Book Review: Strange Fire

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Strange Fire:  The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, John MacArthur.  Nashville:  Nelson Books, 2013.  Hardcover, 352 pages, $22.99 USD.

Although this is a great read, I hummed and hawed about writing a review.  After all, I reasoned, I don’t know too many people who would be susceptible to the types of errors exposed in this book.  I thought that most of the people I know, inside my church and elsewhere, are discerning enough to realize that the teachings exposed in this book are gospel-denying and soul-threatening.  But some friends demurred.  Some friends insisted that I write this review because they know people who are being lured by these sorts of teachings.  Moreover, it could very well be that I’m over-estimating the level of discernment around me.

What sorts of false teachings are being addressed in this book?  The basic thrust of Strange Fire is to address the error known as continuationism.  Reformed believers are cessationists – this means that we believe that the apostolic gifts (including speaking in tongues) ceased at the end or shortly after the end of the apostolic era.  Continuationism, on the other hand, maintains that these gifts continue.  We should expect to see miracles, including healings and speaking in tongues in our present day.  This is the view held by Pentecostals and charismatics – as well as by a few others.  A false teaching that often goes hand in hand with this is the so-called Prosperity Gospel.  This is the teaching that the good news is that Jesus wants to bless you with health and wealth.  Popular proponents of these false teachings include Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Joyce Meyer. This book deftly exposes these teachings as false and does so with the Word of God.

John MacArthur is a well-known preacher and writer.  He has been the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California since 1969.  This is not his first book on the topic.  Back in the early 1990s, he wrote Charismatic Chaos.  Unfortunately, since then, the popularity of these teachings has grown significantly.  In the early 1990s, these views were widely considered to be on the fringe of American Christianity.  This was not only because of the positions taken on spiritual gifts, but also because of other doctrinal issues, especially unorthodox views of the Trinity.  In the early 1990s, you could not typically find books by men like Creflo Dollar or T. D. Jakes in your average vanilla Christian bookstore.  Today, they’re everywhere and nobody seems to care.  That does make Strange Fire an even more important book for our day.

The basic argument of the book is simple:  continuationism is an assault on the sufficiency of the Word of God.  MacArthur doesn’t just say it, he shows it.  He gives numerous examples of how continuationists are turning people away from the Scriptures as the only authoritative source of divine revelation.  He explains how the Bible itself speaks of its own sufficiency.  Not only should we not expect charismatic gifts, we do not need them, because the Holy Spirit has given us something far better:  the written Word of God.

As he prosecutes his case, MacArthur helpfully deals with a number of side issues.  What about using spiritual gifts just for your own spiritual edification?  He tackles that in chapter 4.  What about the popular book by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling?  She says that she received these devotional messages straight from Jesus.  She wanted more than the Bible and “Jesus” gave it to her.  MacArthur deals with Young in chapter 6.  And then what about some of the “New Calvinists” who hold to continuationist views?  There are men like Mark Driscoll, D. A. Carson, and John Piper who fall into that category.  MacArthur respectfully addresses them in chapter 12, “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends.”

I appreciated this book especially because of the author’s commitment to a high view of Scripture.  I applaud his boldness in applying Scripture to this contentious issue and also, most importantly, showing us how the gospel is at stake with this.  He has been attacked and maligned for his stand, but from a Reformed point of view, we can do nothing but encourage him to continue standing fast on this issue.  Yes, MacArthur has his own theological blind-spots.  I wish he were Reformed in his views of baptism and eschatology, for instance.  However, I didn’t detect any of those blind-spots in this book.  So, until some more consistent and confessionally Reformed author comes with something better, this is the book that I will be recommending to everyone on this issue.


Even the Arians Prayed to Christ

I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge of early church history with the help of Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.  In chapter 4, he tackles the Arian controversy.  As is well-known, the Arians denied the divinity of Christ.  They maintained that he was merely a creature and therefore subordinate to the Father.  Interestingly, the Arians failed to carry through with the logical consequences of their view.  Together with the orthodox in the church, they continued to pray to Christ.  Says Pelikan, “The Arians found prayer to the Logos an unavoidable element of Christian worship” (Pelikan, 199).  The Arians continued to worship Christ, even praying to him, all the while arguing that he was less than God.  There was an inconsistency between their dogmatic principle and liturgical practice.  However, Pelikan also notes that some of the Arians may have revised the Gloria Patri in an effort to be more consistent.  The orthodox form of the Gloria Patria, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”  The Arian revision read, “Glory be to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit…”


Book Review: Is God anti-gay?

Is God anti-gay?

Is God anti-gay?  And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction.  Sam Allberry, Epsom, UK:  the Good Book Company, 2013.  Paperback, 93 pages, $8.98.

What if I were to tell you that I struggle with same-sex attraction?  Would you write-me off or treat me differently?  As it turns out, my battles with sin are in other areas; however, there are those among us who do wrestle with homosexual desires.  The author of this book, Sam Allberry, is candid about his own such struggles.  His honesty is part of what makes this book one of the best on the topic.  Momentarily, I’ll tell you what else makes this little book the best.

But let me first tell a little more about the author.  Sam Allberry is an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, England.  Within the Anglican church, there are still conservative, Bible-believing, Calvinistic remnants, and Allberry is one of them.  I recently attended the Together for the Gospel pastors’ conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  Allberry was one of the panellists for a discussion on homosexuality.  He impressed me not only with his pastoral wisdom and compassion, but also his desire to be faithful to Scripture.

That leads me in to the other part of what makes this book so excellent.  You might think that a book on homosexuality by someone who struggles with same-sex attraction would fudge at points or rationalize certain behaviours.  Allberry does nothing of the sort.  He has the highest view of Scripture.  He regards it as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.  Following from that, he is absolutely clear on what Scripture teaches about homosexuality.  At the same time, he treats the subject through the lens of gospel hope in Jesus Christ.  This is helpful reading to stir up compassion in those of us who don’t deal with same-sex desires.  Most importantly, it also functions as encouragement for those who do deal with those desires.

I’m not going to give a full report of how Allberry works things out in this book.  I will, however, share some of the questions that he asks and answers:

  • Is God anti-gay?
  • Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?
  • But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?
  • Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?
  • Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?
  • What should I do if a Christian comes out to me?

I can assure you that all these questions are answered in a biblically faithful manner.  Along the way, more questions are answered too – for instance, can same-sex desires disappear?  It’s not a long book, only 93 pages, but a whole lot of value is packed into it.

Let me end this review with a brief quote from chapter 3:

Struggling with homosexual desires is just that – a struggle.  But many Christians I know can testify to how God has brought good things out of their experiences.  Some have said that the Lord has made them more compassionate and sensitive than they might otherwise have been.  Others speak of ministry opportunities it has given them, and of how they have been able to support and encourage others they know who are trying to deal with same-sex attraction.  Some have had opportunities to share their faith with parts of the gay community that would be unreachable by conventional church witness.  But perhaps above all they can say how these struggles, with all the disorder and insecurity that can come with them, have led to a deeper appreciation of how unfathomably good God is.  (58-59)

Highly recommended for pastors, elders, and everyone!


Isaiah Reveals A Message No One Will Believe — A Good Friday Sermon on Isaiah 53:1-3

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

A picture of Jesus recently appeared on a pizza in Brisbane, Australia.  So they say.  The owners of the pizza joint allege that the pizza came out of the oven with this miraculous picture of Jesus embedded in the cheese and meat.  That raises the question:  how did they know it was Jesus?  Well, of course, everyone knows what Jesus looks like!  Really? The reality is that no one knows what Jesus looks like.  The New Testament doesn’t give a physical description of his appearance.  Nobody drew a picture of Jesus when he lived on this earth that has survived to the present day.  The reality is that every picture of Jesus is a figment of man’s imagination.  Every picture of Jesus is inaccurate and mistaken. In fact, we could say that no picture of Jesus is a picture of Jesus.  The only human beings who might really know what he looks like are those who are with him in heaven at this very moment.

Strangely, all the pictures that pretend to portray Jesus portray him as a handsome bearded figure.  Someone who looks warm and inviting, sometimes almost feminine.  He looks like he might have been in a Swedish pop band from the 1970s.

But when you read Scripture, especially when you read Isaiah, we find that these images are patently false representations of our Lord.  Even apart from the issue of whether such images violate the second commandment, there is the question of whether God’s Word is taken seriously where it does speak of his appearance.  On this Good Friday, we’re looking at this passage from Isaiah and it does speak about how the Saviour appeared.  It’s not what you might expect about the Messiah.  Many of Israel’s Kings had been handsome, striking figures.  Saul was tall and good-looking.  David was an attractive red-head.  But Isaiah turns this all upside down.  When the true King, the Messiah, comes and suffers, it’s going to be ugly.

On this Good Friday morning, we’re going to see that Isaiah reveals a message no one will believe.  We’ll see that this message involves a servant who is:

  1.       Weak
  2.       Unattractive
  3.       Despised and rejected
  4.       Familiar with brokenness and suffering

Our text appears in a section of Isaiah known as the Servant Songs.  The prophet is describing a figure known as the Servant of Yahweh, the Servant of the LORD.  Isaiah was writing in the context of glaring unfaithfulness on the part of God’s people.  Exile was in the picture – God’s chastisement for sin.  God was going to discipline his people for their rebellion against him.  There are dark passages of judgment scattered throughout Isaiah’s 66 chapters.  Yet there are also moments where Isaiah brings hope.  He speaks of redemption from sin.  That’s what this Servant of Yahweh is all about.  He is coming to bring salvation.

When Isaiah speaks of this servant in the first verses of chapter 53, he uses the past tense.  He does this elsewhere too.  It’s almost as if he’s describing someone he has already seen.  At first glance, that seems to fly in the face of reading this as a description of someone coming in the future.  But there is this phenomenon in the Old Testament prophets where the past tense is used to describe something or someone that is vividly seen.  From Isaiah’s perspective, this revelation is so real to him that he uses the past tense.  He has seen what will happen.  So it is something in the past from Isaiah’s point of view, but from the point of view of his first readers, it lay in the future.  And from our perspective what Isaiah describes is something past.

So, what did Isaiah see?  First of all, God revealed to him that this servant would grow up before God “like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground.” This servant comes into the world as someone who will grow up.  In other words, he does not appear as a fully grown adult, but as a child.  He grows up before Yahweh.  That means that his life was self-consciously lived before God’s face.

As a tender shoot he grew up.  What is a tender shoot?  This comes out of the world of trees and plants.  A tender shoot is weak and vulnerable.  It hasn’t developed a thick bark to protect it.  This is reinforced when the servant is said to also grow up like a root out of dry ground.  The dry ground is a hostile environment for a plant.  For a plant to flourish and do well, it needs rich, moist top-soil.  It needs a hospitable environment.  This servant would grow up in an environment where things were tough.

As you know, these words were fulfilled in the life and ministry of our Saviour.  These words speak of his infancy and his youth.  On Good Friday we focus on the cross, but his humiliation and suffering began way before that.  He began to take on our shame at the moment of his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  His downward path continued when he was born in Bethlehem.  A tender shoot weak and vulnerable lay in the manger.  His life could have been easily snuffed out by Herod or anyone else who wanted him dead.  He came as a weak creature into a hostile environment, a world far removed from the Garden of Eden.  The dry ground characterizes a broken and sinful world.  He appeared here as one of us.  The root would struggle to survive and grow in this context.

See already at this point, Isaiah is illustrating what he says in the first verse.  In the first verse, he says, “Who has believed our message?”  What he means is, “Who can believe this?”  Or as John Calvin put it, the prophet is making an exclamation:  “Nobody will believe these things!”  Why?  Because these are outrageous things to say about the Messiah. Isaiah strengthens the point by adding, “To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”  That means, “Who gets it that this is the way God is going to reveal his strength to save?”  This is so completely upside down that no one can believe it.  God is strong, he has a mighty arm to save.  How can a tender shoot or a root out of dry ground be connected with his mighty plans for redemption?  This is counter-intuitive.  It goes against all common sense.

The unbelievable nature of what the prophet reveals becomes more apparent with the next part of verse 2.  Not only is the Servant weak, there’s also nothing attractive to him.  He has no physical beauty, no majesty.  No one will look at this servant and conclude, “Well, there’s a royal figure.  I can definitely see him on the throne!”  He had “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”  Rather than being a David or a Saul, the Servant of Yahweh would have nothing in his appearance that would draw people to him.

Quite the opposite really.  At the end of chapter 52, Isaiah also spoke about the appearance of the Servant.  People would be appalled at him because he was disfigured and “his form marred beyond any human likeness.”  He would get to the point where he would be downright ugly.  You know how young children sometimes ask embarrassing questions, questions like: “Mommy, why is that man so ugly?”  Well, the Servant would be that man.  People would turn their heads from him to avoid looking at him.

We read from Matthew 27 and there we see these words fulfilled in the sufferings of our Saviour on Good Friday.  As far as physical appearance goes, he was nothing special to begin with.  But after the Romans were done scourging him, he would have been gruesome to look at.  He’d had the crown of thorns pressed into his head.  He’d been beaten, hit in the face repeatedly till he was bruised and bleeding.  He would have had his beard pulled out.  If there was any way to humiliate Jesus, the Roman soldiers would have done it. They had no qualms about abusing him in the most horrific ways imaginable.  That abuse would have left him a bloody pulp, scarcely recognizable as a human being.  Then he was brought to Golgotha.  Long spikes were driven through his wrists and legs to nail him to the cross as it lay on the ground.  Then that cross would have been roughly raised up and dropped in a hole and Jesus’ body would have been jolted with the force of that action.  Then he would hang there for several hours.  As he hung there, he was naked.  That’s another thing that pictures of Jesus on the cross always get wrong.  The artists can’t handle the truth.  They want to sanitize it.  The reality is that Jesus hung on that cross completely naked with his entire body exposed.  He didn’t have anything on and this was a dreadful sight.  No beauty.  No majesty.  Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  A bloody pulp of a naked man hanging on a rough wooden cross.  That’s the gory reality.

No wonder that Isaiah should say, “Who can believe these things?”  This is the foolishness of the cross, brothers and sisters.  In Jesus’ day, the cross was a symbol of uttermost shame.  To Jews, Greeks, and Romans, dying on a cross was probably one of the worst things that could happen to you.  And this is the Servant of Yahweh?  This is the one who would bring redemption?  Who can believe this?  To ears of flesh, this is impossible to believe.  To blind eyes, this must be an illusion.  Carnal hearts buck against it.  Darkened minds think it ridiculous.  Salvation through ugliness?  No way.

And “despised and rejected by men”?  Despised and being not esteemed?  Isaiah!  How much more unbelievable can you make this?  Are you sure God revealed this to you? Be reasonable, man!  We have had kings.  Our kings were servants of Yahweh, anointed by him.  Some ended up being hated.  But our best kings at their best times were loved and respected.  Surely, this Servant must be along those same lines.

But no.  Isaiah emphasizes and insists that it’s not that way at all.  This Servant of Yahweh will be treated like dirt.  He will be looked upon with contempt.  People would regard him as a nothing and a no one, a pariah.  If they did pay any attention, they would heap insults on him, trample on his name, bully him, lie about him.  He was not going to win any popularity contests.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, when Jesus ministered here on earth, he did have some popularity with the crowds.  That’s true.  People flocked to hear him preach, they came from near and far to be healed by him, and so on.  But not all did.  From the beginning of his life, he was despised by some.  Herod hated him when he was a baby.  And when it really mattered, at the end of his life, when he really could have used a few friends, he was left out to hang, literally.  There was no one to advocate for him.  There was no friend left to speak on his behalf.  All people, even his closest disciples, turned their backs on him.

The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Hell is other people.”  Sometimes it seems true.  The people around us can bring misery our way.  Yet that’s not the way it was from the beginning.  It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  And most people would not want to be sent off to live on a desert island by themselves forever.  God created us as social creatures, as people who need to have others around them to love them, to interact with them, to encourage them.  But here we see God’s curse.  As part of God’s attack on sin, he removes all fellowship with other human beings.  Part of Jesus’ hell is his loneliness and human abandonment.  Thoroughly despised and rejected, he goes to the cross alone.  He hangs there utterly alone.

There was that passive despising and rejecting, but there were also more active forms.  He was spit upon – which in every time and culture is one of the ultimate ways to treat someone with contempt.  He was insulted and laughed at.  He was mocked by the Roman soldiers and others.  Here too the servant of Yahweh descended into utter shame and humiliation.

How could anybody take this man seriously at any level, let alone believe that he would be the redemption for God’s people?  A servant of Yahweh has to be respected.  People should be able to look up to him and love him.  But what Isaiah reveals calls us to suspend disbelief.  This sounds like a fantasy.  Isaiah should maybe get back in the real world.

Can he sink any lower in what he says about this Servant?  Yes, and he does.  The Servant of Yahweh would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”  The word translated as “sorrows” in the NIV can also be rendered as “pains.”  This is a man who’s been through the ringer.  He knows about suffering and disease.  He’s not removed from this world.  He’s truly entered into the messiness and brokenness of human existence.  He’s taken it on his own shoulders and into his own being.  He knows that life can be miserable.

With these words, Isaiah was again prophesying not just about the end of Christ’s life, but the whole span of it.  We sometimes think that Jesus was a super-human.  That he didn’t really have a human nature or that he no longer has a human nature.  Neither is true.  He was a true man all the thirty-three years he walked on this earth and he continues to be a true man.  As a true man, he experienced many of the miseries we know.  No, he never sinned.  But yet he still knows what it’s like to get a lousy cold that won’t go away.  He knows how much it stinks to get the flu.  He knows what it’s like to lose a loved one and to see friends suffer.  He wept.  You can never think that he doesn’t get it.  He does.  He was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.  He’s been there and done that and his memory isn’t short.  Neither does he hold it over our heads as a sort of story-topper.  “You think you have it bad?  You should have seen what I went through!”  He is a truly sympathetic high priest, not a jerk.

But in all this misery, sorrow, and suffering, he cuts the figure of someone antithetical to people’s expectations for a Redeemer.  For the Jews then, and for many people today, the way of humiliation and suffering is repulsive.  Our natural human tendency is to go in the other direction, what Martin Luther called a theology of glory.  A theology of glory provides big, white fluffy, sweet, theological marshmallows.  Theological marshmallows like:  God’s plan is for you to be rich and prosperous.  Theological marshmallows like:  it’s all about getting ahead through positive thinking.  These are the spiritual tidbits we want to put in our mouths and take it into our souls.  And they are about as nourishing as a marshmallow.  They’re highly palatable – very sweet, very nice texture, good mouth-feel, but they will not feed you to eternal life.  A theology of glory is always believable.  A theology of the cross, not.

This is why in the New Testament, Paul appeals to Isaiah 53:1 when he discusses the unbelief of the Jews in Romans 10.  The gospel of our salvation is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews – he says that in 1 Corinthians 1.  It is not natural or normal to believe the gospel.  It is not to be expected that people will get this.  It requires a supernatural work of grace.  It requires the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.  It requires the gift of new life worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit with the Word.

Beloved brothers and sisters, this morning we’ve again heard the gospel of our salvation.  Our Saviour went to the cross to pay the price that we could not pay for ourselves.  With all his suffering he has satisfied God’s justice on our behalf.  Your sins have been paid for in full.  This is the good news we’re called to believe again.  We need to pray for the continuing work of the Spirit that we may always embrace this good news.  That we may continue to rest and trust in Christ alone for our welfare today and tomorrow and for eternity.  Nothing is more important.  Nothing is more important for our children too.  Let me ask you parents with young children:  do you pray for your children that they would have the gift of the Spirit so they can believe the message of the gospel?  Do you pray regularly and fervently for your kids so that the arm of the Lord would be revealed to them?  And if you have older kids who have made public profession of their faith, do you pray for them too that they would continue to embrace the gospel and rejoice in it?  If we truly love our children, let’s pray for them and for the work of the Spirit in them.  Let’s trust that God will answer our prayers so that they will believe what is unbelievable.

Loved ones, the true picture of Jesus is found in the Word of God.  Along with the sacraments, the Bible is God’s Media.  If we want to understand Christ and believe in him, it’s the Word to which we need to turn.  In that Word, we find a picture that the natural person finds revolting.  By nature, we turn away from the cross and the Saviour who hung there. But with the help of the Spirit, we turn to him and we believe the message.  We believe what God revealed to Isaiah.  Then to us the arm of the LORD has been revealed and we are saved.  AMEN.


Together for the Gospel 2014

T4G 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  In attendance were nearly 8,000 people, many of whom were pastors or aspiring pastors.  I’m confident that the vast majority would identify themselves as part of the New Calvinism (or “Young, Restless, and Reformed”).  They would probably want to use the adjective ‘Reformed’ to describe themselves.  Ecclesiastically, the attendees were from all over the map.  The vast majority, however, were Southern Baptists (some 3,000 apparently).  There were also Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and a host of people belonging to churches with no wider affiliation.  All these folks gathered together for a two-and-a-half day marathon of solid biblical teaching.  This was the first time that I’d attended T4G (it’s held biennially).  Let me share my general impressions.

The definite highlight of this conference was the teaching.  The speakers were uniformly excellent:  Albert Mohler, Thabiti Anyabwile, David Platt, John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and Kevin DeYoung.  They each spoke for about an hour.  The theme of the conference was “Unashamed” and it had to do with the church’s evangelistic task.  If I would recommend just one of the speeches, it would be Kevin DeYoung’s.  You can find it here.  He spoke on the relationship between biblical inerrancy and evangelism.  It was a powerful defense of a high view of the Bible.

There was also an opportunity to attend a break-out session.  I attended the one led by Albert Mohler and Ligon Duncan, again on the topic of biblical inerrancy and evangelism.  Mohler and Duncan drove the point home further:  if you give up on the inerrancy of Scripture, you eventually give up any reason to evangelize.  The doctrine of inerrancy is not theoretical — it bears on what will be preached and how.

Six panel sessions were held.  For me, the most interesting was the discussion with Sam Allberry, author of the book Is God Anti-gay?   A close second was the panel featuring John Piper on the holiness and sanctification.  I will never forget Piper’s words:  “If you want to live in sin, you’re going to hell.”

Another great feature of this conference is the free books.  All the attendees received 14 free books.

Free Books

This alone made it worthwhile!  Lots of good titles here, none of which I’ve read before.  Watch this blog for some reviews in the months to come.

Then there was the fellowship.  I had the opportunity to meet with some friends from Facebook, but also make some new friends.  In fact, when I first sat down at the conference, I happened to sit beside a PCA missiologist.  I actually reviewed one of his books some years ago.  We had lots to talk about!  Throughout the time in Louisville and on my way back home, I had lots of great conversations with people from all over the place with all kinds of different backgrounds.

All in all, I had a positive experience at T4G.  It was a blessing to attend — I found a lot of edification and encouragement and I would definitely consider attending again.

That said, I do have a couple of reservations or concerns.  There was singing, lots of singing.  There is no getting away from the fact that it is spine-tingling to hear thousands of men singing “In Christ Alone” and other solid songs.  Bob Kauflin (of Sovereign Grace Music) led the singing and he did so merely with a piano.  There were no drums or guitars.  The music was tastefully done and almost all the songs had solid theological content and depth.  I was impressed in that regard.

They saved John Piper’s talk for the end of the conference.  Piper had a lot of good to say.  He reminded us of the connection between predestination and human instrumentality in evangelism and mission.  However, some of his Baptist colours were showing in his treatment of Romans 9 and the relationship between covenant promises and election.  Towards the end, he spoke of his father and his work as an itinerant revivalistic evangelist.  He described how his father would do the altar call at his revival meetings.  Piper began singing, “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.”  He maintained that this is a good hymn that reminds of how we should plead for people to come to Christ.  Debatable?  Sure.  Then after he finished, Bob Kauflin started playing this hymn and the conference sang it.  After one or two more songs, Mohler came on stage.  He thanked some of the key people who organized this year’s T4G.  Then he encouraged everybody to turn to their neighbour and pray for them.  In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that.  But while that was going on, Kauflin was playing the mood music, tears began flowing, and some people were wailing loudly.  Mohler encouraged us to share the gospel with the unbelievers who might be present.  It momentarily had the feel of a revival-type meeting, if not a Pentecostal worship service.

So much good was said during this conference.  There was so much faithful, biblical teaching.  I don’t want to take away from that.  But what I realized is that John Piper was correct when, a few weeks ago, he spoke at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and said that the New Calvinism includes both charismatics and non-charismatics.  It seems to me that the charismatics may even be dominant.  Maybe not in terms of spiritual gifts and continuationism, but definitely in the style of worship.  Moreover, and this Piper didn’t say, American revivalism is still in play or at least its effects are still in evidence.  How odd that a pastors’ conference would feature a quasi-altar call!  Have we really moved beyond Gilbert Tennent’s “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry”?  That’s not to say that there aren’t unregenerate pastors.  I’m sure there are.  But if there would be any place where you would not expect to see them present it surely must be at a conference called “Together for the Gospel.”

In short, this was definitely a conference oriented to the so-called “New Calvinism.”  There’s much to appreciate about these folks.  They have a great love for the gospel, even if that gospel is sometimes truncated with a defective view of the covenant on some key points.  They have a high view of God’s Word.  They desire that God be glorified.  They have a great burden for the lost.  They do also emphasize the importance of the local church and its ministry.  I stand with them on those points.  For the rest, I hope and pray that “always reforming” is a reality that we see more and more, not only with them, but also with us.


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