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.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Age of the God-shrinkers

Another reflection from J. I. Packer’s A Passion for Holiness (Crossway, 1992):

In a section titled "Awe at God’s Greatness" (pp. 68-70) Packer laments the modern indulgence of "unwarrantably great thoughts of humanity and scandalously small thoughts of God." He predicts that our time will go down as "the age of the God-shrinkers."

The results of this "God-shrinking trend" is "that belief in God’s sovereignty and omniscience, the majesty of his moral law and the terror of his judgements, the retributive consequences of the life we live here and the endlessness of eternity in which we will experience them, along with the intrinsic triunity of God and the divinity and personal return of Jesus Christ, is nowadays so eroded as to be hardly discernible. For many in our day, God is no more than a smudge."

What is Effectual Calling?

Note: Last Sunday evening we began a new series on "The Order of Salvation." The first sermon was on "Effectual Calling." Here are my notes from that message:
What Is Effectual Calling?
JPBC October 14, 2007
Jeff Riddle

We begin tonight a series on the doctrine of salvation and "the order of salvation" in particular.
The question tonight: Why do some men come to Christ and some do not?

Return to the golden chain of redemption in Romans 8:30: "whom he predestined these he also called; whom he called, these he also justified." Those whom God foreknows and predestines, he calls, justifies, and glorifies.

I. Definition:

From Spurgeon’s Catechism:

Q: What is effectual calling?

A: Effectual calling is a work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.

II. Biblical evidence:

The Greek word for "to call" is kaleo.

Christians are those who have been called out by God:

NKJ Acts 2:39 "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

NKJ Romans 1:6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

NKJ 1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

NKJ 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

NKJ Ephesians 1:18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

NKJ Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;

NKJ Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

NKJ 1 Thessalonians 2:12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

NKJ 1 Thessalonians 4:7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.

NKJ 2 Thessalonians 2:14 to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

NKJ 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

NKJ 1 Peter 5:10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.

The primary emphasis on "calling" here is a calling to believe in Jesus and, thus, to become a saint. Beyond this it is a calling to belong to a body (the word church, ekklesia, comes from the word for calling) and to live a life of godliness and purity.

Grudem: "This calling is rather a kind of ‘summons’ from the King of the universe and it has in such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts" (Systematic Theology, p. 693). Grudem prefers the term "effective calling." It is "an act of God that guarantees a response" (p. 692).

He offers this definition: "Effective calling is an act of God the Father, speaking through human proclamation of the gospel, in which he summons people to himself in such a way that they respond in saving faith" (p. 693).

He adds, "Although it is true that effective calling awakens and brings forth a response from us, we must always insist that this response still has to be a voluntary, willing response in which the individual puts his or her trust in Christ" (p. 693).

The 1689 London concurs noting that effectual calling bids men come to Christ, "yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace."

III. The distinction between the effectual calling and the general calling.

There are those who hear the general call to believe in Jesus but in such a way that it is not effective for salvation. This is also called the gospel calling and the external calling.

This is what Jesus referred to when he said: "For many are called but few chosen" (Matt 20:16; 22:14).

See also the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.

IV. Implications:

1. God will provide for those who will believe an external call that he will make an internal or effectual call that shall lead to their salvation.

2. We do not know who will respond to the internal call, so we should promiscuously extend the free offer of the gospel to all.

3. Men will not come to Christ unless they hear this calling (see Romans 10:14). This should make us diligent always in preaching the gospel and in praying for the salvation of the lost.

V. Mysteries:

1. What about those who never hear the gospel call? The Scripture appears to state that they will not be saved. Such are "without excuse" (Romans 1:20).

2. What about infants who die? 1689 London: "Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word (citing John 3:3, 5, 6, 8)." In the end we must trust that the God of all the earth will do right.

VI. Closing challenge:

We must be always ready to present the gospel.

Grudem: "Memorizing the elements of the gospel call and the verses that explain it should be one of the first disciplines of anyone’s Christian life" (p. 696). Commit to memory verses on "the Roman’s Road": Romans 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9.

After sharing gospel facts, we should extend an invitation to turn from sin and believe in Jesus.

See Jesus’ call in Matthew 11:28-30:

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."

We cannot save anyone! But we can extend the external call that God, by his grace, makes the internal and effectual call. God is the great Evangelist. He is the one who saves.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Christian Theology of Suffering

Note: Here is the outline from my talk last week to a group of "pastoral care givers":
A Christian Theology of Suffering
October 11, 2007
Jeff Riddle

I. Preface:

The Minister’s resources:
1. We come with a people (the church).
2. We come with prayer.
3. We come with Scripture.
4. We come with doctrine.

II. Five observations on the Christian theology of suffering:

1. The Bible reveals a God of suffering.

Flow this concept in Scripture:
*The protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15. The first prophecy of Christ. Note that evil is overcome but in so doing the Savior is wounded.
*The covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15:6-11, 17-18. The LORD himself passes through the animals cut in two. God is promising to be broken Himself if the covenant is not kept. He will keep the covenant, but man will not. God is promising to suffer for his people.
*The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
*The cry of dereliction in Mark 15:34. Maybe the most astounding verse in Scripture. Jesus, the God-man, suffering on the cross.
*The scandal of the preaching the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.

This is the touchstone of Christian theology. It requires a trinitarian theology to avoid patripassianism. Islam cannot understand a God of suffering. It has to change the account of the cross. Christianity embraces it. If you saw three young men coming toward you on a dark street, how would your mood change if you discovered they were all three committed Christians?

2. The Bible reveals a God of com-passion in Incarnation.

At the core of the Christian faith is the concept of incarnation:

*The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
*The Christ hymn of Philippians 2:5-11.
*Christ’s identity with humanity in suffering in Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16.
*Christians follow in Christ’s example in taking on Incarnational ministry (see 1Cor 9:19-23).

God has entered into human experience in Christ, including even the experience of death.

3. The Bible reveals that death is an evil to be overcome.

Pastoral care givers are working with people preparing for death, or with people who seem much closer to it than to others.

There is a modern tendency to deny the reality of death. See the funeral home industry. Note how the old hymns dealt with death’s reality. Some theologies deny death but remember that the mortality rate for healing evangelists is 100%!

Contemporary therapeutic counseling denies the evil of death. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Death and Dying promotes the "death is good" and the "death is natural" approach. The Hospice movement continues and expands this. See the tendency to do memorial services and not funerals. The Biblical view, however, is that death is not to be celebrated. We have lost the sense of seriousness and sobriety with death.

The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death is an insidious opponent to be overcome (see 1 Cor 15:54-55). This life is not ultimate (see 2 Cor 5:1-8).

4. The Bible reveals that suffering is redemptive and purposive.

Flow in Scripture:

*God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).
*The preeminent example of this is the suffering of Christ (see Acts 2:22-24).
*The Christian sees suffering as redemptive and as a tool for identity in ministry (see 2 Cor 1:3-7).
*Note how Paul revels in what he has suffered for Christ in 2 Corinthians 11:24-30. The goal is a contentedness in Christ despite the external circumstances (see Phil 4:11-13).

5. The Bible reveals that suffering draws us to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

How could I have talked about suffering and not have mentioned the book of Job? Here we come to this book at last.

This is a book of theodicy. Rabbi Kushner asked, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" His answer was that of process theology. God is good but not great. The orthodox Christian answer, on the other hand, is that God is both great and good.

Job concludes with man humbled before the sovereignty of God in Job 42:1-6. Man’s end is not to shake his puny fist at God in protest of his governance of the universe but to rest humbly in God’s sovereignty. We will give most comfort to our fellow man in preaching the sovereignty of God.

III. Conclusion.

One of the classics on the Christian view of suffering is the Puritan Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot. Boston (1676-1732) suffered religious persecution and in the final eight years of his existence what he called "the groaning part of my life." His wife suffered a paralyzing depression while he was, a Packer put it, "a martyr to some form of the stone (gravel he called it) and saw himself become a physical wreck." This book is seven sermons. Three on Ecclesiastes 7:13: "Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?"; one on Proverbs 16:19: "Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud"; and three on 1 Peter 5:6: "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and you will be exalted in due time."

At the close he offers this exhortation:

"As you meet with crosses in your lot in the world, let your desire be rather to have your spirit humbled and brought down, than to get the cross removed. I mean not but that you may use all lawful means for the removal of your cross, in dependence on God; but only that you be more concerned to get your spirit to bow and ply, than to get the crook in your lot evened" (p. 121 in the Christian Focus edition, 2002).


The Minister's Resources

Last week I was asked to make a presentation for a group of "pastoral care givers" at a local, religious-affiliated retirement center on "A Christian Theology of Suffering."

Before starting that talk, I shared some reflections on my seminary service some years ago as a chaplain in large, urban hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. One comment that stuck in my mind from that experience was an observation made by one of my supervising chaplains. He said that the minister is the only one who comes to visit a patient carrying nothing in his hands. The doctor comes with the stethoscope, the nurse with an instrument to measure blood pressure or a needle, the orderly with a meal, but the pastor comes with empty hands. I know the point he was trying to make, but I would respectfully correct his statement. We do not come with empty hands. We do not come with ourselves alone. We come with significant pastoral resources.

Here are four of the pastoral resources which the Christian minister (whether he holds the office of Pastor, Elder, Deacon, or the general office of believer) brings:

1. We come with a people. We are representative people. When we minister we represent the church. This is why it is so important that all ministers be rooted in a local church. We are not free-lance ministers. Paul said that we are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent His body.

2. We come with prayer (see James 5:13-18). Rarely will a sick or dying man deny the offer of prayer. Always be ready to offer to pray with and for someone with whom you are ministering.

3. We come with Scripture. Rarely too will a man deny the reading of Scripture. Go to the well worn passages of comfort: Psalm 23; Psalm 56:3; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 10:13. God’s Word will never return to Him void (see Isaiah 55:11). Read it aloud with the one to whom you minister and trust it to accomplish its purpose. We come with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

4. We come with doctrine. We come with a theology. You remember the old saying, "You are what you eat"? Well, for us the phrase is, "You are what you believe." We come with a well-ordered Christian theology. We do not hold an amorphous belief in some generic God. Mere belief in God (theism) is not enough. James 2:19 says, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!" We believe in the God of the Bible. We believe in Christ. We believe in the power of the gospel.

My fellow ministers, take up these resources and use them in your personal ministry wherever and whatever that might be.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Evangel article 10/17/07

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Holiness Has to Do with My Temperament

A few weeks ago I started reading J. I. Packer’s book A Passion for Holiness (Crossway, 1992) and was struck by the section titled "Holiness has to do with my temperament" (pp. 24-26).

Packer notes that the pre-Christian Greek philosophers came up with four categories of human temperament:

1. The sanguine (warm, jolly, outgoing, relaxed, optimistic);
2. The phlegmatic (cool, low-key, detached, unemotional, apathetic);
3. The choleric (quick, abusive, bustling, impatient, with a relatively short fuse); and
4. The melancholic (somber, pessimistic, inward-looking, inclined to cynicism and depression).

The Greeks also said that some people were of mixed types (i.e., phlegmatic-choleric, etc.). Packer notes that the ancient idea that these types came from body fluids has been dispelled, "but the classification, itself remains pastorally helpful" (p. 25).

Think for just a second of which category fits your temperament. Though at moments parts of all four might fit, I immediately see parts of myself in the choleric and sanguine types. Those who know me can tell me later if you think I am off base or on target here.

Now, on to Packer’s point for holiness. He says, "I am not to become (or remain) a victim of my temperament" (p. 25). He proceeds to note that "holy humanity, as I see it in Christ, combines in itself the strengths of all four temperaments without any of the weaknesses. Therefore I must try to be like him in this, and not indulge the particular behavioral flaws to which my temperament tempts me" (pp. 25-26).

Consider also Packer’s conclusions:

"Holiness for a person of sanguine temperament, then, will involve learning to look before one leaps, to think things through responsibly, and to speak wisely rather than wildly."

"Holiness for a person of phlegmatic temperament will involve a willingness to be open to people, to feel with them and for them, to be forthcoming in relationships, and to be vulnerable, in the sense of risking being hurt."

"Holiness for a choleric person will involve practicing patience and self-control. It will mean re-directing one’s anger and hostility toward Satan and sin, rather than toward fellow human beings who are obstructing what one regards as the way forward."

"Finally, holiness for a melancholic person will involve learning to rejoice in God, to give up self-pity and proud pessimism, and to believe, with the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, that through sovereign divine grace, ‘All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" (p. 26).

How is God sanctifying your temperament to His glory?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

In Defense of the Lewis and Clark Statue

The Daily Progress had an article on Tuesday about a protest that took place at the Lewis and Clark Statue (pictured above) Monday on West Main Street in Charlottesville. The protest took place on Columbus Day (Get it?) and the leader takes offense at the fact that the Indian guide Sacagawea is pictured in a "subordinate position" in the 1919 statue. She would like to see the statue removed or a plaque placed to correct the "historical inaccuracy."

Here are the problems with this protest:

1. As Ms. Hemenway of the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center points out in the article, the placement of Sacagawea is likely to depict her as tracking not cowering.

2. Without disparaging the important role of Sacagawea, the statue's primary goal is to honor Lewis and Clark and their role in Western exploration. Like it or not, these men were the leaders of the expedition. To think otherwise it is engage in historical anachronism. Anyhow, isn't it, in fact, honoring Sacagawea by including her in the scene, even if in a supporting role?

3. Isn't this kind of protest an example of censorship? Is the artist who made the statue (even though long dead) to be denied the freedom to express himself using the arrangement of figures and design that he chooses? My guess is that those protesting are unware of the irony of their actions. They want the right to express their views, but they want to deny the expression of the artist and those who enjoy the statue. Perhaps they should raise funds to place their own statue of Sacagawea (sans Lewish and Clark), but please don't censor this one.


2007 Evangelical Forum Reflections

The sixth annual Evangelical Forum was held last weekend (Friday-Saturday, October 5-6) at JPBC. We had over 50 Pastors, Elders, church leaders and their families present, representing over 20 local churches. Michael Haykin and Greg Barkman did an excellent job speaking on the nature and authority of Scripture with reference to the Second London Baptist Confession.

All four messages can be downloaded here.
You can also see a photo album from the meeting here.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Samuel Davies: Apostle of Virginia

Week before last, my family made a homeschool field trip to Colonial Williamsburg, taking advantage of a promotion for homeschooling families that allowed us to visit for just $5.00 per person. What a deal!

After visiting the Bruton Parish Church where the likes of George Washington and other colonial leaders worshipped, we made our way to the white frame Presbyterian meeting house. The historical note mentions the fact that the famed preacher Samuel Davies made preaching visits to Williamsburg. Davies later succeeded Edwards at Princeton. Read this Banner of Truth article on Davies, "Apostle of Virginia."


Sermon of the Week: Haykin on Edwards

Michael Haykin will be at JPBC this weekend for the Evangelical Forum, speaking on the doctrine of Scripture on Friday and Saturday (October 5-6). He will also speak on Sunday (October 7) at JPBC:
Teaching: Life of William Wilberforce (9:30 am);
Preaching: What is a the Church? (Romans 16) (10:45 am);
Teaching: Life of John Newton (6:00 pm).
To get a feel for his teaching style, listen to this lecture on "Jonathan Edwards."