Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Vision (8.29.13): What is "Total Depravity?"

Note:  The article below begins an occasional five part series on the doctrines of grace (or “the five points of Calvinism”).  I abbreviated this material from a previously written discipleship booklet, and Bonnie Beach is helping me format it into a tract that we can copy and distribute when we minister this Saturday at the Fluvanna Correctional Center.

The Biblical doctrines of grace are sometimes referred to by the acronym:  TULIP.  Each letter in TULIP stands for one foundational doctrine in the doctrines of grace.  The “T” in TULIP stands for “Total Depravity” (or “radical depravity”).

Total Depravity maintains that the extent of the impact of sin since the fall (Gen 3) is so devastating as to make any human being’s salvation completely dependent on the work of God alone. 

This doctrine takes seriously the hideous nature of human sin.  Those who are not believers generally hold an optimistic view of human nature.  They believe that people are basically good and only are corrupted due to culture or environment.  The Biblical teaches, however, that men are sinners who reject God.

In Romans 3:11 Paul said, “There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God.”  He was describing the plight of unregenerate (unconverted) human beings.  The Bible holds out the scandalous truth that the only way a sinner becomes a seeker of the one true God is when God sovereignly opens his heart to believe the gospel (see the model conversion of Lydia in Acts 16:15:  “whose heart the Lord opened”).

A firm understanding of the sinful human condition is required for the gospel rightly to be understood.  We must hear the “bad news” of God’s wrath, before we can understand the “good news” of his love, mercy, and grace.

Seven reflections on Total Depravity:

1.      Total Depravity does not mean we are as bad as we possibly can be.

Total depravity is often misinterpreted as saying that mankind is somehow sub-human. Total depravity, however, is not absolute depravity.  We are not all Hitlers!   Even as sinners, we are still God’s image bearers (see Gen 9:6; Psalm 8; James 3:9).  Still, we are completely dependent upon God alone for salvation.

2.     Sin’s impact is total in that it touches the totality of our being.

This is where the term “radical depravity” is perhaps more helpful.  The English word “radical” comes from the Latin word radix meaning root or foundation.  Sin reaches to our roots.  It is basic to our present condition.  Sin is radical in that it impacts every aspect of life:  physically, emotionally, rationally, intellectually, personally, politically, and spiritually.  In Romans 7:18 Paul confessed:  “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.”

3.     Sin is universal (impacting all human beings).

In Romans 3:23, Paul said, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  In the days of Noah the Lord looked at mankind and saw that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).  The prophet Jeremiah lamented:  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9).  It has well been said that, “the best of men are men at best.”

4.     We are sinners from birth.

The Bible teaches that we inherit a sin nature at birth from our first parents, Adam and Eve (cf. Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:21-22).  This is sometimes called “original sin.”  In Psalm 51:5 David says, “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (cf. Ps 58:3).  As one has put it, “We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.”

5.      In addition to our inherited sin nature we also commit actual sins.

Every human being not only has an inclination to sin, but when given time and opportunity he willfully breaks God’s commands.  In Isaiah 53:6 we read, “All we like sheep have gone astray.”    John notes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  Sin is not merely theoretical but actual in our lives.

6.     Apart from regeneration (a change of heart), no sinner willingly chooses God.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  A new birth experience (regeneration) is required before a person can willingly turn to Christ!

Paul describes the spiritual dullness of the unconverted:   “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).  In 2 Corinthians 4:3, he describes unbelievers as “blinded” to the truth.

In light of this condition we must talk about human inability.  The unregenerate do not welcome the light of Christ (see John 3:18).  They do not seek God (Rom 3:11).

Apart from regeneration, repentance, and faith in Christ, we remain “children of wrath” who deserve a holy God’s righteous judgment (see Eph 2:1-3).

It is painful to come to grips with this reality.  The flesh will revolt against the Bible’s condemnation of what we falsely believe to be our innate spiritual goodness.  The unsaved usually have a “But I’m a good person!” mentality.  We must be honest, however, about what the Bible teaches and humble in understanding our condition.

7.      Total Depravity accentuates the gap between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of mankind.

Psalm 5:5 declares, “thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”  Psalm 7:11 adds that “God is angry with the wicked every day.”  His eyes are too pure to look upon unrighteousness (see Hab 1:13).  God not only hates sin, but he hates sinners.  The Puritan minister Ralph Venning wrote:  “God hates man for sin.”

The truth of Scripture is that Christ saves us from experiencing the wrath of God for our sin.  John 3:36 declares, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  Likewise, in Romans 5:9, Paul declares that “being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him [Jesus].”  Until we understand the magnitude of human sin we will not perceive the magnitude of salvation.


Sin is not a minor hurdle we must overcome with merely a little bit of God's help.  It is an insurmountable obstacle that will only be overcome by God setting down to set us over it.

An honest and sober reckoning of unregenerate man's plight in sin is a necessary starting point to understand properly the solution offered by God's grace in Christ. 

Copyright 2013 Jeffrey T. Riddle.  Copies of this article may be reproduced in whole or in part for non-profit use, including personal and corporate Bible study.  For information on ordering print copies, email

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I wish it were a joke...

Someone shared this video on the RB pastors' list.  I wish it were a joke, but apparently it is not.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Word Magazine (8.27.13): Review: Mark Driscoll on Text and Translation

I just posted a new edition of Word Magazine.  In this edition, I offer a review of a recent blog post by Mark Driscoll on Where did the Bible come from? and find that Driscoll repeats many of the notions typical for evangelicals (including the YRR crowd) who embrace the modern critical text and translations (the ESV, in particular).

I make reference to my 2008 review:  Mark Driscoll and the Emerging Church.

And to a previous blogpost on the ESV and dynamic equivalence.

At the end, I also make an unrelated reference to this post on the Common Core curriculum.

Freedom Watch: Common Core

In the Fall 2013 edition of The Virginia Home Educator (the news magazine of the Home Educators Association of Virginia) there is an article worth reading under "Freedom Watch" on the Common Core curriculum which is now being promoted by our federal government and which has already been adapted by 46 of 50 states.  

The article suggests that this program is an overreach by the federal government into education which has typically been the domain of the states.  It has been implemented without study, pilot programs, public meetings or voter accountability.

According to the article, Common Core will include building a database and tracking students from preschool to when they enter the workforce.  It will accumulate information such as "student attitudes, disabilities, religious affiliation, medical information, family income and hundreds of other academic and social markers."  In the future standardized tests like the SAT and GED will be made to conform to CC standards.

As one who has opted out of the government education system for his children and simply as a citizen with concerns about personal privacy and religious liberty, the article gave me concern about Common Core.  I encourage you to read the article and consider the suggestions offered for making your voice heard. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Letis on the "Majority Text" as restorationist rather than preservationist

Here’s another interesting excerpt from T. P. Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text (pp. 81-82, n. 16) in which he addresses the proponents of the “Majority Text” position (once prominent among the faculty of Dallas Seminary which were instrumental in producing the NKJV).  Letis argues that this approach is, in the end, still restorationist as opposed to preservationist:

Theoretically there is absolutely no difference between Warfield’s project and that of the so-called “Majority Text Society.”  Both were/are still in a quest to restore a text that has been lost; both work(ed) from a primitive, restorationist principle, rather than a catholic preservationist principle; and neither has, or had, an ecclesiology that can (or could) account for the role the Church has played in configuring as well as canonizing and transmitting the text of Scripture.  The Dallas fundamentalists rallying around the Byzantine text do so because it is the “majority” text without ever engaging the reason why it is such, i.e., because it was actually the text used in catholic ecclesiastical practice.  Hence, one can only make sense of its majority status by acknowledging its Ecclesiastical status, which explains why it is in the majority.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Vision (8/22/13): Dabney on the Three Stages of Preaching

R. L. Dabney (1820-1898) was a staunch Presbyterian minister who boldly preached the doctrines of grace.  As a young minister, Dabney served Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.  As a mature minister he taught theology at Union Seminary when it used to be located in Farmville.  Among other things, Dabney wrote a series of lectures on preaching which was printed under the title Evangelical Eloquence (reprinted by Banner of Truth).

In the opening lecture Dabney offers a historical survey of preaching, noting “there are three stages through which preaching has repeatedly passed with the same results” (p. 27).

The first stage is when “scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb—that is to say, not only are all doctrines asserted which truly belong to the revealed system of redemption, but they are presented in that dress and connection in which the Holy Spirit has presented them, without seeking any other human science.”  He refers to this stage as “the golden age.”

The second stage is “the transition stage.”  In this stage “the doctrines taught are still those of the Scriptures, but their relations are molded into conformity with the prevalent human dialectics.” In other words, Biblical truths are still taught, but preachers attempt to make the message more relevant by conveying them in contemporary thought forms and ideas.

Finally, in the third stage, “not only are the methods and explanations conformed to the philosophy of the day, but the doctrines themselves contradict the truth of the Word” (p. 28).

Dabney traces this pattern from the preaching of the apostles in the primitive church (stage one), to the “scholasticism” of those who later allegorized the Scriptures (stage two), to the dark ages (stage three).

Then he notes how the cycle was repeated from the Reformation (stage one), to the revivalism of the Great Awakening (stage two), to the age of Rationalism (stage three).

Dabney’s three stages reminded me of the old adage that the first generation discovers the gospel, the second assumes it, and the third compromises it.

He closes by calling his hearers not to wrap “the body of God’s truth” in “the drapery of human philosophy,” urging:  “May we ever be content to exhibit Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress!” (p. 29).

Sounds like some wise counsel.  May we strive to remain “stage one” in our preaching.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Letis on Warfield, Infallibility, and Innerancy

Image:  B. B. Warfield (1851-1921)

Here are a few more gleanings from Theodore Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text (1997):

Theodore Letis lays much of the blame for the contemporary abandonment of the received text of Scripture in favor of the modern critical text at the feet of the Princeton lion B. B. Warfield.  According to Letis, it was under Warfield’s influence that conservative Reformed and evangelical Christians began to speak of the “inerrancy” of the Bible rather than the “infallibility” of the Bible.  Warfield did this in an effort to defend the Bible from its modern critics, but, Letis contends, the unintended result was a compromise of the traditional, confessional, “catholic” view of the authority of the Bible.  He observes:

Warfield attempted to retain the old orthodoxy but by also making a major, largely unacknowledged concession to modernity, by abandoning a sacred text of the Church for a future scientific reconstruction of the Academy (p. 81).

By turning the focus away from the preservation of the Bible in its received form (i.e., in the copies or apographa) in favor of the “scientific” text critical search for the elusive original text (i.e., the autographa), Letis contends that Warfield “made the Church a bondservant of criticism” (p. 72).

Here are some of Letis’ thoughts on the shift of terminology from “infallibility” (the word used in the Westminster Confession and London Baptist Confession, article one, to describe Scripture) to “inerrancy” (originally an astronomical term to refer to “fixed stars” that was not applied to the Bible until the nineteenth century):

The change of one landmark word in the theological terrain can alter the entire landscape!  Such is what happened with the substitution of the non-confessional word “inerrancy” for the catholic term infallible.  Because “inerrancy” always and only has as its referent, the “original autographs,” it always invites the quest for the historical text, which in turn always culminates in the quest for the historical Jesus.  The change of but one word has resulted in the complete destruction of the classic Protestant view of Scripture and yet its would-be Reformation advocates continue to bow to the political pressures of non-Reformation “evangelical” communities (p. 79).

Thus, Letis argues:  “A reclamation act is in order” (p. 80).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jesus on Discipleship (Luke 12:1-12): Six Goads from our Wise Teacher

Note:  Below is the manuscript from last Sunday morning's sermon at CRBC:

Jesus on Discipleship
Luke 12:1-12

CRBC August 18, 2013

We noted last Sunday in Luke 11:49 how Jesus refers to “the wisdom of God” and how there is some debate as to whether he was referring to the Old Testament or to himself as the personification of wisdom.

In our passage today we are going to continue to see Jesus as the great Teacher of his disciples.  He gives to them words of wisdom as a father gives to his son.

This brought to my mind a passage from Ecclesiastes, on the wisdom books of the Old Testament:

Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

The verse combines or mixes two metaphors for the teacher of wisdom.  He is first like a master carpenter or master builder (the “master of assemblies”) who drives in goads or nails to build a structure that will stand the test of time and storm.  He is second like a shepherd who is feeding and tending and guiding and protecting his lambs.  Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth is the Great Builder and the Good Shepherd.

As we look at our passage today I want us to consider the following six nails or goads from our Wise Teacher and Shepherd:

1.      Beware of hypocrisy (vv. 1-3);
2.     Fear Him who has ultimate authority over both your body and your soul (vv. 4-5);
3.     Know that you are highly valued by God (vv. 6-7);
4.    Understand that your eternal destiny depends on how you respond to Christ in this life (vv. 8-9);
5.     Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit (v. 10);
6.     Be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach you how to respond when you are persecuted (vv. 11-12).

The first nail:  Beware of hypocrisy (vv. 1-3):

The introduction to the first nail provides us the setting or occasion of Jesus’ teaching in v. 1.  Luke says that there were “gathered” (episynago, assembled) “an innumerable multitude of people.”  The phrase makes use of the word myrias, the root for the English word “myriad.”  So, it might be rendered that there was assembled before Jesus a crowd of thousands or even tens of thousands.  Imagine a scene like some we have seen in places like Egypt where thousands have thronged to a square for a political protest.  Luke even says ‘they trode one upon another” (katapateo, to trample or walk over).  In this case they were thronging not in protest but to hear the great teacher of Nazareth.  So, we might imagine a scene where a pop star or celebrity athlete is mobbed by a crowd who wants to be near him.  What a contrast will appear by the end of this narrative when Jesus will be utterly abandoned by the crowds and even by his disciples as he will go to the cross.  This is a reminder that crowds can be fickle; the human heart can be fickle.  Truth is not determined by numbers, though at this point many throng to hear Jesus.

Notice also that this teaching is aimed first at Jesus’ disciples:  “he began to say unto his disciples first of all (the adverb proton).  Some take all the teachings of Jesus as evangelistic, but here the teaching is explicitly identified as being discipleship.  It is instruction to Jesus’ followers, to insiders.

The first thing he says to them is a warning against religious or spiritual hypocrisy.  This might well be the overall theme for all six of the nails.

Jesus says, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (v. 1b).  Jesus has previously announced “woes” upon the Pharisees and the lawyers (11:42-44, 46-52).  And he has identified their besetting sin as “hypocrisy.”  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “hypocrisy” as:  “a feigning [pretending] to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially: the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.”  They were publicly claiming to be something that in reality they were not being.  To do something (obey and reverence God’s Word) that they were not doing.

The metaphor that Jesus uses here is that of “leaven,” the rising agent that is mixed in small measure into a larger lump of dough to make the loaf as a whole rise.  Sometimes Jesus uses leaven in a positive sense.  Compare:

Matthew 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened (cf. Luke 3:20-21).

But here he is using it in a negative sense.  The hypocrisy of a few if left unaddressed can work its way into the whole and ruin everything.  Paul makes a similar usage in 1 Corinthians 5:

1 Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Jesus then expand on this by saying that there is coming a day when the true thoughts of a man’s heart and his mind will be exposed (vv. 2-3).  I have heard some take these verses and use them as a prooftext for things like open air preaching and evangelism but that misses the point by wrenching these words of out their context.  Rather, Jesus is saying that what has been covered, hidden, or spoken in the darkness of our conscience or in the closet of our private thoughts will one day be revealed, made known, and publicly proclaimed from the housetops as it were.  What he is talking about here is the final judgment.  Compare:

Matthew 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

We may play the part of dutiful believer publicly but privately we may scorn Christ.  Jesus’ point is that one day that which is in darkness will be brought into the light.

The second nail:  Fear Him who has ultimate authority over both your body and your soul (vv. 4-5):

Note how Jesus begins:  “And I say unto you my friends (philoi)….”  Here “friends” is used as another term for the disciples.  To be a follower of Jesus is to be a friend of Jesus. Indeed, it is to be changed from one who was an enemy into a friend of the Lord.  Compare:

John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

With this intimate bond established, Jesus proceeds to offer another goaded warning:  “Be not afraid of them that kill the body….” (v. 4).  Jesus is here preparing his disciples to be ready to pay the ultimate price for their faith.  He is preparing them to be martyrs for the faith.  We know from Acts 12 that James will be the first apostle to die for his faith in Christ.  Christian tradition tells us that all or nearly all of the apostles met a similar destiny.  This is another proof for the truth of Christianity.  Men do not lay down their live for myths.

Notice how different the Christian view of martyrdom is than the Muslim view.  In the Muslim view one become a martyr in Jihad in order to gain assurance of entry into paradise.  For the Christian it is because one has assurance of his salvation that he is willing to lay down his life for Christ.  The Muslim is a martyr to get something he lacks.  The Christian become a martyr because of something he has already received!

Notice as well Jesus’ encouragement to the martyrs that any pain or suffering than can be inflicted by the enemies of the gospel will have a temporal ending. It has a finite duration.  It will end at death.

This leads to v. 5 where Jesus points out that the one his disciples ought to fear is not those who can only inflict temporal punishment but on the one who has authority over both body and soul for eternity (read v. 5).  The word “hell” here in Greek is gehenna.  You may know that it refers to a place near Jerusalem in the OT called the Valley of Ge-Hinnom where pagans sacrificed children to the god Molech.  Good King Josiah put an end to this pagan practice (2 Kings 23:10), but the site remained a garbage dump where all kinds of refuse was discarded and where there was a perpetual fire to consume the trash.  This became a symbolic name for the Jews for a place of eternal conscious punishment.  It has been said that Jesus taught more about hell than any other person in the Bible.  Here he warns his disciples to fear not those who could take away merely their physical lives, but to fear the one who can inflict upon men the “second death” spiritual death and cast them body and soul into hell for eternity. 

The third nail:  Know that you are highly valued by God (vv. 6-7):

This goad certainly seems related to the last and indeed it might even be considered as a continuation of it.  Jesus is telling the disciples that even though they may be little regarded or even hostilely regarded and reviled by men, they are highly valued by God.

We sometimes rightly stress the sinful state of man apart from Christ.  In Job 25:6 man is called a “worm.”  Even after conversion the believer remains a sinner, though he is a redeemed sinner.  Paul can say in Romans 7:18:  “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.”  And yet we also need to balance this with the proper understanding of how God values mankind, in general, as his image bearers, and Christians, in particular, as bearers of the image of Christ.  Do not forget Psalm 8 which both ponders “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (v. 4) but also notes that God has made him “a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” (v. 5) and given him dominion over all creation.

Jesus draws two illustrations to describe God’s care over his disciples in particular.

First, he speaks of God’s providential care over the birds of the air (v. 6).  Jesus speaks of five sparrows are sold for two farthings (pennies; the Greek word is assarion, a Roman copper coin worth 1/16 of a denarius).  A denarius was one day’s wage (8 hours labor) so an assarion would be worth one half hour of work.  The point is that it was cheap to buy five sparrows.  They were not highly valued, and yet, Jesus says, “and not one of them is forgotten before God.”  Can you imagine a mind so great and so complex it makes our most sophisticated computer look like a stick and stone?  The God of the universe knows the life of every creature that has ever lived.  I read the other day of the discovery of a mammal species called the olinguito [ah-lingh-ee-to], a reddish brown 14 inch, 2 pound South American creature not to be confused with the larger olingo.  We don’t know even all the species of creatures that exist on this planet, while God knows not only every species but also every distinct creature that has lived, is living, or ever will live.  The point is not the overwhelm us in our smallness but to magnify the care of our Maker for us.

Second, Jesus says, “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (v. 7).  Do you know how many hairs are on you head?  God does.  Jesus then says, “Fear not therefore.”  He uses the same verb (phobeo) here as in v. 5 when he urged fear of God.  Christian, Jesus is saying, have reverence for God but do not be afraid of him. You are dear to him. You are precious to him.  You are beloved by him.  He ends v. 7:  “ye are of more value than sparrows.”  This is another example of an analogy from the lesser to the greater.  If God does not forget about sparrows what does that say about his care for human beings and, especially, for believers?  He will not forget us.  This is a battle many face:  the battle of self-loathing and self-hatred.  I read just the other day a review of a new book by Frank Page, a leading SBC Pastor, titled Melissa, A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, in which he describes how his 32 year old daughter took her life in 2009 after a struggle with despair.  Oh disciple of Christ, friend of Jesus, do not ever think that your God forgets you.

The Fourth Nail:  Understand that your eternal destiny depends on how you respond to Christ in this life (vv. 8-9):

Jesus sets up two theaters of activity here.  One is the theater of this life that is played out before men.  The other is the theater of the final judgment.  It is played out before the Son of Man (Jesus’ reference to himself) and before the angels of God which shall accompany him at his second coming (cf. Matthew 13 where in the parable of the wheat and the tares Jesus explains that the reapers are his angels who at the end of the ages will cast the tares to cast into the furnace and the wheat into is barn).

Jesus describes a reciprocal action that takes place at the end of the ages.  Those who confess Jesus are confessed by Jesus.  Those who deny Jesus are denied by Jesus.  Notice that there is no post-mortem evangelism.  There is no after-death second chances.  I heard the Mormon radio host Glenn Beck say the other day that if he found out he was wrong about the Trinity after death he would just change his mind, but that is not how the Bible says it works.  See Jesus’ account of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Some have protested that it is not fair for God to punish for all eternity those who deny him in the short span of this life.  But who are we to judge the wisdom of God.  This is his revealed truth and we must be submitted to it.  The question is, Where do you stand in your response to Jesus?

The Fifth Nail:  Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit (v. 10):

This is a teaching that has been much discussed.  It is sometimes called the “unpardonable sin.”  What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Here Jesus suggests that there is the possibility of forgiveness for those who speak against him [the Son of Man] but not for those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in Luke 11:15 we heard men blaspheming Jesus by saying that he cast out demons by Beelzebub.   The unpardonable sin, however, is to persist in rejecting the Holy Spirit’s witness to the Lordship of Jesus.  Those who reject the Spirit’s witness to Jesus will indeed never be forgiven for this cardinal sin.

One of the commentators (Geldenhuys) makes the point that Jesus gives a similar teaching in Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 13:28 ff.  but the audience on those occasions were Jesus’ opponent.  Here he speak to his disciples.  Why then did Jesus give this teaching to them?  He suggests that Jesus did so to remind them that those who were blaspheming him and the Spirit would one day be punished.  And:  “So they must not allow themselves to be intimidated by hardened and wicked opponents of this type, for these already fall under God’s judgment” (p. 352).

When spoken to non-believers this is a warning that calls for repentance.  When spoken to believers it is an assurance of God’s justice and a comfort.

The sixth nail:  Be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach you how to respond when you are persecuted (vv. 11-12).

Again, this teaching had immediate application for the first disciples (Jewish Christians) who would be brought before synagogues, magistrates, and powers, because of their stand for Christ.  Jesus says they are not to worry or be anxious about “what thing ye shall answer [apologeomai, cf. the noun from apologia in 1 Peter 3:15:  “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”).

Jesus assures the persecuted brethren that the Holy Spirit will teach them spontaneously “in the same hour” what they ought to say.  The point is that he will not leave his people alone.  He will provide his Advocate to speak to them and for them in their defense.

Consider that we are one of the first generations of Christians for whom this teaching is not immediately relevant.  Most of us are not facing arrest and imprisonment for our faith.  We have been the recipients of his care and his protection.  But we are to be prepared to lay all on the line for Christ.  We are to be ready to lose all in order to gain all.

The master-builder, the shepherd has spoken to his disciples through his word.

Let these nails be driven into our consciences as Christ builds us up in the faith.

Do not be a hypocrite.

Fear God as the one who has ultimate authority over where we will spend eternity.

Know that you are known and cared for by the Lord.

Know that whether you confess or deny Jesus will be the tipping point for whether you are acknowledged or denied before the angels at the end of the ages.

As a believer know that no matter what men say or do now to most wickedly blaspheme Christ, one day the Judge of all the earth will do right.

Know that the Holy Spirit will be there to teach you if you ever must stand and give an answer before men for the hope that is within you.  He can give the simplest and humblest believer better than a PhD in apologetics and make us an able and faithful witness to himself.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Word Magazine (8.20.13): The White-Ehrman Debate and the Text of Scripture

I posted a new Word Magazine today that offers a review of part of the rebuttal segment from apologist James White's debate with Bart Ehrman on the the reliability of the NT text ("Does the Bible Misquote Jesus?").  Though I'm sympathetic with White's efforts to affirm the reliability of the NT, I argue that he and Ehrman are actually more alike than different in that they both embrace the modern critical text rather than the traditional text.  You can listen to the entire White-Ehrman debate here on  At the close, I shared this quote from Theodore Letis's The Ecclesiastical Text:

"Science never has come to the rescue of the Faith.  Criticism certainly has its own indispensable place in the Academy, but to view it as an auxiliary support in defense of Christianity’s truth claims is to give it expectations outwith its intended design.  It would be like asking a physician performing a post-mortem examination why he has spent all his time dissecting the corpse rather than resuscitating it.  Resuscitation is not the goal of autopsy" (p. 73).


Monday, August 19, 2013

Thomas Vincent on the wider implications of the fifth commandment: The relationship between the younger and the older

Note:  Below are notes from yesterday's final installment in the mini-series on the wider implications of the fifth commandment, focusing on the relationship between the younger and the older.  Again, Thomas Vincent's exposition of the Shorter Catechism served as a guide.

In our final installment in this series we examine the relationship between—as Vincent puts it— those who are “younger and inferior in gifts and graces” and “the aged and superior.”

Notice, first of all, the striking, counter-cultural assumption of this description.  It assumes that those who are older in age will have superior gifts and graces to which the younger should defer, offering respect and admiration, in humility.  I think that reflects not only a Puritan mindset but also a Biblical mindset.  We have turned this wisdom nearly completely on its head.  We live in a culture that overvalues and worships youth and overlooks the aged.  The marketers aim their products at the coveted youth consumers.  The rapid rise of technology has also contributed greatly to this, as it the young who have largely mastered technological proficiency while the older have been left behind.  The fault is not only with the younger generation but also with the older who rather than relishing in reaching an age of maturity and exercising its inherent benefits instead too often abandon this position of responsibility and enter into a sort of second teenage existence, desiring to live selfishly or to finish off their “bucket list” before death.

One aspect of this is that many of our churches are having a hard time finding mature, qualified men to serve as officers and leaders.  Note well, however, that I am not suggesting men be placed in office merely because they are older.  They must meet the Biblical qualifications.  Another aspect of this in the church is that we have many congregations that are essentially age segregated, often due to the musical aspects of the church’s worship (contemporary or traditional).
Again, the Biblical outlook is quite different.  In this worldview, the younger look to the experience of the older to learn and gain wisdom from them, looking forward to the time when they too will reach this position of responsibility and influence.  And the older see themselves as carefully living exemplary lives so as to provide a model and pattern for those behind them to follow. Thus the church is a rich mutually encouraging intergenerational fellowship.

Three duties of the younger to the older:

First:  To rise up before them and given place to them, with reverence and respect.


Leviticus 19:32 Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head [the gray-headed], and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.

Second:  Humble submission to them, so as to follow their wise counsels.


1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

By elder (presbyteros) Peter calls younger men to be submitted not merely those in the office of elder (though they would be mature men, over the age of 30) but also to all Christian men in the body who are older in age.  Sadly I have sometime seen situations in churches where younger do not demonstrate the attitude for which Peter here calls.  The results can be harmful and chaotic to all.

Consider Philemon 9 where Paul appeals, in part, to his authority not only as an apostle but as a aged or older Christian man:

Philemon 1:9 Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged [presbytes], and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

Third:  Imitation of them in their graces and holy conversations.

Paul could say:

1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

Too many today are like the athlete Charles Barkley who said, “I don’t want to be a role model.”  I don’t want the responsibility.

Consider in Luke 2 when the infant Jesus is brought to the temple.  Who meets him and recognizes who he is:  the aged Simeon and the aged Anna.  They serve as models and examples.

The duty of the older to the younger:

Vincent:  “The duties of the aged and superior in gifts and graces, unto the younger and inferior, are—To adorn their old age, and show forth the power of their grace in a holy and exemplary conversation [by this he meant not just their words but the pattern of their lives].”

The passage that he cites in support of this point is Titus 2:

Titus 2:1 But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: 2 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. 3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. 6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. 7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, 8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

What a beautiful thing it is when there is this kind of intergenerational fellowship and mutual encouragement with the body of Christ.

Let me add before closing that Vincent also contributes a few words about the duties of equals one to another including:

First:  To love in peace, with sincere love to one another, preferring each other in honor.  He cites:

1 Thessalonians 5:13: “Be at peace with one another.”

Romans 12:9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

Second:  To be pitiful, courteous and affable, and ready to promote one another’s good, and to rejoice therein. He cites:

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful [compassionate or tenderhearted] be courteous:

1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth [good or well-being].

Let these things be our aim as we live out the wider principles of this fifth commandment.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Letis on parallels between the quest for the historical Jesus and the quest for the historical text

Last week I re-read chapter three of T. P. Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text (The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 1997) titled “The Language of Biblical Authority:  From Protestant Orthodoxy to Evangelical Equivocation” (pp. 59-85).

Letis begins the essay noting the irony of the fact that doctrinal traditionalists who rightly objected to the skeptical modern historical-critical quest for the historical Jesus were more than willing to embrace the modern historical-critical quest to reconstruct the autographa:

What I hope to establish in this [chapter] is that while everyone in confessional ranks attempted to resist to the death the invasion of the nineteenth century German higher criticism with its quest for the historical Jesus, they, nevertheless, unwittingly gave way to the process of desacralization by assuming the safe and “scientific” nature of the quest for the historical text.  There is a sense in which the entire history of the influence of Biblical criticism on confessional communities is but a working out of this theme, with adjustment after adjustment taking place, until the original paradigm of verbal inspiration evaporates and no one is so much aware that a change has taken place (p. 63).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Head covering movement?

Someone posted a link on the RB pastors' list this week to this site devoted to the recovery of women wearing head coverings in corporate worship (a practice of some among conservative Reformed types).

In response and critique of this movement (arguing that it reflects a more Islamic than Christian view) from a conservative Christian perspective, one might find these two sermons on 1 Corinthians 11 by Pastor Max Doner (Sovereign Grace Bible Church, Lebanon, Oregon) of interest:

Male and Female Equality and Hierarchy (This lays the hermeneutical groundwork).

Expressing Biblical Roles in Society (This addresses head coverings in particular with Doner arguing that 1 Corinthians 11 does not address women in corporate worship but in society).

Character Studies in 2 Samuel Redivivus

I got a nice note this week from a Stylos reader in Texas:

I am leading a ladies Bible study this year on the life of King David and the Psalms. I discovered the Character Studies from Second Samuel  that are posted [on your blog]. These will be REALLY helpful as we read through the narrative.

I had sort of forgotten about this series I wrote back in 2010.  You can read the Character Studies in 2 Samuel series here.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Vision (8/15/13): 2013 Keach Conference Coming!

Image:  Richard Barcellos

CRBC will be hosting the twelfth annual Keach Conference, sponsored by the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia on Friday-Saturday, September 27-28, 2013.  The conference is free and open to anyone who wishes to attend, but attendees are asked to preregister at the RBF-VA website.

Session I will take place on Friday evening (September 27) beginning at 6:30 pm.

Session II will take place on Saturday morning (September 28) beginning at 9:00 am and concluding by noon.

The 2013 theme will be taken from Chapter Seven (“Of God’s Covenant”) of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).

The keynote speaker at the 2013 conference will be Dr. Richard Barcellos, Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Palmdale, California.  Barcellos is both a theologian and pastor.  He has served as a Professor at the Midwest Center of Theological Studies in Owensboro, Kentucky and planted two Reformed Baptist churches.  Dr. Barcellos has also served as Editor of the Reformed Baptist Theological Journal and has authored several books, including In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology (Winepress, 2001).

Pastor Ron Young, Sr., a retired pastor from Fincastle, Virginia will also speak on Saturday morning.

I hope you will plan to join us for this year’s conference.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle