Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Vision (11/29/12): Two Pictures of Man's State Apart from Christ

In last Sunday’s sermon from Luke 5:12-26, one of the closing applications was a call to consider the leper and the paralytic as figures for men in their unregenerate state.  Here are some notes:

The physical state of these two men creates a figurative picture of man’s spiritual state apart from Christ.

Consider initially the man “full of leprosy.”  Sin clings to the unregenerate man in the way that the leprosy clung to this man in our passage.  It radically touches our whole being.

Sin has at least a threefold impact:

First, physically, it leads to uncleanness and eventually to death (Romans 6:23).  No matter how men try to escape this reality or to cover it up, the truth is always there.

Second, socially, our sin puts us outside the camp of God’s people.  One may be a tare hid among the wheat but one day he will be uprooted and cast in the fire.

Third, religiously, our sin alienates us from our God.  We cannot worship or serve him.  We are not even worthy to stand in his presence but deserve only to be cut off.

Notice then the submission and humility with which this man approaches Christ.  He does not come with presumption or haughtiness or spiritual pride.  He knows that he cannot get rid of this awful disease by himself.  He knows that he is completely at the mercy of Jesus, so he begs him, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (v. 12)  And he hears the merciful answer of Christ, “I will:  be thou clean” (v. 13).


If this first man (the leper) is a figure of man apart from Christ, what of the second (the paralytic)?  He is perhaps an even more compelling figure.  He is a paralytic, unable even to move.  He cannot come to Christ; he must be carried to Christ!  What he was physically, we are spiritually apart from Christ.  What a picture of our spiritual inability before the Lord.  What a picture of our complete and total dependence upon him!

The depth of man’s need accentuates the greatness of Christ’s mercy.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

A Presbyterian and a Reformed Baptist talk Baptism

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"The Screwtape Letters" on the Historical Jesus

In C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape writes to his junior colleague Wordwood about how best to disuade a young man from becoming a Christian.  Letter XXIII is devoted to the usefulness of "the historical Jesus."  Here are some of Screwtape's instructions:

You will find that a good many Christian-political writers think that Christianity began going wrong, and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage. Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a "historical Jesus" to be found by clearing away later "accretions and perversions" and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a "historical Jesus" on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new "historical Jesus" on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold.
In the first place they all tend to direct men's devotion to something which does not exist, for each "historical Jesus" is unhistorical.  The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new "historical Jesus" therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleans, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts, in every publisher's autumn list.

In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their Historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. He has to be a "great man" in the modern sense of the word—one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought—a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men's minds from Who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between His teachings and those of all other great moral teachers. For humans must not be allowed to notice that all great moralists are sent by the Enemy not to inform men but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes against our continual concealment of them. We make the Sophists: He raises up a Socrates to answer them.
Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped. Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian.
And fourthly, besides being unhistorical in the Jesus it depicts, religion of this kind is false to history in another sense. No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy's camp by the historical study of the biography of Jesus, simply as biography. Indeed materials for a full biography have been withheld from men.  The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had—and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a "great man", but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The "Gospels" come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.

The "Historical Jesus" then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts on the historicity of Jesus

I’m still doing reading in the field of “the quest of the historical Jesus” and just finished reviewing one of the texts I’ll use for the class, The Historical Jesus:  Five Views (IVP Academic, 2009), edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy of Bethel University. The five views range from Robert M. Price (denial of the very historical existence of Jesus) to John Dominic Crossan (Jesus as a non-violent anti-imperialist) to Luke Timothy Johnson (what matters is not the historical Jesus but the Jesus of faith constructed by the Evangelists) to James D. G. Dunn (what matters is not the historical Jesus but the Jesus remembered in the church’s “living tradition”) to Darrell L. Bock (evangelical view which upholds continuity between the historical Jesus and the presentation of him in the canonical Gospels).

As for Robert Price’s revival of the “Jesus Myth” theory, here is Albert Schweitzer’s assessment of this view as it was presented in his day:

It is clear, then, as a matter of fact, from the writings of those that dispute the historicity of Jesus that the hypothesis of His existence is a thousand times easier to prove than that of His nonexistence.  That does not mean that the hopeless undertaking is being abandoned.  Again and again books appear about the nonexistence of Jesus and find credulous readers, although they contain nothing new or going beyond Robertson, Smith, Drews, and the other classics of this literature, but have to be content with giving out as new what has already been said (Out of My Life and Thought, p. 129).

Even arch-skeptic Bart Ehrman in his most recent book, Did Jesus Exist?  The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012) vigorously affirms the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, even as he rejects with equal vigor orthodox confessional claims about him.  Ehrman’s point seems to be that you might not believe in Jesus, but you ought at least believe that he did exist as a historical figure.

Godet on leprosy

Note:  I preached Sunday from  Luke 5:12-26 on the accounts of the healing of the leper (vv. 12-16) and the paralytic (vv. 17-26).  In expositing the account of the leper's healing, I leaned heavily on F. Godet's vivid comments on the depth of the man's illness which, in turn, accentuate the magnitude of Christ's compassionate healing.  Here are some notes:
The subject is introduced with the stark “behold a man” (cf. 4:33:  “there was a man”).  On the heels of the introduction of this man there is also made clear his malady:  he was a man “full of leprosy” (v. 12).  Leprosy is the classic Biblical ailment that is known today as “Hansen’s disease,” a chronic infectious disease affecting the skin and peripheral nerves.  In the ancient world there was no treatment for the disease other than isolation.
Godet notes:  “Leprosy was in every point of view a most frightful malady” (p. 166).  This was true in three aspects:
First, physically:  “In its physical aspects it was a whitish pustule, eating away the flesh, attacking member after member, and at last eating away the very bones; it was attended with burning fever, sleeplessness, and nightmare, without scarcely the slightest hope of cure.”  It was “a living death” (p. 166).
Second, socially:  “the leper was separated from his family, and from intercourse with men, and had no other company than that of others as unhappy as himself” (p. 167).  We have just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, but what if you had been barred from being with family and friends due to such a disease?  Lepers lived in bands outside the community.  Food was left for them out of charity.  At the approach of others they had to announce their uncleanness (cf. Leviticus 13:45 says the leper had to tear his clothes, leave his head bare, put a covering over his mouth and cry out “Unclean, unclean.”).
Third, religiously:  “the leper was Levitically unclean, and consequently excommunicate.  His malady was considered a direct chastisement from God” (p. 167).  This disease cut him off from public worship, from both synagogue and temple.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Schweitzer on Jesus

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a modern day renaissance man.  He made his mark in no less than three fields:  as a New Testament scholar who wrote the definitive The Quest of the Historical Jesus (German original Von Reimarus zu Wrede); as a musician, organist, and organ builder who wrote a valuable study on the life of Bach; and as a humanitarian physician who set up a hospital and became a “jungle doctor” in Africa based on his “reverence for life” ethic.

I’ve been doing some reading in Schweitzer to prepare for the “Life and Teachings of Jesus” course I’ll be teaching next semester.

In Out of My Life and Thought, Schweitzer reviews his influential work on “life of Jesus” research.  He is well known for his critique of the lives of Jesus produced by ninteenth century Protestant liberalism and his contrasting eschatological presentation of Jesus.  Though Schweitzer had no sympathy for the non-eschatological Jesus of liberalism, this does not mean he was favorable towards orthodox Christology.

According to Schweitzer, the historical Jesus erred in announcing the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God.  Thus, Jesus was “capable of error” (p. 57).  Furthermore, Schweitzer argues that we are not acting “in the spirit of Jesus if we attempt with hazardous and sophisticated explanations to force [his] sayings into agreement with the dogmatic teaching of His absolute and universal incapability of error” (p. 57).

Schweitzer adds that the historical Jesus never made any claims to omniscience and he “moves us deeply by His subordination to God.  In this He stands out as greater than the Christ personality of dogma which, in compliance with the claims of Greek metaphysics, is conceived as omniscient and incapable of error” (p. 57).

Schweitzer makes clear that although his analysis of the historical Jesus undermines the liberal Protestant view of a this-worldly Jesus, this does not mean that it supports orthodox or dogmatic presentations of Jesus.  Nor does it mean that he supports the notion that Jesus himself taught dogmatically.  He notes, instead, that the historical Jesus “does not think dogmatically.  He formulates no doctrine.  He is far from judging any man’s belief by reference to any standard of dogmatic correctness” (p. 58).  According to Schweitzer, Jesus taught “the religion of love” which has been “freed from any dogmatism” (p. 58).  This “religion of Jesus” may now become “a living force in our thought, as its purely spiritual and ethical nature demands” (p. 59).  While expressing “reverence” and “thankfulness” for the faith of “ecclesiastical Christianity” handed down “in Greek dogma and kept alive by piety” he unilaterally rejects it (p. 59).  What matters in Christianity is not adherence to “articles of belief” but devotion to “Jesus’ religion of love” (p. 59).  Thus, “If the Church has the spirit of Jesus, there is room in her for every form of Christian piety, even for that which claims unrestricted liberty” (p. 59).

At the least, one might say that Schweitzer attempted to put his theology into practice.  At age 30 he began his medical studies in preparation to go to Africa as a physician.  He applied to a French mission agency to go as a “missionary” to Africa, but questions were rightly raised about his unorthodox theology.  Schweitzer describes orthodox missionary efforts as holding to a faith “in the fetters of dogmatism” (p. 95).  When the mission agency invited him to appear before a committee to be examined as to his beliefs, Schweitzer notes, “I could not agree to this, and based my refusal on the fact that Jesus, when He called His disciples, required from them nothing beyond the will to follow him” (p. 115).  He offered instead to meet individually with the committee members to explain his beliefs.  In the end, they agreed to send him with the understanding he would only serve as a physician and would do no preaching or teaching [an understanding, by the way, which he reneged upon after reaching the field and began to accept invitations to preach; see p. 143].  Schweitzer notes that one member of the committee sent in his resignation upon the agency’s acceptance of this compromise (p. 116).
What, in the end, did Schweitzer teach about Jesus?  For Schweitzer, Jesus was an ordinary yet extraordinary man who wrongly expected the imminent end of the ages.  He was not God but made his mark in his radical subordination to God.  Thus, like most historical-critical scholars of his era, Schweitzer held to an essentially “Arian” view of Jesus.  These convictions naturally led to his rejection of pre-critical, orthodox, confessional views of Jesus.  Though he offered a stinging critique of the liberal lives of Jesus of his age, in the end, Schweitzer advocated an equally murky Jesus who called for an amorphous “religion of love.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Evangelism Series (Part Five): Thomas Boston: Ten Ways Ministers Are Like Fishers

Note:  This is another post in an ongoing series on Biblical evangelism.  For an archive of past posts, click the "Evangelism Series" label below.
In 1773 when Thomas Boston was only 22 years old he wrote a classic little book on evangelism titled The Art of Man Fishing.  It is a meditation on Matthew 4:19 wherein Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  I used some quotes from Boston in last Sunday’s sermon on the Lukan parallel passage (Luke 5:1-11).

Boston wrote in a time of declension in the churches of Scotland when the gospel ministry had been neglected by many.  His book presents what we might call an “old school” approach to evangelism (as yet untainted by revivalistic notions).  He sees Biblical evangelism as primarily accomplished through the ministry of the Lord’s servants as they preach the gospel “in the public assemblies of the Lord’s people” and in “private conference.”

In a chapter titled “Ministers are Fishers by Office” Boston presents ten ways in which ministers are like “fishers.”  Here is an abbreviated summary:

They are catchers of the souls of men, set “to open the eyes of the blind, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”  Preachers of the gospel are fishers, and their work and that of fishers agree in several things.

The design and work of fishers is to catch fish.  This is the work that preachers of the gospel have taken in hand, even to endeavor to bring souls to Christ…..

Their work is a hard work; they are exposed to much cold in the water.  So is the minister’s work.

A storm that will afright others, they will venture on, that they may not lose their fish.  So should preachers of the gospel do.

Fishers catch fish with a net.  So preachers have a net to catch souls with.  This is the everlasting gospel, the word of peace and reconciliation wherewith sinners are caught.

It is compared to a net wherewith fishers catch fish, first, because it is spread out, ready to catch all that will come into it, Isa. 40:1:  “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.”  God excludes none from the benefits of the gospel that will not exclude themselves; it is free to all.

Second, because fish are taken unexpectedly by the net, so sinners by the gospel….

Third, as fish sometime come near and touch the net, and yet draw back; so many souls are somewhat affected by the hearing of the gospel yet remain in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity….

Fourth, some fish that have been taken fast hold enough by the net, struggle, and get out again.  So some souls have convictions, and may seem to get caught; but yet alas! they stifle all their convictions, stay in the place of the breaking forth…..

Fifth, all that are taken in the net do make some struggling to get free….

Sixth, yet this struggling will not do with those which the net hold fast enough…..  Indeed God does not convert men to himself against their will, he does not force the soul to receive Christ; but he conquers the will, and it becomes obedient.  He that was unwilling before, is then willing.  O the power of grace!

Seventh, in a net there are many meshes in which the fish are caught.  Such are the invitations made to sinners in the gospel, the sweet promises made to them that will come to Christ…..

Eighth, lest the net be lifted up with the water, and so not fit for taking fish, and the fish slight it and pass under it; there are some pieces of lead put to it to hold it in the water….  So….there must be used some legal terrors and law-threatenings to drive the fish into the net.

Ninth, the meshes must not be over-wide, lest the fish run through it.  So neither must doctrine be general, without particular application, lest thou be no fisher of men…..

Tenth, neither must they be too neat and fine, curiously wrought, lest they hold out the fish….

Fishers observe in what places they should cast their nets, and where they may expect fish….  There are two pools wherein the net should be set:  in the public assemblies of the Lord’s people….  The second place the net is to be set is in private conference…..

Saturday, November 17, 2012

More Text Notes on the Lukan temptation narrative: Luke 4:5, 8, 5-12

I did a post recently on the textual issues relating to the phrase “but by every word of God” (included in traditional text; excluded in modern critical text) in Luke 4:4.  There are a number of related textual issues within the Lukan temptation narrative.  Here are a few comments on three:

1.      Luke 4:5:

The traditional text reads, “And the devil taking him up into an high mountain [kai anagagon auton ho diabolos eis oros hypselon]….”

The modern critical text reads simply, “and taking him [kai anagagon auton]...”

Note:  It is interesting to compare the renderings of several modern translations which typically follow the modern critical text, as they seem to incorporate here at least part of the traditional text in translation of this verse.  Examples:

Luke 4:5 (NIV):  “The devil led him up to a high place….”

Luke 4:5 (ESV):  “And the devil took him up…”

As with the Luke 4:4 variation, the traditional text is supported by codices Alexandrinus, Theta, Psi, 1012, 33 and the vast majority.  The modern critical text is supported by the original hand of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  Metzger does not address this variation in his Textual Commentary.

2.      Luke  4:8:

The traditional text includes this rebuke from Jesus:  “Get thee behind me Satan [hupage opiso mou satana]” while the modern critical text omits it.  No doubt it would be argued that the traditional text is a harmonization from Matthew 4:10 (hupage satana in the TR and hupage opiso mou satana in the majority; cf. Matt 16:23; Mark 8:33).

Nevertheless, the attestation is again strong with the traditional text supported by Alexandrinus, Theta, Psi, 1012, family 13, and the vast majority while the modern critical text again has the support of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  Once again, Metzger does not address this variation in his Textual Commentary.  Perhaps this omission comes because his interpretation of the variations in Luke 4:5, 8 would follow his analysis of Luke 4:4.

3.      4:5-12:

Metzger points out that several Old Latin manuscripts, at least one Vulgate manuscript (G) and the Church Father Ambrose transpose vv. 5-8 to follow vv. 9-12 “in order to bring Luke’s account of the Temptation into harmony with the sequence in Matthew (4.5-11)” (Textual Commentary, p. 137).

These changes do indeed represent an obvious effort to harmonize the temptation narrative in Luke with that of Matthew.  What I am struck by, however, is how different the variations in the traditional text are from such obvious efforts at harmonization.  Obviously, there were no such radical efforts at harmonization.  Could it be that the texts relied upon by the modern critical text represent intentional efforts to abbreviate the narrative or to remove elements that might have for some reason been theologically objectionable to those scribes or even unintentional omissions through scribal error?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Vision (11/15/12): Churchmanship

Note:  We had an abbreviated “Sunday School” session after lunch at CRBC last Sunday on the topic of churchmanship, which I defined as, “The spiritual discipline of conscientious and consistent participation in the life of the local church that brings glory to God and blessing to man.”  I noted that we cannot really obey Jesus’ New Commandment to love the brethren (John 13:34-35) unless we do so as active and involved participants in a local, visible church.  I listed several marks of churchmanship, but the first was “consistent participation.”  Below are some notes on this topic, drawn from some discipleship material I have written:


First, it is important that every believer be a solid and faithful participant in a local church. Sometimes a parent who does not have a lot of time to spend with his children will say that he wants to spend “quality time” with them. But every parent knows that children need not just “quality” time but a large “quantity” of time. Families need to spend lots of time together in order to really know each other. Shared experiences strengthen their bonds.  This is also true for a church family.


To be a real member of the body, the member must be seriously connected to the body. This requires that every member spends a lot of time with the other members of the body. What would you think of a man who tells his wife, “Honey, I love you and you’re the most important thing in my life,” but he rarely comes home to spend time with his wife? We would say that his actions do not match up with his words. Jesus said that the church is his body. If the believer says he loves Jesus, he will naturally love his church and want to spend time in fellowship with his church family. Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). If there is no fruit, is the tree alive?


A key scripture to keep in mind is Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The meetings of the local church are crucial. This means meetings for worship, Bible study, fellowship, prayer, ministry, etc. This does not mean that I should visit a different local church each week, but that I should be committed to meeting together with one local body, where I can grow to know and serve people, as they grow to know and serve me. I need to be present in my church to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. I need to be present to support the church’s leaders. I need to be present to support my fellow members. I need to be present to reach out to non-believers who come into the church. My participation is my primary ministry in the church. When any member is absent, the strength of the church is diminished.


This means that when I make personal plans for the way I spend my time, I should intentionally shape my schedule to give priority to the meetings of the church. I should not allow sports, recreation, business, or even family to interfere with my commitment to Jesus and his body. There are, of course, times when one is not able to attend the meetings of his church. Occasional illnesses, trips out of town, vacations, and other types of necessary commitments are certainly to be excused. When one is out of town and not able to attend the local assembly to which he belongs, he has the valuable opportunity to worship and share fellowship with a like-minded church in the area he is visiting.  There are also times when a person cannot regularly attend church meetings for a prolonged period of time due to age or chronic illness. In times like these, it is the church members who are responsible for taking the fellowship to their home-bound members. If one is in good health and has no obvious obstacles to attendance, however, he should make every effort to be present among the saints.  For believers this is a glad duty, not a drudgery or inconvenience.  Those who regularly absent themselves from the gatherings of the church without justifiable reason usually are giving signs of spiritual problems.  As Peter commanded, let us “love the brotherhood,” (1 Peter 2:17).


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: "The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert"

Note:  This book review appeared in the last issue of the RBT.
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith (Crown & Covenant, 2012):  154 pp.

I discovered this little book by hearing the recommendation and reading the review (on the blog) by Carl Trueman.  It is indeed a gem.  The author is a former lesbian feminist professor at Syracuse University who was converted to Christ through the patient and faithful witness of a local Reformed church and who is now the wife of a Reformed Presbyterian pastor. In the book the author shares with gritty honesty about her unlikely conversion to Christ.  This, however, is not a simplistic testimony with neat lines and no loose ends.  In particular Butterfield transparently conveys how her change of life and heart did not come with ease but with costly trauma, looking at times like a “train wreck,” as her conversion brought “comprehensive chaos” to her life.  She also relays how the demands of Christ have continued in her life, leading her to support her husband when church planting efforts failed, to build a multi-racial family by adoption through various trials, and to become a satisfied home schooling mother. This testimony is helpful in that it not only tells about the messiness of salvation but also about the sometimes equally uneven path of sanctification.

A model for evangelism

Perhaps the greatest value of this book is that it provides an insightful paradigm of how Biblical evangelism might be done in our increasingly secular world.  In her unregenerate state, the author would have scoffed at typical evangelical “four spiritual” laws type evangelism.  Her conversion came instead as the fruit of the longsuffering and compassionate witness of a faithful minister and his church.  The relationship began when Pastor Ken Smith wrote a letter to the author after she published a critique of the “Promise Keepers” movement in the local newspaper.  The author had spiritual questions that had never been answered, and the Pastor’s letter hit a nerve.  As she reflects:

Had a pastor named Ken Smith not shared the gospel with me for years and years, over and over again, not in some used-car-salesman way, but in an organic, spontaneous and compassionate way, those questions might still be lodged in the crevices of my mind and I might never have met the most unlikely of friends, Jesus Christ himself (p. 1).

From this letter came a phone call and an invitation to dinner at the Pastor’s home.  Here are her reflections on the hospitality she received in that initial meeting with the Pastor and his wife:

Ken and Foy invited the stranger in—not to scapegoat me, but to listen and to learn and to dialogue. Ken and Foy have a vulnerable and transparent faith.  We didn’t debate worldview; we talked about our personal truth and about what “made us tick.”  Ken and Foy did not identify with me.  They listened to me and identified with Christ.  They were willing to walk the long road with me in Christian compassion.  During our meal, they did not share the gospel with me. After our meal, they did not invite me to church.  Because of these glaring omissions to the Christian script as I had come to know it, when the evening ended and Pastor Ken said he wanted to stay in touch, I knew that it was truly safe to accept his open hand (p. 11).

It appears that the Smiths did not feel that they had to rush salesman-like to a “decision.”  They were willing to be patient and invested.  The author adds:

Before I ever stepped foot in a church, I spent two years meeting with Ken and Foy and on and off “studying” scripture and my heart.  If Ken and Foy had invited me to church at that first meal I would have careened like a skateboard off a cliff, and would never have come back. Ken, of course, knows the power of the word preached but it seemed to me he also knew at that time that I couldn’t come to church—it would have been too threatening, too weird, too much.  So, Ken was willing to bring the church to me.  This gave me the room and the safety that I needed to match Ken and Foy’s vulnerability and transparency (pp. 11-12).

In this two year period the author began to read the Bible and to ask spiritual questions of Pastor Smith.  He did not “act like a shark in the water smelling fresh blood” but was patient and willing to wait on the Spirit.  Finally, on February 14, 1999, the author says, “I emerged from the bed of my lesbian lover and an hour later was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse RP church.  I share this detail with you not to be lurid but merely to make the point that you never know the terrain someone else has walked to come to worship” (p. 20). It was in the gathering of the church and under the hearing of the word of God preached that the author was evangelized.  As she puts it, “Two incommensurable worldviews clashed together:  the reality of my lived experience and the truth of the word of God” (p. 21).  In addition to the preaching of the word, she was also exposed to the witness of believers within the church who welcomed her without affirming or approving of her lifestyle.  This story has an authentic 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 ring to it.  Who would have guessed that such a hardened worldling would have been converted in an exclusive psalm singing, Regulative Principle affirming, confessionally defined church, which had none of the trappings of seeker-sensitive evangelicalism?  Again, the author reflects:

God sent me to a Reformed and Presbyterian conservative church to repent, heal, learn, and thrive.  The pastor there did not farm me out to a para-church ministry “specializing” in “gay people.”  He and the session knew that the church is competent to counsel….  I needed (and need) faithful shepherding, not the glitz and glamor that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture.  I had to lean and lean hard on the full weight of scripture, on the fullness of the word of God, and I’m grateful that when I heard the Lord’s call on my life, and I wanted to hedge my bets, keep my girlfriend and add a little God to my life, I had a pastor and friends in the Lord who asked nothing less of me than that I die to myself.  Biblical orthodoxy can offer real compassion, because in our struggle against sin, we cannot undermine God’s power to change lives (p. 24).

The author’s conversion to Christ was indeed costly, resulting eventually in the loss of many of her friends, her tenured professorship, and career aspirations.  It was also far from neat.  There was an unhealthy post-conversion engagement to a seminarian and fellow church member that ended in disappointment and even resentment against the very pastor who had been instrumental in her conversion.  Just as conversion did not come quickly or without the devotion of large amounts of time in her life by loving believers, neither did sanctification.

A model of sanctification

If the first part of this book offers a gripping account of unlikely conversion, the second half also packs a punch in the area of sanctification, as the author describes how she became a pastor’s wife and a mother.  As a pastor’s wife, she had to learn about the burdens of ministry in a pastor’s family, including responding to the sometimes fickle and immature actions of members of the flock.  Very powerful is the author’s account of her family’s growth through adoption, the pain of enduring a disrupted adoption, and the sometimes heart-rending ministry of offering foster care.  The former English professor clearly relishes her transition to a homeschooling mother.  She also, however, ably points out some of the insular proclivities of Christian homeschool families, intent on sheltering their children from the influences of the world.  What shines through is that the author who received the hospitality, kindness, patience, and compassion of Christ’s people in her own conversion and sanctification has been transformed into someone who is passionate about extending the same in full measure to others.  This, indeed, is how the Christian life works!


In general we should probably be wary of dramatic testimonies of conversion.  The test of true conversion is whether or not we remain in the race.  The church has been burned more than once by “celebrity converts” who apostatize (e.g., a recent example of this is the author Anne Rice who announced she had become a Christian in the mid-2000s and then renounced her “faith” in 2012).  Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s story, however, is told with such God-centered honesty and meekness that it demonstrates authenticity and needs to be heard.  At one point, she describes her hesitancy the first time she was asked to give a public testimony of her conversion in a Christian college assembly:

All of the testimonies that I had heard up to this point were egocentric and filled with pride.  Aren’t I the smarty pants for choosing Christ!  I made a decision for Christ, aren’t I great?  I committed my life to Christ, aren’t I better than those heathen who haven’t?  This whole line of thinking is both pervasive among evangelical Christians and absurd.  My whole body recoiled against this line of thinking.  I’m proof of the pudding.  I didn’t choose Christ.  Nobody chooses Christ.  Christ chooses you or you’re dead.  After Christ chooses you, you respond because you must.  Period.  It’s not a pretty story (p. 81).

This book should be read by Reformed church Pastors, Elders, and members to remind them of how to do Biblical evangelism and to never think that anyone is beyond Christ’s reach merely because of her present circumstances (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11).  It could be read for profit by any who come to Christ with broken sexual pasts or present struggles.  It would also be a blessing to families who have adopted or are considering adoption, as well as to homeschooling mothers and the wives of pastors.  I highly commend it.

Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor, Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You might be a confessional evangelical if....

This is kind of late (It would have been a good post for 10/31), but when I was doing some catch up blog reading yesterday I ran across this post from D. Hart in which he borrowed this from Russell Moore:
An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.
A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”
A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as Zwingli and Bucer for “Reformation Day.”
A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons and angels for the church’s Judgment House community evangelism outreach.
An Emerging Church evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.
A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.
Hart adds this dig at Calvinistic Baptists:
A confessional evangelical is one who dresses like Zwingli and Bucer but once he sees a baptismal font takes off his clothes to expose a Charles Spurgeon costume (minus the cigar).


Monday, November 12, 2012

Demon Possession in the NT

Note:  In the sermon yesterday from Luke 4:33-44, I did some teaching on demon possession in the NT.  Here are my notes:

And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice (Luke 4:33).

Now, before we go further we need to discuss the phenomenon of demon possession and the practice of casting out demons as it is described primarily in the Gospels and in the ministry of Jesus.


There are at least three views for understanding the phenomenon described here (cf. Godet, Luke, pp. 156-157):


1.      The view of the rationalistic skeptic:  The demon-possessed were those with natural problems (what Godet called “lunatics” and we would today describe as being mentally disabled or even suffering with a mental illness), which the ancients (Jews and pagans) understood as having a supernatural cause.

2.      The view of some believers (including many evangelicals and, especially, charismatics) who see full continuity between the demon-possessed in the Gospels and some persons today.  These would argue that what modern science ascribes to natural causes are actually due to supernatural causes.  And so, these person will suggest that persons may be plagued by demons today and the treatment they need is not merely natural (though they might agree that medical treatment might also be applied) but spiritual and supernatural.  So, they pray for persons to be delivered from demonic control.

3.     Finally, there would be the discontinuity view.  This is the view of some believers  that sees demon-possession as primarily an extra-ordinary phenomenon encountered by Jesus in his life and ministry but not ordinarily encountered today.  Godet, for example, asks:  Did God permit “at this extraordinary epoch in history, an exceptional display of diabolical power?”


It is this third option that I lean toward.


The South African Dutch Reformed expositor Norval Geldenhuys:


In the New Testament, demon possession means that a person is dominated by the spirit of a demon and tormented by him.  It is noteworthy that it is distinguished (especially in the Gospel of the Physician Luke) from cases of ordinary sickness, insanity (“lunacy”), leprosy, blindness, lameness, deafness and other natural defects and diseases (cf., e.g., Matt iv.23, 24, viii.16, x.8; Mark vi.13; Luke iv.40, vii.21,22).  Accordingly this was not merely an ordinary form of mental disease as some writers have alleged, but a special phenomenon which was particularly frequent during Jesus’ earthly sojourn and thus was directly connected with His coming to destroy the power of darkness (Luke, p. 174).


So, he continues, demon possession is not “a mental state in which someone suffers from delusion” or disturbance.  Neither is it “only a kind of physical disease.”


One interesting point he makes here is that very often when Jesus is described as healing someone with a physical illness in the Gospels he either sends the healed person to the priest to offer sacrifices for purification (cf. to the leper in Luke 5:14), or he announces that the healed person’s sins are forgiven (cf. to the paralyzed man in Luke 5:20).  But this does not happen with those freed from demons.  “Those possessed are depicted throughout as unfortunate sufferers who by no fault of their own are dominated by evil spirits” and whose deliverance is only observed with joy and gratitude.


Another point of note is that outside the Gospels there are only two places in the NT where demon possession is mentioned (Acts 16 with the girl healed by Paul’s hand and Acts 19 with the sons of Sceva).




Are there not times when God permits a superior power to invade humanity?  Just as God sent Jesus at a period in history when moral and social evil had reached its culminating point, did not He also permit an extraordinary manifestation of diabolical power to take place at the same time?  By this means Jesus could be proclaimed externally and visibly as the conqueror of the enemy of men, as He who came to destroy the works of the devil…. (p. 157).


So, I think it best to see the encounters Jesus had with the demon-possessed as extra-ordinary challenges to the authority and power of Jesus permitted by God Himself to display Christ’s glory.