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Doctrine and the Spirit

May 10, 2012 2 comments

This week has seen some excellent blog articles on the ever-important topic of doctrine and the Holy Spirit:

Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs:  “What is Written”

The Cripplegate:  Driscoll vs. Calvin, Doctrine vs. the Spirit

Then, from listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Romans series (in Romans 10) recently, the following great words:

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  …  Mr. Moody said, “I prayed for faith and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning.  But faith did not seem to come.  One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘Now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’  I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith.  I now opened my Bible and began to study the word of God, and faith has been growing ever since.”

If you want to know how to have faith, begin and grow, it’s through Scripture.  The reason the apostles had faith was because they had contact with Jesus Christ.  The only way in which you can have contact with Jesus Christ is through the Scripture.  By the Scriptures you may be with our Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be with Him when He preaches the word.  You may be with in that boat on the Sea of Galilee when the storm comes.  You may be with Him in the synagogue when He casts out the money changers.  You may be with Him as he makes his way toward Calvary.  You may even be with Him around the cross of Calvary, and Hear him cry out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  You may be with Him in his resurrection.  You may hear the lessons that He taught the apostles.  You may really be there by the Holy Spirit.  You see, faith comes through contact with Jesus Christ in the word of God.  That’s the only place that you can find faith, but we go looking for every other place than that place.

Spurgeon and Textual Preaching

December 28, 2011 1 comment

I’ve recently learned (the terms at least) of the three styles of preaching:  expository, topical, and textual.  Expository is generally preferred for the “verse-by-verse” teaching through Bible books, exemplified by many preachers such as John MacArthur, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, and S. Lewis Johnson.  Topical preaching at its best, done by good preachers who generally do expository teaching, selects a topic and preaches from various passages that relate to the topic.  S. Lewis Johnson did several topical series including one about the leading figures at Golgotha, or the topic “Death and Afterwards.” 

Topical preaching is also common fare at a lot of evangelical-lite churches:  pick a topic such as “marriage and relationships” or “parenting” or some other perceived need of the congregation, and pick various passages to preach from that relate to that topic.  As noted, though, it can be done effectively, though certainly it should not be the primary preaching style, since such a method by its very design would skip some parts of the Bible in favor of other “more relevant” parts.

A third preaching style is called “textual preaching,” exemplified by Charles Spurgeon as well as W.A. Criswell:  preaching on a very short text of just one verse, or even part of a verse.  Having read Spurgeon sermons regularly for almost three years now, I was familiar with the style, though I didn’t know the term for it. Phil Johnson had noted that Spurgeon was NOT an expository preacher, commenting on a few cases where Spurgeon took a phrase of a verse and veered off elsewhere with it, to come up with ideas completely unrelated to the text itself.  I’ve observed that as well in my Spurgeon readings:  Spurgeon’s sermon on a given verse does not necessarily relate to the actual event or context of that verse, the manner in which it would be taught by an expository preacher.

S. Lewis Johnson, in his “Messianic Prophecies in Isaiah” series, mentioned textual preaching when he came to Isaiah 55, a passage great for textual preaching:

In fact, if I were a textual preacher — and there is nothing wrong with being a textual preacher if you are preaching the text of the word of God; I don’t think it’s the best way to do it, but it is at least preaching the word of God —  this would be one of my most used chapters.

Johnson went on to note that Spurgeon’s “Treasury of the Old Testament” (a collection of sermons) included six sermons from Isaiah 55.  Looking at the full Internet Spurgeon collection at Spurgeongems.org, I counted 16 sermons from Spurgeon on Isaiah 55.

This article from GotQuestions.org highlights the differences the three preaching styles.  I agree with its observation that “While exposition is not the only valid mode of preaching, it is the best for teaching the plain sense of the Bible.” Also, “in a textual sermon, the preacher uses a particular text to make a point without examining the original intent of that text. For example, someone could use Isaiah 66:7-13 to preach on motherhood, although motherhood is only peripheral in that text, being merely an illustration of the true theme, which is the restoration of Israel during the Millennial Kingdom.”

The differences in these preaching styles also relates to the differences in peoples’ approach to Bible reading.  Consider the following words reportedly from Spurgeon (though not contained in any of his sermons):  “Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than I would, as it were, rinse my hand in several chapters.”

Such an idea is indeed antithetical to the whole idea of expository preaching: to understand the plain sense of the Bible, by reading it all rather than just picking a few verses here and there “without examining the original intent of the text.”  Certainly, though, in our Bible reading we should strive to pay attention to what we read instead of just looking at the end goal of getting through so many pages or so many chapters.  I’ve noticed that very thing in my own Bible reading, that I can be reading the words on the page while thinking about something completely different, thinking about some recent incident or conversation with my online FB friends, for instance.  S. Lewis Johnson, in 1993 (during his Hebrews series) made it a point to read through the Bible during the year (sequentially from beginning to end), and accomplished his goal of three times through by mid-November.  At the end of that he too noted the wandering tendency, that he would often have to stop and go back and re-read, making extra effort to pay close attention to it.

The “Miscellaneous” Sermons: One-time, Non-Series messages

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It still amazes and delights me to see, over and over, that a good expository preacher always delivers a good message, at a consistent high level.  I noted this some time ago, in reference to Phil Johnson’s sermon on Psalm 2 — a message he delivered when he was “busy” and only had a half-day to prepare a message, so turned to a Psalm, something easier to prepare — and then delivered a great verse-by-verse expository message.

Recently I completed S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David” series, and before starting the next longer series (Isaiah) I am taking a break to listen to some of his “miscellaneous” messages, one-time sermons he gave — in this case a sampling from the Old Testament, including Psalm 40, Isaiah 9, Psalm 84, Psalm 100, and Genesis 49.  Since these are one-time, separate messages from various times in his ministry, I really didn’t expect as much as I do when coming to a full in-depth series.  But I was pleasantly surprised after listening to the Psalm 40 message, and again I am impressed with his depth of teaching — a lighter content than, say, the Divine Purpose series, but a good message nonetheless.  The weak preacher (who casually remarks that he hadn’t even heard the term “hermeneutics” until he was 50 — and considering the consistent lack of depth, I believe it) can never attain to the level even of a good preacher’s one-time, non-series message through one of the Psalms.  It does relate to each person’s talents and fruit; one who lacks a basic foundation for teaching and preaching, will consistently remain at that level; and the preacher who is solidly grounded in his biblical understanding will always deliver a good sermon with the “meat” that growing believers thrive on.

SLJ probably delivered the Psalm 40 message in the early to mid-1980s.  He sounds younger than in the “Lessons from the Life of David” series (by which time he was 75 years old, in 1991), and he mentions a particular preacher, Vance Havner, as one who is still alive and preaching though now in his 80s.  (An Internet reference noted that Havner was born in 1901 and died in 1986.)

Among the main points of this message:  Psalm 40 is a Messianic psalm, and we look at David as a type of Christ — though not a perfect type, as the type can never be completely like the real thing.  C.S. Lewis thought that the reference in verse 12 to “mine iniquities have taken hold upon me” meant that these were sins imputed to the Lord Jesus on the cross.  Yet, S. Lewis Johnson points out,

never does any writer of the New Testament, never does any gospel writer, never does any apostle, never does our Lord himself, sanction the application of any passage of the Old Testament to him, to Christ, in which that writer confesses and deplores his own sinfulness.  So this would be absolutely unique.  It would be a situation in which the Old Testament writer speaks of the sinfulness of himself and that passage would be referred to the Lord Jesus, and it would be the only illustration of that….

David is a typical figure; he is the king of Israel.  And in this he represents the Lord Jesus who is the king, not only of Israel but also of all who shall reign with him in the kingdom that is to come.  Being a typical figure, he does not illustrate our Lord perfectly.  No type ever perfectly represents the anti-type.  So David illustrates him in his life, in his office as king, in his life, and in his words but he does not illustrate our Lord in his whole life, nor in all his words.

This Psalm does not state the specific event associated with David’s deliverance, and that too provides us benefit, that we can apply the lesson in a general way.  David may have been delivered from a fight with a bear, but that deliverance really doesn’t relate to us in our 21st century city life.  The psalm talks about the “new song” that the Lord has given us, and so Johnson exhorts us to look beyond past deliverances — to look past the initial salvation experience and seek fresh experience in the Lord’s blessings to us.  As SLJ put it:  But after you’ve been a Christian for a little while you ought to have some new songs of deliverance, some new experiences of the grace of God, the result of fresh experiences with Him.

Postmodernism versus Certainty

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Phil Johnson’s latest post over at PyroManiacs, “Settled Certainty,” deals with the post-modern idea that all certainty is arrogance. In response, he points to 2 Timothy 1:12 and Paul’s emphatic certainty of knowing what he believed:
“I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
Phil Johnson further notes:

Certitude. It probably wasn’t popular in Paul’s time, either. But frankly it’s never been more out of vogue than it is today. The fashionable thing today is to question everything. The visible church is overrun with bad preachers and weak-willed people who are convinced that the very epitome of humility is never to state anything with too much conviction.

Everything nowadays is supposed to be carefully qualified with lots of ambiguous expressions and weasel-words like “perhaps,” or “possibly,” or “It seems to me . . . ” or “maybe.” Everything (including the gospel itself) gets prefaced with, “I could be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge this seems reasonable—although I know other people see it differently, so I don’t want to be dogmatic.”

Doubt has been canonized as a virtue and renamed “epistemological humility”—as if doubting what God says could be excused by labeling it “humility.”

I have not personally dealt with postmodern thought in its extreme (doubting one’s own salvation), yet I do see the general attitude, even in a close Christian friend, that to be sure of what I believe is somehow arrogant, accompanied with the reproach “you just think you know everything.” Coming from a close family member, it hurts all the more; yet such words came forth, for instance, when I tried to explain the importance of holding to the Bible’s clear meaning of Genesis 1. Though he does accept biblical creation, he somehow thought it arrogant to state such a belief emphatically. My reply that it is God’s word, the Bible, and not my ideas, only brought more of the same: “that’s just your interpretation, and you think you know it all, and you’re right and everyone else is wrong.” Another conversation, related to what the Bible has to say regarding future things, brought out his distinctly post-modern attitude: the Bible isn’t clear on it, all the views have their problems, we can’t know it for sure, and people much more learned than you have studied this much more and they see all the difficulties and uncertainties; who do you think you are? I have since learned that such a view has its own term, deconstructionism — a form of post-modernism, though focused especially on the prophetic texts of Scripture.

Such a mindset indeed seems baffling, and yet as I often remind myself from reading my Bible (and articles from Phil Johnson and John MacArthur) it is unscriptural.  Today’s post-modernists in the emergent church take the idea of uncertainty to extreme, but even the moderate, selective approach as in my example above undermines God’s character by suggesting that God deliberately obscures the truth, that He doesn’t really want us to know or to study His word.  As John MacArthur pointed out in his Revelation series, the book of Revelation states its purpose, that it was written to REVEAL Him to us, and the stated purpose is so that we will know and understand.  God wants us to understand Him and to study His word–not to think that He is unclear, an unkind God who deliberately keeps His word veiled from us, His children.

Jack Kelley well observes the problems in today’s Church (in “The Church Against the Rapture“):

So the liberals are amillennial and couldn’t tell a rapture from a rupture. Pentecostal, charismatic, and emerging congregations are often dominionists, although for different reasons. Catholics and some conservative protestants are post-trib. Almost all have been tainted by replacement theology, and hardly any study prophecy. That leaves the evangelicals and even among us there’s growing disagreement.

It’s popular to just smile and say of the protestant church, “On the essentials of salvation we all agree, but in the non-essentials there’s room for lots of different opinions.” Baloney. The Bible is not a document written to provide a debating society with lots of different positions. It’s the Word of God and it’s not subject to man’s opinion. Though we may not like it all, we don’t have the right to re-interpret it to suit our desires.

Psalm 2, Eschatology, and Expository Preaching

January 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The local pastor has often said that he learned a lot of his theology by encountering bad theology, through the process of learning how to refute it. He observed this in reference to someone in the Church of Christ, and proper understanding of salvation. In my own spiritual journey, I find how true this is — though in my case, with the local pastor’s own bad/weak theology. As I consider the words of scripture, and compare the local pastor to the teaching of more-learned pastors, I too can come to a better understanding of God’s word and recognize truth and error.

The most recent incident involves Psalm 2, a fairly short Psalm packed with lots of detail, the first of several Messianic psalms. After hearing some of the local pastor’s session through this Psalm at a recent Wednesday evening service, I listened to Phil Johnson’s sermon on this very Psalm, “The Rage of the Heathen Against a Sovereign God,” for good contrast. Interestingly enough, Phil began this sermon by commenting that he only had a half-day that Saturday to prepare a sermon, and thus he broke from his regular study series to do a shorter passage, and these are the times he often preaches from the Psalms. Then he delivered an excellent, expository verse-by-verse sermon, with great insights. Johnson notes the division of the Psalm into four sections: the words of the nation, followed by verses spoken by God in each of the three persons, a trinitarian Psalm in a sense. In this Psalm Johnson describes the doctrine of the eternal sonship of Christ, and properly addresses God’s sense of humor as a scornful derision, one that is not just humor for its own sake but that shows God’s sovereignty and scorn / pity towards the lost. He presents the fulfillment of the verses which apply to Christ’s crucifixion, and relates the present-day reality of lost man raging against God, something he experiences regularly with his blog and the hateful, blasphemous emails he receives from the “Internet infidels.” God’s sovereignty over mankind, as well as God’s mercy, that the very ones who rage against Him and hate Him, will be brought in to become His people, also come out in this sermon.

Contrast this with the typical pattern of the local pastor (and no doubt this applies to many local church pastors as well; so few pastors can really preach and teach at the level of Phil Johnson, John MacArthur, and others I’ve come to appreciate from the Master’s Seminary), a rambling that quickly goes off course, even way into left field in the pastor’s continual push for his preterist / amill eschatology — a preaching style that tends to gloss over the details of what a given text is saying, to casually say that it means one thing, when a careful exegesis of the text itself and in light of all other biblical texts, shows that that is NOT what the text is saying. This preaching, now that I can spot all the flaws, is in a way humorous (except that it can mislead others, alas) and certainly provides extra topic material, for blog entries as well as for further study of the real texts. Here, for instance, I learned that the pastor thinks the harlot woman in Revelation 17 is Israel; he stated his certainty on that point, though without giving further details or exegesis to prove that assertion. Considering that he also believes that Daniel’s 70th week was completed in the 1st century, and holds to the NCT (New Covenant Theology) construct that the church is the real Israel, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — though again, this is a big leap from supposedly teaching about Psalm 2. This view completely misses the point of the events in Revelation — the Great Tribulation, the time of “Jacob’s trouble” also spoken of in Old Testament passages. He noted his uncertainty about Revelation 17 being a future event (using the word “if”), and maintains Israel in a permanently apostate condition, completely missing the fact of what Revelation is about, how God is going to bring great trouble on national Israel and save a large number of them. He mentioned the creature with ten horns and seven heads, but without any reference to the parallel passages in Daniel, which also help set the context of the scenes in Revelation. More could be said here, but this gives the general idea — and again reminds me why I often tune him out and read good Bible teaching instead.

Yet I can be thankful even for the bad teaching, in that it prompts me to look into a matter for myself — to find better material available online, such as the great expository, verse-by-verse preaching of the truly biblical preachers.