Tim Keller’s – Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

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A “Must Have” Handbook for the Modern Preacher

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

Tim Keller is as Bostonians say “Wicked Smart.” He has also demonstrated humility, wisdom, and faithfulness through much suffering and success in planting one of the most successful and model ministries for City Churches of the world – Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, New York. He has also blessed Christians around the world with wonderful Christ centered and gospel centered resources.

I have read this book twice – in English and Spanish, I am also taking several bi-vocational pastors and elders in my church through this book. In my opinion it is the first go-to handbook for preachers in the 21st Century. Why? Let me give five reasons:

(1) Tim Keller practices what he preaches (a) Tim Keller preaches the Word – he has been preaching for over 45 years in both a semi-rural context and a large city context and knows how to preach to “blue-collar” and “white-collar” congregations; (b) He always preaches the gospel in every sermon; (c) He always preaches Christ whether he’s preaching from the Old or New Testaments; (d) He preaches culturally relevant messages without compromising biblical truth; (e) He preaches so as to help you love Christ with your mind; (f) He preaches so as to stir the soul/heart, which leads to real life change and Christ-like transformation; (g) He preaches with the unction or power of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Tim Keller gives examples, illustrations, principles, and theological reasons for why and how to do all of what he models in his own preaching (see #1 above).

(3) The extensive footnotes are worth gold. Make sure you don’t only read the book – read the footnotes! About 30% of the material in this book is in the notes. There is great stuff in the notes – you will feel like you are sitting with Tim over coffee with what he shares in the notes!

(4) Much of what Tim writes about you will not get in Bible college or Seminary. I didn’t get 80% of what he writes about in Bible college or seminary – I did get about 50% of what he talks about with a month sabbatical I spent taking preaching courses at Westminster Seminary. However, if you didn’t attend a seminary that is reformed you most likely missed how to get to Christ from all of the Scriptures.

(5) The last chapter of the book is also extremely helpful – he gives ample example, principles, and illustrations to help you write and preach an expository sermon.

Tim Keller knows what he’s talking about – when he’s pretty much talking about anything. However, what Keller is best at is preaching. You have the opportunity in reading and studying this book to learn from one of the best preacher’s of our time. 

James Montgomery Boice – “The Preacher And God’s Word”

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The Preacher and God’s Word

Anyone who thinks seriously about the state of preaching in the twenty-first century must notice a strange contradiction. On the one hand, there is a strong acknowledgment of the need for great preaching, usually defined as expository preaching. But on the other hand, good expository preaching has seldom been at a lower ebb. Evangelical (and even liberal) seminaries exhort their young men, “Be faithful in preaching…. Spend many hours in your study poring over the Bible…. Be sure that you give the people God’s Word and not merely your own opinions” (The author’s own theological training was received at Princeton Theological Seminary, a seminary hardly noted today for being strongly evangelical, though many of its students are. But in the homiletics department the greatest honor was given to expository preaching and the students were repeatedly urged to allow nothing to take the place of solid exegetical work in sermon preparation. The problem is that the admonitions are not followed by the vast majority of Princeton’s graduates, and the reason for this is that the concerns of the homiletics department are being undercut by the views of the Bible conveyed in the biblical departments). But in practice these admonitions are not heeded, and the ministers who emerge from the seminaries—whether because of poor instruction, lack of focus, or some other, undiagnosed cause—generally fail in this primary area of their responsibility.

Pulpit committees know this. So do the people who sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday. Many know what they want. They want a minister who will make his primary aim to teach the Bible faithfully week after week and also embody what he teaches in his personal life. But ministers like this from the standard denominations and even some others are hard to find and apparently are getting harder to find all the time. What is wrong? How are we able to explain this strange contradiction between what we say we want and what is actually produced by most of our seminaries?

Decline of Preaching

This problem is so obvious that a number of answers have inevitably been given, most of which contain some truth. One answer is that attention has been shifted from preaching to other needed aspects of the pastoral ministry: counseling, liturgies, small group dynamics, and other concerns. Hundreds of books about these diverse aspects of the ministry are appearing every year, many of them best sellers, but there are not many valuable books on preaching. There are some, but they are not very popular. And one cannot really imagine a work like Clarence Macartney’s Preaching Without Notes attracting anywhere near the degree of attention in the seventies as it attracted just thirty years ago. Clearly the attention of a great majority of ministers is being directed away from expository preaching to other concerns.

On the surface, then, this seems to be a valid explanation of the decline of good preaching, and one might even tend to justify the decline temporarily if, so we might argue, these other equally important concerns are being rediscovered. But the trouble with this view is that these concerns need not be set in opposition to good preaching and, indeed, must not. In fact, the greatest periods of faithful expository preaching were inevitably accompanied by the highest levels of sensitivity to the presence of God in worship and the greatest measure of concern for the cure of souls.

The Puritans are a great example, though one could cite the Reformation period or the age of the evangelical awakening in England as well. The Puritans abounded in the production of expository material. We think of the monumental productions of men like Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), Richard Baxter (1615- 1691), John Owen (1616-1683), Thomas Watson (d. 1686), John Flavel (1627-1691), Jonathan Edwards (1702-1758), and that later Puritan Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). These men produced material so serious in its nature and so weighty in its content that few contemporary pastors are even up to reading it. Yet common people followed these addresses in former times and were moved by them. Worship services were characterized by a powerful sense ofGod’s presence, and those who did such preaching and led such services were no less concerned with the individual problems, temptations, and growth of those under their care. Who in recent years has produced a work on pastoral counseling to equal Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (1656)? Who has analyzed the movement of God in individual lives as well as did Jonathan Edwards in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions (1737) and Religious Affections (1746) or Archibald Alexander in his Thoughts on Religious Experience (1844)? Questions like these should shake us out of self-satisfied complacency and show that we are actually conducting our pastoral care, worship, and preaching at a seriously lower level.

Another explanation given for the current decline in preaching is the contemporary distrust of oratory. Again, there is some truth to this. The decline in popularity of orators such as William Jennings Bryan has been accompanied by a decline in the popularity of oratorical preaching by men like Henry Ward Beecher and his more recent successors. But the trouble with this explanation is that great preaching is not inseparably wedded to any one style of preaching. Indeed, the Puritans themselves were not commonly great orators. And, for that matter, good speakers are not really unpopular today, though today’s popular style is somewhat different from that of a previous age. John Kennedy was quite eloquent, for example, and he was highly regarded for it.

The trouble with these explanations of the decline of preaching is that each is based on an external cause. They deal with the mind-set of the secular world. What is really needed is an explanation that deals with the state of the contemporary church and with the mind-set of her ministers.

What is the answer in this area? The answer is that the current decline in preaching is due, not to external causes, but to a prior decline in a belief in the Bible as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God on the part of the church’s theologians, seminary professors, and those ministers who are trained by them. Quite simply, it is a loss of confidence in the existence of a sure Word from God. Here the matter of inerrancy and authority go together. For it is not that those who abandon inerrancy as a premise on which to approach the Scriptures necessarily abandon a belief in their authority. On the contrary, they often speak of the authority of the Bible most loudly precisely when they are abandoning the inerrancy position. It is rather that, lacking the conviction that the Bible is without error in the whole and in its parts, these scholars and preachers inevitably approach the Bible differently from inerrantists, whatever may be said verbally. In their work the Bible is searched (to the degree that it is searched) for whatever light it may shed on the world and life as the minister sees them and not as that binding and overpowering revelation that tells us what to think about the world and life and even formulates the questions we should be asking about them.

Nothing is sadder than the loss of this true authority, particularly when the preacher does not even know it. The problem is seen in a report of a panel discussion involving a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister. The rabbi stood up and said, “I speak according to the law of Moses.” The priest said, “I speak according to the tradition of the Church.” But the minister said, “It seems to me….” (Of course, Judaism and Roman Catholicism are also undergoing their own struggles with the question of authority. The anecdote must involve an orthodox rabbi, a tradition- oriented priest, and an average Protestant clergyman).

It is hard to miss the connection between belief in the inerrancy of Scripture issuing in a commitment to expound it faithfully, on the one hand, and a loss of this belief coupled to an inability to give forth a certain sound, on the other. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one who makes the connection. He writes on the decline of great preaching:

I would not hesitate to put in the first position [for the decline]: the loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures, and a diminution in the belief of the Truth. I put this first because I am sure it is the main factor. If you have not got authority, you cannot speak well, you cannot preach. Great preaching always depends upon great themes. Great themes always produce great speaking in any realm, and this is particularly true, of course, in the realm of the Church. While men believed in the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God and spoke on the basis of that authority you had great preaching. But once that went, and men began to speculate, and to theorize, and to put up hypotheses and so on, the eloquence and the greatness of the spoken word inevitably declined and began to wane. You cannot really deal with speculations and conjectures in the same way as preaching had formerly dealt with the great themes of the Scriptures. But as belief in the great doctrines of the Bible began to go out, and sermons were replaced by ethical addresses and homilies, and moral uplift and socio-political talk, it is not surprising that preaching declined. I suggest that this is the first and the greatest cause of this decline (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971], p. 13. Lloyd-Jones also cites a reaction against “pulpiteering” [in which he is thinking along lines similar to my remarks about oratory] and “publication of sermons” as literary productions).

Lloyd-Jones is right in the main in this analysis. So our first thesis is that the contemporary decline in great (expository) preaching is due in large measure to a loss of belief in biblical authority and that this loss is itself traceable to a departure from that high view of inspiration that includes inerrancy.

Word Or Deed?

But there is a problem at this point. The problem is that those who approach preaching in this way are accused of making the Bible their God and of centering the gospel in a book rather than in the divine acts of God in history, which is where it should be, according to their critics.

There are various forms of this latter perspective. On the one hand, there is a valuable emphasis on the specific “acts” ofGod. An example of this is the work of G. Ernest Wright entitled The God Who Acts. In this study Wright stresses the acts rather than the Word of God, saying, “The Word is certainly present in the Scripture, but it is rarely, ifever, dissociated from the Act; instead it is the accompaniment of the Act” (G. Ernest Wright, God Who Acts [London: SCM, 1952], p. 12. In more recent writing Wright has broadened this view considerably, stressing that a biblical Act is not merely a historical happening but rather one in which the Word of God is also present to interpret and give it meaning – cf. The Old Testament and Theology [New York: Harper, 1969], p. 48).

He points to the Exodus as the event on which the giving of the law is based (Exod. 20:1-3) and to the signs given to and by the prophets. According to Wright, it is the act that is primary. Another form of this critique is held by those who emphasize the revelation of God to the individual in such a way that personal experience rather than the Word of God becomes decisive. What should we say to these emphases? Are those who emphasize the Word in their preaching bibliolaters? Do they worship the Bible? Have they distorted the Bible’s own teaching through their excessive veneration of it?

Not at all! It is true that the acts ofGod can be overlooked in a certain kind of preoccupation with linguistic and other textual problems. But this is more often the error of the Old or New Testament scholar than the preacher. Actually, a hearty emphasis on the Word ofGod is itself profoundly biblical, and it is even mandatory if one is to appreciate the acts of God prophesied, recorded, and interpreted in the Scriptures.

Which comes first, the word or the deed? The most common answer is the deed, which the word is then seen to interpret. But this is a distortion of the biblical picture. Certainly the acts ofGod are of major importance in the Bible and in Christian experience. But it is inaccurate to say that the deeds come first. Rather, the Word comes first, then the deeds, then a further interpretation of the deeds scripturally.

Let me give a number of key examples. First, the creation. It is possible to argue that God created the world initially and then interpreted the creation to us in the opening pages of the Bible and elsewhere. But this is not the way the Bible itself presents this matter. What Genesis says is that first there is God, after that the Word of God, and then creation. God spoke, and after that the things about which God spoke came into being. The words “and God said” are the dominant feature of the opening chapter of Genesis (vv. 3, 6, 14, 20, 24, 26). Only after that does God “see” (vv. 4, 10, 12, 19, 21, 25), “separate” (vv. 4, 7), “call” (vv. 5, 8, 10), “make” (vv. 7, 16, 25), “set” (v. 17), “create” (vv. 21, 27), “bless” (vv. 22, 28), and explain to the first man and woman what he has done (vv. 28-30).

The second example is the call of Abraham, the next great step in the unfolding of God’s purposes. There is nothing in Abraham’s story to indicate that God acted in any particular way to call Abraham. We read rather, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing”‘ (Gen. 12:1, 2). It was after receiving this word of promise that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him” (v. 4). Faith in the divine promise characterized Abraham, and it is for his response to the Word ofGod, even in the absence of the deed, that Abraham is praised: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb. 11:8), “And he [Abraham] believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6).

A third example of the primacy of the word to deed is the Exodus itself, so often cited in precisely the opposite fashion. Here we do have a mighty intervention ofGod in history on the part of his people, and it is certainly true that the ethical standards of the Old Testament are imposed on the grounds of this deliverance (“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. … You shall have no other gods before me,” Exod. 20: 2, 3). But this does not mean that the deed precedes the word. Rather the deliverance was fully prophesied beforehand to Abraham (Gen. 15: 13, 14) and was announced to Moses as the basis on which he was to go to Pharaoh with the command to let God’s people go (Exod. 3:7-10).

The same is true of the coming ofJesus Christ. This fourth example is the greatest illustration of the intervention of God in history. But the event was preceded by the word even here, through prophecies extending back as far as the germinal announcement of a future deliverer to Eve at the time of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) and continuing up to and including the announcement of the impending birth to Zechariah the priest (Luke 1: 17), Joseph (Matt. 1:20-23), Mary (Luke 1:30-33), and others who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25-27,36-38). Emphasis on the word of God and faith in that word in reference to the coming of Christ is particularly evident in David’s great prayer in 2 Samuel 7. God has just established his covenant with David, promising that his throne should be established forever. David responded:

Who am I, O Lord Goo, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in thy eyes, O Lord God: thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord God! And what more can David say to thee? For thou knowest thy servant, O Lord God! Because of thy promise, and according to thy own heart, thou hast wrought all this greatness, to make thy servant know it. . . . And now, O LORD God, confirm for ever the word which thou hast spoken concerning thy servant and concern- ing his house, and do as thou hast spoken; and thy name will be magnified for ever, saying, ‘The LORD of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of thy servant David will be established before thee. For thou, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, hast made this revelation to thy servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore thy servant has found courage to pray this prayer to thee. And now, O Lord God, thou art God, and thy words are true, and thou hast promised this good thing to thy servant; now therefore may it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee; for thou, O Lord God, hast spoken, and with thy blessing shall the house of thy servant be blessed for ever (vv. 18-21, 25-29).

In these words David exercises faith in the word ofGod primarily. A final example of the primacy of the word is Pentecost, which inaugurated the present age of the church. Peter, who was the spokesman for the other disciples on that occasion, recognized immediately that this was nothing other than the fulfillment of God’s promise to Joel regarding a future outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem … these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams'” (Acts 2:14-17).

As the Bible presents the matter, in each of these key moments in the divine economy, the word ofGod rather than the deed of God is primary, though of course in some cases the actual writing of the biblical material followed both. This is not meant to suggest that the actual intervention of God is unimportant, for, of course, that is not true. It is of major importance. But it is meant to say that we are not getting the emphasis reversed when we follow the biblical pattern and stress the actual word or promise of God in contemporary preaching. This does not undermine God’s acts. The promise is about them. It merely places them in the context in which God himself places them in Scripture.

So the second thesis is that an emphasis on the Word of God in today’s preaching is demanded by the very nature of God’s revelation of him self in history. It is declared of God through the psalmist, “Thou hast exalted above everything thy name and thy word” (Ps. 138:2).

Having recognized the primacy of the word in God’s own dealings with the human race, it is not at all difficult to note the primacy of the word in that early Christian preaching recorded in the New Testament.

Peter’s great sermon given on the day of Pentecost is an example. Peter and the other disciples had experienced a visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested by the sound of a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire that had rested on each of the disciples (Acts 2:1-3). They had begun to speak so that others heard them in a variety of languages (v. 4). In addition to this, they had all just been through the traumatic and then exhilarating experiences of the crucifixion, resurrection, visible appearance, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. These were heady experiences. Yet when Peter stood up to preach on Pentecost, he did not dwell on his or anyone else’s experiences, as many in our day might have done, but rather preached a profoundly biblical sermon centered on specific biblical passages. 

The format was as follows: First, there are three verses of introduction intended to link the present manifestations of the outpouring of the Spirit to God’s prophecy of that even in Joel. These were a lead-in to the major text. Second, Peter cites the prophecy in Joel at length, giving a total of five verses to it. Third, there is a declaration of the guilt of the men of Jerusalem in Christ’s death, which, however, was in full accordance with the plan and foreknowlege of God, as Peter indicates. This takes three verses. Fourth, there is an extended quotation from Psalm 16:8-11, occupying four verses. These stress the victory ofChrist over death through his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Fifth, there is an exposition of the sixteenth psalm, occupying five verses. Sixth, there is a further two-verse quotation from Psalm 11: 1, again stressing the supremacy of Christ. Seventh, there is a one-verse summary.

Peter’s procedure is to quote the ‘Old Testament and then explain it and after that to quote more ofthe Old Testament and explain it, and so on. Moreover, the Scripture predominates. For although there are eleven verses of Scripture versus twelve for other matters, much of the material in the twelve verses is intro- ductory to the Scripture and the rest is explanation.

Peter’s procedure does not demand that every subsequent Christian sermon follow precisely the same pattern.We know that even the other New Testament preachers did not preach in the same way that Peter did; each rather followed a pattern deter- mined by his own gifts and understanding. But the sermon does suggest the importance that Peter gave to the actual words ofGod recorded in the Old Testament and the concern he had to inter- pret the events of his time in light of them.

One chapter farther on we have another example of Peter’s preaching. This time his outline was slightly different, for he began with a more extended statement of what God had done in

Jesus Christ, in whose name the lame man had just been healed. But this quickly leads to the statement that all that had happened to Jesus had been foretold by God through the prophets (Acts 3: 18) and then to two specific examples of such prophecy: Deuteronomy 18:18, 19 (cited in vv. 22, 23) and Genesis 22:18 (cited in v. 25). The burden of each of these sermons is not the current activity ofGod in Christ and/ or the Holy Spirit alone, still less the subjective experience of such activity by Peter or the others. Rather it is the activity of God as proclaimed in the Scriptures: “God has promised to do these things, and he has done them. Now, therefore, repent and believe the gospel.”

Peter was concerned to affirm that God had said certain things about the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, that he had said these in certain specific passages and words of the Old Testament, and that God was now fulfilling these promises precisely. In other words, in his preaching and thinking Peter gave full authority to the very words of Scripture as the words of God.

Peter’s own formal statement of his attitude to the Word is in 2 Peter I: 19-21. “And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse ofman, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

In his discussion of this text and others like it, Dewey M. Beegle argues that since Peter was not in possession of the original autographs of Scripture and does not refer his statement to them explicitly, he is referring therefore only to errant copies and cannot be saying that they are inerrant in accordance with a specific theory of verbal inspiration. He concludes, “There is no explicit indication in this passage that Peter made any essential distinction between the originals and the copies. The important teaching is that the Scriptures had their origin in God; therefore the copies that Peter’s readers had were also to be considered as being from God and thus worthy of their careful study” (Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], p. 155).

But surely to argue that Peter did not believe in an inerrant Scripture in this way is merely to read a twentieth-century distinction into Peter’s situation where it does not belong. Certainly Peter is not making a distinction between the originals and copies. That isjust the point. He is not even thinking in these terms. If someone would point out an error in one of his copies, he would readily acknowledge it-obviously the error got in somewhere-but still say precisely the same thing: that is, that the Old Testament is God’s Word in its entirety. It is “from God” (v. 21). Consequently, it is “more sure” even than the theophany that he and two other disciples had been privileged to witness on the Mount of Transfiguration (vv. 16-19). (A clear example of the fallacy of this kind of argument is Beegle’s similar treatment of the often quoted words of Augustine to Jerome, “I have learned to pay them [the canonical books] such honor and respect as to believe most firmly that not one of their authors has erred in writing anything at all” {Epistle 82, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 12, “St. Augustine: Letters 1-82,” trans. Wilfrid Parsons [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1951], p. 392}. Beegle disregards this statement because we know: 1) that Augustine read the Bible in a Latin translation made from the Septuagint, 2) that this version was errant, and 3) that Augustine was therefore wrong in regarding it so highly [Scripture, Tradition, and lnfallibility, p. 137]. But Augustine was no fool at this point. He knew there were errors in the various translations and copies. In fact, his letter goes on to say, ” If I do find anything in those books which seems contrary to truth, I decide that either the text is corrupt, or the translator did not follow what was really said, or that I failed to understand it.” Still Augustine says that the Bible, as God’s Word, can be fully trusted. He believed that, as originally given, it was an inerrant revelation, and the copies [except where it can be shown that errors in text or translation have crept in] can be regarded and quoted as those inerrant originals).

Peter is not the only one whose sermons are recorded in Acts, of course. Stephen is another. Stephen was arrested by the Sanhedrin on the charge of speaking “blasphemous words against [the law of] Moses and God,” and he replied with a defense that occupies nearly the whole of Acts 7. This sermon contains a comprehensive review of the dealings of God with Israel, beginning with the call of Abraham and ending with the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ. It is filled with Old Testament quotations. Its main point is that those who were defending the law were not obeying it. Rather, like those before them, they were resisting the Word of God and killing God’s prophets (Acts 7:51-53).

Acts 13 marks the beginning of the missionary journeys of Paul and contains the first full sermon of Paul recorded. It is a combination of the kinds of sermons preached by Peter on Pentecost and Stephen on the occasion of his trial before the Sanhedrin. Paul begins as Stephen did, pointing out to theJews of the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia that God, who had dealt with the people of Israel for many years, had promised repeatedly to send a Savior, who has now come. He points out that this one is Jesus, whose story he briefly relates. Then he offers his texts, citing in rapid sequence Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33), Isaiah 55:3 (v. 34), and Psalm 16:10 (v. 35). These are explained, and then there is a concluding quotation from Habakkuk 1:5 (v. 41). Clearly the emphasis is on these verses.

On the next Sabbath in the same city many came together to hear this gospel, but the Jews were jealous and spoke against it. Paul responded by preaching a sermon on Isaiah 49:6, “I have sent you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

So it is throughout the other sermons in Acts. The only apparent exception is Paul’s well-known address to the Athenians, re- corded in chapter 17. In this address the apostle begins, not with Scripture, but with quotations from the altars of the Athenians and from Greek poetry, and he never gets to Scripture. But one must remember that Paul’s sermon was interrupted at the point at which he began to speak of the resurrection. Can we think that if he had been allowed to continue he would have failed to mention that this was in fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, as he did when he reached this same point in other sermons? Besides, even if he would not have quoted Scripture on this occasion, it would only mean that he departed from his normal procedure. It would not mean that he regarded the very words of God, recorded in the Old Testament, less highly.

We conclude that each of the New Testament preachers is concerned to proclaim God’s word as fulfilled in the events of his own lifetime. Moreover, his emphasis is on this word rather than on his own subjective experiences or any other less important matter. The thesis that emerges at this point, our third, is that preaching that is patterned on the preaching of the apostles and other early witnesses will always be biblical in the sense that the very words of the Bible will be the preacher’s text and his aim will be a faithful exposition and application of them. This cannot be done if the preacher is sitting in judgment on the Word rather than sitting under it.

“Higher” Criticism

But how can the preacher honestly treat the Bible in this way in view of the development of biblical studies in the last century? We might understand how such an “uncritical” attitude would be possible for the early Christian preachers. They probably did not even consider the problem in adhering to an inerrant and there- fore totally authoritative Bible when they actually had only “errant” copies to work from, for they did not know the full extent of the difficulties. But we do know. We “know” there are errors. We “know” that the Bible is not one harmonious whole but rather a composite work consisting of many different and often conflicting viewpoints. Is it not true that we must simply give up the biblical approach because of the assured findings of archaeology, history, and, above all, higher criticism? Are we not actually compelled to treat the Bible differently?

Our “knowledge” that the Bible contains errors and is a composite and often contradictory work is said to be the reason for the overthrow of the old inerrancy position. But is it? When looked at from the outside, this seems to be the reason. But confidence is shaken when we realize that most of the alleged errors in the Bible are not recent discoveries, due to historical criticism and other scholarly enterprises, but are only difficulties known centuries ago to most serious Bible students. Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and many others were aware of these problems. Yet they did not feel compelled to jettison the orthodox conception of the Scriptures because of them. Either they were blatantly inconsistent, which is a difficult charge to make of men of their scholarly stature, or else they had grounds for believing the Bible to be inerrant-grounds that were greater than the difficulties occasioned by the few problem passages or apparent errors.

What grounds could there be? The basic foundation of their belief, borne in upon them by their own careful study of the Bible and (as they would say) the compelling witness of the Holy Spirit to them through that study, was the conviction that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely the Word of God and are therefore entirely reliable and truthful, as God is truthful.

What grounds could there be? The basic foundation of their belief, borne in upon them by their own careful study of the Bible and (as they would say) the compelling witness of the Holy Spirit to them through that study, was the conviction that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are uniquely the Word of God and are therefore entirely reliable and truthful, as God is truthful.

Divine truthfulness was the rock beneath their approach to Scripture. Their study of the Bible led them to this conclusion, and thereafter they approached the difficulties of biblical interpretation from this premise.

This approach has characterized the majority of their heirs in the Reformation churches down to and including many at the present time, although not all inerrantists feel obligated to use this approach (Some simply accept the Bible for what it claims to be and then operate on that premise. Thoughtful exponents of this view feel that any other approach is unwarranted and even presumptuous if the Bible is truly God’s Word [“If it is, how can we presume to pass judgment on it?”]). In fuller form, the argument has been presented as follows:

1. The Bible is a reliable and generally trustworthy document. This is established by treating it like any other historical record, such as the works ofJosephus or the accounts of war by Julius Caesar.

2. On the basis of the history recorded by the Bible we have sufficient reason for believing that the central character of the Bible, Jesus Christ, did what he is claimed to have done and therefore is who he claimed to be. He claimed to be the unique Son of God.

3. As the unique Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is an infallible authority.

4. Jesus Christ not only assumed the Bible’s authority; he taught it, going so far as to teach that it is entirely without error and is eternal, being the Word of God: “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5: 18).

5. If the Bible is the Word of God, as Jesus taught, it must for this reason alone be entirely trustworthy and inerrant, for God is a God of truth.

6. Therefore, on the basis of the teaching of Jesus Christ, the infallible Son ofGod, the church believes the Bible also to be infallible (This classical approach to the defense ofScripture is discussed at length by R.C. Sproul in “The Case for lnerrancy: A Methodological Analysis,” in God’s lnerrant Word, ed. John Warwick Montgomery [Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974], pp. 248-60. It is the element most lacking in Earl Palmer, “The Pastor as a Biblical Christian,” in Biblical Authority, ed. Jack Rogers [Waco: Word, 1977]. Palmer speaks of a fourfold mandate given by Jesus Christ to every Christian: to grow in our relationship with God, to love our neighbor, to share the gospel, and to build up the body of Christ [p. 127]. But as true and important as these four items are, they do not express the whole of our obligation as Christians. We are to believe and follow Christ in all things, including his words about Scripture. And this means that Scripture is to be for us what it was to him: the unique, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God, and not merely a human testimony to Christ, however carefully guided and preserved by God. If the Bible is less than this to us, we are not fully Christ’s disciples).

The negative criticism of our day does not approach the Bible in this way. Rather, it approaches it on the premise of naturalism, a philosophy that denies the supernatural or else seeks to place it in an area of reality beyond investigation. It is this philosophy, rather than the alleged errors, that is the primary reason for rejection of the inerrancy position by such scholars.

Critical views of the Bible are constantly changing, of course, and at any one time they exist in a bewildering variety of forms. Currently we think of the Bultmannian school in Germany, the post-Bultmannians, the Heilsgeschichte school of Oscar Cullmann and his followers, and others. These views are competing. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics that tie the various forms of higher criticism together.

One characteristic is that the Bible is considered man’s word about God and man rather than God’s word about and to man. We recognize, of course, that the Bible does have a genuine human element. When Peter wrote that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” he taught that it is men who spoke just as surely as he taught that their words were from God. We must reject any attempt to make the Bible divine rather than human just as we reject any attempt to make it human rather than divine. But recognizing that the Bible is human is still a long way from saying that it is not uniquely God’s word to us in our situation and merely human thoughts about God, which is what the negative higher criticism does. The view that the Bible is man’s word about God is simply the old romantic liberalism introduced into theology by Friedrich D.E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), namely that “the real subject matter of theology is not divinely revealed truths, but human religious experience,” as Packer indicates (J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 148). Is this the case? The answer to this question will determine how and even if one can preach the Word of God effectively.

A second characteristic of much higher criticism is its belief that the Bible is the result of an evolutionary process. This has been most evident in Old Testament studies in the way the documentary theory of the Pentateuch has developed. But it is also apparent in Bultmann’s form-criticism, which views the New Testament as the product of the evolving religious consciousness of the early Christian communities.

Again, we acknowledge that there is a certain sense in which God may be said to unfold his revelation to men gradually so that a doctrine may be said to develop throughout the Scriptures. But this is not the same thing as saying that the religious expressions of the Bible have themselves developed in the sense that the negative critical school intends. In their view, early and primitive understandings of God and reality give way to more developed conceptions, from which it also follows that the “primitive” ideas may be abandoned for more contemporary ones. Crude notions, such as the wrath of God, sacrifice, and a visible second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be jettisoned. So may various aspects of church government and biblical ethics. If we decide that homosexuality is not a sin today, so be it. We can even cite the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit in revealing new truth to us in support of our rejection of such “outmoded” ethics. If we find Paul’s strictures regarding the role of men and women in the government of the church obsolete, we can just disregard them. Such thoughts are blasphemous! Yet this is what flows from the essential outlook of today’s higher criticism.

The third characteristic of much higher criticism follows directly upon the first two; namely, that we must go beyond the Scriptures if we are to find God’s will for our day.

But suppose the preacher is convinced by the Scripture and by the authority ofChrist that the Bible is indeed God’s word to man rather than merely man’s word about God, that it is one consistent and harmonious divine revelation and not the result of an evolutionary process, that it is to the Scriptures and not to outside sources that we must go for revelation. We must still ask: Can he actually proceed like this today? Is this not to fly in the face of all evidence? Is it not dishonest? The answer is: Not at all. His procedure is simply based on what he knows the Bible to be.

We may take the matter of sacrifices as an example. Everyone recognized that sacrifices play a large role in the Old Testament and that they are not so important in the New Testament. Why is this? How are we to regard them? Here the negative critic brings in his idea of an evolving religious conscience. He supposes that sacrifices are important in the most primitive forms of religion. They are to be explained by the individual’s fear of the gods or God. God is imagined to be a capricious, vengeful deity. Worshipers try to appease him by sacrifice. This seems to be the general idea of sacrifice in the other pagan religions of antiquity. It is assumed for the religion of the ancient Semite peoples too.

In time, however, this view ofGod is imagined to give way to a more elevated conception of him. When this happens, God is seen to be not so much a God of capricious wrath as a God of justice. So law begins to take a more prominent place, eventually replacing sacrifice as the center of religion. Finally, the worshipers rise to the conception ofGod as a God of love, and at this point sacrifice disappears entirely. The critic who thinks this way might fix the turning point at the coming of Jesus Christ as the result of his teachings. Therefore, today he would disregard both sacrifices and the wrath of God as outmoded concepts.

By contrast, the person who believes the Bible to be the unique and authoritative Word of God works differently. He begins by noting that the Old Testament does indeed tell a great deal about the wrath of God. But he adds that this element is hardly eliminated as one goes on through the Bible, most certainly not from the New Testament. It is, for instance, an important theme of Paul. Or again, it emerges strongly in the Book of Revelation, where we read of God’s just wrath eventually being poured out against the sins of a rebellious and ungodly race. Nor is this all. The idea of sacrifice is also present throughout the Scriptures. It is true that the detailed sacrifices of the Old Testament system are no longer performed in the New Testament churches. But this is not because a supposed primitive conception of God has given way to a more advanced one, but rather because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of himself has completed and superseded them all, as the Book of Hebrews clearly maintains. For this person the solution is not to be found in an evolving conception ofGod, for God is always the same-a God of wrath toward sin, a God of love toward the sinner. Rather, it is to be found in God’s progressing revelation of himself to men and women, a revelation in which the sacrifices (for which God gives explicit instructions) are intended to teach both the dreadfully serious nature of sin and the way in which God has always determined to save sinners. The sacrifices point to Christ. Therefore John the Baptist, using an integral part of ancient Jewish life that all would understand, is able to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Peter can write, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

In this the data is the same. The only difference is that one scholar approaches Scripture looking for contradiction and development. The other has been convinced that God has written it and therefore looks for unity, allowing one passage to throw light on another. The Westminster Confession put this goal well in saying, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” [I, ix]. (I discuss the higher criticism at greater length in The Sovereign God [Downers Grove, Ill.: lnterVarsity, I978], pp. 97- I09. The preceding five paragraphs are borrowed from pp. 113-15.

The thesis that emerges from this discussion is that higher criticism does not make the highest possible view of the Scripture untenable. On the contrary, higher criticism must be judged and corrected by the biblical revelation.

Regeneration

Not only does God exalt his name and his very words in the Scriptures and likewise in the preaching of that Word, but he also exalts his Word in the saving of men and women. For it is by his Word and Spirit, and not by testimonies, eloquent arguments, or emotional appeals, that he regenerates the one who apart from that regeneration is spiritually dead. ‘Peter states it thus: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

There are many moving images for the Word of God in the Bible. We are told in the Psalms that the Bible is “a lamp” to our feet and “a light” to our path (Ps. 119: 105). Jeremiah compares it to “a fire” and to “a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). It is “milk” to the one who is yet an infant in Christ (1 Peter 2:2) as well as “solid food” to the one who is more mature (Heh. 5:11-14). The Bible is a “sword” (Heh. 4:12; Eph. 6:17), a “mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12; James 1:23), a “custodian” (Gal. 3:24), a “branch” grafted into our bodies James 1:21). These are great images, but none is so bold as the one Peter used in this passage: the Word is like human sperm. Peter uses this image, for he wishes to show that it is by means of the Word that God engenders spiritual children.

In the first chapter Peter has been talking about the means by which a person enters the family of God. First, he has discussed the theme objectively, saying that it is on the basis of Christ’s vicarious death that we are redeemed. “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (vv. 18, 19). Second, he has discussed the theme subjectively, pointing out that it is through faith that the objective work of Christ is applied to us personally. “Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21). Finally, having mentioned these truths, Peter goes on to discuss the new birth in terms of God’s sovereign grace in election, this time showing that we are born again by means of the Word of God, which he then likens to the male element in procreation. The Vulgate makes this clearer than most English versions, for the word there is semen.

What does this teach about the way in which a man or woman becomes a child ofGod? It teaches that God is responsible for the new birth and that the means by which he accomplishes this is his living and abiding Word. We might even say that God does a work prior to this, for he first sends the ovum of saving faith into the heart. Even faith is not of ourselves, it is the “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Afterward, when the sperm of the Word is sent to penetrate the ovum of saving faith, there is a spiritual conception.

The same ideas are in view in James 1: 18, which says, “Of his own will he brought us forth [‘begot he us,’ KJV] by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

The point of these verses is that it is by means of the very words of God recorded in the Scriptures and communicated to the individual heart by the Holy Spirit that God saves the individual. It is as Calvin says, in speaking of faith:

Faith needs the Word as much as fruit needs the living root of a tree. For no others, as David witnesses, can hope in God but those who know his name (Ps. 9: l 0) . . . . This knowledge does not arise out of anyone’s imagination, but only so far as God himself is witness to his goodness. This the prophet confirms in another place: “Thy salvation [is] according to thy word” (Ps. 119:41). Likewise, “I have hoped in thy word; make me safe” (Ps. 119:4, 40, 94). Here we must first note the relation of faith to the Word, then its consequence, salvation (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), Vol. I, pp. 576, 577).

Is it really the Word that God uses in the salvation of the individual? If it is, if God chooses so to operate, then the preacher can hardly fail to give the words of God the fullest measure of prominence in his preaching. He will revere them as that super- natural gift without which nothing that he desires to see happen within the life of the individual will happen.

We conclude that the texts of the Bible should be preached as the very (and therefore inerrant) Word of God if for no other reason than that they are the means God uses in the spiritual rebirth of those who thereby become his children.

A Fork In The Road

It is often said by those who adhere to inerrancy that a departure from the orthodox view of the Scripture at this point inevitably leads to a decline in adherence to orthodox views in other areas. This would no doubt be true ifall deviators were consistent, but it is hard to demonstrate that this is always true, since one individual is not always as rigorous in carrying out the full impli- cations of a position as another. It is enough to say that this has happened enough times with those who have entered the ministry to concern deeply anyone who sincerely desires the stability and growth of evangelicals and evangelical institutions.

On the other hand, and this is perhaps even more significant, many of those who have wrestled. through the problem of the Bible’s inerrancy or noninerrancy and have come Jut on the inerrancy side, testify to this as the turning point in their minis- tries, as that step without which they would not have been able to preach with the measure ofpower and success granted to them by the ministration of the Holy Spirit. I can testify that this has been true in my own experience. As pastor of a church that has seen many hundreds ofyoung men go into the ministry through years of seminary training, I can testify that this has been the turning point for the majority ofthem as well. It is sometimes said by those who take another position that inerrantists have just not faced the facts about the biblical material. This is not true. These men have faced them. But they are convinced that in spite of those things that they themselves may not fully understand or that seem to be errors according to the present state of our understanding, the Bible is nevertheless the inerrant Word ofGod, simply because it is the Word of God, and that it is only when it is proclaimed as such that it brings the fullest measure of spiritual blessing.

May God raise up many in our time who believe this and are committed to the full authority of the Word of God, whatever the consequences. In desiring that “Thus saith the Lord” be the basis for the authority of our message, the seminaries, whether liberal or conservative, are right. But we will never be able to say this truthfully or effectively unless we speak on the basis of an inerrant Scripture. We are not in the same category as the prophets. God has not granted us a primary revelation. We speak only because others, moved uniquely by the Holy Spirit, have spoken. But because of this we do speak, and we speak with authority to the degree that we hold to what Charles Haddon Spurgeon called “the ipsissima verba, the very words of the Holy Ghost” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954], p. 73).

We need a host of those who have heard that Word and who are not afraid to proclaim it to a needy but rebellious generation.

*Article adapted from James Montgomery Boice “The Preacher and God’s Word” – Chapter 5 in The Foundation of Biblical Authority, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI., 1978

About the Author: James Montgomery Boice was for many years pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the speaker on the Bible Study Hour radio program heard weekly from coast to coast. He was a graduate of Harvard College, A.B.; Princeton Theological Seminary, B.D.; and the University of Basel, Switzerland, D. TheoL. He served as assistant editor of Christianity Today before becoming pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Dr. Boice is the author of Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John; Philippians: An Expositional Commentary; The Sermon on the Mount; How to Really Live It Up; How God Can Use Nobodies; The Last and Future World; The Gospel ofJohn (5 vols.); “Galatians” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary; Can You Run Away From God?; Our Sovereign God, editor; The Sovereign God; and God the Redeemer. He was chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and was on the Board of Directors of The Stony Brook School and Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns.

5 Things To Pray For Your Pastor

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5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2020

By Nicholas Batzig

As a pastor, I sometimes mistakenly think that those most in need of my prayers in the church are those who have the most noticeable spiritual or physical weaknesses. I would imagine that, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all thought or said at some time or another something along the lines of, “So-and-so is really going to need a lot of prayer.” On the one hand, it is entirely right that we acknowledge that our brothers and sisters who have more noticeable weaknesses have a great need for our prayers. On the other hand, however, those to whom God has given the most gifts and graces are also greatly in need of our prayers. Contrary to what some might suppose, ministers of the gospel desperately need the prayers of the saints.

Pastors need the saints’ prayers because they are ever the object of the flaming arrows of the evil one. In addition, the world is eager to run them over at any opportunity. As one of my seminary professors so illustratively put it, “Ministers have a bull’s eye on their backs and footprints up their chests.” Sadly, this is even a reality for pastors within the context of the local church.

With so much opposition and difficulty within and without, pastors constantly need the people of God to be praying for them. The shepherd needs the prayers of the sheep as much as they need his prayers. He also is one of Christ’s sheep and is susceptible to the same weaknesses. While there are many things one could pray for pastors, here are five straightforward scriptural categories:

1. Pray for their spiritual protection from the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Whether it was Moses’ sinful anger leading to his striking of the rock (Num. 20:7-12), David’s adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11), or Simon Peter’s denial of the Lord (Matt. 26:69-75) and practical denial of justification by faith alone (Gal. 2:11-21), ministers are faced with the reality of the weakness of the flesh, the assaults of the world, and the rage of the devil. There have been a plethora of ministers who have fallen into sinful practices in the history of the church and so brought disgrace to the name of Christ. Since Satan has ministers of the gospel (and their families) locked in his sight—and since God’s honor is at stake in a heightened sense with any public ministry of the word—members of the church should pray that their pastor and their pastor’s family would not fall prey to the world, the flesh, or the devil.

2. Pray for their deliverance from the physical attacks of the world and the devil.

While under prison guard in Rome, the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to pray for his release when he wrote, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19; see also 2 Cor. 1:9-11.). After Herod imprisoned Simon Peter, we learn that “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). After an exodus-like deliverance from prison, Luke tells us that Peter showed up at the home where the disciples were continuing to pray for his deliverance. This is yet another example of the minister being delivered from harm due, in part, to the prayers of the saints.

3. Pray for doors to be opened to them for the spread of the gospel.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul asked the church to be praying “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains” (Col. 4:3). The success of the spread of the gospel is dependent in part on the prayers of the people of God. In this way, the church shares in the gospel ministry with the pastor. Though he is not the only one in the body who is called to spread the word, he has a unique calling to “do the work of an evangelist.” The saints help him fulfill this work by praying that the Lord would open doors “for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.”

4. Pray that they might have boldness and power to preach the gospel.

In addition to praying for open doors for the ministry of the word, the people of God should pray that ministers would have Spirit-wrought boldness. When writing to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul asked them to pray for him “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). There is a well-known story of several college students going to visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in order to hear Charles Spurgeon preach. As the story goes, Spurgeon met them at the door and offered to show them around. At one point he asked if they wanted to see the church’s heater plant (boiler room). He took them downstairs where they saw hundreds of people praying for God’s blessings on the service and on Spurgeon’s preaching. The gathering of the people of God to pray for the ministry of the word is what he called “the heating plant”! Believers can help ministers by praying that they would be given boldness and power in preaching the gospel.

5. Pray that they might have a spirit of wisdom and understanding.

One of the most pressing needs for a minister of the gospel is that he would be given the necessary wisdom to counsel, to know when to confront, to mediate, and to discern the particular pastoral needs of a congregation. This is an all-encompassing and recurring need. The minister is daily faced with particular challenges for which he desperately needs the wisdom of Christ. It is said of Jesus that “the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, and of counsel and might” was upon Him (Is. 11:2). The servants of Christ need that same Spirit. Much harm is done to the church as a whole if the minister does not proceed with the wisdom commensurate to the challenges with which he is faced. Those who benefit from this wisdom can help the minister by calling down this divine blessing from heaven upon him.

*Article adapted from Ligonier Ministries, ligonier.org  (January 3, 2020)

David S. Steele’s “The White Flag”

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Rock Solid Biblical Advice For Church Leaders

Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

It’s a rare occasion that I get to read and review a book by an author I know well. The author and I have been close friends since we were roommates in Bible college in the mid-eighties. I also feel honored and humbled that he would dedicate this book to me. David S. Steele is the man in my life that next to me dad, I admire more than any man I’ve ever known. He is the most disciplined godly man I know and I am delighted to recommend this book with the highest recommendation possible.

In this book Dr. Steele tackles the subjects of worldview, theology, biblical theology, heresy, and spiritual warfare with the skill of a top notch surgeon. There is no one I know that comes close to being as well-read, and a student who takes seriously the pursuit of godliness and the application of God’s Word as Pastor Steele. Where this book shines so brightly as an encouragement to leaders is in its depth. Dr. Steele is adept at brining the best of the Bible, Church History, Philosophy, and Theology in a way that brings tremendous depth, logic, and coherence to a Church Leader’s task.

The bottom line thesis of this book is that many pastors and church leaders in our culture have capitulated to the cultural relativism of our age. We have exchanged the great truths of the Bible for half-truths – which are really full-on lies. Too many pastors and leaders of churches are lazy with their minds, and thus not able to run the race before them. Steele brilliantly examines five key areas where the Church has compromised: (1) The dismantling of the biblical God; (2) The blatant disregard for biblical doctrine; (3) The denigrating of the person and work of Christ; (4) The disregarding of the unified attributes of God in salvation and judgment; and (5) The demolishing of a Christian mind.

What I love about this book most is that though the author does not minimize the problems we face, his emphasis is on biblical solutions that are immensely practical. The three most helpful chapters for leaders are the last five – which include a wonderful Epilogue and Appendix that are very encouraging. Steele offers a helpful strategy, offensive insights, and a plan of perseverance for leaders. This book will inspire you, re-invigorate your calling, and help you to fall in love again with your first Love. It is a call to worship the God of the Gospel. It is a resounding call to all church leaders to be what God has made us to be – His ambassadors who are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!

Book Review of Jammin Goggin & Kyle Strobel: “The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb”

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The Amazing Power of Weakness

Book Review By Dr. David P Craig

I can remember how discouraged I used to get when as a young pastor I would attend Pastor’s conferences and hear stories of pastor’s bragging about how “great” their ministries were. I would always come back from those conferences wondering if I was really “called” to ministry because I wasn’t experiencing the “greatness” these other pastors were experiencing. In my late twenties I took on a pastorate in a rural community that nobody (myself included) had ever heard of. About six months into my ministry I heard about a “rural pastors conference” and decided to see if this would help me in my new ministry. Before the first session, we had a “meet and greet” time and I remember everyone introducing themselves and trying to describe the area they were serving in – because nobody heard of each other, and nobody had what would be described as a “great” ministry.

There was such a liberating and freeing feeling being around pastors that knew they were weak, ministering in obscurity, and all recognized that if God didn’t show up – we were in big trouble. I love this book because all the examples in this book are encouraging. When you are around ego it deflates you, when you are around weakness it elates you! All of us pastors had nothing to prove, and nothing to brag about, but we all shared our need of the power of God to sustain and guide us in our respective ministries. Since that time I’ve primarily interacted with bi-vocational pastors and pastors of smaller churches because they are usually very real, humble, and focused on needing help from God – not on how they can help others be “great.”

It was at that conference that I realized that God calls most pastors to obscure places and average ordinary ministries. Most pastors will never make the cover of “Christianity Today” or write a book that makes a notable “best-seller” list. Honestly, I’m good with that. Enter Goggin and Strobel’s book. They aren’t down on mega churches (I don’t think they even use this word in their book). However, they give an excellent analysis of what makes for the ministry of the Lamb (ministering out of weakness – Kingdom ministry from above) versus ministry from the Dragon (ministering out of the flesh – from the Kingdom of Darkness and Satan).

I’ve experienced ministry out of the flesh driven by pride and ego; and I’ve experienced ministry that comes from weakness, brokenness, and of the Spirit. I think that once you experience the power of brokenness or ministering out of weakness you never want to go back to the “dark side.” I’ve been around pastors and churches where God doesn’t even have to show up and nothing would even have to be changed. The author’s do an excellent job of showing from the Bible how the way of power has infiltrated many churches today. It is not just dangerous – it’s demonic. This is a serious charge.

My favorite aspect of this book are the highlights from interviews that Goggin and Strobel share from several well respected faithful older Christians: J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Jean Vanier, Dallas Willard, John Perkins, and Marva Dawn. Through the interviews and Scripture the author’s give a compelling case for why ministry in dependence on God rather than our own skills and resources are more powerful in the long haul of ministry. Power in ministry comes when the Holy Spirit is depended upon to show up because we are operating out of our relationship and satisfaction in Christ. Power is not about self, resources, skills, it’s evident from above when we humbly focus on exalting Jesus above all things.

I hope this book gets a wide reading. I think it is wise, biblical, and will encourage pastors and Christians who are serious about faithfully serving Christ in power out of weakness in dependence on Him for life-long ministry.

Book Review on Bold Reformer by David S. Steele

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

I have to start out this review by commenting on the author. Dr. David S. Steele, I am privileged to say is a very dear friend with whom I am blessed to have known for close to 30 years. We met at Multnomah University (Multnomah School of the Bible) back in the mid 1980’s, where we were roommates and have remained good friends ever since. We also earned our doctorates together in the early 2000’s in Seattle. I write this to say that I am very biased in whole heartedly recommending this book because the author is one of the men I most admire and respect on planet Earth. Whether he speaks or writes – I listen! He is one of the most disciplined pastors I know. He loves God deeply, and is passionate that others would come to know Him through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are both Lead/Preaching pastors in our respective churches (he in Washington; I’m in California); approximately the same age; and both have had our share of trials and triumphs in ministry. I believe what makes this such a great book to recommend is because Dr. Steele writes as a theologian, pastor, and practitioner. There are no theories here. What is written are biblical truths that have been forged in the trenches of ministry. Dave Steele is indeed a Bold Reformer in the ilk of men like Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and other godly men who have been courageous in the trenches of ministry who preceded us.

Bold Reformer is a great book because it cuts through theories and fads and hones in on essential theological truths that are necessary whether past, present, or future. It is a book that I have now read twice, and will definitely read again. It’s especially a helpful book for pastors in the trenches and would-be pastors. In this book Dr. Steele writes about the essential foundations a pastor needs to believe and promises he can rely on through thick and thin. I am grateful for my friend, and grateful that out of his own trials he has written a helpful and encouraging book for pastors to never give up.

This year (2017) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation. I truly believe that this book has the potential to spark a new reformation in pastors today. The same principles that Martin Luther applied are necessary today and needed desperately in order to bring about reformation and revival. I am hopeful that Bold Reformer will be used to bring about a new reformation of and for the glory of our awesome God as it is widely oread and practiced.

12 Principles for Disagreeing with Other Christians

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1. Welcome those who disagree with you (Rom. 14:1–2).

Concerning any area of disagreement on third-level matters [i.e., disputable issues that shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family], a church will have two groups: (1) those who are “weak in faith” (14:1) on that issue and (2) those “who are strong” (15:1). The weak in faith have a weak conscience on that matter, and the strong in faith, a strong conscience.

Don’t forget that “faith” here refers not to saving faith in Christ (14:22a makes that clear) but to the confidence a person has in their heart or conscience to do a particular activity, such as eat meat (14:2). The weak person’s conscience lacks sufficient confidence (i.e., faith) to do a particular act without self-judgment, even if that act is actually not a sin. To him it would be a sin.

What this means is that you are responsible to obey both Paul’s exhortations to the weak and his exhortations to the strong, since (1) there are usually people on either side of you on any given issue and (2) you yourself likely have a stronger conscience on some issues and a weaker conscience on others. This brings us to Paul’s second principle when Christians disagree on scruples.

2. Those who have freedom of conscience must not look down on those who don’t (Rom. 14:3–4).

The strong, who have freedom to do what others cannot do, are tempted to look down on and despise those who are more strict. They may say, “Those people don’t understand the freedom we have in Christ. They’re not mature like us! They’re legalistic. All they think about are rules.” Paul condemns this attitude of superiority.

3. Those whose conscience restricts them must not be judgmental toward those who have freedom (Rom. 14:3–4).

Those who have a weaker conscience on a particular issue are always tempted to pass judgment on those who are freer. They may say, “How can those people be Christians and do that? Don’t they know they’re hurting the testimony of Christ? Don’t they know that they are supposed to give up things like that for the sake of the gospel?”

Paul gives two reasons that it’s such a serious sin to break these two principles, that is, for the strong to look down on those with a weaker conscience and for the weak to judge those with a stronger conscience:

1“God has welcomed him” (14:3c). Do you have the right to reject someone whom God has welcomed? Are you holier than God? If God himself allows his people to hold different opinions on third-level matters, should you force everyone to agree with you?

2“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (14:4a). You are not the master of other believers. When you look down on someone with a weaker conscience or judge someone with a stronger conscience, you’re acting as though that person is your servant and you are his master. But God is his master. In matters of opinion, you must let God do his work. You just need to welcome your brother or sister. God is a better master than you are.

4. Each believer must be fully convinced of their position in their own conscience (Rom. 14:5).

Should Christians celebrate Jewish holy days? This issue, which Paul is addressing here, illustrates the principle that on disputable matters, you should obey your conscience.

This does not mean that your conscience is always right. It’s wise to calibrate your conscience to better fit God’s wil. But it does mean that you cannot constantly sin against your conscience and be a healthy Christian. You must be fully convinced of your present position on food or drink or special days—or whatever the issue—and then live consistently by that decision until God may lead you by his Word and Spirit to adjust your conscience.

5. Assume that others are partaking or refraining for the glory of God (Rom. 14:6–9).

Notice how generous Paul is to both sides. He assumes that both sides are exercising their freedoms or restrictions for the glory of God. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in a church where everyone gave each other the benefit of the doubt on these differences, instead of putting the worst possible spin on everything?

Paul says that both the weak and the strong can please the Lord even while holding different views on disputable matters. They have different positions but the same motivation: to honor God.

6. Do not judge each other in these matters because we will all someday stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14:10–12).

If we thought more about our own situation before the judgment throne of God, we would be less likely to pass judgment on fellow Christians. On that day we’ll be busy enough answering for our own life; we don’t need to spend our short life meddling in the lives of others. In these matters where good Christians disagree, we just need to mind our own conscience and let God be the judge of others.

7. Your freedom to eat meat is correct, but don’t let your freedom destroy the faith of a weak brother (Rom. 14:13–15).

Free and strict Christians in a church both have responsibilities toward each other. Strict Christians have a responsibility not to impose their conscience on everyone else in the church. It is a serious sin to try to bind someone else’s conscience with rules that God does not clearly command.

But the second half of Romans 14 places the bulk of responsibility on Christians with a strong conscience. One obvious reason is that they are strong, so God calls on them to bear with the weaknesses of the weak (Rom. 15:1). Not only that, of the two groups, only the strong have a choice in third-level matters like meat, holy days, and wine. They can either partake or abstain, whereas the conscience of the strict allows them only one choice. It is a great privilege for the strong to have double the choices of the weak. They must use this gift wisely by considering how their actions affect the sensitive consciences of their brothers and sisters.

8. Disagreements about eating and drinking are not important in the kingdom of God; building each other up in righteousness, peace, and joy is the important thing (Rom. 14:16–21).

The New Testament clearly and repeatedly lays down the principle that God is completely indifferent to what we ingest. First and most important, the Lord Jesus himself memorably proclaimed all foods to be legitimate for eating in Mark 7:1–23 (esp. vv. 18–19). Since Peter didn’t seem to get the memo, the Lord Jesus had to give him a vision three times to show him that Christians must not make food an issue (Acts 10:9–16). Then in 1 Corinthians 8:8, Paul comes right out and says it: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” And just in case we still didn’t get it, God gave us Romans 14:17, which shows that the kingdom of God has nothing to do with food and drink. Nothing. God doesn’t care at all about what we ingest.

This might seem mistaken. Doesn’t God care if we take poison? Not if the purpose is to cure. Every day Christians take poison into their bodies to cure themselves of cancer. But if we take in poison to kill ourselves, that’s another matter entirely. In Christianity, why you do things is more important than what you do.

9. If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it; if you are strict, don’t expect others to be strict like you (Rom. 14:22a).

This truth applies equally to the strong and the weak. To those with a strong conscience you have much freedom in Christ. But don’t flaunt it or show it off in a way that may cause others to sin. Be especially careful to nurture the faith of young people and new Christians.

Those of you with a weak conscience in a particular area also have a responsibility not to “police” others by pressuring them to adopt your strict standards. You should keep these matters between yourself and God.

10. A person who lives according to their conscience is blessed (Rom. 14:22b–23).

God gave us the gift of conscience in order to significantly increase our joy as we obey its warnings. One of the two great principles of conscience is to obey it. Just as God’s gift of touch and pain guards us from what would rob us of physical health, conscience continually guards us from the sin that robs our joy.

11. We must follow the example of Christ, who put others first (Rom. 15:1–6).

This principle doesn’t mean that the strong have to agree with the position of the weak. It doesn’t even mean that the strong can never again exercise their freedoms. On the other hand, neither does it mean that the strong only put up with or endure or tolerate the weak, like a person who tolerates someone who annoys him. For a Christian, to “bear with” the weaknesses of the weak means that you gladly help the weak by refraining from doing anything that would hurt their faith.

Romans 15:3 emphasizes the example of Christ. We cannot even begin to imagine the freedoms and privileges that belonged to the Son of God in heaven. To be God is to be completely free. Yet Christ “did not please himself” but gave up his rights and freedoms to become a servant so that we could be saved from wrath. Compared to what Christ suffered on the cross, to give up a freedom like eating meat is a trifle indeed.

12. We bring glory to God when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).

With this sentence, Paul bookends this long section that began with similar words in 14:1: “Welcome him. . . .” But here in 15:7 Paul adds a comparison—“as Christ has welcomed you”—and a purpose—“for the glory of God.” It matters how you treat those who disagree with you on disputable matters. When you welcome them as Christ has welcomed you, you glorify God.

Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota

J. D. Crowley (MA, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) has been doing missionary and linguistic work among the indigenous minorities of northeast Cambodia since 1994. He is the author of numerous books, including Commentary on Romans for Cambodia and Asia and the Tampuan/Khmer/English Dictionary.

This post is adapted from Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley.