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Bad Singing
July 12, 2015

It is ironic that music, an element meant to draw Christians together in mutual love and service (see Colossians 3:16) has become a force for significant division within the church. It just goes to show, I guess, that we can make a mess of pretty much anything. In their book The Compelling Community, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop point out 3 common errors of musical style can stifle local church community:

Music that’s difficult to sing corporately. If your music appeals strongly to the taste of American twenty-somethings, you’ll get a lot of accolades from American twenty-somethings. But the African Christian in her fifties may feel decidedly out of place. If you want music that embraces the natural diversity the gospel brings to a congregation, you’ll need to think hard about your goals for musical style. Consider the cultural backgrounds of your congregation. Consider the cultural backgrounds of the non-Christian neighbors you hope to see in your church. How difficult is it for this diversity of people to sing the songs you choose? One factor at play is rhythmic complexity. Many Christian songs you hear on the radio are rather complex from a rhythmic standpoint. That’s part of what makes them interesting. But that syncopation and changing meter and tempo may make them difficult for some in your congregation to learn—and especially those who come from cultural backgrounds where rhythmic simplicity is the norm. Unless your congregation is in a setting where musical complexity is common, you’ll generally find that rhythmic simplicity will make your music accessible to the widest variety of people. When you shape your musical style with the entire congregation in mind, you battle a consumerist mind-set that wants music that “appeals to me.” And you emphasize the breadth of community we should expect to find in a local church.

Music with limited emotional breadth. Much of church music is happy music. But if that is all we ever have, we substantially dilute the Christian experience. And the tone we set in our services will inevitably carry over into relationships. If we teach people through our music that feelings of doubt, despair, and bewilderment are not acceptable starting points for worship, we teach them that these topics are not acceptable in private conversation either—to the detriment of depth in relationships. I tell new members at our church that I want music that helps them worship God if they got engaged the previous evening, and I want music that helps them worship God if they broke up the previous evening. When you select music with a variety of emotional starting points, you teach your congregation that God’s promises hold true no matter our emotional condition.

Music that feels like a performance. Revelation 5:13 pictures the worship of heaven as the song of an entire congregation. Our churches should provide a foretaste of that. Musical accompaniment can help by leading us in song and helping us through sections of songs that are more difficult to sing. Or it can overpower congregational worship and turn us from active worshipers into passive listeners. Consider the volume and complexity of your musical accompaniment: does it help congregational worship? Or do people mumble softly while listening to the worship band or the organ? To be sung well, some melodies require an exceptionally talented congregation and accompaniment. Yet good congregational melodies can work without accompaniment. If you don’t already, try going a cappella (without accompaniment) on the last verse or chorus of some of your songs. Little can build a feeling of congregational unity more than hearing the whole church sing their hearts out in passionate praise to God. We should design our musical style with this in mind.

Above all, we must teach our congregations that congregational worship requires sacrifice. That’s why the corrective action at the beginning of this section is not “aspire to a simple musical style that a broad range of people love” but that a broad range of people can use. If we’re serious about displaying the diversity that the gospel brings to a local congregation, then each of us will make sacrifices in the type of music we sing. Some may need to work to enjoy a particularly simple style of music. Some may need to work harder to worship God on Sunday morning. But through that small sacrifice, we enable congregational unity that sings a much more profound note of praise than any individual could ever produce on his own. And having experienced that taste of heaven, your congregation will gladly make the sacrifice.

July 05, 2015

I am sure you have considered God’s command in 1 Corinthians 11:28: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” It sounds simple enough, but what is actually involved in this kind of self-examination? How should we prepare ourselves before celebrating the Lord’s supper? Thomas Haweis offers help in his classic work The Communicant’s Spiritual Companion, recently republished by Reformation Heritage Books. He offers these 4 directions:

Examine your repentance. Consider whether you have really repented of your former sins and purposed to lead a new life. You can help determine repentance by considering whether you have a sorrow for sin, a hatred of sin, a general forsaking of sin, and whether there are clear evidences of change in your heart and life. Have you confessed known sin? Are you genuinely sorry for how your sin has offended God? Is there evidence that God has been transforming you by his power?

Examine your faith. Consider whether you have a dead faith or a living faith—a mere speculative assent to the truth or a lively, genuine, energetic trust in God. This is the kind of faith that directs you to Christ as your propitiation and that lays hold of his strength as the only power that can cleanse and pardon you. Where is your trust? How often are you pondering the great truths of the gospel?

Examine your gratitude. Consider whether you are thankful for the precious privileges which are yours in Christ. If you are aware of the depth of your sin and the heights of God’s mercy, you must be filled with gratitude. Are you quick to give thanks when you pray? Are you quick to give thanks to God for his grace and mercy? Do you thank God for his most precious gift of his Son?

Examine your love. Consider whether you are “in charity with all men.” The Christian faith is a faith of love toward God that works itself out in love for one another. Are you harboring hatred or malice toward another person? Are you expressing love in acts of kindness and charity? Are you especially showing love to fellow believers?

“Let a person examine himself, then.” And let him do it by repentance, faith, gratitude, and love.

June 28, 2015

There isn’t anything easy about parenting. There isn’t anything easy about parenting girls. For that reason I enjoyed reading through Andy Farmer’s little booklet A Father’s Guide to Raising Girls. I found this section particularly helpful.

We will make our share of mistakes as dads do. But another factor we have to account for is our human weakness—our limits, our foibles, our character deficiencies that affect every aspect of our lives. Let me give you an example.

My girls used to love to stage plays while they were growing up. Elaborate multi–act performances involving friends, puppets, stuffed animals, Barbies, whatever they could cast for effect. There was one performance I’ll never forget. On a lazy Sunday afternoon the girls came up to the living room where we were hanging out and announced that they were going to do a play about mom and dad. We were naïve so we said we’d love to see it and film it for them. From a dramatic standpoint the play was not one of their better efforts. It was a kind of improvisational satire with little dramatic arc. Basically it consisted of Jill’s character running around in a cleaning frenzy while my character spent the entire play snoring on the couch with a newspaper over his head. As a work of art, I found the drama unmoving and my character entirely too one– dimensional.

However, in retrospect their performance was a great lens to see how my kids viewed me. I know snoozing was not the only experience they had of me, but it was a wake–up call that has kept me alert over the years. My ability to detach while at home and to find ways to indulge historic laziness is officially documented in the video of that performance.

Their little drama became a morality play revealing to me that my weaknesses are not private things. Nor are they inconsequential. The book of Proverbs is about weakness. It assumes weakness as a starting point for everyone—a lack of understanding that speaks of immaturity and limited insight. The first ten chapters of Proverbs are essentially one long appeal for us to grow—to seek wisdom and insight. Immaturity is not a permanent condition. Instead, it is the starting point to either wisdom and insight or foolishness and blindness. A father who is not seeking to address his weaknesses by the pursuit of wisdom will become blind to them and foolish in them.

We all have weaknesses. Here’s what I’ve learned about my weaknesses: they usually affect other people far more than they bother me. At times I’ve grown accustomed to them, made provision for them, coddled them where I can, compensated for that where I must, and ignored them wherever possible. But in some ways they define what others know about me.

How do you identify weaknesses in your life? Here’s a clue: your weaknesses are what others who really know you have to endure while living with you! If you can’t describe your weaknesses and how they affect others, you don’t really know them. Talk to those who are affected by your weaknesses. Ask your kids. Ask your wife. Ask your coworkers. Ask your heavenly Father. Asking God to open our eyes to our weaknesses is a scary prayer! But I’ve found that he answers those kinds of prayers with great mercy and abundant grace for change. It is a healthy family where dad gets real and gets wise about his weaknesses.

June 21, 2015

Few people have had a deeper impact on my way of thinking than John Stott. In his little book Your Mind Matters, he writes about the importance of being Christians who use our minds. But knowledge is not an end in and of itself. Rather, all that knowledge is meant to lead somewhere.

Knowledge should lead to worship. The true knowledge of God will result not in our being puffed up with conceit at how knowledgeable we are, but in our falling on our faces before God in sheer wonder and crying, “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Whenever our knowledge becomes dry or leaves us cold, something has gone wrong. For whenever Christ opens the Scriptures to us and we learn from him, our heart should be aglow within us. The more we know God the more we should love him.

Second, knowledge should lead to faith. We have already seen that knowledge is the foundation of faith and makes faith reasonable. “Those who know thy name put their trust in thee,” wrote the psalmist. It is our very knowledge of God’s nature and character which elicits our faith. But if we cannot believe without knowing, we must not know without believing. That is, our faith must grasp hold of whatever truth God reveals to us. Indeed, God’s message brings no benefit unless it meets with faith in the hearers. This is why Paul does more than pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened to know the greatness of God’s power which has been demonstrated in the resurrection; he adds that this power which God accomplished in Christ is now available to use who believe. The first and necessary step is that we know in our minds the magnitude of God’s power, but this should lead us to appropriate his power in our lives by faith.

Third, knowledge should lead to holiness. We have to see how the more our knowledge grows, the greater our responsibility to put it into practice. Many biblical examples could be quoted. Psalm 119 is full of aspirations to know God’s law. Why? In order the better to obey it: “Give me understanding, that I may keep thy law and observe it with my whole heart.” Thomas Manton, the Puritan minister, who at one time was Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain, likened a disobedient Christian to a child suffering from rickets: “Rickets cause great heads and week feet. We are not only to dispute of the word, and talk of it, but to keep it. We must neither be all ear, nor all head, nor all tongue, but the feet must be exercised!”

Fourth, knowledge should lead to love. The more we know, the more we should want to share what we know with others and use our knowledge in their service, whether in evangelism or ministry. Sometimes, however, our love will restrain our knowledge. For by itself knowledge can be harsh; it needs to sensitivity which love can give it. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind which God has given us, we condemn ourselves to superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace. At the same time, knowledge is given us to be used, to lead us to higher worship, greater faith, deeper holiness, better service. What we need is not less knowledge but more knowledge, so long as we act upon it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

June 17, 2015

There is always one truth or another that is being disputed. There is always some doctrine or another that is under attack. And speaking personally, I find it hard to keep up. Sometimes it is best to recruit some help, and I did that very thing recently. I keep hearing about differing views on the historical Adam, with more and more people moving away from a strictly literal understanding that Adam was divinely created by God on the sixth day of creation. Knowing that William Vandoodewaard had just written a book on the subject (The Quest for the Historical Adam), I asked if he would help me sort it all out. He did that in this brief but helpful Q&A.

MeCan you briefly (and as objectively as possible) lay out the different options when it comes to the historical Adam? What are the predominant views?

WilliamThere are really five possible views:

  1. Adam was specially created by God on the sixth day, as understood by the literal interpretation of the Genesis text. Adam is created without ancestry, apart from any evolutionary processes. He is the first human.
  2. Adam was specially created in the manner that Genesis describes (out of the dust, life breathed into him), but without the time frame of six days of ordinary duration—it occurred at some unknown point in the ancient past. Adam is created without ancestry, and apart from any evolutionary processes. He is the first human.
  3. Adam was created through a combination of natural processes and supernatural, divine intervention at some unknown point in the ancient past. Evolutionary processes played a part in Adam’s creation, he had animal ancestry, but God intervened, doing something special in his conception, or making him human after birth, even though his biological parents were not. Some argue that God’s intervention included changing Adam’s physical constitution; others argue that it was only God’s gift of a spiritual constitution or soul that set Adam apart from his animal ancestors.
  4. Adam developed the same way as in #3, but he was simply an individual whom God entered into relationship with, making Adam religious. The immediate change that made Adam “human” was relational, not constitutional.
  5. There was no Adam. Adam is simply a figure or type for early humanity as a category. 

While these are the five main categories, it is helpful to be aware of their place and proportion. The historic, mainstream understanding of the Christian church is view #1. Despite continuing efforts to the contrary it remains the predominant view among evangelical Christians. By contrast, view #2, rooted in post-Enlightenment geological theories, is actually a minority stream. Views #3–5, while trendy, very vocal, and on the evangelical edge (where broad evangelicalism merges into theological liberalism), actually represent an even smaller fringe than view #2. 

Ongoing round-tables and “four views on Genesis and origins” type books produced by parts of evangelical academia are misleading. They give the impression that the literal understanding of origins is a minority when it actually remains an overwhelming majority commitment, much to the chagrin of its opponents.

MeWhat is really at stake here? What does the church stand to lose if we widely accept an alternate view of the historical Adam?

WilliamThe teaching of God’s Word is at stake here. God’s character is at stake. The gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. Accepting an Adam with evolutionary origins immediately impacts what it means to be human, created by God in His image. It opens a Pandora’s box of theological problems—from Adam’s relationship with his animal parents and surrounding community, to the doctrine of sin and the fall, to God’s holiness, goodness, and justice. It immediately impacts the doctrine of Christ as the One by whom all things were created, as well as His incarnation and work of salvation. It’s an issue that touches so many others: from soteriology to race relations to sexual ethics to the new creation at the second coming. Those who take the logically consistent step beyond an evolutionary Adam to a figurative Adam join a line of thinkers including Voltaire and Kant. 

MeDo you think there is an inevitability here? Do you think that those who deny a historical Adam are necessarily on a slope to full-out theological liberalism?

WilliamThe denial of a historical Adam is already theological liberalism, beyond the bounds not only of evangelicalism, but also historic Christianity. There is an inevitability of further decline, not always in the case of the individual who departs further from Christian orthodoxy, but almost always in the next generation, and in any institution or church that allows this. The underlying problem is the capitulation to reading Scripture through the lens of this world’s culture and thought, rather than reading culture and thought through the lens of Scripture.

June 14, 2015

Fasting is a subject for which I have a lot of curiosity but little practice. It is the subject of an excellent and helpful little booklet by Daniel Hyde, part of the “Cultivating Biblical Godliness” series. He defines Christian fasting as “a religious abstaining from food or any other legitimate provision of God for a set period of time.” He addresses the practice of fasting with these 6 guidelines.

We fast freely. “Under the new covenant you are free to fast or not fast. There is no prescribed time of the year or week in which you must fast. There is no prescribed length of time for which you must fast. … There is no particular method required of you. In all of these you are free. … This point is so important to stress because if we began to regulate fasting beyond Scripture, then we would turn what should be done freely into an oppressive burden.”

We fast humbly. “We should look and act outwardly normal, while inwardly we must humble ourselves before God and seek His face in prayer. Your reward for this is that God sees, while your friends may not. Motivation does matter in fasting, then. The proper motivation behind our fasting is to have God as our reward rather than any human approval.”

We fast seriously. “Biblical fasting is not medical fasting or fasting to lose weight. This is serious business with God. … The seriousness of fasting implies some preparation, both bodily and spiritually. Again, we are free in fasting, but that does not mean that there are not some guidelines that are helpful to follow. Bodily speaking, prepare yourself for a fast the night before with enough rest, food, and water so that you will have strength to endure a fast. Spiritually speaking, set your mind upon the goal of your fast: seeking the Lord’s help for the matter for which you are fasting.”

We fast evangelically. It is important to qualify the above point about seriousness. Our fasting is serious, but we do not fast with all the outward rites and expressions of the old covenant. … Also, this means that we do not fast in a legal spirit, as if fasting somehow earned favor with God. … Since we are under the new covenant because of the work of Jesus Christ for us, we fast in a gospel-centered way. This means the believer’s fasting is an act of grateful response to Christ’s grace accomplished and applied to His church.”

We fast earnestly. In response to the gospel-centeredness of fasting, the temptation for us is to think the new covenant is a more ‘relaxed’ covenant. In contrast to this, it is because of what Jesus Christ has done that we must fast earnestly. In fact, we should fast with more eagerness and earnestness than those who fasted in the time of promise and shadow and not the time of fulfillment and substance.”

We fast prayerfully. “Fasting must be done prayerfully. … Fasting has an outward and an inward aspect. This is why our forefathers belabored the point that it is not fasting itself that brings us before the face of God, but the prayer that arises out of it. Fasting is an aid and help to prayer. Fasting, by itself, is not a good work; it is what we call an indifferent matter. Fasting is only a good work when it is linked to the purpose of prayer. This means that whether or not we fast, we can still pray. But if we don’t pray, fasting is futile.”

June 07, 2015

R.C. Sproul’s book Chosen by God is undoubtedly one of the most important books ever written on the subject of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Certainly it is the only one that has sold 200,000 copies! It has been invaluable in helping me, and so many others, navigate a very tricky topic. Here are 10 great quotes drawn from its pages.

What predestination means, in its most elementary form, is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God.

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

God is free. I am free. God is more free than I am. If my freedom runs up against God’s freedom, I lose. His freedom restricts mine; my freedom does not restrict his.

The assumption many of us make when we struggle with the Fall is that, had we been there, we would have made a different choice. We would not have made a decision that would plunge the world into ruin. Such an assumption is just not possible given the character of God. God doesn’t make mistakes. His choice of my representative is greater than my choice of my own. 

Total depravity is not utter depravity. Utter depravity would mean that we are all as sinful as we possibly could be. We know that is not the case. No matter how much each of us has sinned, we are able to think of worse sins that we could have committed. Even Adolf Hitler refrained from murdering his mother.

Before God pronounces a deed “good” he considers not only the outward or external conformity to his law, but also the motivation. We look only at outward appearances; God reads the heart. For a work to be considered good it must not only conform outwardly to the law of God, but it must be motivated inwardly by a sincere love for God.

People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.

Most non-Reformed views of predestination fail to take seriously the fact that fallen man is spiritually dead. Other evangelical positions acknowledge that man is fallen and that his fallenness is a serious matter. They even grant that sin is a radical problem. They are quick to grant that man is not merely ill, but mortally ill, sick unto death. But he has not quite died yet. He still has one tiny breath of spiritual life left in his body. He still has a tiny island of righteousness left in his heart, a tiny and feeble moral ability that abides in his fallenness.

Unless we conclude that every human being is predestined to salvation, we must face the flip side of election. If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination. It is not enough to talk about Jacob; we must also consider Esau.

We must never underestimate the importance of our role in evangelism. Neither must we overestimate it. We preach. We bear witness. We provide the outward call. But God alone has the power to call a person to himself inwardly. I do not feel cheated by that. On the contrary, I feel comforted. We must do our job, trusting that God will do his.

May 31, 2015

When it comes to prayer, there are few people I would rather learn from than Joel Beeke. He has spent most of his life as a student of the Puritans and has often written about their commitment to prayer and their practice of it. In a new little booklet titled Piety: The Heartbeat of Reformed Theology, he offers a series of extremely helpful tips for prayer. Here is what he says:

Prayer and work belong together. They are like two oars that, when used together, keep a rowboat moving forward. If you use only one oar—praying without working or working without praying—you will row in circles.

Piety and prayer are closely related because prayer is the primary means of maintaining communion with God. Here are five important guidelines the Puritans offer about praying:

  1. Give priority to prayer. Prayer is the first and most important thing you are called to do. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed,” John Bunyan writes. “Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.”
  2. Give yourself—not just your time—to prayer. Remember that prayer is not an appendix to your life and your work, it is your life—your real, spiritual life—and your work. Prayer is the thermometer of the soul.
  3. Give room to prayer. The Puritans did this in three ways. First, they had real prayer closets—rooms or small spaces where they habitually met with God. When one of Thomas Shepard’s parishoners showed him a floor plan of the new house he hoped to build, Shephard noticed that there was no prayer room and lamented that homes without prayer rooms would be the downfall of the church and society. Second, block out stated times for prayer in your daily life. The Puritans did this every morning and evening. Third, between those stated times of prayer, commit yourself to pray in response to the least impulse to do so. That will help you develop the “habit” of praying so that you will pray your way through the day without ceasing. Remember that conversing with God through Christ is our most effective way of bringing glory to God and of having a ready antidote to ward off all kinds of spiritual diseases.
  4. Give the Word to prayer. The way to pray, said the Puritans, is to bring God his own Word. That can be done in two ways. First, pray with Scripture. God is tender of his own handwriting. Take his promises, turn them inside out, and send them back up to God by prayer, pleading with him to do as he has said. Second, pray through Scripture. Pray over each thought in a specific Scripture verse.
  5. Give theocentricity to prayer. Pour out your heart to your heavenly Father. Plead on the basis of Christ’s intercessions. Plead to God with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26). Recognize that true prayer is a gift of the Father, who gives it through the Son and works it within you by the Spirit who, in turn, enables it to ascend back to the Son, who sanctifies it and presents it acceptable to the Father. Prayer is thus a theocentric chain, if you will—moving from the Father through the Son by the Spirit back to the Son and the Father.

Genuine piety calls for well-planned, hard, and sweat-inducing prayer and work, the Puritans said. Careful planning as to how you are going to live for the Lord is necessary if you want to achieve much of abiding value for him. Yet the Puritans were not self-reliant. They understood that daily living for a Christian must go something like this:

  1. Look ahead and see what you have to do.
  2. Go to the Lord in prayer and say, “Lord, I do not have what it takes to do this; I need divine help.”
  3. Rely on the Lord to answer the prayer you have offered, then proceed expectantly to the task that lies before you.
  4. After completing the task, return to the Lord to thank him for the help he gave.
  5. Ask his forgiveness for all your failures and sins in the process, and ask for grace to fulfill your task more faithfully next time.

The Puritan method of daily piety includes earnest prayer and hard work without self-reliance; all the exertion of energy is done by faith. By grace, exercising piety is both faithful effort and fruitful effort.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 24, 2015

One of the most difficult things to do is to lovingly confront another person about sin, or—even harder—about what may have been sin. In his excellent book Side by Side, Ed Welch offers some practical counsel on doing this well.

The hardest sins to talk about are those we see someone commit, but we receive no invitation to speak. Here, we must decide if the sin is to be called out or covered.

Don’t Be Silent Out of Fear

Most people who have witnessed sin or are even suspicious of it in another don’t regret raising such important matters when they are raised well, but they do regret having been silent.

A church was left dazed when both a men’s leader and a women’s leader left their spouses, wrote a good-bye note to their families, and disappeared together. As a plan for pastoral care gradually developed, over a dozen people in the church said “I should have said something.” They had observed the way the two leaders had interacted and spoken about each other, and they regretted their silence.

When sin becomes public, especially when it is sin that damages relationships or incurs legal problems, so many think, “I should have said something.” Yet we are slow to remember those mental notes. Our fear of people’s angry reactions, the myth that help is needed only when asked for, and our sense that we have no right to say anything because we ourselves are quite a mess—these contribute to safe relationships rather than loving ones.

Don’t Be Silent Out of Anger

If the sin has been against us, our anger is an even bigger problem than fear. The Old Testament puts it this way: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Lev. 19:17). When angry, we might be excellent at talking to others about someone’s sin, but wretched at talking to the actual sinner. Meanwhile, just a smidgeon of humility would remind us that we are rivaling the very sin we oppose as we stand in prideful judgment. If we are stuck in anger, we are the needy ones, and we ask for help.

Get Help

If we have any questions about how to proceed, we ask for help. We are part of a larger body, not private therapists, and we will often ask the larger body to help us to help others. And even when we ask for help, we proceed carefully. Confidences are important to us, and we want to speak well of people, so we might ask anonymously.

“I think I should speak to someone about something I witnessed. Could you help me know what to say and even whether I should say it?”

Just the Facts

Our task is to hold up a mirror so that others see themselves more than they see us. We tell what we have actually seen; we avoid interpretations and usually stay away from speaking of how the actions might have hurt or disappointed us—that can wait for another time.

”The other day I saw you walking down the street with Rich [not her husband]. Is everything okay? Should I be concerned?

”At the church meeting, you seemed pretty angry. I noticed that everyone went silent after you spoke, as if they were afraid to say anything. Could we talk about that?”

”You seemed on edge this morning. When I asked about your upcoming day, you said my question was stupid. Is something wrong?”

I was thinking about our conversation the other day. When you talked about Jackie, you seemed to be holding some things against her. Could we talk about that?”

”When we were talking about your marriage, everything was about her—it was all her fault—and nothing was your own. I know things are complicated, but isn’t our goal to be seeing our own faults long before we see our spouse’s?

Yes, any of those comments would be difficult for most of us. But we are compelled by love. How would we want to be approached by someone who is aware of our public sin?

Be Prepared for Possible Negative Reactions

It doesn’t always go well. The one we approach might get mad at us, which means we have probably identified something important. Anger is usually a self-indictment. Or the person becomes upset because we have been clumsy, self-righteous, or judgmental, in which case we are saddened, ask forgiveness, and grow in wisdom.

And what if the other person does not accept our words and refuses to hear? Perhaps we wait, perhaps we persist because the matter is so important, perhaps we get advice from a wise friend, or perhaps we enlist someone else who has witnessed the sinful behavior and go together (Matt. 18:15-16). Love is what orients us. Fear or anger will blind us, but love and the best interests of others are our guide.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 17, 2015

I was interested to read through a new little booklet written by Ian Hamilton, pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, England. In this work he means to show that Calvinism is both deeper and richer than the well-known 5 Points (a.k.a. TULIP). Calvinism at its best is also experiential, a word which Tom Nettles once helpfully described in this way: “An experiential theology, or experimental Calvinism, pursues the purposeful application of every doctrine to some area of life that needs further conformity to Christ’s perfect humanity.” Hamilton explains further:

Calvinism is natively experiential. Before it is a theological system, Calvinism is deeply affectional, God-centered, cross-magnifying religion. A man may loudly trumpet his adherence to the distinctive tenets of Calvinism, but if his life is not marked by delight in God and His gospel, his professed Calvinism is a sham. In other words, there is no such thing as “dead Calvinism.” Such is a theological oxymoron for one simple reason: Calvinism claims to be biblical religion, and biblical religion is not only profoundly theological, it is deeply experiential and engagingly affectional! Wherever men and women claim to be Calvinists, their lives and their ministries will pulse with life—the life of living, Spirit-inspired, Christ-glorifying, God-centered truth.

Hamilton goes on provide 8 fundamental features of the experiential Calvinist, and looks at the subject from a confessionally Reformed perspective. I would disagree with some of the finer points, such as his insistence that Reformed worship necessarily adheres to the regulative principle. Still, I found each of his points is very helpful.

  1. The experiential Calvinist honors God’s unconditional sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is never seen in Scripture as an excuse for believers to become passive. God’s sovereignty does not suspend human responsibility but rather embraces it. [This] is shown chiefly in God’s people giving themselves to consistent, faithful, heartfelt prayer. Nothing more honors God’s unconditional sovereignty than prayer.
  2. The experiential Calvinist cherishes God’s grace. Calvinism supremely rejoices in and placards the grace of God. … Experiential Calvinists are jealous to magnify the grace of God because it opens to us the heart of the God of grace.
  3. The experiential Calvinist has a deep sense of the sinfulness of sin. It is the greatest tragedy of our age that the supreme focus in much of the Christian church today is man, not God! Man and his needs, not God and His glory, is the organizing principle and central concern of much that passes for evangelical Christianity. Perhaps the greatest difference between us and our Reformation and Puritan forefathers is that they had high views of the glory of God and therefore deep views of the sinfulness of sin.
  4. The experiential Calvinist lives before God’s face. Experiential Calvinism has one preeminent concern: to glorify God. He recognizes that the only verdict that counts is God’s.
  5. The experiential Calvinist shapes all of life by the revelation of God’s unimpeachable holiness. The experiential Calvinist is … an obedience-loving believer. God’s commandments are his happy choice. … This piety is rooted in a love for God’s law. The experiential Calvinist loves God’s law. Experiential Calvinism seeks to give God’s holy law the place in the believer’s and church’s life that God’s holy Word gives it.
  6. The experiential Calvinist is content and satisfied with scriptural worship. Submission to the unconditional sovereignty of God is seen practically in submission to the authority and sufficiency of his holy Word. This means that the experiential Calvinist seeks to have his life and the church’s life contoured by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). This means that our worship can (and must) never be shaped and informed by the fads and fashions of the moment, but by the abiding precepts and principles of God’s Word. Historically, this has come to be known as the regulative principle.
  7. The experiential Calvinist pursues godly catholicity. From its inception, the Reformed faith was a multifaceted faith. To be sure it had a well-defined core of nonnegotiable doctrines. But it did not have and has never had one public face or particular theological expression. The Continental Reformed tradition, centered upon the Three Forms of Unity—the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort—is no less Reformed than its British and American Reformed counterpart within the tradition of the Westminster Standards.
  8. The experiential Calvinist cultivates communion with God. … Experiential Calvinism cherishes communion with God and understands that this communion requires two things: that we “receive” His love and that we “make suitable returns unto him.” The Father’s love is received “by faith” through Christ. “The soul being thus, by faith through Christ, and by him brought into the bosom of God, into a comfortable persuasion and spiritual perception and sense of his love, there reposes and rests itself.” But there is more: “God loves, that he may be loved.” So, we are to make “returns” of love to the Father. (Note: The quotes are from John Owen.)

Excerpted from What Is Experiential Calvinism? by Iain Hamilton.

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