Bumping Our Heads Against a Secular Ceiling

“That’s life in a secular age. That’s belief under the conditions of doubt. That’s pastoring and leading the church under the conditions of doubt. Because even watching things happen—whether you’re watching people move from death to life, through salvation, or whether you’re watching people experience healing, physical or emotional or whatever—the reality of secularism is that there’s this nagging, needling condition of doubt.” — Mike Cosper Date: April 2, 2019 Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast. Related: Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page. Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

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Margin notes: Being “Evangelical” Pt. 4

Following a short essay by Bishop J. C. Ryle, a leading evangelical Anglican of the 19th century, we have seen that Evangelicalism isn’t what most would think of today when they hear that word in the public sector. In a sense, we’ve let others define that term for us rather than insisting on making it clear what WE mean by it. And to be fair, many self-professed Evangelicals have poured into the current public perception by doing what they do in the political and social realms in the name of Evangelicalism. When in fact those endeavors may have more to do with their brand, than the core features we’ve been discussing. The great churchman of the 16th century Richard Hooker noted that when people have a cause and a particular slant in controversial issues or those they are greatly exercised over, they tend to make that issue an all-or-nothing proposition before long. And in doing that, they then pour everything into it in such a way that their very Christianity rests in the issue itself. And as a result, those who do not agree with them on this issue are suspect even in their Christianity. So for some, a representative republic as a form of government or free-market capitalism become synonymous with Biblical Christianity – and anyone holding to anything else in any way can’t even be a Christian! Thus in the process, Evangelicals end up deconstructing our own Evangelicalism. All that to say, that we need to get back to real basics here. So far we’ve seen the first 3 leading features of Evangelical Religion – and today our writer sets forth the 4th one. a) The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the… Read More

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Christopher Ash on Teaching Esther

The book of Esther presents us, as teachers, with an incredible opportunity to tell a dramatic and captivating story. But the narrative also presents challenges. God is not mentioned once throughout the book. We tend to want to make judgments and draw conclusions about the motives and morality of the characters. But in this conversation, Christopher Ash—writer-in-residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and author of Teaching Ruth & Esther—warns us away from over-evaluating Esther morally, and from leading those we’re teaching to either cheer or boo at the actions of the characters, since many of the book’s actions are ambiguous. Instead, he demonstrates how we can teach the book of Esther in a way that points to Christ, a greater mediator than Esther, a more righteous man than Mordecai, who brought about a greater reversal than the king’s edict. Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible. Recommended Audio Resources Recommended Print Resources Visit TGC The Gospel Coalition US

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Margin notes: Being “Evangelical” Pt. 3

Being Evangelical isn’t new – though some would (rightly I believe) think that we have lost our moorings. It was the 14th Century firebrand, priest and pre-Reformer who was known in his day as doctor evangelicus. Doctor of the “evangel” or the Gospel. The term gained popularity early in the Lutheran side of the Reformation and spread from therewith the awakening of the Gospel across Europe. Those men wanting to be identified with the recovery of the gospel in terms of its central doctrine of justification by faith called themselves evangelici viri – evangelical men. Luther in turn liked and used the expression in German as die Evangelischen. The direct connection in each case was the idea of the gospel – the “evangel”, or “good news.” And  “evangelical continued to gain popularity, and achieved its widespread use during the 18th century in the revival movement associated with Wesley and Whitefield. That is the heritage of Evangelicalism. A heritage all but lost today, as it was in J. C. Ryle’s day when he sought to rearticulate its foundations. So far, we’ve looked at 2 of those foundations from Ryle’s essay: “Evangelical Religion.” (a) The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy. (b) The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption. And now… (c) The third leading feature of Evangelical Religion is the paramount importance it attaches to the work and office of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the nature of the salvation which He has wrought out for man. Its theory is that the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, has by… Read More

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When You Don’t Desire God’s Word

When I was young, my mother made my brother and me drink prune juice (for obvious reasons). I dreaded walking into the kitchen and seeing that glass full of thick, purple poison awaiting me. I held my nose and reluctantly drank, since I knew it was good for me. But it did not taste good. I go through seasons when I view God’s Word like prune juice. In these moments my soul lethargically sits down to read, and my thoughts wander to my to-do list shortly after starting. Opening God’s Word sometimes feels more like a chore than a delight. Yet this is not how David describes it. David describes God’s Word as “sweeter than honey” (Ps. 119:103). It should taste good to our souls, because it is good for our souls. When Scripture is sweeter to me than honey, I run to it as to living water, and I think about his words and the implications of them for my life throughout my day. But what do we do—especially in bitter and busy seasons—when reading God’s Word seems less like honey and more like prune juice? Give Your Time Meditation takes time, which many of us may protest we don’t have. And yet it’s hard to believe David could say that he loved God’s law (Ps. 119:97) without having given time to digging deep and memorizing, meditating on, and understanding it. God’s Word is the psalmist’s meditation all day long (Ps. 119:97). The Hebrew word for “meditation” here refers to an object of “musing, study, or prayer.” In biblical meditation, we are filling our minds to think deeply on a verse, a passage, or a theme. The difference between reading and meditating on it is the difference between raking and digging. As with raking leaves, you can read the… Read More

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Did Christianity Profoundly Influence the Founding of America?

Mark David Hall—the Herbert Hoover distinguished professor of politics and faculty fellow in the William Penn Honors Program at George Fox University—is swimming against a certain scholarly stream in his new book, Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth (Thomas Nelson, 2019). Unlike a David Barton, Hall is a serious historian committed to historical honesty and going where the evidence leads him. In this regard, Hall is part of an important school of thought—represented by scholars like Thomas Kidd, Daniel Dreisbach, Mark Noll, and others—showing the (complicated) influence of Christian ideas on the Founding of America. If someone were to ask me whether America had a “Christian founding”—the question that headlines this book—I would have to know how they defined that term before I could offer an answer. Hall write that there are five options of what we could mean by a “Christian founding”: [Option 1: The Founders Were Self-Identified Christians] One possibility is simply that the founders identified themselves as Christians, which they clearly did. In 1776, every colonist, with the exception of about two thousand Jews, identified himself or herself as a Christian. Approximately 98 percent of them were Protestants, and the remaining 2 percent were Roman Catholics. But these facts alone are not particularly useful. These men and women may have been bad Christians, may have been Christians significantly influenced by non-Christian ideas, or may even have been Christians self-consciously attempting to create a secular political order. As we shall see, there are good reasons to reject these possibilities, but even so, it is necessary to dig deeper. [Option 2: The Founders Were All Sincere Christians] A second possibility is that the founders were all sincere Christians. This would be a more interesting finding, yet sincerity is difficult for scholars, or anyone else, to… Read More

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Margin notes: Being “Evangelical” Pt. 2

Evangelical. We hear it in the press all the time. Almost exclusively in political terms. The “Evangelical right” as a voting block. That is the way most people hear, understand and interact with the word. But it wasn’t always so. Going back to the days before the Reformation, “evangelicals” were just what the name means – they were “gospelers” – heralds of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals were simply those who had heard, believed, and now spread the “good news” – the Gospel – the “evangel” that Jesus had died to make an atonement for human sin, that all who put their trust in His substitutionary death, could be, WOULD be, reconciled to God. We’ve come a long way. And sadly we’ve let those outside of Evangelicalism reshape how that label is understood and used. And perhaps, even those who consider themselves evangelicals might be surprised to know what that has meant historically. And to that end, we are reviewing Bishop J. C. Ryle’s five leading features of Evangelical Religion. Last time we looked at number  – (a) The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy. Today, I submit to you number 2. Here’s Ryle: (b) The second leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the depth and prominence it assigns to the doctrine of human sinfulness and corruption.Its theory is that in consequence of Adam’s fall, all men are as far as possible gone from original righteousness, and are of their own natures inclined to evil. They are not only in a miserable, pitiable, and bankrupt condition, but in a state of guilt, imminent danger, and condemnation before God. They are not only… Read More

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What I’ve Learned in 15 Years as a Church Planter

I spend a lot of time with church planters. Whether it’s Acts 29 assessment conferences or Portico Church’s own residency efforts, I’m privileged to invest in the next generation of pastors. So many of these young church planters I encounter are full of David’s heart, Moses’s humility, and Elijah’s conviction. A few months ago, I watched Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms answer questions about enduring in ministry. With more than 70 years of vocational ministry between them, Ray and Sam reminded me that church planting isn’t just about sowing seeds up front—it’s also about the harvest at the end. Many of us start strong but finish weak. As my first boss used to say, “Some say they’d rather burn out than fizzle out. But either way, they’re out!” The point is, stay in. Early zeal matters little if you fail to finish well. After 25 years of vocational ministry—including 15 in church planting—I’ve at least learned what not to do. Here are three common pitfalls young church planters face, and some suggestions on how to remedy them. 1. Know when ‘good’ is good enough. Author Eric Ries first introduced me to the concept of the MVP—minimum viable product—in The Lean Startup. When starting a business, you can’t afford to chase perfection. An MVP must have the necessary basic features for early adopters to lead you to the next stage of development. This means that, early on, you can’t quibble over trivial concerns. If you’re less than two years into your church plant, you need to think about your young church as an “MVP.” One can argue about what features are essential in a young church—things like clear gospel teaching, commitment to discipleship, and a healthy understanding of what constitutes a church—but your sermon series’ title sequence probably doesn’t make the cut.… Read More

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A Response to Denny Burk’s Response to my article on Women as Pastors

November 4, 2019 | By: Sam Storms My friend Denny Burk recently wrote a blog article in response to mine on whether or not it is biblically permissible to call a woman a “pastor”. I appreciate his taking the time to give serious consideration to my argument, but I fear that he has misunderstood the primary point that I labored to make. Denny cites the development of the Baptist Faith & Message (hereafter BF&M) by pointing out that “all three terms (bishop/elder/pastor) are merely three ways of referring to the one office of leadership in the local church.” Burk contends that this is based on “biblical exegesis’ and not unbiblical tradition or fear. He then cites the commentary on the 2000 BF&M: “The Bible says that every pastor is to serve as a bishop who exercises and fulfills the ministry of the Word on behalf of the congregation as the gathered people of God.” In point of fact, the Bible says no such thing. There is not a single text in Scripture which says that “every pastor” is also a bishop or elder. It most assuredly does say that every bishop or elder is to serve as a pastor. But the reverse is simply not true. That is the point of my article that Burk seems to miss. Burk repeatedly asserts that “pastor” is an office. This is the very point I dispute in my article, and no biblical text has been cited to prove otherwise. The word “pastor” is never used of an “office.” It is a spiritual gift (see Eph. 4:11; much like the prophet has the spiritual gift of prophecy and the teacher has the spiritual gift of teaching and the evangelist has the gift of evangelism and the apostle has the gift of apostleship [see 1… Read More

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Jesus Loves Small, ‘Insignificant’ Places. So Should We.

It’s a popular quote, commonly attributed to Charles Spurgeon: “Discernment is not simply telling the difference between right and wrong; it’s telling the difference between right and almost right.” A Big Gospel in Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters Witmer, Stephen IVP. 216 pp.. Jesus loves small, insignificant places. In recent years, Christian ministries have increasingly prioritized urban areas. Big cities and suburbs are considered more strategic, more influential, and more desirable places to live and work. After all, they’re the centers for culture, arts, and education. More and more people are leaving small places and moving to big ones. As a ministry strategy, focusing on big places makes sense. But the gospel of Jesus is often unstrategic. In this book, pastor Stephen Witmer lays out an integrated theological vision for small-place ministry. Filled with helpful information about small places and with stories and practical advice from his own ministry, Witmer’s book offers a compelling, comprehensive vision for small-place ministry today. Jesus loves small places, and when we care deeply about them and invest in them over time, our ministry becomes a unique picture of the gospel—one that the world badly needs to see. This maxim, I’d suggest, also applies to ministry paradigms and practices. In his book A Big Gospel in Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters, Stephen Witmer argues that when it comes to missions and church planting today, the prevailing paradigm that focuses on reaching urban centers of size and influence is, well, almost right—but it may be missing some important things. Methods of Ministry Such issues, of course, aren’t new. They’ve been with us since at least the day after Pentecost. How shall the church decide carry out its central calling of preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations? The questions in… Read More

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What the Persecuted Church Can Teach Gen Z

Meet Roy. When he was 15, he and a group of students were attacked by a Muslim mob. Instead of renouncing his faith, the young Indonesian boldly declared: “I am a soldier of God . . . ready to die for Christ.” The last word he said was “Jesus.” Nineteen-year-old Mee had been a Christian scarcely two months when a Communist guard in her Laotian village approached her, pointed a gun to her head, and said: “If you continue to be a Christian, I will kill you now.” Mee replied: “You can kill my body, but not my spirit.” Over the past few years, new regulations in China have made it illegal for teens to attend church and for teachers, pastors, and parents to teach religion to anyone younger than 18. For disregarding these regulations, many have been arrested and imprisoned. I’m 19. I’ve considered myself a Christian for almost all my life. I’ve never been persecuted, threatened, or imprisoned for my faith. And I can’t help wondering: if I were Roy, Mee, or a teenager in China, would I follow Christ so faithfully? Changed My Walk with God Over the past few years, I’ve intentionally become more aware of the persecuted church. Reading about how Christ followers in Somalia are killed by their families for converting from Islam, and how believers in Iran risk everything to own a Bible, opened my eyes to my own often-complacent faith. I saw my apathy—reluctance to spend time with Christ, read his Word, and be with his people—in stark contrast to persecuted believers’ commitment to those same things. I became aware of how little I’ve actually given for Jesus in comparison to how much others have laid down. I’m thankful for religious freedom, but freedom can also sow seeds of complacency. I don’t long for… Read More

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