Category Archives: Theology

Practical Implications of Calvinism

I came across an interesting article this week on Some Practical Implications of Calvinism.

The label Calvinism can be confusing at times so I generally avoid it and prefer the phrase “doctrines of grace.” Calvinism basically teaches that God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. It recognizes we are dead in our sins and that God is the one who initiates and causes us to be saved by his Holy Spirit, apart from any human effort or will.

I personally believe this is what Jesus taught as well as the Apostle Paul. But it became known as Calvinism because it was popularized by the 16th century reformer John Calvin. He thought it through quite carefully and explained it in his commentaries and his multi-volume theology, The Institutes.

Anyway, I liked this article and thought you might enjoy it too. It shows how the doctrines of grace should drive us to humility and an evangelistic zeal, rather than arrogance and indifference toward the lost.

Tom Hicks lists the following nine implications of Calvinism:

1. Calvinism gives us confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency.

2. Calvinism helps calm our anxieties.

3. Calvinism helps prevent us from trying to control others.

4. Calvinism teaches us to love unconditionally.

5. Calvinism makes us bold to obey the Lord.

6. Calvinism supports a heart for missions.

7. Calvinism fosters deep humility.

8. Calvinism undergirds our assurance of salvation.

9. Calvinism leads us to worship.

You can read the whole thing here.

Which of these do you find most helpful, or perhaps even surprising?

Sale on Bruce and Moo NT Commentaries

Logos Bible Software just concluded their March Madness competition, and the winners this year are Doug Moo and FF Bruce.

For a limited time, you can buy Dr. Bruce’s works at 60% off retail price, and Dr. Moo’s at 70% off retail price. Some great deals especially on commentaries. If you are interested in building a digital library I would highly recommend:

· Hard Sayings of the Bible

· NICNT Acts

· NICNT Romans

· NICNT Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians

· Pillar NTC Colossians and Philemon

· NICNT Hebrews

· Pillar NTC James

· NIVAC 2 Peter and Jude

· Canon of Scripture

People often think Logos is too expensive to get started, but you can buy the Logos Starter library for less than $200 (even lower with Academic discount). Payment plans are also available to spread the cost over several months.

Top Reasons For (and Against) Premillennialism

Yesterday during the sermon, I shared why I am still convinced premillennialism is the best understanding of our Christian hope.

Here are what I consider the most persuasive arguments both for and against premillennialism. What would you add to the list? Which of these do you find most or least convincing?

Arguments for Premillennialism:

*The irrevocable nature of the Abrahamic & Davidic Covenants (Gen. 12; 2 Sam. 7)
*Timeline of Daniel’s 70 weeks (Daniel 9:24-27 )
*Consistent Judgment/Restoration Theme of Israel in OT prophets
*Consistent use of Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutics – authorial intent
*Romans 9-11 – Partial hardening of Israel until the fullness of Gentiles comes in
*The Church as a “Mystery” previously unrevealed in Scripture (Eph. 3:9-11)
*Kingdom Motif in Scripture – Messiah to reign over this earth in peace and righteousness
*Satan as present ruler of this world – will not be bound until millennium
*Book of Revelation – makes good sense when taken at face value
*Christians spared from God’s wrath – this includes escape from the Great Tribulation (Rom. 8:1; Rev. 3:10)
*The two-phase advent of Christ shows it is possible to have a two-phase parousia (appearance and second coming of Christ)
*Harmonizing all NT passages on kingdom, resurrection, judgment, Christ’s return points to a two-phase return and multiple judgments.
*Bible foresees a period when Messiah and resurrected saints will rule in a world where sin/death still exist (preceding the eternal state) (Isaiah 11)
*A strong millennial hope in early centuries of the church

Arguments against Premillennialism :

(Obviously, I disagree with these points and can offer rebuttals to each. But I’ve have heard many of these arguments and find them at least worth considering.)

*The appeal of a simple eschatological system – one return, one resurrection, one judgment
*All remaining kingdom promises could be fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth
*NT Use of OT – spiritual/typological/Christological fulfillment of OT promises
*”My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)
*”The Kingdom of God is at hand, in your midst” (Mark 1:15)
*Curse of fig tree represents judgment on Israel (Mark 11:12-14)
*No clear evidence for a rapture
*Church is equated with “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16)
*The Millennium is only mentioned one chapter in the Bible (this one really irks me!)
*Two different “brides” of God/Christ? (Jer. 2:2; Eph. 5:25)
*Return to Judaism would be a huge step backward
*Dispensationalism is a recent development/aberration in church history

Related Post:

*The Millennium: An Issue that Just Won’t Go Away

The Millennium – An Issue that Just Won’t Go Away

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A friend who has been growing in the Lord wrote me the other day,

“Just by reading the Old Testament, I am a Pre-mil. It never occurred to me to be anything else because the scripture is so clear on the subject.  So when John MacArthur starts explaining [in a sermon] the different points of view I was astonished. … I am so disappointed and disillusioned that this cancer could take root and thrive in the Reformed Church.”

I too have been disheartened by the lack of premillennialists within Protestant evangelicalism. Sadly, Reformed Premillenialists are a dying breed in this generation. But I would stop short of calling other millennial viewpoints a ‘cancer’ in the church.

I was at Shepherd’s Conference back in 2007 when MacArthur fired the shot heard ‘round the Reformed world with his keynote address, “Why Every Self Respecting Calvinist Should be a Premillennialist.” The title was meant to be tongue in cheek – but only slightly. It took social media by storm, and even led to Sam Waldron writing a book-long rebuttal called, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto.

Many Christians, even very devoted and scholarly ones, now view the Church as the new or “true” Israel, and believe that Christ’s present rule has begun to fulfill the promises of the Davidic Covenant, and that ultimately it will be fulfilled in the Eternal State. This is called amillennialism. There is no literal future thousand-year ‘millennium’ to be expected on earth. Rather, they say, Jesus already rules over his kingdom. One pastor even said to me, “Jesus is the Millennium!”

Many amillennialists have a high view of scripture and even a high Christology. They are not deliberately anti-Semitic per se, but rather view the State of Israel just like any other nation now. Where they err, I believe, is to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament so deeply that everything becomes about Christ and his church. It is very subtle, because Christ and the church are so central to God’s redemptive plan. But God also made promises to Abraham and his offspring and chose to uniquely bless Israel.

Amillenialists blur the OT and NT together, creating in my opinion too much continuity, and overlooking that God can work in different ways during different eras (dispensations) of his redemptive plan. In light of the wonderful blessings we have in Christ, they forget that the OT contained real promises (land, seed, blessing) to real people (Abraham and his physical descendants). This side of the cross and resurrection, they now spiritualize many of the prophecies given to the Jews and say they are fulfilled in Christ and his church. According to them, any remaining kingdom promises will be fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth of the Eternal State. I believe this is a serious misunderstanding of Scripture.

Yes, the NT extends God’s new covenant blessing to those outside the Jewish covenant community. But God NEVER revokes his original promises to Israel made through the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenant, and repeated throughout the rest of Scripture. That is my position.

Reflecting on John MacArthur’s message at the 2007 Shepherd’s Conference, I think it could have been stronger. A good debater will try to accurately understand and represent both viewpoints, then dismantle their opponent’s arguments one by one. I think MacArthur did this in part, but in some ways, he failed to make a convincing case. Kim Riddlebarger, for example, claims the sermon totally misrepresented his view. Over time, I believe MacArthur tightened up his argument a bit and released this article, excerpted from the excellent book Christ’s Prophetic Plans.

I’ve found over the years that my Amillennialist friends love simplicity. They emphasize the unity or ‘continuity’ of scripture. There is much to admire in their approach, but they go too far. They smirk at our complicated dispensational charts and timelines, instead mapping out a very simple eschatology with one people of God, one single return of Christ, one judgment, one resurrection, etc. It sounds so very nice on the surface. But it does not hold up to Scripture.

The main problem with amillennialism is that the Bible says God made an unconditional promise to the nation of Israel, and we dare not revoke it. God said he would rebuild ethnic Israel. And Christ will reign physically from Jerusalem.

A plain reading of the Bible (literal-grammatical-historical) necessarily leads to premillennialism. A typological reading of the Bible (viewing the Old Testament allegorically, through the lens of Christ) easily leads to amillennialism. This, to me, is the fundamental difference between the two systems. It all comes down to hermeneutics.

My favorite author on the subject is Michael Vlach at The Master’s Seminary. I encourage you to read this article if you’d like to learn more about this ongoing debate.

Book Review: Biblical Counseling and The Church

CounselingAs a church grows, so do its problems. That’s because we’re all sinners. But this is good news, because it means more people are finding the gospel of grace!

In order to keep up with people’s hurts and struggles, a church needs to think carefully through its counseling strategy. Thankfully, there’s a brand new book that can help. It’s called Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People.

I’m glad to see a growing emphasis on biblical counseling in the local church. What better place for counseling to occur than where the word of God is preached, where elders are appointed, where ordinances are administered, where discipline is practiced, and where the body can help each other along? But setting up a new counseling ministry or re-tooling your existing program is a daunting task.

This book has six main sections:

Part I – More than Counseling: A Vision for the Entire Church
Part II – Biblical Counseling and Small Group Ministry
Part III – Biblical Counseling and Conflict Resolution
Part IV – Equipping Biblical Counselors
Part V – Biblical Counseling and Outreach
Part VI – Biblical Counseling in Historical Perspective

Want to start a counseling ministry in a small church? Confused about the difference between biblical counseling and Christian psychology? Ready to branch out and use counseling as an evangelism tool in the community? This book can help you with all these, and much more.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the book’s size or breadth of topics. Just pick one or two chapters that seem most relevant to you and use them as a starting point. It’s meant to be a practical book. You’ll probably glean a few tips along the way, and more than likely, get hooked and want to read more.

Healthy churches will make biblical counseling a priority. This is not an optional program, but an essential part of the ministry of the Word (Ac. 6:4; 20:20). This book will help you do it right.

I received a free copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine product review program.

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King Jesus is His Name

King Jesus is His NameYesterday was our church Christmas cantata, “King Jesus is His Name.” Many of the songs celebrated the names of Jesus. In one piece, the soloist sang, “What did they call that little baby?” and the rest of the choir responded, “King Jesus is His Name!”

We also sang the famous tune from Handel’s Messiah, “For unto us a child is born, and his name shall be called Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Did you know those lyrics come straight out of Isaiah 9:6? This led into “Blessed be the name of the Lord Most High … the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are saved!”

As you can tell by now, Jesus’ names are important. That’s because in the Bible, names carry special significance. They tell you something about the character of that person. Think of it as the “about” page on social media.

For example, Abram means ‘Exalted Father’ and sure enough, he became the father of the Jewish nation. Isaiah’ means ‘Jehovah saves’ and he spent his life declaring salvation to Israel. Even the bad guys sometimes have important names. Nabal, for instance, means ‘fool.’ (I’m not sure why anyone would name their child that, but the prediction was uncannily accurate).

Just the other day, I heard of a couple in France who wanted to name their son ‘Prince William.’ The judge denied them because he was concerned this could lead to a lifetime of mockery for the child. So the parents opted instead for ‘Mini Cooper.’ The judge struck down that suggestion too. I’m not sure what name the boy finally received, but I feel sorry for that kid and the kind of upbringing he’s going to get if his parents think it’s all a big joke. Assigning a name is no joke, and that was especially true of Jesus.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year to reflect on the names of Jesus, many of which show up into our favorite hymns and Christmas carols.  But don’t just sing these names — believe them! For the Bible promises, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Does the Bible Teach a Pre-Trib Rapture?

A friend recently sent me a link to Craig Keener’s article in the Huffington Post on “Left Behind,” where he makes this bold statement about a pretribulational rapture:

After I became a Christian, I was initially schooled in “left behind” theology myself. Once I began reading the Bible carefully, however, I discovered that every text supporting this view was out of context.

Ouch. I, like Dr. Keener, have felt compelled to examine all the supporting texts in context, but have come to quite a different conclusion – the scriptures clearly and consistently point to a rescue of believers that will precede God’s earthly judgment and millennial reign.

Before you dismiss dispensationalism and the notion of a pre-tribulational rapture, you need to grapple with these issues:

  • Belief in a rapture does not rest on the gospel accounts that some people will be “left behind”. I agree that those passages refer to the righteous who will escape judgment, not unbelievers who miss the rapture.
  • Dr. Keener does not deal with the three passages that most likely allude to the “mystery” (previously unrevealed doctrine) of a rapture: 1 Thess 4; John 14; 1 Cor 15.
  • We must admit is at least possible that the “Restrainer” in 2 Thess 1 refers to the removal of the Holy Spirit during the Tribulation, which would coincide with the removal of church age believers from the earth.
  • Attempts to harmonize all the details of Christ’s second advent and future judgment are not as cut and dry as Keener would have us believe. For example, some passages indicate imminence while others suggest there will be apocalyptic signs. Some speak of judgment, while others speak of blessing. Some passages speak of Christ coming down, while others speak of us going up. A rapture and tribulation before the consummation of Christ’s kingdom seem to best resolve the biblical discrepancies.
  • The purpose of the tribulation is distinctively Jewish – i.e. To begin to unleash God’s wrath on the nations, and to humble God’s covenant people and cause them to finally confess Jesus as Messiah. God is not yet done with His chosen people, the Jews. There is no reason for the church to be present during this time of judgment. See Rev. 6-19 and Rom. 9-11.
  • We cannot rule out the idea that Jesus would complete His return in two phases, just as His coming was divided into a first and second advent – something unforeseen by the OT prophets. This is a matter of progressive revelation.
  • There is a glaring absence of the word “church” in the middle chapters of revelation that discuss the future events of the tribulation.
  • The “70th week” of Daniel plays into all this too. See Dan 9:24-27. If there is a literal 7 year tribulation coming, a time of unprecedented global judgment, then where is the church? I would suggest in heaven, already celebrating the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

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My Review of the Zondervan NIV Study Bible

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Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97)

The Bible is a priceless treasure from God, and a good Study Bible makes it even more edifying.

Study Bibles are not new, with tools like the Geneva Bible and Scofield Reference Bible serving past generations. But never before has there been such a wealth of Study Bibles. In the past 20 years, we’ve seen the arrival of the MacArthur Study Bible, NET Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible, and many more.

These books are frankly ridiculous in the amount of content packed in such a small amount of space. On top of thousands of study notes and introductions to every book of the Bible, many include theological articles, a concordance, and other helpful charts and illustrations.

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is no exception. While the MacArthur Study Bible remains my top all-around choice, the NIVZSB is a wonderful gift to the Body of Christ, and has climbed above the ESV Study Bible as my second favorite study Bible. Here are three reasons why:

1. Focus on Biblical Theology. It does an excellent job tracing the redemptive storyline all the way through the Bible and capturing its “big picture.” Christ is the hero of every story. Some will disagree on just how far biblical eschatology should be realized (‘already’) versus awaiting fulfillment (‘not yet’), but the study notes are fair to all sides, without forcing a conclusion on the reader.

2. In Depth Study Notes. This Bible offers 20,000 in-depth study notes from many of today’s leading evangelical scholars. Edited by D.A. Carson, you will not find any Study Bible with a more impressive resume. I still prefer the NASB or ESV translation for in-depth study, but nothing beats the NIV for easy reading. Though I am disappointed with the overall gender-natural philosophy of the NIV translation team, this study Bible helps guard against some of its more egregious misapplications. Its explanation of 1 Timothy 2:12, for example, is spot on.

3. Superb Illustrations. The full color maps, photos, and illustrations are outstanding. Reading through this Bible is an immersive experience, and helps bring the ancient land of the Bible alive. It is one thing to be told about a place or idea. It is quite another to see it for yourself. In some cases, the illustrations actually aid in understanding Scripture. Some of my favorites are the silver scrolls of the Aaronic Blessing (p. 258), the threshing sledge (p. 1766), the Ephesian Theater (p. 2262), two views on physical/spiritual Israel (p. 2309), and the bema seat (p. 2337).

If there is one major complaint, it is the font size of this study Bible. The words are just too small. I don’t know what could have been eliminated, but there comes a point where publishers need to trim down their study Bibles. This Bible weighs in at almost 5 lbs. and is nearly 3,000 pages long. With such a hefty size, you’d expect a readable font. But no, the font is almost microscopic. It’s a shame, since anyone over 55 will have a hard time enjoying this resource.

Font issues aside, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a great study Bible. It contains a wealth of biblical material and promises to help Bible students for generations to come. May it increase our love for the Word, and increase our love for its divine Author.

I received a free preview copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine product review program.

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