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Our EFCA 2017 Theology Conference was excellent. We learned, we worshipped, we were encouraged – and we encouraged one another, and we were equipped.

Resources

Resources from the Preconference have been posted: Genesis and the Age of the Earth: Does the Bible Speak Definitively on the Age of the Universe?

On the website you will have access to the recordings of the discussion between Al Moher, who answered the question “yes,” and Jack Collins, who answered the question “no.” You will also be able to peruse or download the Notebook, which consists of information about the speakers, an introduction to the Conference, and bibliographies from the two speakers.

Listen, Discuss and Learn

After listening to the presentations and responses of Mohler and Collins, we spent the third and final session in discussion groups. It is one thing to carry on this important discussion in an academic setting as we did. But it is another thing when this discussion happens in the same local church, around an elder table.

To gain the most from this session, here is a suggested format for thought and discussion with others.

  • Read the introduction to this preconference found on pages 14-15 of the Notebook.
  • Listen to the presentations and responses of Mohler and Collins. Discuss what you learned.
  • Read “Continuing the Discussion in the Local Church – A Case-Study” on pages 24-25 of the Notebook, and respond to the seven questions related to the case-study.
  • In order to give this discussion a context in the EFCA, read the additional resource “Creation, EFCA Statement of Faith and Evangelical Convictions” after having read the case-study and before discussing the questions. This is found on pages 25-26 of the Notebook.
  • Read and discuss “The Doctrine of Creation: Pastor and Elder/Leadership Affirmations – An EFCA Example,” consisting of Theological Foundations, Scientific Foundations and Pastoral Implications, on pages 26-29 of the Notebook. (This is an example of something you could use in your local church. It has no authority and has not been adopted by any church. It was written, in conjunction with the theology conference, for the purpose of providing a resource for this important discussion which serves as a model for what might be done in a local church. It is intentionally thorough, so you can see the breadth of issues to include, and then you can, based on your own situation, determine what to use that is most helpful to you, meaning all of it, some of it, or none of it. But even if you do not use any of it, you will have been made aware of the breadth of the issues.)

Conclusion

We affirm without reservation or equivocation the biblical truth “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We profess with conviction, “We believe in one God, Creator of all things” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 1, God). We also profess with that same conviction “the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 2, The Bible). With these foundational and essential truths, we humbly and charitably engage in dialogue and debate regarding the question, “Does the Bible speak definitively on the age of the universe?”

A Few Books on Marriage

Greg Strand – March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

This past year Karen and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. I am grateful for my dear wife, and grow more grateful with each passing year. In the good providence of God he not only pronounced us “husband and wife” he has, indeed, made us one such that our prayer and the bend of our lives is that we “may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).

When Karen and I were first married, we read a book on marriage annually. We did for a number of years. But then we began having children and, well, it changed. In the past few years we have picked this up again. I am always on the lookout for good books on marriage. More so, I am eager to grow in godliness as a husband so that our marriage can be strengthened, and truly reflect Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the church. Both become a “picture,” a manifestation of the gospel (Eph. 5:22-33).

In preparation for leading a seminar on marriage, Jean Williams read a number of books with this question in mind: “What, ultimately, is marriage for?” Williams writes about three books she found especially helpful (“Three books and some thoughts,” The Briefing 403): John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence; Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God; and Christopher Ash, Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be.

Williams began by looking for one major point or goal of marriage. But she concludes that due to the wonderful complexity and mystery of marriage, there are a number of ultimate reasons for marriage. The main points of these books on marriage, in the order they were listed above, Williams concludes (emphasis mine):

Marriage looks upward – its purpose is to display God’s glory by presenting a picture of the covenant between Christ and the church.

Marriage looks inward – its purpose is spiritual friendship leading to holiness, as husband and wife partner [with] each other on the journey to glory.

Marriage looks outward – its purpose is to serve God in partnership as we rule and care for his world and make Jesus known.

Marriage looks upward, inward, and outward. Like a three-legged stool, if it lacks a leg it will stumble and fall. Yet ultimately marriage looks forward, to the day when our small marriages will be swallowed up by a greater one. For marriage is a temporary permanence, a life-long bond that draws its final breath only when we do. As we step into eternity, all the purposes of marriage find their end in Christ.

I find this not only a helpful summary of these three books, I find these four ultimate aspects of marriage to be a helpful and important reminder as I ponder my own marriage.

As you consider these various ultimate goals of marriage – upward, inward, outward and forward – where do you need to grow? What God-ordained means will you use to foster and nourish that growth?

Depicting Our Commitment to Jesus

Greg Strand – March 9, 2017 6 Comments

H. Wilbert Norton, a dear old saint recently died. He lived a faithful life and fruitful life, for his whole life. He was 102.

Will was ordained in the EFCA in 1940, and served as a missionary with the Free Church in the Belgian Congo. While there, he served as the founder and director of the Bible Institute of the Ubangi. Upon the Norton family’s return in 1949 to the United States, he taught at Colombia Bible College for a semester before joining the faculty at Trinity Seminary and Bible College, beginning in the fall of 1950. Here is a summary of Norton’s ministry at Trinity:

Norton’s work in education included serving as professor of missions, dean of education, and president of Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 1950-1964 in Bannockburn, Ill. During his administration Trinity Seminary and Bible College became a liberal arts college, Trinity College. The seminary was named Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  The transformation included purchase of 79 acres for a campus in Bannockburn.

In addition to his ministry in the EFCA and at TEDS, he also began missions department at Wheaton College, and he helped to found the doctoral program in missions at Reformed Theological Seminary. While home during a furlough (1945-1947), Christy Wilson, general secretary of the Student Foreign Missions Fellowship, asked Norton to aid in the planning of the first InterVarsity Missions conference, Toronto, Canada. This was the genesis of the triennial Urbana Missions Conference.

In a tribute written by his son of his namesake, Will, I was encouraged by many things of Will and Colene’s life and ministry. The thing that most struck me was a memory shared from a return visit to Zaire in 1985. Will, the son, captured the moment in this way:

During a quiet moment, Dad led Mom across the palm lane, down a grassy path to the mission cemetery where Timothy Lambie Norton is buried. Timmy lived only two days in August 1949.

In tears, Mother and Dad stood arm-in-arm, talking to their Lord and thanking Him for Timmy and the privilege of serving Him.

For my brothers and me that grave symbolized Mother and Dad’s commitment to Jesus.

Timothy’s death occurred in 1949. In the wake of this Colene became ill, which led the Nortons to depart from the Belgian Congo. Not only did they leave a ministry and people they love, they left a son and brother. In the good providence of God, he used this return to the United States in innumerable ways. However, this brief recollection speaks volumes about God, about Will and Colene and their commitment to the Lord and their love for one another, and about their legacy of a life lived in joyful, sacrificial obedience to the Father.

Karen, my wife, and I now have grown children. As I read that I pondered the question, “what depicted or symbolized our love for and commitment to Jesus?” Often those closest to us see those things better than we see them ourselves. For most of us, this commitment is not depicted through a major catastrophe like the death of a spouse or a child. That does happen, and it requires strength only God provides to get through such pain. Rather, it is frequently seen through the thousand daily deaths to sin, self, and fleshly aspirations, and the joy of sacrificially loving and serving others.

In sharing and processing this with our adult children, I wrote, “if there were not something in the way Mom and I spoke and lived that evidenced our love for the Lord and the joy of serving him, even when it cost, I would be grieved.” I also encouraged them to remember these truths as they begin their own families.

I reminded myself and shared with my family the following: Might it be said of us as of the Thessalonians (1:9-10): “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

Our EFCA 2017 Theology Conference was excellent! We learned, we worshiped, we were encouraged – and we encouraged one another, and we were equipped.

Resources

Resources from the Conference have been posted: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

On the website you will have access to the recordings of all the messages, and you will also find notes that accompanied many of the lectures. You will also be able to peruse or download the Notebook, which consists of information about the speakers, an introduction to the Conference, and bibliographies of each of the lecture themes.

Challenge: Listen and Learn

In light of this year being the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, I encourage you to “attend” this exceptional Conference by using these outstanding resources. In fact, I encourage you to do it with others. Plan to listen and discuss the material as a ministry team. If you desire to go further, consider choosing one of the books listed in the bibliographies. If you want some recommendations of some key books to read this year on some specific topic or theme of the Reformation, or even Pre or Post-Reformation, ask in the Comment.

Conclusion: Lord, please do it again!

We remember and celebrate the theology and legacy of the Reformation. We do so by focusing on some common and known truths about the Reformation and the resultant fruit from the Reformation. We also emphasize some lesser-known truths from the Reformation that have also shaped our theology and left a legacy. We do so not because it was the discovery of something new, or because that historical period of time is the pinnacle of the work of God.

Rather, we recognize the Reformation as an important time at which the gospel was rediscovered, which formed and shaped all that followed. Furthermore, we do not today want to recapture the historical time period of the Reformation. Rather, we ask God to revive and reform again, based on the truth of the Word of God, the theology of the Reformers, with the prayerful desire we leave a faithful legacy for the glory of God and the good of his people.

On this date in 1538, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Johannes Agricola (1494-1566) met, in a second disputation, to discuss/debate antinomianism (against the law). Agricola, and the other antinomians, “taught that the best inducement to repentance is not the law but preaching the gospel of God’s immeasurable grace in Christ. The ‘apostolic admonitions,’ following from the gospel and not the law, establish Christian ethics.” While Luther affirms the law is not necessary for justification, it does play an important role for the Christian in revealing sin, maintaining discipline and discerning what is pleasing to the Lord. Luther “insisted on the importance of the law as both a guide for the ethical life and the means by which God drives sinners to repent (that is, ‘convicts’ them of their sin).”

Part of the problem was that Agricola picked up some of Luther’s teaching, but he did not seriously or sufficiently consider the whole of Luther’s teaching. What was missing was the realism of the Christian life lived simul justus et peccator, i.e., in our justification we are simultaneous, one and the same time, righteous or just and sinners. As one writes, “In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.”

Since we are celebrating Reformation 500 at our upcoming Theology Conference, this is one of topics addressed. However, we are addressing it in a broader manner, focusing on justification and sanctification. But the heart of this discussion and debate rests in the disputation between Luther and Agricola during the Reformation.

Dr. Al Mohler will address the topic, Faith Alone Justifies, Yet the Faith Which Justifies Is Not Alone: Justification and Sanctification. I have explained this lecture in the following way:

Justification by grace alone, by faith alone through Christ alone was the clarion call of the Reformation. It remains the foundation of the Evangelical church today. And yet, this teaching of justification by faith alone concerned the Roman Catholic dissenters because they feared it would foster licentiousness. It would remove all moral motivations to do good works. One of the greatest threats to the Christian faith was the doctrine of assurance, according to some Roman Catholic theologians. Not only did this debate mark the divide between the Reformers and the RCC, there were differences among those promoting Reformation theology. For example, Martin Luther first used the expression Antinomian against Johannes Agricola. Calvin wrote, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” Another historical example of this debate occurred in the Church of Scotland in the early 18th century, referred to as the Marrow Controversy. A continuing and contemporary reflection of this debate is that between those who espouse free grace and those who espouse Lordship. On this side of the fall, this challenge and debate are perpetual and universal. How do the doctrines of justification and sanctification relate? How are they different? Can one have one without the other? To what degree? When does one become antinomian? When does one become legalist? In this lecture we will trace the history of this discussion/debate and address the contemporary manifestation of this age-old dispute, with a focus on the practical application to our pastoral ministry with people, recognizing these doctrines are at the heart of most of our pastoral care and counseling with God’s people.

As I worked on a brief annotated bibliography, I included two works that focused on this issue. The first work focuses on the debate between Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) and Agricola in the 1520s, while Luther refereed. The second one highlights the debate between Luther and Agricola in the 1530s, when Luther addresses antinomianism personally and directly.

Timothy J. Wengert, Law and Gospel: Philip Melanchthon’s Debate with John Agricola of Eisleben over Poenitentia (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997). The debate between the law and the gospel occurred in the midst of the Reformation, the mid 1520s. The key characters were Philip Melanchthon and John Agricola. The key question was over the meaning and significance of poenitentia, defined alternatively as penance, penitence and repentance: what is the relation between the law and repentance? It was through this debate Melanchthon developed the notion of the third use of the law for the believer. All of this is foundational for understanding much of Protestantism, and how to understand the law and the gospel in the Christian life.

Holger Sonntag, trans. and ed., Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus: Martin Luther’s Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2008). In the earlier debate between Melanchthon and Agricola, Luther played an editorial role. However, in the 1530s he got intimately involved through the first antinomian controversy. Luther heard through others Agricola preached a sermon in which he taught God’s wrath against sin is revealed through the crucified Christ, the gospel, not the law. The heart of Agricola’s view is that “the law’s demands belong to the past; a believer is converted, justified, and instructed through the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. The continuing divine demand of the law – or even of ecclesiastical regulations – was no longer of interest in this context.” To this Luther responded with theses and disputations against the view of antinomianism.

How do justification and sanctification relate to one another theologically, and what are the implications in the Christian life? The way we answer this question has profound consequences for how we live our personal Christian lives, how we live the Christian life with others and with what expectations, and how we provide pastoral counsel to others. This is one of those doctrines in which it is vital we understand and live out both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, all undergirded by the work of God among the people of God.

Personally, the church in which I grew up and the college I attended both espoused Agricola’s view, not Luther’s. This is why Bonhoeffer’s notion of “cheap grace,” espoused in The Cost of Discipleship (1937), rang so true in my ears: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (pp. 44-45).

Evangelicals still struggle with this issue. In many ways, on this issue we live with a consistent disputation!

Plan to register for our Theology Conference to learn further about this and other important issues pertaining to life and doctrine.