did not exist. He can claim no logical necessity for his existence. But you need to leave your reason behind when you explore the idea that God does not exist. You have to stop thinking logically to think that the universe came into being by itself without God. Nothing could be more irrational that something comes from nothing. Logic demands that if something exists now, something always existed or you have to choose an irrational alternative.

We also need to consider from this text what this God does. He brings the light and the darkness, he brings well-being and calamity. After 9/11 it was unthinkable to the American people that God could have anything to do with calamity. We are people who believe that God can bless a nation but refuse to believe that he can also judge a nation. We believe this because we do not know who God is. The God of popular religion is not holy. This is not the God of Isaiah 45—the God who brings calamity, the God who brings the bear market and the bull market, who pulls kingdoms up and tears kingdoms down. “I will raise you up Cyrus, but I can also tear you right down.”

The two books Sproul has written that have received more attention than any other, he says, are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. He so often hears how much people like the first but hate the second. One of two things must then be true: either you didn’t understand The Holiness of God or you didn’t understand Chosen by God. The God who is holy is the God who is sovereign. The God who is transcendent in his majesty is the Lord. He brings good things and he brings bad things. This is the God with whom we have to do.

He closed with these words: “Let me give you some pastoral counseling if you do not like this God: tough!” This God is the only one we have. You may try to make and fashion another one; you might prefer a different one. But there is no other. “I am the LORD your God, there is no other…”

March 19, 2009

The “John Calvin” Mini-Conference wrapped up with a Q&A session featuring the four men who had delivered addresses. It was moderated by John Duncan. This is roughly how it went…

Why is Calvin still important 500 years later?

Ferguson - because he was really the first great biblical exegete. Other theologians made a mark here and there, but none so great as Calvin. He had a genius for being to capture what the text was saying and what its implications were.

Lawson - Location, location, location. He finds himself in an important historical context in the greatest forward movement of Christianity since the second century. It was a perfect time for Calvin’s ideas to explode in a way that could influence successive generations unlike those that had come before. There was a kind of domino effect from Calvin on down through history.

Mohler - Calvin really was the combination of the systematician and the preacher. As great as Luther may have been, he did not leave behind a systematic theology. In Calvin’s day, to consider what was at stake, the crucial question surrounded what was the true church. We still talk about Calvin today because we face many of the same challenges today that he faced in his day. No one answered these questions with the quintessential clarity of Calvin.

Duncan - Calvin taught the people who in turn taught the successive generation so that people who were influenced by Calvin may not have even know his name. He was training the best of the current generation to train the next generation. It was only centuries later that we began to understand the magnitude of what he had done.

Where should people start to learn about Calvin?

Ferguson - If you are daunted by the Institutes, begin with The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. You will probably find that Calvin is not as daunting as it may seem. If he didn’t know that Packer was going to do it, he probably would have called this book Knowing God.

Lawson - Read his sermons. The preaching of the word is the primary ordinary means of grace. Begin with his sermons on Galatians and Ephesians.

Mohler - Dive into the deep end of the pool by reading the introduction to the Institutes. Even if you need to read them two or three times, read them! It is one of the greatest works of Christian devotional literature ever written.

Duncan - I suggest going through the Institutes with your pastor or with a good teacher who has read through them before. I also some lectures from Rutherford House (?) by Sinclair Ferguson.

What is one thing about Calvin that is unknown or misunderstood that Calvin heir’s should know?

Ferguson - I know what his favorite game was. It was keys - you would throw a set of keys over a table and whoever puts it over the edge of the table wins.

Mohler - People often miss the suffering of the man. He was a man who suffered almost every day of his life with infirmities, sicknesses, pains and had to study and teach under the most difficult of circumstances. Despite this, in his writings you find such joy in his piety.

Duncan - If all you know is that he is the “Tyrant of Geneva” you may need to know that he was not a citizen of Geneva until the last years of his life. The idea that he was in full control of the city is simply fiction. He also a great power in the missionary movement that sent missionaries around the world.

Lawson - Calvin’s personal logo summarizes his life. It is an open hand being offered up to God and a heart in the palm of the hand that was his heart offered to God. His life, his heart, given to God promptly and willingly. When you combine this kind of godliness with this kind of genius, it is a powerful force (much like Jonathan Edwards).

Ferguson - He had an amazing number of friends who very much loved him. This is, in many ways, the measure of a man in contrast to the caricatures we often hear.

Lawson - Many people are unaware of how long and how strenuously he was opposed in his church.

Calvin is often criticized for his role in the execution of Servetus. Summarize what happened and our take on the situation.

Duncan - Servetus was a heretic, viewed by both Catholics and Protestants as a heretic. In any city in Europe there were heresy laws in those days; Geneva was not the only one with such laws. There were certain expectations in terms of public theology and morality that were expected of anyone. He was warned not to come to Geneva and was warned that he would be arrested and tried. He was subsequently condemned by the council to the burned at the stake. Calvin asked for the sentence to be changed to something quicker and less painful but this was denied.

Mohler - It is difficult to think of this from our perspective in a modern democratic republic. The medieval world is really unthinkable to us. In that day every single European state defined heresy as treason. To go against the religious beliefs of the state was to commit treason against it. Heresy was a threat to the entire society. This is true even today; however, government is not the right agent to deal with heresy. One of the big complexities to understand Calvin’s Geneva is to understand the role in Geneva in separating church and state. Servetus was the kind of heretic who would have known that everyone knew of his heresy. He was a needler, liar, etc, etc. The modern world gets it wrong in thinking that heresy is a minor crime while treason is a major one. But we would not call upon the city or state to judge such a person but instead we would rely on the church.

Ferguson - Calvin has become the whipping boy for something that continued for another 100 years.

Lawson - Calvin did not put him to death; he was not even a citizen of Geneva at the time and had no say in political matters. The consistory were his enemies at the time and had no love for Calvin. Servetus was given the option of being sent back to France and he begged to stay in Geneva because he knew that what would happen there would be far more gruesome. Calvin did, indeed, give support to what was taking place, but it was not in his hands to do it.

Mohler - Intellectual honesty is rare in this situation. To single Calvin out in this case is really an ad hominem attack. This civilization understood that heresy was the greatest of all crimes and was judged to protect people from error. They did this in the wrong way, but how much better are we who consider heresy a small threat?

What was Calvin’s relationship with Luther and Luther’s followers?

Ferguson - It was distant. They had almost definitely never met. It is clear in Calvin’s writing that he felt the church owed an enormous debt to Luther; he regarded Luther as almost a new Apostle. There were elements of Luther’s theology that troubled him, but he was as careful as he could be that he corrected this theology without making it clear what theology he was correcting.

Mohler - You have to make a distinction between phases of Calvin’s theology. He always considered Luther like a spiritual father. He had a very warm respect for Luther. His relationship with Melancthon was very interesting; he had good correspondence with him, but there was always a distance. As he saw Melancthon addressing different issues, he became troubled about continued refusal to bring the Reformation to its necessary conclusion. There was lots of indebtedness and affection and a hope for greater unity, but ultimately some disappointment.

Are there aspects of Calvin’s thought that we should not follow?

Mohler - You’ve got two Baptists here. [much laughter] One issue is this: what is Calvinism? When people think Calvinism they are often thinking of just a Dortian summary of theology. I am a Baptist who is indebted to Calvinism (as are all Baptists, whether they know it or not). It is wholesome to look back to that indebtedness and acknowledge our debt to him. When you look at the totality of what Calvin taught, there are many Presbyterians who are not thoroughly Calvinistic. I am going to be very thankful for all I receive, but I think Calvin would be the first to say that he had no desire to create “Calvinists.”

We’re familiar with the five points of Calvinism. What was truly central to his theology?

Ferguson - For Calvin there is such a unity that I don’t know that he would give precedence to any one of them. There seems to be two things that happen as his theology grows from one edition of the Institutes to the next. The first was the impact of Romans on his thought. The second thing that seems to dominate their development is his immense Trinitarianism, both its unity and distinctiveness. In some ways it seems that he’s almost the first Christian writer to get this just right.

Mohler - The knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves is the beginning and end of Calvin’s theology. When they talk about Calvinism and jump straight to the five points, we need to realize that we are reducing Calvin’s great concern and passion for the knowledge of God to this important dimension of how God justifies sinner and how he determined before the world was created that he would save a people through his Son. I would warn against reducing Calvinism to those five points even while affirming and defending those points. You can miss the whole in the parts if you are not careful.

Duncan - We need to remember that Calvin never did write out five points. Those five points stemmed from his work but only fifty years after his death as a response to five points of Arminianism.

How has Calvinism become to be seen as a loyalty that takes precedent over our identity as Christians?

Ferguson - When Calvin’s teaching came under attack and others rushed to his defense, you tend to get -isms. This is one of the reasons people need to go back and read Calvin himself and when they do so they find a world very different from the one they expected to find.

Mohler - [I couldn’t quite catch or nicely summarize this one. Apologies]. I did appreciate his exhortation to read Calvin (whether sermons or books) with an open Bible. Calvin would expect no less!

Duncan - Our non-Calvinistic friends can be hurt by the attitude that Calvinism is Christianity. It is helpful that someone have a high view of God, of Christ, of the Bible, than it is to attach themselves to any label. The good reason that we use label is for theological shorthand, as it allows us to say a lot really quickly. It allows us to affirm and deny certain things in just a word. If people are afraid of Calvinistic terms and analogies, simply go in as a Bible-believing Christian, go to Scripture, and see what God says to you and to them from his Word.

Leave us with something very important you’ve learned from Calvin’s life or writings

Ferguson - He has been the model of what a gospel minister in a local congregation should be.

Lawson - To understand Calvin is to understand Calvin the preacher. He was many things, but primarily a preacher. This is what is so desperately needed in churches today.

Mohler - I am in agreement with the other two so will just add this. Calvin was also a teacher and he understood the necessity of the church to be a school. We want the churches to again be the schools of Christ. I want to die like Calvin died, studying and teaching and preaching to the end. Calvin didn’t retire; he died.

Duncan - Calvin taught me that the fundamental problem we face as human beings is idolatry. There are true worshippers of God and idolaters; that is all. The doctrine of the atonement—Calvin gave the best biblical explanation of the atonement that had been given in 1560 years. There have been great ones since, but none before.

March 19, 2009

After a rather tasty lunch we gathered again, this time to hear Sinclair Ferguson speak about “The Doctrines of Grace.” He began by reading Ephesians 1 and said that no man has had a greater impact on his thinking than John Calvin.

When we speak of the doctrines of grace, we tend to think about five particular distinctive and controverted doctrines that we find within the realm of Reformed theology. Calvin’s theology and the theology of Scripture has much more to say about the grace of God in salvation than just these five points.

He followed this structure:

  1. To say something by way of background about the teaching about grace on which Calvin was reared.
  2. The doctrines of grace on which Calvin expounded.
  3. The nature of grace which John Calvin sought to extol.

The Grace on which Calvin Was Reared

Some people mistakenly believe that until the time of the Reformation, grace was a foreign concept in Christianity. The Reformers understood, though, that the medieval theologians had misspelled, misunderstood grace. As they spelled out the doctrines of God’s grace, they saw that grace had been adulterated and was no grace at all. It would not bring the delight of joy and assurance of salvation to the soul.

The Roman Catholic Church was dead set against the doctrine of grace because they felt it would give people license to live however they wanted to live. Of course this is a problem the Apostle Paul faced as well. This is why The RCC has always regarded the doctrine of justification (according to Protestantism) as a legal fiction. They cannot see justification as something so simple as a declaration.

The Reformers came to see that it was possible to know that you were justified. The church taught that unless you had some special revelation from God, you could never know that you had done enough to be saved. All you would be left with is endless years in purgatory with maybe a little reduction based on the overflow of merit from the saints. The consequence of all of this was the absence of joy, the impossibility of assurance. The assurance of salvation was considered the greatest of Protestant heresies.

Calvin saw that the righteousness given to us is the very righteousness of Christ, counted to the believer. It is the righteousness of the final judgment, brought forward into the present. Sin, when punished, cannot be punished again. We can stand before the judgment seat of God, fully righteous and all by God’s grace.

The Doctrines of Grace on which Calvin Expounded

When Calvin speaks of the doctrines of grace (in many ways and in many places) his great desire is to point us to salvation in God by Jesus Christ. Here Ferguson spent a few moments covering each of the five points, showing how Calvin may have explained them. As you may know, the five points as we understand them today, though they are based on Calvin’s teaching, are a reaction to later theological developments which sought to deny this theology. So Ferguson reached just a little further back to explain these terms using what might have been Calvin’s words.

The best line from this section of Ferguson’s address were these: “Two words: Institutes! Read!”

The Nature of Grace which John Calvin Sought to Extol

With time running out, he had only a few moments to dedicate to this topic.

Calvin says there is no such thing as grace, only Jesus Christ. There is not something outside of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit dispenses to you like a lump sum. There is only Jesus Christ which is why one of the most significant and startling things Calvin says is that all that Christ has done for us is of no value to us unless we get, by faith, Jesus Christ himself. And in just a moment you can see how the whole medieval system with priests and sacraments and sacrifices and saints and Mary was immediately exploded and destroyed. What the Spirit is doing and bringing you into is the same as the Lord Jesus himself. There is nothing between—no pope, no bishops, no sacraments, no priests—only the Holy Spirit bringing you to Jesus who is all your righteousness and all the righteousness you will ever need.

From Calvin we learn this: it is all there for you in Christ, so drink from no other fountain than Christ. We are all, even in our evangelical hearts, liable to sink back into errors that make us think there is something in us that qualifies us, something that Jesus Christ could give me without giving himself and me giving myself to him. This is Calvin: it is all of God, it is all in Christ, it all comes through the Holy Spirit.

This is a very, very good introduction to Reformed theology as taught by the greatest of the Reformers. I am often asked what I would recommend to those who are just trying to learn about Calvinism (or who are trying to learn the truth behind Calvinism). This is a great place to begin.

March 19, 2009

The 2009 Ligonier Ministries National Conference begins today. Though the conference proper does not kick off until after dinner, the Pre-Conference, “John Calvin—Celebrating a Legacy” began bright and early. This mini-conference features messages from Al Mohler, Steven Lawson, Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan. They will each speak one time and will also participate in a panel discussion.

Al Mohler began with this reflection: the legacy of John Calvin is now represented by a half millennium of influence. Calvin would no doubt be shocked to learn that, 500 years after his birth, several thousand people would gather in a Pre-Conference to talk about his legacy. That so many are gathered here is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to his church.

Mohler’s task today was to introduce John Calvin as a preacher and a teacher. And indeed, the focal task of Calvin’s ministry came down to these two tasks. He excelled in both.

The first portion of Mohler’s address was biographical, a quick overview of Calvin’s life focusing on his tasks of preacher and teacher. It was too fast to easily summarize, so I will leave it to those who are interested to watch the webcast. Calvin believed there were four offices within the church: preachers, teachers, elders and deacons. This message revolved around the first two.

Having given this thumbnail sketch of Calvin’s life, Mohler spoke about Calvin as a teacher. Calvin left behind a significant legacy of teaching material, even down to his personal correspondence which was filled with teaching. Early in his career he desired a quiet life of reading and writing, but he was compelled to take up the pastorate in Geneva.

He saw two offices that had a distinct teaching function. The task of the teacher was to prepare those who would have the sacred task of teaching the Word of God. Before he was a preacher in Geneva, he was involved in this teaching task. The preacher was the key agent to whom God would speak to his people, but the preacher needed to be taught; hence, Calvin was convinced that there needed to be a learned clergy. His singular aim was that the church be properly taught the Word of God and be protected from error. Here Mohler looked to the Institutes giving a quick overview of their contents, style and usefulness, even in our day.

The need Calvin perceived is a need that continues today, perhaps even more emphatically. Teaching suffuses all that he does, all that he offers to the church, all that he was.

In all the world, there is only one office higher than the teacher and that is the preacher. Calvin desired to be first a teacher, but once he became a preacher, he took up this task with a passion. His theology of preaching begins with his understanding that God speaks through his preachers, through the Word. Calvin did not deny natural or general revelation but saw that God speaks through a human voice in a special way in the act of preaching. Preaching is not a human invention but a means God had already used to speak to his people of old and a means he would now use again to instruct his church. It is an act of God’s kindness and accommodation that he speaks to us through a human voice; if he spoke through his own voice, we would be destroyed.

Calvin understood the majesty of preaching because he understood the majesty of God. Calvin’s mode of preaching was verse-by-verse, book-by-book so he would not selectively avoid things he did not wish to teach. In this way God’s people receive all that they need and not just what the preacher determines the people need. The preacher is neither to add nor subtract from Scripture.

Calvin believed preaching is the Word of God in at least three ways:

  • Preaching is the Word of God because it is the exposition of the Bible
  • Preaching is the Word of God because the preacher is sent and commissioned by God and given his authority to speak in his name
  • Preaching is the Word of God because it is revelation, revealing the treasures of God’s Word.

Calvin looked to three movements in his day, offering both agreement and disagreement with each of them. From these we can see some of the emphases of his ministry.

The enthusiasts - they were right in that they preached the necessity of the Holy Spirit but wrong in that they said there was no need for preachers.

The Church of Rome - they were right in that the church is to listen attentively to the preacher but wrong in that the church taught that Christians did not need to verify the minister’s words according to Scripture.

The fanatics - they were right in that believers are to read the Bible on their own but wrong in that they downplayed the need for guidance from teachers and preachers.

Mohler offered these four hallmarks of John Calvin’s preaching:

  • Centrality of Scripture
  • Systematic exposition
  • Simplicity of expression
  • Practical application

And here he recommended Steve Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin as a useful, accurate summary of John Calvin’s teaching ministry.

November 07, 2008

As I begin my journey home, I thought I’d offer a few random reflections on the Dominican Republic (though if you didn’t read it yesterday evening, I’d really encourage you to first read and respond to this post). These are things that popped into my head at one time or another, but which didn’t find their way into another post (perhaps for good reason). Here they are…

Before I left, a friend who spent several months in the Dominican Republic told me that the nation has two primary industries: tourism and prostitution. While I saw blessedly little evidence of the latter, I did see plenty of “adult entertainment clubs” and have little doubt that prostitution is rampant and especially so around the tourist areas. I’ve heard as well that there is a good bit of child prostitution here as well. What a tragedy.

Dominican soft drinks are sold in glass bottles. This is the way it was meant to be. The Coke is much closer to Canadian Coke than its inferior American counterpart. Combine glass bottle with Coke made with sugar (instead of corn syrup) and you’ve got an awfully good beverage. It is especially good after coming in from a scorching hot, humid day.

I can’t even begin to count the number of motorbikes I saw here. The number is less surprising to me than the way the drivers ride them and the number of people who ride at a time. It is not unusual to see an entire family—mom, dad and a couple of kids—all on the bike at the same time (with none wearing helmets, of course). It’s not unusual to see a whole row of children drive by on a single motorbike. And these bikes weave and dodge, squeezing between cars and buses, swerving this way and that. This nation must see a horrendous amount of traumatic head injuries.

Today we went to a local market to do a little bit of shopping. This was really the first opportunity we’ve had to buy anything. It was my first experience in this kind of market. Here, like in many foreign countries, the marked price is just a starting point. The very moment you look at the price tag a shopkeeper is guaranteed to lower it 30% “just for you. Special deal just for you!” At every stall you pass, the shopkeeper jumps up and does his utmost to get your attention and to draw you into his stall. Once you find something you’d like, the fun begins. It only ends when you walk away and the shopkeeper chases you down to say that you can have it at the price you suggested after all. I think I did quite well and the shopkeepers are probably saying the same. I may give this technique a shot next time I’m at WalMart. “You want $5 for this pack of batteries? I’ll give you $2! I have a wife and children to feed. You can’t seriously expect $5! You’re killing me!”

I was amazed at the pervasiveness of American pop culture. Everywhere we went we saw Spongebob and Dora and Disney. A child at the project we visited today had a fistful of old Pokemon cards (from Japan, I realize, but obviously via the US). One of our translators carried a Dark Knight backpack. Television is the medium that spreads this culture. In even the poorest neighborhoods, any home that had electricity had a television. It may have been old and tiny and blurry, but it was a television nonetheless. The TV in our hotel receives around fifty channels and many of them, the majority even, are simply dubbed versions of the American networks showing the American shows. It became clear to me that America’s number one foreign export is culture.

I was amazed also at the pervasiveness of the cellular telephone. Several times we were sitting with or talking with the poorest of the poor, people who barely had the means to feed themselves. And then the silence would be punctuated by the “Nokia” ring tone. I’ll grant that cell phones are far cheaper here than they are in Canada (or even the US) while land lines are rare and unreliable, but it was still a surprise to be sitting in what was little more than a slum and to see a nice new cell phone in a person’s hand. Like in Canada, the phones come with a contract (though it is only eighteen months here, apparently, as compared to three years at home) so the phone is “free” with the commitment. There are apparently many more people who participate in the pay-as-you-go plans here and cards to recharge your minutes are sold at any respectable intersection.

Another word about those intersections. No sooner will your car stop at an intersection that you’ll be swarmed by salesmen. There is not very much you can’t buy at the side of the road in the Dominican Republic and at the intersections many things are brought right to your card window: phone cards, phone cases, phone cords, chips, candy, hats, shirts, newspapers, etc, etc. If you want it, you can get it just by waiting for the right person to walk on by.

That will do for now. Have a happy Friday!

November 06, 2008

(Please don’t forget to visit Nick’s blog)

This is our last day in the Dominican Republic. Tomorrow morning we will head for the airport and from there we will fly for home, leaving the developing world and returning to the developed world. As much as I’ve enjoyed this experience, I can’t deny that I’ll be glad to be home. I’ve been to many homes here in Dominican Republic but I don’t know if I’ll remember any of them more vividly than Julia’s house. I wrote about Julia yesterday, describing the kind of poverty she had experienced as a girl—poverty that forced her to wear a borrowed dress just to have her photo taken for Compassion’s sponsorship program. Now a university student as part of Compassion’s Leadership Development Program, tears spilled from her eyes as she remembered the shame of poverty. Today Julia lives in a slightly nicer home—though dark and musty and sad by our standards, it was positively luxurious compared to many we saw and compared to what she had known as a child.


We sat in Julia’s living room, on benches and chairs and the floor, and asked her mother about what Compassion meant to her, having seen it support two of her girls. She had no words. Tears filled her eyes, and ours. I guess words really weren’t necessary. We asked Julia about her sponsors and she told us of Roger, the sponsor in New Zealand who had supported her from age six all the way through her graduation from the Sponsorship Program. For twelve years Roger had supported her, written her cards and letters, sent her gifts, and even written her asking for advice on whether or not he should ask his girlfriend to become his wife! For twelve years he had prayed for Julia and she for him.

“What would you tell him if you could talk to him?”

“I love you so much. I still read your letters and cards and still have the pictures you sent to me!”

“What does Roger mean to you?”, we asked.

“He is my superhero.”

A superhero. It was not the only time this week I heard the word. For all the talk of the extraordinary men and women who have made such a difference in the lives of children, when I went to the homes of the girls and they proudly showed off the letters and photos they had received, the sponsors, whether from America or New Zealand or anywhere else, looked awfully ordinary to me. And I guess this is what Compassion is looking for. They aren’t looking for the rich and the famous, the notorious or the renowned. They are looking for ordinary people to play an extraordinary role in the lives of children who so desperately need help. They’re looking for a few ordinary superheroes.

I’ve been here for four days now and have seen Compassion in action. I’ve seen women being trained in how to care for their children. I’ve seen projects where the children receive an education and receive the good news of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen future leaders who are attending university through the Leadership Development Program. I’ve seen a water filtration system built to supply an entire neighborhood—thousands of people who drink water that leaves them with fungi and lesions—with pure, clean water. I have met Compassion staff who were sponsored children themselves and who are now dedicating their lives to serving children through the organization that so ably served them.

I came to Dominican Republic on something of a fact-finding mission. I do not sponsor a child. I’ve thought about it many times, but have never had confidence that Compassion is what they claim to be. But having seen it in action, I now have no doubts. I’m willing to stake my reputation on it. When I get home we will be visiting the web site as a family to choose at least one child to sponsor. Frankly, I’d like to have each of my kids sponsor one child (though I still need to talk this over with Aileen!). Compassion is all that they claim to be—more even. They were true to their word and allowed me to open every filing cabinet, look behind every door, and so on.

Today I want to encourage you to consider sponsoring a child. You know the pitch—for the price of a cup of coffee a day you can make the difference in the life of a child. I know now that this isn’t just idle talk. You really can (and will!) make a difference. But don’t just sponsor a child—write to him, have your children write to him, pray for him, send him a birthday gift. These things will get through to him, they will mean the world to him, they will change his life.

Click Here To Get Started

November 06, 2008

Today marks the beginning of the John 3:16 Conference. Sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries, the conference allows some of the Southern Baptists Convention’s foremost pastors to respond to the growing presence of Calvinistic theology in the Convention. “Did Jesus die on the cross for every person? Are believers eternally secure? Can grace be resisted? These and many other questions will be addressed. This conference is not going to be a ‘Let’s bash the Calvinists’ conference. This conference is going to be a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism. It will be helpful for lay people as well as preachers.”

While I had at first intended to attend the conference, I eventually accepted a conflicting invitation to visit the Dominican Republic with Compassion International. However, Andrew Lindsey was kind enough to volunteer his services as a liveblogger. For the next two days, he will bring live summaries of the conference. You’ll be able to read them right here at the blog. Stay tuned beginning this evening!