How Then Should We Preach? (Ryan McGraw)

However well constructed and attractive, a car is useless without fuel. On the flip side, a motor may have fuel without being a vehicle. Likewise, preaching is a vehicle that requires fuel. God designed preaching to bring us to himself through faith in Christ. If preaching does not have the right content, then it becomes more of a motor than a vehicle, since it can no longer take us where we need to go. If preaching has the right content, yet the Holy Spirit is absent from it, then it functions like a vehicle without fuel. It is only when Spirit shapes the content and blesses the act of preaching that preaching become a vehicle to bring us to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul teaches these things when he writes:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Paul teaches us in this text that preachers must preach Christ in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This truth both informs the content of preaching and shapes the manner in which ministers ought to preach. We learn several vital lessons here about what preaching is not, about what it is, and about the proper manner of preaching.

Preaching must not be based on worldly speech or worldly wisdom. Paul contrasted excellence of speech and wisdom with preaching Christ and him crucified. The gospel message results in a paradox. While its message is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18), it is the wisdom and the power of God to those who believe (v. 24). People cannot know God through worldly wisdom (v. 21) because when they pr…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Expect the Unexpected (Nick Batzig)

Last night, I had the great privilege of delivering the baccalaureate speech to the 2017 graduating class at Veritas Academy in Savannah, GA. While meditating, in recent days, on the multitude of truths that God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes–especially as it pertains to the unexpected hardships and seeming injustices that we will all experience in life–I’ve come to realize that Ecclesiastes would, in itself, make a perfect baccalaureate speech. Of particular importance is the following maxim of Qoheleth:”I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time” (Eccl. 9:11).In his sermon on Ecclesiastes 9:11 (which is included in his excellent commentary on the book), Phil Ryken sums up the essence of the passage when he says:”The time will come when events overtake us. Before we know it we get trapped in a bad situation at work, or afflicted with a disease or caught up perhaps in a financial tsunami. And, at the very end of our times, of course the time will come for us to die and then go to judgment–that’s a time that God knows and we do not. And, if time does not overtake us “chance” certainly will– chance not simply in the sense of ‘fate,’ but chance in the sense of something that happens, and ‘occurrence.’ He is not talking about something good that happens to you, but something bad. And so it is in a fallen world. Many unhappy events, Natural disaster, environmental catastrophes, military conflicts in various parts of the world, economic downturns–its all very unpredictable– the misfortunes of life are inevitable and inescapable. And here in his mercy God tells us to expect the unexpected. So when hardship comes–even when it comes very suddenly–we should not be surprised; we should realize that this is the kind of thing that happens in the wo…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Patriot-olotry: The Intersection of Theology and Politics (Donny Friederichsen)

In many evangelical circles, it is still assumed that conservative theology means conservative politics. And to be fair, the same could be said of the “Evangelical left” and liberal politics. But when politics and theology are seen as synonymous, it is typically not theology that is primary. The reason for this is simple. A robust biblical theology does not support the hyper-individualism and consumerism needed to maintain public interest in today’s modern politics. Nevertheless, modern politics needs to be cloaked in religious language in order to carry the necessary gravitas. The end result is that theology becomes the handmaiden of political agendas. In turn, patriotism becomes one and the same with Christianity for so many. Among the multitude of factors that have given rise to this fact in the United States is the combination of American exceptionalism and Dispensationalist theology.

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is qualitatively and fundamentally different and better than other nations. The reasons behind this widely held belief are varied. The amalgamation of a Puritan history, Protestant work-ethic, manifest destiny, and a general pragmatism have all helped shape the belief that God has, in fact, blessed the United States in a way that He has not blessed other nations.

The belief in American exceptionalism was wedded to the growing theological movement known as Dispensationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dispensationalism, a novel theological movement that was popularized by J.N. Darby and C.I. Schofield, convinced Christians that they could most certainly find American exceptionalism in the Scriptures. Through the vehicle of Dispensationalism, America became the pinnacle of Christendom, the “City on a Hill,” but not in the manner it was originally used by John Winthrop when he quoted Matthew 5:14 in 1630. Winthrop argued that the eyes of the world would be upon their colony and if they dealt falsely with God,…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Affliction Evangelism (Aaron Denlinger)

“This light momentary affliction,” Paul writes, “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul’s use of the singular noun “affliction” in 2 Cor. 4:7 is intriguing. Paul doesn’t say afflictions (plural), which would suggest periodic suffering in the life of the Christian. Nor, to all appearances, is he referring to some specific episode of suffering in his own life and ministry, though Paul’s life and ministry certainly contained episodes of more concentrated difficulty. He seems, rather, to be making a point generic to all Christians (hence the “for us”). “This light momentary affliction,” then, seems to be a reference to the entirety of the Christian’s life on this side of eternity. The Christian’s life in toto can be characterized as one singular “affliction.” The whole thing is hard. The hardship of the Christian life doesn’t preclude joy. Nor does it preclude any number of concrete pleasures in this life (family, friendships, craft beer, pillow fights, etc.). But the life of the faithful Christian will, as a whole, be difficult.

That’s a hard pill for us as Americans to swallow. Our culture puts tremendous pressure on us not just to be happy — to pursue happiness in the here and now at any cost — but also to look happy. Hence selfies. Selfies exist, I’m convinced, not to preserve or trigger their subjects’ memories of places visited, things seen, and experiences experienced, but to be posted to some form of social media in order to project a certain image of their subjects; namely, the image of fun, adventurous, and (above all) happy people. Paul’s designation of life as an “affliction” invites us to abandon the very pretense our culture bids us maintain. Acknowledging life as difficult is both scary, because it pushes against the grain of cultural expectations, and liberating, because it invites us to stop pretending that everything’s peachy all the time.

But why must life be so hard for Christians? Difficulty in…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

A Cloud of Reformers (Editors)

Our friends, over at Place for Truth, have recently added Simonetta Carr blog, A Cloud of Witnesses, to their site. Simonetta is writing about the Reformers and those in church history who have influenced them. Her first post is dedicated to the life and legacy of Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562)–the great Italian Reformer. We encourage you to make Simonetta’s site a part of your regular reading.For those of you who may not be familiar with Simonetta, here’s a brief bio:Simonetta Carr was born in Italy and has lived and worked in different cultures. She has written numerous books and contributed to newspapers and magazines around the world. Additionally, she has translated the works of several authors from English into Italian and vice versa. Presently, she lives in San Diego with her husband Thomas and the youngest of her eight children. She is a member and Sunday School teacher at Christ United Reformed Church….

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

What You’re For, What You’re Against! (Nick Kennicott)

“Be known for what you’re for rather than what you’re against.” This statement–in various forms–has become something of a Christian cliche over the past decade. Nearly every time I hear it, I wonder if those who so often state it understand the irony of the potential false dilemma that they have inadvertantly created for themselves. Insisting that we should want to be known for what we’re for rather than for what we’re against includes being known for being against being known for what we’re against. You may actually be making a statement akin to that which almost every unbeliever makes when they, in opposition to the Bible’s condemnation of sin, misuse the only verse in the Bible that they know, “Judge not…”–which, ironically, is a quite judgmental response.

To be fair, I strongly sympathize with the well intentioned sentiment behind the adage, “Be known for what you’re for.” I want to be known as a pastor who is for the gospel, for the church, for the Kingdom of God, for life, for marriage, and for a whole list of other God-ordained, and spiritually beautiful things. I’m also for gourmet food, all natural ingredients, and fancy restaurants. But for the good of humanity, I’m against kale chips and turkey bacon. Likewise, for the good of souls and for the good of the church, I’m against false gospels, false worship, false doctrine, and false teachers. Being for biblical things means that we must necessarily be against non-biblical ideas and practice.

Some people have made a career out of controversy. Watch blogs, conspiracy theory websites, and gossip media are all the rage. While the feel-good news stories get circulated around social media with comments such as, “THIS is real news,” or “It’s about time we see something positive,” anyone looking at blog statistics can tell you the most read articles aren’t filled with heartwarming testimonies or affirmations of true doctrine. Humans like drama, and even if we say we don’t, our Netflix history proves ot…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Knowing the Trinity, the latest book from the Alliance and Ryan McGraw (Robert Brady)

Knowing the Trinity: Practical Thoughts for Daily Life by Meet the Puritans contributor Ryan McGraw is the latest book from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.The Gospel is primarily about God. Part of the glory of the New Testament is that it explains the Gospel to us in terms of the glorious work of the three persons of the Trinity.’The Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian faith because it involves the very identity of God.  Yet many Christians are unsure as to how this is supposed to shape their Christian lives.  In the tradition of John Owen, Dr McGraw here offers a lively and accessible account of the doctrine and its practical and doxological implications for every Christian.  I think this will prove to be a very helpful volume.’ – Carl R. TruemanEach chapter of Knowing the Trinity leads readers to meditate on God’s work and how they relate to Him in light of passages of Scripture that appeal to all three divine Persons. The study questions included in are designed to promote personal devotion or group discussion. This book aims to show that the Trinity is the foundation of all biblical doctrines, the lifeblood of the church, and the heart of Christian experience.Knowing the Trinity is available at our store ReformedResources.org in paperback. Also available as an eBook. Be sure to get a copy.’John Owen’s Communion with God stands out as the classic exploration of the devotional dimensions of the doctrine, and Ryan McGraw seeks to do the same more briefly and on a more popular level. McGraw begins by pointing us to Ephesians 2:18–“Through him we both have access to the Father, by one Spirit”–and then spends the rest of his time unpacking the related implications. A worthy introduction to a theme often overlooked.’ – Fred ZaspelSaveSave…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Giving the Devil His Due (Louis Markos)

Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky

By Jessica Hooten Wilson

Cascade Books, 2017

156 pages, paper, $21.00

It is a sad and tragic irony that many private Christian schools do not teach Flannery O’Connor. I say it is sad and tragic because O’Connor was one of the very few major American authors who was an orthodox, Nicene Christian. As far as I can tell, not a single canonical American poet or fiction writer between the Puritan period and O’Connor could have signed a statement affirming their belief in the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and/or Resurrection.

I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I do not believe that it is. Consider the roll call of the American literary pantheon: Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, Poe, Faulkner, London, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Henry James, William James, Longfellow, etc. Not a true believer in the lot. Granted, the authors of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur were strong Christians, but neither is considered a member of the pantheon. T. S. Eliot did mature into a Christian, but only after he left America for England, Toryism, and the Anglo-Catholic Church.

In sharp contrast, O’Connor’s faith in the Incarnate and Risen Christ who died for our sins is as evident in her novels and stories as it is in her letters and essays. Why then do many Christian schools shy away from her? Part of it is her use of the “n” word, but that is not the whole story, since that forbidden word crops up in other authors.

The deeper reason why O’Connor is left off Christian reading lists is that her work is dark, pessimistic, and unsettling. Evil is just too real, too tangible in her stories, and that disturbs students, parents, and teachers alike. Never mind the fact that Christian parents allow their kids to watch truly despicable, utterly non-redemptive movies and television shows about serial killers. Somehow, that’s OK, but O’Connor . . …

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Luther and Calvin’s Quiet Discussions in Heaven (Nick Batzig)

Those who cherish the Reformation have often sought out what, if any, influence Martin Luther may have had on John Calvin. Did the two Reformers ever meet in person? Was Calvin influenced by the writings or ministry of “the Initiator” of the Reformation? Did he ever rely on the writing of Luther in the development of his own theology? These and many other related questions surface when we begin, with admiration, to give ourselves to a study of these two massively important figures. Much remains uncertain about which of Luther’s works Calvin read and which of Calvin’s works Luther read. It is, however, clear that Calvin had knowledge of the controversies that surrounded Luther’s theological writings and debates and that Luther read Calvin on certain theological issues. For instance, Calvin labored to wed Zwingli’s spiritual view of the Supper to Luther’s insistence on real presence. In John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, Herman Selderhuis explains:”Calvin was left with the pieces of the dispute and tried to resolve things by combining the elements that both Luther and Zwingli insisted on. He thus arrived at a belief in the real presence of Christ through his Spirit, a solution through which some kind of unity was established both with the Wittenbergers and with the Swiss. Unfortunately a three-party consensus was never achieved.”1  Luther was aware that Calvin was seeking to reconcile his view with that of Zwingli, as Selderhuis notes:”Melanchthon reported that when someone tried to incite Luther to attack Calvin’s teaching on the Lord’s Supper…Luther actually praised Calvin after reading the relevant passages.”2 The bulk of Calvin’s references to Luther have to do, not with theological matters but with personal assessment (which is unsurprising given the strong personalities possessed by the two Reformers). Calvin was critical as well as celebratory in his opinions about the Wittenberg Reformer. In a letter to Bullinger, Calvin deemed Luther “immoderate…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.

Geniuses by Enhancement (Part 2) (Bruce Baugus)

Discussions of the ethics of human enhancement often invoke a supposed distinction between therapies, which are aimed at fighting disease and overcoming impairments, and enhancements, which are aimed at increasing human capacities. As I observed in my previous post on this topic, nearly everyone acknowledges the difficulty of drawing this distinction in some cases. Some argue the distinction is clear enough, just sometimes difficult to apply; others argue the distinction is ambiguous, and should be abandoned.

It is certainly possible and morally useful to distinguish between therapeutic and non-therapeutic acts; it is also possible to distinguish enhancements from other kinds of acts. There is no reason to suppose, however, that those two distinctions coincide. Indeed, some therapies, like vaccines, fight disease by enhancing ordinary human capacities. There are, in other words, therapeutic enhancers.

If at least some enhancements are therapeutic and permissible, then the ethical question is not about human enhancement as such but which enhancements or what kinds of enhancements are permissible or impermissible and under what conditions.

Artificial (Human) Intelligence?

Among the many dazzling promises enhancement advocates offer is the prospect of a class of drugs (or genetic alterations–setting aside human-technology fusions for a later post) that would enable us to perform at significantly higher cognitive levels than we otherwise would–the ability, if you will, to generate artificial human intelligence by manipulating our human material in some way.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, safe and effective intellectual enhancers can be developed through morally permissible means, uncontroversial uses might include (1a) helping brain-damaged patients recover something approximating their original capacity or (1b) helping Down syndrome children perform at grade level. But what about (2a) a high IQ boy who nevertheless struggles with a learning disability or (…

Continue Reading at Reformation21 Blog

reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.