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Oh yeah…we’ve moved house!!!

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Yep we've moved on...

Yep we’ve moved on…


Disagreeing as Brothers Not Enemies (Part 3)

So far in our walkthrough of Dr Roger Nicole’s Polemic Theology, we have considered the first of  Dr Nicole’s questions, namely, What Do I Owe The Person Who Differs from Me? and made a start on the second, which is, What Can I Learn from Those Who Differ From Me?

Pressing on, we continue with that second question, looking at two further things involved in learning from those who differ from us:

3. What are the dangers? Part of the trouble we face in disagreement with one another is that we truly believe our views are beyond error. There couldn’t possibly be dangers to our own view which a disagreement with others could expose. Dr Nicole writes:

I may learn from those who differ from me that I have not sufficiently perceived certain dangers to which my view is exposed and against which I need to be especially on guard. I may find out notably that there are certain weighty objections to which I had not given sufficient attention heretofore. Here again, I must be grateful for a signal service rendered by the objector. Instead of being irked by the opposition, I should rise to the challenge of presenting my view with appropriate safeguards and in such a way as to anticipate objections that are likely to arise.

Part of the point of dialogue is to perform the function of a whetstone. If you’ve ever done any serious work in a kitchen (guys, I don’t mean making a sandwich), you know that knives can lose their edge when you use them over and over. To keep a knife sharp, you do something like this:

Now imagine doing that with human beings and not with knives – that’s what disagreeing with people ought to do! That’s a painful process but that painful process only serves to make the knife more sharp. So the next time your paedobaptist brother makes that point you can’t immediately answer, consider it a “whetstone opportunity” – a chance to go away, find the answers from God’s Word and grow it in your new-found knowledge. Remember – our aim is not to “win” but to fulfil what the Bible says:

Proverbs 27:17 HCSB Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

4. What about ambiguities? In other words, what about what I am saying will bring up questions from my opposition (for lack of a better term)? A master at this can be seen in the Apostle Paul in Romans. Paul is simply fantastic at anticipating potential objections based on what has been said and answering them head-on. Now, hear me – this is not the idea of putting words in people’s mouths and saying that is what they meant. That’s rude and un-Christlike – even Jesus knew what the Pharisees were saying and said it verbatim. What we are saying is that as we speak, we need to be conscious of what may be legitimately mulling around in the minds of those who hear us – especially in matters where there is (despite the protestation of some) a level of ambiguity.

I simply love how Dr Nicole finishes up this section on what we can learn from those we disagree with:

When we give due attention to what we owe those who differ and what we can learn from them, we may be less inclined to proceed in a hostile manner. Our hand will not so readily contract into a boxing fist, but will be extended as an instrument of friendship and help; our feet will not be used to bludgeon another, but will bring us closer to those who stand afar; our tongue will not lash out in bitterness and sarcasm, but will speak words of wisdom, grace and healing (Prov. 10:20, 21; 13:14; 15:1; 24:26; 25:11; James 3).

In the next part of this series, we’ll begin considering how to cope with those we disagree with. Dr Nicole is going to lay out a feast of necessary truths for all Christians and especially for those who discuss sensitive issues over the Web. Hope you can tune in!

Disagreeing Like Brothers not Enemies (Part 1)

Something of a theological seismic shift has been happening with me in the last few months. The epicenter of this theological earthquake has been related to the subject of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Before I launch into the next book review I wish to embark on, I want to say something about the tenor of this discussion. For reasons I will never fully understand, in Reformed circles, being dispensational meets with the same level of disdain that is met with pop-Arminianism. I present a personal example.

I became Reformed in my late teens (though some of my Truly Reformed friends would quibble with that seeing as I was a Reformed Baptist, holding to the 1689 Baptist Confession). For a while, I simply co-opted the system I had heard growing up  until I got round to studying it. As time went on and I did a little study, the flimsy quasi-dispensationalism I had grown up with pretty much came apart and I would become more or less covenantal and definitely amillennial. I eventually moved churches to a church plant pastored by two Master’s Seminary graduates (a more or less dispensational institution) and decided to revisit the issue. In the process of that, being the social media aficionado that I am, I mentioned it in passing on Facebook that I had come round to a more rounded dispensational perspective.  That was another of my many life-regret type mistakes. I wasn’t attempting to start a riot or to get into exegetical gunslinging (and am not seeking to do so now or frankly ever again) – I was simply stating a change of views and I met with some of the following:

  • Are you serious? (Well, yes, thank you for asking…)
  • Have you read any of the critiques? (Again, yes…)
  • Did you actually READ Hebrews and Galatians? (word-for-word quote – a little condescending…)
  • It’ll be impossible to be both reformed and dispensational (OK…)

That’s the stuff that I got to see. Word reached me of being accused of having no backbone, being weak, etc. By the end of that experience, my general thought was, “Really? This is Christian love…”

Well that was last June, it’s now late December. In that time, I’ve resolved to say nothing about the subject except from with a select few who I trust not to throw “subliminals” or to take our conversations outside of the privacy of our discussion. But the whole experience had me thinking: How do we disagree like brothers and not like enemies? 

The late Dr Roger Nicole, professor for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, authored what I believe to be one of the most important essays ever penned in evangelical life.  The title? Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us.

In that essay, Dr Nicole asks three key questions:

  1. What Do I Owe to the Person Who Differs From Me?
  2. What Can I Learn from Those Who Differ From Me?
  3. How Can I Cope with Those Who Differ from Me?

Those three questions have become something of a personal canon in how I deal with those who disagree with me – be it on this issue and on any other theological issue:

1. What do I owe to the person who differs from me?

In a lot of pop-Reformed circles, that question simply doesn’t get asked. Of anyone. Nicole parses out two implications of that:

A. We have obligations to people who differ from us.Nicole writes: “This does not involve agreeing with them. We have an obligation to the truth, and that has priority over agreement with any particular person. If someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to minimize the importance of the difference. Consequently, we owe them neither consent nor indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being–we owe them love. And we owe it to them to deal with them as we ourselves would like to be dealt with or treated. (Matthew 7:12)” That last sentence is earth-shattering in its implications – the first step in disagreeing like brothers is coming to the realization that you ought really to deal with the “other side” as you wish to be treated. Your primary obligation, without question, is to the truth – but that responsibility to tell the truth is mediated through the NT as “speaking the truth in love” (cf. Ephesians 4:15). It is not loving to put words in the mouths of others to suit the point you wish to make. It is not loving to demean others in the name of truth. It is not loving to not listen. Discussions are very much like bank withdrawals – you can’t expect to take out of the account what hasn’t been put in, dear friends.

B. We must attempt to understand what a person means. It is actually disheartening when Christians do not care enough to actually state an opposing view – get this – as the opponent would actually say it! That means, in a lot of cases, people (including myself at times) need to take their posterior, apply it to a chair, hit Amazon, get the best books the other side of a debate, wait for said books to arrive (side note: I hate e-books of any kind – so I’m assuming hardcopy here), read said books until they get what is actually being said and then say your piece. I fear too many of us cherish a right of reply without bearing the responsibility to study that comes (and I believe precedes) that right.

Check for Part 2 on Thursday!

Help Get My Brother to Seminary!

We live in an age where, in proportion to the amount of confusing and downright bad teaching, good Bible teachers are hard to come by. Bearing that in mind, any opportunity to see more sound teaching and preaching of the Word go out tends to excite me. So I was really excited to hear that my friend and brother Anthony Forsyth had the opportunity to go and study at The Master’s Seminary in California next year .

Anthony is a great Bible teacher who has helped me work through some theological issues over the last few months with an interesting mix of theological insight and pastoral concern. I’m excited to see my brother and his wonderful family head off to the US for the next chapter of what God has in store for them. However, they could do with your help.

In order to get a visa to head off to the United States, they need somewhere in the region of £25,000 – no small amount to be sure and so as the Lord gives opportunity, they are raising funds to make it happen and so I have three requests. Firstly, click the link to head over to Anthony’s ministry website and have a listen to some of his teaching. You’ll be glad you did. Secondly, if you are indeed blessed by the ministry you hear, I would encourage you to prayerfully support the Forsyth family’s move to the US as you are able. Thirdly, if you aren’t able to financially support, please keep them in prayer.

In whatever way you are able to support – thank you. Every little bit helps (sorry, Tesco…)

A Self-controlled Rant About Partisan Politics

This piece, in a lot of ways, will be a rant. A good, old-fashioned, “do you know what gets on my nerves?” rant. I have put some thought into this piece – especially when arguably the most publicized election in the free world is around the corner – but for the most part, this will be very much on the fiery side of the Fiery Logic spectrum.

Read the rest of this entry

The Doctrine of Salvation

As I’m sure some of you know, I’m privileged to be a part of the fellowship at GraceLife London, a church plant based in the Clerkenwell area here in London. Each Sunday after service, we have a class called Foundations of Faith, working through the major tenets of the Bible’s teaching. Last Sunday, I had the privilege of teaching the class, dealing with the order of salvation and conversion.

You hear the recording of it (done with my iPhone) here and have a read of my teaching notes here

If you’re in the London area, we’d love to have you at church with us sometime. Our service is at 4pm every Sunday and all the information you need can be found at your website.

“Miles Wide and Inches Deep”: When We Fail to Make Disciples (2)

So if the church of Jesus Christ is called to make disciples (and I don’t think we can argue that is not the case – see the previous post for more discussion of that), then the question is no longer whether we should make disciples but how do we make them.

Such a subject is vast and a lot of ink has been spilled on how to do this – some profitable and some just leaving you wondering why the person even sat in front of a computer to write, I’m sorry to say. A helpful outline for disciple-making comes from a man who has influenced me highly in this area – Dr. David Platt, senior pastor at The Church at Brook Hills. In his series of discipleship, Dr. Platt gives  three steps to the disciple-making:

(1) HEAR THE WORD: It’s very basic on the surface, but you cannot give what you yourself do not possess. The commodity we are attempting to pass on is truth – not just a list of things to do and not do, but the living and active truth of God’s Word. That can take so many forms especially in our information age – first and foremost through the reading of the Scriptures, then through the hearing of the Word preached, fellowship with other believers and good Christian resources rooted in the Word. This provides a body of truth with which discipleship can occur.

(2) SHARE THE WORD: Once the Word has gone in, it is now able to go out. Now at this point, the question becomes, “How?” The answer I have come to is that discipling can take one of two forms: one-on-one and groups. Time doesn’t permit to break that down into components and “how-to’s”, however I would gladly recommend picking up a copy of The Trellis and The Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall for practical pointers in this regard.

(3) SHOW THE WORD: At this point, I appreciate some may retort that this sounds entirely like a glorified Bible study exercise – which, in all honesty, it would…were it to simply end in some newly discovered information each day or week you were to meet. But there is a third step to this process – that Word which has been worked in can now be worked out in the life of the disciple. Whether in Christian service (a vastly neglected area in church life today – see Dr Peter Masters’ fine booklet Your Reasonable Service) or on the job (or in the classroom for that matter), the real purpose of discipleship is the same: to set forth Christ as He has been formed in the life of the disciple (cf. Gal 4:19) and to equip the Christian to do the work of the ministry (cf. Eph 4:12)

Dr Platt presents some great insights in hitting the ground running with this in day-to-day life:

The long and short of the matter is: the church is called to make disciples who makes disciples through the preaching of the Gospel to the lost and through grounding believers in the truth. The failure to do so has created the “Miles Wide, Inch-Deep Church” and will continue to do until we reverse the disciple decline.

“Miles Wide and Inches Deep”: When We Fail to Make Disciples (1)

One of the great passions of my life is discipleship – “teaching [believers] to observe all that [Christ] has commanded [us]”. There is something powerful about the truth taking ground in the heart of another believer who then takes that truth and passes it on to another believer who passes it on and so the cycle keeps going. Or so it should.

But if you look at the evangelical landscape, we are reaping the effects of a generation that has not been taught the Word, have not taken it in and haven’t passed it on to the next generation. In some ways, the effects have positive – the rediscovering of the doctrines of grace by so many in the last decade or so has been proof of a real hunger for God-centered, Christ-exalting truth. However in other ways, the malaise continues. I present an example. Here’s Pastor Steven Furtick speaking to his congregation:

While I commend the desire to evangelize and reach people, one has to wonder why the desire to go deeper into God’s Word comes under so much attack. Putting aside that the ‘teaching’ of Furtick is usually rather shallow, one wonders why there is such antipathy to believers desiring to know God and His Word a little deeper. I am even more perplexed when I am presented with the New Testament’s own teaching on discipleship and Christian growth:

Matthew 28:18–20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Ephesians 4:11–13 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

The NT seems to posit discipleship as making believers mature, as equipping them to do the work of the ministry. If Furtick (and a whole generation of ministers) truly wish to reach more people with the Gospel, that requires – from the texts we’ve read – the following:

  • Making disciples – literally learners, students or pupils – with the syllabus being all that Jesus commanded
  • Equipping the people of God for the work of serving the Lord and building up Christ’s body
  • Admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom

And all this is to the aim of presenting every man complete in Christ. As The Bible Knowledge Commentary rightly notes:

Paul was interested in believers not remaining spiritual babies (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-2) but in becoming spiritually mature (cf. Heb. 5:11-14).[1]

How do you do that? You do it through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word at the air level and through one-on-one, life-on-life discipleship at the ground level. Furtick (and others like him) have seemingly missed the blueprint if they want to simply do the work of evangelism without the buttress of sound teaching from the Word to mature the saints so that they can get to the work of evangelism.

In conclusion, what happens if you fail to do this? Well, once again, Steven Furtick will serve as our case study. At the time of writing, Furtick just released his latest book, Greater. According to the official website (emphasis mine):

In GREATER, Pastor Steven Furtick draws on the biblical story of Elisha to empower you to take a God-given dream from idea to reality, stretch your limited resources and abilities in ways you never thought possible, replace the images of yourself that keep you feeling stuck in the past and make a significant impact with your life starting today.

If you’re tired of being ordinary, it’s time to dream bigger. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to begin, it’s time to start smaller. It’s time to ignite God’s greater vision for your life.

A systemic failure to orient people in a God-centred direction inevitably means you will orient them in a self-centred direction. Lest I be accused of taking Furtick deeply out of context, simply look over his sermon archive – series after series of well-produced, slick, creative sermons…yet no meat. Nothing that you could honestly say will do any of those points we raised earlier from the NT. And the result? You get a Christianity that is miles wide…yet has all the depth of an evaporating puddle.

[1] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Col 1:28–29). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.