Archives For The Gospel Coalition

Many have likely followed the discussion regarding grace, justification and sanctification. It has been discussed on numerous blogs. It has resulted in some changes to some ministries. Specifically, this teaching, discussion, disagreement has led to Tullian Tchividjian’s blog being moved from The Gospel Coalition to his own ministry, Liberate.

This discussion has been going on for a few years. The issues had not resolved and the differences and rhetoric had sharpened. Now that this break has occurred, there are explanations about what and why. I include a brief history of some of the key articles/posts about the most recent debate which led to the changes.

At the heart of the discussion, debate and disagreement is the understanding of justification and sanctification. This is a broad statement that must be nuanced if one is going to discern the fault-lines in the discussion. But most of the posts below have attempted to do that so rather than repeat that here, I will link to them below.

Here are a few of the articles that preceded this decision made by TGC and Tchividjian.

Here are responses from the two key entities involved in the decision, Tchividjian and TGC founders and leaders, Tim Keller and Don Carson.

Here are responses from a few after the decision was made.

Reflections (in no particular order)

  • In my assessment, it sounds like Tchividjian responds so strongly against his concerns of legalism or moralism that he goes too far in the other direction, almost becoming antinomian.
  • We all have a biography that affects and influences what we emphasize.
  • Most of these kinds of discussions and debates consist of both personalities (persons) and theology, and that can cloud (or clarify?) the matter. Often if we like the person, we will extend much grace, whereas if we do not, much less grace is extended. In the former, we engage in a hermeneutic of love, while in the latter we engage in a hermeneutic of suspicion. In all instances Christian maturity ought to be reflected in a hermeneutic of love.
  • It is important to address specific biblical texts and particular theological beliefs, not just make general claims and criticisms.
  • Most every theological discussion is part of a much larger and longer historical discussion of the doctrinal belief. It is larger in that doctrinal beliefs are organic such that one is always related to another, which is related to another. Though they can be studied alone, there is no doctrine that remains alone. It is longer in that these doctrines have been discussed, debated, defended throughout much of church history, so awareness of these longer discussions is vital to situate one’s present engagement in the discussion.
  • Though on the surface it sounds like this addresses grace and how it affects one’s understanding of conversion and spiritual growth, there is much more. It addresses regeneration (a new act of creation, in which one receives a new heart and a new nature), justification, sanctification, union with Christ, the understanding of the Bible, the law and the gospel, how justification and sanctification relate, how one gives pastoral counsel to one who struggles with sin, how one understands and lives the whole of the Christian life.
  • One must not overlook or neglect the end-goal of doctrine and theology which is its application in the life of the believer to conform us into the image of the Son. It is one thing to discuss doctrine abstractly, but it is another when one realizes this is truth that is to be applied to one’s life, and, in fact, reflects that we care about our own and other’s salvation (1 Tim. 4:16).
  • The purpose of systematic theology is pastoral theology, i.e. applying God’s truth to the lives of believers (including my own).
  • Rather than working through these disagreements, the answer is to leave and start one’s own ministry. As good as this might be, and as necessary as it may be at times, something is wrong about this being the answer. It was the Holy Spirit’s presence evident among the believers that resulted in the initially sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:2). John Mark deserted them (Acts 13:13). They returned and rejoiced in what God was doing. When they were to embark on their second missionary journey, Paul refused to bring John Mark along with them, which led to a division (Acts 15:36-41). On the one hand, we can rejoice that there are now two missionary teams, not just one: Barnabas and John Mark depart to Cyprus (Acts 15:39), while Paul and Silas return to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41). But on the other hand, should we not grieve that it was a division that was the cause of these two teams. Though God used and transformed this situation, and though Paul and John Mark reconciled (2 Tim. 4:11; cf. Acts 13:13; 15:37-39), we must not be too quick to overlook the division.
  • Coalitions and associations, as good and important as they are, have limitations. It is one thing to begin one. It is quite another to sustain one.
  • It is important to remember that because of concerns, real and/or perceived, there will be responses, certain emphases that attempt to respond to or correct what is perceived to me an improper emphasis in the other direction. Often the one responding thinks the response is balanced and appropriate. But it can be imbalanced, though in the other direction. One needs the Christian community to help discern that.
  • Often people can confuse the doctrine one is emphasizing with “of first importance” significance, an essential, which will determine how the person responds. It may be. But one must be careful to equate uncritically my concern (or hobby-horse) with orthodoxy or evangelicalism or the gospel. We must think carefully, discerningly and humbly about how we resolve differences in emphases and theology, and then what we do and how we respond to those differences.
  • In theology it is important to discern between a doctrinal essential and a doctrinal non-essential. It is common for one to conclude that everything one believes or everything a church believes is essential. And yet, there is order and priority of doctrinal matters, and not all theology/doctrine is of first importance. Furthermore, when one assesses what is essential, it is important to understand to what the essential is referring: e.g., an epistemological essential (the Bible) is different from a soteriological essential (what is necessary to be born again).
  • When we think of this issue of justification and sanctification, we think of the now and the not yet. In justification, the future, end-time verdict has become now in that we who are believers in Christ by faith have receive the verdict today: having been justified, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1; 8:1). And yet we are not yet glorified, so we groan and long to be redeemed (Rom. 8:23), with the assurance that sanctification is glory begun, whereas glorification is sanctification complete. And in between we work out our salvation with fear and trembling knowing it is God who works in us both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).
  • Finally, as I ponder this in my own life, I am grieved that I don’t despise sin and desire holiness more, and that after many years of walking with the Lord there is so much sanctification that remains. I am thankful for God’s grace, that he who began a good work will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6).

Many are familiar with the ministry of The Gospel Coalition. Many others regularly glean from the TGC website. In fact, this site receives approximately 4 million pageviews monthly.

Recently Ben Peays, executive director, sat down with Don Carson and Tim Keller, co-founders, to talk about the history of TGC and its future: “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going.” Discussion for this ministry began in 2002 with the goal to “restore the center of historic. Confessional Christianity.” If you are interested to learn more, take ten minutes to listen to this dialogue.

I am grateful to the Lord for the ministry of TGC!

John Piper recently retired from 33 years of pastoral ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Last week while at The Gospel Coalition Conference 2013, Collin Hansen sat down with Piper for a 30-minute interview addressing “regrets and retirement.” There is much to gain from this interview, not only theologically, but also from the godly wisdom gleaned over the years of pastoral ministry.

Last evening there was a corporate gathering  of all the Bethlehem Baptist campuses to give thanks and praise to God for His sovereign grace and mercy in the life of the church, and express gratitude to the Pipers for their 33 years of faithful ministry in, with and among them. This was both a retirement from vocational ministry at Bethlehem Baptist to a recommissioning to the next chapter of ministry in the Pipers’ lives, the full-time ministry of Desiring God. For the Pipers, this is not a retire but rather a re-fire!

Piper has no plans of slowing down. In dependency on God, he notes there is “much more to come” in this next chapter.

We thank the Lord for His grace evidenced in the lives and ministries of Bethlehem Baptist and the Pipers, and we pray a blessing on both in these next chapters!

Understanding and Preaching Daniel

Greg Strand – April 5, 2013 2 Comments

Continuing the focus on the Old Testament Scriptures and understanding, teaching and preaching those Scriptures as a Christian, i.e. its unity as one Book, the Scriptures, with its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, we look at a new commentary on Daniel.

Sidney Greidanus, professor emeritus of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI, is the author of the Foundations for Expository Sermons series published by Eerdmans. Greidanus’ book Preaching Christ from Daniel is the most recent in this excellent series, and he was recently interviewed about understanding and preaching Daniel.

In response to the question about “common evangelical oversights or misunderstandings related to Daniel,” Greidanus noted that the major problem historically has been to apply the text specifically to a dating of the end of the world, and the most common contemporary problem is moralizing that is often divorced from the author’s intent in the text.

Historically, a major misunderstanding has been using Daniel’s apocalyptic chapters to predict the end of the world. . . . But the main evangelical misunderstanding today is that Daniel presents a series of moral tales. Even good evangelical commentaries nudge pastors into making moralizing applications. . . . Moralizing can spin the application in almost any direction. Although these applications aren’t necessarily unbiblical in themselves, they fail to respect the specific genre of the redemptive-historical narrative as well as the goal (purpose/intention) of the inspired biblical author.

Greidanus believes the primary theme of Daniel is God’s sovereign plan being worked out in history to establish His kingdom and Daniel’s chief goal is to comfort and encourage God’s people.

Daniel’s primary theme, then, is this: Our sovereign God controls events in this world, judging and protecting individuals as well as world empires, until He establishes His perfect kingdom on earth (cf. Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14, 27). Since Daniel originally addressed his messages to Israelites suffering exile in Babylon, his chief goal was to comfort and encourage God’s people with the news that, despite appearances to the contrary, God was still in control.

Greidanus’ definition of preaching Christ:

I define preaching Christ as “preaching sermons which authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and/or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament.”

Regarding other themes in the book of Daniel, Greidanus lists six:

  1. the sovereign Lord guiding his faithful people, even in exile (Dan. 1; cf. Joseph in exile in Egypt);
  2. delivering his faithful children (Dan. 3, 6);
  3. giving earthly kingdoms to whomever he wills (Dan. 4, 5);
  4. in the end replacing all human kingdoms with his everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2, 7, 9);
  5. ultimately raising his people from the dead, exalting them in his kingdom (Dan. 10:1-12:4);
  6. and promising everlasting life to his people who persevere to the end (Dan. 12:5-13).

Some themes highlight the growing messianic expectation in the Old Testament.

Several themes especially reinforce the growing messianic expectation in the Old Testament. These include belief that the sovereign Lord will in the end replace all human kingdoms with his everlasting kingdom (Dan. 2, 7, 9) and give his kingdom to a divine son of man (Dan. 7:13-14) and to his people (Dan. 7:27) whom he will raise from the dead, exalting them and giving them everlasting life (Dan. 12:2-3).

Other books in the Foundations for Expository Sermons series are the following:

Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007)
Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes (2010)
Preaching Christ from Daniel (2012)

Prior to these homiletical/expository commentaries, Greidanus laid the foundation for these works by writing these two important texts:

The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (1989)
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (1999)

Greidanus has undertaken a great ministry/service to Christian preachers of the Word of God. I would encourage you to avail yourselves of these good works.

The Important Ministry of Chaplains

Greg Strand – February 26, 2013 2 Comments

With the incredible cultural shifts marked by the moral dominos falling, and with increasing speed, one of the first to feel these effects will be our Evangelical (including but not limited to the EFCA) military chaplains.

Roy Bebee, our EFCA Chaplains Endorsing Agent, recently responded to the question regarding “the effects of military chaplaincy should DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] be overturned by the courts.”

Roy explains why our Evangelical chaplains will be the first to feel the impact of these changes.

Because the military does not create its own religious ministries, the Armed Services depend on religious leadership from the churches and religious bodies of America. Chaplains are endorsed to serve through cooperative channels between the religious body, the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Chaplains Board, and the respective service branch. Should the government normalize homosexual marriage, chaplains would be confronted with a difficult moral choice of choosing to serve their God or serve Caesar. Because of the high percentage of theologically conservative and biblically oriented chaplains within each military branch, the conflict will be real and a cause for great concern.

According to Roy, there are four key ways chaplains will be “adversely affected should DOMA be struck down.”

  1. Chaplains will be constrained in sharing their religious beliefs on marriage.
  2. Chaplains could face adverse discipline or have shortened careers if they remain true to their faith group’s teachings or personal convictions.
  3. Chaplains will face challenges related to heterosexual marriage counseling.
  4. Chaplains will face challenges related to their refusal to endorse homosexual relationships.

In conclusion, Roy, rightly, places his absolute trust in our sovereign God, but he also acknowledges that there will be a cost to being faithful.

We know that God is sovereign and that his work will not be thwarted, but the chaplain’s labor is going to be more challenging and precarious. The same will be true for all faithful believers in military leadership. . . . chaplains will be the first to decide whether their longtime Chaplains Corps motto of “cooperation without compromise” can stand the test of the impending court action.

Remember to pray for our EFCA (and Evangelical) chaplains!