Theology CentralTheology Central exists as a place of conversation and information for faculty and friends of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Posts include seminary news, information, and opinion pieces about ministry, theology, and scholarship.
Unsaved people in their natural state do not receive or welcome the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). Divine truth seems foolish to them because it is spiritually discerned. While they can exegete texts and can grasp what the Bible says, they cannot appreciate its relevance or know its significance because they reject the Bible’s frame of reference. The truth that they grasp is useless to them since they do not know it as it ought to be known.
In the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul dwells at length on the contrast between the wisdom of the unsaved world (which is ultimately foolish) and the (ultimately wise) foolishness of God (1:18–31). He states that he explicitly repudiated displays of human wisdom in his presentation of the divine truth (2:1–5). Instead, he affirmed the wisdom of God, the rejection of which led the rulers of this world to crucify the Lord of glory (2:6–8). The divine wisdom focuses upon the crucified Christ (1:17–18; 2:2). This hidden wisdom (i.e., Christ crucified) is what God has ordained before the world to the glory of His people (2:7).
At this point in his discourse, Paul writes one of the most frequently misunderstood statements in all of Scripture: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (2:9). This verse is commonly understood to be talking about the glories of heaven, as if heaven were such a wonderful place that we cannot even imagine it ahead of time. While it is certainly true that we cannot imagine how blessed heaven will be, that idea is completely foreign to this context.
Rather, Paul has been talking about God’s hidden wisdom. It is wisdom that has been rejected by the wise and powerful of this world. It cannot be discerned through natural observation or invented through natural imagination. Nevertheless, God formed His plan according to this eternal wisdom, which comes to a focal point in the cross work of Christ. What God prepared for those who love Him is not merely heaven, but all of salvation and everything that God had to do to secure it.
If this wisdom cannot be known through natural observation or invented through natural imagination, then how could anyone ever receive it? Paul answers this question in only one way: God revealed it. Revelation may be defined as the disclosure by God to humans of truth that they did not know and could not otherwise have known. Paul’s point is that natural observation and imagination cannot arrive at true knowledge of the things that God has prepared for His people, but God has Himself revealed them (2:10).
Furthermore, He revealed these things through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the agent of divine revelation (cf. 2 Pet 1:20–21). The Spirit can be the revealer because He searches and knows the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:10).
Paul illustrates his point by appealing to the analogy of the human spirit (2:11). Each of us has a self-conscious awareness that knows things about us to which no one else has access. Our spirit knows our inner states, our thoughts, our imaginations, and our dispositions, none of which is available for inspection by other human beings. By analogy, God’s Holy Spirit knows exhaustively all of God’s hidden workings. This complete knowledge of God and His ways is what enables the Spirit to act as the agent of revelation.
Furthermore, this same Spirit who knows the things of God has been given to us (2:12). God’s purpose in giving us His Spirit is at least partly so that we might know the hidden things that God has prepared for us. In other words, the Spirit has not only revealed what God is doing, but He also helps us to understand that revelation. The rest of the context illustrates how that understanding works.
Paul next references “the things we speak” (2:13). This is a reference to divine revelation, which was communicated by the Spirit through the apostles and prophets. The apostle denies that knowledge of these things came through human wisdom. As the Holy Spirit communicated these things, He did so by comparing spirituals with spirituals—probably meaning that spiritual communication is required for spiritual truth.
Paul is not suggesting that the Holy Spirit invented a new language for revealing spiritual truth. Nor is he denying that unbelievers—people who do not have the Spirit—can understand the words and propositions in which spiritual truth is communicated. Nevertheless, something in their understanding is disabled so that spiritual truth seems like foolishness to them (2:14). They cannot know it and they do not welcome it.
On the other hand, those who love God have been given His Spirit. Because they have the Spirit, they are capable of discerning all things (2:15). That is to say, they welcome spiritual truth and it makes sense to them. They perceive how it affects their lives. According to a parallel passage, they are “able to discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:14).
Students of Scripture debate the meaning of “he that is spiritual” in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Some apply this language to all believers, since all believers have been given the Spirit. Others apply the language only to those believers who have yielded themselves to the Spirit and who wish to obey Him. Still others apply it only to believers who have been brought to maturity by the Spirit. What all three of these perspectives agree upon is that the ability to receive and apply Scripture rightly depends upon the Holy Spirit. He was the agent of revelation, and He continues to be the agent of spiritual understanding. He is the one who takes the words of revelation and helps the believer to appreciate their significance.
This, then, is illumination. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling believers to grasp and welcome the significance of divine revelation. Illumination does not replace the discipline of study. It is not a shortcut that eliminates the need for careful interpretation of the text. Illumination is indispensable, however, in knowing what to do with the text and in perceiving its relevance to one’s own life.
The Holy Spirit must begin a work of illumination before any unbeliever will ever understand and receive the gospel. The Spirit must continue to perform this work for all believers as they wrestle with the text of Scripture. While He does not interpret the Bible for us, He does help us to understand the significance of the text. He shows us the difference that it ought to make in our lives. Illumination is that work of the Holy Spirit by means of which He helps believers to understand the significance of revelation as they incorporate it into their lives.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Eternal Spirit! We Confess
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Eternal Spirit! we confess
And sing the wonders of Thy grace;
Thy power conveys our blessings down
From God the Father and the Son.
Enlightened by Thy heavenly ray,
Our shades and darkness turn to day;
Thine inward teachings make us know
Our danger and our refuge too.
Thy glorious power works within,
And breaks the chains of reigning sin.
Doth our imperious lusts subdue,
And forms our wretched hearts anew.
The troubled conscience knows Thy voice,
Thy cheering words awake our joys;
Thy words allay the stormy wind,
And calm the surges of the mind.
Of the various doctrines related to Scripture (revelation, inspiration, canonicity, etc.), perhaps the most misunderstood is the doctrine of illumination. Most Bible believers agree that illumination is a work of the Holy Spirit in helping people (particularly believers) to understand Scripture. In many cases, however, illumination is taken to be a shortcut to understanding the Bible. People imagine that the Holy Spirit somehow communicates the meaning of the text directly to the reader’s mind, so that the reader does not need to do the hard work of studying the Bible. Whatever sense (or, often, nonsense) enters the reader’s mind after looking at a passage is taken to be its true meaning, taught by the Holy Spirit. For such a reader, what the text means is whatever it means “to me.”
The Bible contains passages that are hard to understand (2 Pet 3:16). A faithful pastor may spend weeks or even months preparing to preach one of these passages. He might translate the verses, parse the verbs, locate the nouns, look up word meanings and chase their parallel usages, study the grammar, create both sentence and exegetical diagrams, and consult multiple translations and commentaries. He may labor to discover the best way of communicating the actual meaning of the text to his listeners. At the end of his sermon, he is as likely as not to be greeted at the door by some dear saint who will say, “Pastor, thank you for your sermon, but the Holy Spirit has told me that this verse means….” Whatever comes next will almost certainly not be what the verse really says.
Yet the doctrine of illumination must mean something. The question is not only what illumination is, but also why it is necessary and how it works. The reason it is necessary is because, in the first place, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). In other words, at some level the unsaved do not receive or welcome (the verb is dechomai) spiritual truth.
The problem is not that an unsaved person is unable to read the Bible and to understand it at the verbal level. When it comes to interpreting the text, unsaved students of the Bible are just about as skilled as believing students. In fact, some of them may be skilled enough to write useful commentaries on the text.
The problem is not with grasping the Bible’s verbal meaning. The problem is that, to the unsaved person, to the person who is living life outside the biblical frame of reference, the teachings of the Bible simply seem preposterous (“they are foolishness unto him”). To such a person, the Bible’s instruction appears to have no relevance. It seems like moral nonsense. According to Paul, unsaved people have no capacity to know spiritual things, which would include the way of salvation.
This incapacity for grasping the significance of spiritual truth is hardwired into unsaved people (or the “natural man,” as Paul calls them). It is not that people become disabled from welcoming spiritual truth; on the contrary, this is the state into which they are born. It is the direct result of the fall—theologians refer to this disability as the noetic effect of the fall. Unless God does something to open their unsaved minds, people will never see the significance of spiritual truth, including the gospel. They will never perceive its significance for their lives. And if they do not grasp that, then they cannot believe it.
This disability is compounded by the fact that “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor 4:4). In addition to the natural blindness caused by sin, Satan has imposed an additional layer of spiritual blindness. This blindness specifically affects people’s ability to understand the gospel. If they do not understand the gospel, however, then what further spiritual truth can they ever understand?
Again, this lack of understanding does not mean that the unsaved are incapable of hearing and grasping the gospel message. Rather, the message, even if understood at the verbal level, seems absurd to them. What makes sense to them is not the biblical God, sin, salvation, and Christ, but a different kind of God, a different kind of sin problem, a different kind of salvation, and a different kind of savior. This inability to credit the true gospel is the reason that unbelieving people have created so many false gospels.
Thus, unsaved people (the “natural man”) are hindered by two kinds of spiritual blindness. One is their own natural blindness, which is the direct result of the fall. This natural blindness covers all spiritual things. It is compounded by another blindness, one caused by Satan, and it is a blindness specifically toward the gospel. This double blindness is one reason people cannot save themselves. Furthermore, it is the reason they will not allow God to save them on His terms.
God has made spiritual truth, including the gospel, clear in His Word. As long as this truth does not match the world in which unsaved people imagine themselves to live, however, they do not and will not welcome it. They will find some alternative belief to be much more credible. The alternative will seem more plausible: it will make better sense to them.
If any people are ever going to be saved, God needs to do something to open their spiritually blind eyes. He has to do something to shine a light into the darkness of unsaved minds. He has to grant illumination, and illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit.
How does illumination work? And what does it mean? Scripture answers those questions. We shall turn to those answers in the next essay.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Come Down, O Love Divine
Bianco da Siena (1350–1434); tr. Richard Frederick Littledale (1833–1890)
Come down, O Love divine,
seek Thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with Thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let Thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing:
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the pow’r of human telling;
no soul can guess its grace,
till he become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.
In a sermon preached in 1855, Charles Haddon Spurgeon quoted what he referred to as an old proverb: “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” The substance of this proverb can be traced at least as far back as Jonathan Swift in 1710.
Besides, as the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers; and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it; for that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late, the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect…like a physician who has found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead. [Examiner 15, 9 Nov 1710, 2; I have modernized the spellings.]
The point of this proverb is that new falsehoods spread rapidly, while answers take time to prepare and to disseminate. Often, by the time a thorough answer has been given, people have already accepted the substance of the lie. It has become part of their mental and emotional furniture.
This is the exact situation in which biblically minded Christians minister at the quarter mark of the 21st century. The lies are being propagated through intellectual systems like post-colonialism and critical theory. They advance under labels like Social Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. They have resulted in widespread public perception that the most sinister evils are structural rather than individual; that same-sex erotic activity must be affirmed and that the Bible’s teaching on this subject is either irrelevant or misunderstood; that it is possible for two people of the same sex to marry each other; that sex and gender are merely social constructs that exist along a spectrum (or even a matrix) and can be altered; that both erotic desire and gender are fundamental aspects of personal identity; and that the foregoing are so vital to human rights that all people must be made to recognize them through force of law.
These lies seem new, but they are really combinations of older lies that have been patched together in new ways. They were told first by artists, then by philosophers, then by educators, and then by propagandists. Eventually they reached ordinary people. By the time they burst out into public, they seemed to have gained irresistible momentum. They have swept across the West and around the world like an anti-intellectual and anti-moral tsunami.
Meanwhile, the truth has been pulling its boots on. Of course, one can always simply restate the truth in the face of lies. Christian defenders of the truth, however, have discovered that restatement is more persuasive when it takes account of the particular ways in which the lies have been told. Consequently, for the past several years, defenders of biblical truths have had to expend more time than they wished studying writers like Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-François Lyotard. They have had to wrestle with ideas from third- and fourth-wave feminism, gender studies, and identity theory.
Meanwhile, the lies have become so popular that many evangelicals have accepted them and have even become invested in them. Pseudo-biblical defenses of these lies have multiplied. Consequently, biblical defenders of truth have also had to revisit biblical hermeneutics and theological anthropology. They are doing this work primarily in the academy through papers presented at learned societies, articles published in scholarly journals, and books that tackle difficult ideas.
In other words, the truth has just about got its boots on. The question is how to get it before the people of God, most of whom do not attend learned societies or read scholarly journals where these matters are being discussed. This 21st century question has a 1st century answer, and the answer is pastors. Christ has appointed shepherds within His flock, and these shepherds must bring the teachings of God’s Word to bear upon the lies that are being told.
Central Seminary intends to play a role in preparing pastors to answer the most current set of lies. One way in which we are doing this is through our Doctor of Ministry program. The program offers two emphases: public ministry and biblical counseling. Both emphases share two core courses. One is on “Identity and Idolatry,” and it is taught by Dr. Brett Williams. The other, taught by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, is on “Creation, Sex, and Gender.” Together, these courses get to the heart of the lies that are harassing God’s people today.
Registration and pre-studies for the course in “Creation, Sex, and Gender” will open on Monday, July 24. The face-to-face class session will meet November 14–17 and can be attended virtually using the seminary’s Zoom classrooms. Each student must also complete a final project by February 10. While students in this course do not study the Frankfurt school or the deconstructionists, they will examine fully the arguments in the current debates over same-sex erotic activity and contemporary gender confusion.
We are serious about trying to help pastors with this course. If you have been thinking about enrolling in a DMin but you have not to this point, then we are willing to absorb the cost of tuition for this course as your introduction to our program. If you are enrolled in somebody else’s DMin program, we are willing to work with your institution toward transferring this course into your program. The point is that we want to expose as many qualified pastors as possible to the content of this course.
There are certain stipulations. To register for “Creation, Sex, and Gender,” you must be orthodox in your theology—you must affirm the fundamentals. You must also affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the Danvers Statement (which summarizes biblical complementarianism), and the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality. If you take the course for credit, you must enroll in Central Seminary’s DMin program, or you must be enrolled in some other DMin program.
While we do not normally allow non-students in our DMin courses, we may possibly make some exceptions for “Creation, Sex, and Gender.” Assuming that you can affirm the above statements, and that you are currently engaged in vocational ministry, you should contact me directly to express your interest. If you are accepted into the course, you will pay a reduced fee. Priority will be granted to those individuals who have greater ministry experience or who already hold advanced degrees. If non-students are admitted into the course, they will be expected to complete all reading and to participate in all discussion, but they will not be obligated to complete the final project.
The lies are still speeding around the world. If you are a truth-telling pastor, it’s time to put your boots on.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Hatred of Sin
William Cowper (1731–1800)
Holy Lord God! I love thy truth,
Nor dare thy least commandment slight;
Yet pierced by sin, the serpent’s tooth,
I mourn the anguish of the bite.
But, though the poison lurks within,
Hope bids me still with patience wait;
Till death shall set me free from sin,
Free from the only thing I hate.
Had I a throne above the rest,
Where angels and archangels dwell,
One sin, unslain, within my breast,
Would make that heaven as dark as hell.
The prisoner, sent to breathe fresh air,
And bless’d with liberty again,
Would mourn, were he condemn’d to wear
One link of all his former chain.
But, oh! no foe invades the bliss,
When glory crowns the Christian’s head;
One view of Jesus as he is
Will strike all sin for ever dead.
The Bible’s claim for itself is that all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16–17) and that Scripture originated in men of God being carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:20–21). These words imply that inspiration extends to the words of Scripture (verbal inspiration) as well as to Scripture in all its parts (plenary inspiration) as originally written. Whatever the Bible affirms, God affirms, and God can neither deceive nor make mistakes. Consequently, Scripture is inerrant.
The objection has been raised, however, that some verses in the Bible disavow their own inspiration. One of these passages is supposed to be 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12. The contrast between these two verses is noteworthy. In verse 10, Paul states that the commandment that he is about to issue does not come from him, but from the Lord. In verse 12, however, he specifically says that in the following verses he is speaking, but not the Lord. Is Paul suggesting that part of his message is divinely inspired, but part of it is just his own good advice? Is he disavowing the inspiration of what he writes from verse 12 onward?
The answer to this question lies in the overall context of Paul’s argument. The believers at Corinth had evidently written to Paul, asking for his instruction about certain matters. Before answering their questions, Paul took advantage of the opportunity to offer a series of admonitions and instructions concerning issues that he saw within the Corinthian congregation. Only at 1 Corinthians 7:1 did he begin to respond to the questions from the church.
The first of those questions involved the value of singleness and the mutual duties between husbands and wives within the marriage relationship (7:1–9). The second question involved the permissibility of divorce and marital separation, particularly in a situation where a believer was married to an unbelieving spouse. The question that Paul was answering probably did not envision believers deliberately marrying unbelievers, but more likely addressed the problems that would arise when one marriage partner came to Christ but the other did not.
Paul’s answer to this question is divided into two parts. The first part lays out general instruction concerning divorces and separations (7:10–11). The second part addresses specifically the question of how a believer who is in a mixed marriage should behave (7:12–16).
For the first part of his answer (dealing with divorce and separation), Paul did not really say anything new. He surely recognized that the Scriptures already addressed this situation in unambiguous terms. The Old Testament clearly declared that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). Furthermore, this was a question that Jesus had personally answered on multiple occasions during His earthly ministry (Matt 5:21; 19:3–9; Mark 10:2–12; Luke 16:18). According to Jesus, even the Old Testament procedure for divorce (Deut 24:1–4) was only a concession to the hardness of human hearts.
When introducing this teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul used the formula, “I command, yet not I, but the Lord” (7:10). What he was doing was drawing attention to the fact that divorce and remarriage in general was already a matter of settled teaching. Paul did not have to command anything new. All he had to do was to point to the teachings of Jesus, “the Lord.” These teachings were sufficient to decide the issue. Leaving aside the possibility of exceptions (as in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ teaching, “except for sexual immorality”), the general rule could be summarized as “no divorce, no remarriage.”
Nevertheless, the general teaching of Jesus on divorce and separation did not fully anticipate the situation in which the Corinthians now found themselves. In at least some instances, one spouse in a marriage had believed on Christ, while the other had not. Furthermore, in at least some of these cases, the unbelieving spouse was overtly hostile to the gospel, perhaps to the point of forbidding the believer to fulfill Christian duties. This was the real question for the Corinthians. This was the real problem that they needed to solve.
Here Paul could not quote a specific teaching that Jesus (“the Lord”) had offered during His earthly ministry. But that did not prevent Paul from articulating an answer. On the contrary, he offered a very specific answer, the gist of which was that the believing spouse must remain with the unbeliever as long as the unbeliever was willing to allow it (7:12–13). In this way the believer could have a sanctifying influence both upon the unbeliever and upon any children born to the union (7:14, 16). Nevertheless, if the unbeliever abandoned the believing spouse, the believer was not obligated to pursue the unbeliever (7:15).
In these verses Paul was speaking new truth into a new situation. In doing so, he made it clear that his message was not part of Jesus’s earthly teaching but was being delivered from Paul in his apostolic capacity (7:12). Even though the answer was not directly from Jesus, it was nevertheless authoritative. Paul was issuing commands, and he expected his readers to obey what he wrote.
In other words, the apostle Paul was putting his own teaching on the same level of authority as the teaching of Jesus. In effect he was saying, “Here is what Jesus taught; now do this. And here is what I teach; do this too.” Far from minimizing the authority of his words, Paul is maximizing that authority.
Paul’s answer in 1 Corinthians 7:12–16 stands as part of Scripture. Even though it is not based on the earthly words of Jesus, it is nevertheless God-breathed. When Paul wrote it, he was being carried along by the Holy Spirit. Verse 12 does not disavow the inspiration of the text. All it does is to distinguish the earthly words of Jesus from the words of the apostles who were His representatives. Clearly, however, the scriptural words of the apostles are as divinely inspired and authoritative as the words of Jesus Himself.
Author of Good, To Thee We Come
James Merrick (1720–1769)
Author of Good, to thee we come;
Thy ever wakeful eye
Alone can all our wants discern,
Thy hand alone supply.
O let thy fear within us dwell,
Thy love our footsteps guide;
That love shall vainer love expel;
That fear, all fears beside.
And since, by error’s force subdued,
Too oft the stubborn will
Mistaken shuns the latent good,
And grasps the specious ill;
Not to our wish, but to our want,
Do thou thy gifts apply;
Unask’d, what good thou knowest, grant;
What ill, tho’ ask’d, deny.
Have you ever attended a conference with a large number of people and you were hardly acquainted with anyone there? That was my experience when I visited my first IFCA International annual convention in 2018. On the opening night following the first general preaching session, the IFCA invites everyone to a reception. While hundreds of people were milling around renewing old acquaintances and enjoying the dessert and coffee, I received a warm greeting from the Executive Director himself, Les Lofquist, who served in that role for 20 years. Les has now retired and joined the faculty at Shepherds Theological Seminary, but his warm greeting that evening gave me a glimpse into the kind of fundamentalism the IFCA believes and practices. His welcoming stance was not an aberration among the conference-goers. As I ate meals with folks, manned the Central Seminary booth, and gathered together for the general sessions and breakout seminars, I made many friendships which have continued and grown in subsequent years.
Representatives from Central Seminary attend many regional and national conferences. We do this 1) to introduce our seminary to those who were previously unaware of our existence, 2) to foster relationships with believers who share our same doctrinal commitments and values, and 3) to renew friendships with alumni and supporters.
Since that first 2018 meeting I have represented Central Seminary at the annual IFCA International convention, held this summer in Covington, KY. Besides the three benefits mentioned for attending such a conference—institutional exposure, relationship development, and friendship renewal—I myself have received spiritual encouragement and refreshment from the general session addresses and breakout seminars.
IFCA International was founded in 1930 in Cicero, IL, as the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) and later changed its name to IFCA International in 1996 to reflect its worldwide focus. Though baptistic in its doctrine, the fellowship actually had its roots in a group of pastors and churches who were opposed to the apostasy in their non-Baptist churches. In 1923 this group formed the American Conference of Undenominational Churches; 7 years later the ACUC joined a group of disaffected Congregational pastors from the Chicago area (led by Pastor Billy McCarrell) to form the Independent Fundamental Churches of America. McCarrell was elected as the first Executive Secretary of this association. Its primary characteristics included independency (individuals and churches could not belong to a denomination) and fundamentalism (members must adhere to biblical fundamentalism).
Ninety-four annual meetings later, the IFCA has a membership comprised of nearly 1,000 churches in the US and 3,000 churches outside the US; they also have 1,000 individual members. A few parachurch organizations including 6 Bible colleges, 11 home mission societies, 9 church planting agencies, and 8 foreign mission agencies are officially affiliated as well. Not incidentally, the IFCA also serves as an endorsing agency for military chaplains.
The doctrinal statement, which all members must affirm annually, includes orthodox statements of all the major doctrines of the Christian faith. It also contains strong affirmations of separation from apostasy and worldliness, of complementarianism, cessationism, dispensationalism, and the biblical view of marriage “between one man and one woman (as genetically defined)” (ifca.org/page/what-we-believe). Furthermore, the statement disapproves of ecumenism, ecumenical evangelism, neo-orthodoxy, and new evangelicalism.
In order to learn a little more of the ethos of the IFCA, it is helpful to note that its three main characteristics include an emphasis on fundamental doctrine, evangelistic zeal, and missionary vision (ifca.org/page/who-we-are). I found these qualities on display in both the theme of this year’s conference (“Fight the Good Fight: Reclaiming Biblical Fundamentalism”) and the exhibitors approved to represent their ministries.
Regarding the conference theme, all of the general session speakers addressed issues related to biblical fundamentalism. I found their approach to this important subject refreshing and reasonable. For example, the opening sermon (based on 2 Corinthians 10:1–5) was delivered by the Executive Director of the IFCA, Richard Bargas; it expressed five aspects of biblical fundamentalism, which he distinguished from “cultural” fundamentalism. These qualities include the following actions and attitudes: 1) responds with the virtues of Christ, meekness and forbearance; 2) knows who the enemy is—Satan; 3) knows how to wage war by using divine power to destroy strongholds; 4) fights with the Lord’s power and not our own; and 5) stands in the confidence of Christ. Another speaker, Dave Deets, cited our own Kevin Bauder from a February Nick of Time essay, as he described the kind of fundamentalism we should embrace.
Besides Central Seminary, there were 37 other exhibitors present at the event, and they included many familiar colleges and seminaries such as Appalachian Bible College, Bob Jones University, Calvary University, Southern California Seminary, and Shepherds Theological Seminary. Several mission agencies and evangelism ministries had displays, including Biblical Ministries Worldwide, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Friends of Israel, Slavic Gospel Association, and a number of IFCA-affiliated church planting groups. Each of these exhibitors shared the same three characteristics as the IFCA, and I could see why the conference organizers were happy to support our presence at the annual convention.
While I am not writing to endorse the IFCA as an association our readers should join (after all, I am not a member myself), I think it is helpful for fundamentalists to be aware of organizations that support the doctrines and ethos they would approve. IFCA International is certainly one of those organizations. Their doctrinal position, opportunities for ministry partnerships, encouragement at both the regional and national levels (note: all IFCA members are part of one of the 32 geographic regionals across the country), and theologically-informed resources provide good examples of the benefits IFCA members enjoy. To expand on this last element, the IFCA produces a 50-page printed magazine, The Voice (6 issues annually), for each of its members, and they also publish Chera Fellowship, a 10-page quarterly magazine for widows and widowers. Both of these magazines are available for free on the IFCA website (ifca.org/page/publications). One can also benefit from two blogs and a bi-weekly podcast, Advancing the Cause.
Just as Dr. Bauder concluded his recent essay on the FBFI, I “can’t think of a single unpleasant thing about [this meeting].” The preaching was encouraging, the atmosphere joyful, and the friendships uplifting. And what other conference could provide me with the opportunity to play Candyland, Uno, and Chutes & Ladders with one of our Central students’ children (the Bonebright kids were wonderful!)? I am already looking forward to attending next year’s convention in Arkansas, and I hope to see the children again too.
This essay is by Jon Pratt, Vice President of Academics and Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Come, and Let Us Sweetly Join
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Come, and let us sweetly join,
Christ to praise in hymns divine!
Give we all, with one accord,
Glory to our common Lord;
Hands, and hearts, and voices raise;
Sing as in the ancient days;
Antedate the joys above,
Celebrate the feast of love.
Strive we, in affection strive:
Let the purer flame revive,
Such as in the martyrs glowed,
Dying champions for their God:
We like them may live and love;
Called we are their joys to prove:
Saved with them from future wrath;
Partners of like precious faith.
Sing we then in Jesus’ name,
Now as yesterday the same;
One in ev’ry time and place,
Full for all of truth and grace:
We for Christ our master stand,
Lights in a benighted land;
We our dying Lord confess;
We are Jesus’ witnesses.
Witnesses that Christ hath died;
We with him are crucified:
Christ hath burst the bands of death;
We his quick’ning Spirit breathe;
Christ is now gone up on high;
Thither all our wishes fly:
Sits at God’s right-hand above;
There with him we reign in love.
Critics of verbal inspiration sometimes appeal to verses that appear to disavow a divine origin for themselves. One such verse can be found in 1 Corinthians 7:6, where the apostle Paul writes, “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” Read at face value and in isolation, this verse could be understood to imply that Paul, in writing Scripture, wished to insert certain of his own ideas that were not divinely inspired, and that God allowed him to express those ideas as his own, but not as God’s.
Such a reading of the text, however, is badly mistaken. In fact, it only seems possible if the reader ignores the context of the verse. Before citing the verse to disprove biblical inspiration, a thoughtful reader should first ask what the verse is doing within its context. As ever, context is the key to a right understanding of Scripture.
1 Corinthians 7 represents a pivot in the argument of the epistle. Evidently the church at Corinth had sent Paul a series of questions that they wanted him to answer. The letter that we call 1 Corinthians was his reply. Before responding to their question, however, Paul took advantage of the opportunity to correct several errors that he perceived within the church at Corinth. Among other topics, he wrote against factiousness and party spirit, carnality, lax church discipline, sexual immorality, and lawsuits among church members. At the opening of chapter 7 he had covered the subjects that he wanted to address, so he turned his attention to the questions that the church had sent him: “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me…” (7:1).
The first set of questions from the church must have been about marriage and sexual relationships. Here Paul provided an answer that fit the chaotic and sometimes persecuted nature of the church in Corinth: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (7:1). This advice matches his counsel elsewhere in the chapter. In view of present distress, it is better to remain unmarried (7:25). Marriage comes with concerns and responsibilities that Christians might better avoid (7:32–35).
Paul recognized, however, that not being married can create distractions of its own. For many people, sexual temptation is one of these, and it would have been a genuine pressure in the pornographic city of Corinth. Consequently, the apostle provided practical advice: where sexual temptation is rampant, every man should have a wife and every woman should have a husband (7:2). One of the God-ordained functions of marriage is to provide a way for both men and women to deal with sexual temptation.
Consequently, husbands and wives owe something to each other. Paul stated that both should fulfill their obligations, and he did not leave his readers wondering what those obligations were (7:3). In marriage, the wife belongs sexually to her husband; she no longer exercises authority over her own body. The husband belongs sexually to his wife: he no longer exercises authority over his own body (7:4).
This does not mean that either partner has a right to make sexual demands upon the other. Rather, it means that husbands and wives must recognize that their sexuality is given to them as a ministry to their spouses, a way of serving the person to whom they are married. Neither partner is authorized to make demands, but each partner owes it to the other to use his or her body so as to fulfill the needs of the spouse.
To withhold sex is equivalent to theft; a spouse who withholds himself or herself is defrauding the marriage partner (7:5). Paul strictly forbade such willful abstinence. While he did not prescribe any particular frequency for sexual relations within marriage, he clearly anticipated that marital intimacy would occur so regularly as to alleviate sexual temptation for both partners.
Of course, Paul was aware that the regular sexual relationship between husband and wife might be interrupted by any number of factors. Matters like health, travel, or other obligations might lead to a suspension of normal marital relations. He was not addressing those circumstances. He was talking about situations in which the spouses were hypothetically available to each other, but one or the other partner simply chose to withhold intimacy. Willful denial of one’s body to one’s spouse is a sin.
But are there no circumstances under which a married couple might voluntarily suspend their normal sexual relationship? Paul could envision exactly one, and he described it in some detail (7:5). First, there had to be a good and spiritual reason. The couple could suspend their sexual relationship only for purposes of fasting and prayer. Second, this abstinence had to be “by consent,” which means that both partners had to agree to it. A sexual fast cannot rightly be imposed by one partner upon the other. Third, the suspension of intimacy had to be limited in duration: “for a time.” The idea seems to be that the duration of a sexual fast would be both brief and agreed upon ahead of time. Finally, at the end of the agreed-upon time, the couple must “come together again,” resuming their normal, regular sexual relationship.
Therefore, a temporary suspension of marital sexual activity is permissible if both partners agree to it, if they use it for a spiritual purpose, and if they resume their normal relations soon. The question is, are couples ever obligated to engage in such a sexual fast? Does such a period of abstinence ever become mandatory?
That is the question that Paul answered in 1 Corinthians 7:6. He wanted to make this point very clear. A temporary sexual abstinence was permissible, provided it met the stipulated requirements. But such a temporary sexual abstinence was never required. Paul specified that he was granting permission for a sexual fast, but he was not under any circumstances commanding it. Hence the words, “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.”
If anything, these words bolster the authority of Paul’s writings. When he wrote a commandment, he expected to be obeyed. He clearly had a high view of his own authority under Christ. Paul put his instruction at the mandatory level.
Except, of course, when it isn’t mandatory. And it was not mandatory when it was only a permission or concession. That is the very point that Paul was clarifying in 1 Corinthians 7:6. He granted permission, but he did not issue a command. This verse is in no way a disclaimer of biblical inspiration.
In What Confusion Earth Appears
Philip Doddridge (1702–1751)
In what confusion earth appears!
God’s dearest children bathed in tears;
While they, who heaven itself deride,
Riot in luxury and pride.
But patient let my soul attend,
And, ere I censure, view the end;
That end, how different, who can tell?
The wide extremes of heaven and hell.
See the red flames around him twine,
Who did in gold and purple shine!
Nor can his tongue one drop obtain
T’ allay the scorching of his pain.
While round the faint so poor below
Full rivers of salvation flow;
On Abra’m’s breast he leans his head,
And banquets on celestial bread.
Jesus, my Savior, let me share
The meanest of thy servant’s fare;
May I at last approach to taste
The blessings of thy marriage-feast.
The Bible affirms its own inspiration. Both testaments have the authority of Christ behind them. The New Testament authors treat their own writings as authoritative. They even cite one another’s writings as Scripture. Their affirmations about the text imply verbal inspiration, which in turn entails the inerrancy of Scripture as originally inspired.
Nevertheless, critics cite a handful of passages from the New Testament as evidence that at least some passages must not be inspired. Read in a certain way, these passages appear to disclaim inspiration. In them, the biblical writer seems to be insisting that his words are merely his and not divinely chosen.
Read correctly, however, these passages do not disavow inspiration. Instead, they serve to bolster the claims that the writers speak with divine authority. Three of the most commonly cited passages occur in the writings of Paul.
The first of these is in Romans 3:5 where, in the middle of his argument, Paul interjects the parenthetical statement, “I speak as a man.” Taken in isolation, the statement seems puzzling. Is Paul suggesting that during this particular discussion he is merely offering his own human perspective rather than speaking as the oracles of God?
As so often occurs, the answer becomes clear by paying attention to the context. The epistle to the Romans is a tightly reasoned theological treatise. In advancing the argument of this epistle, Paul anticipates that he will have to deal with objections that will occur to his readers. His strategy is to raise the objections himself, usually as if they were posed by some imaginary interlocutor.
For example, near the end of Romans 3 Paul says that God justifies Jews as well as Gentiles through faith (3:30). That observation raises a possible objection, and Paul frames the objection as a question in the next verse: “Do we then make void the law through faith?” Paul then answers his own question by exclaiming, “God forbid” (3:31). He then gives the reasons that this objection is mistaken. Paul has raised the objection simply so that he can refute it.
Similarly, in Romans 6:1 he asks, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” In 6:15 he follows up by asking, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?” Paul’s answer to both questions is, “God forbid.” Clearly, he is not endorsing the objection. Instead, he raises it so that he can dispatch it.
Another instance occurs in the opening verses of Romans 7, where Paul argues that God’s law works through human depravity so as to provoke sin and bring death. This teaching might leave the impression that the law itself is a bad thing. Paul anticipates this objection and raises it himself: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin?” (7:7). Again his answer is, “God forbid.”
In each case, Paul not only states these objections and denounces them as wrong but also goes on to show why they are wrong. He shows where the reasoning of these questions breaks down. By the time readers reach Romans 7, they should have become accustomed to this pattern, and Paul continues to employ it through the rest of his argument (see 9:14, 19; 11:1).
Paul first deploys this strategy early in Romans 3. There he asks a cluster of rhetorical questions that constitute objections to his argument. The first is, “For what if some [Jews] did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Rom 3:2). He answers this question with the phrase that becomes his standard reply: “God forbid.”
His answer to that objection, however, raises a more serious objection. “But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance?” (3:5). As in other instances, Paul does not think this is a good question, and he does not think that it advances a sound argument. In this case, however, Paul wishes to distance himself from the objection even more than usual. He wants people to understand that he is not endorsing it. So he inserts the parenthetical qualification, “I speak as a man.”
What Paul is saying is that this is the kind of argument that sinful humans are likely to cook up. He is imagining some guy who doesn’t want to believe the truth and who tosses this argument into the debate to confuse the issue. When Paul says, “I speak as a man,” he is saying, “This is exactly the kind of argument that that guy would make.” Paul then rejects the argument with his standard denunciation: “God forbid,” going on to expose its flaws.
In other words, Paul does not intend to make any statement at all about his authority or the inspiration of what he writes. Instead, he intends to put a bad argument, framed as a question, in context. Paul is saying that this isn’t his argument, but the kind of argument that an unbeliever would make. As in the other instances, Paul raises the question only to be able to answer it and to refute the bad thinking that it embodies.
In no sense does Paul disclaim divine authority for his teaching or divine inspiration for his writing. The text stands as a model of persuasion, with Paul dismantling every objection that sinful humans throw against his argument. As an objection to verbal inspiration, Romans 3:5 simply fails.
As When the Prophet Moses Raised
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
As when the prophet Moses raised
the brazen serpent high,
the wounded looked and straight were cured,
the people ceased to die:
So from the Savior on the cross
a healing virtue flows;
who looks to him with lively faith
is saved from endless woes.
For God gave up his Son to death,
so gen’rous was his love,
that all the faithful might enjoy
eternal life above.
Not to condemn the sons of men
the Son of God appeared;
no weapons in his hand are seen,
nor voice of terror heard:
He came to raise our fallen state,
and our lost hopes restore;
faith leads us to the mercy seat,
and bids us fear no more.
One of the perks of my job is that I occasionally get to represent Central Seminary at conferences, conventions, and other meetings. Thus it was that Mrs. Bauder and I found ourselves earlier this week on the campus of Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary. There we attended the annual fellowship meeting of the Foundations Baptist Fellowship International.
The FBFI has its origins in the 1920 pre-convention conference called by J. C. Massee before the Northern Baptist Convention meeting at Buffalo, New York. That pre-convention conference eventually resulted in an organization known as the Fundamentalist Fellowship of the Northern Baptist Convention, which came to be led by Earl V. Pierce. It was essentially a protest movement within a convention that was increasingly dominated by liberal theology.
When the time came to take steps toward separation, the Fundamentalist Fellowship renamed itself the Conservative Baptist Fellowship and chose Chester E. Tulga as its leader. It became the fountainhead of the entire Conservative Baptist Movement, organizing the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, the Conservative Baptist Association with its three regional fellowships, the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society, and the Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary (now the Denver Seminary). The CBF remained a fellowship of individuals within this network of missions, church fellowships, and schools.
By the early 1960s it became clear that much of the Conservative Baptist Movement had capitulated to neoevangelicalism. The CBF once again renamed itself, becoming the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship. It organized the World Conservative Baptist Mission (now Baptist World Mission) and the New Testament Association of Independent Baptist Churches. Unlike the older Conservative Baptist Movement, these newer bodies maintained no direct connection with each other, and people tended to choose between the FBF and the NTA depending upon whether they prioritized individual fellowship or church association. People like B. Myron Cedarholm and the Weniger brothers, especially Arno and Archer, gravitated toward the FBF, while Minnesota Baptists preferred the NTA. To this day the NTA is stronger within Minnesota, though there is no hostility in either direction.
Further name changes occurred with the addition of the word International to the organization’s title, followed by a shift in the published name from Fundamental Baptist Fellowship to Foundations Baptist Fellowship. I believe that the legal name is still the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.
The current president of the FBFI is Kevin Schaal, pastor of Northwest Valley Baptist Church near Phoenix, Arizona. Schaal was deeply influenced by the ministry of James Singleton, one of the most responsible and thoughtful leaders within the FBFI. The result is that Schaal combines long standing in the organization with a definite vision to see it play a role as a responsible voice within the evangelical and fundamentalist world of the twenty-first century.
There are no business meetings at the FBFI fellowships. Since it is a board-governed organization, the membership attends purely for purposes of mutual encouragement. This year’s meeting in Ankeny, Iowa focused mainly on promoting evangelism. The speakers were men who had demonstrated the ability to foster an evangelistic mindset within their churches while maintaining theological integrity.
Several mission agencies were visible at the meeting. Two were particularly conspicuous by the presence of their chief executives. One was Baptist World Mission, represented by its new executive director, Ben Sinclair. The other was Baptist Mid-Missions, represented by its president, Pat Odle. While Mid-Missions is sometimes viewed as primarily a Regular Baptist agency, its constituency is much larger than the GARBC, and the pastors of the FBFI make a natural fit.
Multiple institutions of higher learning were also represented. Of course, the meeting was on the campus of Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary. Other schools included International Baptist College and Seminary, Maranatha Baptist University (its new president, David Anderson, was present for the meeting), and Bob Jones University. I know that I spoke with someone from Appalachian Bible College, but I don’t recall whether that school had an exhibit.
The FBFI has traditionally maintained strong ties with Bob Jones University, and that long-standing bond was evident. The university’s chancellor was present. One of the best-known BJU professors, Jim Berg, spoke during a plenary session. One of the three members of the interim management team was also visible at the meeting.
In addition to its role as a fellowship, the FBFI also functions as an endorsing “denomination” for the Department of Defense. It stands behind scores of chaplains in every branch of the military, plus chaplains who work with prisons, hospitals, and police and fire departments. The FBFI annual meetings also include training sessions for these chaplains, who are highly visible throughout the event.
In terms of its public ministries, the FBFI publishes Frontline Magazine six times annually. It also sponsors a blog, Proclaim and Defend, and has recently begun a podcast. Anyone who wants to understand the spirit and ethos of the FBFI should look to these sources for first-hand information.
I did not grow up in FBFI circles. Through the years, however, I have found myself gravitating more and more to this organization. This week’s conference exemplifies my reasons. I can’t think of a single unpleasant thing about it. The hosts were gracious and accommodating. The preaching was challenging. The renewal of friendships was refreshing. Overall, this conference was a significant encouragement in the things of the Lord.
Brothers, Joining Hand to Hand
John Allen Warner (1851–1928)
Brothers, joining hand to hand,
In one bond united,
Pressing onward to that land
Where all wrongs are righted:
Let your words and actions be
Worthy your vocation;
Chosen of the Lord, and free,
Heirs of Christ’s salvation.
Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life,
Who hath gone before you
Through the turmoil and the strife,
Holds His banner o’er you;
All who see the sacred sign
Press towards Heav’ns portal,
Fired by hope that is divine,
Love that is immortal.
They who follow fear no foe,
Care not who assail them;
Where the Master leads, they go,
He will never fail them;
Courage, brothers! we are one,
In the love that sought us;
Soon the warfare shall be done,
Through the grace He brought us.
[This essay was originally published on January 5, 2018.]
Denominations are like cans of soup. Each can contains a different mix of ingredients, and the label tells you which ingredients to expect. The ingredients of the soup with the Baptist label are called the Baptist distinctives. Taken together, these distinctives set Baptists apart from all other Christians. Briefly stated, the distinctives are:
- The absolute authority of the New Testament for all matters of church faith and order.
- Believer immersion (with emphasis on both words).
- Pure church membership (including regenerate, baptized church members and the practice of church discipline).
- Individual Christian responsibility (including both soul liberty and the priesthood of the believer).
- The right of individual congregations to govern themselves under Christ.
- The separation of church and state.
Christians who label or denominate themselves differently may disagree with any (or all) of these distinctives. Baptists certainly do not believe that they are the only true Christians. What they do believe is that these distinctives are essential for defining what churches are supposed to look like and how they are supposed to operate.
I am a Baptist by conviction. On my view, all of these distinctives are taught by the New Testament. Simply because they are biblical and true, however, does not mean that they are easy to implement. Some distinctives come with complications and tensions. The unwillingness to live with those tensions is part of the motivation that leads some people to reject them.
One example is the Baptist insistence upon the separation of church and state. This distinctive has become one of the political shibboleths of American government, but it began as a Baptist idea and its acceptance is the result of Baptist influence. What is now a secular political principle originated as a Baptist theological conclusion. Originally the political principle rested upon the theological rationale, and even now it can be rightly understood only in terms of that theology. To remove the theological foundation is to ensure that, sooner or later, the political principle will be redefined and misapplied in vicious ways. The necessity for a theological foundation creates a paradox: the only way to keep church and state properly separated is to maintain a theologically informed definition of church-state separation.
The paradox is broader than the mere concept of church-state separation. The social and political institutions of the West have grown out of Christendom. So have the definitions of abstractions such as liberty and justice. These concepts and institutions are informed by Christian (or Judeo-Christian) categories. Eliminating or altering these Christian categories inevitably distorts the definitions and subverts the institutions. If Christian categories do not regulate the institutions, and if the institutions are captured by those who remold them around anti-Christian categories, then the institutions will be used to obstruct the very Christian categories upon which they were erected, and then eventually to oppress Christians.
T. S. Eliot understood the importance of Christian categories for undergirding Western social and political institutions. This understanding led him overtly to deny the separation of church and state. In his essay, “The Idea of a Christian Society,” he argues for the importance of an established church, even if that establishment is merely nominal. He hoped that Christian categories could be upheld formally by the institutions that rested upon them.
Even if Eliot’s proposal might once have worked, however, we are well past that point. Christendom was dethroned long ago by Enlightenment secularism. The education and amusement industries have spent generations redefining the fundamental principles upon which Western, and especially American, institutions rest. A majority of Americans have been taught to fear Christian categories and definitions as a theocratic attack upon the separation of church and state. New definitions have been imposed and are now being enforced by the remolded institutions.
The Anabaptist response has typically been almost the opposite of Eliot’s: to abandon the public sphere. Even under Christendom the Anabaptists saw the political order as dominated by principalities and powers opposed to God. They shunned military and public service, even refusing to swear oaths. The Anabaptist approach, however, is not shared by Baptists, who have rejected the Anabaptist withdrawal from the public sphere as firmly as they have rejected religious establishment.
The Puritans, especially those in America, were true theonomists. They envisioned a society in which theological concerns would dominate the political order and in which the power of the state would enforce ecclesiastical rectitude. Theirs was the regime that whipped Baptists, hanged Quakers, and drove Roger Williams from his sick bed into the wilderness snows of a New England January. Nevertheless, even the rigid and mutual reinforcement of church and state could not permanently shield the Puritans from the pressures of the Enlightenment, nor did it protect them from the corruption and eventual contempt of their own children.
Baptists argued, not for religious toleration, but for genuine religious freedom. The paradox is that religious freedom can only be maintained in a society that holds definitions and principles congenial to Christianity. No other religion—including the presently-dominant religion of radical secularism—has put itself forward as a vigorous defender of soul liberty. The freedom to believe and practice whatever faith one thinks to be true depends upon the social and political dominance of Christianity.
To appearances, by insisting upon a firm separation of church and state, Baptists are effectively depriving themselves of the opportunity to determine the very definitions and institutions upon which that separation depends. In the face of this paradox, some may feel the allure of Eliot’s establishmentarianism, of the Anabaptists’ isolationism, or of the Puritans’ attempt at theonomy. Before submitting to that pull, however, two considerations are worth noting.
First, none of the non-Baptist alternatives has proven itself particularly effective at resisting the corrosive effects of the Enlightenment. Each has given way to some version of modernity and then postmodernity. Furthermore, none has exhibited the power permanently to preserve Christian categories in its surrounding social and political order, let alone to instill those categories where they have been lost. In short, none appears to be any more successful than the Baptist alternative at maintaining a society in which truly Christian liberty will endure for long.
Second, the separation of church and state does not imply the separation of church saints from the public square. Christian individuals can and should participate in the whole social order, including agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, education, the arts, and even politics and jurisprudence. They should bring their Christian definitions and perspectives into the public square with them. Whenever and wherever they can, they should apply their Christian perspectives to the full-orbed business of life.
Christians in secular civilization should aim to pattern themselves after Daniel and the Hebrew children in the Babylonian court. They should remember the counsel of Jeremiah 29:7, to seek the welfare of the city in which they live as exiles. They can and should participate up to the point at which participation requires disobedience to God. As a result, they may sometimes be promoted or they may sometimes be cast into the furnace. In either event, their circumstances and godly responses will place their faith, values, and priorities on display.
The Lord Will Come and Not Be Slow
John Milton (1608–1674)
The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.
Truth from the earth, like to a flow’r,
shall bud and blossom then,
and justice, from her heav’nly bow’r,
look down on mortal men.
Rise, God, and judge the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for you are he who shall by right
the nations all possess.
For great you are, and wonders great
by your strong hand are done:
you, in your everlasting seat,
remain the Lord alone.
Jesus cited, used, and endorsed every section of the Old Testament, whether law, prophets, or writings. Consequently, the Old Testament stands as a unit with His stamp of approval upon it. To reject its authority is to assail the authority of Christ Himself.
The authors of the New Testament had a very high view of their own writings. They asserted the authority of what they wrote, comparing it to the authority of recognized biblical texts and of the Lord’s own words. They also endorsed each other’s writings. To accept apostolic authority is necessarily to accept the authority of the New Testament.
A question arises, however, and it is an important question. Did Jesus ever endorse the New Testament? Does it stand beside the Old Testament with His stamp of approval upon it?
To discover Jesus’s opinion of the New Testament will require a different kind of evidence than His explicit endorsement of the Old Testament. By the time Jesus was born, the most recent document from the Old Testament was several hundred years old, widely distributed, and well known. Yet not one book of the New Testament was written during the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. If Jesus endorsed the New Testament at all, then He had to do it before it was written. His words about the New Testament would have to take the form of foretelling a later event.
Such words can be found in Jesus’s discourse on the night before He died, which appears in John 13–17. This discourse is divided by the departure of Judas in John 13:31. After Judas had gone, Jesus addressed the eleven remaining apostles. Most of what He said was directed specifically to them. When Jesus meant to include other believers, He either used indefinite language, such as when He referred to “every branch in me” (15:2) or broadened His reference with some phrase such as “them also which shall believe on me through their word” (17:20). In this discourse, when Jesus used the plural “you,” He usually meant specifically, “you apostles.”
He certainly meant the apostles when He said, “I have yet many things to say to you” (16:12). Throughout His ministry Jesus had been revealing new truth to His disciples. Here, on the last night before the cross, He told them that He had more to say to them. This was an intimation that His revelation to the disciples remained incomplete.
The reason it was incomplete is because the disciples were “not yet able to bear it” (16:12). They lacked some capacity for bearing up under the weight of the truth that Jesus wanted to communicate to them. That deficiency would be corrected, however, with the coming of the Holy Spirit in His New Testament ministries (12:13). At that time, the Spirit would guide them “into all truth.”
To be clear, Jesus’s promise is not that the Holy Spirit would help the disciples to understand truth they had already received. Rather, the Spirit would guide them into the truth—all of it—that Jesus wanted them to have but that they were not yet ready to bear. In other words, these verses are about receiving truth (new revelation) and not about understanding truth already given (illumination).
Of course, the expression “all truth” must be understood within a particular universe of discourse. These words were not a promise that the Holy Spirit would make the disciples omniscient. He was not going to reveal the intricacies of differential calculus or the techniques of neurosurgery. Rather, Jesus was promising that the apostles would receive all the truth that Jesus intended them to have.
In guiding them to this truth, the Holy Spirit would not “speak of himself” (John 16:13). In other words, the truth would be coming through the Holy Spirit but not from the Holy Spirit. It would be coming from Jesus, who would impart it through the Holy Spirit. Helped by the Holy Spirit, the apostles would become mouthpieces for Jesus’s words.
What would this new revelation include? One description occurs in 16:25. There Jesus says that in the past He spoke to His disciples in proverbs (KJV) or figurative language (NASB). The term is paroima, and it conveys the idea of an utterance whose meaning is not readily apparent to the listener. This term reminds the reader of the many occasions upon which Jesus’s disciples failed to catch the meaning of what He was telling them.
Now, however, Jesus promised that in the future He would speak plainly. The disciples would understand the revelation that He would communicate to them through the Spirit. (One might even suggest that they would no longer see as through a glass darkly, but as face to face.) Jesus further specified that this revelation would be about the Father (16:25).
This future revelation would also include “things to come” (16:13). In other words, Jesus planned to give His disciples additional truth about the future. They would receive this truth after He went to His Father and they could no longer see Him (16:16).
Jesus specified that whatever the Father has also belongs to Him (16:14–15). Consequently, additional revelation about the Father would entail more complete revelation about the Son. Revealed truth about His person and work would become more and not less clear after His departure. (One might even say that they would know even as they were known.)
This new revelation that the disciples would receive was not for their benefit alone. Later in the same discourse, Jesus stated that His disciples would share what they learned and that others would believe through their word (17:20). A very high level of authority came with apostolic teaching. When the apostles spoke, their words carried the authority of Christ behind them.
In sum, Jesus told His apostles in advance that He was going to give them more revelation in the future. This revelation would be mediated through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but it would be from Christ. It would include future events, the person and work of Christ Himself, and a clearer understanding of the Father. When the apostles shared this teaching, it would invoke and strengthen belief in those who submitted to its authority.
Granted, Jesus did not specifically mention that the disciples would write new books of the Bible, but an analogy to the Old Testament is appropriate. During the Old Testament dispensations, some revelation was written down while some was not. If the analogy holds, then Jesus’s promise of future revelation carries at least the possibility of new writings. Since the apostles did indeed claim divine authority for their writings, the words of Jesus in this discourse place His full weight behind their claim.
The Lord’s Eternal Gifts
Ambrose (340–397); tr. Edward Caswell (1814–1878)
The Lord’s eternal gifts,
Th’ Apostles might praise,
Their victories, and high reward,
Sing we in joyful lays.
Lords of the churches they;
Triumphant Chiefs of war;
Brave Soldiers of the Heavenly Court;
True lights for evermore.
Theirs was the Saints’ high Faith;
And quenchless Hope’s pure glow;
And perfect Charity, which laid
The world’s fell tyrant low.
In them the Father shone;
In them the Son o’ercame;
In them the Holy Spirit wrought,
And fill’d their hearts with flame.
This past Monday, the First Baptist Church of Rockford, Illinois hosted its twentieth Conference on the Church for God’s Glory. The event is always held on the Monday before Memorial Day. It is a small conference, but one of the most useful that I attend.
The conference was first organized by Scott Williquette, who was the pastor of First Baptist Church. The church had just completed a new building and Williquette had a vision for using it to minister to fellow pastors. The conference has always focused on conservative music and expositional preaching, though it has featured presentations of other sorts. Furthermore, CCGG was organized at a time when Illinois Baptists were being subjected to public diatribes against Calvinism. Pastor Williquette hoped to provide a venue where pastors—Calvinistic and otherwise—could fellowship and listen to preaching without some of the heated exchanges that were taking place elsewhere.
By the time Williquette left for a teaching ministry with Baptist Mid-Missions, the congregation at First Baptist had taken ownership of the conference. The Conference on the Church for God’s Glory continued without a hiccup, except for the year when public meetings were banned because of COVID-19. The people of First Baptist have made it their mission to offer a welcoming and encouraging environment to the pastors and others who attend.
While originally a pastors’ conference, CCGG has been gaining a more diverse attendance. Educators and missionaries are conspicuous in the crowd. Many pastors have begun to bring men from their congregations. The past few years have seen more women accompanying their husbands to the meeting.
Geographically, most attendees come from Illinois and Wisconsin. There is always a contingent from Minnesota, another from Iowa, and still another from Michigan. Small numbers come from other states, and this year a pastor even drove down from Quebec to enjoy the meeting.
It is a meeting (singular) and not meetings (plural). The Conference on the Church for God’s Glory is a one-day event. It begins at ten o’clock in the morning and goes until after seven in the evening. During that time, attendees sit through six plenary sessions with generous break times between. There is also an extended lunch break, which allows attendees the opportunity to renew personal friendships.
At this conference, friendships abound. The meeting has no political dimension, offers no opportunities for climbers, has no strings to pull and no wheels to turn. It has no business session, hears no motions or seconds, takes no votes, and passes no resolutions. All it offers is simple fellowship, uncluttered by institutional or organizational entanglements.
The non-political nature of the conference allows the host church to invite an unusual spectrum of speakers. Last year, Bob Jones III, retired president of Bob Jones University, delivered two messages. A few years ago, one of the speakers was Michael Barrett, at that time the dean of Puritan Reformed Seminary. This year, Josh Buice was invited to speak twice. Buice is the pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church near Atlanta, and he is the founder of G3 Ministries.
If you have never heard of G3, it is an organization of mainly pastors who seem to be feeling their way out of an amorphously conservative evangelicalism and toward a position closer to fundamentalism. It appears to have grasped more of conservatism and separatism than the older “gospel-centered” organizations like T4G and The Gospel Coalition. G3 Ministries is consistently conservative when it comes to political and social issues. Its leaders are reacting against the Woke influence within much of the evangelical world. Buice in particular has led his church to sever its ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps some of the separatist influence is being mediated through Scott Aniol, who is executive director of G3 Ministries. As it happens, Aniol was one of the pastors at First Baptist Church in Rockford who helped to organize the first meetings of the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory.
At least five institutions of higher education were represented at the conference. These included Central Baptist Theological Seminary (of course!), Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Maranatha Baptist University, Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary, and Bob Jones University. The faculties of these institutions enjoy a particularly warm relationship, and the CCGG is one of the rare opportunities when they have a chance to visit with each other.
Conferences and seminars are abundant these days. Some of them are sponsored by denominations or quasi-denominations, and they focus on ecclesiastical or para-ecclesiastical business. Others are sponsored by Christian celebrities, and they tend to feature big-name preachers. A pastor with plenty of time (which is oxymoronic) could probably find a conference to attend during every week of the year. If I could only attend one, however, I believe it would be the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory. If fellowship is about what we hold in common, then the conference that holds the most in common with me is CCGG.
People of the Living God
James Montgomery (1771–1854)
People of the living God,
I have sought the world around,
Paths of sin and sorrow trod,
Peace and comfort nowhere found.
Now to you my spirit turns—
Turns, a fugitive unblest;
Brethren, where your altar burns,
Oh, receive me into rest.
Lonely I no longer roam,
Like the cloud, the wind, the wave;
Where you dwell shall be my home,
Where you die shall be my grave,
Mine the God whom you adore,
Your Redeemer shall be mine;
Earth can fill my heart no more,
Every idol I resign.
Tell me not of gain or loss,
Ease, enjoyment, pomp and power;
Welcome poverty and cross,
Shame, reproach, affliction’s hour
“Follow me!” I know the voice!
Jesus, Lord! thy steps I see:
Now I take thy yoke by choice;
Light thy burden now to me.
Christians affirm that the Bible was written by both human authors and a divine Author simultaneously. One of the most interesting consequences of this simultaneous authorship is that the human authors were conscious of the fact that they were writing Scripture. This consciousness shows up in several ways. It is evident among the Old Testament prophets when they claimed that they wrote when the “word of the Lord” came to them and spoke (Jer 1:4, 11, 13; 13:3, 8; 24:4; 32:6; Ezek 3:16; 6:1; 11:14; 12:21; 13:1; 14:2; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1, 11; 18:1; 20:45; 21:1, 8, 18; 22:1, 17, 23; 24:1, 15, 20; 26:1; 28:11; 29:1, 17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1, 17; 33:1, 23: 34:1; 35:1; 36:16; 38:1; Zech 4:8; 6:9). It is also evident in the Old Testament authors’ awareness that the Holy Spirit was controlling them as they wrote (Ezek 3:24–27; 2 Sam 23:1–3). The Old Testament writers knew that God was using them.
The apostle Peter is reflecting the dual authorship of Scripture when he insists that the Holy Spirit spoke about Judas “through the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16, citing Psalm 69:25; 109:8). Furthermore, Peter denies that the Old Testament prophecies were written by any human initiative, instead affirming that the prophets spoke as they were “borne along” by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews attributes Old Testament Scriptures to the Holy Spirit (Heb 3:7, cf Psalm 95:7; Heb 10:15, cf Jer 31:33–34).
The apostle Paul does not assign the authorship of Scripture to the Holy Spirit in particular, but he does speak about the Old Testament as if it comes from God. In the introduction to Romans he states that God promised the gospel ahead of time by His prophets in the holy Scriptures (Rom 1:2). Paul also tells the Galatians that the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the heathen through faith and so preached the gospel to Abraham (Gal 3:8). This statement treats what Scripture sees as identical with what God sees. Furthermore, Paul introduces Old Testament texts with an interesting parallel construction, stating that God spoke to Moses and that Scripture spoke to Pharaoh (Rom 9:15, 17). For Paul, Scripture saying something is identical to God saying it.
Paul’s high view of the Old Testament led him to consider it as profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16–17). He believed that it was written for “our sakes,” i.e., for Church saints (1 Cor 9:10). He understood it to provide examples (patterns or analogies—the word is types) for us (1 Cor 10:11). Even though the Old Testament was not written to Church saints, they benefit from it by looking for analogies to their own situation.
Remarkably, the apostle Paul does not limit his endorsement to the Old Testament Scriptures. In 1 Timothy 5:17–18 he makes the argument that preachers ought to be paid. He bases his argument partly on two citations of Scripture. He first quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, which forbids muzzling an ox while it is threshing. Obviously, that is an Old Testament reference. But Paul immediately follows it with the saying that the laborer is worthy of his hire. While the principle behind this saying can be found in the Old Testament, the saying itself is from the teachings of Jesus as found in Luke 10:7. Paul cites both texts side by side, and he makes it clear that they are both Scripture. Paul used Luke’s Gospel with the same level of authority as the books of Moses.
This kind of attribution is not unique. Peter does something similar when he is constructing an argument about God’s longsuffering. For evidence he cites Paul’s authority (2 Pet 3:15–16). Peter notes that Paul’s writings are sometimes hard to understand. He further observes that false teachers (who are unlearned and unstable) attempt to twist Paul’s writings. Then he adds these words: “as they do also the other Scriptures.” In other words, Peter classifies at least some of Paul’s epistles as Scripture, right alongside the Old Testament Scriptures.
If Paul is any indication, the New Testament writers saw their own writings as genuinely authoritative. For example, 2 Corinthians sustains an ongoing, threatening undertone about a projected visit from Paul. He makes it clear that he intends to hold the congregation accountable for obeying his words in the epistle (see especially 2 Cor 10:8–11). In an earlier letter, he had already warned them not to go beyond the things that were written (1 Cor 4:6, though the KJV obscures the translation of this verse).
Given this abundant evidence, the inescapable conclusion is that the writers of Scripture knew what they were doing. They were conscious that their words were more than simply human instruction. They understood that the Holy Spirit was using them to author Scripture and that what they wrote was genuinely authoritative. They held a high view both of each other’s writings and of their own writings. Their understanding of their own written documents is fully consistent with a doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration and robust view of New Testament authority.
God’s Word Alone
Johann Walter (1496–1570); tr. C. Armand Miller
God’s Word alone can e’er afford
Sure ground for faith’s foundation;
It is a treasure from the Lord,
Brings trust for full salvation.
No human wisdom can compare
With that of God’s own giving,
What God’s Word clearly doth declare
Sufficeth for our living.
On God and His pure Word alone,
My heart can rest confiding;
From its bright pages light is thrown,
Our pilgrim footsteps guiding.
O God, let no false doctrine turn
My heart from true devotion;
O fire my soul, that it may burn
For truth, with strong emotion.
In God alone I put my trust,
On His rich care depending;
He will ward off each deadly thrust,
’Gainst Satan’s craft defending.
By Thy dear Word, uphold me, Lord,
And let me keep it purely,
Against the devil’s wrath and sword
And wiles, preserved securely.
My employment as a professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary began in January of 1998, over twenty-five years ago. Charles Hauser was dean of the seminary, and he probably had more to do with recruiting me than anybody else. Doug McLachlan was president and the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church. Tom Zempel occupied the office of assistant to the president and headed up the biblical counseling program. My faculty peers included Ed Glenny, Roy Beacham, Bob Milliman, and Raymond Buck. The registrar at the time was David Capetz, and the advancement officer was Ron Gotzman.
For a month I had an office in the education building of the old Fourth Baptist facility, located in north Minneapolis. It was and is a violent area. Few members of the church lived in that part of Minneapolis. They all drove in for services from the suburbs. When I arrived, Fourth Baptist Church was erecting a new facility in the western suburb of Plymouth while creating a daughter congregation (Family Baptist Church) to continue ministering in north Minneapolis. The seminary moved to the new site at the end of January, and the church followed in April.
From the moment I arrived, both administration and faculty welcomed me with warmth and charity. I was never made to feel that I had to earn my right to be here. I was immediately entrusted with both responsibility and privilege. The three administrators (McLachlan, Zempel, and Hauser) set the tone, treating me as a colleague and partner rather than an employee and underling. When I made mistakes, these men always took a problem-solving approach. I always felt like they had my back.
It was never quite clear to me which of those three was managing what. Theoretically, there must have been specific lines of authority and divisions of responsibility, but these men worked so closely together that every decision appeared to have been made in concert. Furthermore, they actively involved the professors in any decision that was likely to affect the faculty. Working at Central Seminary felt less like taking a job than like becoming part of a family.
Twenty years ago this week I was made president of Central Seminary. I remained in that office for exactly eight years. Doug McLachlan became the chairman of the board, and both Hauser and Zempel found themselves working under my oversight. All three gave me the fullest imaginable support. I had no idea how to be an institutional president. I’d never even had the opportunity to observe the workings of the office. The learning curve was steep, and they helped me at every step. If my service as president brought any successes to Central Seminary, those men (and the faculty who served with me) deserve the credit.
During the final third of my presidency, Matt Morrell became the pastor of Fourth Baptist Church and the chair of the seminary’s board. Then, when I stepped down as president in 2011, Sam Horn was chosen to lead the institution. My plan when I resigned was to leave Central Seminary—not because of any animus toward the school, but because I had seen too many instances in which former leaders made bad followers within the organizations that they had led. I had no wish to cause problems either for Central Seminary or for Sam Horn as its president.
Both Horn and the board, however, asked me to remain. They offered me a very appealing position that made publication a priority. During a two- or three-year period I was able to publish three books and to contribute to a fourth, which is exactly what I had wanted to do. Furthermore, Horn went out of his way to help me learn how to fit into the institution in my new role. He was an insightful leader who placed my interests ahead of his own. For my part, I tried to give him complete support, even when my perspectives differed from his. I still feel that I owe Sam a debt that cannot be repaid.
After Horn left for Bob Jones, I was asked to serve on the committee that selected the new president. The logical choice was Matt Morrell, who agreed to accept the position, subject to our providing a provost who could manage the day-to-day operations of the seminary. Morrell has now occupied the office of president as long as I did, and under his administration the institution has flourished. We have had to adjust the way that we deliver education, but this adjustment has allowed us to grow in a world dominated by technological change, social upheaval, and a worldwide pandemic. It’s a glorious thing when one of your students can become both your pastor and your boss, and you still like and respect him.
One Sunday after Morrell became president, I was preaching for a church in Mason City, Iowa. On my way to church I received a phone call that Tom Zempel had been taken suddenly to be with the Lord. That was a difficult day. As long as he was at Central Seminary, Tom was my strong helper, my counselor, and my friend. He will always have a place in my heart.
Then, a year ago, Charles Hauser slipped into glory after a long physical decline. He had been ready for years, wondering why the Lord left him to linger in a nursing home during the pandemic. Hauser had gone from first being my professor when I was in seminary, to being my boss, to being my adviser and helper. In every stage of our relationship, he was my friend.
Of the three administrators who brought me to Central Seminary, only Doug McLachlan remains. For five years he was my president. For nearly a decade he was my pastor. If you think that nobody can be your boss and your pastor, then you haven’t worked with McLachlan. From the time that I came to Central Seminary and throughout my presidency, I believe that he and his wife Marie prayed for me by name nearly every day.
Administrations come and administrations go. Professors come and professors go. Board members come and board members go. Technologies come and technologies go. The thing that gives a seminary its continuity is the idea that propels it. I believe that the idea behind Central Seminary is the same today as it was when I came here at the beginning of 1998. It is also fully in keeping with the idea that was built into the school by its founder, Richard V. Clearwaters.
In the meanwhile, Central Seminary and its people have been one of God’s magnificent graces in my life. I am grateful to Him for allowing me to serve here, and I am grateful for those people who brought me to this ministry and who have helped me in it. I wish that I had another twenty-five years to give them.
Keep Silence, All Created Things
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Keep silence, all created things!
And wait your Maker’s nod;
My soul stands trembling, while she sings
The honors of her God.
Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown,
Hang on his firm decree;
He sits on no precarious throne,
Nor borrows leave to be.
His providence unfolds the book,
And makes his counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and every stroke,
Fulfills some deep design.
My God! I would not long to see
My fate with curious eyes
What gloomy lines are writ for me,
Or what bright scenes may rise.
In thy fair book of life and grace,
Oh, may I find my name
Recorded in some humble place,
Beneath my Lord, the Lamb.
Many church members do not understand how their pastors work, how their pastors should be paid, or why their pastors might need time away from the ministry. The result is that churches often expect more than pastors can humanly deliver. Both the pastor and the church should discuss their expectations frankly. Well-written policies can be part of the solution.
Granted, some pastors are lazy. They need to learn that ministry is not a forty-hour-a-week job. These pastors should look at the business leaders in their communities. Corporate managers rarely work less than sixty hours per week. That number is even higher for small business owners. Church members have a right to expect their pastors to work as hard as they themselves do.
Ministry, however, is not like working on an assembly line or in an office. A pastor’s job falls into three main activities. One is his study, including but not limited to his sermon preparation. Another is the time that he spends administering the work of the church. The third component is the time that he spends with people, whether at hospitals and care facilities, in their homes, or just over coffee. Each of these activities could easily fill a work week in most churches, and many pastors struggle to hold them in balance.
Compounding this pressure is the fact that every pastor knows about multiple organizational time bombs that are ticking away, any one of which could wreck the ministry. Some of them involve tense relationships, some center on differences of priority, some take the form of severe counseling problems, and at least a few involve genuine moral failures. Usually, a pastor knows more about these threats than anyone else in the church; he alone carries the burden of them all.
As if these pressures weren’t enough, every pastor comes under attack at some point in his ministry. He discovers that his sheep can bite, and some of them do. Some men can shrug off personal attacks, but for others, dealing with personal opposition can become overwhelming.
In short, pastoral ministry is joyful, but it is also stressful. It always has been. Even the apostle Paul felt daily pressures that arise from the “care of the churches” (2 Cor 11:24).
To be effective, then, a pastor needs to learn to handle stress. One of the most important ways to do this is occasionally to take time away from the work. Even Jesus recognized the need to set aside times when He and His disciples would leave the work for the sake of resting (Mark 6:31). Jesus also took time out from active ministry for solitude and prayer (Luke 5:16).
If the Master needed times like that, then why would His servants think that they did not? On the contrary, time away from active ministry is one of the most important tools for keeping one’s ministry fresh and effective. These times are important for physical renewal, for building family relationships, for allowing the mind to refocus, and for addressing personal spiritual needs. They are simply indispensable.
A word of caution needs to be offered. Not all time away from a ministry’s location is time away from that ministry. A pastor’s work will sometimes pull him away from his own neighborhood. He is responsible to attend ordination and recognition councils. If his church is affiliated with some larger association or fellowship, then its annual meetings are not time off for him. His presence is necessary to ensure that his church’s voice is heard. Furthermore, ministers are responsible to continue their education as long as they are active, so some weeks out of every year will be spent on conferences and courses. If he is a respected Christian leader, a pastor may well be asked to conduct conferences and classes. All these activities take the minister out of his own community, but none of them helps him to deal with the stress of ministry. Indeed, they add to that stress.
Furthermore, pastors simply cannot take “staycations” in which they have time off while remaining quietly at home. As long as a pastor stays in his own community, he is working. The only way for him to get the rest he needs is to leave (preferably with his family) for some days or weeks.
Generally, it will be weeks. Pastoral ministry is so intense that most pastors cannot begin to lay its burdens aside, even temporarily, within a few days. Many will only begin to relax during the second week of their vacation. An extended time away is genuinely necessary.
How much vacation should a pastor receive? Even ordinary laborers rarely get less than two weeks. That figure can serve as a minimal starting point for pastors, but it should not be the ending point. Increases in vacation time are just as important as increases in pay—and they cost the church less. After two or three years, a pastor should receive at least three weeks of vacation. If he has been in ministry for ten years or more, he should have a month. More senior ministers should rightly be entitled to even more time away.
Incidentally, a church should calculate its pastor’s seniority according to his time in ministry, not his time in a particular, individual work. If a ministry calls a man who already has experience, then he brings his experience with him into that ministry. The whole ministry benefits. A church should count that experience when it decides what benefits it will offer its pastor. For example, if he has pastored one church for seven years and another for eight, then he has fifteen years of seniority in ministry. His present ministry should reckon upon this total number when calculating his compensation and his vacation time.
Part of a church’s responsibility is to make sure that its pastor has adequate resources to take a decent vacation. Travel and lodging can be expensive, and if his compensation is low, then a pastor may not be able to save much toward his time away. The church itself can help to correct this situation by offering the minister a financial bonus specifically for his vacation. If this bonus is a budgeted item, it can become a part of the church’s regular financial planning.
Spending time away from the ministry is neither laziness nor luxury. To think so is to make oneself more spiritual than Jesus. Pastors should plan time away for the sake of their ministries and of their own spiritual wellbeing. Furthermore, churches should take the initiative by insisting that their pastors take vacation time and by providing adequate resources for it. Doing this is good, not only because it is right, but it is also the best thing for the ministry itself.
Jesus, Thy Wandering Sheep Behold
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)
Jesus, Thy wandering sheep behold!
See, Lord, with tender pity see
Poor souls that cannot find the fold,
Till sought and gathered in by Thee.
Lost are they now, and scattered wide,
In pain, and weariness, and want:
With no kind Shepherd near to guide
The sick and spiritless and faint.
Thou, only Thou, the kind and good,
The great redeeming Shepherd art;
Collect Thy flock, and give them food,
And pastors after Thine own heart.
A double portion from above
Of Thine all-quickening grace impart;
Shed forth Thy universal love,
In every faithful pastor’s heart.
I first heard of Michael Heiser when I was pastoring in Texas during the mid-1990s. A visiting speaker to our church had recently visited the campus of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College in Owatonna, Minnesota. This speaker commented about the impression that the young Bible professors in Minnesota had made on him. One of those professors was Mike Heiser.
Shortly after that conversation a disruption at Pillsbury resulted in the exodus not only of the young professors but also of the president. This was the event that began the long downward spiral resulting in the college’s closure in 2008. It was also the event that steered Michael Heiser toward a more visible and public career than he would likely have enjoyed as a professor at PBBC.
Heiser had been reached for Christ under the ministry of David Burggraff in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school he enrolled as a student at Pillsbury Baptist Bible College. He became one of the students who transferred to Bob Jones University during a period of conflict between Baptist leaders in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. He later attended Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and then Dallas Theological Seminary. By the time he returned to teach at Pillsbury, he had completed a master’s degree in ancient history at the University of Pennsylvania. After Heiser left Pillsbury, he completed another master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Semitics at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), writing his dissertation on the so-called “divine council.”
As Heiser understood it, the divine council is an assembly of very powerful spirit beings who act as advisers to the true and living God. These advisers are encountered in Genesis 1 (“let us make man in our image”), in the Sons of God of Genesis 6 and Job 1, and in the “gods” of Psalm 82. They are created spirits, higher than the angels, whom God has placed in exalted positions of rulership in heaven and on earth. They include both fallen and unfallen spirits. While Yahweh is the one true and living God, the divine council are “gods” of a lower, creaturely order.
This putative divine council became a major focus of Heiser’s research and writing. After he was made scholar in residence by Logos Bible Software (2004–2019), Heiser’s books became some of the most popular for the Logos/Faithlife/Lexham network. Heiser almost single-handedly popularized the divine council theory, establishing it as a respectable option within evangelical theology.
The divine council theory had not previously commanded much respect in evangelical circles. It had been developed by liberal scholars in tandem with an evolutionary view of Israel’s religion. This view saw the Israelites beginning as polytheists, then gradually advancing through henotheism and into monotheism as they elevated Yahweh to the position of sole God. In some of his best work, Heiser ably refuted this evolutionary understanding of Israelite religion. In doing so, he managed to uncouple the divine council theory from its liberal and evolutionary context, thus allowing it to be reassessed within an evangelical understanding of Scripture.
These contributions fit well with the peculiar turn of Heiser’s interests. He was a big fan of The X-Files, and he also devoted considerable attention to examining paranormal and “fringe historical” hypotheses from a biblical point of view. He wrote extensively about things like UFOs, ancient alien astronauts, Bible codes, and alien abductions. He was even recognized by Fate magazine as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Ufology.”
While Heiser wrote many scholarly articles and papers, he will be best remembered for his popular works and his podcast. The Naked Bible Podcast had an eight-year run with a total of 458 episodes, the last of which Heiser recorded only six weeks before he died. He loved to communicate to ordinary people, and he wasn’t afraid to employ a bit of sensationalism in doing it. His eagerness to spread his views at the popular level is much of what built his legacy.
So is his charity, good will, and kindness. Several years ago I interacted with him while writing an article on Psalm 82. Even though my conclusions ended up being almost directly opposite his, Heiser provided truly generous help as I wrote the article (“Who Judges the Judge?” in The Old Testament Yesterday and Today, ed. by Rhett P. Dodson). He was eager to interact—and that is not a uniform trait among scholars.
Most of all, Heiser’s legacy rests upon his single-minded focus. Starting from his advocacy of the divine council theory he developed related theories of biblical angelology and demonology, an understanding of the development and role of nations in the plan of God, and ultimately an overarching storyline for the outworking of God’s plan. The result was an integrated system that reflected a comprehensive biblical theology. By continuously publishing the elements of this theory through a variety of scholarly and popular venues, Heiser was able to advance his views significantly within the evangelical world.
In 2019, Heiser left Logos and moved to Florida to become Executive Director at Awakening School of Theology and Ministry. The following year, while the rest of the world was panicking about COVID, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The cancer took his life in February of this year. Michael Heiser was just sixty years old.
Heiser was a true scholar. He was a true gentleman. He was a true man of God and a faithful witness for Jesus Christ. But he was also unique in his interests and in his passion to communicate them. We shall not look upon his like again.
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)
Among th’ assemblies of the great
A greater Ruler takes his seat;
The God of heav’n, as Judge, surveys
Those gods on earth, and all their ways.
Why will ye, then, frame wicked laws?
Or why support th’ unrighteous cause?
When will ye once defend the poor,
That sinners vex the saints no more?
They know not, Lord, nor will they know;
Dark are the ways in which they go;
Their name of earthly gods is vain,
For they shall fall and die like men.
Arise, O Lord, and let thy Son
Possess his universal throne,
And rule the nations with his rod;
He is our Judge, and he our God.
When it comes to the opening chapters of Genesis, many conservative Christians spend their energy defending the text against the counter-narrative of evolution. That is right and proper: the theory of evolution entails in all its forms an utterly anti-biblical and anti-human philosophy. Nevertheless, the point of these chapters is not to contradict theories of evolution, which only became prevalent during the late Nineteenth Century. Instead, these chapters are valuable for the theological underpinning that they provide for virtually the entire system of faith and belief—including some categories that are rarely mentioned within systematic theologies.
Perhaps the most important function of the early chapters of Genesis is to introduce us to God. They show that God is Creator, and no truth of Scripture is more important than the Creator-creature distinction. Besides depicting God in terms of His power, they also show Him in His benevolence. What He makes is good, and the good is contextually understood as what is good for humans. God knows what is good, and when He knows that a good is absent (as when the man was alone), He provides it. He is also a God who blesses and, when humans sin, a God who promises a deliverer.
The early chapters of Genesis also explain both who humans are and why they were made. They are the image of God, and they were made for dominion. Within His universal kingdom, God created a world that He did not intend to govern directly. Instead, He planned for this world to be ruled mediatorially by godlike creatures. He gave them dominion, and He blessed them with authority to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it. They were made to be kings and queens. They were also made to be priests, standing in the presence of God and enjoying His companionship.
These narratives also explain what went wrong with this beautiful vision. God imposed a test upon the first man and the first woman. They were forbidden to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. If they ate the fruit, they would be claiming for themselves the prerogative to determine the good. Instead, God wanted them to trust Him for the good, which He abundantly provided. Rather than trusting the Creator, however, the man and woman chose to declare independence of God, choosing what seemed good to themselves. By declaring independence of God, they necessarily separated themselves from life, for their life came from God. They passed under sentence of death, a sentence that lies heavy upon humanity until this day.
In later Scriptures, the apostle Paul would appeal to these early chapters as fundamental for his doctrine of imputation (Rom 5:12ff). All humans, he claimed, sinned in Adam. That is why all humans die. Paul’s understanding of imputation also gets transferred to Christ, whose sufferings and merits are credited to His people.
The third chapter of Genesis gives the first glimpse of salvation to come. God offers hope through the seed of the woman, who will crush the head of the serpent, though not without pain. Furthermore, while God drove the man and woman out of paradise, He clothed them in skins, replacing the sustainable, plant-based garments they had fashioned for themselves. Covering the results of their sin required the shedding of blood—surely a picture of redemption to come.
According to the text, God made humanity in two sexes, both of which exhibited His image. These two sexes were made for companionship, for union, and for procreation. God chose to protect this marvelous relationship with the institution of marriage, which from the beginning necessitated exactly one man and one woman. God defined marriage in terms of a leaving and a cleaving or faithful devotion, which was subsequently to be cemented in one-flesh sexual union. Jesus and Paul both understood the creation narratives to be definitive for marriage, sex, and gender, including an order between the sexes within marriage and (later) the church.
Since human sin damaged the created world, it also introduced the problem of correctly caring for that world. For the first time, creation became recalcitrant and even dangerous. Human dominion was not entirely lost, but it was profoundly damaged. Furthermore, predatory use of the created world became possible for humans, with the result that they could destroy parts of their environment. A right understanding of both human dominion and human sin are fundamental to any genuinely useful environmentalism.
The Fall also brought scarcity into the world. Along with scarcity arose the necessity of hard labor, of exchanging goods, and of inventing various media of exchange. In other words, the discipline of economics is possible only in a post-lapsarian world, a world of scarcity. Furthermore, a right understanding of economics must take account of the necessity of labor, the reality of scarcity, and the self-seeking bent of human nature as these are communicated in the opening chapters of Genesis. A sound economics must be a biblical economics.
The opening chapters of Genesis also matter for our understanding of last things. Eschatology parallels protology. Whatever God intended to do when He created is exactly what He intends to accomplish in redemption. The end will bring us full circle to the purpose of the beginning. If indeed God intended to rule the world mediatorially through godlike creatures, then that is how things are going to turn out.
Genesis opens with the accounts of creation, the Fall, the flood, and the division of nations. These stories are in the text to make important theological points. They become the basis of doctrinal reasoning throughout the rest of Scripture. Genuine biblicists should plunder these chapters, not merely to refute false theories about origins, but to be able to answer the most important questions that people can ask.
Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)
Ye Realms of Joy, your Maker’s Fame,
Exalt above the starry Frame;
Ye Cherubims, your Voices raise,
And Seraphims, to sing his Praise.
Thou Silver Moon, that rul’st the Night,
With all the glitt’ring Stars of Light,
Thou glorious Sun that guid’st the Day,
To him your grateful Homage pay.
Ye Heav’ns above, his Praise declare,
And Clouds that move in liquid Air,
Let all adore their sov’reign LORD,
For all, at his creative Word,
At once from silent Nothing came;
Oh, let them bless his holy name,
Whose firm Decree stands ever fast,
And to Eternity shall last.
Let Earth her grateful Tribute pay:
Praise him, ye Fish that through the Sea
Glide swiftly by, with glitt’ring Scales;
Oh, praise him all, ye dreadful Whales,
Let misty Air, Fire, Hail and Snow,
And Winds that, where he bids them, blow,
To him their constant Praise address,
And his great Name for ever bless.
By lofty Hills, in concert join’d,
Cedars and Trees, for Fruit design’d,
By ev’ry creeping Thing and Beast,
And winged Fowl, GOD’s Name be bless’d.
Let Men of low or royal Birth,
Let all the Judges of the Earth,
Let Youth and Maids his Praise proclaim,
And hoary Heads advance his Fame.
United Zeal by us be shown,
To raise his endless Fame alone,
Whose Pow’r o’er all the Earth extends,
Whose glorious Sway the Sky transcends,
His Saints he doth with Honour grace,
And ever favour Israel’s Race;
Your grateful Voice, O, therefore raise,
Rejoicing still the LORD to praise.
In 1968, when I was thirteen years old, my father moved our family from eastern Michigan to Ankeny, Iowa. He was a manager with United Airlines, but he took a demotion so that he could prepare to become a pastor by studying at Faith Baptist Bible College. We moved into a house literally across the street from the campus. At that time, the college consisted of three buildings in a corn field, erected (as I recall) by the same Christian developer who built our entire neighborhood. We lived across the street from one professor, down the street from another, and around the corner from the president, the retired former president, and a couple more professors. A block in the other direction was a board member who was both a general in the Air Guard and an Iowa senator. I delivered their newspapers. Our new home was just up the street from the offices of the Iowa Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and I attended church with its associational representative.
At the time, none of it meant anything to me. Dad graduated after five years, in May of 1973, the same Spring that he was ordained and that I graduated from high school. That fall—fifty years ago now—I enrolled at FBBC. My reasons were less than virtuous. I had no savings to go away to university. My high school grades were too low for me to qualify for a scholarship (I graduated in the lower half of my class). Most options in higher education were closed to me. Nevertheless, my mother ran the bookstore on the campus at Faith. That meant that I could attend the college tuition-free.
When I matriculated at age seventeen, my heart was far from the Lord. I was not seeking to do His will. I was indifferent to the things of God and, really, to most of life. My indifference was reflected in both poor academic performance (I flunked Greek the first time I took it) and in a sardonic, contemptuous attitude. On top of that I was certainly less mature than the average seventeen-year-old. Taken together, these factors resulted in a year and a half of abysmal behavior.
The whole time, however, God was there, and He was not silent. He was working in my heart, showing me the end of the path that I was on. He was convincing me of my own self-centeredness. He was working from outside, administering chastening. He was determined that I should persevere even when I did not care. He broke both my heart and my will, and He showed me the emptiness of the things that I thought I loved. He convinced me that the more I chose to remain the captain of my own soul, the more certainly a shipwreck loomed. I began to fear that calamity, and He brought me to the point at which I consciously and deliberately submitted myself to Him, fully prepared to do whatever He wanted me to do.
None of these struggles took place in public, but this new submission to Jesus Christ made all the difference in my world. Along with the stormy hand of His discipline, I began to experience the warm blessings of His kindness. The relationships that grew up during these days have remained the most important of my life. Not the least of them is the relationship that God granted me with the woman who eventually consented to marry me. It was during these days that I first felt a sense of vocation for ministry. They were the days when I discovered the joy of studying God’s Word. They were gracious days, and they remain gracious days. It is truly God who works in us both the willing and the doing of His good pleasure, and His good pleasure is always good.
This week I find myself back on the campus of Faith Baptist Bible College. The student population is smaller. The buildings have multiplied on campus. The mission, however, is the same: “With the Word to the World.” I am here to deliver the Arthur Walton Lectures, named in honor of the professor who gave me my well-merited “F” in Greek. The atmosphere is a bit more relaxed than it used to be. The dress is a bit more casual. The people seem more outgoing, probably a result of the influence of the current president, but possibly because against all odds I have become a grey eminence.
It’s good to be here this week, to visit with professors and administrators, but especially to chat with students. It’s a joy to discover on this campus a combination of grace and grit, of biblical conviction and Christian compassion. I’m grateful for another generation of leadership, both in the offices and in the classroom, who are willingly investing themselves in their students, just as that generation fifty years ago invested themselves in me.
Most of the old, familiar faces can only be seen in photographs here and there around the campus. The people themselves are either with the Lord or in some advanced stage of retirement. But the investment they made, and the work they did, still pays spiritual dividends to the hundreds of students who are being discipled and trained for Christian service in this place.
I’ve been back to this campus before, but this week is different. I feel as if I’ve come full circle. I can only express gratitude for what I received here, although the people to whom I am most indebted are almost all gone now. I’m also grateful for the people I’ve seen who were students when I was, and who are still serving Christ. Furthermore, I am greatly encouraged by younger men and women who have taken up the work, and who are training new generations of Christians at both the baccalaureate and graduate levels.
I have never been employed by Faith Baptist Bible College and Seminary, but much of my life is wrapped up in this place. One way or another it has affected me for over half a century. Its influence has been overwhelmingly positive. I thank God for the work that it has done and that it is still doing.
Th’ Abyss of Many a Former Sin
Joseph of the Stadium (762–832); tr. John Mason Neale (1818–1866)
Th’ abyss of many a former sin
Encloses me and bears me in:
Like billows my transgressions roll:
Be Thou the Pilot of my soul;
And to salvation’s harbor bring,
Thou Savior and Thou glorious King!
My Father’s heritage abused,
Wasted by lust, by sin misused;
To shame and want and mis’ry brought,
The slave to many a godless thought,
I cry to Thee, who lovest men,
O pity and receive again!
In hunger now and dispossessed
Of that my portion bright and blessed,
The exile and the alien see,
Who yet would fain return to Thee.
Accept me Lord, I seek Thy grace,
And let me see a Father’s face.
With that saved thief my prayer I make,
Remember for Thy mercy’s sake!
With that poor publican I cry,
Be Merciful, O God most high!
With that lost Prodigal I fain
Back to my home would turn again!
Mourn, mourn, my soul, with earnest care,
And raise to Christ the contrite prayer:—
O Thou, who freely wast made poor,
My sorrows and my sins to cure,
Me, poor of all good works, embrace,
Enriching with Thy boundless grace!
Has anybody else noticed that certain right-to-life organizations have started referring to fetuses as “preborn babies?” This turn of phrase first caught my attention a couple of months ago. Of course, I’m slow on the uptake, so it might have been around for a quite a while, and I might not have caught on. Still, I think I’d remember if I’d seen it earlier because I find the expression so inappropriate as to be jarring.
Not that I object to calling fetuses in the womb babies. That’s exactly what they are. In fact, the Latin word fetus means baby. I don’t believe for a moment that some magical transformation takes place when an infant emerges from the birth canal, as if it could be a non-person while encased in its mother’s body but a human being as soon as it has been exposed to air.
No, between conception and birth nothing is added to the baby except growth. She or he is a human being from conception onward, with all the rights, honors, and privileges pertaining thereto. Anyone who takes Psalm 51:5 seriously understands that humans are fully moral persons from the instant of their conception onwards. Since they are human beings, they are fully entitled to all the protections that every human deserves.
So my objection is not at all to the word baby. No, what I object to is that quirky and abominable neologism, preborn. Exactly what is that word supposed to mean?
The prefix pre- has the idea of doing something in advance or ahead of time. A prepaid card is one that has been purchased ahead of time. A prefabricated house is one on which significant components have been previously assembled. A preowned car is one that has already belonged to someone else. A predestined event is one that has been determined ahead of time. A prearranged meeting is one that has been arranged before the meeting has taken place. A precooked meal is one that has already been in the oven.
By this standard, a “preborn” baby is an infant that has been born ahead of time. But ahead of what time? That is where the neologism becomes murky. Does it mean that the baby was born ahead of the expected time? Does it mean that the baby was born before the present time? We are not sure. The only thing we are reasonably sure of is that a preborn baby cannot still be waiting to be born, any more than a preowned car is still waiting for its first purchaser or a precooked meal still sits raw in the freezer.
The New Testament has a word that comes close to the meaning of preborn. The word is ektrōma, and it means “a birth that violates the normal period of gestation (whether induced as abortion, or natural premature birth or miscarriage)” [BDAG, s.v.]. Paul uses this term to refer to himself when he talks about Christ appearing to him out of sequence when compared with the other apostles. In this sense, Paul sees himself metaphorically as an apostolic miscarriage resulting in a live birth.
And maybe that is how we could use the term preborn. By following the regular pattern, a preborn baby could possibly be a fetus that miscarried, whether or not it survives the event. At least that use of the term would be recognizable and defensible, even if still inelegant.
Someone might try to defend the word preborn by comparing it to a different set of English pre– words. These are words in which a thing is said to occur before a different thing, designating the earlier thing as pre- the latter. So prehistoric events are happenings from before history began to be recorded. Prepubescent children are those who have not yet arrived at adolescence. Pregame jitters must be endured before the competition begins. Pre-Columbian America is the Americas before Columbus stumbled into them.
It is difficult to imagine, however, that the term preborn could reasonably fit this pattern, and we should be, well, predisposed against taking it that way. Even if the neologism could somehow be stuffed, kicking and screaming, into this usage, its meaning would still be unclear. The best thing to do is to stick with an expression that everybody already understands, namely unborn babies.
I have no idea what the appeal of preborn is supposed to be. Does it sound more stylish? More modern and streamlined? Is it somehow more socially acceptable to the kind of public that can no longer recognize distinctions between men from women? Whatever the purpose of using the word, it represents a verbal clunk, as if the linguistic transmission has dropped out of the drivetrain and is now dragging along the pavement. It does not even save space: it has just as many syllables as unborn, and it adds an additional phoneme. Using preborn is like pushing a shopping cart around the store when one of those little handbaskets would do.
We already have a perfectly good term. The word unborn is clear and widely understood. Unborn has, so to speak, been predigested for us, while preborn is just plain undigestible. It is awkward. It is cloudy. It is sand in the verbal gearbox. Taken on balance, the word preborn is just about as appealing as a pre-eaten dinner.
’Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
’Tis finished! The Messiah dies—
cut off for sins, but not His own;
accomplished is the sacrifice—
the great redeeming work is done.
The veil is rent; in Christ alone
the living way to heav’n is seen;
the middle wall is broken down,
and all mankind may enter in.
’Tis finished! All my guilt and pain,
I want no sacrifice beside;
for me, for me the Lamb is slain,
’tis finished! I am justified.
The reign of sin and death is o’er;
all grace is now to sinners giv’n;
and lo! I plead th’atoning blood,
and in Thy right I claim my heav’n.
Complaining, along with gossiping, blaming, and criticizing, is one of the great human pastimes. Until we have been trained otherwise, we all love to complain. A disposition to complain is hardwired into us, and we slip into it without even considering what we are doing.
The problem is that complaining, generally speaking, is considered a vice. It is the very opposite of the virtue of gratitude. Even among non-Christians, the best figures try to foster gratitude and to stultify the spirit of complaining. We who are Christians recognize that habitual complaining is contrary to our sanctification. We do our best to help each other grow out of it. Plenty of biblical texts view complaining in this negative light (e.g., Jude 16).
This view of complaining, however, is a bit too simplistic. I suggest that under certain circumstances and done in certain ways complaining is fully compatible with our sanctification. In fact, it may be a sign of our determination not to reconcile ourselves to the conditions of a fallen world.
One acceptable form of complaining is the appeal made to God out of distress, often when one has been wronged. An example can be found in Hannah (1 Sam 1). She was deeply grieved, and she wept (7), partly because “the Lord had shut up her womb” (5), and partly because “her adversary provoked her sore” with the specific purpose of causing her grief (6). So poignant was Hannah’s sorrow that even her husband lost patience with her (8). Left with no other listening ear, Hannah took her bitterness to God (9–11). Even then the high priest Eli, who lacked the moral courage to correct his sons, felt called upon to rebuke this broken woman (12–14). In her reply she told him that she was speaking to the Lord out of the “abundance of her complaint” (16).
What Hannah was doing was taking her pain to God. She was suffering, genuinely and deeply, and her suffering robbed the joy from her life. Rather than trying to dismiss her bitterness or directing it toward other people, Hannah complained to God, who heard and answered her.
Hannah provides one example of godly complaining. Psalm 55 provides another, and it introduces a new element. When David was betrayed by a close friend, he took his complaint to God. Indeed, he recorded his complaint in his psalm. Verse 2 specifically identifies the psalm as a complaint. Even though Psalm 55 is a complaint to God, it was also written for other people to read and understand. Even if David was not complaining to other people, he was certainly complaining for them.
Asaph does a similar thing in Psalm 77. He was troubled in soul, overwhelmed, fearful that the Lord might cast off forever (7). Like David, he complained to the Lord (3). Like David, he recorded his complaint as a psalm to be studied by God’s people. If he was not complaining to them, he was at least complaining for them.
Biblical complaining is taken to another level in the anonymous Psalm 102. The heading of the psalm (which is part of the inspired text) registers it as a “prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.” Certainly this psalm was written by a real person passing through real anguish of soul, but the personal element is attenuated. Instead, the psalm is written as a formalized complaint, a kind of prefabricated grievance that any godly person can pray when afflicted and overwhelmed.
These examples help us to draw a distinction. Often, we understand complaining simply as synonymous with grumbling or griping—the kind of complaining in which the children of Israel constantly indulged during the exodus. If we take the foregoing passages seriously, however, then griping is only one species of complaining. It is the sinful kind of complaining. But another kind of complaining is not sinful. In fact, it may well be integral to the life of faith.
How do we identify righteous complaining? I posit that the complaint (1) must be about a real wrong, (2) must be made to a person who is justified in hearing it, (3) must be made to someone who either could and should do something about it, or (4) must be made about someone who must be held accountable. This is the sense in which we intend the word when we say that someone has entered a complaint in a court of law or filed a complaint through the union steward. Such a complaint is either an indictment of wrongs or a petition for redress of grievances.
Understood in this way, the Bible is full of righteous complaints. Nathan complained to David, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam 12:7). The psalmist complained of Babylon, “Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones” (Ps 137:9). Habakkuk complained against Judah, “The law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth” (Hab 1:4). Jesus complained against the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. Paul complained to Festus, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest” (Acts 25:10). Every one of these complaints was justified. Every one of these complaints was godly.
By all means, let us repudiate a complaining, grumbling, griping, fault-finding spirit. But let us also remember that there is a different kind of complaining, a kind of complaining that has been practiced even among the saints. Perhaps if we would learn to do well the kind of complaining that we should do, then we would do less of the kind of complaining that we should not.
Fierce Passions Discompose the Mind
John Newton (1725–1807)
Fierce passions discompose the mind,
As tempests vex the sea;
But calm content and peace we find,
When, Lord, we turn to thee.
In vain by reason and by rule,
We try to bend the will;
For none but in the Savior’s school
Can learn the heavenly skill.
Since at his feet my soul has sat,
His gracious words to hear,
contented with my present state,
I cast on him my care.
’Tis he appoints my daily lot,
And will do all things well;
Soon shall I leave this wretched spot,
And rise with him to dwell.
In life his grace shall strength supply,
Proportioned to my day;
In death I still shall find him nigh,
To bear my soul away.
Thus I, who once my wretched days
In vain repinings spent;
Taught in my Savior’s school of grace,
Have learned to be content.
Which of the following statements is true? (1) The Bible comes from about forty authors, or (2) The Bible comes from a single author.
The answer, of course, is that both statements are true, but in different senses. The Bible was written by over forty human authors. It is genuinely the work of Moses, John, Paul, and others. Yet it was also inspired by a single divine Author through the Holy Spirit. It is all the Word of God.
The dual authorship of Scripture is one of the keys to a correct understanding of the Bible. Dual authorship is not just a doctrinal theory. It is the very thing that the Bible has to say about itself. The Bible teaches its own dual authorship.
Specifically, Jesus assumes the dual authorship of Scripture in His teaching and preaching. These references, though not great in number, are very specific. They lead unavoidably to the conclusion that Jesus saw both human authorship and divine authorship at play in the production of Scripture.
One example occurs in Mark 7:6–13. Here Jesus accuses the scribes and Pharisees of setting aside the commandment of God in favor of human traditions (7:8). In the next verse He repeats the charge (7:9), preparing to cite an example. This example (7:10) draws upon quotations that Jesus attributes to Moses (Exod 20:12; 21:17). He alleges that Moses’s teachings clearly require care for parents, but the Pharisaic standards permit people to avoid this obligation (7:11–12). By avoiding Moses’s requirements, the Pharisees are “making the word of God of none effect” (7:13, KJV). Jesus calls this Old Testament text the commandment of God (7:8, 9), but He also cites it as a saying of Moses (7:10). He also refers to it as the Word of God (7:13). This is a clear attribution of dual authorship.
Another example comes from Mark 12:35–37, where Jesus is defending His claim to be the Messiah. He has been approached with trick questions by His adversaries. Now He turns the tables and asks them a question: how can the scribes claim that Messiah is the son of David (12:35)? Jesus then quotes Psalm 110:1, which has David speaking to Messiah as his Lord (12:36). Jesus poses a puzzler for His critics: if Messiah is David’s Lord, then how can He also be David’s son? This is an important messianic question, and Jesus’s use of Psalm 110 also has implications for our view of Scripture. When He quotes Psalm 110:1, Jesus introduces it by saying that “David himself said by the Holy Ghost” (12:36, KJV).
That is the point. Psalm 110 is genuinely the words of David. In fact, Jesus’s argument hinges on the fact that they are the words of David. Nevertheless, Jesus insists that David spoke these words by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, Jesus uses the verse as completely authoritative. He is able to use it as the Word of God. Jesus’s use of the text shows that dual authorship is at work.
If Scripture always has the same divine author, whoever its human authors might be, then certain consequences must follow. Some of these consequences are clearly articulated by Jesus. They include at least the following.
First, Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). The verb that Jesus uses is a form of luo, and in this context it has the idea that Scripture can neither be set aside nor pitted against itself. In other words, if God is the author of all Scripture, then the Bible contains no genuine internal contradictions. It is never right to ignore Scripture or to throw one verse against another.
Second, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus states that not even a jot or tittle will pass from the law until it all comes to pass (Matt 5:18; the verb is a form of ginomai). In other words, everything that Scripture declares will happen exactly as God said it would happen. Every promise, whether threat or blessing, will be kept. Scripture is absolutely reliable in all that it says.
Third, when the Sadducees try to trap Jesus with a trick question about marriage in the resurrection (Matt 22:23–33), Jesus retorts with a three-part reply. First, He tells His opponents that they are ignorant of both Scripture and the power of God. Second, He states that no one is married in the resurrection. Third, He appeals to Exodus 3:6, where God tells Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus infers that God is the God of the living, and not the God of the dead. In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive.
What is significant about this reply is that Jesus relies upon an inference from the text and not the direct statement of the text itself. In drawing this inference, He appeals to a single verb, is, which is understood rather than stated by the Hebrew text. Furthermore, the validity of Jesus’s reasoning hinges upon the tense of this verb, which must be present tense for the argument to work. In sum, Jesus bases a significant theological conclusion on the tense of a single verb that is implied by the Hebrew text.
If Jesus treats the text of Scripture this way, then dual authorship must extend to the very words of the Bible. Jesus’s use of the Bible certainly ratifies the notion that the inspiration of Scripture is verbal (the words are inspired) rather than simply dynamic (only the concepts are inspired). For Jesus to use the Bible the way He does, the very words have to matter.
The evidence indicates that Jesus held a very high view of Scripture indeed. He used the Bible in His own temptation. He endorsed the miraculous elements of the Old Testament, including some that are most frequently attacked by critics. He recognized the dual authorship of Scripture as writings that were both human and divine. His teaching even implies the verbal inspiration of Scripture. If we follow the example of Jesus, then we should accept and use the entire Bible as the very Word of God while also recognizing it as the words of its human authors.
Father of Mercies, In Thy Word
Anne Steele (1717–1778)
Father of mercies, in thy word
What endless glory shines!
For ever be thy name ador’d
For these celestial lines.
Here, may the wretched sons of want
Exhaustless riches find:
Riches, above what earth can grant,
And lasting as the mind.
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows
And yields a free repast,
Sublimer sweets than nature knows
Invite the longing taste.
Here, the Redeemer’s welcome voice
Spreads heavenly peace around;
And life, and everlasting joys
Attend the blissful sound.
O may these heavenly pages be
My ever dear delight;
And still new beauties may I see,
And still increasing light!
Divine Instructor, gracious Lord,
Be thou for ever near,
Teach me to love thy sacred word,
And view my Savior there.