Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference, as it will be excellent. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in our second lecture, will address the heart of the Reformation: justification by faith. This is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was also the truth that drove Luther mad against God until his eyes were opened and his heart changed to see and understand it was the heart of the gospel and the Christian life: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; cf. Hab. 2:4; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Both before and after this critical doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ had been rediscovered at the Reformation, it has been variously understood, misunderstood, undermined, and denied. In this lecture we will once again hear and confess the heart of the gospel, “The righteous shall live by faith!”

The Heart of the Reformation: Justification

A common theme arising from the Reformation was that justification is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. Although this may be overstated since there are many vital doctrines to the Christian church, there were few more important doctrines than this for the church at this time. This truth was, and remains, the major dividing line between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers. This was critical for Paul’s understanding of the gospel, and at the heart of his letters, particularly to the believers in Rome. The notion of “the justice of God” troubled him, and he despised this teaching. Rather than loving this just God, he “hated and murmured against him.” Luther describes his change, his conversion, in this way: “the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.” In this lecture, we will focus on Romans 3:21-26 and understand Paul’s teaching of this great doctrine. Some today question whether Luther and the Reformers got Paul’s doctrine of justification right. Proponents of this New Perspective on Paul claim the Reformation lens is misaligned and rather take their cue from the literature of Second Temple Judaism. The differences are stark and important.

Don has addressed this topic numerous times over the years. Here is a list of a few of those important works.

  • A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid, Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).
  • A. Carson and Peter T. O’Brien, Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Paradoxes of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004).
  • A. Carson, “The Vindication of Imputation: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields,” in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 46-78
  • A. Carson, “Atonement in Romans 3:21-26: ‘God Presented Him as a Propitiation,’” in The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological and Practical Perspectives, ed. Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 119-139.

Don has been teaching at TEDS, our EFCA school, since 1978. He has trained hundreds and thousands at TEDS, many of them who are now in Free Church ministries. Furthermore, Don is no stranger to the EFCA and to EFCA conferences. He has spoken at numerous EFCA conferences, including both our national conferences and our Theology Conferences. I personally am thankful I was able to sit under Don’s teaching while a student at TEDS, and I am grateful for the privilege of continuing to learn from him in settings such as this. We are grateful he is here with us again addressing this important topic.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend with other staff, elders or leaders in the church.

At this time of the year, we focus on the conception and birth of a firstborn – two of them: Zechariah and Elizabeth’s boy, John, later known as the Baptist, and Joseph and Mary’s son, Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. In today’s devotional, we study and ponder the miraculous conception of Jesus and Mary’s response in song to this wonderful act of God’s grace. Our devotional will be in two parts: The Historical Context and The Theological and Doxological Response.

The Historical Context

Luke informs the reader this occurred “in the sixth month” when “the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed [pledged to be married] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (1:26-27). Gabriel brings a message from God to Mary. Not only was Mary a virgin who was engaged, she also, importantly, had found favor with God (emphasis mine): “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you” (1:28); “you have found favor with God” 1:30). It was because the Lord was with her that she was favored. God’s favor is not something earned or deserved. It is grounded in his grace and mercy. Mary manifests this truth. In the midst of being troubled by this visit from Gabriel (1:29; cf. 1:12), he comforts her with the words “do not be afraid” (1:30; cf. 1:13). Those with whom God dwells, need not fear. Through God’s presence and favor, it was revealed to Mary she would “conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” and importantly, “you shall call his name Jesus” (1:31).

Mary is informed that Jesus “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (1:32). In other words, Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the fulfillment of the prophecies given years before by the prophets, words contained in the Old Testament. Jesus would be the fulfillment of all their hopes and dreams. More importantly, Jesus is the fulfillment God’s promises to David of having a king on the throne, a kingdom and kingship that will never end (1:32b-33). God’s promise had not failed. God’s promises will not fail. The promised one is great and is called Jesus (1:31), Son of the Most High, (1:32), Holy (1:35), Son of God (1:35) and King (1:33).

Though Mary faced an impossible situation, humanly speaking, “how will this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34), God was the guarantor of his promise, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37). God’s work would be accomplished by the Holy Spirit (1:15, 35, 41). In fact, God had already performed another impossible conception six months earlier in the lives of Mary’s relatives, Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were old and barren (1:7, 18, 36). Mary heard clearly what Gabriel had said about bearing a son, but she also realized the impossibility of this occurring. If Elizabeth’s problem was old age, Mary’s was that she was a virgin. But to highlight the human impossibility of fulfilling God’s promise and to emphasize God’s grace, he fulfills his promise through the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. (This is not the immaculate conception, which claims Mary was born without sin and remained sinless through her life, and it was for this reason she was prepared to become the mother of Jesus.) How could this happen? Because nothing will be impossible with God (1:37)!

Do you remember when God gave the promise to Abram and Sarai (later to become Abraham and Sarah) that they would have a child who would be blessed and bring a blessing and all the nations would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. Gen. 17:15-19; 18:9-15; 21:1-7)? They, too, faced an impossible situation – old age. Yet with Sarah at 89 and Abraham at 99, an angel appeared and told them they would conceive and bear a son at the ages of 90 and 100. They, too, doubted, but the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Gen. 18:14), the same words spoken to Mary. Isaac was the child of the promise. Jesus is the child of the Promise.

Mary is a model of humble submission to be used for God’s honor and glory in the extension of his kingdom, and in the fulfillment of his plan. After hearing this news Mary replies, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). We often look at this through sentimental eyes, but what Mary learned about this miraculous conception, a divine conception, would raise questions about her chastity. This would bring pain, rejection, being ostracized, and shunned. She would be accused of infidelity. During Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees would recount Jesus’ birth and claim this very origin of him. They clearly identified Abraham as their father, over against Jesus, who had been “born of sexual immorality” (Jn. 8:41). It is difficult to know how much of this Mary would have understood at the moment, but, based on Jesus’ engagement with the Pharisees, we know she experienced it. Her response reveals her humility, which reflects/manifests one who has experienced God’s favor, his grace.

Mary and Elizabeth both experienced God’s gracious providential plan in their miraculous conceptions. Upon Mary’s news of her miraculous conception, she visits Elizabeth, her relative, who is in her sixth month of pregnancy (1:36), in “the hill country, to a town of Judah” (1:39). When Mary greets Elizabeth, “the baby leaped in her womb” (1:41). This is an initial fulfillment of the promise given to Zechariah about their baby boy, John, who would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (1:15). Additionally, Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:41). Furthermore, Mary’s experience was that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you” (1:35). God the Holy Spirit brought this about. Elizabeth pronounces a blessing on Mary. This blessing is, first and foremost, because of “the fruit of your womb” (1:42): Mary is pregnant with Jesus. The second blessing is pronounced because Mary “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1:45). In other words, she believed God would fulfill the promises he spoke to her (1:45), and she humbly trusted the promises of God, evident in her response of “let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). This is sharply contrasted with Zechariah who “did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (1:20).

One final and important truth to notice. When John encounters Jesus in utero through the voice of Mary, his mother, he “leaped in her [Elizabeth, his mother’s] womb” (1:41). Through this, we learn that Jesus is superior to John. Even in the womb, John begins his ministry of pointing to Jesus (1:16-17), of being the forerunner to Jesus, and he does so by worshiping Jesus.

Mary joins the baby John in worship as she praises God through song: “My soul magnifies [glorifies] the Lord” (1:46).

In this first part of Mary’s Song, ponder the following questions as you prepare your mind and heart to worship the Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas season:

  1. When the Lord is with us, there is nothing to fear. What are your fears? On what issues do you need to hear the words from the Lord, “Do not be afraid?”
  2. When it comes to the promises of God, do you know what they are? Do you doubt they will be fulfilled? Even more so, what of God’s promises and purposes do you attempt to do in your own strength? Remember, of God’s promises and purposes “nothing will be impossible with God.”
  3. Mary is a model of humble submission. She recognizes she is a servant/slave of the Lord, and she humbly receives the unfolding of God’s sovereign and providential plan for her. This is a mark of one who the Lord is with, one on whom his favor rests. Do you have this mark of humility, of God’s work, in your life?
  4. In addition to humility, Mary also manifests a life of belief and trust in God and his promises. God’s favor was on Mary, his grace was upon her, which resulted in a life of humility and belief. The presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life enables one to believe and trust, not only for justification but also for the whole Christian life. Those who have been made righteous by faith live by faith. This is the foundation of blessing. God blesses, to be a blessing, which in turn, is the means by which one is blessed. What can you learn from Mary? Where do you need to grow in humility? How are you doing when it comes to living a life by faith?
  5. The ultimate focus is on Jesus and worship of him. Are you living a life of worship? What are the hindrances? This is how one truly celebrates the incarnation of Jesus, the God-man. And this is not a one-time remembrance on Christmas Day, it is a life.

One of the things I read most days as a companion to my Bible reading is the Christian history highlights for the day. Key events and people in the history of the Christian church are emphasized along with the year that key event happened.

On this day, November 30, in 1554, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, and who had recently been crowned Queen of England, restores the country to Roman Catholicism. Mary Tudor was known as “Bloody Mary” because she burned at the stake 300 Protestants, followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ espoused by Luther and Calvin and others. Some of those included in the Reformation’s cloud of witnesses are Thomas Cranmer, High Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. In addition to these martyrs, under Bloody Mary’s reign, 400 died due to imprisonment and starvation.

From our vantage point, when we think of the Reformation we often focus on the rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, the five solas – sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fidei (by faith alone), solus Christus (through Christ alone), sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone), the priesthood of the believer, among other vital truths. One aspect we often neglect or overlook is the cost of proclaiming the gospel and professing justification by faith alone. Many gave their lives for these truths.

As I prepared for our upcoming Theology Conference on “Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – Reformation, Protestantism, Evangelicalism and the EFCA,” I pondered this cost and considered having a lecture focusing on it. In many places around the world, many brothers and sisters in the Lord are professing faith in Christ alone at the cost of their lives. These contemporary expressions of faith, the ultimate sacrifice given of one’s life have connections back to the Reformation, and the Reformation’s legacy continues forward to today in the martyrdom of faithful witnesses.

Although this will not be one of our lectures at our upcoming Conference, had our scheduled allowed another lecture this is one I would have planned.

Reformation, the Global Church and Martyrdom

In 1521 Luther was called to the Diet of Worms to recant his teachings contained in his writings. He did not. This resulted in an Edict against Luther claiming he was a heretic. He escaped and remained in seclusion at the Wartburg castle. In Luther’s case, this did not ultimately lead to his death.

This cannot be said for the numbers of others subsequent to Luther who affirmed and embraced the teaching of the gospel, who refused to recant, renounce or deny the teaching, and were martyred for it. What do we learn from this? The Reformation marked the divide in the Western Church into the Roman Catholic and Protestant, or more accurately, Evangelical. It was among these groups martyrdoms were happening.

Today is a different day, such that there certainly remain the internecine debates, even among Evangelicals, but that does not rise to this level. Is there something to learn from the unshakable faith of the Reformers and post-Reformers that they were willing to die for the gospel of Jesus Christ? There certainly is. Although we face a different cultural context than the Reformation, the contemporary application would be to what is happening among some believers in Islamic countries who are giving their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and who refuse to renounce their faith in Christ. This, then, also connects the Reformation and us to the global church.

Although significantly different than the experience of many in the global church, this also reflects a cost of confessing and professing faith in Christ alone and his claims on our lives in our own contemporary Western culture. We are tempted to remain silent to avoid the backlash, scorn and ridicule, and in some cases litigation, from those espousing the new cultural and moral narrative, that of tolerance and the autonomous self. We want to avoid the judgement and condemnation of being a “cultural heretic.” But we do so at the cost of not contending and defending “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), with the result being we are “ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation (Mk. 8:38; cf. Lk. 9:26).

What do we learn from the Reformers and post-Reformers about the cost of confessing Christ? For what would we give our lives today?

We are excited for this excellent Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend with other staff, elders or leaders in the church.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

We are excited for this Theology Conference, as it will be excellent. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

Stephen J. Wellum, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will give the opening lecture to our Theology Conference. Rather than focusing on all the solas, which would be appropriate and which many Reformation anniversary conferences are doing,  we are focusing on the sola that is central to all the solas and gives the others unity and significance: solus Christus.

Solus Christus as Central to the Reformation Solas

Reformation doctrine, over against the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching, became identified by five solas – sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fidei (by faith alone), solus Christus (through Christ alone), sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). All of these solas are important, interrelated and interdependent. They are an organic whole. Although all important, central to these solas, that which unites all of them, is solus Christus, Christ alone. Consider the following: Grace (sola gratia) is based upon the person and work of Christ. Faith (sola fidei) is in Christ and his completed work. The Scripture (sola Scriptura) finds its center in Christ who is the fulfillment of all the Scriptures. Solus Christus emphasizes both the exclusive identity of Christ and the sufficiency of his work. In sum, Christ is the subject matter of the Scriptures, he is central to the gospel, and he is the heart of all of theology. This means Christ alone connects “all the doctrines of our theology because Christ alone stands as the cornerstone of all the purposes and plans of God himself.” All of this redounds to God’s glory (soli Deo Gloria). In this lecture we will consider the centrality of Christ to the gospel, the Scriptures and theology, along with the practical implications for life and ministry.

Steve’s two most recent books address the topic of this lecture:

God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016);

Christ Alone – The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior: What the Reformers Taught . . . and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming).

Steve and I attended TEDS together. He also served as a pastor in the EFCA, and was ordained in the EFCA while serving in this role, before moving into teaching theology in the seminary to prepare students for ministry. Although his primary calling is to teach theology in the academy, he is grounded in the church and he teaches within and for the church. This will be Steve’s first time to be with us as a speaker at our Theology Conference. He is a gifted theologian, and I am eager to for us to learn from him.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend with other staff, elders or leaders in the church.

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses, what traditionally is known as the beginning of the Reformation. We join the celebration in giving thanks to God for this rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our emphasis will be on the theology of the Reformation and its ongoing historical legacy, with a specific focus on the biblical gospel of grace, rediscovered by the Reformers (Luther referred to himself and the movement as Evangelicals, not Protestants), and its impact historically on the EFCA.

Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.

Introduction: Reformation, Protestantism, Evangelicalism and the EFCA

All Protestants trace their history to the Reformation. The same is true of Evangelicals. In fact, the Reformers preferred the term Evangelical to Protestant, since the former arises from and connects to the gospel, that central truth that was rediscovered and actually led to the Reformation.

The same is true for those of us in the Evangelical Free Church of America. Not only do we trace our history to the Reformation, we also are grounded in the gospel. Although most are clear on our roots, not many know or are aware of the historical stream of the Reformation leading into the EFCA.

In this introductory message, we will focus specifically on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation, the historical causes that led to the EFCA, and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA, all of which influence and affect who we are today.

We are excited for this Theology Conference, as it will be excellent. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.

You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend with other staff, elders or leaders in the church.