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Do Unbelievers Really Just Not Understand the Gospel?

February 27, 2013 24 comments

From my readings through a devotional book (Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, volume 2), comes this excerpt from the Feb. 21 reading:

Many of the lost fail to embrace the gospel because no one has presented it clearly to them.  That’s because many Christians communicate a muddled gospel that emphasizes lots of secondary issues, thanks in many respects to their leaders’ digressing from the genuine message. A sure way for Satan to weaken the gospel is simply to prevent its clear and accurate presentation.

The devotional’s point was for believers to stay focused on the gospel itself and not chase rabbit trails onto less important, secondary issues. Still, somehow in reading that, I considered the fact that, really (and generally speaking), lost people don’t have a problem of “not understanding” the gospel message.  I’ve been going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, in which he pointed this out, that people don’t have a problem with understanding the gospel.  Jesus perfectly communicated the saving message, and they understood His message so well that they crucified Him.
Sometimes I think, that people think that if the Lord Jesus were the preacher everyone would respond.  If the Apostle Paul were preaching in Believers Chapel there would be much better results.  Well, I’m willing to grant there would probably be some better results, but let me assure you it would not be because when a man gives a clear presentation of the gospel and gives it in a greater spirit of love, that there must therefore be a response.  Just think for a moment, who was preaching?  The Lord Jesus Christ.  Whoever gave the gospel message more clearly than he?  No one would debate that.  Whoever spoke out of a greater sense of divine love than the Lord Jesus?  What was his response?  Well he was crucified. … The facts are that men are unresponsive to the word of God.  They are unable to come.  They rebel against the Scriptures, for the mind of the flesh is enmity against God.  …  So when those who were listening to the Lord Jesus said, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” they were really representative of human nature.
Regarding the idea that believers do not always present the gospel message because they (believers) get side-tracked onto “secondary” issues, and therefore the unbeliever hears a “muddled gospel”: perhaps that does happen, just not within my experience.  Instead, in conversations with unbelievers what usually happens is that the unbeliever likes to throw up objections, and the unbeliever likes to get sidetracked, away from the gospel itself to other unrelated issues.  Here again I recall something that S. Lewis Johnson mentioned sometimes, both from his own experience as an adult unbeliever in conversations with the Christian people around him (including his wife and mother-in-law) as well as the similar advice he was given on this very issue soon after he was saved.  Here is one excerpt from SLJ, describing this:
This reminds me of something that the man who led me to the Lord said when I was just a brand new Christian.  I came to him and spoke to him about a friend of mine with whom I had spoken about the Lord Jesus, and whom I’d sought to bring to faith in Christ, and was totally unsuccessful.  And then he said, Lewis, you’ll notice this about dealing with the lost.  They frequently will come to you with six or eight intellectual reasons why they should not believe the gospel.  He said, you ask them to list them, and they do, and you answer the first objection, and the second objection, and so on down through the six or seven.  And he said, “Lewis, you will notice that when you finish answering the seventh, the last one, they won’t say, ‘well then I’ll become a believer’; as a general rule, they’ll go back to number one again.”

From SLJ’s own experience:

I can remember when I was like that.  Whenever spiritual things would come up, and I would get involved in the conversation, I had about half a dozen things that I thought were things that prevented me from responding to the gospel.  I was in the insurance business, and I prided myself on thinking fairly logically.  And so I had a series of reasons that I would lodge against the Christian faith as it was understood by my mother-in-law and by others.  I usually reduced her to tears.  I won the arguments, and lost the ultimate battle of course.  But anyway, this is what I would do.  I would start with reason number one, why is the Bible the word of God?  How can we know the Bible is the word of God?  And I would go one, two, three, four, five, six.  And if we were in a large group of people, everybody would pounce in and they would answer my question.  So I would move on to number two, number three, number four, number five, number six.  And when I finished number six I would go back to number one again, number one, two.  That’s the way we are.

Unbelievers don’t have a problem of not understanding the gospel.  Jesus perfectly explained it and they still rejected it.  The greater issue is not so much that Christians do not clearly present the gospel and instead present a “muddled gospel” due to being sidetracked into non-essentials, but that unbelievers themselves, by nature, do not want to hear the gospel and will use such “defensive” tactics to distract away from the presentation of the gospel message.

The Differences Between Historic and Futurist Premillennialism

February 22, 2013 3 comments

In an online group someone recently asked, what are the main differences between historic premillennialism and futurist premillennialism?

Of course variations exist even within the term “historic premillennialism,” but here I am defining historic premillennialism as that view of many post-Reformation premillennialists: a view sometimes referred to as “covenantal premillennialism,” the perspective of those teachers from the Calvinist Covenant Theology background, yet who appealed to literal hermeneutics especially regarding the future for Israel and a future literal 1000 year kingdom of God upon the earth.  Names representing this view include 18th century preacher John Gill, plus 19th century preachers Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle, and Charles Spurgeon.  It is also worth noting  that the early church fathers were also “historic premillennial,” the original form, though not Covenantal — since Covenant Theology itself is a relatively recent development, from the 17th century.  Following are several  areas of difference between historic premillennialism and futurist premillennialism.

1) The theological covenants of Covenant Theology, or the biblical covenants of scripture? Historic premillennialism follows the theological covenants set forth in Covenant Theology, and is silent concerning the biblical covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic and New covenants). This comes out, for instance, in Spurgeon sermons talking about the covenant of grace, God’s grace to all the elect, or about the covenant made within the Triune Godhead.  J.C. Ryle, too, though very strongly premillennial with future for Israel, also taught the full understanding of Covenant Theology regarding infant baptism.

Futurist premillennialists emphasize the importance of the biblical covenants, especially the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants, and all the promises in those covenants including the land promises.

2) The nature of the Church and Israel.  Historic premillennialism does not see a distinction between Israel and the Church, but one general category: the people of God, the church. Like futurist premillennialists, they do follow a generally literal hermeneutic in interpreting the OT prophecies as being about Israel, including Israel’s future regathering and their being returned to their land in connection with the Second Coming events and the future Millennial Kingdom — in great contrast to amillennial spiritualizing the Old Testament prophecies as being about the church age.  John MacArthur’s six-part series, “Why Every Calvinist is a Premillennialist,” addresses this aspect of historic premillennialism, the future for Israel. Barry Horner’s emphasis in Future Israel also fits in here. (Both MacArthur and Barry Horner, though, do teach the biblical covenants, point 1 above.) Historic premillennialist preachers will sometimes talk about “the Jewish church” or refer to examples from the Old Testament while talking about the church. As another example of literal interpretation but without the distinction between Israel and the Church, Spurgeon pictured Ezekiel’s temple as some type of church/worship structure that would exist during the Millennial Kingdom.

Futurist premillennialism sees a greater distinction between the Church and Israel, that the Church began in Acts 2.  Several other teachings flow out of this difference.  Ezekiel’s temple will be a structure specifically for the people of Israel.  The Day of the Lord/Great Tribulation/Jacob’s trouble is something specifically for Daniel’s people — Daniel’s 70th week.  The millennial kingdom includes Israel’s prominence: the people of Israel’s role in going out and being a blessing to the world, as pictured in the Old Testament prophecies about people from the Gentile nations coming to Jerusalem with their gifts and offerings.

3) Are the events of Revelation future, or past/present?  Historic premillennialism generally sees the events in Rev. 6-18 as unfolding throughout history in a general way — such as identifying “Babylon” as the Catholic Church and applying the texts symbolically to events happening during this the church age. Also note, the term “futurist” can apply to any millennial view, as described in this previous article.

Futurist premillennialism sees these events as future, taking place during the last seven years (Daniel’s 70th week) before Christ returns.

4) The purpose for the millennial kingdom: both historic and futurist premillenialism recognize one of the purposes for the millennial kingdom, as the final test of man.  With all conditions perfect, even Christ ruling on the earth, man still rebels at the end, showing man’s complete inability — and all the more glory to God.  Futurist premillennialism recognizes the above purpose for the millennial kingdom, but goes beyond it to add another purpose: the biblical covenant promises yet to be fulfilled to Israel.

Futurist Premillennialism recognizes the above purpose for the millennial kingdom, but goes beyond it to add another purpose: the biblical covenant promises yet to be fulfilled to Israel.  Reference FP’s distinction in point 2 above: Israel’s prominence in the future kingdom of God upon the earth.

5) Historic premillennialism has a post-trib rapture timing, and generally very little, if any, said about the rapture or the Great Tribulation events (reference point 2 above). Within Futurist Premillennialism, the pre-trib rapture is not the most important feature (and not an essential), but is part of the overall teaching and sequence of future events.

Priscilla: Women Teaching Outside the Church — S. Lewis Johnson Observations

February 20, 2013 2 comments

Sharing some great observations from S. Lewis Johnson, concerning a topic relevant today: the role of women in instructing others, including men, outside of the church.  Since our modern-day world includes many opportunities not only for face-to-face but also “virtual” online conversations (in online groups, blog comments, facebook posts, etc.), this issue still comes up from time to time.

So for future reference, here are S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning Priscilla’s role in Acts.

First, a character description from SLJ’s Acts series:

Most Bible students, however, believe that Priscilla is mentioned more frequently before Aquila, because of the fact that she evidently was a very well instructed woman in the doctrines of the word of God.  And, later on, in this very chapter, we shall see some evidence of it.

Concerning Priscilla’s role in teaching:

And so we read, “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”  Now, the woman did part of that exposition, too.  And incidentally if you will look at this in the Greek text, my Authorized Version here has the order Aquila and Priscilla, but the Greek text at this point in verse 26 reads that Priscilla and Aquila took him to themselves and taught him the way of the Lord more accurately.  So the implication from that, it’s only an implication, is that she took the lead.  And I’m willing to agree that when they got in the house she did more of the talking than Aquila [Laughter].  I will not debate that at all.  So I am willing to believe that she probably did take the lead.  And part of the effectiveness of this man Apollos was because Priscilla, who was instructed in the word of God, taught him more perfectly the things of the Lord.  The apostle says nothing about that in 1 Timothy chapter 2.  He talks about teaching in the church.  So ladies, the field is open outside the church.  Go ahead and pick on some of these fellows that don’t understand the doctrines of the sovereignty of God like they ought to, and instruct them in the great doctrines of the faith.  Do it, I need your help.  So do it.

The “Dispensations” or Eras in Human History: Old Testament Reading

February 15, 2013 6 comments

As a 21st century Calvinist Dispensationalist aka Futurist Premillennialist, I tend to emphasize the biblical covenants and de-emphasize the “seven dispensations” of classic dispensationalism.  Certainly within classic dispensationalism much (perhaps too much) has been made about the details of the seven dispensations.  The actual number of dispensations, or eras, really isn’t that important, and the lines and distinctions between some time periods are not always clear.  Yet in continual reading through the Old Testament, especially as I’m again in the book of Genesis in one of my genre reading lists, certain eras, or different time periods and ways God deals with man, do show up.

In the early chapters of Genesis, two significant judgments are given to all the population: Noah’s Flood, and then the Tower of Babel within a few generations afterward.  The details in these chapters include a progression in understanding and divine assistance to address a problem not mentioned in the previous era.  After all, during the antediluvian age Cain’s murder went unpunished – in fact, Cain was protected with a special mark.  The pre-flood era lasted approximately 1700 years and during that time we know that cities were established and even some technology developed, yet references to murder (Cain and his later descendant) are allowed without any restraint.  The biblical covenant with Noah addresses that very point, adding human government and capital punishment for murder (Genesis 9:5-6).

The tower of Babel incident, of course, showed the failure of human government: the people banded together (instead of obeying the command to spread abroad and subdue the earth) in an attempt to become more powerful in a concentrated group.  That was a great point brought out by John MacArthur in his Genesis series, that the scattering done by God in Genesis 11 was for mankind’s benefit and protection, to keep man from becoming so powerful as to become too oppressive, a restraint on the wicked to keep them from completely destroying the weak.

After the tower of Babel, of course, the rest of mankind is left alone, still with the basic post-flood understanding and human government, but scattered and literally forced to obey the “multiply and fill the earth” part of Genesis 9.  The “dispensation of promise” is therefore less obvious, dealing only with Abraham and his descendants for the next few generations.  Yet the later chapters in Genesis do show a moral decline from the time when the promises are given to Abraham, to the time of Jacob and his family, especially noted in the family favoritism and the dysfunctional family in which Joseph’s brothers sell Joseph into slavery – and we see the wonderful later result of full forgiveness and restoration of the family.  Still, one of the laws (among the many) I’ve noticed in reading through the Mosaic law, is the one that specifically addressed the problems in Jacob’s family: the prohibition against marrying two women who are sisters while both are still alive.

The age of law, the Mosaic covenant, similarly only dealt with a subset of the total population, though again on a much larger scale than the “age of promise,” a nation of several million people.  That age too ended like the earliest judgments of the flood and the Tower of Babel  (against a larger group of people), a prominent judgment: first the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., and then – though the age of law was resumed again for a few hundred years, though in a deficient form under Gentile authority – again and finally in A.D. 70.

As it has been said, the “dispensations” show the human side of history, whereas the biblical covenants show the Divine perspective.  Put together, though, it does help to keep in mind the particular events that did occur in human history through the Old Testament: how man responded in each time and situation, appreciating all the more the Divine help and progressive revelation given down through history and to our age.

God’s Providence Through History And The “What Ifs”

February 11, 2013 5 comments

I’ve always enjoyed time-travel and “what if” stories, especially since the topic so relates to God’s Providence and Sovereignty over history.  For obvious reasons actual time travel is something God has decreed not possible, but it is fun to speculate about such things.  Turning to scripture, though, we have assurance of God’s full control, not only over what is, but even over the alternate possibilities.  I think of the classic examples often cited, as in this Pyro blog discussion with Dan Phillips a few years ago: 1 Samuel 23:11-12 and Matthew 11:21-23.  God knew what the people of Keilah would do in a given situation, and God also knew that the people of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom would have repented if they had seen the mighty miracles in Jesus’ day.

Actual history also reveals the amazing detailed planning all being done in the background by God.  The book of Esther is one very obvious example here.  Another one from Old Testament history:  in 1 Kings 11:14-21 we learn of an adversary raised up for Solomon, as divine judgment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness.  Yet the story with that particular individual began decades earlier, when David was on the throne, in actions taken by David and his army  years before Solomon’s disobedience became apparent.

Considering post-biblical history, a recent Acts & Facts issue looks at Christmas, Vikings, and the Providence of God, noting some rather interesting historical “coincidences” regarding the 11th century ancestors of later great men who influenced history.  While it is true that God would still have accomplished his purposes without those particular men (such as George Washington), raising up others instead, yet the article brings out some interesting details concerning events hundreds of years earlier, all part of how God directed history through certain individuals both in the 11th century and in their descendants many hundreds of years later.

We can all think of many such amazing incidents of God’s providence in history.  What are some other interesting events, either in the Bible or post-biblical history, to share?

Salvation: Going Beyond Charleston (Illustration From S. Lewis Johnson)

February 5, 2013 7 comments

S. Lewis Johnson’s Gospel of John series, in John 16, is chock full of great exhortations to study the word of God and the importance of God’s word and its depth.  One great illustration to share:

Let’s just imagine a person in England who about fifty years ago has heard about this great city in the United States of America, and since he’s had some relatives have come over here, he’s wanted to come.  So he gets on a boat and he leaves England and he comes to Charleston, South Carolina.  He finds the country magnificent.  Well, it so happens that he’s come through storms on the sea and when he arrives in Charleston, he praises the captain for his skill in bringing the boat through the storms.  He praises the boat because the boat has been able to withstand the storms.  He thanks them for the fellowship that they’ve had, and he arrives in this country.  And then he does not investigate the United States of America at all, but stays in Charleston and about two or three months later goes home.

Well it’s nice of course to have come.  It’s nice to have seen Charleston.  But he has failed to see the United States of America, with all of the magnificent beauties and glories of this country.  I’d like to suggest to you that that’s a picture of many believers.  They have come to faith in Jesus Christ.  They praise the Lord for the salvation that has come to them.  They thank him for the way in which he has brought them through the storms of life to safe harbor.  They enjoy the fellowship on the way, but so far as really coming to know the vast land of the salvation that we have in Christ, they’ve staying in Charleston.  Isn’t that sad?

Many Christians I know are like that.  They thank the Lord for the fact that Christ saved them.  They praise Him for the blood of the cross.  They rejoice that they are saved, that they are going to heaven.  But so far as the vastness of the salvation of God and the truth of God, they have little comprehension of it and little appreciate it.  May God help us to realize that it’s not enough to be saved. Salvation is an entrance into the beginning of the knowledge of God.  That’s the reason we are saved, that we might know him.

Highlights From Recent Online Articles: Creation Science

February 2, 2013 4 comments

Just a quick look here at an interesting recent online article:

From ICR.org’s January edition of “Acts & Facts”:  a clear and simple article (and written by a Ph.D. scientist), “The Two-Book Fallacy”.  A few months ago I heard the term “two books” (several times) from an Old Earth Creationist, one who often appealed to scientist authority (see this conversation).  ICR’s article points out what should be obvious, the difference between a book and the world around us:

It is not something that is comprised of statements in human language. It is not something that a person can literally read or interpret in the same way that we interpret a sentence. … The advantage of a book is that it is comprised of clear statements in human language that are designed to be understood by the reader. The meaning of a book is the intention of the author. But that’s not the case with nature. What does a rock mean? What does a fossil mean? They don’t literally mean anything because they are not statements made by an author who is intending to convey an idea. …. a record is an account in writing that preserves the knowledge of facts or events. Rocks and fossils are not in the written form and are, therefore, not a record. … the primary purpose of nature is not to teach, but to function. Consequently, the world is not comprised of statements that are easy to understand. Moreover, nature is cursed due to sin. Therefore, God gave us a clear, inerrant account of the major events of history in writing so that we can begin to properly understand nature.