Jump to content

The Protestant Community

Christian and Theologically Protestant? Or, sincerely inquiring about the Protestant faith? Welcome to Christforums the Christian Protestant community. You'll first need to register in order to join our community. Create or respond to threads on your favorite topics and subjects. Registration takes less than a minute, it's simple, fast, and free! Enjoy the fellowship! God bless, Christforums' Staff
Register now

Fenced Community

Christforums is a Protestant Christian forum, open to Bible-believing Christians such as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists, Church of Christ members, Pentecostals, Anglicans. Methodists, Charismatics, or any other conservative, Nicene- derived Christian Church. We do not solicit cultists of any kind, including Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Eastern Lightning, Falun Gong, Unification Church, Aum Shinrikyo, Christian Scientists or any other non-Nicene, non-Biblical heresy.
Register now

Christian Fellowship

John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
Sign in to follow this  

How Does Reformation Theology Interpet John 3:16?

Recommended Posts


(Exposing the Straw Man)

by John Hendryx


"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16


As some of you may know, author Dave Hunt's unwillingness to acknowledge plain historical and theological errors presented in his book entitled "What Love Is This?," prompted Multnomah Press to cancel the second edition. A large number of booksellers also boycotted Hunt's divisive book having been surprised by his stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge impropriety. Specifically many claim the book engaged in historical revisionism with regard to the teachings of well-known five-point Calvinist preacher C.H. Spurgeon. It further made consistently inaccurate incriminations about Calvinist beliefs in order to skew the evidence to his favor. The bunk scholarship has managed to cause a rift in the Christian community, not over doctrinal differences so much as the the straw man he sets up against Calvinism. Unfortunately, this is no isolated incident. In my previous short essay about a defender of Hunt's eisegesis named Malcolm Lavender, I also explained this curious propensity to charge Calvinist's with beliefs they do not hold in order to poison the unfamiliar against the Christ-centered biblical Christianity that was recovered during the Reformation.


While these dark ad hominem descriptions of Calvinism as heresy will likely arouse cheers among their followers, they are really downright misleading in their characterization. The movement against Reformed Theology turns out to be a kind of an irrational moral suppression of one of the most robustly God-honoring theological traditions in existence today. Even when faced with insurmountable biblical evidence, many out there like Hunt, Lahaye and Geisler grind their teeth at the biblical revelation which points to God's sovereignty in the salvation of men. There is a desperation about this anti-Calvinist movement which clings to one or two favorite verses without taking into consideration either context or what the rest of the Scriptures say. I mention this because there is something askew with the spirit of contention of those who attack in this way. But it is the Scriptures, and not modernist tradition, that should be our guiding light.


In the following essay I want to point out some more examples of these spurious and illegitimate claims made by Lavender in his essay against James White. Furthermore I want to show why John 3:16, when understood plainly and in context, is really the basis for a robust biblical Calvinism. At the very beginning of his essay Lavender says,


"Here the imagination is strained, utterly, as the Calvinistic gospel tells multiplied millions and billions of Adam's fallen race: "You have no hope because God has abandoned you." This is the gospel? This is good news?"


Next Lavender takes it upon himself to explain what Calvinists mean when they interpret John 3:16:


John 3:16-17 is interpreted according to their canon:


"16For God so loved the world of the elect that He gave His only Son, for the purpose that every one of the elect who believes in Him irresistibly cannot perish, but has eternal life unconditionally. 17For God did not send the Son to the elect to judge the elect, but that the elect be unconditionally saved through Him." (Lavender)


"The issue before us is whether God extends to all the sons and daughters of Adam's fallen race the opportunity to be saved, or whether His love is for the elect only, and so limited. The issue is supreme; the argument is vital! Here then the outcome is truth at its highest level or apostasy from the lowest hell. Accordingly, the Five Point system stands or falls at John 3:16. The Truth stands as an objective fact and it is our purpose to pursue the path that leads to that fact." (Lavender)


Lets take these sweeping and far-reaching accusations one by one.


"Here the imagination is strained, utterly, as the Calvinistic gospel tells multiplied millions and billions of Adam's fallen race: "You have no hope because God has abandoned you." This is the gospel? This is good news?" (Lavender)


Mr. Lavender appears he would like his disciples to believe that Calvinists actually proclaim to members of Adam's fallen race that they have no hope and God has abandoned them. Why is there the need to misrepresent our beliefs in such a way? There is really no need to produce these fabrications against what is actually being taught. Lavender knows he is not quoting anyone here, so why is there this desperate and continual compulsion to bring down his opponents with straw men and ad hominem arguments? What Calvinist has ever had such a thought even cross his mind when presenting the gospel to unbelievers? The statement made by Lavender is dishonest, irresponsible and patently false.


Next Lavender re-writes John 3:16 as the average Calvinist allegedly interprets it:


John 3:16-17 is interpreted according to their canon:


"For God so loved the world of the elect that He gave His only Son, for the purpose that every one of the elect who believes in Him irresistibly cannot perish, but has eternal life unconditionally. For God did not send the Son to the elect to judge the elect, but that the elect be unconditionally saved through Him." (Lavender)


Lavender is here basing the entirety of his argument upon the false assumption that all Calvinists are forced to interpret the text "world" in John 3:16 to mean "elect". Most mainstream Calvinists today, however, would probably not draw this conclusion from this text. While I understand that, historically, there have been a number of Calvinists who may have been seen to exegete it this way, I would argue that this is a strained translation of the the text, intended to fit a particular system.


Lavender then goes on to say,


…"The issue before us is whether God extends to all the sons and daughters of Adam's fallen race the opportunity to be saved, or whether His love is for the elect only, and so limited. The issue is supreme; the argument is vital! Here then the outcome is truth at its highest level or apostasy from the lowest hell. Accordingly, the Five Point system stands or falls at John 3:16. The Truth stands as an objective fact and it is our purpose to pursue the path that leads to that fact." (Lavender)


Wow, Lavender is creating a pretty tall order for himself. He claims that Calvinism stands or falls upon its interpretation of this one verse thus making it the supreme test of orthodoxy. I also have some isolated texts to challenge him with. But this is not how biblical interpretation is done. In other words, Lavender appears to be saying, "never mind what the rest of the Scripture or even the immediate context says. Everything about your system depends on this one verse " I would place before you that if we were to commonly interpret the Bible this way there is a verse in Romans which says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." If we were to fixate on this one verse then we would be forced to include Jesus in that number, but we know better because the Bible is an organic unity. The Bible interprets itself. We know Jesus is an exception to this blanket statement because it tells us so in other parts of Scripture and could even be implied from the context.


What is the Best Way To Understand John 3:16?


But what of the points Lavender makes? Given that some Calvinists have perhaps erroneously translated 'world' in this way, I want to present what I think to be a more biblical way. Everyone at least deserves to know what most of us really believe. So how do most Calvinists interpret this verse? Scholar D.A. Carson is fairly representative of how most would understand this text:


"…God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos ("world") here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John's Gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John's vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God's love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of "the whole world" (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God's love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect. The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture. However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord calls out, As surely as I live ... I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? - Ezek. 33:11


Most Calvinists, I would argue, believe as I do that Jesus was of a winning and gaining disposition to all; including His conduct to His enemies. He did not call for fire from heaven to destroy them but shed many tears for those who shed His blood. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matt.23.37), and upon the cross he uttered, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). In the cross, God overpowered his enemies, not by annihilating them, but by stretching out his crucified hands in love, he overpowered them with hands extended in mercy and forgiveness. The gospel is for all without distinction.


No Calvinist of any stripe ever says, "You have no hope because God has abandoned you", as Lavender claims. So what is it then that we believe about the gospel?


Calvinists believe that (1) repentance and faith are the free acts of men. Every person who so responds to the gospel call does so because he truly desires to do so. God does not repent or believe for anyone. We must personally and willingly trust in the person and work of Christ in order to be saved. (2) All persons must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved. The Bible from cover to cover teaches that no one can be saved without this. (3) Every person who repents and believes the gospel will be saved. In other words, whosoever responds to the gospel command will be received by the Father. It is our belief that the gospel requires us to declare to ALL HUMANITY that Jesus laid down his life for the forgiveness of sins to ALL who would believe.


This is what the Bible teaches and that is why we believe it. But many may be astonished since an Arminian would likely agree with everything that I stated above. We affirm that anyone who denies these facts is rejecting the clear message of the Bible. However, the Arminian gospel seems to end there, while Calvinism keeps going with a gospel that takes into account the whole counsel of Scripture. A few scattered favorite verses will not do. A full-orbed presentation of the unity of Scripture demands a more complete understanding and presentation ofthe gospel.. This is why Calvinists also do not fail to also mention that (4) because men love darkness they are unwilling to repent and believe. You see, while Mr. Lavender was fixated on Verse 16 it seems he may have overlooked other important things Jesus said in his gospel discussion with Nicodemus in the verses that followed John 3:16. Just after Jesus said "whosoever believes" he said "but men loved darkness instead of light… and will not come into the light …" (John 3:19, 20). I scratch my head as to how people miss these things. Remember, our gospel presentations should try to emulate Jesus and the apostles, not the modernist gospel presentations skewed by church tradition. Jesus does indeed tell Nicodemus that God loves this fallen world and sent His only Son that whosoever believes has eternal life, but he also affirms the equal emphasis that man's affections are bent toward darkness and they are hostile to God, thus man is unwilling to come. Then he says something hopeful ... that some do come into the light, those whose "deeds … are wrought in God."(vs.21) "Wrought in God" means worked by God. This points back to Jesus' earlier discussion in the same chapter regarding the new birth. He is openly pointing out that man cannot see until he first is born again. (John 3:3). It is the Spirit alone who can give birth to spirit. Flesh can only give birth to flesh. What more clarity could one want? Furthermore the text says this is ultimately determined by the sovereign quickening of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8). John chapter six drives this point home when Jesus declares salvation to the Jews (John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65).


Jesus is willing to receive anyone, if they will come, even willing to forgive the worst possible sin against Himself, but men loved darkness instead of light, and will not come to Jesus (John 3:19-20). The rebellion is in their affections (they love darkness). Jesus said, "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (Matt 7:16-18). In other words, a person produces fruit in accord with his or her nature. There inability to come, therefore, isn't like a physical handicap which we could not hold them responsible for but, rather, a moral bent, a disposition of the affections which is naturally hostile to God, a willful hostility. Therefore they are responsible and culpable for their rebellion - and even more culpable now since Jesus extended forgiveness to all who would believe through His self-sacrifice. This leaves people with no excuse for their rebellion. Thus the Reformed understanding of the gift of eternal life to all who would believe is nothing less than genuine.


I also believe it is important to point out that a myopic view of God's attributes (perfections) is one of the main reasons for this poor teaching on the topic, as I will explain. In teaching from the Scriptures, it is critical that we do not overemphasize one attribute to the expense of another. But those critical of the Reformed conception of God seem to do this by painting a sentimental type of love to trump all other remaining attributes. It is absolutely true that God, coming in the person of Jesus Christ, extends His great love to all by obeying the requirements of the law for us and then enduring the wrath of God that we justly deserve. The forgiveness of sins is declared to all who would believe. We won't. But God does not thereby turn His wrath toward us. No. He is patient and merciful and, in spite of our continued rebellion against His love, He still sets apart a favored people for Himself and restores our spiritual faculty that we might, in new affection for Him, turn and believe the gospel. As evangelists, we are to called to preach the gospel indiscriminately to all. The gospel acts as a seed to which the Holy Spirit germinates, so to speak, and raises to life those to whom He has chosen from eternity (Eph 1:5, 11). Jesus explained this through the same apostle just two chapters later when He said, "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes (John 5:21). What great love and mercy! But God is under no obligation to save us all since He is not merely a God of love, but also of justice, holiness, and righteousness. Jesus has lived a great life of suffering and shown great love for us extending His forgiveness to all who would believe. But since the very people who He holds out His hands in love to also reject Him, then His judgment is just when He justly passes over them. There are no more excuses.


There are many non-redemptive benefits that even unbelievers receive from the work of Christ, such as the patience of God, the withholding of His wrath, the earnest and loving offer of the gospel to unbelievers, etc.... If they do not repent and trust in Christ it is because of their willful unbelief, not because anyone is holding them back. Those who refuse to come could come to Jesus if they wanted to. God does not ultimately restrain people from wanting to come, it is by their own will that they refuse Him. Furthermore, Calvinists freely preach the gospel to all because we believe that when spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God has the power to graciously open people's eyes, unplug their uncircumcised ears, change the disposition of their hearts, and draw them to faith, and save them (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23, 25). It is because the Spirit of God accompanies it that the word carries in it the germ of life. The life is in God, yet it is communicated to us through the word. So (5) people will not desire Christ and thus understand the gospel until they first are given a new nature. (I Cor. 2:14; John 1:13; John 6:39, 44, 63-65;1 Pet 1:3).


The outward call of the gospel is genuinely directed toward all men. Jesus desire is that everyone place their faith in Him. But God's revealed desires are part of his preceptive will. For example, it is the will of God that we do not steal; that we love our enemies; that we repent; that we be holy. One thing is clear, unlike our inability to thwart His decretive will, God has given us the power and ability to thwart His preceptive will, though we never the right to do so. His permission to sin gives us the power, but not the right to sin. In this way, He has extended his love to mankind in such a way that any who are willing may embrace the Savior and have eternal life. This is clearly God's revealed will and desire for all. Therefore man has no excuse for sinning or rejecting Him. So God's disposition is that He has no delight in the death of the wicked. He is displeased when we refuse Him. Displeased with disobedience and only pleased with obedience. But since men will not obey the gospel on God's terms they need to be born again.


Those who protest at this would do well to look at 1 Peter 1:1-3 as he speaks of those …


"…who are chosen … BY the sanctifying work of the Spirit, TO obey Jesus Christ … who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again TO a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." - 1 Pet 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)


To restate, we are chosen by the Spirit unto obedience to Christ. God has, through Christ's resurrection [His finished work], caused us to be born again UNTO a living hope. Our living hope in Christ is, therefore, the result of our new birth, not the cause of it. The Spirit quickens our fallen spirit, giving rise to new affections that are willing to take hold of Christ in faith. (Also see John 1:13, 6:63-65). So it is true that Jesus was a propitiation, not for all men, but for all who would believe. The verse John 3:16 itself clearly indicates that only those who would believe receive redemptive benefits.


I would ask you to please take the time to consider before God why you would pray for unbelievers if you did not really believe God could do something for them. Either He saves them or they draw upon some innate capacity within themselves to have affection for and thereby choose God. No, when you pray it is because you believe God is the one who saves people.


Anyone who doesn't like the biblical teaching of regeneration must honestly answer this challenge: why does one person believe the gospel of Christ and not another? Any answer to this question, aside from grace alone, is a reliance on something besides Christ for our salvation. All spiritual blessings have their root in the cross of Christ. We must not only glorify God for Jesus but for the Holy Spirit and for the ability to turn in faith to Christ. Otherwise, if faith is solely derived from our own capacities, then we could not thank God for it.


I await your reply to the challenge.


Note: I do not claim to represent all Calvinists in my interpretation of John 3:16 but my viewpoint would probably be a fairly good representative indication of what the average Joe-Calvinist believes about it. D.A. Carson is a fine scholar and I strongly believe his exegesis is the correct one. Please take the time to read his whole article on Distorting the Love of God

Share this post

Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Similar Topics

    • You Can Teach Theology with Picture Books

      As parents, we are our children’s first theology teachers. Like the women at the tomb on Easter morning, we run fearfully and joyfully to tell the people we love, “The tomb is empty! Christ has risen.” With hope-filled hearts, we teach our children about the living Lord. God has ordained a means for teaching our children how to love him—and not primarily by sending them to AWANA, or buying another picture Bible, or using the right curriculum. Learning about God begins with wonder, and worship is our great goal. Teaching our children theology is as simple as having conversations with God and conversations about God “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). We have conversations with God by reading his Word, giving thanks and praise, and praying to him. In our family, we have conversations about God as we go about our daily routine—sharing meals, walking outside, and perhaps most delightfully, reading books. Book Adventures Every new book is a new place, a new journey into new worlds. My husband is our courageous captain. He navigates our ship through the shining seas of Bunyan, Lewis, and Tolkien. These days, we are on an excursion in a dragon’s lair. Theology, like food, tastes better when one is hungry. Young sailors are often hungry for definitions and explanations, while being full of questions and interruptions. When our captain recently explained various heretical views of the Trinity, our living room roared with laughter. I didn’t know that was possible. Before the current days of chapter books, however, there were years of shorter adventures in picture books. These too held truths and metaphors helpful for understanding the things of God. Illustrate and Illuminate The following picture books aren’t theology books. They should be enjoyed for their clever plots and likeable characters. But they can also illustrate biblical concepts. Through conversations, these picture books may illuminate truths about God in unexpected ways. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown Mother bunny gives us a great picture of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. The Lord never leaves us or forsakes us. He is faithful to pursue us when we run away. He is the fisherman who fishes for us and the “tree we come home to.” His sovereignty is like the wind that blows us where he wants us to go. The little bunny is a lot like Jonah, the runaway prophet. But unlike Jonah, we see the bunny repent. What Do You Love? by Jonathan London The question “What do you love?” echoes Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections. Parents can help our children to see that the child in the story loves his mommy not for “park slides and piggyback rides.” Rather, he enjoys these good things because he is with his mommy. The nature of true religion is to find our greatest happiness in Christ, not merely his gifts. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Sam Barnett This book hilariously illustrates double-mindedness. As Sam and Dave dig down, down into the ground they miss enormous chunks of diamonds because they keep changing their minds about which direction to dig. Let us pursue the Lord single-mindedly! The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy,” or where a big hungry bear might break in and steal. Our hearts are bound up with our red ripe strawberries. I asked my children: What are your red ripe strawberries? How may we store up treasures in heaven instead? Waiting Is Not Easy by Mo Willems This book helps us think about why we need patience and serves as a lesson in eschatology for toddlers. How do we answer the question, “Mommy, when is Jesus coming again?” This humorous book gives us five surprisingly profound answers: One, a surprise is a surprise. Two, waiting is not easy. Three, it will get darker before the surprise arrives. Four, sometimes waiting feels like a waste of time. Five, it will all be worth it. Wonder at the Light Like John the Baptist, parents who have seen the light are called to be witnesses to the light. Reading with our children will not save them. But we can be the voices crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the LORD” (Isa. 40:3). We can look for clues to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Learning theology begins with a sense of wonder at our risen Lord. May the families of the world fall down and worship. View the full article

      in Christian Current Events

    • How Much Theology Should Couples Agree on Before They Get Married?

      Derek Rishmawy   I'll admit, this isn't a typical question most Christian singles, or even couples, are asking. Most are still stuck on, "Wait, I'm supposed to date Christians?" That said, once you've established the importance of marrying someone who will be your partner in the faith and has the mutual goal of encouraging you in your relationship with Christ, you may start to wonder, "Well, does it really matter what kind of Christian they are? How will our theology affect the way we point each other to Christ? I mean, does it affect things if I'm a Protestant and he's a Catholic? Or what if we have different views on the end times? What about speaking in tongues? Can I date someone who 'quenches the Spirit' and thinks I worship with 'strange fire'?"   As I've thought about the issue while talking with friends, considering my own marriage, and searching through the Scriptures, I've concluded there isn't any quick, easy answer. Instead, I want to simply put forward three questions, and a couple of caveats, to help singles and couples navigate the dating and marriage decision.   Do You Agree on the Core?   This question can simply be another way of asking, "Is this person a Christian?" That said, you should definitely have some bottom-line requirements like, say, agreeing to the content of Apostle's Creed, Nicaea, Chalcedon, and so forth. Of course, the person doesn't have to be a theology expert such that he or she knows the names of these councils. But you should agree that God is triune and Christ is the God-man, that he lived, died, and rose again in history for the salvation of mankind. Also, you should make sure you both hold a fundamental commitment to the Scriptures as the final authority in these issues; that way, there's common ground for discussion and dialogue on other issues.   Beyond that, I don't think couples have to agree on every point of theology to have a solid marriage. A Calvinist and a Wesleyan (preferably of the Fred Sanders sort) could do well enough together, unless they're both super crusty about things. People with conflicting eschatologies could probably love and care for each other without an unnatural amount of friction (that is, until one of you reads the paper and decides its time to go down to the bomb shelter).   Can You Go to Church Together?   A further question to ask after the core questions is, "Can we go to church together?" Note, I don't simply mean, "Can you put up with his church?" or "Can you suck it up at hers and then podcast later?" There are going to be seasons where one of you likes your church more than the other, but the point is that worshiping and growing together in your marriage needs to happen in the church context. Going to different churches for a while during the dating process is fine, but eventually you're going to need to knit your life together in the broader church community. If you're theologically so far apart that one of you is thriving and the other is dying, that's not going to make for a healthy spiritual life and will likely lead to strife in the marriage.   Can You Raise Children Together?   The third question is one my pastor asks of couples seeking premarital counseling. Practically speaking, theology is going to play a role in the way you parent and disciple your children. For instance, right off the bat, if one of you is a credobaptist and the other is a paedobaptist, that's going to be a tough conversation when you have your first kid. My wife and I are going to have that conversation in time, because I've shifted in that area since we started dating and got married (moving from credo to paedo), but it's important for this act to not be taken unilaterally.   Theology Changes   The other thing you need to remember is that theology changes. You need to be ready. I just mentioned I've been shifting from credo- to paedobaptist over the past couple of years. That's just one of the many changes my wife and I have been navigating. The person you're dating now might have different beliefs by the time you get married. They could have shifts in theology after you're married, too. So will you. And in a lot of cases, given you're not an inspired apostle, that's a good thing. Actually, I'm convinced one of the reasons God gives you your spouse is to sharpen you, challenge you, and correct your understanding of God in light of the Word. I know I've learned from my wife and she's learned from me over the years as we've sought to submit to God's Word together.   Word to Reformed Guys   On that note, I have a special word to Reformed men—or rather, guys. A while back I wrote a joke blog on how to meet Reformed men. In the comments one fellow said he didn't mind dating a non-Reformed girl since he'd take it as a point of pride to "conquer" her theologically. Let me just say this loud and clear: This is arrogant, foolish, and must not be your attitude. Your future bride is not a notch to add on your theological belt but your sister in Christ with a mind of her own, given by her heavenly Father to be used properly, just like yours. In fact, hers might be sharper than yours. You may be a Reformed complementarian, but the command in Ephesians 5:21 says to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, and that command isn't revoked by the next few verses, however much you think they nuance it. Yes, you are called to "wash her with the word," as Christ does the church, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean with a firehose of theological argument designed to cow her into mental acquiescence. Basically, treat her like a person.   If you keep these points in mind, prayerfully listen to input from trusted, believing brothers and sisters, and keep God as God in your heart (i.e., avoid the temptation to compromise because you're desperate), you should be fine.

      in Singles

    • Biblical Theology Set to Music: ‘Hebrews’ by Psallos

      Composers have been adapting and setting Scripture to music for centuries. The more poetic passages, such as from the prophetic books and the Psalms, are the most common sources. But narrative passages, too, have inspired grand works, like the Passion oratorios of Bach. As for treatments of whole books, some admirable examples from the last decade are The Book of Jonah by David Benjamin Blower and The Lamb Wins and The King Dreams by the Lesser Light Collective, musical retellings of the books of Revelation and Daniel, respectively. What to my knowledge has never been attempted is a systematic musical adaptation of an entire epistle—that is, until Psallos came onto the scene in 2015 with their first full-length album, Romans, which was followed up in 2017 by Hebrews. Music Interpreting Scripture A collective of musicians associated with Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, Psallos exists to help “clarify Scripture through music” that is both “artistically excellent and theologically rich.” The group is led by Cody Curtis, a doctor of musical composition and the writer behind all the songs. Curtis’s approach is not “let’s take these words and put pretty music around them” but rather “let’s use music to exegete these dense passages in an imaginative way.” The notes are not just ornamenting the words but actually interpreting them, drawing out their meaning—as are the other musical tools like tempo, rhythm, style, mode, and timbre. Hebrews is a 90-minute art music composition for vocals, folk rock band, and chamber orchestra (listen on Spotify). The overall feel is of a Broadway musical, as the album draws listeners into a dramatic world with a lush orchestral score that moves through different moods. Strings, winds, and brass combine with piano, guitars, and drums to accompany lead singers Thomas Griffith and Kelsie Edgren, who show amazing versatility, pulling off both quirky and grandiose. While the predominant musical style is orchestral folk, the 27 tracks also encompass bluegrass, hot jazz, rock, slow hip-hop, Irish dance, minimalism, and electronic. And then there are moments when the music gives way to sounds of live theater, such as introductory remarks, ambient noise, and spoken dialogue. Discerning the form of the biblical letter was the first step to composing Hebrews, Curtis said, as that would determine the musical structure. He then spent time studying the book’s themes and literary features, with the aid of a New Testament professor at Union. The author of Hebrews, Curtis found, uses the rhetoric of argument and debate as well as exhortation, with theological exposition running throughout. The quality is thus sermonic. The key themes—Christ is better, the old is gone, the new has come, endure in faith—are all underscored musically. The first song, “Heaven and Earth,” swells and then bursts on the words “Son” and “better,” and it ends on an unresolved musical phrase: “Christ is better than the.” This anticipates the final song, where a list is given of all the people and things that Christ is better than: the angels, the prophets, Moses, the Levites and their offerings and prayers. Eclectic Yet Cohesive One of the hallmarks of Hebrews is its simultaneous eclecticism and cohesiveness. Connectivity between tracks is established through recurring musical motives and reprises. For example, there are five warnings, all scored with the same beating piano and agitated strings, suggesting a severe tone. Some of the titles bear further clues of linkage, like “Wandered” and “Wondered,” which each sets an Old Testament citation, the one bleak (“They shall not enter my rest,” 3:11), the other hopeful (“I will be merciful toward their iniquities,” 8:12). “Peace on Earth . . .” is reprised in “. . . For Heaven’s Sake” because these two texts function as bookends, framing the central narrative about Jesus as high priest and offering; the anthemic “hold fast our confession” is doubly present (4:14, 10:23). One of the main musical themes, and perhaps my favorite, is “Before the Throne of God Above.” Charitie Lees Bancroft’s 19th-century hymn text is known today mostly from Vikki Cook’s congregation-friendly tuning of it, which is beautiful in itself, but the Psallos tune is grander, more elevated, transporting. It glimmers faintly at the end of the second warning and is then progressively developed, instrumentally, until the album closes with a full voicing. These aren’t the only familiar hymn lyrics that appear. “Angels We Have Heard on High” receives a lyrical revision, and “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” is likewise adapted, in a jarring manner, in “The Old.” Incarnation, Ascension, and the Triumph of the New Among the several theological doctrines the album explores are the incarnation and the ascension. The song “Ex Paradiso” quotes Fauré’s Requiem, a mass for the dead, but changes In paradisum deducant te angeli (“May angels lead you to paradise”) to Et perducant te angeli ex paradiso (“And angels lead him out of paradise”). Whereas the musical source pertains to the ascent of the souls of believers into heaven, Psallos marries that majestic tune to Hebrews 2:5–18, making it about Christ, who descended to earth so that we can ascend to heaven. At the end, a spoken word in Christ’s voice: “Goodbye, heaven! Hello, earth.” Then, nine tracks later, we hear “Goodbye, earth,” which tags the beginning of the next track: “Hello, heaven!” Here Jesus returns to his exalted position on high (8:1). The climax of Hebrews is “Two Mountains,” a reference to Sinai (representing the old) and Zion (representing the new). The “long ago” theme from the beginning returns, dark and shadowy, but it builds and then breaks; the shadows lift, and the Zion theme enters, bright, triumphant. Contemporary Masterpiece I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say Hebrews is a contemporary masterpiece. The level of sophistication and intentionality executed on such a large scale is astounding. Curtis employs a musical vocabulary that’s much wider than what most Christian artists employ, and it serves the biblical text so well. My small group has been studying Hebrews, and we’re doing so in conjunction with this album. Listening to the book sung in such an intricately crafted manner enhances our understanding and appreciation of its truths, which, having settled into our ears and hearts, we won’t soon forget. What a gift to the church. Related: Paul’s Letter to the Romans Set to Music (Trevin Wax) How One Church Is Making Scripture Sing (Chris K. Davidson) View the full article

      in Christian Current Events

    • My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2018

      Do we have a two-party political system because we love binaries? Or do we love binaries because we have a two-party system? Maybe the answer is somewhere in between. And that’s just my point. Our affinity for binaries could result from the influence of social media and the unprecedented platform to weigh in with public comment on every headline around the world at all times. News and trends today demand a response: Are you in or out? Are you for or against? Thumbs up or down? American democracy and capitalism catechize their citizens as arbiters of success. And that instinct extends to religion: Is this view right or wrong? Is this figure good or evil? Should I fight or join this cause? The problem is that not every answer is clear, and not every choice is binary. It’s possible that both sides have a point. It’s possible that two people with the same theological views might also inhabit different contexts and experiences, and thus derive different emphases. One person has been conditioned to fear encroaching liberalism. Another person has been conditioned to fear complicit conservatism. Is either one wrong? Depends on the circumstances. Depends on the issue. Right and wrong are absolute. But this side of Christ’s return we only know right and wrong from the explicit teaching of Scripture. And not every trend or news event can be evaluated solely on the basis of a biblical text. Wisdom demands prudence. And courage. And humility to love another with empathy that leads to understanding, even where conviction may lead us in separate directions. Some entries on my 2018 list of top 10 theology stories are more strictly theological, and more clearly right or wrong, than others. At The Gospel Coalition we aim to show how the gospel of Jesus Christ affects all of life. And you’ll find assumptions and beliefs about God in each of these events and trends. Consider my list an admittedly foolhardy attempt—written from the vantage point of an American who subscribes to The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement—to discern the most important theology stories of 2018. You’ll see plenty of occasions to choose sides between right and wrong. But be careful not to demand an either/or where a both/and may be warranted. 10. Missionary martyr leaves behind debate over methods, theology of evangelism. Christians hold lots of controversial views. But we face the most incredulous opposition with our belief that apart from salvation in Jesus Christ, humanity will be judged by God in hell for eternity. And it’s not just hardened skeptics but many former evangelicals who denounced John Allen Chau after he was killed in his mission to evangelize the natives on North Sentinel Island, far off the coast of India. Among those who share Chau’s sense of urgency in fulfilling the Great Commission, debate ensued over what kind of training and assurances of possible success our churches should expect in the missionaries we support and commission. 9. Unprecedented year of transition opens door for next generation of evangelical leadership. Though Billy Graham had not recently been active in ministry, his death exposed the need for a rising generation of evangelical leadership, Graham’s own Southern Baptist Convention searched for new top executives at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the SBC Executive Committee, LifeWay Christian Resources, the International Mission Board, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. J. D. Greear won a convincing presidential election in the SBC as a vanguard for the rising generation. The path had been paved for him by an older generation of leaders such as Albert Mohler, who celebrated 25 years as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The broader evangelical community likewise saw unprecedented leadership transition as vacancies opened for top positions at Moody Bible Institute, Beeson Divinity School, Willow Creek Community Church, Park Street Church, and Christianity Today International. Many of these jobs remain open as we look to 2019. 8. Book publishing catches up with shift in apologetic concerns. How can you answer objections to the Christian faith when an unbeliever wouldn’t even know enough to raise those objections? Apathy is a greater threat to our mission today than antagonism. That means we’ll need ordinary Christians equipped to listen well and ask their neighbors good questions that will help provoke deeper thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life. Thankfully publishers tapped experts from around the world to take up this challenge of evangelism in a skeptical age. Our distracted neighbors need a disruptive witness. 7. Gay Christianity forces everyone to choose sides. The clamor for clearer lines in the debate over so-called gay Christianity dates back at least to the Nashville Statement of 2017. Those demands grew much louder when a PCA church hosted the Revoice conference to encourage chaste gay and lesbian Christians. To some, the conference looked like a misguided and even dangerous attempt to address the idolatry of family at a time when public opinion in much of the world has swung against God’s created order. You haven’t seen the last of the clashes about whether the term “gay Christian” cedes the identity battle in a way that erodes biblical belief and practice. 6. Tribalism wants to claim every square inch of American culture. If a lone senator cries out in the wilderness against the tribalism that threatens to overtake our lives, does anyone hear him? The retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, advocate of the “sweet mystery of life” and principal defender of gay marriage and abortion on demand, led to the emotionally draining and enraging confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The church was no refuge from this year’s antagonism, with the polarizing appearance of Vice President Mike Pence at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Good news for principled pluralism came in the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. But the year was characterized by the ever-creeping politicization and division of family, sports, entertainment, and church. With so much energy and money invested in dividing us, and in mobilizing Christians as partisans, we’ll need many more voices calling the church to prioritize the gospel above a worldly political agenda. 5. Catholic abuse scandal worsens as conservative critique of Pope Francis intensifies. Just when you think the Catholic abuse scandal can’t get worse, we see 1,356 pages showing how nearly every diocese in Pennsylvania covered up abuse over the last 70 years. And even Pope Francis was accused of covering up for a theological ally, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, widely known to have abused young seminarians under his care. Even if Pope Francis had a record of reform in the abuse scandal, he’d still be under suspicion for trying to change church doctrine, particularly in sexual ethics. This year conservative critiques of Pope Francis raised the public specter of a Catholic civil war. 4. Tough talk in the self-help genre attracts big crowds. Call it the anti-Oprah, politically incorrect effect. But the most popular books of 2018 gave us rules and orders. Jordan Peterson offered 12 Rules for Life as an antidote to chaos and became according to at least one observer the “most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” Maybe even more popular among Christian readers is Rachel Hollis, whose Girl, Wash Your Face became probably the most widely discussed book in your church. Both books advocate elements of “moralistic therapeutic deism” and remind us that what passes among some today as Christian spirituality is neither Christian nor spiritual. 3. Social justice strikes some as necessary implication and others as dangerous perversion of the gospel. If we “just preach the gospel,” will society change? That’s the hope for many who denounce “social justice warriors” as abandoning proper focus on the gospel of salvation. If that’s true, does that mean evangelical churches weren’t preaching the gospel in Memphis 50 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while protesting unjust wages and unsafe conditions for sanitation workers? There’s more agreement on the priority of evangelism than you might think in the debates over racial reconciliation on Twitter. The main disagreements come over the application or implications of the gospel, especially as it relates to social justice. Both sides see the gospel at stake with the wrong emphasis. And both sides are working to end injustice on earth. The real difference is how they prioritize issues such as abortion, religious freedom, mass incarceration, and officer-involved shootings. 2. Popular pastor wants Christians to unhitch from the Old Testament. The most generous interpretation of Andy Stanley, perhaps the most influential American pastor today, says he wants to work backward from an apologetic emphasis on Jesus and the resurrection before getting to the authority of Scripture and the witness of the Old Testament. More skeptically, he’s falling into a familiar trap of dichotomizing the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. Even his supporters should admit that the pastor famous for being a communication savant has contributed great confusion about the New Testament and orthodox approach to the old covenant, which has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. If some have abused or tripped over the old covenant, we should labor in teaching to show them the better way modeled by so many of the church’s great exegetes. 1. #MeToo claims major Christian leaders and elevates theologically rigorous advocate. The fierce denials of Bill Hybels only temporarily deluded other Willow Creek leaders and ultimately worsened the epic decline of his famous church. The moral compromise of Hybels, so long an advocate of women in ministry even as he seduced some of them, led many to say it’s time to reckon with celebrity power. The willingness of the most popular and powerful female voices in the SBC forced a reckoning in America’s largest Protestant denomination that disgraced one of its longtime conservative leaders. From this wreckage emerged one of the most rigorous theological voices on a national stage in recent memory, as Rachel Denhollander brought a biblical account of justice to bear on maybe the biggest scandal in the history of amateur American athletics. Previous Top 10 Theology Stories: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. View the full article

      in Christian Current Events

    • Francis Chan Calls for Reformation. But We Need Contextualization.

      Is it time for a change? This is the central question of Francis Chan’s latest book, Letters to the Church. “From the very beginning, the church has always needed pruning. We’ve always needed reformers and reformations . . . to call us back to what we were meant to be” (189). From Chan’s perspective, it’s time to “kill the consumer mindset in the church” (190). His essential argument is that the American church needs to return to the biblical basics we observe in the New Testament. Instead, church leaders are following a formula for growth: you need great music (preferably by someone wearing skinny jeans), moving lights, compelling preachers, incredible childcare, and, most importantly, hot coffee (44). But is this all you need? Or better yet, is this what you need? Has the church, by having these things, compromised the biblical model? Form vs. Substance Letters rightly pushes us to leave behind the unnecessary tips, tricks, routines, and traditions we’ve elevated above God in an effort to reach people. Chan argues that much of the Western church has sought “to experience biblical awe without biblical devotion” (56). We attempt to create amazing productions that we call worship services, but leave behind ministry to orphans and widows, service to the poor, equipping for personal evangelism, and more. But Letters conflates form and substance in much of its critique of American church culture. Chan relates this story: There is a simple exercise I walk through with church leaders. First, I have them list all the things that people expect from their church. They usually list obvious things like a really good service, strong age-specific ministries, a certain style/volume/length of singing, a well-communicated sermon, conveniences such as parking, a clean church building, coffee, childcare, etc. Then I have them list the commands God gave the church in Scripture. . . . . Far too often we are more concerned with how well the sermon was communicated, whether the youth group is relevant enough, or how to make the music better. Honestly, what is it that gets people in your church stirred up for change? Is it disobedience toward commands from God? Or is it falling short of expectations that we have made up? The answer to these questions might just show us whether our church exists to please God or please people. (46–47, emphasis mine) Many of the concerns Chan lists (sermons, music, programs) fall into the form category, about which the Bible says remarkably little. Surprisingly, it’s this lack of instruction that has helped Christianity to endure thousands of years and cross countless cultures. In fact, much of the book of Acts is about the church recognizing the cultural elasticity of their religious practices (think Acts 15:1–32). At the same time, Chan puts forward the biblical example of the early church in Acts 2, and their devotion to the Scriptures/teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer (along with missions), as practices that should be the primary pillars of churches (54–62, 176–80). Such pillars are what I’d call the substance of the church. I wholeheartedly agree that our churches should be putting these pillars front and center in our body and worship life. Like Chan, I also think many churches don’t do this. We mustn’t lose the substance of what it means to be a church. But are substance and form mutually exclusive in every case? Can your church be attractive in form yet still robustly biblical in substance? Removing Offenses We Reformed types often pit faithfulness against fruitfulness, so that it appears almost as if we celebrate small churches for being small. We think faithfulness means preaching God’s truth, paying no attention to what the culture thinks, because only God converts. That sounds nice on the face of it; the only problem is it’s not biblical. The apostle Paul was both God-centered and people-sensitive. Galatians 1 shows a man radically zealous for the purity of the gospel and the glory of God, while 1 Corinthians 9 shows the same man radically zealous for the evangelization of the lost. And both truly are radical. In the first case, the gospel is deeply offensive and will turn many away. In the second, Paul is changing his eating habits, worship practices, language, and clothes so that “by all means [he] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Paul understands that the gospel carries its own offense; our role is to remove any unnecessary offenses or distractions from the gospel. The questions are, then, does having a certain kind of music or atmosphere help remove unnecessary offenses and distractions, or create them? Have these efforts to remove distractions actually replaced the substance of our mission, or enhanced its clarity and effectiveness? We should seek to be both faithful and fruitful, and lament when any church leaves behind one for the other. Descriptive vs. Prescriptive When reading the Bible, narrative may be the most difficult genre to interpret accurately and with precision. We have to figure out which parts are descriptive and which are prescriptive for our present moment. Chan seems to approach the narratives of the early church in Acts as primarily prescriptive for the church today, which allows him to conflate form and substance. He writes, “Our parameters for church expression must revert back to what is biblical rather than sticking to what is normal at this cultural moment” (181). Chan isn’t the first to make this move (Platt, Hirsch, Cole). But what’s the controlling hermeneutical principle behind it? If you look outside of Acts, do you see direct (or even indirect) imperatives in the New Testament about how large church gatherings should be, or about the use of things like stages, sound systems, lights, or gifted musicians? If the rest of the New Testament is relatively silent on these things, this should chasten our readiness to elevate every aspect of how the early church formed, met, and grew as normative for us today (John Piper reasons along the same lines here).
      Context, Context, Context The underlying critique in this review can be boiled down to the need to consider context. I actually agree with almost everything Chan writes about the substance of what our churches should be. I even agree that many contemporary churches have lost sight of what it truly means to be a worshiping community. But none of these realities about substance dictates a specific strategy or form. Pastors should adapt their strategies to their context. If we take modern Western church-growth methodologies and apply them in large Western cities, closed countries, or the first century, then the church’s effectiveness will likely be limited (181–92). But this reality is less about this model’s relative biblical fidelity and more about its cultural suitability. Conversely, if we take the exact model we observe from the descriptive account of Acts, and apply it in certain Western cities and cultures, there may be a similar level of ineffectiveness. Overall, there may be many church leaders in America today who need to hear Chan’s impassioned plea to biblical fidelity, and I suspect that’s why he felt the need to write the book. But I fear what Letters offers as a potential solution is more reaction than reformation. View the full article

      in Christian Current Events


Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.