J.C. Ryle’s Argument for Christianity

JC RYLE

“The religion of Christ must have been from heaven, or it never could have prospered and overspread the earth as it has done.  It is vain for infidels to attempt to answer this argument.  It cannot be answered.  A religion which did not flatter the rich, the great, and the learned,—-a religion which offered no license to the carnal inclinations of man’s heart,—-a religion whose first teachers were poor fishermen, without wealth, rank, or power,—-such a religion could never have turned the world upside down, if it had not been of God.  Look at the Roman emperors and the heathen priests with their splendid temples on the one side!  Look at a few unlearned working men with the Gospel on the other!  Were there ever two parties so unequally matched?  Yet the weak proved strong, and the strong proved weak.  Heathenism fell, and Christianity took its place.  Christianity must be of God.”

Expository Thoughts on Matthew 4:12-25, pg.30

 

C.M. Granger

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Beware the Grid: Some Thoughts on Intellectual Blind Spots

Wow, it’s been over two months since my last post. Just the other day I was thinking it had only been a few weeks…

I’d like to comment on a post by a pastor and apologist I highly respect named James R. White of Alpha and Omega ministries. I don’t always agree with him, but I appreciate his ministry and apologetic work, particularly in the area of theological debate.

On the Reformed Baptist Fellowship website he published a post entitledWhy I Am So Thankful to be a Reformed Baptist” .  Now, there’s nothing wrong with being thankful to be a part of your church, association, or denomination.  I have no problem with that on the surface of it.  In the post he mentions the following reasons for being so thankful:

1.  He gets to meet and minister with some of the best preachers and teachers he knows of.

2.  He has the honor and privilege of ministering in sister churches all across the landscape, and is encouraged by the spirit of unity and faith.

3.  But the main reason he cites as being thankful for being a Reformed Baptist is the work the Lord has called him to in apologetics, that is, in providing a reasoned defense of the faith to those who are skeptical of it or who outright oppose it.

He then goes on to list several false religions and cults, such as Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Oneness Pentacostalism, etc. and how he has defended Christian orthodoxy with regard to the Trinity, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the Crucifixion, the person and work of Christ, all because of the consistency of “our faith”.  All well and good, except….such Christian orthodoxy is not the product of a small sliver of Baptist churches who designate themselves to be “reformed”.  In fact, I daresay all of these doctrinal truths were ironed out long before independent Particular or Reformed Baptist churches came to the fore, or the 1689 2nd London Baptist COF was written.

Therefore, shouldn’t the title of the post simply be “Why I Am So Thankful to be a Christian”?  I don’t see what being a Reformed Baptist has to do with this, do you?

But then Dr. White brings his post to a conclusion by stating the following:

“So the next time you eye the big fancy church down the road on your way to your Reformed Baptist church, consider this:  the value of the consistency of divine truth, the treasure of having a firm foundation upon which to live a God-honoring life, is truly priceless.”

Did you note how he went from cults and false religions to the “big fancy church” down the street?  How are these connected?  Isn’t the big fancy church down the street a Christian congregation of blood-bought sinners redeemed by grace, just like the small Reformed Baptist church?  Does such a church not have the body of truth Dr. White has been so thankful to defend against its opponents?  This kind of statement is indicative of a certain mindset among some RB churches and brethren that needs to be repented of.  A cloak of suspicion need not be cast upon other churches or ministries, nor does the Reformed Baptist need to be held up as the one with a corner on the truth.

I don’t mean to malign Dr. White’s motives, I’m sure he was attempting to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ who serve the Lord in RB churches.  I simply want to point out how an unhealthy mindset can take advantage of intellectual blind spots.  Keep defending the faith, Dr. White, only do so as a thankful Christian!

C.M. Granger

Some Post-Christmas Thoughts on the Love of God in the Incarnation

Nativity (8) In some Reformed circles there’s a debate about whether a Christian should ever tell unbelievers that God loves them. The argument goes something like this, “We never see an example of Jesus or Paul, or any other NT writer, using such language when preaching or speaking to unbelievers”. I don’t know that this assertion establishes the position, and I don’t pretend the argument isn’t more nuanced than this. However, I also don’t believe it to be true primarily because of the Incarnation. Jesus was born, God’s Son was given. The gospel is “good news”, and part of that good news is that God does love you.

Some of my brothers and sisters in the faith will be quick to point out that God doesn’t really love unbelievers because if He did, they would become believers. In other words, the only love that counts is God’s redeeming love. Making such a distinction, I think, is unhelpful theologizing (that might not be an actual word, but it conveys what I’m trying to get across). If there is redeeming love, can you explain to me what non-redeeming love is, exactly? It can’t simply be good will. Good will is not love in the Scriptural sense. I’m open to correction though, so let me hear it in the combox if you think I’m mistaken. Let’s consider an example in Scripture of Jesus loving an unbeliever:

“And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, Do Not Murder, Do Not Commit Adultery, Do Not Steal, Do Not Bear False Witness, Do Not Defraud, Honor Your Father and Mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ Mark 10:17-21

Now, there’s no indication in the text that the Rich Young Ruler ever did follow Christ. Some will make that assertion because “Jesus felt a love for him”, and if that is so, he must have been saved later because, well, Jesus only loves those whom He saves. If we go no further than the text, we cannot make that assumption. It says that Jesus felt a love for him (as a total aside, this also disproves the notion that love is not a feeling. It’s much more than that, but it definitely is a feeling. But I digress…).

In my opinion, it’s biblical to tell unbelievers that God loves them and that He invites them to come to Him in the gospel of His Son. The gospel is not simply a regal command to “repent and believe”, but a fatherly pleading and exhortation to do so. I think the Incarnation itself (among other things, such as the fact that “God is love”) establishes this. Don’t miss this important aspect of the First Advent, nor doubt whether or not it’s pleasing to our heavenly Father if you tell sinners He loves them. The failure to express God’s love when we share the gospel may be a primary reason our evangelism is not particularly winsome or fruitful. At least consider the possibility…

C.M. Granger

Is It Clear? Frame on the Perspicuity of Scripture

Boat on Clear WaterIn honor of receiving John Frame’s Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief in the mail today, and in light of recent discussions, I’m going to quote Professor Frame on the clarity of Scripture.  Again, the quote is lengthy, but too good to shorten much.

“Since Scripture is God’s word, it is his communication to us.  In Scripture, God speaks, not primarily to himself or to the angels, or to the winds and waves, but to us human beings.  God cannot fail to accomplish his purpose, so his communication cannot be anything less than successful.  If words are unclear, they fail to communicate; they are not communication.  So Scripture must be clear.

Scripture represents that clarity by describing how near God is to us in his Word.  So the clarity of Scripture represents the existential perspective, the lordship attribute of divine presence.  God says to Israel:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea , that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

Paul paraphrases this passage to speak of the presence of Christ in the gospel:

But the righteousness based on faith says, Do no say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim). (Rom. 10:6-8)

In these passages, the clarity of God’s word engages our responsibility.  If we disobey or disbelieve, we cannot complain that God hasn’t spoken clearly.  Like God’s word in nature (Rom. 1:20), the clarity of his word in the gospel implies that we are without excuse.  So the clarity of God’s word has an ethical thrust.

To speak this way, however, raises problems.  For it seems that in some respects Scripture is unclear.  Many people say that Scripture is too hard for them to understand, and that therefore it is unclear to them.  And Scripture itself notes certain kinds of unclarity:

1.  Scripture is unclear to the unregenerate.  As I indicated earlier, the Word hardens them, until the Spirit changes their heart.

2.  Some doctrines of the faith are mysterious (Job 38-42; Rom. 11:33-36).  Although we can speak of them, even regenerate people cannot understand them in depth.  This is the limitation of our finitude.

3.  All parts of Scripture are not equally clear.  Peter says of Paul’s letters, ‘There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures’ (2 Pet. 3:16)

How can we reconcile our confession of the clarity of Scripture with these senses in which Scripture is unclear?  The Confession answers this way:  [Frame cites WCF 1:7, as quoted in my previous post]

So the Confession makes a distinction between things that are ‘necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation’ and those that are not.  The former must be clear; the latter may not be.  And the Confession adds another limitation on the clarity of Scripture:  many things in Scripture, even among those necessary for salvation, cannot be understood by everybody without help.  Understanding in those cases comes through ‘a due use of the ordinary means.’  Those means presumably include the normal educational resources of the church, such as preaching, teaching, and prayer.  So if you are a regenerate person, and there is something in Scripture you don’t understand, that is either because (1) the matter is not necessary for salvation, or (2) you haven’t made a due use of the ordinary means.

As to the first possible reason, I hesitate to try to distinguish in Scripture between what is necessary for salvation and what is not.  Certainly the atonement is necessary for salvation in a way that the number of David’s troops is not…

The second reason reflects the polemics of the Reformation period…..The Confession does not deny the importance of teaching.  It presupposes teaching in its reference to ordinary means.  But it says that our need of teaching does not justify withholding the Scriptures from ordinary people.  Any adult of normal intelligence can understand the basics of the atonement, for example, if he is willing to undergo some simple instruction.

But I would add a third reason why believers sometimes find Scripture to be unclear.  That is that believers differ greatly from one another in their callings and responsibilities.  When a child is four years old, there is not much of the Bible that he understands, even if he makes maximum use of the ordinary means of grace available to him.  Even doctrines that are easily described as necessary for salvation, such as the doctrine of the atonement, may be obscure to our four-year-old believer.  How can it be that such a believer is baffled by the clear word of God?  The answer should be obvious:  a four-year-old child is not able to master the doctrine of the atonement, and he is not responsible to do that.  He is not called to that kind of reflection.  He is called to obey his parents, a biblical command that he can understand well enough, and with their guidance to grow in his knowledge of the Bible.

I noted earlier that the clarity of Scripture has an ethical application.  It takes away excuses and establishes our responsibility to grasp what God’s Word says.  But a four-year-old child has much less responsibility of this sort, than, say, a twenty-year-old with normal mental gifts.

That reflection suggests a principle:  the clarity of Scripture is relative to one’s responsibilities….

Scripture, then, is clear enough to make us responsible for carrying out our present duties to God.  That principle seems to me to summarize what the Bible implies about its own clarity.”

The Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 147-150

And to that I say “Amen”!

C.M. Granger

 

 

Is Knowing Him Enough?

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If any of you remember my last post, the words of Muslim teenager convicted me.  So I was determined to share the gospel with many more people this summer.  I was in the park and two older people were sitting on the bench.  He was in his 70’s and she in her 80’s.  In the past, I’ve had conversations with the woman about God, family and church, but I didn’t know the man.  We got on the subject of vacations because she was going to California to visit her grandchildren.  I asked her what city she was going to and she said she couldn’t remember.  I suggested a few: Anaheim, Oakland, or Los Angeles.  You could see that she was working hard to remember.  Before she could answer, the older gentlemen said, “I hope it is not Los Angeles, there are too many fires there. It is terrible what is happening there.”  I made sure to get his attention and looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes, it is terrible, but this is a wake up call and warning that it will be worse on the last day when God returns to judge the earth.  That is why it is very important to know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior so that you will rescued from that great day.” I hoped the woman would chime in and give her testimony and maybe take the conversation deeper since she obviously had a relationship (friends) with him.  But my excitement was quickly squelched by her counterclaim, “It not enough to know Him, but you gotta do His will! A lot people know Him, but He said, depart from me I never knew you.  You gotta do His will! Even the devil knows Him, but he didn’t do His will!”

I’ve heard this so many times, but is that biblical?  Do we have to do more than just know Him?  Have you heard this before?  I plan to check it out.

Brian D.O.C.

Theological Docetism and the Postmodern Turn

One of my pastors (that guy listed as an author on this blog, you can guess which one right?) is doing a Sunday School class this year entitled “Foundations of Systematic Theology”. This morning he dealt with the two natures of Christ in one Person. He began with a brief survey of early errors in Christology regarding this subject. One of them, Docetism, stuck with me today as I thought about facts and appearances. What do I mean?

Docetism is the belief that Christ was divine, but only appeared human. We discussed in the class why this view is problematic. If Jesus only appeared human, then he didn’t really suffer on the cross. If he only appeared human, then he couldn’t be our represententative as the second Adam, couldn’t have experienced (and resisted) temptation in our stead, couldn’t have bled and died in our place.

I started thinking of a postmodern form of Docetism. What would that be, you might ask? The belief that the Bible only appears to record historical events and persons (i.e. Adam and Eve, Noah’s Flood, the extermination of the Canaanites, etc.) but in reality contains a boat load of myth and metaphor. Is there a historical narrative in Scripture you can’t stomach? Simple. It’s a myth. Maybe the early chapters of Genesis got you down? Easy. Metaphor.

It’s all in the appearances anyway, isn’t it?

Except that the Christian faith is based on actual historical events that are all tied together and cannot be separated. Consider 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul defends the resurrection on historical grounds, tracing sin all the way back to Adam. Verse 13 and following, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” Vs. 17, “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Seems like this historical event is important in the apostle’s view, doesn’t it? Vs. 21-22, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”

But, wait a minute (says the postmodern mind), Adam is a myth. A figurehead meant to illustrate a theological point. Hmmm. How can I assert a historical Jesus now?

Not sure. I’d like to know that myself.

Have an answer? Chime in…

C.M. Granger

What is the Gospel?

Written by Greg Gilbert

Published by Crossway, © 2010 121 pages

Part of 9Marks series

9Marks is an organization that exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources.  This book by Greg Gilbert is one of those practical resources.

Greg Gilbert has been teaching theology to students for thirty years.  He has witnessed many controversial questions – questions that spark heated debates, but lately, the most controversial question that he has come across lately is, “What is the gospel?”  In his introduction, he asked this question of some Christians, ten to be exact, (not sure why he didn’t stop at nine) and listed their responses.  I was surprised that many of the answers were drastically different from one another and two were polar opposite.

Gilbert starts with this premise: the gospel is found in the Bible.  On page 31, he narrows the gospel down into four crucial questions:

(1) Who made use, and to whom are we accountable?

(2) What is our problem?  Are we in trouble and why?

(3) What is God’s solution to that problem?  How has he acted to save us from it?

(4) How do I – myself, right here, right now – how do I come to be included in that salvation?  What makes the good news for me and not just for someone else?

Gilbert believes that these four questions are essential to the gospel, and if one is missing in our presentation, then we will present an incomplete picture of good news of Jesus Christ.

Theses questions may be difficult to remember, so there are four key words we can remember when we are presenting the gospel to others: GOD, MAN, CHRIST AND RESPONSE.  If we could remember that God is holy and man is sinful, then we only have to remember that God’s only solution to bridge the gap between God and man is Jesus Christ.  After this has been presented, then the only thing that is left is to command hearers, like the apostle Peter did, to repent and be baptized.  If you are reading this and the Holy Spirit is convicting your heart, contact us so we introduce you to the Savior.

Brian L. Spivey