Theologically Driven


Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.

Contributors to the blog include:

John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History

Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament

Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition

Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament

Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology

Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament

Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.

6 Historical Positions on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

by Mark Snoeberger

A few months ago Bill Combs and I released a pair of blog posts that raised ire among some of our readers relative to the debate concerning divine sovereignty and human freedom. One of the barriers to fruitful dialogue that emerged in the ensuing discussion was one of definition—a failure to define historical positions in ways mutually acceptable to all participants in the debate. This failure has the potential to lead first to equivocation, then misrepresentation, followed by ad hominem attack, and even charges of heresy. This is unfortunate.

The following is a faithful attempt not (1) to debate the question or (2) to attach labels to people who don’t like to be labeled. Rather, it is an attempt to faithfully describe six key positions using historical descriptions (though not necessarily labels) that proponents of each position (whether historical or modern) can embrace:

  • A Pelagian is one who believes that man needs no assistance to come to God. By his own unaided power any man can avoid the pitfalls that ensnared Adam and generate all the faith and action necessary to follow Christ’s superior example and so be accepted by God. This belief was condemned as heresy at the 15th Council of Carthage in A.D. 418. This position is rare among evangelicals, and the label should not be assigned lightly.
  • A Semi-Pelagian is one who believes that every man, though weakened by the Fall, yet retains the ability, based on the power of choice granted him in the imago dei, to make a divinely unaided and a priori contribution of faith leading to his own justification. Any divine grace offered thereafter is truly grace, but grace of an a posteriori nature. This belief was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529.

NOTE: The term semi-Pelagian is unknown in antiquity, first appearing formally as a pejorative label for the 16th-century teachings of Luis de Molina, or what is sometimes known as Molinism—teachings that generally (though not perfectly) resemble the ancient position condemned at Orange. Some have suggested that the label Massilianism (a term that reflects the geographic center of the more ancient position) is more accurate, but it has not caught on. The result is a real historical position with definite modern representatives, but one with no label other than a pejorative that modern proponents of the position do not accept. This is a conundrum with no clear resolution; still, any suggestion that the historical position is imaginary because of the absence of a mutually agreeable label is unacceptable. The historical position described above does exist today, irrespective of the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Arminian position.

  • An Arminian is one who believes that man, though rendered totally depraved by the Fall, receives from God the non-efficacious power of alternative choice via prevenient grace either (1) at birth or (2) through the hearing of the Gospel. Thus aided by God, any man may, without compulsion, either reject or embrace Christ. If a man chooses to embrace Christ, this faith event triggers additional divine graces (the anachronistic grace of election based on God’s prior knowledge of the faith event, and the subsequent graces of justification and sanctification).

NOTE: Arminianism has never uniformly taught that the believer may lose his salvation. Instead, the question remains an open one, both historically (see the words of Arminius himself and the Five Articles of the Remonstrance) and also today (see the doctrinal standards of the modern-day Society for Evangelical Arminians and the representative words of Roger Olson, arguably the foremost Arminian of our day). All this goes to suggest that the question of eternal security should not be treated as a defining issue for the position here described. To do so without qualification is to introduce a red herring.

  • A Moderate Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, issues efficacious grace to his elect alone so that they may then exercise faith unto a regeneration and justification that can never be forfeited.
  • A Full or Historic Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, efficaciously regenerates his elect, creating “new creatures” who gladly exercise faith unto a justification that can never be forfeited.

NOTE: Calvinism has never uniformly taught a definite or “limited” atonement. The question remains an open one that has long been the topic of intramural debate among Calvinists (see, e.g., the historical canons of Dordt and this recent contribution to the debate). Again, all this goes to suggest that the extent of the atonement should not be treated as a defining issue in describing the Calvinist position.

  • A Hyper-Calvinist is one that holds to the immediately preceding position, but teaches additionally that (1) believers have no responsibility to indiscriminately call the lost to repent and believe in Christ for salvation and/or that (2) unbelievers have no duty to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.

NOTE: Few believers ascribe to the label hyper-Calvinist; like the label semi-Pelagian, it is uniformly pejorative. However, it is a historical position with modern proponents: the position cannot be rendered imaginary due to the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Calvinist position.

Conclusion: The question whether a modern position may be logically crafted so as to present a viable via media or whether elements of these historical positions may be so combined as to offer a viable hybrid position will be graciously left open today. What is hoped, however, is that the historical parameters of the debate have been faithfully delineated.


How Long, Lord? Will You Forget Me Forever?

by Bob McCabe

I have cried out with these words from Psalms 13:1 on a few occasions. How do I know that it is legitimate to apply this verse to my life? And what about other psalms? While there are many ways to determine this, one is to consider a psalm’s historical setting. In examining this, there are two areas to consider.

The first is from the superscriptions that begin a number of psalms. For example, Psalms 3, an individual lament, informs us of two things: the author—”a psalm of David”—and the historical setting—”when he fled from his son Absalom.” The second area would be from the other biblical data found within the psalm itself and from any other place in the canon. For example, Psalms 2:1-3 indicates that this royal psalm was written during a time of turmoil in Israel, and Acts 4:25 says that David was responsible for Psalms 2. The combined data shows that this psalm was written in a time of turmoil during the reign of David.

However, we should be careful not to become excessively precise in identifying the historical details when a psalm as well as any other portion of Scripture does not provide specific information. It appears that the authors of many psalms wanted their inscripturated poetry to be used by other worshippers so they purposely communicated on a more general level. This was part of the their intention. In this type of context, we need to be content with a general knowledge of the historical setting. The superscription for Psalms 13, an individual lament, states two items: its musician—“for the director of music”—and author—“a psalm of David.” Unlike the heading in Psalms 3, Psalm 13 provides no information about its historical setting, though the superscription suggests that this psalm was composed during David’s lifetime. The content of Psalms 13 gives more information. This psalm indicates that David was in a time of extreme spiritual agony where God’s face seemed hidden from him and his enemies would triumph over him. In this agony, David prays to God and turns in faith to focus on God’s unfailing love (Psalms 13:5). In the end, he will be able to sing God’s praises about his goodness (Psalms 13:6). As the content of this psalm suggests, the details of this psalm could have taken place a number of different times in David’s life. He wrote this lament psalm in a generalized manner so that it could be used by other struggling worshippers like myself. In the final analysis, we can use this individual lament to guide us to rejoice in God’s goodness and his unfailing love.


Biblical Reasons to Believe that the Creation Days were 24-Hour Periods

by Mark Snoeberger

When Justin Taylor released a blog entry last Wednesday defending a non-literal use of days in Genesis 1, and thus suggesting at least the possibility that the universe is quite ancient, both Ben Edwards and I sat down, without consulting, to write responses. While identical in ideology, our approaches were different enough, I think to merit posting both. Below, then, is a point-by-point answer to Taylor’s major arguments followed by my own counterargument in favor of 24-hour days.

Taylor’s article begins with five alleged premises/presuppositions (appearing below in bold font style) of young-earth creationists (YECs). These I will address briefly:

  • Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2–2:3. Mostly False. While some YECs see Genesis 1:1 as a summary for the whole chapter, most do not. Instead, we see Genesis 1:1 as a description of the very first “actual event of creation,” ex nihilo, of the original raw materials of the universe. This event happened, we argue on Day 1, with vv. 3ff functioning as a detail of God’s manipulation of those materials. Indeed, a quick summary of YEC materials will divulge that the summary/titular view of Genesis 1:1–2 is held in contempt by a great many YECs because of its association with the old Gap Theory.
  • The creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself. True. But it seems to me that the burden of proof here rests with those who say that the creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is not “referring to the act of creation itself.”
  • Each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to a 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11). True, and see below for a defense of this claim. Each of the ten uses of yom in Genesis 1 (though not each use of yom in the OT) fits the qualifications detailed below for a literal day.
  • An old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us. Mostly true. In theory one could hold to geological evolution without biological or human evolution, but this is rare. The critical concerns for the YEC are (1) that any old-earth geology model that uses evolutionary explanations of the fossil record contained in the geological strata to suggest animal death before the fall contradicts what Scripture tells us (Gen 1:31; Rom 8:18–22); and (2) that any suggestion of hominid death before the fall is not merely troubling, but catastrophic to the Christian faith (Rom 5).
  • The approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis. True. And I appreciate the qualifier “approximate,” because it is very important to a lot of us.

The article then turns to Taylor’s five reasons (again in bold) why the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal. I will now address these in order.

  • Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary.

Agreed. As a YEC, I like this statement very much. But I would add an important qualification: Genesis 1:1 tells us that this actual act of creation occurred in the opening moments of Day 1 of the creation week and out of nothing. Verse two (commencing with an explanatory waw) then details the original appearance of those materials, and the rest of the chapter (with nearly every verse introduced by a waw consecutive, the standard marker of narrative sequence) detailing the divine manipulation of those raw materials into the universe as we know it.

Which brings me then to several objections to Taylor’s fuller explanation:

(1) That the verb “created” in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect tense is very true. That “when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline” is less defensible. The perfect tense is by far the most common tense used in Hebrew and as such carries very little exegetical freight (think the aorist in Greek). Having said this, the likeliest explanation of the verb is that it details an event that is actually part of the biblical story line, not an undefined precedent to the storyline that stands temporally outside of it. See below.

(2) I also disagree that Genesis 1:3–2:3 represents a “highly patterned structure of forming and filling” (informed readers will recognize here the language of the highly inventive “framework theory” popular today). Instead, this chapter is, in terms of its linguistic features, a very mundane and simply structured piece of Hebrew narrative not unlike most of the rest of the book. All the syntactical and rhetorical features of this chapter point routinely to a narrative sequence of consecutive days—days that must necessarily occur in immediate succession for the very survival of the unfolding universe.

  • The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day.”

Building on his assumption, above, that Genesis 1:1–2 details the background to the creative week, Taylor’s article now clearly asserts that light, darkness, earth, and water existed before the creation week (and apparently a long time before, in order to accommodate the assured results of science). However, if, as I have argued in point (1), Genesis 1:1–2 details the actual creation of the unformed and unfilled materials that occurred on Day 1, this argument fails.

Who is right? Well, Exodus 20:11 gives us a very clear answer: “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” There could be no plainer rebuttal of Taylor’s affirmation: the heavens and the earth and the seas were not created “before the first day,” but rather on one of those six days, viz., the first.

Taylor’s arguments that (1) light existed before the celestial beings and (2) reached earth immediately are thorny ones for which YECs do not have a unified answer, but few see these as serious problems. In answer to the first problem some YECs argue a temporary light source or light sourced in God himself. Ultimately the debate is incidental. After all, God hears without ears and sees without eyes, so it is not hard for us to extrapolate light without a sun. In answer to the second problem some suggest that God created with apparent age and others that the speed of light has slowed since the creation week. Again, however, this is an intramural and incidental debate. God is a supernatural God who makes bread appear instantly without growing the grain, milling it, or baking it; likewise, making mature light is not difficult for our supernatural and omnipotent God.

  •  The Seventh Day Is Not 24 Hours Long

Sure it is. Miles Van Pelt’s comments aside, it would appear that the argument from Exodus 20:11 is unassailable. The Israelites were to work six ordinary days and rest for one ordinary day, just as God created in six ordinary days and rested for one ordinary day—one that started at evening Friday and ended the same time on the following day. That the original Sabbath, by analogy, points to a greater rest for the people of God (Heb 10 etc.) in no way suggests that the Sabbath template itself was itself a “greater day.” Admittedly, there is no “evening-morning” clause used of the seventh day in Genesis 2, but there is no syntactical reason forthcoming to believe that it was anything other than an ordinary day.

  • The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long.

True. And you’ll not find a YEC who affirms otherwise. Some will be astonished by this, no doubt, but we young-earth creations really have noticed Genesis 2:4 before today, and our answer is long-standing and well developed—if only our detractors cared to read rather than assume our arguments. The YEC argument is not an unqualified affirmation that the word yom always refers to a 24-hour day. If one of us were to make such an argument, then our old-earth brothers would have good reason to snicker. But we don’t say this. And so I beg the old-earth community to have the integrity to stop rehearsing this silly strawman as though it were a legitimate argument.

The qualified argument that YECs use is instead this: The Hebrew word yom, when cast in the singular and as a non-compound grammatical structure (as it does hundreds of times in the Hebrew OT), has uniform reference to a 24-hour day.

We fully appreciate the fact that the semantic range of yom exceeds literal 24-hour days, and that Genesis 2:4 offers syntactical features that point to a broader use of yom. This in no way threatens the young-earth argument.

Genesis 2:5–7 is a difficult passage with many options for interpretation, as all versed in the discussion will admit. However, the unabated series of waw consecutives in a Toledot genre seems to cast some doubt on Futado’s understanding of this pericope as a “topical” reenactment of Genesis 1. Instead, a very good case can (and has) been made that these verses offer a narrative detailing the establishment specifically of the Garden of Eden, and not of the earth generally (see McCabe).

This brings me, finally, to five positive arguments why we ought to think of the days of Genesis 1 as literal, several of them distilled from the material above:

  1. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because when one examines the many other singular uses of yom in a non-compound grammatical structure throughout the OT, the idea of a literal day is nearly universal.
  2. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because they are accompanied by ordinals (first, second, third, etc.). Of the more than 150 uses of yom with an ordinal in the rest of the Hebrew OT, just one (Hos 6:2) refers to something other than a literal day.
  3. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because of the use of the qualifier “evening and morning” throughout Genesis 1. It seems to go without saying that while literal days have mornings and evenings, figurative days do not.
  4. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because anything other than literal days renders the comparison with Exodus 20:11 a matter of equivocation. Israel worked six literal days and rested for one literal day. God created for six literal days and rested for one literal day. The idea of God creating via a six-point framework and then resting eternally does not seem to offer much of a precedent for Israel’s seven-day workweek.
  5. Finally, and more historical/theological than exegetical in nature, the days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because this has been the overwhelmingly majority plain reading of the text throughout church history—at least until it came into conflict with the “assured results of modern science.” The old-earth idea of non-literal days is without serious doubt a product not of grammatical-historical exegesis, but of the accommodation of the Bible to the assured results of modern science as independent, norming factors in biblical interpretation. Old-earth creationism is at its heart a blunt denial, I would argue, of the Bible as the norma Normans non normata.

Of course, we must deal with one last objection. There are noble figures in church history that expressed doubt about the literal nature of the Genesis 1 days (though, interestingly, Taylor cited just one who lived prior to the modern period). Augustine is Taylor’s lone exception, and while others might admittedly be cited, Augustine remains a favorite go-to source for old-earth creationists. I’d like to challenge this, not because I doubt the old-earth account of what Augustine believed, but because his argument is fueled neither by exegesis nor modernist principles, but by theology. Specifically, he doubted that that an infinite God would ever need to work for six days to accomplish anything (much less rest), and suggested that these were instances of anthropomorphic condescension: God created his universe instantaneously, but cast the event in the anthropomorphic language of the passage of time for the understanding of finite humans. In other words, while Augustine and Machen both doubted that the days Genesis 1 were to be understood as literal, the basis of their respective arguments is worlds apart, diminishing their value as parallel sources.

Finally, I would like to point our readers to two very competent defenses of this position with considerably greater detail, one by Bob McCabe and another by Gerhard Hasel.


3 Reasons Why Some Christians Avoid Church

by John Aloisi

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the myth of unchurched Christians. Unfortunately the reality is that there are a good number of professing Christians who either shy away from church membership or avoid church attendance altogether. The problem of professing Christians who neglect church involvement is sadly not a myth.

There are a number of excuses that such professing believers give for their lack of church involvement. Here are three that I’ve heard:

  1. “I’ve been hurt by a previous church (or church leader).”

Sadly, this reason is often grounded in reality. Many people have been emotionally torn up by the actions of other people. Churches are full of sinners—hopefully, redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. It should come as no surprise that sinners sin, and although all sin is ultimately against God, human sin often has harmful consequences in the lives of people who have been sinned against. But someone’s sin against you is not a good excuse for you to sin against God by ignoring his plan for this dispensation which is for his people to identify with a local church.

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites.”

Yes, local churches contain people who live hypocritically. To some extent, every person that acknowledges the lordship of Christ but continues to sin is acting hypocritically. This was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem in the twenty-first as well. As long as believers possess a sin nature, they will sin against their Lord and Savior, and such sin runs contrary to their profession. However, this isn’t a good reason for avoiding the church, for few things could be more hypocritical than professing to love Christ while refusing to identify with his people in a local expression of the body of Christ.

  1. “I can worship God better on my own.”

Some professing believers speak of being “churchfree” or “satellite Christians.” They feel that because they can approach God directly through Christ, they do not need to be connected to a local church. In fact, some profess that their relationship with God has actually improved by walking away from the church. But if God’s plan for this age involves his people assembling together for worship, fellowship, and mutual accountability, then it doesn’t ultimately matter how one feels. The quality of one’s worship is not completely separate from affections or “feelings,” but feelings cannot override commands. One cannot worship God better by ignoring his instructions and the model that is pretty clearly laid out in the NT.

Sometimes these three excuses are used together, as if one could build a cumulative case for why he or she doesn’t need to be connected to a local church body. I’ve provided only the simplest replies to these excuses. Here are a few NT passages so-called unchurched Christians must wrestle with if they wish to continue excusing their lack of local church involvement:

Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5, and 12–13: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan…. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

1 Timothy 3:14–15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”

See also Acts 15:41; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:1–24; Gal 1:2; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5–9; Jas 5:14; and 1 Pet 5:1–4 among others.


Jesus’ Ethics: Four Observations

by Jared Compton

One of the lectures I give each year in my Gospels class is titled “Who’s Invited and What Should They Do?” In the first part (“Who’s Invited?”), I talk about who it was Jesus invited (invites) to follow him, to repent and believe, to enter his kingdom. Here we talk about what the label sinner meant in the first-century and how it described those who’d transgressed both God’s law and the “laws” of Palestine’s religious establishment. In the second part (“What Should They Do?”), I try to sketch Jesus’ ethics. What sorts of behavior did (soon-to-be-king) Jesus require of his disciples? Here we look at the epitome of Jesus’ ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). I’ve yet to finish off this talk feeling like I’ve done justice to Jesus’ sermon. And, considering its importance—these are Jesus’ ethics, after all!—I’m very interested in doing a better job. Just yesterday, in fact, I received in the mail a new book I’d ordered on the sermon. It’s part of a new commentary series (!) by Zondervan entitled “The Story of God Bible Commentary.” It’s by veteran Gospels scholar and teacher Scot McKnight. In his introduction, McKnight summarizes Jesus’ ethics with four observations that I found helpful. Here I thought I’d simply share them and encourage any of you puzzled by the sermon to get McKnight’s book and see how (if?) each observation plays out in Jesus’ ethics. (That’s, at least, what I’m going to do.) Before I list them, let me also say that the first three are what, it seems to me, McKnight thinks sets Jesus’ ethics off as biblical ethics, over against the ethical programs of Aristotle (virtue ethics), Kant (duty or deontological ethics), and Bentham and Mill (utilitarianism; cf. consequentialism). And the last one sets his ethics apart as fulfillment-era ethics. That is, it reflects the fact that these are ethics coming from one who came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17–20). So, according to McKnight, Jesus ethics are...

(1) ethics from above. Jesus’ ethics are divinely-revealed ethics. Just as the Torah came from God, so also does Jesus’ “law.”

(2) ethics from beyond. Jesus’ ethics, like the prophets of old, encourage the people of God to live in the present in the light of the future. (Here I couldn’t help thinking of the way Peter puts this in 2 Pet 3:11.)

(3) ethics from below. Jesus’ ethics, like Israel’s wisdom traditions, encourage the people of God to live in God’s world in God’s way. Live in light of the way the world works (or, is supposed to work).

(4) messianic ethics. Jesus’ ethics are ethics for the new era brought about by messiah’s death and resurrection and, moreover, they are possible only for those filled with the eschatological spirit, Jesus’ new community.


Unchurched Christians, Minotaurs, and Other Mythical Beasts

by John Aloisi

From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken, but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.

Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.

More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.

The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.


Don’t Abandon Children’s Ministry!

by Pearson Johnson

This past Sunday evening, we had our annual Ministry Equipping and Training Seminar here at Inter-City Baptist Church. During this time we have ministry-specific seminars and also general sessions. I did a general session on “Discipling the Next Generation: The Mission and Goals of the ICBC Children’s Ministry.” There is a lot of discussion in families and churches, much of it critical, of the role of age-graded children’s ministry–especially among those in favor of so-called family integrated churches (for a brief, helpful article on that movement, see Doug Brown’s article here.)

Here at Inter-City, we don’t just have Sunday School, Junior Church, AWANA, and other programs just because “that’s the way we have always done it.” For us, our children’s ministry has as its mission to honor God by making and maturing disciples who are becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ among the children of our church and community.  This mission reflects our church’s mission and is specific to children. Paul’s exhortation and Timothy’s experience in 2 Tim 3:14-17 guide us in setting our goals, which are as follows:

  • To see children in our church and community led by the Scriptures to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (v. 15, “from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”)
  • To see children of all ages learn from the Scriptures and learn to honor the Scriptures (v. 14–15, “continue in the things you have learned... and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings…. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”)
  • To see children live under and in accordance with the Scriptures, being prepared for adulthood (v. 14, “continue in the things you have… become convinced of”)
  • To provide mentors and examples for our children in the body of Christ, allowing a variety of church members to exercise their gifts and abilities in influencing our children (v. 14, “knowing from whom you have learned them.”)
  • To see children matured in the faith, prepared for a life of service to God through the local church (v. 16–17, “All Scripture is… profitable… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.)

We believe discipled parents are key to those who have one or both parents in the church, so we provide nurseries to lovingly care for small children so parents and others are not distracted in giving their attention to preaching and teaching. We provide Sunday School to give regular, systematic teaching of the Bible and theology to children. We provide Children’s church on Sunday mornings to give opportunities for age-specific preaching and singing, yet still in a God-honoring format similar to our adult services. We provide AWANA both for outreach and discipleship on Wednesdays. All of these programs serve our mission and goals, not vice-versa.

Parents have the responsibility to evangelize and train their children, but it is also the responsibility of the church to evangelize and disciple people of all ages, and a well-organized children’s ministry can help accomplish these goals. Don’t abandon ministry to children!


Stay Sharp, Pastor!

by Pearson Johnson

If you have been in ministry for a number of years since seminary, you know how easy it can be to get into a ministry routine and allow other things in your life to become your first love, whether it is a hobby, a recreational pursuit, or other amusement. We, as pastors, need help in staying sharp, setting priorities for continued growth in knowledge and ability in that which is our main calling–the ministry. Here are some tips for doing so:

1. Take a class. Perhaps every other year or once a year, enroll in a class at a nearby seminary or online that will push you to read, study, and interact with others. At DBTS we allow grads to audit a class and provide a discounted audit rate for non-grads. We are now offering a few remote classes and other schools offer good online courses. You may even want to pursue another degree if your circumstances permit it.

2. Form a reading group with other nearby pastors. Many pastors form a regional reading group, reading through a book together and meeting to discuss it weekly or monthly. This exercise provides mutual encouragement and edification.

3. Start a new series or class. Pastors, you can offer an elective Sunday School class on a particular topic, a Bible Institute level class, or small group study that will push you to read and study in a new area.

4. Submit book reviews or articles. Many blogs and journals will receive book reviews from pastors willing to invest the time in reading newer books and offering a critical review. Others accept submissions of articles. Set a goal to do one or two of these per year for your benefit and hopefully for the benefit of others as well.

5. Read biography and history. Reading biography and history will usually lead to a refreshing of your desire to re-engage in ministry growth. When you see how others poured their lives into people or how others erred in history, you will be all the more passionate about your ministry and careful with the truth.

6. Attend a conference. Ministry-specific conferences on preaching, counselling, or theological issues can be helpful in keeping us sharp. The large rally-type conferences are encouraging (and often expensive) and helpful to a point, but smaller, more interactive conferences and seminars can be most profitable for the purposes of staying sharp.

These suggestions are some ways I have sought to stay sharp in ministry–now over 15 years past my M.Div. Do you have other ways you have sought to stay sharp in ministry? Please feel free to comment.


Who is Jesus? Mark’s Two Options

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark together with some Christians and “seekers” over the past several weeks. (We’ve been using a fantastic study put out by the folks at The Good Book Company entitled Christianity Explored.) One thing that has struck me while re-reading Mark is that no one in the narrative doubts that Jesus had power. No one doubts he’s a wonder-worker. That part of his identity was really unmistakable. You don’t find anyone going around trying to dispute it, trying to prove that Jesus really didn’t heal the fellow with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45), the lame guy who’d been lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), or the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Maybe some did—though I suspect they would have had a difficult time, considering the nature of the maladies Jesus cured. (They were slightly higher up on the difficulty—and conspicuous—scale than headaches or insomnia.)

What you find instead are his religious opponents waiting around “to see if he would heal [anyone] on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:2), because, in their view, that would prove that he was colluding with the devil. In fact, this is what leads his opponents to make the implausible suggestion that Jesus healed sickness and cast out demons—i.e., that he brought order out of the chaos sin created—by the power of devil (Mark 3:20-30 and par.; see also Matthew 9:27-34; John 8:48-59; John 10:1-21)! Considering Jesus’ unmistakable power and his attitude toward the law, that was the only option open for them.

What I’ve tried to say to my friends throughout our study is that this is precisely how Mark wants to leave his readers. He only gives us these two options: either Jesus was in league with the devil and was justly crucified as a messianic pretender OR he was Israel’s long-awaited messiah, sent from God to do away with humanity’s sin once-and-for-all (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). There’s really no middle ground.* There’s no version that allows readers to conclude that Jesus was simply a good teacher or an inspiring example. His amazing works and attendant claims refuse to fit into such tight quarters. They will not be domesticated like this. They demand a more profound verdict.

*Editor’s note: For early non-Christian corroboration of Mark’s portrait, see, e.g., the Jewish tradition preserved in Justin, Dial. 69.7 (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5); Jos., Ant. 18.63–64 [XVIII, iii 3]; and b. Sanh. 43A.


What was the "Star of Wonder, Star of Light"?

by Jared Compton

One of the major “characters” in the Christmas story is—perhaps surprisingly—a star, one that some wise men follow from the East all the way to Bethlehem. The star makes a brief appearance in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:2-10), before passing off the scene (and into nearly every Christmas carol). Have you ever wondered what it was the Magi saw? After all, I doubt they left on holiday every time they saw something peculiar in the sky. (Otherwise, the adjective “wise” would be rather ill-fitting, wouldn’t it?) Well, as far as I can tell, there are four common explanations. First, some think the wise men saw a supernova that left a trail of light in the sky for several days—long enough, at least, to guide the wise men’s journey. There are Chinese and Korean records that indicate that this sort of thing occurred around the time of Jesus’ birth (5/4 B.C.). Second, some think the wise men followed the blazing tail of a comet. (Whether the tail was as big as a kite, is, of course, another matter altogether.) Scientists note that Halley’s comet was active at this time, though probably appearing a few years too early to be a real contender (12–11 B.C.). Third, some suggest the wise men saw a planetary conjunction, something that occurs when two or more planets approach each other’s orbits. Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) noted that a rare triple conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars occurred in 7–6 B.C. Other records indicate that a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus occurred in 3 B.C., near the luminous star Regulus, and still others that one between Jupiter and Venus took place in 2 B.C. In fact, the latter conjunction is said to have occurred right over Bethlehem on December 25! Fourth, some suggest the wise men followed something that was, in the final analysis, simply miraculous.

So, which of these did the wise men see and follow? Was it a supernova, a comet, a planetary conjunction or something miraculous? Matthew gives us a hint when he says that the star “went ahead of [the wise men] until it stopped over the place where [Jesus] was” (Matthew 2:9). In other words, as one author puts it, “The star is not described realistically, i.e., as astronomically plausible.” If Matthew means to tell us what actually happened, then we’re probably looking at a miracle here. If, however, as some suggest, Matthew invented this bit about the star to add significance to Jesus’ birth—perhaps to make sure his audience knew Jesus fulfills Numbers 24:17—then the historicity of the account doesn’t matter quite as much as what it tells us about Jesus. What points away from this is that Matthew probably would not have invented a story about Gentile astrologers (!) identifying and worshipping Israel’s messiah. In short, what the wise men saw and followed was indeed a star of wonder, guiding them—and now us—to the perfect light.


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A Pattern for Preaching that Meets People’s Needs

by Pearson Johnson

I heard recently of a church seeking a new pastor. Some said, “We want a pastor whose preaching is practical and encouraging.” Others said, “We need a doctrinal, expositional ministry.” Still others prefer preaching heavy on confrontation. It is easy to identify what some people want in the preaching they hear (sometimes they will tell you!), but what, exactly, do they need? Pastors, we should strive as preachers to provide preaching that truly meets peoples needs.

Now, I am not talking about felt needs, as in the “give them what they feel they need and they will come,” seeker-driven church model. Neither am I talking about the need of the moment preaching that identifies cultural trends and is constantly addressing the latest headline. Nor, just what we think they need, based on our perceptions or personalities. I am talking about seeing the needs God has designed the Scripture to meet and then providing preaching that, in a balanced way, reflects that design. God has given us a simple pattern to follow in Scripture’s stated purpose that can guide us in providing preaching that meets people’s needs.

2 Timothy 3:16–17, a very familiar passage, says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NASB). The Bible is God’s revealed means for the growth of lives into maturity, and preaching this Word, according to the purposes for which it has been given, will produce mature people. We know that in all of Scripture we find passages that are particularly good for teaching doctrine, or for correcting wrong thinking or behaving, or encouraging practical growth in sanctification. However, sometimes we fail to realize as well that in every part of Scripture, there is truth to be taught, reproof to be given, correction to be made, and practical training to be provided.

When you approach your study of the Word for preaching, ask yourself questions about the text that reflect these purposes, and then preach them all in the sermon. This will help provide a well-balanced preaching and teaching ministry that meets the needs of the people God has given you to shepherd. It will also help us avoid the tendency to over-emphasize certain types of preaching based on our personalities and our or others’ preferences.

This may seem too simple and too obvious to qualify as a “homiletical model.” Maybe so, but are you willing to try it? Here are some steps for application.

  • First, review your notes before preaching and mark the categories in the margins or headings of your notes. Understand the text drives the sermon, so some texts will be more heavily weighted in one area or the other. Each text will have its “big idea,” but all of the people’s needs can be met from each text as well.
  • Second, ask several trusted members (including your wife and children) to take notes on your sermons for a month—specifically looking for the four general purposes—teaching (truth to be believed), reproof (confrontation of wrong belief or behavior), correction (truth that specifically corrects what is reproved and edifies), and instruction in righteousness (practical application in righteous living). See how balanced your preaching is between these categories in the minds of your hearers, and be willing to make adjustments.
  • Finally, talk to people about your sermons. Ask them what they learned and how they think that should make a difference in their lives.

God has told us what people need, so let’s provide preaching that meets people’s needs!


The Secret to a Successful Pastoral Ministry

by Pearson Johnson

Many people promise to provide the secret to a successful pastoral ministry. Conferences, curricula, and consultants like to offer products for discouraged pastors. Attend this conference and you will come away with a ministry-changing model. Purchase this curriculum (with video of guy with fashionable glasses or foreign accent!) and you will regain interest (and keep purchasing so you will maintain interest). Listen to this expert who can diagnose your problem and lead you to renewal. Pastors soon feel as if they cannot possibly lead a ministry with only the Word and the Spirit’s gifts.

In quite another manner, Paul encourages Timothy in 2 Timothy 4, verses 2 and 5, with the not-so-secret “secret to successful ministry.” He renews our focus even when people will not endure sound doctrine and seem to want novelty. Though his instructions may not fill a conference schedule or provide an eight-session video series, it is expert advice from God the Spirit through Paul.

1. Preach the Word — In verse 2, Paul emphasizes that a steady diet of preaching the Scriptures will keep your flock on course. The preaching is not just explaining the text, but our preaching is also characterized by timeliness, correction, rebuking, exhorting, encouragement, patience, and careful instruction in how to handle life’s circumstances.

2. Be serious about the ministry — the Scripture calls us to a relatively simple ministry even though performing it is not always easy. In contrast to the drunkard, who is unpredictable and unstable and tries to escape real life, we as pastors should be sober, diligent, consistent, and focused on the ministry of the Word and prayer both publicly and privately. Our responsibility for souls warrants a serious and sober mindset in ministry.

3. Endure hardship — there will be tough times and difficult people that will bring hardship in ministry. We are to endure it—not react to it or run from it—endure it. Trust the ministry of the Word and the power of the Spirit to change the wrong attitudes of those causing the hardship. We really cannot speed the process of endurance, but we can appreciate what endurance produces even while enduring.

4. Work hard to share the gospel — in the area of evangelism like no other, we tend to look for a silver bullet—a new program, event, or emphasis that will reach people. Our desires our honorable, but Paul tells us that sharing the gospel is going to take work. Someone once said, “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” I fear it is the same in some of our ministries—we need to do the work of proclaiming the gospel to those in our community to see the church grow. Otherwise, weeds of discord, selfishness, pride, and distraction will grow in our church.

5. Keep a well-balanced ministry — Paul rounds out his instruction with this little phrase—“fulfill your ministry.” In essence, maintain a well-balanced approach to the various aspects of your ministry. Balance public ministry with personal relationships. Reach the world, but also the neighborhood. Work for outreach, but also for edification. Exhort, but also encourage. Consider the proportion of your ministry in light of what we are called to do here.

Pastor, if you are discouraged, perhaps you are really going through a time of endurance. Keep working hard using your gifts while trusting the Spirit. This is the secret to a successful pastoral ministry!