Evidence that Cannot Save

Evidence that Cannot Save Law

A review by Stuart Brogden

John Warwick Montgomery has an impressive resume – author of more than 60 books in in 6 languages; he holds eleven earned degrees; is admitted as a lawyer to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court; and is a Distinguished Research Professor at Concordia University Wisconsin. That’s something of note. He has written a short book, History, Law, and Christianity, which is divided into two parts that examine the historical and legal evidence for Christianity. One of his colleagues at the university, Rod Rosenbladt, endorses this book and encourages readers to buy several copies, “because you will end up doing what I do. You will give copies to non-Christians!”

And this perspective reveals the faulty foundation of this work – it is presented as a compelling argument for the biblical account of Jesus that can bring lost people into the kingdom of God. We should not overlook the excellent examination of historical and legal evidence that does support the biblical accounts – but we cannot fall into the trap of thinking evidence or philosophical arguments will save anyone. This faulty foundation shows up early in the book – page 4, as the author declares, “Like Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis, I was brought ‘kicking and struggling’ into the kingdom of God by the historical evidence on behalf of Jesus’ claims.” On page 31, Montgomery serves up a short quote by Pliny the Younger, circa 122, showing how early Christians met for worship, and he then comments, “From that day to this all Christians – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant – have worshiped Christ as God on the basis of the historically impeccable testimony of Jesus’ own followers and of those who knew them intimately.”  Let’s leave aside the issue of which Jesus is embraced by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics and just focus on the thrust of Montgomery’s statement. It is another declaration that people come to saving knowledge of Christ on the basis of evidence and confidence of arguments based on that evidence.

This cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. If the author’s perspective is true, we need to witness with an eye towards saving people contrary to the Apostle Paul – And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

As with other books that have been written in this vein, this book can be quite useful for Christians who want to grow in their confidence of the biblical record, but is dangerous as a witnessing tool. People convinced by such evidence and sound arguments may very well end up having a faith that rests in the wisdom of men. We are ambassadors of the cross, not of historical evidence. People are brought into a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus by the work of His Spirit, as we proclaim His gospel. The flip side of the coin offered up by Montgomery is the attractive but just as faulty view that we can save Mormons (or others) by showing them factual errors in their religious books and doctrines. We cannot argue anyone into the kingdom of God.

That being said, this book has much encouragement for the saints. Montgomery rightly refutes post-modernism, false philosophical arguments, and liberal theology. He provides a very credible and readable defense of the person and deity of Christ Jesus from the historical record and the legal perspective, starting off (page 8) reminding us our faith is not blind or without evidentiary support: “Christian theology cannot be divorced from logic and history.” Since the gospel is centered on the work and person of Christ Jesus, we must accept the biblical record as factual – not something merely mystical – just as Jesus did when He talked about Adam, Jonah, Abraham, and other ancients from Moses’ account. Montgomery reminds us that while we can gain much from reading books written by other Christians, our faith and our truth are founded on the “primary documents” – the word of God. This is good stuff!

On page 11 and following, our author examines the historical credibility of the Bible, looking at biographical evidence, internal evidence, and external evidence. In each of these areas, the Scriptures excel in comparison to other historical persons and events accepted by all with far less support in all of these areas. Does this not reinforce the fact that such evidence cannot bring about the change that happens when one is born by again by the will of the Creator? But to see how blind lost people are to truth and willing they are to believe anything else, Montgomery observes: “To express skepticism concerning the resultant text of the New Testament books (as represented, for example, by Nestle’s Novem Testamentum Graece) is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” We can have confidence in our God because His Word is reliable. But we believe His Word because He opened our mind to His Truth when He made new creatures in Christ.

The second part of this short book focuses on the legal defense of the faith. He begins (page 47) by pointing out that every false religion is self-validating, a standard that very post-modern would embrace. “Christianity, on the other hand, declares that the truth of its absolute claims rests squarely on certain historical facts open to ordinary investigation.” The edge of the knife – our faith is fact-based, historically, archeologically, and philosophically; but can only be embraced if we are raised from spiritual death by the Author of all Truth. By nature, men suppress the Truth (Roman 1:18) and cannot will or desire to see it (Isaiah 64:7). Beginning on page 51, Montgomery addresses “four overarching questions” that “need to be addressed: (1) Are the historical records of Jesus solid enough to rely upon? (2) Is the testimony in these records concerning his life and ministry sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself? (3) Do the accounts of his resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, in fact establish those claims? (4) If Jesus’ deity is established in the foregoing manner, does he place a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as render it pronouncements apodictically certain?” Then he uses classical legal reasoning to examine each of these.

Our author examines motives for false testimony and the complexities of deception, providing nifty charts to show the various points of tension in each false presentation. Telling lies requires excellent memory and collaboration – and falls apart rather easily under competent cross-examination. The culture of disciples provided a cross-examination of sorts, making it impossible for them to carry on a life based on lies when so many Jews and Romans, who were hostile to their claims, walked among them day by day.

His last paragraph is worth a close read: “To meet man’s desperate need for apodictic (clearly established or beyond dispute) principles of human conduct, an incarnate God must not speak with a forked tongue. And, as we have seen, no divine stuttering has occurred. To the contrary, his message can be relied upon as evidentially established, a sure light shining in a dark world, illuminating the path to eternity.” Note this clearly – “His message can be relied upon.” We have been entrusted with His message, not our own. His message is the simple, foolish message of the cross, the story of the fall of man, the perfect life of the solitary God-man who earned the right to take the punishment for our sins and make a way for sinners to be reconciled to holy God. That is the life-giving message that He has given us – and we have nothing to be ashamed of when we proclaim it. The message is credible because the Author is credible. Once He gives new life, we can appreciate and embrace the trustworthiness of the message.

A Commentary on Acts

A Commentary on Acts 415ueiiJyrL._SS300_

A review by Stuart Brogden

Writing a commentary on any book of the Bible is a daunting task. Especially, I think, a New Testament book. We tend to be more familiar with the New Testament and the theological divisions within the realm of Christianity are daunting. And we have much less commentary and interpretation by the Apostles of the New Testament than we have of the Old. And, as with any study of God’s Word, we all bring our presuppositions with us and have to conscientiously focus to seek the true meaning of Scripture rather than merely defend what we’ve been taught by others. Guy Prentiss Waters has spent untold hours to provide us a study commentary on the book of Acts.

Right up front, Mr. Waters makes it clear the perspective from which he views Scripture, which will delight his fellow paedobaptists but ought to give Baptists a bit of caution. Here, from the Introduction, page 9: “This commentary is Reformed in its orientation. It proceeds from the conviction that the Westminster Standards are the best summary of the Bible’s teaching in the church’s possession. It believes that Reformed theology and sound exegesis are not mutually exclusive alternatives, but the very best of friends.”

Many Baptists claim to be Reformed, but do not hold to the Westminster Confession. And putting any man-authored document as the lens through which to read Scripture is contrary to the very essence of being Reformed, which relies on the never-ending journey of Semper Reformanda, Always Reforming to Scripture for the glory of God. Some Baptists are just as guilty as some of our Presbyterian brothers.

That said, I think that Mr. Waters has written a very good commentary, focused on the redemptive story that holds all of Scripture together. This being a 600 page book, it’s not possible to give you a comprehensive review; so I’ve chosen to focus on a couple of passages in Acts chapter 2.

In a section titled, Promise Explained (page 84), our author does an excellent job explaining why Peter’s sermon (which Luke summarized for his account) points to Jesus as the promised son of David, pointing out: “First, David had ‘both died and was buried’ in Jerusalem. Second, David was a ‘prophet.’ Third, David had received the promise of God, on oath, ‘to seat one from the fruit of his loins upon his throne’ (Ps 132:11, cf 2 Sam 7:1; 1 Chr 17).” And just a few pages later, Waters leans (in a footnote) on the Westminster Longer Catechism to claim baptism as “a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins that is granted alone through faith in Christ.” (page 89) There is no Scripture referenced and there is no Scripture that can be brought to defend this idea. It is conjecture conjured up by paedobaptists to support paedobaptism. One can argue from Scripture that circumcision of the heart or the Lord’s Supper or both are signs and/or seals of the New Covenant – which is what provides that forgiveness of sins (Luke 22:20 and Rom 2:29, respectively). Later on page 89 and onto page 90, Waters refers to Acts 2:39 and again allows his confessional tradition to influence his understanding of Scripture:

In Acts 2:39, Peter makes an important statement concerning the reach or scope of the promise of which he has been speaking. The promise pertains to three groups of people. First, it is ‘for you’, that is, the Jews – not simply these particular Jews gathered in Jerusalem, but for all Jews within reach of the gospel. Second, it is ‘for your children’. God had specially extended his promises to the offspring of believers under the Old Covenant, and will continue to do so under the New Covenant (Gen 17:7). Third, it is ‘for all who are afar off.’” Waters’ second point is one of the key areas that paedobaptists must not honestly examine, because the actual meaning of this Scripture undermines the foundation of their system. The promise given to Abraham in Gen 17:7 was not one that brought the offspring of Jewish children into the New Covenant. The other side of this covenant given to Abraham, described in Gen 17:9 -14, is what brought Jewish offspring into the Mosaic Covenant community – not the New Covenant. Most importantly, God’s Word tells us the proper interpretation of the promise in Gen 17:7: Galatians 3:16 (ESV) Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. The promises were to Abraham and his seed – not seeds; to include Christ and His body in the New Covenant, not unregenerate Jewish or Presbyterian children.

But, the paedobaptist says, Scripture clearly says “the promise is for you and your children!” Two things must be observed from this passage in God’s Word. First, this verse cited in part by Waters and most paedobaptist defenders – For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. That little phrase at the end qualifies everything that precedes it in this sentence. Only those children that are called by the Lord our God to himself will be saved and, therefore, included in the New Covenant. Secondly, the promise mentioned in verse 29 does not refer to the Abrahamic covenant, as paedobaptists claim in their effort include their biological seed in the New Covenant. Context reveal no mention of Abraham in Peter’s sermon. Starting in verse 22 and continuing to verse 36, Peter describes how Christ Jesus is the heir to God’s covenant with David as fulfillment of God’s promise to David to raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

No matter how you slice Acts 2, you will not find Abraham’s covenant nor a promise by God to include all the children of a group of people in the New Covenant.

As with all things written by man, there is error in this book of which the reader must be wary. But there is much good, as well. Many Baptists and Presbyterians agree vigorously on how sinners are saved – it is a monergistic work of God. This view of soteriology shines brightly throughout this commentary and ought to be an encouragement to many.

If you are a fan of the Westminster system of theology, you will enjoy this book more than us Baptists. But we can all learn and benefit from it as it will cause the serious reader to dig into Scripture to see if these things be so.

What Does God say about Bioethics?

Christian Bioethics 517UykgR7dL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

A review by Stuart Brogden

This book, subtitled A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professional, and Families, is part of a series on Christian ethics published by B&H Publishing Group. I dare say anyone within each of those groups would be challenged to think more biblically about the relevant issues as well as being better informed by reading this book. In the preface, the series editor tells us the thesis of this book by asking this question: “How do we move from an ancient text like the Bible to twenty-first-century questions about organ transplants, stem-cell research, and human cloning?” This book, written by an ordained minister of the gospel (C. Ben Mitchell) and a physician (D. Joy Riley), gives solid counsel and these emotionally charged issues in 9 chapters, and is broken up into four parts: Christian Bioethics, Taking Life, Making Life, and Remaking/Faking Life. The format of each chapter is a look into a real life situation immersed in the subject, followed by questions for reflection, and Q & A between the authors. Other than a too frequent quoting of Roman Catholics as though that Church is Christian institution, this team provides solid insight from God’s Word on each of these topics.

Chapter 1 gives the reader an overview of the Hippocratic Oath which opened my eyes to the ancient context and false gods the oath was originally made to and the awareness that most doctors today do not subscribe to this oath, which we mostly know as the pledge to, First, do no harm. This was spelled out in explicit language that forbid euthanasia and abortion. The absence of a doctor’s oath to “do no harm” may cause a patient to wonder how much he can trust his doctor. In summing up this topic our physician author observes (page 22, italics in original) “Doctors should work hard to be trust-worthy and humble.” A few pages later (page 28), as they address stem-cell research, our minister reminds us, after quoting 2 Peter 1:3, “God has not left his people without guidance in every area of life. Although the Bible is not a science textbook, its message speaks to the deep underlying values that can guide decisions about scientific matters. Although the Bible is not manual of medicine, its truths may be applied to medical decision making.” This is a key perspective for every child of God to properly understand how to walk in the light of God’s Word. Much of the rest of chapter 2 is good advice for properly reading and understanding the Scriptures, taking into account literary, historical, and cultural context as well the genre of what is being read.

The chapter addressing abortion is sobering and probably eye-opening for most. The authors make a full-court press to establish the humanity of every life, starting from conception. Mitchell makes the essential connection between our view of Jesus and our view of humanity, developing the humanity of our Lord to show how every mortal is given value by the Creator – above all other life forms – from the time the egg is joined with a sperm. At the end of chapter 3, the authors exhort Christians to be active in opposing abortion and supporting life, but they draw no lines of getting involved with pro-life Roman Catholics. Christians must be deliberate and biblically thoughtful in deciding who to get cozy with in the public arena. The next chapter covers death and dying, providing thought-provoking observations about the details of pain and suffering and how one’s Christian world view informs us. A key element in handling the death of any person, they tell us, is to remember the patient (perhaps a close relative) is a human being, not merely a patient to be treated. “Much of the suffering of dying persons comes from being subtly treated as nonpersons.” (page 85) There is discussion of the efforts to extend life, even at the expense of that life being human. It is a long-held desire of fleshly human beings to grasp eternal life in our present form, without submitting to God’s revealed plan of redemption – which includes our death and resurrection. Being a faithful child of God includes how we approach death – do we trust our heavenly Father in our dying as did our Savior? Again, we get faithful advice (pages 100 & 101): “Through the resurrection of Christ, God has given us grounds to hope that death, however awful, will not have the last word.” Amen!

As they move from taking life to making life, the reader is presented with a biology lesson on how babies come into the world. They take this opportunity to reinforce the Christians view of anthropology (page 113): “Knowing that pregnancy occurs at fertilization rather than at implantation will help us make several important distinctions later.” They then cover several options medicine has provided for artificial this or that, discussing the line we cross regarding family integrity and God’s authority, observing (page 123), “When a third party intrudes on the procreative relationship, the divinely instituted structure of the family is altered. Trouble is bound to follow.” This may be unwelcome by some, who have such a great desire for a child that their love for the Word of God is overshadowed. All of us fall into this pit on one issue or another from time-to-time, so let us not rush to judgment.

The last part of this fine book covers the definition of death and the forces behind the changes we’ve seen in the last 50 years; organ donation and transplants; cloning and human/animal hybrids; and life extension practices. In this last category, we are introduced to trans-humanists, a group that wants to extent life in the human body and beyond. This was the topic of recent movie, Transcendence, which traced the consequences of a computer scientist whose “essence” was transferred into a powerful computer he had built. It gets very ugly before it ends. In summing up how we who profess Christ ought to look at aging, Mitchell provides a contrast between Christians and Trans-humanists (page 181): “Interestingly, the trans-humanists and Christians seem to have some common concerns. We share:

  • The quest for the good life.
  • Longing for immortality
  • Pursuit of the relief of human suffering
  • Appreciation for technology’s benefits.

Where we differ is in the mean to achieve these aims. For Christians the good life and the goods of life are found in God and his presence in our lives. The good life is not defined by the number of years one lives but the reality of God’s presence in however many years one lives. While we, like the apostle Paul, long for immortality, Christians understand that they already possess it. … Another place we differ with the trans-humanist is in loathing every human limitation. Because we are creatures and nor creators, we accept most limitations as gifts from the One who made us.”

And while there is much more in this book that will do the reader much good, I think that is a wonderful point on which to end this review. Christian – are you content with our God’s provision in your life? Do we think we deserve better than YHWH has given us? To quote the Apostle, “Who are you, oh man, to answer back to the One who made you thus?” Let us, as did the Lord Jesus, trust ourselves to the One who judges justly. Trust God, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. In living and dying – and all that comes between those two finite points.

Jeremiah’s Lament

Jeremiah’s Lament Jeremiah

What In The World Is Going On? – Reviewed by Stuart L. Brogden`

Once more, a “Christian” book touts its status on the New York Times and USA Today Best Seller’s list. Each time I read such a book, I try to find out why worldings would find the book so interesting. This book is a sensational fable presented as fact, based on a theology birthed by Roman Catholic Jesuit priests in the 16th century and a mystic young woman of the 19th century who belonged to the Plymouth Brethren. The priests developed the future-based Anti-Christ and Mary McDonald was given the pre-trib secret rapture in a dream, which she told to John Darby (details on this background here: http://www.dispensationalism.org.uk/). This is not the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. While some Christians have accepted premillenialism since the first century A.D., the dispensational twists (pre-trib rapture, fixation on the Anti-Christ, and focus on national Israel) are new fabrications. If dispensationalism is true, why would Sovereign God keep it a secret from His people for 1800 years?

David Jeremiah starts each chapter with a story from culture or history that sets the stage for his “prophetic clues”. None of these 10 prophetic clues make any sense unless one accepts the fable that dispensationalism is biblically sound. But there is not a single verse in the Bible that supports the pre-trib rapture, not one. Please watch this short video to gain a better understanding of this issue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQgrJ-pYhCM

I will not comment on each chapter – to do justice on such an effort would take a book. One more preface to specific comments: Dispensationalists tend to be guilty of paying heed to current events and finding some prophetic Scriptures that can be wrapped around them, sounding biblical to those who are not disciplined in studying Scripture. To facilitate this, Jeremiah starts each chapter with a tale from recent history or current events. He claims (page xv) to be “viewing current events from the perspective of God’s wonderful Word” but a careful review of his book and of Scripture discloses that he is reading the Word of God through the lens of current events. This leads into his “prophetic clue” of each chapter, as he acts as a pied piper of dispensational error.

The dispensational error of being focused on Israel shows up in a classic way on page 3: “Apparently God finds Abraham and his descendants to be of enormous importance.” This tendency of assigning value to the creation rather than seeing God using sinful, rebellious people for His purposes is a common affliction. Further in this opening chapter, pages 4 & 5, the author brags on the Jews throughout history – as if they, rather than Almighty God were responsible for their success and influence. Yet he admits on page 7 that “The Bible tells us His choice of Israel had nothing to do with merit.” Back a page, Jeremiah proclaims his belief that God’s promise of land was the most important covenant promise made to Abraham and on pages 9 – 11 he tells us it is not yet fulfilled. Yet Hebrews 11:8-10 show that Abraham “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” In John 8:56, the Lord declared to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Abraham knew the terrestrial property which Israel fully claimed all that was promised by God (read Joshua 21:41 – 45), contrary to the dispensational claim that this promise is yet to be fulfilled. The promised land on Earth was a type and shadow of the Promised Land that Christ will bring all that the Father has given Him unto. Not some dusty bit of the mid-east. Still in the opening chapter, on page 18, we are told that the promise given in Jeremiah 32:37 – 38 is yet to be fulfilled. This promise, however, was fulfilled at Calvary, when Christ ended the Jewish religion and delivered on His promise to pay the debt for all God’s chosen people, giving each new-born Christian a safe refuge and identity as His people.

Chapter two shows a man who knows or cares so little about spiritual realities that he bases a sermon or two on crude oil (page 35), calling it “the stuff of life” (page 27) and a “sign” (the inference I drew is that he considers this a biblical sign). On page 30, the author reveals that he disbelieves the biblical account of creation, believing oil took “eons of time” to create. On page 38, Doctor Jeremiah tells us that Deuteronomy 33:24 (And of Asher he said, “Most blessed of sons be Asher; let him be the favorite of his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil.) and Genesis 49:22 – 26 indicate there is oil beneath the dirt occupied by the modern nation of Israel. The oil mentioned in Deuteronomy is olive oil, used in medicine and religious anointing. The passage from Genesis simply refers to blessings directly from God in Heaven and indirectly from God here below. To derive a promise of crude oil from these passages is perhaps the worst example of eisegesis (reading assumptions into Scripture) that I’ve seen.

Let me say that I agree with parts of this book. The author’s warning (page 42) that we who profess Christ remain vigilant and focused on the Lord and his admonitions #2 –10 (pages 233 – 234) on how to live until the Lord returns are both spot-on. Likewise, chapter 4 – his warning about Islam – is a bold statement that many soft-hearted, fuzzy-thinking people need to read.

But the balance of the book is in the same vein as the first two – based on faulty presuppositions rather than on Scripture. On page 69, Doctor Jeremiah tells us that Romans 13:11 is a warning about the end of the age, but the context clearly is that of instructing Christians how to live in the world, in light of our firm hope of eternal life. On the same page, we see another common aspect of dispensational teaching – a works-based view of salvation, wherein one is told to “accept His offer of salvation”. The Bible tells us we are drawn to Christ and salvation is “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12 & 13). This Arminian error shows up in a couple places throughout this book and is deceptive and man pleasing – but has more in common with heresy than with biblical truth.

Compounding his error in teaching a pre-trib rapture, Jeremiah devotes a chapter (#5) to digging a deeper hole. He claims 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18 describes the pre-trib rapture (page 102) and he calls this a “stealth event” (page 100) which only Christians are aware of (page 206). A stealth event which only Christians witness, characterized by “a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God”. Reads like something everybody will know about – like the resurrection of every soul on Judgment Day.

In chapter 6, we are told that the Bible prophecies a role in the end times for the United States of America and foretells Russia invading Israel. This is in your Bible to same degree as his crude oil find in chapter 2. He relies much on his country, calling our way of life “our lifeline” (page 129). Perhaps he ought to look unto Christ as his lifeline! On the next page, he quotes the “high priest” of pre-trib rapture, Tim LaHaye, who asks, “Why would the God of prophecy not refer to the supreme nation in the end times in preparation for the one-world government of the Antichrist?” I suggest LaHaye and Jeremiah reacquaint themselves with the lesson of Judges 7:2 and Psalms chapter 20. God does not need nor does He depend on horses, chariots, or superpowers.

Chapter 7 is devoted to propping up the fable from Rome that there is a future Antichrist who will rule the world. Remember – this doctrine did not exist until the 16th century and appears to be a Roman Catholic response to The Reformation, which taught that the office of pope was the AntiChrist. In this chapter, Jeremiah quotes A.W. Pink as a supporter of this view. This was true, but Pink later repented and had unkind things to say about dispensationalism, in the same way a former smoker hates cigarette smoke. Read Pink’s later statement, in four chapters, here: http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Dispensationalism/dispensationalism.htm

My suggestion to the reader who wants to know what will happen is to read the Gospel of John and cry out to God for repentance and faith. Christians do not fear tribulation, for our God is a strong tower and a secure refuge. Out God knows how to save His people from harm, in the midst of trouble. We are promised safety from the wrath of God’s judgment (Romans 8:1) but we are promised trouble and tribulation while we live on planet earth: Matthew 24 describes significant tribulation that His people will face; John 16:33 informs us we will have tribulation in this world; Romans 8:35 tells us tribulation will not separate us from Christ; Romans 12:12 tells us to rejoice in tribulation. Rather than being raptured before tribulation, the Bible tells us we will be preserved in and through tribulation! This is more to the glory of God – shielding and protecting His own – than a pre-trib rapture, where He snatches them up before trough times hit. It takes a mighty God to protect His people through the midst of tribulation. Have faith in God!

Persuasive Preaching

Persuasive Preaching Overstreet revised3 (7-19-14)

A review by Stuart Brogden

R. Larry Overstreet has subtitled this book, A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion, and in his prologue (page 4) makes the case that in order for preaching to be persuasive it must include a public invitation. We will see, in chapter 12, that Overstreet is not a disciple of Charles Finney – he warns about the abuse that has followed after Finney’s “new methods”, comparing persuasion with manipulation. What, then, does our author mean by the term “persuasive preaching?” He defines it at the end of chapter 1, page 14:

“(a) the process of preparing biblical, expository message using a persuasive pattern, and

(b) presenting them through verbal and nonverbal communication means

(c) to autonomous individuals who can be convicted and/or taught by God’s Holy Spirit,

(d) in order to alter or strengthen

(e) their attitudes and beliefs towards God, His Word, and other individuals,

(f) resulting in their lives being transformed into the image of Christ.”

While I would combine (c) with (b) and (e) with (d), the overall point he is making is one I think any pastor could embrace. What pastor would not want his people to be transformed by the renewing of their minds as a result of the Spirit working through his preaching?

The bulk of this book, chapters 3 – 11, is an extensive, technical argument in favor of persuasive speech, from the Bible and pagan perspectives – heavily footnoted. I found this part of the book ponderous and laborious; perhaps because I am already convinced that the Lord has shown us we are to be persuasive in our presentation of His Word, while not trusting in our ability to persuade men as an effective means of building His people up.

I think chapter 13, “The Holy Spirit in Preaching”, is the most important part of the book. Overstreet rightly points out that He is the originator of God’s Word (page 172), the revealer of God’s Word (page 172), the communicator (page 175), and the propagator of God’s Word (page 177). We are reminded that the Holy Spirit equips the preacher (180) and the listeners (181). These are excellent reminders and much needed in these days, as so many people have apparently latched on to the notion that preachers are the ones who do these things! Our author instructs us to not grieve or quench the Spirit, but walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, and in prayer to the Spirit (pages 184 – 191). If the book had ended here, it would have been fine. But Overstreet told us in the prologue that persuasive preaching must include an invitation – so the last chapter, 14, is on that topic.

Much of this last chapter presents the reader with the notion that chapter 13 was not for real – as men are presented as the change agents for “receiving Christ” and “committing themselves to full-time Christian service” (page 194). Overstreet acknowledges (195) that decisions are sometimes known only to God but tries to make the case for public invitations in order make them known to men. He quotes Faris D. Whitesell, who comes across as a Finney disciple: “Anything that helps us to carry out the principles and teaching of the Scriptures in a more effective and practical way is scriptural.” I cannot help but think of Eli’s children and wonder of Whitesell and Overstreet recall their doom.

As he pulls together his arguments in favor of public invitations within the local church, he draws on myriad passages of Scripture that show public invitations and exhortations being made without the local church. The invitations in the Bible are consistently “repent and believe!”, called out all men everywhere. Within the church, we see an intense struggle to stay faithful to the Word to equip the saints. Only once that I am aware of do we see unbelievers in the church – and they are not invited to the front. The focus from Paul is to be clear in the presentation of the Word of God, that the unbeliever might be convicted of truth (1 Cor 14:22 – 25).

While I am not in agreement with Overstreet’s premise – persuasive preaching does not have to end with a public invitation – I am encouraged by his counsel on the use and construction of the invitation:

Be Sensitive to Length

Be Clear in Appeal

Be Exact in Action

Be Loving in Presentation

Be Consistent with Message

Be Positive in Expectation

Be Earnest in Delivery

And he is wise in his warnings the problems one might face with the use of public invitations:

The Liability of Confusion

The Liability of Narrowness

The Liability of Weariness

The Liability of a “Canned” Invitation

The Liability of Unethical Behavior


The focus of this book is good – preachers ought to be persuasive in their preaching! Preachers ought to call men to repent and believe, to cast aside sin and press on with our eyes fixed on the Lord. But we find no biblical warrant for having a public invitation at the end of our sermons. I am thankful for men who understand the dangers of abusing the invitation system – though that abuse tends to be the model followed by most who use it. My prayer is that those who think it important would find in this book a sound argument for being sober and restrained in its practice, lest men think it’s the preacher upon whom all things depend.

Solid Food for God’s Children

Bible Revival

A review by Stuart Brogden41UQyMEDWAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

There are so many bad Christian books on the market these days that there is a good reason to shout PRAISE THE LORD! when one comes across a good Christian book. Such is the case with Kenneth Berding’s very good book, Bible Revival. This is a small book, in format and length – coming in at just over 100 pages. The premise of Berding’s jewel of a book is that we have a plethora of Bibles, with multiple good translations and formats in paper and digital so that we can have God’s Word with us virtually everywhere, all the time. And yet so many professing Christians are ignorant of and apathetic towards the Scriptures. Poor substitutes (there can be no other kind of substitute for the very Word of God) are things easily assimilated, such as mystical experience or religious video; not much thought or personal discipline required.

This too-short book is divided up into 6 chapters:

 

  1. A Revival of Learning the Word
  2. A Revival of Valuing the Word
  3. A Revival of Understanding the Word
  4. A Revival of Applying the Word
  5. A Revival of Obeying the Word
  6. A Revival of Speaking the Word

 

Each of these chapters does a very good job of stepping on the toes of the reader – for whom of us has any one of these critical traits properly developed and practiced? Each chapter has a section for digging deeper; this is where we are led to drink deeply of the Word.

 

In the opening chapter, Berding tells us what we know but would rather not acknowledge – we don’t learn the Word of God because we have other stuff we would rather learn. In days gone by, before the Internet and cheap books, people of God knew the Bible. Schools used it to teach children how to read and churches used it as teaching material as well as preaching material – long before programs replaced both in too many churches. Our author tells us of a time when Israel was under God’s judgment and His written word was withheld from them (Amos 8:11-12). He says, “In Amos they want it, but are not permitted it. In our case, although we have unlimited access, we often don’t want it. The irony is intense.” Massive understatement! He rebukes those who say since we don’t practice all we currently understand of the Bible that we should not read and study the Scriptures until we are fully in line. This pathetic perspective fails from the start because it assumes a perfection that we will be able to attain during this age. Our minds and our bodies are unable to practice all we know and the insight into the character of both God and ourselves contained in the Bible are beyond our finding out completely. And we commanded in Scripture to never stop growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:18 is on-going process, not a one-time academic accomplishment). When we read and regard the Bible in the same way we do a newspaper (are those still printed?) or novel, we reveal something ugly of our priorities. We reveal that God’s Word is no more valuable than a cheap novel and His wisdom is no more useful than Doctor Phil’s – and that speaks louder than Oprah. Contrary to this common, unspoken perspective, the Bible is the revelation from Creator God about His redemptive plan for sinners – what is more important?

 

In the 4th chapter, about applying the Word of God, our author gives us a short list of questions to guide us in applying Scripture rightly.

 

  1. What does this passage illustrate about the character of God? (Rom 15:4-6)
  2. How does this passage point out sin? (Rom 3:20; 7:7)
  3. How does this passage lead to Christ? (Gal 3:24)
  4. Are there any other biblical themes this passage illustrates? (Matt 23:23)

 

In the “digging deeper” of this chapter, Berding advises, “The Bible itself holds out hope that there will be a transformation and renewal of our minds as we saturate ourselves in the things of God (Rom 8:5-8; 12:2). It is true that our interests affect how we approach the Bible, but we need to allow the Scripture itself to renovate our concerns so that our special interests become more and more like the interests found in the Bible.” (Italics mine) This insightful idea warrants our close attention – our “special interests” ought to reflect the Word of God, not the system of the world. This is a prime battleground for every Christian, for as the Spirit of God Who dwells within each of us never sleeps nor rests, neither does the evil trinity of our flesh, Satan, and the system of this world. We do not battle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. The Word of God, with illumination by its Author is our only defense. While men will mislead us and lie to us, the Spirit of the Living God will never guide us contrary to God’s will or His special revelation given to us in the Scriptures. We are limited and warped by sin – the Bible is not nor is its Author!

 

In discussing our obedience to the Bible, we read, “If no evidence exists in your life that your faith is showing itself in your actions – that unforgiveness is increasingly being displaced by forgiveness, that anger is being out by love, that passivity toward the Scriptures is being replaced by a love and commitment to the Scripture – then you probably don’t know Him.” And He likely “never knew you.” Ouch! He goes on – “Passivity toward the Word of God is a serious spiritual matter.” Amen! Let us comfort no professing Christian who displays a greater love for the world than for the Word of God, even if that person is loved one, even if it that person is self.

 

Lastly, we are encouraged to teach the Bible. “Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you know the Bible very well. … Besides, there is no quicker way to learn the Bible than to teach it to someone else!” (This is in the context of parents teaching their children.) In talking about our conversation in the world, Berding encourages us to be purposeful in talking to other about Jesus rather than trusting our behavior to draw them into asking us. Further, our public walk must line up (with the inevitable failures to be acknowledged humbly and contritely) with the Gospel we are proclaiming. He debunks the apocryphal notion attributed to Francis of Assisi, that one should witness at times, using words when required. This is an unbiblical perspective because the Gospel is a verbal proclamation of what Jesus has done to redeem sinners – it cannot be communicated by our actions. But our actions (and speech) must not contradict the godly message we should be telling to people who are perishing.

 

This book started its life as sermon series on the need to have a Bible revival. While only the Lord can bring revival, our dear brother Kenneth Berding has done us good by bringing this volume into our hands. It can be grasped by people of all ages and reading abilities. It is solid food for God’s people. And we should thank Him.

Blasphemy in Song

For those who know the background or meaning of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the following is a public service announcement.

Blasphemy in Song

by Laurence M. Vance
by Laurence M. Vance

This past weekend, since it was the closest weekend to the Fourth of July holiday that we observe today, churches all across America resounded with patriotic songs. Although the wisdom of singing patriotic songs in church is itself a debatable proposition, there should be no debate in any church about uttering words of blasphemy, whether spoken or sung. Yet, the patriotic song that is perhaps the one most frequently sung in the churches of America — for the Fourth of July or otherwise — is the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But this so-called hymn is no Christian hymn at all — it is blasphemy in song.

Most Americans are familiar with the words of this “hymn”:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Chorus
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Chorus
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”
Chorus
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Chorus
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Chorus
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Chorus

The chorus is, of course, as follows:

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

Although most Americans who are familiar with this “patriotic anthem” rightly connect it with the so-called Civil War, many probably don’t know who wrote it, and even fewer know anything about how it came about.

The author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was the abolitionist and social activist, Julia Ward Howe (1819—1910). The song first appeared, minus the last verse, on the front cover of The Atlantic Monthly for February 1862. That it originally had six verses can be seen by looking at her first draft, which was written on a scrap of Sanitary Commission paper. Christian hymnbooks that contain this song only include verses one, two, four, and five. The words as it was first published are slightly different than her original draft, which is transcribed here.

The tune is from a camp-meeting song with a “Glory Hallelujah” refrain by William Steffe, written about 1856. This tune was in turn used for what became the Union marching song, “John Brown’s Body,” the first verse of which begins by repeating three times: “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,” and ends with: “His soul goes marching on!” Other lines read: “They will hang Jeff. Davis to a sour apple tree!” and “Now, three rousing cheers for the Union.”

Read the remainder of this article here.