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Dan Phillips Books: “The World-Tilting Gospel” and “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs”

February 23, 2012 4 comments

I don’t usually read current, recently-published books.  This is partly due to access (the family member says to use the library and doesn’t believe in spending lots of money on books), as well as limited time beyond my work schedule, plus family, blogging and listening to sermons.  Often, too, I read many classical works available online, including J.C. Ryle and Horatius Bonar, plus the free commentaries with my Bible software, The Word, such as John Gill and H.A. Ironside.  Recently, however, I acquired copies of Dan Phillips’ recent books:  The World-Tilting Gospel (Kindle for PC, one of the free Kindle book specials), and God’s Wisdom in Proverbs (hardcover; through sweepstakes winnings of gift certificates good at Barnes & Noble).

Since the books are in different formats, I’m actually still reading through both.  I’m further along in TWTG, but I don’t read it as often due to the PC’s location.  While both books reflect the author’s easy-to-read style and sense of humor, TWTG covers more basic material: an excellent presentation of the gospel, material well-familiar to mature Christians, yet in the way of “I love to tell the story” and “I love to hear the old, old story” that brings great joy and comfort to the heart, the story of totally dead, lost sinners and our mighty God who provided the redemptive work.  The “Doctrines of Grace,” also referred to as Calvinism, are  presented here in the clear easy-to-understand style, though without the familiar labels. The World Tilting Gospel then gives a good overview of justification and sanctification.  Later, two chapters give very good presentations of several common erroneous  views of sanctification:  antinomian Non-Lordship “Gutless Gracers,” second and higher-level “experience” charismatics, and especially the “Muzzy Mystics”: the Keswick “Let Go, Let God” “Deeper Life” passive approach to holiness.

God’s Wisdom in Proverbs is much more in-depth, a book study through Proverbs.  I haven’t read any other such books on Proverbs, but this one is very interesting.  The early chapters consider the author (Solomon), and the portions of scripture that were available to him, which we can turn to for additional insight into the Proverbs (especially Deuteronomy and the Psalms).  Other considerations include definition of what a Proverb is — a general truth statement packed into a few words, that does not always apply (the exceptions to the rule) – and categorizing the ten types of Proverbs with examples.  God’s Wisdom in Proverbs often considers the original Hebrew language and the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, with thought diagrams visually showing the relationships between the parts of a proverb.

From the first five chapters come several good points about the importance of an active approach to studying God’s word, along with common misconceptions about particular Proverbs such as Proverbs 3:5-7.  Clearly the author has in mind the same concern for active study in contrast with the “Deeper Life” approach so well described in TWTG.  We look also at the true biblical views of wisdom as contrasted with  arrogance, including the meaning of the Hebrew words and other references to the terms elsewhere in the Old Testament including Psalm 119, demonstrating methods of proper biblical hermeneutics: letting scripture interpret scripture, not man’s ideas of these things.

I’m now up to chapter five, and have found some great quotes about the true biblical view of arrogance.  This one especially I can relate to, having experienced this very attitude from a close “professing Christian” family member:

In God’s eyes, there simply is no greater arrogance than rejecting Yahweh’s viewpoint in favor of my own. It is grimly fascinating that some Christians abhor the believer who dares to think that he or she knows something from the Word.  To such folks, claiming certainty on any given issue is the height of arrogance. They are certain that certainty is certainly bad.  By contrast, it is the height of arrogance to have a word from God and refuse to trust it by incorporating it into our way of thinking and living.

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The Most Controversial Issues For Christians

February 17, 2012 7 comments

What are the most controversial issues for Christians today?  In a recent online discussion, a few individuals took this to mean the social topics of the day, such as homosexuality and abortion.  Their point of reference is what’s talked about in the world – “follow the printed media, social media, pulpits , television, apologetics ministries , discernment ministries” – and thus, they reason, these are the issues that are controversial.  One such individual further argued the point with the dictionary definition of “controversial”: showing his understanding of the effect but not the cause of controversy.

But consider the “root cause” of the matter and the underlying issues.  Are cultural issues in the world really debatable points to Bible-believing Christians?  If we really believe God’s word, do we have a problem with understanding that homosexuality is wrong?  The same goes for abortion, or any other social issue that the world is uncertain about:  God’s word does not change, and the true Church of professing believers does not feel the need to debate these issues.  Yes, the “visible” church, which is becoming ever more apostate, including various liberal, organized denominational groups, may argue about those issues.  But that is the world and what we should expect from it.  Or to put it another way: if the people at your local church are divided in opinion about homosexuality, that is a church to flee.

When we look back through Christian history, even to the First Century, we recognize that they too lived in a pagan society where such evils were rampant.  Yet what did the early church fathers discuss, argue, and debate to extremes among themselves?  The nature of Christ (one nature or two natures, his physical body versus his Spirit) and the understanding of the Trinity.  After great persecution in the early fourth century, in which many Christians recanted their faith in order to avoid death, the controversy was whether or not to accept those people back into the fold: a debate so intense that it caused division, bringing forth the Donatists sect with their conservative line against those who recanted under persecution.

In the 19th century Spurgeon led the fight – the controversy among Christians – in the downgrade movement.  See this article, which provides the history of that: again showing what issues have been historically controversial for Christians.  In more recent centuries the controversial issues have included the sovereignty of God in election, the whole Arminian/Calvinist debate, liberalism and modernism.  These issues continue, and many Christians today have a difficult time understanding and accepting many things in God’s word:  God’s sovereignty in election, the extent of the atonement, or the fact that man is responsible even though he can’t do anything apart from regeneration and rebirth which comes only from God.

Now the church has declined to the point that postmodernism and biblical inerrancy have  become controversial.  As John MacArthur recently observed in an interview, the one thing he did not expect to face, when he began his ministry, was a controversy over biblical inerrancy within the church.  Dan Phillips, too, has observed the postmodern trend, what has become controversial for Christians today:  It is grimly fascinating that some Christians abhor the believer who dares to think that he or she knows something from the Word.  To such folks, claiming certainty on any given issue is the height of arrogance. They are certain that certainty is certainly bad.  (God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, by Dan Phillips, p. 132-133)

Behind all the controversies among Christians, though, lies the fundamental cause:  so many Christians do not know their Bible; they do not study it enough. That in turn comes from the sinful hardness and unbelief even among believers, such that often even when some believers do read God’s word they don’t believe that it means what it says.

The Physical Death of Christian Loved Ones

February 13, 2012 2 comments

An online friend’s son, a student at the Master’s College, recently and unexpectedly departed to be with the Lord.  Such situations are indeed uncommon, and we grieve the more for the loss when it’s a young adult.  While we rejoice that the loved one is with the Lord now – we do not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13) – it is also good to remember that even Abraham mourned the death of Sarah.  S. Lewis Johnson’s words on this passage are apt here for any who would disregard the idea of grieving for the loss:  The Bible does not, in any way, suggest that we should deny our feelings or that we should restrain our feelings.  It’s not bad to weep and cry as a Christian.  When the occasion calls for it, it’s perfectly normal and natural.  There are people who incline to think that if we believe that there is a resurrection that there is no place for weeping.  That’s not biblical.  That kind of pious stoicism that bids us to meet the most agitating experiences of life with rigid and tearless countenance is not biblical teaching.

Such events remind me also of the more in-depth thoughts and teaching of 19th century preachers such as J.C. Ryle and Spurgeon.  Thanks to modern medicine, we in the 21st century have very little first-hand experience with sickness and death; infant mortality is rare, as is death from common sicknesses such as the flu or other diseases.  Ryle and Spurgeon frequently mentioned sickness and death, a common human experience, and we can learn much from their appreciation of a topic that people today find easier to avoid.  Consider J.C. Ryle’s observations of what we can learn from sickness:  it reminds men of death and helps make men think seriously of God, their souls, and the world to come.

Some closing thoughts from J.C. Ryle, concerning the future great gathering of the saints:

The gathering together of true Christians will be a meeting at which none shall be absent. The weakest lamb shall not be left behind in the wilderness. We shall once more see our beloved friends and relatives who fell asleep in Christ, and left us in sorrow and tears — better, brighter, more beautiful, more pleasant than ever we found them on earth! We shall hold communion with all the saints of God who have fought the good fight before us, from the beginning of the world to the end.   . . .

The gathering of all true Christians shall be a meeting without a parting. There are no such meetings now. We seem to live in an endless hurry, and can hardly sit down and take breath — before we are off again. “Good-bye!” treads on the heels of “Hello!”

The cares of this world,
the necessary duties of life,
the demands of our families,
the work of our various stations and callings

— all these things appear to eat up our days, and to make it impossible to have long quiet times of communion with God’s people. But, blessed be God — it shall not always be so. The hour comes, and shall soon be here, when “good-bye” and “farewell” shall be words that are laid aside and buried forever! When we meet in a world where the former things have passed away, where there is . . .

no more sin,
no more sorrow,
no more poverty,
no more work of body or work of brains,
no more need of anxiety for families,
no more sickness,
no more pain,
no more old age,
no more death,
no more change —

when we meet in that endless state of being, calm, and restful, and unhurried — who can tell what the bliss and blessedness will be? I cannot wonder that Paul bids us look up and look forward.

S. Lewis Johnson and Charles Spurgeon: Trivia From the John Bunyan Conference

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

In listening to the S. Lewis Johnson John Bunyan Conference lectures, I’ve just realized that they were not all from the same conference, and not all on the topic of the atonement.  The full set of 18 messages is really a collection of messages he gave at the John Bunyan Conferences, starting in 1997 but extending as late as 2001.  The first 11 messages apparently were together, in 1997, with the overall topic of the extent of the atonement.  The 12th message may have been at the same conference; it was his last message at that particular conference, since he mentions having a plane to catch in a few hours, but here he brings a wonderful message from Hosea about God’s future for Israel. Later messages included various topics such as the human will, God’s covenants with mankind, and Openness theology.  In these later messages he references news headlines and books as late as April 2001, so these were indeed late in his life (he departed to be with the Lord in early 2004).

One particular item of interest:  in the twelfth message S. Lewis Johnson expressed uncertainty concerning whether C.H. Spurgeon was a premillennialist:

there’s no person who believes in sovereign grace that doesn’t respect Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  Now I’m not going to say that he was a premillenialist, some have said that, and there are some passages in his word that might suggest that he was a premillenialist, but I’m going to read you one on the passage that I want to say a few words about, which makes it very evident that he believed in a future for the nation Israel.

Considering that Dr. Johnson frequently quoted Spurgeon (329 times, according to a google site search), this statement surprised me.  Then again, S. Lewis Johnson lived before the Internet age (not by much, but still missed it), and his knowledge of Spurgeon was no doubt topical, the old reference style: look-up Spurgeon quotes from the available printed books in one’s personal library, as it relates to a particular passage.

From my own weekly Spurgeon reading — sequentially through all his sermons (starting with 1855, currently in volume 6, 1860) — the answer is obvious enough.  In one very early message he expressed what he had only recently come to believe regarding premillennialism. In occasional subsequent messages he would make passing reference to the future millennial age, such as in reference to the salvation of infants who die and the overall great number of those who will be saved.  Yet in online message boards and blogs, I’ve come across that same uncertainty from a few others who even tried to present Spurgeon as postmillennialist.  Over time, though, the truth is getting out, especially now with such easy online access to all of Spurgeon’s writings.

S. Lewis Johnson was certainly unaware of the paper on the subject, Dennis Swanson’s 1996 study “Charles H. Spurgeon and Eschatology:  Did He Have a Discernible Millennial Position?”

Even in the paper, Swanson pointed out, Spurgeon did not frequently speak of his eschatological views; yet his historic premillennialism comes through unmistakeably.  Swanson also observed: “Though in our own age this has been disputed, during his own lifetime his position was well known and attested to.”  Dr. Johnson was evidently among the many in our age who had heard the disputes and uncertainty — and without the Internet resources available.

List of Good Expository Book Sermon Series

February 1, 2012 1 comment

Almost two years ago I posted a list of Bible Books and Sermon Series.  Now it’s time to update the list with a few more names and sermon series.

Since the last post I have listened to all of S. Lewis Johnson’s Old Testament book series (except for his second series in 1984 on Zechariah), and a few more of his New Testament series. Along the way I’ve enjoyed a few other books and series as well, such as Dan Duncan’s church history, and Librivox’s audio recording of “Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Ahead, after finishing the John Bunyan Conference lectures, I hope to go through SLJ’s “Romans” series.

The updated list includes a few additional recent series from Believers Chapel, as well as teachings from two additional church sites:  Twin City Fellowship (pastors Bob DeWaay and Eric Douma), and Richard Mayhue’s sermon series available at his website.

Twin City Fellowship and Richard Mayhue’s material fill in some of the NT book gaps, such as coverage of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 Peter, books not taught by SLJ.  The Twin City Fellowship series are all fairly recent ones, and listed together on a page titled “Bible Studies.”  Richard Mayhue is more known for the several books he has published in recent years, and his work on the staff of The Masters Seminary since 1989.  His available online sermons come from earlier preaching years at Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach, California (1984 to 1989).  After listening to a sampling of these, including introductory messages for 1 Thessalonians, I think I prefer Bob DeWaay’s teaching: fewer overall messages than Mayhue’s, but more in-depth “Bible Study” with PowerPoint presentations to accompany the teachings and the overall study outlines.

Here is the updated list.