Monday, December 31, 2007

Fall 2007 "Evangelical Forum Newsletter" Posted

Photo: The hard copy edition of the Fall 2007 EFN is prepared a few weeks ago by Bonnie Beach and volunteers (Evelyn Jones, Judi LaGrange, Dalton States, Hannah Riddle, Lydia Riddle, and Samuel Riddle).

The last (fourth) issue of the EFN for 2007 was put in the mail about two weeks ago. I got a phone call this morning from at least one Pastor friend across the mountain who enjoyed reading his copy.

Brian Davis has also posted a copy to read here.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Christmas Question

From the sermon “A Christmas Question” from Isaiah 9:6 preached by Charles H. Spurgeon at Exeter Hall on Sunday, December 25, 1859.

Now there is a proclamation gone forth today and it is a true one, too, that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners. The question with you is whether He has saved you and whether you have an interest in Him. I beseech you, give no sleep to your eyes and no slumber to your eyelids, till you have read your “title clear to mansions in the skies.” What, man? Shall your eternal destiny be a matter of uncertainty to you? What! Is Heaven or Hell involved in this matter and will you rest until you know which of these shall be your everlasting portion? Are you content while it is a question whether God loves you, or whether He is angry with you? Can you be easy while you remain in doubt as to whether you are condemned in sin, or justified by faith, which is in Christ Jesus?

Get up, Man. I beseech you by the living God and by yours own soul’s safety, get up and read the records. Search and look and try and test yourself to see whether it is so or not. For if it is so, why should not we know it? If the Son is given to me, why should not I be sure of it? If the Child is born to me, why should I not know it for a certainty, that I may even now live in the enjoyment of my privilege—a privilege, the value of which I shall never know to the full, till I arrive in Glory?

Again—if it is so, another question. Why are we sad? I am looking upon faces just now that appear the very reverse of gloomy, but maybe the smile covers an aching heart. Brothers and Sisters, why are we sad this morning, if unto us a Child is born, if unto us a Son is given? Hark, hark to the cry! It is “Harvest home! Harvest home!” See the maidens as they dance and the young men as they make merry! And why is this mirth? Because they are storing the precious fruits of the earth, they are gathering together unto their barns wheat which will soon be consumed. And what, Brothers and Sisters, have we the bread which endures to eternal life and are we unhappy?

Does the worldling rejoice when his corn is increased and do we not rejoice when, “Unto us a Child is born and unto us a Son is given”? Hark, yonder! What means the firing of the Tower guns? Why all this ringing of bells in the Church steeples, as if all London were mad with joy? There is a Prince born. Therefore there is this salute and therefore are the bells ringing. Ah, Christians, ring the bells of your hearts, fire the salute of your most joyous songs, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Dance, O my Heart, and ring out peals of gladness! You drops of blood within my veins dance every one of you! Oh, all my nerves become harp strings and let gratitude touch you with angelic fingers! And you, my tongue, shout—shout to His praise who has said to you—“Unto you a Child is born, unto you a Son is given.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Evangel article December 20, 2007.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Livingstone's Prayer

The 19th century Scottish missionary David Lingstone wrote this prayer:

Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me.

Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.

Sever any tie but the tie that binds me to Thyself.


Jesus and the Family

Here are the headings for the five concluding points from last Sunday's message on "Jesus and the Family" (Mark 3:31-35):
1. Jesus taught a radical form of discipleship that places loyalty to him above loyalty to everything else, including our families (see Matthew 10:32-39; Luke 14:25-27; Mark 10:29-30).

2. The family is a God-given institution that is highly valued by God as an instrument for establishing and building his kingdom, but it is not ultimate. Only Jesus is ultimate.

Simply put the family is only the means to an end. It is not the end in and of itself. The end is knowing and serving Christ. The family might be an instrument to get us there. But if we have a lovely family life, yet still do not know a passion for Christ then we have still failed miserably.

3. Our union with the human family is only temporary. Our union with Jesus is permanent (see Matthew 22:30).

4. Although our relationship with Jesus is ultimate, but this does not mean that our relationship with our family is unimportant or that we might not share with those who are our natural relations also a rich spiritual relationship centered upon a common commitment to Christ.
Some run the risk of neglecting or sabotaging their relationships with their families in some high-minded but wrong-headed attempt to put Christ first.

It does not have to be either my family or Christ, but a real blessing occurs when it is my family alongside me in loving and serving Christ. It can be my family and Christ.

5. Even in a Christian household the call to obey Christ must take precedence.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The good accidentally conferred by the season

I was listening to Charles Spurgeon's sermon "A Christmas Question" of December 25, 1859 on sermon audio (you can also read the text here) and reading the various posted comments. This time of year always features a debate on sermonaudio about Christmas. I thought this comment from Stephen Hamilton was particularly sensible:
The fact that Spurgeon used the opportunity conferred by the annual Christmas holiday to preach the gospel of the Incarnation in no way diluted his Protestantism, anymore than the usage of pagan names for our days of the week (Monday, Tuesday etc.,), and months of the year (January etc.,.), makes today's Christians into pagans. The old "chestnut" is resurrected every year about ChristMASS, as if every person even using the term is about to become a Papist! Some folks love to quote Spurgeon very selectively in relation to ChristMAS, rightly pointing out,of course,that he fully rejected Romanism, but conveniently ignoring his embracing of "the good accidentally conferred by the season"(CHS quote). Such people usually do not have the courage to label him a "compromiser", yet do not hesitate to condemn gospel preachers who organise their worship services in December in the same way as CHS did each year. It is patent nonsense to tar faithful gospel preachers with the same brush as the worshippers of the "pancake god", simply because they use the ChristMAS season to proclaim the truth about the Incarnation. Are these annual hobby-horse riders the only faithful custodians of the Faith? I think not. Perhaps soon they will show a similar zeal to take Janus (pagan goddess)out of January!
In this regard I also found the articles by another sermonaudio preacher, Bob Vincent of Grace Presbyterian Church of Alexandria, Louisiana to be of interest. See "A Short History of Our Experiments With Christmas" which he signs, "a recovering neurotic" and "John Calvin's Christmas Observance."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sermon of the Week: Gregg Harris on Biblical Manhood

I went to my second meeting of the Uniting Church and Home Network in Richmond last Thursday. Eric Wallace recommended the recent teaching by Gregg Harris at Piper's Bethlehem BC 2007 Men's Retreat that can be found online here.
The four sessions:
#1 Welcome to God's Kingdom, Mr. Ambassador!- Audio and Slides
#2 A Household for All Seasons - Audio and Slides
#3 The Marriage Vows at the Heart of your Household Embassy - Audio
#4 Developing, Including and Leading your Household Staff - Audio
I'm working my way through them now.


A Glaring Omission in Packer's Biography

I just finished reading Alister McGrath's J. I. Packer: A Biography (Baker, 1997). McGrath goes into great detail about the various intrigues regarding Packer's academic appointments (reminding me of one wag's comment that when it comes to academic politics never do the passions run so high when the stakes are so low), his influence as an evangelical within Anglicanism, his break with "The Doctor" (Martin Lloyd-Jones) over separation, controversy over his signing of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," etc.
On the other hand, he says almost nothing about Packer's personal life or family. There is some mention of his marriage to Kit but there are exactly two sentences about Packer's children: "The Packers subsequently adopted three children: Ruth, Naomi, and Martin" (p. 69) and "His children's education could be arranged" (p. 234; in reference to his move to Vancouver). Can you know the man without knowing his family?


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bumper Sticker Theology

Ed Setzer had this picture posted on his blog. It was on a truck parked in the Ridgecrest lot during the "Building Bridges" Calvinism Conference. We see a lot of bumper stickers in C-ville, but I don't think I've ever run across this one.

The Greatest Need

In preparing for the current Sunday evening series on "The Order of Salvation," I have been helped by reading Robert L. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Thomas Nelson, 1998). In his summary of "Progressive Sanctification" Reymond concludes:

The greatest need of Christian children is to see their parents walking with Christ.

The greatest need of a congregation is to see its pastor living in true piety.

And the greatest need of the church today is a holy walk before the Lord.

We might add that the greatest need of the world is a holy church that holds forward a sinless Christ who died for sinners once for all on the cross. Let us examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Parents, are we living godly lives without hypocrisy before our children? Those in spiritual leadership in the church, are we seeking true piety? Every member of the body, are we walking in holiness, living for the Lord in a way that is separate and distinct?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Evangel article December 5, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Building Bridges" Audio Now Available

You can listen to audio files from the "Building Bridges" Conference here. I started working my way through them today.

Sermon of the Week: "Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret"

Picture: Hudson Taylor as a mature man.
I have let this series go for a while, but here is another audio suggestion. Last night I did a missions biography of Hudson Taylor and quoted generously from the little book "Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret." You can listen to a reading of the book online here. It is a great book to listen to while you drive or it might make for good listening for a family devotion or Lord's Day afternoon.


Fruit Bearing Involves Cross-bearing

Picture: Hudson Taylor as a young man.
The Christmas season has long been a time when Christians have set their hearts on missions. Indeed, the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, is at the heart of the Christmas story: "For God so loved the world, that he have his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16 AV).

I recently read the biography of Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) the pioneer missionary to China and founder of the influential China Inland Mission.

Even as young man, Taylor was overcome with a passion for taking the gospel to China. He wrote to his mother:

Think, Mother, of twelve millions—a number so great that it is impossible to realize it—yes, twelve million souls in China, every year passing without God and hope into eternity…. Oh, let us look with compassion on this multitude! God has been merciful to us; let us be like Him….

Taylor did go to China and led pioneer gospel efforts into the interior. The call was costly to his health and family. He buried two children in China. His beloved wife died at the age of only thirty-three. Taylor would reflect:

There is a needs-be for us to give ourselves for the life of the world. An easy, non-self-denying life will never be one of power. Fruit bearing involves cross-bearing. There are not two Christs—an easy going one for easy going Christians, and suffering, toiling one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in Him and bear much fruit?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article November 28, 2007

What is Adoption?

Note: Below is the outline of the message last Sunday evening at JPBC on "Adoption" in our Order of Salvation Series.
What is Adoption?
JPBC November 25, 2007

I. Introduction:

Spurgeon’s Catechism:

Q 33: What is adoption?

A: Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.

Part of salvation is attaining a status of sonship. We are made part of God’s family. We are co-heirs of Christ.

The Biblical word for "adoption" is huiothesia, literally "to be placed into sonship [the status of son]."

II. Key Biblical examples with explicit use of "adoption" language:

1. Galatians 4:4-7:
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

2. Ephesians 1:3-6:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

3. Romans:

a. Romans 8:15:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."

b. Romans 8:23:
Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

Note: Here adoption is linked with the ultimate redemption of the body at the final resurrection. This implies that adoption, like sanctification, is something that begins in the here and now but is not completed until the end of the ages in our final glorification.

c. Romans 9:3-4:

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;

Note: Here adoption refers to ethnic Israel’s relationship with God. Now Christians—Jews and Gentiles—share in this sonship status.

III. Passages that do not explicitly use "adoption" language but where the concept is implied:


1. John 1:12-13:

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

2. Romans 8:16-17:

16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

3. 1 John 3:1:

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

IV. Some implications of this doctrine:

1. Before we are saved, we are not "children of God."

One of the chief conceits of human nature is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Liberal Christianity spoke of "the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." Even today you will hear someone say, "We are all God’s children."

The Bible rejects this concept. We only become God’s children when we are saved. Before that, we are sons of the devil who deserve God’s wrath (see John 8:39-47 "You are of your father the devil" (v. 44); Eph 1:3 "by nature children of wrath").

2. Christians hold a distinct status of privilege given us by God.

As with our discussion of definitive sanctification, we see that it will not do to speak disparagingly of the one who is saved. He is no longer a wretch, an orphan, but he has been made a child of God.

3. The concept of adoption is linked with the theology of the church.

To be saved is to be made part of a family. It is to receive brothers and sisters who have also been adopted into this family. We have an elder brother, Christ, who is a child by nature. We join with our adopted siblings into God’s family.

V. Conclusion:

In Charlottesville when a child is adopted the Judge has him stand with his family in the courtroom and he declares the legally binding status of family. A bell is wrung. When you hear that bell ringing you know that a new "forever family" has been formed. So, when a person is saved we might say that a bell is rung in heaven. An adoption is finalized and formalized. You become part of God’s family. You become his child. You become heir to a vast fortune and wealth that you did not earn but that was given to you by grace.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A New Old Breed: Young SBC Calvinists in the Pulpits

A Baptist press article from the "Building Bridges" Conference on Calvinism in the SBC reports on Lifeway's Ed Setzer's presentation of a survey indicating that one in three SBC seminary grads are self-described Calvinists. A past report indicates that at present only one in ten SBC Pastors is a five-point Calvinists. From the article:
Referring to recent graduates, Stetzer explained, "The percentages tick up each year and if they continue to increase, then obviously the percentage of Calvinists in our churches and church leadership will continue to increase as well.
"Calvinism is on the rise among the most recent seminary graduates. If present trends continue, Calvinism will continue to grow as an influence in our convention."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thankfulness For What We Have

Do you have a thankful heart?

At the start of Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe, the shipwrecked hero is a rebellious, ungrateful young man.

As he reads a Bible salvaged from the wrecked ship, however, his attitude gradually changes. The hero reflects:

I frequently sat down to my meat with thankfulness, and admired the hand of God’s providence, which had thus spread my table in the wilderness. I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less on the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed, rather than what I wanted… All our discontents about what we want, appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.

Psalm 95:2 says, "Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving."

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: The devotional above is the text from one of our "60 Seconds in the Word" spots currently running on AM 1260 in Charlottesville.

Evangel article, November 21, 2007.

Book Review: R. T. Kendall's "In Pursuit of His Glory"

Book Review
R. T. Kendall, In Pursuit of His Glory: My 25 Years at Westminster Chapel (Charisma House, 2004): 310 pp.

As a missionary back in the early 1990s I picked up a copy of R. T. Kendall’s book Jonah in London and found it, at the time, to be spiritually helpful. I did not know then that the book came from Kendall’s first expositional preaching series in 1977 as the successor of Martin Lloyd-Jones at central London’s famed Westminster Chapel. It is the strange direction Kendall’s ministry took in subsequent years at Westminster that is the subject of this book.

In Pursuit of His Glory is a pastor’s memoir of Kendall’s controversial and, by his own admission, disappointing tenure at Westminster from 1977 to 2002. In some ways, one might say that Kendall’s ministry was doomed from the start. He began with at least two strikes against him. First, he was an American coming to serve a British congregation. Second, he was succeeding the famed pulpit ministry of the deeply influential Martin Lloyd-Jones. Kendall began behind in the count and never measured up to Westminster standards.

The strange aspect of the story is Kendall’s account of his embrace of the charismatic movement in an effort to produce revival at Westminster. It began with his welcoming of the Jesus movement street evangelist Arthur Blessit, the introduction of contemporary choruses in worship, and the extending of altar calls. In retrospect these changes were mild compared to what would come. Stunning is Kendall’s subsequent bold and rapid embrace from there of the most fringe elements of the charismatic movement. This included his welcoming of the "Kansas City Prophet" Paul Cain into membership and the pulpit at Westminster and then laughing evangelist Rodney Howard-Browne of the notorious "Toronto Blessing." In some ways, one might say that Kendall merely returned to his Nazarene roots, but was this what the Chapel members who called him in 1977 bargained for?

How did the Chapel go from such a staunch citadel of Reformed theology under "the Doctor’s" leadership to a place promoting the Toronto Blessing? The transformation, again, is stunning. This is not to say that these changes were unopposed. Kendall cryptically describes opposition that developed to his ministry at Westminster, including a painful "church meeting" on January 16, 1985 which he barely survived. He also refers often to his "total forgiveness" of those who opposed his ministry. One of the strangest elements of the book is Kendall’s insistence that he consulted with the aged Lloyd-Jones and gained his support for the introduction of these novel teachings. Kendall’s recollections have been openly challenged by Iain Murray in a review of this book in The Banner of Truth.

Kendall speaks with disappointment of the never achieved revival he sought to bring about at Westminster. His attempt to marry his version of Reformed theology (the "Word") with charismania (the "Spirit") did not bring renewal and revival. One of the saddest parts of this memoir is Kendall’s often expressed despair at the dwindling congregations to which he preached over the years. By the end of his ministry, the cavernous chapel, capable of holding thousands, held only a few hundred at best. Sadly one wonders in the end if his desire to see vast numbers in attendance was really an effort to pursue God’s glory or an effort to gratify his own pride and fleshly desire for popularity. This book should be read by Pastors and laymen alike not as an exercise in seeking methods to employ but as a cautionary tale of what to avoid in pastoral ministry.

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

Friday, November 16, 2007

LivingStone: "Evangelical" Monastery?

While walking through the exhibition hall at the BGAV meeting last Tuesday I was struck by one display in particular. It was for LivingStone Monastery in Newport News, Virginia. The young man attending the table saw the puzzled look on my face as I read their banner proclaiming the mission of this "Protestant monastery." The young man, a recent graduate of Trinity Divinity School in Chicago, gave me a brochure and the low down on the monastery.

Livingstone opened in 2004 in a building once owned by the Sisters of Poor Clare, an order of Franciscan nuns, who had lived there for 50 years. As the brochure says, "Now a monastery in the evangelical tradition, LivingStone is a religious community called to support the local church, to practice hospitality,and to foster an environment for spiritual formation." The Monastery has an "Abbot," and they conduct "daily offices" at morning, noon, and night.

With a little more digging I found the monastery is connected to Hope Community Church, an "emerging" church type congregation. Most interesting thing here is the fact that this church shares facilities with five partnering churches (including what looks like a conservative Anglican and an independent Doctrines of Grace church) in a "multi-church campus" called Mosaic.

Prominently displayed on the exhibit table was a book by Quaker evangelical mystic Richard Foster. The affable young man let me look at their reading list which had more Foster and the Catholic Henry Nouwen, but it also listed several books by John Piper and even J. I. Packer’s Knowing God.

After a little perusal, I asked the young "monk," "Why do you think that the Protestant Reformers closed down the monasteries as the Reformation got under way?" Why did the former monk Luther marry the former nun Katherine Von Bora and establish their Christian home as "the school for character" (as Roland Bainton puts it in his classic bio of Luther)? I also asked why evangelicals would turn to Quakers or Roman Catholics for lessons on spirituality and bypass our own glorious (and doctrinally distinct) heritage on such matters in the Puritans (none of whom made the reading list).

We have to admit that most evangelical churches are lacking the intimate fellowship, community, discipline, and commitment that these young folk are trying to find in their "monastery." But is such a communal living arrangement Biblical? Shouldn’t these folk be encouraged to marry and establish godly homes where godly children are raised and to join themselves in meaningful covenant to an authentic local church body?


Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Lord's Calf

Note: A friend at JPBC recently gave me a book on the discipline of Christian stewardship titled Totally Committed to Christ (Evangelical Press, 2004). On Monday I had lunch with the author, a retired Virginia Baptist Pastor, at the SBCV meeting in Hampton. Here is one section from that book under the heading "Giving should be performed systematically" (pp. 195-96):

To be haphazard in our giving, giving as the whim takes us or giving what happens to be in our pocket when we are in church and giving nothing when we are absent, is not God’s way. Our giving to the Lord’s work through his church must be done as regularly and punctually as the paying of our personal bills and accounts.

One thing is certain. If we do not give priority to our Christian giving we will find it crowded out by other financial commitments, and the Lord’s work will suffer. We must avoid the weakness of the farmer whose best cow gave birth to twin calves: one brown and the other white. In his excitement he ran indoors to tell his wife the good news and announce that he had decided in gratitude to give one calf to the Lord. Both calves would be brought up together, he said, then one would be sold and the proceeds given to the church. His more matter-of-fact wife, however, asked him which of the two calves he intended to dedicate to the Lord. ‘Ah’, he said, ‘there’s no need to decide that now. We can do it later.’ A few months passed, and then one day the farmer came into the kitchen looking very miserable. ‘My dear’, he sighed, ‘I have bad news. The Lord’s calf is dead.’ ‘The Lord’s calf?’ exclaimed his wife in astonishment. ‘But I thought you said you hadn’t decided which calf would be the Lord’s.’ ‘Yes’, he said, ‘but I always thought it would be the white one.’

The Lord’s calf has a way of dying, does it not? One of the greatest difficulties in Christian giving is to keep the Lord’s calf alive. That is the value of using church offering envelopes for our giving. It is so easy to go away on vacation or to be off sick and to forget our weekly or monthly contribution. But dated, anonymous envelopes can assist us in keeping our giving regular and systematic.

"So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or out of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).

May God continue to grow us into responsible stewards!

Jeff Riddle

Evangel article November 14, 2007.

Baptist Meetings

I am back in the groove after attending two Baptist meetings this week.

First, I was down in Hampton on Monday for the first day of the annual SBCV meeting. I picked up JPBC’s Howard Anderson at the Newport-News Airport (he had flown in from Scottsville), and we made it over to Liberty Baptist for the meeting. We had lunch with Brian Russell, a native of South Africa who served for 16 years as Pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church and then planted Redeeming Grace Baptist Church in Matthews County, Virginia. Brian gave me a copy of his book Baptism (Grace Publications, 2000) that I look forward to reading. I also got to spend time with Pastor Rob Stovall of Providence BC and his son Bobby. JPBC was accepted into membership in the SBCV in the Monday afternoon session. The praise music for the sessions was very loud. As one person said, He felt he had stumbled into a Church of God meeting.

On Tuesday, I made my way to the meeting of the BGAV at the Richmond convention center to attend as a visitor. This was my 15th BGAV meeting and perhaps my last. This year marked the 5th anniversary of the Kingdom Advance meeting, held in Charlottesville on May 10, 2002. In general, it was business as usual for the BGAV, celebrating its "freedom," tying hard to appear relevant, and being self-congratulatory for stagnancy. Just before the lunch break on Tuesday the announced Messenger count was a mere 675 people! A friend noted the irony of the BGAV theme, "Hope is on the Way (H.O.W.)." He suggested a few possible future themes, like "S.O.S." and "D.N.R."

I’ll write a more detailed summary of both meetings in the next Evangelical Forum Newsletter.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hogue's Epitaph

In the Union Cemetery, I also ran across the tombstone of Addison Hogue (1849-1942) and was struck by his epitaph: "He saved me. He can save anybody else." Could a believer say it any better than that?


A Visit to the Union Seminary Cemetery at Hampden-Sydney

Last Thursday Marcus Deel and I made a trip to Farmville, Virginia to visit a JPBC student at Longwood. Afterwards we made the short trip over to Hampden-Sydney College and visited the cemetery of Union Seminary on that rural campus. The historical marker notes Union as the oldest Presbyterian Seminary in the South having begun in Hampden-Sydney's Theology Department in 1812. The seminary moved to Richmond in 1898. It has since also moved far from its Southern Presbyterian and Reformed heritage.
Among the noteworthy tombstones is that of Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-98).

Also interesting is the grave marker for 20 year old Isaac Pancake Armstrong (1842-62), "A believer in Jesus Christ, Sacrificed his life defending Virginia against a ruthless invasion, July 27, 1862."
For more photos, look here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Book Review: Mark Fox's "Family-Integrated Church"

Note: Mark Fox spoke last Sunday evening at Berean Baptist Church here in Charlottesville and a friend from that church gave me a copy of his book to read.

J. Mark Fox, Family-Integrated Church (Xulon Press, 2006): 184 pp.

This self-published work by Mark Fox, Pastor and part-time Communications professor, tells the story of Antioch Community Church in Burlington, North Carolina. As the title indicates, it records in particular the church’s embrace of the "family-integrated" church model. Among other things this has meant the church’s inclusion of children in its worship services and the rejection of a typical youth groups and age graded Sunday School classes. It has also meant other areas of church reform including the development of elder leadership, meaningful spiritual oversight, and the practice of church discipline.

Fox tells the Antioch story with candor. This includes the initial high hopes for numerical growth that were never fully realized, how the church dealt with an attendee who fancied herself "the Bride of Christ" dressing in a wedding gown and standing to "prophesy" in the church’s worship services (!), and how the Antioch leaders sought reconciliation with the Pastor of the church from which they split. In many ways the book is a church history for the Antioch congregation.

I found this book to be interesting reading. Most importantly it points to a movement that is underway in evangelicalism. All across the country, churches are popping up that are struggling with authenticity and Biblical faithfulness. They are interested in genuine reform and renewal. They are seeking this not in programs but in strong families. These churches also reflect the influence of the home-schooling movement in evangelical church life, as families are seeking a level of intimacy in church life that they have discovered in home education. Antioch’s story is an illustration of this grass roots movement.

There are several elements in Fox’s telling of the Antioch story, however, that appear incomplete. One is a commitment to the regulative principle in worship. Antioch appears to be deeply influenced by the Third Wave (charismatic) movement. Fox approvingly describes things like open sharing times in worship services (and some of the inherent dangers of this, as the "Bride" episode illustrates) and even "liturgical dance" that those seeking worship regulated by Scriptural norms will find incongruent. The key missing element, however, is a stress on doctrinal and confessional boundaries. The "family-integrated" church movement, in particular, has grown among those who hold to Reformed confessional convictions, and Fox shows no clear leanings in this direction. Though Fox notes the importance of the authority of Scripture, he does not proceed to stress the importance of a church adopting a confession of faith to regulate the church’s belief and practice. Antioch is also typically "modern" in that it is "non-denominational." The question might be asked whether the place to begin real reform in the church and in the lives of believers is in reformation of family or in reformation of doctrine.

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Jefferson Park Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

CBF Church Double Speak Over "Gays" in Church Directory

One more Baptist Press article caught my eye yesterday. This one is titled, "Gay Couples in Church Directory Kindles Flap." It involves controversy at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth a prominent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church in Texas once pastored by former CBF Moderator and BTSR Professor Cecil Sherman.
The church apparently has "gay" members but some of the traditionalist members are bucking at the notion of allowing them to be pictured in their church directory along with their partners.
One could discuss the whole issue of this church's lack of Biblical discipline or its hypocrisy. What I find interesting is the description of classic moderate Baptist double-speak expressed by Pastor Brett Younger in the following quotes:
"For decades Broadway has had gay members as part of our membership, but no couple had been pictured as a couple in a church directory," pastor Brett Younger said in a statement to the membership of the church. The possibility of including homosexual couples in the directory "was troubling to many,” Younger acknowledged, “as they saw it as a change of direction and it is understandable that they would feel that way."
Or this:
"Broadway has for years had an amazing policy on including gay people. It's not a policy that a committee came up with, or the staff or the deacons. It's an unwritten policy that came out of the shared life of this congregation, a policy I believe was inspired by the Spirit," he said. "This church has for a long time included both gay people who are committed to Christ and members who aren't affirming and who have serious questions, but who are willing to share the church. This has allowed us to be a congregation where the conversation can take place about being gay and being Christians."
Note Younger's suggestion that their confusing situation is "inspired by the Spirit." Sadly it has little to do with Scripture and is not inspired by the Spirit of God which never contradicts Scipture. In truth I have more admiration for a truly liberal church than the typical moderate attempt to dance around issues and take no firm stand in the name of false charity and diversity.

A Shocking Confession from Willow Creek

Baptist Press has an interesting article on the recent confession by seeker-sensitive guru Bill Hybels that the Willow Creek church model has failed to make mature disciples. The article reads in part:
For most of a generation evangelicals have been romanced by the "seeker-sensitive" movement spawned by Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. The guru of this movement is Bill Hybels. He and others have been telling us for decades to throw out everything we have previously thought and been taught about church growth and replace it with a new paradigm, a new way to do ministry.
Perhaps inadvertently, with this "new wave" of ministry came a de-emphasis on taking personal responsibility for Bible study combined with an emphasis on felt-needs based "programs" and slick marketing.
The size of the crowd rather than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting "felt needs" and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn't matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn't "cutting edge" and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity.
Thousands of pastors hung on every word that emanated from the lips of the church growth experts. Satellite seminars were packed with hungry church leaders learning the latest way to "do church." The promise was clear: Thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn't be wrong. Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers? If you dared to challenge the "experts" you were immediately labeled as a "traditionalist," a throwback to the 50s, a stubborn dinosaur unwilling to change with the times.
All that changed recently.
Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study's findings are in a new book titled "Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings "ground breaking," "earth shaking" and "mind blowing." And no wonder: It seems that the "experts" were wrong.
The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:
"Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for." If you simply want a crowd, the "seeker-sensitive" model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it's a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:"We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."
Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their Bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Understanding the Doctrine of the Trinity

The series of messages I preached at the 2007 Fall Theology Conference at Providence Baptist Church in Suffolk are now available online here.
The five part series:

What is Faith?

Note: This is an outline from our current JPBC teaching series on Sunday evenings on the order of salvation.
What is Faith?
JPBC November 4, 2007
6:00 pm Worship
Jeff Riddle

Spurgeon’s Catechism:

Q 69: "What is faith in Jesus Christ?"
A 69: "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive, and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is set forth in the gospel."

We have Biblical descriptions of the exercise of faith:

The Ethiopian Eunuch:

NKJ Acts 8:37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

The Philippian Jailer:

NKJ Acts 16:30 And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

The basic Christian Confession:

NKJ Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

The Greek words for "faith" are the noun pistis and the verb pisteuo. Alternative translations would be belief and to believe. With regard to the order of salvation we are talking about "saving faith."

Faith involves some basic knowledge of Jesus and the gospel facts (see 1 Cor 15:1-5). Paul says, "How will they believe in him of whom they have not heard? (Rom 10:14)."

But mere knowledge is not enough. See James 2:19: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble."

We might also say that knowledge and approval are not enough. Grudem here sites Nicodemas (John 3:2) and Agrippa (Acts 26:27).

Saving faith requires a fundamental, personal trust in Jesus. Grudem: "Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God" (p. 710). It is trust in one who has shown himself trustworthy.

Seven key observations about Biblical faith:

1. Regeneration precedes faith.

See the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16:14: "The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul." The new birth is essential for saving faith (John 3:3: "Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.").

2. Personal, conscious faith in Christ is essential for salvation.

NKJ John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Compare Acts 4:10:

NKJ Acts 4:12 "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

BFM 2000: "There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ."

Also note that its is possible for saving faith to be exercised in the OT, so that there are OT saints. See Romans 4:3 quoting Genesis 15:6:

NKJ Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

Note that the Bible rejects both universalism (all are saved with conscious profession) and hyper-Calvinism (some are saved with conscious profession).

3. Saving faith is not irrational.

The Bible does not speak of taking "a blind leap of faith." It does not ask for an irrational commitment. Faith is reasonable. It has a real object in Jesus and the brute facts of the Gospel.
We are called to faith by hearing about the object of our faith: Christ (see Romans 10:17: "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."

We do not ask for blind faith but faith in Christ, the object of Christian preaching from Scripture.

4. Faith is also described with other terms.

One would be "receiving Christ" as in John 1:12:

NKJ John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

Another would be "coming" to Christ:

NKJ John 6:37 "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

NKJ John 7:37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.

NKJ Matthew 11:28 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

But note the absence of decisionistic language.

5. Saving faith is accompanied by genuine repentance.

To gain hold of Christ, you must let go of the world.

BFM 2000: "Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."

See Peter at Pentecost:

NKJ Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Grudem combines repentance and faith in the unifying concept of conversion: "Conversion is our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation" (p. 709).

John Murray in Redemption Accomplished and Applied speaks of "penitent faith" and "believing repentance" (so Grudem, p. 714).

6. You cannot have Jesus as Savior and not also have him as Lord.

You cannot claim to believe in Jesus and see no change in your life.

An early view called Sandemanianism, after Scottish theologian Robert Sandeman (1718-1771), said that saving faith comes through intellectual assent alone. This view has influenced Campbellites and the easy-believism evangelism of much contemporary evangelicalism.

In recent years there was the so-called "Lordship salvation" debate between John MacArthur and Zane Hodges.

We cannot divorce faith from repentance.

Jesus said that false prophets were to be discerned by their lack of fruit: "Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matt 7:20).

Faith without works is dead (see James 2:17).

Good works are not the root of salvation but the fruit of salvation:

NKJ Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

7. Faith and repentance are to be continuously exercised.

Faith is listed along with hope and love as one of the three cardinal theological virtues (1 Cor 13:13).

Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

In Defense of "Legalism"

In the Galatians Bible Study class last Sunday, one of the members requested a moratorium on the use of the word "legalism." His point, I think, was that too many people want to escape the restrictions of clear boundaries to justify unruly behavior, so they make a straw man out of "legalism." When Paul stressed salvation by grace and not by works in Galatians he was not suggesting that we simply live as we please. He was not saying that "anything goes." He was saying that believers are bound to live by the more excellent law of Christ. Consider the following verses:

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully,

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;

This member also suggested that those who denounce "legalism" are prone to throw around the word without ever properly defining it. That sent me to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary which offers two possibilities for "legalism": (1) strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code; and (2) a legal term or rule. I think we would agree that "legalism" that adds to Biblical expectations is to be avoided while "legalism" in terms of zeal for keeping the law of Christ faithfully should be sought. We want to be conformed to the moral law of God and to the new law of Christ as the rule and guide for living.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Evangel Article 10/30/07.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Visit to Western Branch Baptist Church

The last of my church visits while in Suffolk was to the Western Branch Baptist Church (founded in 1777). We visited with current Pastor Steve Hills and took him to lunch. As the plaque indicates the current meeting house is the third for the congregation. Union troops burned down a previous building in 1863. The church has a wall with pictures of former Pastors and one is Benjamin Riddle (pictured) who served Western Branch c. 1948-56. He may be a long lost Riddle cousin.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Visit to the Somerton Friends Meeting House

Just down the road from the Stovall house in Suffolk is the Somerton Friends Meeting House. The congregation began in 1672 after a visit to the area by Quaker leader George Fox (see the plaque above). The Quakers were opponents of the early Baptists (listen to Michael Haykin's talk). They were the charismatics of their day emphasizing the inner light and spiritual experience over doctrinal definition (see the print of "The Presence in the Midst" that hangs over the pulpit area in the Somerton meeting house).


Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Visit to St. Luke's Church

While in Suffolk my gracious hosts took me to visit historic St. Luke's Church just south of Smithfield in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. It is the oldest standing English origin church building (Anglican) in the United States, having been founded in 1632. The Gothic building with its three feet thick walls and fortress-like tower is also called "the Old Brick Church." Colonist used it as a church, courthouse, and fort.

Inside the building is "America's oldest organ," dating from 1630. The panels depict Saul throwing a spear at David as he plays the harp and the Judge Jephthah being met in victory by his daughter, "dancing to the sound of tambourines" (listen to "The Worst Story in the Bible"). I suppose the scenes are connected by the theme of music, but they are an interesting choice to adorn an instrument for sacred music.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back from Suffolk

1. Pastor Rob and I pose with "St. Luke" (envisioned as an artist) on a visit to nearby historic St. Luke's Church.
2. The Stovall clan, my gracious hosts.
3. The Stovall home sits in a field of cotton (It took some getting used to the flat land!).
I am back from my trip to Suffolk, Virginia where I had the privilege of preaching five messages Sunday-Wednesday this week at the Fall Theology Conference of the Providence Baptist Church. My messages were on the theme of "Understanding the Doctrine of the Trinity." The Conference was also attended by members of the West Suffolk Baptist Church whose meeting house Providence shares. I enjoyed the warm hospitality of Rob and Becky Stovall and their delightful children. The iced tea flowed freely and after-service conversations went into the wee hours of the evening around the supper table. The godly band of brethren at Providence were also gracious and attentive listeners. This is a unique congregation. I told Rob it ought to be named "The Providence Scottish Baptist Church Continuing." The church is Reformed in doctrine; they sing metrical psalms (alongside traditional hymns); and many of the women wear head coverings in worship based on their reading of 1 Corinthians 11. There is no other church like it in Virginia.

Book Review, Part 2: John MacArthur's "Because the Time is Near"

Note: This is part two of this two part book review. For part one, look here.
The Problem of Inconsistent Literalism

Second, MacArthur’s analysis suffers from inconsistent application of literalism. As noted above, MacArthur begins in the Preface by promising to follow an unswervingly literal approach to the text. He is highly critical, in fact, of those who allegorize or spiritualize the text. He then proceeds, however, to offer numerous explanations of Revelation’s rich symbolic language that strays from his promise to stick to literalism.

Below is an extended list of examples:

The seven churches "symbolize the churches in general" and "are symbolic of the kinds of churches that exist through all of church history" (p. 35).

The white stone of 2:17 symbolizes those given to victors in athletic contests (p. 70).

"Jezebel was certainly not the woman’s real name… Christ labeled her with the symbolic name of Jezebel" (p. 75).

The church at Sardis "symbolizes the dead churches that have existed throughout history, even in our own day" (p. 79).

The jasper and sardius stones of 4:2-3 might "depict God’s covenant relationship with Israel" (p. 110).

The twenty-four elders "likely represent a larger group"; "they represent the raptured church" (p. 112).

The sea of 4:6 "is metaphorical, since there is no sea in heaven [21:1]" (p. 113).

The eyes on the living creatures are "symbolizing their awareness, alertness, and comprehensive knowledge" (p. 114).

The lamb’s seven horns "symbolize the Lamb’s complete, absolute power" since seven is "the number of completion" (p. 121).

The harps held by the elders "symbolize all of prophecy" and the bowls "symbolized the priestly work of intercession for the people" (p. 122).

The locusts of 9:3-6 are "not ordinary locusts, but demons"; "they are not actual locusts, since locusts have no stinging tail as scorpions do" (p. 161). So, "demons must be in view in this scene" since "these were not actual insects" (p. 162).

The description of the locusts in 9:7-10 with human faces confirms "they are rational beings, not actual insects" (p. 163).

The horses of 9:15-19 "are not actual horses" because John uses "descriptive language" and insists they have heads like lions (p. 167).

The eating of the scroll in 10:8-11 "symbolized the absorbing and assimilating of God’s Word" (p. 177).

The ark in 11:19 "symbolizes that the covenant God has promised to man is now available in its fullness" (p. 196).

The woman John saw in 12:1-2 "was not an actual woman" but "a symbolic mother" (p. 200).

The dragon of 12:3-4 is "symbolic language" for Satan (p. 201), and his sweeping stars with his tail is mere "picturesque language" (p. 202).

The woman’s flight in 12:13-14 "is figurative language that symbolically depicts Israel’s escape from Satan" (p. 209).

The serpent in 12:15-16 "is not an actual snake but a symbolic representation of Satan" (p. 210). The water he spews "is likely symbolic as well" of "an invading, destroying army" (p. 210).

The beast of 13:1 "must be understood as representing both a kingdom and a person" (p. 214). His horns "symbolize strength and power" and their number, ten, "is a symbolic number representing all the world’s political and military might" (p. 215).

Babylon in 14:8 "refers not just to the city, but to the Antichrist’s worldwide political, economic, and religious empire" (p. 233).

The blood rising to the horses’ bridles for two hundred miles in 14:19-20 is "hyperbole" suggesting a great slaughter (p. 242).

The glass sea of 15:1-2 "was not an actual ocean" (p. 245).

The frogs in the plague of 16:12-16 "are not literal frogs" but "froglike" demons (p. 255).

The great harlot of 17:1-6 "is not an actual prostitute," but the term "is a metaphor for a false religion" (p. 262). The harlot’s dupes do not actually get drunk but they are intoxicated with false religion (p. 263).

The Babylon of 17:4-5 "is not ancient Babylon" (p. 265). In fact, "the details cannot be applied to any actual city" (p. 265).

The woman sitting on many waters in 17:1 is "metaphorical" and her sitting on a scarlet beast "again is symbolic." The seven mountains are "figurative" (p. 268).

The "one hour" of 17:12 is "a figure of speech" for "shortness of rule" (p. 269).

The white horses of 19:14 "are not literal horses" (p. 290).

Of the lake of fire in 20:14-15, MacArthur states that "Whether the fire of hell is literal, physical fire is unknown…." (p. 311). He also notes that the worm is "possibly emblematic of an accusing conscience" (p. 311).

Obviously, MacArthur makes many appeals to symbolism and metaphor within the book of Revelation. He is not to be criticized for this. Even John, the author of Revelation, makes plain that many of the images in his book are symbolic. For, example, the "bowls full of incense" are "the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8), and Jerusalem (where the Lord was crucified) is "mystically" called "Sodom and Egypt" (Rev 11:8). The problem is with MacArthur’s emphatic rejection in the preface of the allegorical and symbolic interpretations taken by non-dispensational interpretations. His exposition reveals that even the futurist interpretation is dependent on symbolic interpretation of Revelation’s notoriously intriguing imagery. MacArthur thus can hardly claim any hermeneutical high ground in presenting a completely and uniquely "straightforward" approach.

This, in turn, undermines some of the force of his interpretive decisions. One might look at the interpretation of numbers in Revelation as an example. On one hand, MacArthur insists on a literal interpretation of the thousand year reign of "the millennial kingdom" in Revelation 20. In many other places in the text, MacArthur has chosen to symbolically interpret various numerical references. For examples, see his contention that the twenty four elders represent a larger number, the raptured church (p. 112); the Lamb’s seven horns represent perfection (p. 121); the ten horns of the dragon represent the world’s political power and might (p. 215); the one hour of the ten kings power (represented by the ten horns) is a "figure of speech" and not a literal sixty minute period of time (p. 269). Perhaps most striking in relationship to interpretation of the millennium in Revelation 20 is MacArthur’s explanation of the phrase "myriads and myriads" in Revelation 5:11 as an "uncountable host" rather than literal insistence on "ten thousands and ten thousands" (p. 124). If some numbers are to be taken metaphorically, why must one necessarily insist that the thousand years in Revelation 20 are to be taken as a literal thousand years? There is an inconsistent application of literalism in MacArthur’s exposition and a failure to acknowledge honestly his own method’s dependence on symbolic interpretation.


John MacArthur is an able Pastor and teacher who has been greatly used of God to build a strong church and exert a significant influence on contemporary evangelicalism. He is typically an able and insightful expositor of Scripture. His exposition of Revelation, however, is taken captive to dispensational presuppositions. Perhaps his recent spirited defense of this approach reveals his knowledge that the foundations of this view are shifting as the weight of closer investigation by evangelical scholars, pastors, and thoughtful laymen is laid upon them (See Craig A. Blaising and Darrell Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Bridgepoint, 1993) and Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Zondervan, 1993) for major modifications of the classical dispensational scheme).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Book Review, Part 1: John MacArthur's "Because the Time is Near"

Note: This is part one of a two part book review.

John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007): 360 pp.

John MacArthur made waves at his March 2007 Shepherd’s Conference by preaching a message titled “Why Every Self-respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist,” in which he insisted that “real” Calvinists will hold a premillennial eschatological view. This exposition of the book of Revelation in a popular, easy to read format also reflects MacArthur’s essential commitment to a premillennial, and more particularly dispensational, understanding of the doctrine of last things. The fact that it reflects MacArthur’s pre-tribulational, premillennial, dispensational views is evidenced by the back cover endorsements from Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The reader finds, however, that a plain sense exposition of Revelation is actually hindered by MacArthur’s presuppositional commitment to his end times theological system.

Overview of Content

The brief introduction (pp. 7-14) lays out MacArthur’s hermeneutical commitments. He affirms the traditional view that John the Apostle is the author of Revelation. He advocates a later date for the book, during the reign of Domitian (c. 96 A. D.), rejecting the views of Preterists who advocate an early dating of the book as written during the reign of Nero (c. 68 A. D.).

Most significantly, he makes clear his adherence to the standard dispensational timeline: a pre-tribulational rapture of the church, a seven year period of tribulation, a “great tribulation” in the final three and a half years of the seven year tribulation period, the second coming of Christ, the battle of Armageddon, the thousand year earthly kingdom of Christ (the millennium), the great white throne judgement, unbelievers cast into the lake of fire, and the redeemed in a new heaven and new earth.

MacArthur is also particularly keen to insist that his exposition of Revelation will follow a strict “literal interpretation” rather than “an allegorical or spiritual approach” (p. 10). If one denies “the plain meaning of the text” then he quickly gets “lost in a maze of human invention” (p. 10). He outlines four main approaches to Revelation (preterist; historicist; idealist; and futurist), concluding that only the futurist view meets the criteria of literal interpretation. The preterist approach ignores the book as future prophecy. The historicist view too often resorts “to allegorizing the text” (p. 13). The idealist approach, likewise, reduces the book to “a collection of myths designed to convey spiritual truth” (p. 13). According to MacArthur only the futurist approach “takes the book’s meaning as God gave it” (p. 14). He prefers this “straightforward view” (p. 14).

With his interpretive rationale completed, MacArthur proceeds to a verse by verse exposition of the book. He breaks his study into three parts: Part 1 “The Things Which You Have Seen” (1:1-20); Part 2 “The Things Which Are” (2:1-3:22); Part 3 “The Things Which Will Take Place after This” (4:1-22:21).


I found the most helpful sections of this book to be Part 2 in which MacArthur exposits the letters to the seven churches. The historical background information on the settings of the seven cities, for example, is filled with many fascinating insights that the preacher might mine for homiletical jewels. Progress in other sections of the book, however, is impeded by two steep obstacles: (1) the fact that MacArthur’s reading of Revelation superimposes his preconceived dispensationalism on the text; and (2) his inconsistent application of literalism.

The Problem of a Superimposed End Times Scheme

First, MacArthur’s analysis suffers from his insistence that Revelation must fit into his dispensational presuppositions. The dispensational scheme does not naturally emerge from the text, but it must be forced and superimposed over the text like an ill fitting article of clothing. MacArthur assumes a pre-tribulational rapture, for example, without ever explaining why the texts he cites (John 14:1-4; 1 Cor 15:51-54; 1 Thess 4:13-17; see p. 93) in support of this view might not merely be interpreted as the final and ultimate second coming of Christ. The primary text in Revelation itself he presents for the rapture is 3:10 (“I also will keep you from the hour of trial…”), but this is too heavy a burden to rest on such a slender limb. He makes repeated reference to the non-Biblical term “tribulation saints” without ever explaining why the reader should understand Revelation’s references to “saints” as referring to anything other than all believers of all ages. No such distinction is ever clearly made in the text, but it must be superimposed by presupposition. The seal, trumpet, and bowl judgements are likewise forced into the seven year tribulation scheme without direct textual support. MacArthur, further, claims that the fifth seal “marks the midpoint of the tribulation” but offers no clear text to support this claim (p. 132). He makes further reference to another term never actually found in Scripture, “the millennial kingdom.” He assumes the reestablishment of a “tribulation temple” and a millennial temple, only able to appeal to Ezekiel 40-48, since the text of Revelation contains no such straightforward teaching (see pp. 148, 180).

MacArthur’s insistence on acceptance of the dispensational grid leads to some odd interpretations that stray from plain sense readings. An example would be his interpretation of the marriage of the Lamb in 19:7-10. Rather than see both the bride and the wedding guests as representing all believers, MacArthur insists in making an artificial distinction between Christians. For him the honored place of the bride is reserved for “the church-age believers” while the guests are the Old Testament and tribulation saints (see p. 286). No such distinction is made directly in the text, and it is hard to imagine anyone coming to this conclusion who does not come with dispensational presuppositions.