Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ligon Duncan: Nine Factors in the Current Resurgence of Calvinism

I recently received a copy of Calvin for Today (Reformation Heritage, 2009) edited by Joel Beeke from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Note: If you give financial support to this school they very generously send you their excellent theology journal and occasional good books. The volume is a collection of essays drawn from presentations made at Puritan Reformed Seminary’s 2009 theology conference marking the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.

In one of the concluding essays, Ligon Duncan addresses, “The Resurgence of Calvinism in America” (pp. 227-40).

He cites nine factors:

1. Three preachers: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John MacArthur.

2. Books: Especially Banner of Truth publications.

3. Evangelists: Like D. James Kennedy.

4. The Battle for the Bible: The work of Calvinists like J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice, and Roger Nicole on the Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

5. Two Church Controversies: The emergence of the PCA (1973) and the conservative resurgence in the SBC (c. 1979 forward).

6. A book and an Anglican: The influence of J. I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God but especially Knowing God (not to mention his introduction to Owen’s Death of Death).

7. A Theologian Philosopher: R. C. Sproul.

8. A Force of Nature: John Piper.

9. The Decline of a Movement: Death of Protestant Liberalism.

Character Studies in 2 Samuel: Shimei


Shimei was the man who took the opportunity to attack David verbally when he was down, but he eventually paid a high price for his slander. Shimei was from the house of Saul. When David fled before Absalom, Shimei was thrilled. This was his moment to exact revenge on David and gloat over what appeared to be David’s downfall. Who knows how long he had harbored such ill will against David. He meets the king at Bahurim “cursing continuously as he came” (2 Sam 16:1). He even threw stones at David and his entourage, shouting, “Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue!” (v. 7). Shimei took it upon himself to interpret the providential circumstances of David’s flight as God’s judgment upon him for overthrowing Saul’s house: “The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul…. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” (v. 8).

When faithful Abishai offers to take Shimei’s head off his shoulders for his impertinent outburts, David restrains him. He accepts it as God’s perfect will: “Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (2 Sam 16:11-12). So, all the while David and his men retreated, Shimei cursed, threw stones, and “kicked up dust” (v. 13).

The circumstances are quite different when the rebellion has been quelled and David crosses the Jordan returning to Jerusalem. The king meets a penitent Shimei: “Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me, or remember what wrong your servant did on the day that my lord the king left Jerusalem, that the king should take it to heart” (2 Sam 19:19). Abishai again offers to exact a just reward, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed?” (v. 21). David, however, will not spoil the day of triumph with bloodshed, even that of his enemy. In mercy he tells Shimei, “You shall not die” (v. 23).

There does come a day of reckoning at last for Shimei. On his deathbed, David instructs Solomon not to hold Shimei “guiltless” but to “bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood” (1 Kgs 2:9). Solomon summoned Shimei and warned him that on the day he crossed the Brook Kidron and left Jerusalem that his blood would be on his own head (v. 37). For three years Shimei abided by the restrictions on his travel, but then he trespassed the rules by pursuing two slaves to Gath. Solomon again summoned Shimei and pronounced sentence, “You know, as you heart acknowledges, all the wickedness you did to my father David; therefore, the LORD will return your wickedness on your own head” (v. 44). Within moments Benaiah has struck Shimei down.

Monday, June 28, 2010

2010 Keach Conference Coming!

2010 Keach Conference Coming to CRBC!
September 24-25, 2010
(formerly known as the Evangelical Forum annual conference)
Ninth Annual Meeting

Dr. David Murray

Pastor Tom Ascol

When? Friday-Saturday, September 24-25, 2010

Where? Christ Reformed Baptist Church plant Meeting Space at 1410 Incarnation Drive (Suite 202-B) Charlottesville, Virginia 22901

Theme: “Of Creation” (Chapter 4, Second London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689)


Tom Ascol, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida, and Director of the Founders Ministry (

Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan


Friday (September 24), 6:30 pm:

Session I:

David Murray: “Preaching Genesis 1-11”

Tom Ascol: “‘In the space of six days’: Does the 1689 teach creationism?”

Saturday (September 25), 9:30 am:

Session II:

Tom Ascol: “Man in the State of Innocency”

David Murray: “The Quest for the Historical Adam”

Question and Answer with Speakers

Book tables will be provided with Reformed, Baptist, and Puritan works for sale.

Character Studies in 2 Samuel: Ziba


Ziba is the servant of Jonathan’s crippled son, Mephibosheth. David, in mercy, had appointed Ziba to serve his dear friend’s lame son (cf. 2 Sam 9). When David was forced to flee Jerusalem before Absalom, Ziba gave provisions to David and relayed his master’s treachery. Ziba reported that the lame prince thought that he might perhaps become king in David’s place: “Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me” (2 Sam 16:3). David promised to reward Ziba’s fidelity by giving him Mephibosheth’s property (v. 4). When David is returned, however, Mephibosheth gives a conflicting account and claims that Ziba has, in fact, slandered him (see 19:24-30). David, unable to touch bottom on the matter, divides the property equally among them (19:9), anticipating the wisdom of his son Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 3:16-28). So, what really happened? Did Mephibosheth really betray David or was he betrayed by a crafty Ziba? Did Ziba tell the truth or did he slander his master for his own selfish gain? Scripture is content to leave the matter in the haze. Confusion is often a byproduct of conflict.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Puritan" Vacation Bible School

We completed our first Vacation Bible School at CRBC last night.  We had four great nights of studying the Bible, singing Scripture songs, memorizing verses, doing crafts, etc.  I took to calling it a "Puritan" Bible School.  We used no "VBS in a box" curriculum, had no power point, no canned music, etc.  We actually got to teach the children lots of Bible facts (like memorizing the books of the NT in order) and to study the accounts of Daniel and the Hebrew youths in Daniel chapters 1-6.  Here are a few scenes from the week:

Sitting down
 for the opening gathering.

 A favorite song for the week was one that teaches the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

I had the privilege of teaching the children the great stories from Daniel:  Refusing food from the King's table (Daniel 1-2); the three youths in the burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3); the humbling of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4); the hand writing on the wall (Daniel 5); and Daniel in the Lion's Den (Daniel 6).

There was also time for recreation outdoors!

For youth helpers to have fellowship.

And for excellent crafts coordinated to reinforce the Bible Study.

It was a great week of fun, fellowship, and learning!

Sermon of the Week: Malcolm Watts on the Lord's Supper

Malcolm Watts of Emmanuel Church in Salisbury, England recently preached this message on the Lord's Supper.

A few interesting points:

1.  He takes Psalm 104:15 ( "And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.") as a spiritual reference to the Lord's Supper.

2.  He argues for the observance of the Lord's Supper in an evening meeting.  The Passover took place in the evening (cf. Exod 12:6).  Jesus instituted the Supper in the evening.  He observes that Paul's reference in 1 Corinthians 11:23 to Christ's institution of the Lord's Supper "the same night in which he was betrayed" means that the timing of the meal may point to more than mere circumstance.

3.  He argues for the best posture for the meal as being seated around a table.


Character Studies in 2 Samuel: Absalom


In outward appearance he is an impressive man. “From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him” (2 Sam 14:25). At his annual haircut, his sheared locks were weighed at two hundred shekels (2 Sam 14:26)!  Looks, however, can be deceiving. Embittered by the mistreatment of his sister Tamar, he murdered his brother Ammon. He tries to take the reins of justice and authority out of rightful hands and into his own. Both the cause and the means are unjust. Despite the leniency David extended to Absalom after his treachery, Absalom sets out to undermine the authority of his father and king. He despises the fifth commandment. He does so by sowing discord among the Israelites and casting doubt on his father’s decision. The rebellious son sets himself up as an alternative ruler and judge. “So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam 15:6). Perhaps David was thinking of his rebellious son and his mob when he wrote in Psalm 35:12:  "They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul."  Absalom dies in disgrace, his swelled head with its flowing locks caught in the branches of a terebinth tree (2 Sam 18:9, 14-15).


Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Vision (6/24/10): A Time for "Firsts"

Photo:  A scene from CRBC's first Vacation Bible School:  "Great Stories from the Book of Daniel"

I suppose every church plant goes through a season of “firsts.” This is certainly true for Christ Reformed Baptist Church.

We had our first Lord’s Day meeting on January 3, 2010 and will soon mark the six month milestone from our beginning.

In the past few weeks we have had the first babies born among those in our fellowship with the arrivals of Katie Crickenberger and Samuel Gorman.

There have been joyous firsts and sorrowful firsts. The first death and funeral service came in May when we bade earthly farewell to Bill LaGrange.

This week we have hosted our first Vacation Bible School. Our meeting space had been buzzing each evening with children singing, reciting Scripture verses, and learning about the exploits of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.

Last Sunday afternoon we had our first observance of the Lord’s Supper. We are also making plans for our first baptismal service by the end of summer.

This coming Sunday (June 27th) we will have our first meeting for attendees to share our first budget (July-December, 2010) and our first Membership Covenant and Constitution.

This is an exciting season of “firsts” for CRBC. We praise God for his abundant and faithful blessings.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Character Studies in 2 Samuel: Tamar


Tamar is the prototype for the righteous victim. She was attacked and robbed of her virginity by her wicked half-brother Amnon. After the assault, she put ashes on her head, tore her many colored robe worn by the king’s virgin daughters, “and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly” (2 Sam 13:19). She fled for refuge to her brother Absalom and remained “desolate” in his home (v. 20). Her father David was very angry at the injustice (v. 21), but it was her brother Absalom who took matters into his own hands and sought revenge. After Absalom arranged the murder of Amnon, the crafty Jonadab explained, “For by command of Absalom this has been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar” (v. 32). The violation of Tamar brings about a series of events that will result in the deaths of both Amnon and Absalom and will nearly cost her father his throne. We hear no more about Tamar in the Scriptures. We do know that Absalom named his only daughter after his beloved sister, and this child, like her namesake, “was a woman of fair countenance” (14:27).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Spurgeon on Watson

Photo:  Spurgeon's Library

Folks at CRBC know the quotes from Thomas Watson have been flowing freely from the pulpit in the last few months.

Charles Spurgeon wrote "A Memoir of Thomas Watson" which offers a glowing tribute and short biography of the man he describes as "one of the most concise, racy, illustrative, and suggestive of those eminent divines who made the Puritan age the Augustan period of evangelical literature."  You can read Spurgeon's Watson memoir here or listen to a reading of it here.


Character Studies in 2 Samuel: Jonadab


Jonadab is the son of David’s brother Shimeah. He is also a friend to the king’s son, Amnon. Jonadab advises his friend and cousin on how to entrap Tamar. He is described in 2 Samuel 13:3: “Now Jonadab was a very crafty man.” His foolish counsel sets in motion a civil war. He was also apparently privy to Absalom’s plan to murder his brother Amnon in retaliation for assaulting Tamar, but he did not nothing to stop this foolish course (cf. vv. 32-33). He represents all those whose crafty counsel leads to pain and suffering.

Clark on What Alcoholics/Addicts Need

R. Scott Clark recently posted an interesting article on his blog (with a link to a longer paper) on "What Does An Alcoholics/Addict Need?"  Clark pokes holes in the theology underlying the twelve step, AA, "Higher Power" model of recovery.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Character Studies in 2 Samuel: Introduction and Amnon

Note:  I'm starting a new series of posts today on "Character Studies from 2 Samuel."  Here's the intoduction and the first study on Amnon.


The book of 2 Samuel describes the difficulties that arose during the reign of King David. Serious problems in David’s rule develop following his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Most disheartening is the rebellion of Absalom, David’s son, and the civil war that follows. The story of David’s rise and fall and his rising again is made all the more gripping in 2 Samuel by the colorful descriptions of the various characters within the narrative. They are historical figures, but their presentation in the narrative is also meant to convey timeless spiritual traits and situations. Anyone who has ever gone through a crisis in his family, school, work, or church has met with such characters. The reader might sometimes even the faces of friends, enemies, and acquaintances as he scans 2 Samuel. He may even see himself in some of the characters. They appear as illustrations and warnings.


Amnon is a man consumed by his lust. He is a user and an abuser. Amnon becomes obsessed with his half-sister Tamar. He is so distressed by his desire for her that he becomes physically sick (2 Sam 13:2). He hatches a crafty plot to secure the object of his illicit desire. He pretends to be sick, then he asks his unsuspecting father to send Tamar to be his nurse and to prepare for him a special meal. He gets the vulnerable girl alone, lures her to his bedroom, and attacks her. She resists his advance and protests, “Do not do this disgraceful thing!” (v. 12). She urges him to take the honorable course and seek her hand in marriage from the king. The response: “However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her” (v. 14). Amnon becomes a rapist. No sooner has he taken Tamar, than he hates her, “so that the hate with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (v. 15). Amnon's love is fickle.  He callously sends Tamar away: “Arise, be gone!” (v. 15). He throws her out and bolts the door behind her. Little did Amnon then know that his lust would cost him his life. In ill treating Tamar, he signed his death warrant at the hands of Absalom.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Family Businesses, Child Labor Laws, and Tipsters

Photo:  Grand Apizza storefront in Clinton, Connecticut

There was an interesting story on NPR this morning about a family in Connecticut that has been told by the state department of labor that they are breaking child labor laws by having their children work in their family pizza business.

Here is part of the story:

Owner Mike Nuzzo says he grew up working in the pizza trade with his dad.

"He taught me more than any college or university in this country could teach me," Nuzzo says. "He taught me about family, respect, integrity and hard work. And that's what I'm trying to teach my children."

Not long ago, Nuzzo began letting his 13-year-old son help out in the kitchen on Friday nights.

"He can make a pizza, dress a pizza," Nuzzo says of his son. "He brings the pizza to the counter, says thank you to people ... knows how to count money."

The two younger children worked with their mom seating customers and busing tables. Their grandfather often joined them.

But that came to an abrupt end in May, after Connecticut's Department of Labor was tipped off that kids under age16 were working at the pizzeria. Officials told the family it had to stop.

Nuzzo says he was stunned.

"Friday nights we have three generations of family working together, and that's a memory," he says. "I got a little choked up. It's a tradition. It's a memory for my son to work with his grandfather and myself."

You can listen to the whole story here.

This incident raises lots of issues.  For starters, why did someone feel compelled to "tip off" the authorities?  Recently we were at a soccer field for one of our children's games and someone felt compelled to call the police because a child from another family on the team was playing alone (but within view) of her parents at a nearby playground.  When did this vigilante reporting on other people's parenting become the norm?  If you see real abuse, sure, report it.  If you see a family working together in a family business, why in the world would you feel compelled to phone is a "tip"?  More to the point, why does the state want to involve itself in how a family chooses to teach its children about running their family business?  In a sense what they have been doing is homeschooling (Small Business 101) their children.  Sure, if someone is forcing children to work in a sweat shop, chaining them to sewing machines, maybe the state should get invovled.  But for this????


Friday, June 18, 2010

Sermon of the Week: Angus Stewart on Calvin and Darwin

Angus Stewart is a minister in the Protestant Reformed Church.  This lecture on "Calvin vs. Darwin:  Anniversaries, Origins, Worldviews" from 2009 offers a biographical and doctrinal comparison between John Calvin and Charles Darwin.  2009 marked the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth (1509) and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth (1809).


Thomas Watson: "As he will make a resurrection of bodies, so of names."

I have been reading Thomas Watson's commentary on The Lord's Prayer (first published in 1692).  In his meditations on the preface to the prayer Watson spends much time reflecting on the Fatherhood of God ("Our Father which art in heaven").  In one section he discusses the ultimate vindication of God's saints at the last day:  "As he will make a resurrection of bodies, so of names."  This seems to have been an especially important concept for the Puritans in particular, many of whom experienced persecution and slander from their opponents and suffered ejection from their pulpits. Matthew Henry makes a similar point in his commentary on Matthew 10:26 ("there will be a resurrection of names as well as bodies").

Here is the Watson quote in context: 

If God be our Father, he will put honour and renown upon us at the last day. [1] He will clear the innocence of his children. His children in this life are strangely misrepresented. They are loaded with invectives — they are called factious, seditious; as Elijah, the troubler of Israel; and Luther, the trumpet of rebellion. Athanasius was accused to the Emperor Constantine as the raiser of tumults; and the primitive Christians were accused as infanticidii, incestus rei, ‘killers of their children, guilty of incest.’ Tertullus reported Paul to be a pestilent person. Acts 24: 5. Famous Wycliffe was called the idol of the heretics, and reported to have died drunk. If Satan cannot defile God’s children, he will disgrace then; if he cannot strike his fiery darts into their consciences he will put a dead fly to their names; but God will one day clear their innocence; he will roll away their reproach. As he will make a resurrection of bodies, so of names. ‘The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces, and the rebuke of his people shall he take away.’ Isa 25: 8. He will be the saints’ vindicator. ‘He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light.’ Psa 37: 6. The night casts its dark mantle upon the most beautiful flowers; but the light comes in the morning and dispels the darkness, and every flower appears in its orient brightness. So the wicked may by misreports darken the honour and repute of the saints; but God will dispel this darkness, and cause their names to shine forth. ‘He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light.’ Thus God stood up for the honour of Moses when Aaron and Miriam sought to eclipse his fame. ‘Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’ Numb 12: 8. So God will one day say to the wicked, ‘Wherefore were ye not afraid to defame and traduce my children? Having my image upon them, how durst you abuse my picture?’ At last his children shall come forth out of all their calumnies, as ‘a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.’ Psa 68: 13. [2] God will make an open and honourable recital of all their good deeds. As the sins of the wicked shall be openly mentioned, to their eternal infamy and confusion; so all the good deeds of the saints shall be openly mentioned, ‘and then shall every man have praise of God.’ 1 Cor 4: 5. Every prayer made with melting eyes, every good service, every work of charity, shall be openly declared before men and angels. ‘I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: thirsty, and ye gave me drink: naked, and ye clothed me.’ Matt 25: 35, 36. Thus God will set a trophy of honour upon all his children at the last day. ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ Matt 13: 43.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Vision (6/17/10): The true Light which gives light to every man

Note:  This article is the "Pastoral Reflection" for the June 17, 2010 issue of The Vision, the weekly e-newsletter for Christ Reformed Baptist Church.  To be added to the list to receive the full issue weekly, email

We have begun a study of John’s Gospel during our Wednesday mid-week Bible Study and Prayer Meeting. Last Wednesday we read John 1:9: “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” The question was raised as to what it means that Jesus gives light “to every man”? Arminians have typically taken this verse to say that God provides prevenient grace to every human being making each man capable of either accepting or rejecting Christ. Salvation is then “conditioned” on man’s response.

But is this what this verse means?

I made the argument in our study that if this verse is read in context we would understand that John is saying that all men benefit to some degree from Christ, even if they never become disciples of Jesus. At the least they were made by Christ (“All things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made” [John 1:3]) and so they carry the distinction and dignity of being made in the image of God. Psalm 145:9 notes that “The LORD is good to all.” Consider as well the benefits that have come to human society through the Christian movement (human rights, respect for women, end of slavery in Western world, literacy, etc.). One attendee also added that the phrase “every man” could refer to the fact that God saves all kinds of men (Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free). If we believe that all men are savingly enlightened by Christ we would embrace the unbiblical teaching of universalism (the idea that God saves all men regardless of their response to Christ).

This conversation got me thinking about what some of the faithful old teachers had to say on this passage. Here are two insights:

First, John Calvin in his commentary on John 1:9:

This passage is commonly explained in two ways. Some restrict the phrase, every man, to those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, become partakers of the life-giving light. Augustine employs the comparison of a schoolmaster who, if he happen to be the only person who has a school in the town, will be called the teacher of all, though there be many persons that do not go to his school. They therefore understand the phrase in a comparative sense, that all are enlightened by Christ, because no man can boast of having obtained the light of life in any other way than by his grace. But since the Evangelist employs the general phrase, every man that cometh into the world, I am more inclined to adopt the other meaning, which is, that from this light the rays are diffused over all mankind, as I have already said. For we know that men have this peculiar excellence which raises them above other animals, that they are endued with reason and intelligence, and that they carry the distinction between right and wrong engraven on their conscience. There is no man, therefore, whom some perception of the eternal light does not reach.

But as there are fanatics who rashly strain and torture this passage, so as to infer from it that the grace of illumination is equally offered to all, let us remember that the only subject here treated is the common light of nature, which is far inferior to faith; for never will any man, by all the acuteness and sagacity of his own mind, penetrate into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God alone who opens the gate of heaven to the elect. Next, let us remember that the light of reason which God implanted in men has been so obscured by sin, that amidst the thick darkness, and shocking ignorance, and gulf of errors, there are hardly a few shining sparks that are not utterly extinguished.

Second, Matthew Henry on John 1:9:

But how does Christ enlighten every man that comes into the world? (1.) By his creating power he enlightens every man with the light of reason; that life which is the light of men is from him; all the discoveries and directions of reason, all the comfort it gives us, and all the beauty it puts upon us, are from Christ. (2.) By the publication of his gospel to all nations he does in effect enlighten every man. John Baptist was a light, but he enlightened only Jerusalem and Judea, and the region round about Jordan, like a candle that enlightens one room; but Christ is the true light, for he is a light to enlighten the Gentiles. His everlasting gospel is to be preached to every nation and language, Rev. xiv. 6. Like the sun which enlightens every man that will open his eyes, and receive its light (Ps. xix. 6), to which the preaching of the gospel is compared. See Rom. x. 18. Divine revelation is not now to be confined, as it had been, to one people, but to be diffused to all people, Matt. v. 15. (3.) By the operation of his Spirit and grace he enlightens all those that are enlightened to salvation; and those that are not enlightened by him perish in darkness. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is said to be in the face of Jesus Christ, and is compared with that light which was at the beginning commanded to shine out of darkness, and which enlightens every man that comes into the world. Whatever light any man has, he is indebted to Christ for it, whether it be natural or supernatural.

Yes, Christ is the Light, and he has given light to all men, and he has given special light to those who are his own. To Him be all praise and glory!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Reflections of a Recovering Southern Baptist

Photo:  SBC Messengers vote on the "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force" Report with President Johnny Hunt presiding on the big screen.

I grew up in Southern Baptist churches, was a Royal Ambassador, did Bible Drills, gave to Lottie Moon, attended a Southern Baptist seminary, served as a Journeyman missionary with the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board), and then spent 18 years in ministry in two SBC churches. As a Pastor, I often interpreted SBC church life to folk from non-SBC backgrounds who came to the congregations I served. I facilitated a good number of Presbyterians, independent Baptists, and non-denominational types into becoming Southern Baptists (or at least joining the church I was serving). I attended denominational meetings and tried to keep abreast of the latest happenings. Now I am part of an independent, Reformed Baptist church plant and, for the first time in my life, I am not involved in a Southern Baptist church. A friend of mine recently asked how it felt to be out of SBC circles. My answer: liberating.

I was reminded of that this week as I watched online some of the annual SBC meeting in Orlando (you can view the archives here). I didn’t even realize they were meeting this week until I read a blog article about this year’s big issue, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report (the key issue seems to restructuring SBC agencies and allowing the IMB to operate in the USA and Canada, much to the chagrin of the NAMB, who previously held exclusive “rights” to these areas—Doesn’t that sound absurd?).

After watching some of the proceedings I was struck by several things:

For one thing, you see the denominational machine at work. Don't get me wrong.  I support the whole idea of churches being denominated as Baptist, Presbyterian, etc., but where is such an organization as this mentioned in Scripture?

For another, you see the zaniness of conducting “democratic” processes with 10,000 plus “messengers” when, in fact, most decisions are made behind the scenes. It also reminded me of the programmatic view of ministry and the unbiblical “democratic” church “business meetings” I have seen firsthand in SBC churches.

For another, you see the Finney-esque evangelistic showmanship. Wade Burleson posted a devastatingly on target critique of the “invitation” that was held on the last night of the meeting with “evangelist” Tony Nolan and the Christian rock group “Casting Crowns” (if you like this group, you really ought to ask why they support Nolan and invited him to be their “speaker” on their most recent “tour”—OK maybe putting things in quotes gets redundant, but it’s hard to overcome the irony of the terms).

Finally, I was really struck by the denominational hubris and triumphalism expressed by outgoing SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman in his report. He boldly stated, “I believe that our convention is the last hope for a great spiritual awakening.” This sort of view was also expressed in discussion of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. The sense seems to be that if Southern Baptists don’t pursue evangelism and missions in North America (and the world) then God isn’t going to be able to accomplish very much. Poor little god.

I know that there are those who are encouraged because they feel that evangelical Calvinism is on the rise in the SBC. Al Mohler was right there in the thick of it with the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Perhaps God will move and reform will happen but hopes for this now appear to me to be naïve. Yes, I am grateful for many things I gained from experiences in SBC circles and there are many good things happening in some SBC churches and institutions. I thank God for that. But, again, how do I personally feel about now being outside those circles? Liberated.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Exposition of Jude: Part 19 of 25

Note: This is a series of occasional verse by verse expositions of Jude. An archive of this and past commentaries may be found under the Jude Exposition label below.

Jude 1:19 These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

This is the final description that Jude offers of the false teachers he has been combating throughout this little epistle. The word order in the original Greek is reflected better in the Authorized Version: “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” Jude offers three descriptions:

First, these men separated themselves from others. They caused divisions. They created cliques. Such men organize whisper campaigns. They sow discord in the body. They undermine the peace and tranquility of the family. They are schismatics who rend the robe of the church. They follow in the tradition of Korah, who led an uprising against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 15.

Second, they are “sensual.” The word in Greek is psychikoi. A literal translation might be “soulish,” but in fact the word means “unspiritual,” “physical,” or “material.” Some, therefore, would render the word as “worldly.” Such men use worldly thinking and worldly tactics rather than godly thinking and godly actions. They want to run the church the way one might run a business or a secular social organization.

Third, they do not have the Spirit. This means, of course, the Holy Spirit of God. Here we see the doctrine of the trinity in Jude. These men were unconverted. The Spirit which blows where it will had not blown down upon them. They were not born from above. Such men cannot authentically profess that Jesus is Lord (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). They are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is not their teacher, comforter, counselor, advocate, and encourager. They are natural men, and “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The unspoken warning to believers is that we are to be the opposite of these men in our character, word, and deeds. First, we are not to cause unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ. We are to seek peace and pursue it (1 Peter 3:11; Psalm 34:14). As much as depends on us, we are to “live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Second, we are to be “other-worldly.” We are not to act like secular men or attempt to solve problems according to worldly solutions. Third, we are to be Spirit-filled men. If not already converted, we must pray for God to reveal himself to us. We must listen to the preaching of the gospel, and if the Spirit should wipe the scales from our eyes, unclog our ears, and clear the haze from our minds, then we must repent and believe in the one who is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).


• Have you been prone to cause divisions within the body of Christ? Have you suffered others to sow discord?

• Why is the church not to be run like a worldly business?

• What does the Holy Spirit provide the believer? How do we know that we have the Spirit?

Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 HEAV Conference

Photo:  HEAV Exhibit Hall

Llewellyn and I are here again in Richmond for the annual HEAV homeschooling Conference. This time we brought Hannah and Lydia along with us.

We got here early this morning and pulled in right behind an Amish family. It was a reminder of the diversity of the Christian homeschooling community. There are Amish and Mennonites alongside Vision Forum wannabees and mainstream evangelical families. As Hannah said, the conference is great for people watching.

We skipped the morning keynote and visited the exhibition hall. Lydia and I then went to the “Dinosaurs Explained” breakout with Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis (Llewellyn and Hannah went to “What Christians Should Know About College” with Jonathan Brush). As for the session I attended, Ham’s view is simply that dinosaurs were created on the sixth day along with other land animals and became extinct post-flood. He noted that the word “dinosaur” was not coined till the 19th century and that Biblical references to the “leviathan” and the “behemoth” may well have been references to dinosaurs.

We had lunch with the McGonigals and Overstreets from CRBC and made it back to visit the used curriculum sale and then to attend Philip Telfer’s afternoon session on “Media Choices: Convictions or Compromise?”. Telfer of Media Talk 101 stressed the amount of time people (especially youth) spend using various forms of media. The average Americans watches nearly 5 hours of television per day and spends at least 2 hours surfing the web. 77% of teens have cell phones and the average teen sends or receives 100 text messages a day. Much of what he stressed could be summed up as time management. Given the 8 hours spent in work and 8 in sleep, how much of the remaining 8 in a day do we want to spend immersed in media? Telfer asked: What if we treated our Bibles like we do our cell phones? What if we would not leave home without it? What if we checked it several times a day for messages? He noted that you can read the entire Bible aloud in about 70 hours. But how often do we read it?

We visited the exhibition halls again and then made it back to hear Ken Ham do the evening keynote “Standing on Biblical Authority.” He traced moral and spiritual compromise in the US to the erosion of Biblical authority including especially the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-11.

We then went to supper with our longtime friend and former church member Renee Shockley who is here from Warsaw attending the conference.  It's up early tomorrow to go at it again.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Vision (6/10/10): Dagg on the Design of the Lord's Supper

Note:  The article below is from the "Pastoral Reflections" column in The Vision, the weekly e-newsletter of Christ Reformed Baptist Church.  To receive the complete newsletter weekly, send your request to

J. L. Dagg was one of ablest Baptist theologians in the South in the nineteenth century. His Manual of Church Order was published in 1858. In his discussion of the “design” of the Lord’s Supper, Dagg describes three aspects of this ordinance: “The Lord’s Supper was designed to be a memorial of Christ, a representation that the communicant receives spiritual nourishment from him, and a token of fellowship among the communicants.” In his discussion of the second of these three aspect (the Lord’s Supper as “representation”), Dagg makes the following comments:

While it shows forth the Lord’s death, it represents at the same time the spiritual benefits which the believer derives from it. He eats the bread, and drinks the wine, in token of his receiving his spiritual sustenance from Christ crucified. The rite preaches the doctrine that Christ died for our sins, and that we live by his death. He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). These remarkable words teach the necessity of his atoning sacrifice, and of faith in that sacrifice. Without these, salvation and eternal life are impossible. When Christ said, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55), he did not refer to his flesh and blood, literally understood. He calls himself the living bread which came down from heaven (John 6:51). This cannot be affirmed of his literal flesh. To have eaten this literally, would not have secured everlasting life; and equally inefficacious is the Romanist ceremony, in which they absurdly imagine that they eat the real body of Christ. His body is present in the eucharist in no sense than that in which we can “discern” it. When he said, “This is my body,” the plain meaning is, “This represents my body.” The eucharist is a picture, so to speak, in which the bread represents the body of Christ suffering for our sins. Faith discerns what the picture represents. It discerns the Lord’s body in the commemorative representation of it, and derives spiritual nourishment from the atoning sacrifice made by his broken body and shed blood.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note from Judi LaGrange

Dear brothers and sisters,

I have leaned heavily on your loving care over the past few years (more so in the last few months!).

Your faithful prayers have brought comfort and strength; your cards, emails and calls have lifted my spirits and knowing that you genuinely loved both as your Bill and me as your own brother and sister has given us assurance and stability to continue when at times the path seemed rocky and unpleasant.

Be assured that both of us have uttered many praises and prayers for His blessings on each of you. We are thankful for this special “family” God has called us to.

I look forward to continuing to grow and serve together.

With love and gratitude, Judi LaGrange

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Piper and Creation

John Divito offered an analysis back on June 2  on Illumination, the blog of the Midwestern Center for Theological Studies, of John Piper's recent comments of the doctrine of creation and scientific dating of the age of the earth.  Piper has indicated that his views are in line with those of Old Testament scholar John Sailhamer.  His comments raise questions about how we are to interpret the creation account in Genesis.  Though Piper upholds many traditional Biblical interpretations (God made the world; Adam was a real person; etc.) he stops short of affirming a literal six day creation.  This taps into another issue relating to "Reformed" theology.  Namely, must one affirm that God created the world "in the space of six days" (as the Westminster Confession and the Second London Baptist Confession affirm) in order to be "Reformed"?


Monday, June 07, 2010

Sermon of the Week: Review of "Crazy Love"

Nick Batzig offered a thoughful review of Francis' Chan's book Crazy Love on the Reformed Media Review back on May 20th that warns against the development of evangelical monasticism.  Worth hearing.


Friday, June 04, 2010

Common Misuses of the Word "Legalism"

I just read and can commend another of Robert G. Spinney's TULIP booklets.  This one is titled "Are You Legalistic?  Grace, Obedience, & Antinomianism."  In the excerpt below, Spinney discusses common misuses of the word "legalism" before grounding true legalism in denial or ignorance of the doctrine of justification by faith.

Here are some unbiblical uses of the word legalism.

We see a believer applying the Bible to a real-life situation.  He’s careful to obey God’s commands, even God’s seemingly little instructions. He’s serious about his Christian life, perhaps more serious than we are. This brother has convictions or practices that seem odd to us (which often only means not like our convictions or practices). We don’t say it publicly, but we think, “He’s way too serious about obeying God. He should lighten up.” And we look at that brother and think, “He’s legalistic.”

We see Christians discussing the meaning of a Bible instruction, like the Ten Commandment’s “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The discussion makes us uneasy, largely because we are unsure how to implement such a command today. Instead of joining our brothers and contributing to the difficult task of applying God’s Word to our life, we dismiss the issue as unworthy of our time. We think, “I don’t even want to consider how to obey that commandment. Obeying that command in any way today would make me look weird. I don’t want to be legalistic.”

We are having a discussion with a brother in Christ, and he suggests that we reexamine our ethical behavior in some area.  We ask our friend for the biblical warrant for making such reforms, and he points us to a passage in the Old Testament. We respond by saying, “Oh, but I am a New Testament Christian. Jesus fulfilled the law, so I don’t have to obey any part of it. All Old Testament laws are abolished.” We walk away thinking our brother who values the Old Testament is legalistic.

A friend encourages us to apply God’s Word to a seemingly small issue. He may suggest that we make financial restitution for a sin we committed years ago. He may suggest that our clothing is immodest. He may suggest that we should be more faithful in attending the church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting. This strikes us as being too picky, an unnecessarily conscientious application of Bible teaching. We regard this careful (we would say overly careful) faithfulness as legalism.

In a local church, pastors do what the Apostle Paul did: they call upon the flock to fulfill biblical duties. These godly elders reprove, rebuke, correct, and exhort. They are even willing to say, “That particular unbiblical behavior will not be tolerated here. God’s people must obey God’s Word.” Church members criticize such church leaders as legalistic.

A local church attempts to conform itself to the Word of God. In order to do so, the church establishes biblical standards of conduct. Maybe they write these biblical guidelines into their church’s constitution and expect church members to honor them. But for some, the very appearance of rules and standards (regardless of how scriptural they are) provokes anger. They complain about legalistic church rules.

All of these uses of the word legalism demonstrate common misunderstandings of this concept. The unfortunate thing is that there is something called legalism. It is alive and well in the Christian world today; in fact, many of God’s people are being wounded and burdened by genuine legalism. However, we rarely recognize it. Real legalism flourishes right under our noses—undetected—while we wrongly call obeying God’s commandments legalistic.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

CRBC Sermon Topics June 2010

Note: Lord willing, in June we will continue our series in 1 Peter in morning worship (10:30 am) at CRBC. We will also continue our series on the ordinances in afternoon worship (1:00 pm) on June 6 and 13 and then begin a new series on the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) on June 20 and 27.

June 6:

AM Be of one mind (1 Peter 3:8-12)

PM The Lord’s Supper: Questions and Answers

June 13:

AM Ready to give a defense (1 Peter 3:13-17)

PM The Lord’s Supper: Questions and Answers (Continued)

June 20:

AM The just for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18-22)

PM The Lord’s Prayer: “Our father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13)

June 27:

AM Practical Implications of the Cross (1 Peter 4:1-6)

PM The Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9-13)

The Vision (6/3/10): Five Things

The "Pastoral Reflections" article below was written by Justin Longacre and appeared on the Reformation Baptist Fellowship blog back on March 10, 2010. To receive the complete edition of the Vision, the weekly e-newsletter of Christ Reformed Baptist Church, email your request to

Dear Pastors:

I was asked to write to you about why I go to a Reformed Baptist church. The answer is simple: my church does what I need a church to do. Since you are probably told much about what your congregates need, I thought I might take the time to give you some inside information. Here are five things I as a lay congregate need church to do for me, and five things I can do without.

5 Things I Need Church to Do:

1. Preach the Gospel

I need to be told over and over again that I am a sinner, and that Christ died to save sinners. Both parts are crucial. Without an understanding of sin, its weight and its consequences; salvation becomes incoherent and Christianity is simply reduced to a set of arbitrary cultural signifiers. I’ve got my pick of cultural signifiers. I need to understand sin, I need to understand redemption, and I constantly need to be reminded of the reality of both. That is what Church offers exclusively over everything else that I could be doing on Sunday morning.

2. Administer the Sacraments

Once, I needed to be baptized. Now, I need to see other people baptized. I need the Lord’s supper. Often, if it is up to me. It is strange and beautiful that the only picture we have of Christ is the consumption of bread and wine. He must have thought that we needed those things to remember and understand Him. I’m inclined to agree with Christ. In a way I can’t fully explain, I need these things like you wouldn’t believe.

3. Teach me the Bible

The Bible is the most complex book I have ever read. The Bible is not just any book, but it is a book. I need men who are going to approach that Book with the intellectual rigor it deserves. The Lord has richly blessed us with a book that bears the weight of a lifetime of serious study. There are connections to be made, there are genres to be understood, there are symbols to be analyzed, there are cultural contexts to be applied, there are translation issues to be recognized, there are motifs to be united, and most of all there is the over-arching plot of redemption. I need church to help me understand those things.

4. Love

The first sermon I really heard didn’t come from behind the pulpit; it was the love displayed by God’s people towards one another and towards me. Paradoxically, nothing destroys my pride like the unconditional love of God’s people. This love is not the same as flattery. It’s active and concrete. I need encouragement. I need instruction. Sometimes I may need discipline. I might need a ride to work. God’s people have offered me all of these things. God has offered me all of these things through His people. Never forget that I too need the opportunity to do these things for others.

5. Provide an Opportunity to Sing to God and About God

If I could sum up my advocacy for traditional singing, it would be this: every individual voice becomes so important, that no individual voice is particularly important. People forget themselves and remember Christ, good and bad voices swell together, and nobody is really paying attention to anyone because everybody is paying attention to everyone. Sometimes, I feel like it is not my voice coming out of my mouth at all, but all the congregation’s voice together. That is when I most understand why God commanded us to do this.

5 Things I Don’t Need Church to Do

1. Sell

Christianity is not a “brand.” Don’t treat it like it is. If you act like a salesman, I’m inclined to treat you like one and shop around. Your focus groups are pointing you to the middle of the road, which is a dangerous place to try to build a house. Stop looking for what I want and give me what I need, otherwise I probably won’t get either from your church.

2. Entertain Me

I am really good at entertaining myself. You are probably not as good at it. You don’t know what I want. I can listen to the music I like, watch the movies I like, and play with the toys I like at my house. What I can’t do is preach to myself and shepherd my soul. That’s where you come in. If your goal is my entertainment, send me an itunes giftcard and let me sleep in.

3. Be Just Like Me

I don’t know if I could bear to stay in a congregation that was just like me. Not because I hate myself, but because it would be perverse. Imagine a body made entirely of eyes, or tongues or livers. Gross. I love my congregation because most of them are nothing like me. Christ ministers to me through their experiences, idiosyncrasies, weaknesses, and gifts. I get to call people from a confounding array of backgrounds and circumstances brothers and sisters. Why would I want you to try and guess who I am and imitate it? I know me; we’ve already met. I need a body.

4. Make Me Laugh

The world we live in is a funny place, and God has probably blessed us with a sense of humor to retain our sanity in it. Because of that, sometimes things you say will be funny. We will laugh. However, the message of the gospel is one of eternal seriousness. If I am in danger of mistaking you for a standup comic, I am in danger of mistaking Christ for a joke. I’m serious about my soul, and I need you to be too.

5. Enlist Me as a Soldier in the Culture Wars

Our religion ought to inform our politics as it ought to inform our whole life. There are some political issues we should not be silent on (abortion comes to mind). However, the “culture wars” in America have duped Christians into enlisting in causes that have nothing to do with their religion. Worse still, it makes our religion into simply one aspect of a larger subsuming culture complete with its own schools, dress, music, television shows and diets. It doesn’t take a large jump before those things all become of similar importance, and Christ takes his place in the pantheon between Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck (or Obama and Al Franken, as the case may be). It’s the devil’s old bait-and-switch. Christ didn’t have a problem with the Pharisee’s actual righteousness, he had a problem with assuming that adherence to arbitrary cultural conventions was righteousness. Christianity is not a culture, it is trans-cultural. When we engage in evangelism, it should not be to make people more like us, but rather more like Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Fraser's Wife: “A cold, unfeeling, bold, unheeding worldly woman was his wife.”

In last Sunday's morning's message from 1 Peter 3:7 on "The Christian Husband" I used this illustration:

The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire (Northern Chronicle, 1927) gives an anecdotal history of some of the great Reformed and evangelical men who preached the gospel in the Northern Scotland region of Ross-Shire. One of the ministers profiled in the book was named James Fraser (d. in 1769 in his 69th year of life after 44 years of ministry), and one of the things the book notes was that Fraser had a very unhappy marriage.

The account of Fraser's unfortunate marriage begins, “A cold, unfeeling, bold, unheeding worldly woman was his wife.” It continues, “Never did her godly husband sit down to a comfortable meal in his own house, and often would he have fainted for sheer want of needful sustenance but for the considerate kindness of some of his parishioners.” His friends would hide food near his home so that he would not starve to death!  On long and cold winter evenings his wife denied him a fire in his study.  "Compelled to walk in order to keep himself warm, and accustomed to do so when preparing for the pulpit, he always kept his hands before him as feelers in the dark, to warn him of his approaching the wall at either end of the room.  In this way he actually wore a hole through the plaster at each end of his accustomed beat...."

The story is also told how Fraser once went alone to a Presbytery dinner with his fellow ministers. One liberal minister suggested that they raise a toast to the health of their wives and winking at his companions he asked Fraser, “You, of course, will cordially join in drinking to this toast.” Faser responded, “So I will and so I ought…for mine is a better wife to me than any of yours have been to you.” “How so?” they all exclaimed. “She has sent me," was the reply, “seven times a day to my knees when I would not otherwise have gone, and that is more than any of you can say of yours.”