How do you describe the Grand Canyon? A meteor shower? A rainbow after a storm? A wedding day? A newborn baby? These wonders are indescribably beautiful. And, yet, we reach for language to capture what our hearts behold. Of course, if this is true of creation, how much more for the Creator? Words fail us when we try to describe the wonders of God. How do you describe, for example, utter holiness? Perfect love? Infinite wisdom? Omnipresence? Omnipotence? Providence? The Trinity? We observe these attributes of God in his word and are often speechless. It almost seems wrong to speak of these things given the inadequacy of words to describe fully what we’re learning.
Four words are haunting me: “And their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23). With these four words Luke described the irreversible wave of fury that crashed on Jesus. The multitudes had a choice. The crowd could have opted for Barabbas—the convicted insurrectionist and murderer. But instead they chose Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate’s feeble attempts could not persuade the mob otherwise: But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted (Luke 23:18-24). It is easy for us to sit in judgment on those that cried out, “Crucify, …
Revelation describes an apocalyptic battle between the city of Babylon and the city of God. The kingdom was launched in Genesis, challenged from the very beginning, and then consummated in Revelation. From the garden, through Abraham and David, to Jesus, to the church, we are desperate to know how the story will end. Will the people of God be rescued? Will their King return?
It is one thing to accept that a doctrine is true; it is quite another for it to shape the life and ministry of the church. The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) is a controversial doctrine in some circles. But those of us who affirm that it is a truly biblical doctrine need to grapple carefully with how it should shape and inform our ministry.
The purpose of this brief article is to argue that PSA should be at the heart of our proclamation of the gospel—at the heart of our regular preaching of the word of God. There are important reasons for this both at the level of theological integrity and at the level of pastoral practicality.
Preaching that is biblical in the truest sense must be sensitive to the wider storyline of Scripture and properly contextualized within biblical theology, consciously shaped by certain key biblical-theological truths. Among these is the basic truth that the God of the Bible is rightly angry because of sin and will judge sin. There is little need to spend time here outlining a biblical theology of God’s justice and his holiness. This basic truth is so woven into the storyline of Scripture that we would have to willfully disregard the essential shape of salvation history to avoid it.
On a recent flight to Dallas I enjoyed reading the current issue of American Way, the monthly magazine of American Airlines. In this particular issue the cover story was about golf phenom Lexi Thompson. Her remarks about why she loves the game of golf were striking: “Every day I wake up and somethings different in my game: my swing, the weather. That’s the thing about golf. It’s always a challenge every time you wake up. That’s why I gravitated to it. What keeps me going is that you can never perfect it.”
What Thompson recognizes about golf we can apply to the Christian life. Indeed, what keeps us going—striving for growth in practical holiness—is that we will never perfect the Christian life this side of heaven. There is always room for improvement.
Outside the church (i.e., outside the visible, organized Christ-confessing covenant community, where the gospel is preached purely, the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered purely, and where church discipline is used), the church often looks very different than it does to members. Those outside the church quite often assume that only those who have achieved a state of perfection are welcome in church. Let’s put that to rest immediately: the church most assuredly is not for the perfect. Were that the case, the church would be entirely empty as there are no perfected Christians this side of heaven. The only congregation of perfect people is what Reformed theologians call “the church triumphant” (i.e., that gathering of glorified believers in heaven). We get a picture of that congregation in the Revelation (e.g., chapter 4). The church as it exists in this world, in this life (called the “church militant”) is full of nothing but sinners, who manifest the effects of sin in every conceivable way. It has been that way from the moment sin …
In 2017, George Barna reported on the state of evangelism. The news is not good. Less than 40% of those who claim to be born again Christians believe they should share the gospel. Meanwhile, the percentage of young Americans who profess faith is shrinking.
The theology of many who claim Christ is more than a little unsettling. Nineteen percent of those who say they were saved by grace alone “strongly agree” one can be saved simply by being a good person. Furthermore, only 40% “strongly reject” this claim. That means 60% of those who say they’ve been saved by grace alone are open to the possibility God will save people on the basis of their good works.
In Why Johnny Can’t Preach, T. David Gordon argues that preaching today is generally bad. His thesis is that “many ordained people simply can’t preach” (16). His conclusion is that modern forms of media have shaped the messengers themselves. Minds that have not been shaped by reading struggle to understand a text and minds that have not been shaped by writing struggle to proclaim a message. Gordon’s solution is that those who aspire to preach should prepare beforehand and cultivate life habits that make good preachers. Gordon says, “What I care about is the average Christian family in the average pew in the average church on the average Sunday” (14). His goal in writing is the health of the church.
This is a really important consideration for our friends from the broader evangelical world as they come into contact with confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) worship. There is a high likelihood that those emerging from the broad evangelical traditions are addicted to a regular, even programmed release of dopamine and/or norepinephrine. It is not your fault. You are part of a tradition that dates to the mid-19th century. That tradition (represented and perfected by Charles Finney) discovered ways of manipulating people in public worship in order to move them from point A (the pew) to point B (the anxious bench).
Pastors have the unique privilege and obligation to bend the comfort of heaven into the hearts of their congregations. Yet, there seems to be a disparity between ought and is. In far too many cases, it seems, comfort becomes mere coaching.