Posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I find that in the contemporary church the Gospel is often assumed. That is, in the church today there tends to be a bit of a “ho-hum” attitude toward the most important message in the universe. It is a mentality that says, “Well of course we believe the Gospel. Can’t we get on to more pressing issues now?” The assumption, and it is, I fear, common, is that there are issues (perhaps many) that are more pressing than the Gospel. I find it ironic that evangelicalism (a word that is taken from the Greek word that means “gospel”) has now been so broadly defined that men such as Brian MacLaren and Rob Bell who deny the substitutionary atonement of Jesus are among its most influential “leaders.” How can this be?

In the latest issue of Modern Reformation magazine David Gibson has written an excellent, albeit disturbing article entitled “Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections En Route to Denying the Gospel.” In it, Gibson traces an all too common trend among organizations that once held to and proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus’ sacrificial atonement for sinners: “Proclaiming, assuming, denying.”

Gibson writes:
“You may have heard the story of the Mennonite Brethren movement. One particular analysis goes like this: the first generation believed and proclaimed the gospel and thought that there were certain social entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel and advocated the entailments. The third generation denied the gospel and all that were left were the entailments.”

This story has been repeated, to one degree or another, many times over. One thinks of the United Methodist Church, The Disciples of Christ, The PCUSA, The Episcopal Church, The American Baptists, etc. These denominations and others have experienced the devastating spiritual atrophy that comes with moving away from the church’s one essential message.

But this is not only a problem with those denominations and groups that are typically considered “liberal.” It can happen to any group of so-called “conservative” Christians who find themselves ignorant of, bored with, or preoccupied with anything more than the Gospel and its concerns. It is not unusual to find legalism, moralism, political activism, and humanistic pop-psychology being proclaimed from “evangelical” pulpits. I would suggest that the enemy of our souls is happy with any preaching, liberal or conservative, that diminishes, misconstrues, or assumes the Gospel.

Evangelicalism as a word means little or nothing anymore. As a movement, it no longer resembles the Gospel-centered revolution that Martin Luther helped to launch. It may well be headed toward the historical ash heap with the many other formerly Gospel movements. David Gibson believes that Evangelicalism is in the middle stage toward outright denial; the stage he calls “assuming.”

“Assumed Evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, Assumed Evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others, and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day.”

I think many of us who grew up in evangelical churches, although we rarely recognized it, were growing up in churches that assumed the Gospel. We were more likely to hear a moralistic message on how we should be more like Abraham or how to slay the giants in our life than we were a careful and doxological proclamation of the atonement. Not many of us were raised to understand that the Bible from Genesis to Revelation declares Christ. Not many of us were taught to see the work of Christ foreshadowed in the garden, in the lives of the patriarchs, in the preaching of the prophets. These stories were taught to us primarily as lessons on living because that is what people want to hear. It’s “practical for everyday life.”

People get tired of hearing about Jesus all the time. They want to hear “Relieving Stress the Elijah Way” or “Rockin’ to God’s Oldies” or “Five Smooth Stones for a Happy Family.” After all, must everything come back to Jesus? Can’t we just hear something that encourages us? Can’t we just hear something that comforts us? We already know the Gospel…And just that quickly, the Gospel is minimized, marginalized, and ultimately lost.

In chapter one of The Great Work of the Gospel John Ensor makes an observation that is incredibly important. It is important precisely because of our tendency to assume the Gospel. It is important because of our natural tendency to drift away from the Gospel rather than toward it. He writes, “[The Gospel] seeks to scratch where we feel no itch. It offers as a matter of first importance what we consider of least concern – God’s forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life through the life and work of Jesus Christ.”

We will always tend to “feel” that there are matters of greater or more pressing importance than the Gospel. Among evangelicals, the Gospel is rarely, if ever lost in one grand movement of apostasy. It is gradually lost through small battles of attrition. Churches become family-driven or purpose-driven or morality-driven. Don’t misunderstand. Strong families, a God-centered sense of purpose, and biblical morality are wonderful things that ought to characterize every church. However, when the Gospel becomes simply one priority among many then the church loses her way. The church must be Gospel-driven.

“Some evangelical biographies and histories give the impression that difficult decisions only need to be made when we reach a watershed moment, a clear-cut choice between truth and error. In reality, such crisis points come about because of daily decisions, made on a minute scale and over a period of time, either to assume evangelical distinctives or actively articulate them. Individually, every day, we face the choice whether to sit under the Bible alone, to run to the cross alone and look to Christ alone, or to begin to shift our gaze on to other things. Once we begin simply to assume these truths, then we are already beginning to stop ‘acting in line with the truth of the gospel’ (Gal. 2:14). The potential consequences for ourselves are harmful; for the generation following us they are disastrous” (David Gibson).

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Justin Taylor at "Between Two Worlds" posted an excellent article (Spiritual Warfare 101) on spiritual warfare. Since I recently preached on Jesus' encounter with the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39) I thought it would be helpful to pass this along.

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

As a part of the new sermon series, The Gospel-Driven Church, and in harmony with the report from the Strategic Ministry Planning Team we will be reading John Ensor’s book “The Great Work of the Gospel.” I am happy that so many of you who are a part of the Metro East family will be participating in this important time in our church’s life. I know of no other book that feeds my mind and heart so well concerning the nature of the Gospel. Ensor writes beautifully about forgiveness – why forgiveness is needed and what was required for sinners to be forgiven by a holy God. Ensor rightly demonstrates the shallowness of popular sentimental notions of God’s love and holds high the robust, biblical theology of Christ’s cross work. While the sentimental stuff is indeed sweet it ultimately leaves us spiritually emaciated. Only a deep understanding of why the cross was necessary and what exactly was accomplished on that dark but Good Friday will offer to us the lasting hope and security that our souls crave.

Read a chapter of Ensor’s book each week in addition to your regular intake of God’s Word. Along the way I will be posting thoughts on the readings that I hope will be an encouragement to you.

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I was so blessed by our combined worship services on Sunday! It was great to see the saints from all three morning worship services together in one gathering. Many thanks to the office staff, the hospitality team, the ushers, the musicians, and all the others who worked hard to ensure that our time together was special.

I am thankful that God, by His grace, has afforded me an opportunity to begin a series of messages entitled The Gospel-Driven Church. The Lord used the Strategic Ministry Planning process to form this in my heart. I trust that the first sermon “The Gospel, The Church, and The World” was an encouragement and challenge for you. The message was drawn from I Peter 2:1-17 which served as the inspiration for our new statement of purpose:

“By God’s grace, Metro East will make known in word and deed the Lordship and love of Jesus throughout Wichita and the world for the sake of God’s glory and the salvation of sinners.” - I Peter 2:1-17

In the coming weeks the messages will address each of the Seven Pillars outlined in the Strategic Ministry Planning Team report. The Seven Pillars of Metro East Baptist are:
1. Honor God with biblical and excellent worship that engages both mind and affections.
2. Faithfully Proclaim the Word of God.
3. Strive for a fellowship that demonstrates in both word and deed the beauty of the Gospel.
4. Train disciples of Jesus who gladly reflect the holiness of God in all of life.
5. Equip and send out disciples to love our community with the mercy and hospitality of Jesus Christ.
6. Give cheerfully and sacrificially from our God-given resources for the building up of the church.
7. Advance the Gospel throughout our city and around the world.

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The evangelical world lost a giant last week. He will be missed by all those who were touched by his thoughtful, tireless, and courageous commitment to the truth. Check out this memorial site (Dr. James Kennedy Memorial).

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Tom Ascol over at Founders has written an article worth reading (theodicy). It deals with the recent comments of Roger Olsen of Truett Seminary which I posted on last week.

Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Read this article (Desiring God) and be encouraged by God's commitment to His glory and the salvation of sinners.

Posted on Tuesday, September 04, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Roger Olson is a professor of theology at the Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is a good writer and I am sure a good and decent man. But his article “Calvinist view of bridge collapse distorts God’s character” that ran in the Baylor Lariat (The Lariat Online) that ran in the Baylor Lariat is proof that kind, intelligent men can sometimes get it wrong. Dr. Olson’s sadly misguided article not only shows a lack of interest in the Scriptures but sloppiness regarding the beliefs of those he criticizes. For a man that has a reputation for complaining about how mean Calvinists have been to him, Dr. Olson shows an ability to write with a very sharp quill.

In the article, Dr. Olson makes a not-so-veiled reference to John Piper. He expresses concern that many young people are being swept up into the doctrine advanced by Dr. Piper (and many others). But what Olson describes as if it was a cult is actually the doctrine held dear by some of the greatest theologians and preachers in church history. Personally, I don’t consider the doctrine of Augustine, Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, Knox, Owen, Bunyan, Whitfield, Edwards, Carey, Judson, McCheyne, J.P. Boyce, J.C. Ryle, and Spurgeon to be dangerous. Nor do I consider the doctrine of D. James Kennedy, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Al Mohler, Alister Begg, Mark Dever, D.A. Carson, Sinclair Ferguson, and Joni Ericson Tada to be dangerous.

Perhaps the most provocative statement in the article is, “The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.” Dr. Olson had better tread carefully. Did he once consider that he just might be wrong before he wrote those words? Of course, it’s too late. The genie is out of the bottle. If Olson is wrong, as I firmly believe he is, then he has not only slandered many of his brothers and sisters in Christ, he has blasphemed God. Is Dr. Olson unaware of all the biblical texts that explicitly affirm the total sovereignty of God in all that comes to pass? Or is he like so many of the Arminian professors I had during my education who were not conflicted about ignoring certain pesky portions of the Bible? Incidentally, God scared Noah and Moses and Isaiah and, well, everyone else as well, but that is another subject.

God’s sovereignty over creation, providence, and salvation is basic to biblical faith and worship. One of Scripture’s most prominent descriptions of God is the King who reigns from his throne (I Kings 22:19; Psalm 11:4; 45:6; 47:8,9; Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26; Dan. 7:9; Heb. 12:2; Rev. 3:21; 4:2). The Bible tells us repeatedly that God exercises dominion over everything, great and small alike (Ex. 15:18; Ps. 47; 93; 96:10; 97; 99:1-5; 146:10; Prov. 16:33; 21:1; Isa. 24:23; 52:7; Dan. 4:34-35; 5:21-28; 6:26; Matt. 10:29-31). God’s sovereignty is total. He acts precisely as He wills and everything he purposes comes to pass. The Lord exercises his rule through seemingly ordinary events, extraordinary events, and even through what appears to us to be chaotic or accidental.

God’s rational creatures, angels and humans, possess free moral agency. That is, humans and angels do what they consciously choose to do and are thus held accountable by God for all their actions. This free agency, however, does not diminish or limit God’s sovereignty for He ultimately rules over human actions so that all his purposes come to pass. Mysteriously, this overruling power of God does not diminish the meaningfulness of human action (Gen 50:20; Acts 2:23; 13:26-39).

It seems that Dr. Olson wants to force a choice between a God who is entirely good or a God who is entirely sovereign. His implication is clear: If God is entirely sovereign then he cannot be good because of all the calamity going on in the world. On the other hand, if God is entirely good then he must not be entirely sovereign. In contrast, Calvinists have always affirmed that God is both entirely good and entirely sovereign because this is what the Scriptures explicitly affirm. This seems only to be a problem for Arminians, open theists, Pelagians, and atheists.

Dr. Olson knows for a fact that Calvinists heartily affirm the goodness of God. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt because I cannot imagine him being a very good theologian if he has not interacted with the writings of the Reformers and the Puritans. I defy anyone to find writings that sing more beautifully of the goodness of God than those of our forerunners from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Olson concludes his article by writing, “In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he [God] must have limited himself.” God limits himself? So this is it? This is the big conclusion? It’s not that I don’t understand. This is precisely the refuge I sought comfort in for years. It’s the “I can’t logically reconcile the Bible’s teaching in this area so I will manufacture an explanation that makes more sense to me” syndrome. Dr. Olson offers no Scriptural support for the claim that God limits himself. He just asserts it. It’s logical. It’s neat and inoffensive. It gets God off the hook for the unpleasant things that happen. But how can a theologian make a sweeping statement about the very nature of God without any appeal to the words of God? God has, after all, told us a great deal about Himself and nowhere does He claim to be limited. Dr. Olson and his Arminian brethren seem to be saying, “I can believe in the goodness of God so long as I can affirm the limitations of God in running his universe.”

How exactly would Dr. Olson suggest that God limits Himself? Does He only limit his sovereignty or does he also limit his love? “Oh certainly not!” But how do you know? “Because the Bible says that God is love.” But the Bible also says that God is sovereign. What about goodness? Does God limit His goodness? His holiness? His justice? Arminians think that God’s limited sovereignty preserves His goodness. This is a fallacy. Is it a good and loving God that wants to stop calamity and human evil but chooses not to because he loves human free will so much that he will allow untold millions to suffer and die because of it? Under this scheme do you think the average lost person who ends up in hell will wish that God had tampered (even a lot!) with their free will? Does a Christian parent hope that God will “tamper” with their children’s free will by drawing them to saving faith? Isn’t this, after all, how we pray for the salvation of others? How can we pray for God to save the lost if He has subordinated His entire redemptive purpose to the “free will” of man? If God so values this kind of unfettered free will on the part of his human creatures then why does He not preserve it in heaven? Isn’t it unfair and unloving for God to take away our ability to sin in heaven? How can I truly love God in heaven if He robs from me my “free will” to sin against Him?

Is it comforting to have a God who refuses to stop evil and calamity because he has chosen to limit himself regardless of the consequences? Is that more reassuring than a God who sovereignly works all things including calamity and evil and human salvation according to the council of His will (Eph. 1:3-11)? Is meaningless suffering outside the sovereign plan of God more comforting than the truth that one day He will make it clear that everything we have suffered served His good and glorious purpose (Rom 8:18-30)? It seems that Olson is more comforted by a God who means well but cannot quite bring it about. God “wishes” things were better but He’s not in control. That sounds an awful lot like…me.

I was confronted in the church parking lot one Sunday after services by a very angry (now former) church member who proceeded to “explain” to me that God’s sovereignty does not mean that He is in “control” of anything much less everything. Sovereignty, he told me, simply means that God is a king and like any king there are many things in His kingdom that are outside His control. Of course, he could offer me no Scripture to back up his rather novel definition of sovereignty. How quick we are to project our own limitations upon God. Where in Scripture does God claim to be a King who “rules” with the same kind of limited power as earthly kings? Indeed, does God ever claim to possess the same weaknesses and limitations of His human creatures? Is God, God or is He simply man writ large?

Certainly, Scripture tells us that Jesus “made himself nothing” (Phil 2:5ff); that he willingly entered into humanity in order to become our “sympathizing high priest” (Heb 4:14ff). But the Triune God was still enthroned and in control. The Father and the Holy Spirit were not incarnated in frail human flesh. Indeed, even Jesus, the one who “emptied himself” told his disciples, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” (John 10:15-18; 19:10-11). Even God incarnated in human flesh who took on the role of a servant does not sound very “limited.”

Olson includes more curious theology when he offers a statement from none other than God Himself: “And God says, ‘Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.’” Is this truly the God who has revealed himself in His Word? When you read the Bible do you behold a God who wants to make things better but needs our help to get it done? Certainly God uses His people as means to accomplish his purposes but this is a far cry from being dependant upon us.

I am curious as to where Olson received this insight. Is this truly what God has said? Perhaps God told him this in a dream. The Professor needs to get word out. He has just reformulated the purpose of prayer and it was apparently no less than God who gave him this fresh insight. One must be careful when attributing a quote to God. Notice that in the imagined statement God says, “sometimes I can intervene…” Does this seem more than just a little pathetic? “If you pray I may be able to heal the cancer or stop the accident, but then again I have limited myself. I am particularly limited on Mondays but if you catch me on Tuesday you’ll help your odds.” This formulation really gets God off the hook. If the cancer is healed then praise the Lord He didn’t limit Himself that time! If the cancer persists then it’s not God’s fault. After all, he has limited himself. I would love to have that little responsibility in my work.

I wonder how Dr. Olson would comfort someone whose child is diagnosed with cancer. Would he assure them that God would change it if he could? Would the Professor comfort the family by telling them that their beloved’s cancer is random and meaningless; that there is absolutely no purpose in it whatsoever? Would he give them the hopeful news that since God has limited himself there may be little he can actually do to help? Would Dr. Olson tell them that maybe, just maybe, enough people will pray so that God will receive sufficient help in turning the situation around? Or would that come dangerously close to violating someone’s free will? If I find myself in a hospital room, please don’t send Roger Olson. I need a man with a more robust (biblical) theology.

Olson gets hung up on how exactly God can ordain evil without being the “author” of evil. Welcome to the club professor. This is knowledge too wonderful for us. There are deep mysteries here to be sure. But can anyone well acquainted with the Scriptures deny that they give witness to God’s sovereignty even over the wickedness of men while at the same time affirming His complete “otherness” from sin? Is Dr. Olson aware that Scripture walks this very mysterious path? If John Calvin, or John Piper for that matter, attributed the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to the sovereign and good plan of God without diminishing the brother’s culpability would Dr. Olson be outraged? Would Dr. Olson have corrected Joseph when he said to his brothers, “What you meant for evil God meant for good”? Would Olson be “scared” by a God like this? Would this God remind him of the devil?

What about the cross? How could God ordain the greatest evil ever perpetrated and still hold the ones who committed the act responsible for their actions (Acts 2:23; 13:26-39)? I suppose such a thought seems absurd, unfair, and devilish to Dr. Olson. Perhaps he believes that the crucifixion of Jesus was simply a random act of evil carried out by people completely free from the sovereign decree of God. Maybe if the disciples had prayed then God could have acted to intervene and stop the crucifixion of Jesus.

How can Dr. Olson, or any Arminian for that matter, affirm that the crucifixion of Jesus was the sovereign design of God? Doesn’t this violate their understanding of God’s limited abilities? Did God keep His fingers crossed hoping that men, of their own free will, would crucify Jesus? And what if they chose not to? After all, they had free will and God never messes with free will. What if everyone refused to crucify Jesus? What if they stoned him instead? What if they beat him and let him go? What would have happened to God’s redemptive plan?

After reading Dr. Olson’s article I was perplexed on so many levels. It did not seem that I was reading the words of a man who had interacted meaningfully with the book of Job, for instance. What about King David’s census of the people (II Sam 24:1ff)? Was this action not condemned as being an act of hubris? Did not God judge the people for David’s action? Confoundingly, however, Scripture declares that God was ultimately sovereign over David’s action so that He might use it as an occasion to judge his stubborn people. Surely Dr. Olson is familiar with these texts and the many others like them.

To deny God’s sovereignty in these events is far easier than to grapple with the mysteries of God’s Word that often escape our very limited and fallen minds. This is why I was so surprised at Dr. Olson’s statement that a belief in God’s sovereign control is an “easy” answer. Is “You meant it for evil but God meant it for God” easier than simply, “You meant it for evil”?

Isn’t it easier to believe that things “just happen”? Isn’t it easier to believe that there is no purpose in suffering? Isn’t it easier to believe that Joseph’s brothers acted in complete libertarian freedom and God, nice fellow that he is, would have stopped them if he could have? Dr. Olson indicates that while God is “in charge” he is certainly not “in control.” A limited God is far easier to deal with than one who is truly in control. I am astonished that a scholar like Dr. Olson would make such a sweeping comment like, “God limits himself” without any Scriptural support. I might want God to be blue. It may make me feel better if God were blue but that does not make it so.

Dr. Olson asks the question, “So where is God when seemingly pointless calamity strikes?” Considering what Olson believes about the very limited nature of God’s sovereignty, why would he use the term “seemingly pointless”? According to Olson’s reasoning, all calamities are actually pointless, not seemingly. The believer in God’s total sovereignty would affirm that calamity seems pointless but ultimately is not for it is shot full of meaning because of the sovereign God who overrules all that comes to pass for His glory and His people’s good. While Dr. Olson thinks that God sounds like the devil I believe it sounds very much like the God I read about in His Word.

This is my Father’s World
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong
Seems oft so strong
God is the Ruler yet

Posted on Tuesday, September 04, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

“The gospel is hated and rejected as foolishness until the direct power of the Spirit changes the governing disposition of the heart.” - R.G. Lee

The very first Southern Baptist confession of faith was the Abstract of Principles of 1859. It served, and still serves, as the foundational doctrinal statement for the first Southern Baptist Seminary – The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Echoing the teachings of Scripture, the Abstract states that lost man has a “nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law.” Since those early years of Southern Baptist life, however, lost man has experienced a creeping ascendency. As it turns out, lost man is not in as bad a condition as the Southern Baptist founders once thought. It seems we’ve grown up as a denomination. Our humanistic tutors have taught us that man, contrary to Scripture, is not “dead in sins and trespasses” but merely hampered by sins and trespasses. After all, how can a dead man have the kind of free will that we flatter ourselves as possessing? But I am getting ahead of myself.

Early Southern Baptists widely held to the biblical doctrine of “Total Depravity” or “Radical Sin.” It is a doctrine that is often misunderstood. After all, Adolf Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer may have been totally depraved but certainly not the average person. But Total Depravity does not mean that we are as wicked as we could be but that no part of us (mind, body, will, or emotions) has escaped the consequences of the fall. Sin corrupts the total person.

Total Depravity also assumes unregenerate man’s inability to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith apart from a work of God’s grace that inclines the heart toward Him. This work of God’s grace is known as “regeneration” or “the new birth.” So, regeneration (the new birth) must occur before conversion (repentance and faith) is possible. The Baptist Faith and Message understands this order of salvation. It defines regeneration as, “a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.” Incidentally, John Wesley, an Arminian affirmed this.

While total depravity was largely affirmed by Southern Baptists in the mid-19th century it was not long before cracks began appearing in the foundation. By the early 20th century it was not unusual to find prominent Southern Baptist pastors and seminary professors presenting a view of man that seemed to differ from the anthropology taught in Scripture.

E.Y. Mullins who once affirmed the Abstract of Principles preached:
“You may choose to believe in God or choose not to believe. Again the choice is in the highest degree momentous. You may freely will to believe in God. Indeed, when we look at the spiritual nature of man closely it becomes quite evident that he is so made that faith is the natural or normal expression of his nature. There are certain deep instincts in him which cannot be evaded. They impel us to believe in inalienable right. The instinct of thought and of conscience, the instinct of prayer and of suffering, the instinct of courage and of hope – all these vindicate man’s right to believe.”

Does this sound like the portrait of fallen man painted in the pages of God’s Word? Does this sound like Paul’s assessment in Romans one and three? “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…No one does good, not even one” (3:10ff). Do Mullins’ words sound like what is affirmed in I Corinthians 2:14 ("The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned”)? It seems an odd thing to say; that man has the “right to believe.”

R.C. Campbell, a Texas Baptist leader in the early 20th century wrote, “God sees in us the ability to overcome our selfish desires and inclinations. It is an inspiring sight to see an individual who forgets himself in unselfish service for humanity.” I have no doubt that man likes to think of himself this way but let’s be clear: this is not the witness of God’s Word.

An Oklahoma pastor, M.F. Ewton wrote in a sermon, “God cannot go beyond your own heart and its desire. If you remain hard of heart and stiff of neck then there is nothing that God can do. The matter rests with you.”

In a book published in the 1940’s by the Southern Baptist Broadman Press, Llew Northern wrote, “In Jesus’ standing at the door of the hearts of men knocking, one is struck with the valid significance of a symbol of man’s character by finding that the Lord Jesus respects the privacy of the human soul. He does not batter his way into this privacy, nor resent a kind of barrier between man and him. Quite gently and lovingly he comes to the hearts door and knocks…He would enter to cheer, to council, to instruct. He would have an abiding place within the heart. He will await the opening of the door.” Northern parrots the oft repeated error that the image of Jesus standing at the door knocking is an evangelistic text intended to woo lost people. In reality, Revelation 3:20 is written to the church; to Christians. The distinction matters. God does not approach those who are dead in their trespasses and sins in the same way that he approaches His sons and daughters.

In another Broadman book from the 1940’s entitled Christ and Human Liberty, Adiel Moncrief offers this optimistic view of human nature: “Belief in human liberty and in man’s free institutions involves the greatest measure of faith in man. Jesus has that measure of faith in man. He believes in the boundless possibilities of mankind to become free sons of God.”

I am wondering if any of these men ever read Genesis or John or Romans or Ephesians. I am not trying to be disrespectful. I am just wondering why the things they said about unregenerate man are so different from that which the Bible affirms. We should not be surprised, then, that in subsequent years, Southern Baptist preaching became increasingly man-centered and focused on therapy rather than Gospel. Intentionally or not it was increasingly communicated that we are not rebels against God but, rather, basically decent people who tend to be a bit rambunctious. It is not that we need saving so much as we need better coping skills or life strategies. Jesus is not the One who delivers us from the just wrath of God through His substitutionary death as much as He is the one who assists us in feeling better. “Believe in the God who believes in you,” as Robert Schuller has said. In this scheme, nothing less than the Gospel itself is lost.

In her very insightful book All is Forgiven Marsha Witten studied scores of sermons on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. She limited her study to sermons written by conservative Southern Baptists and more liberal Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastors. The results were fascinating. Witten found that there was no substantive difference between the liberals and conservatives in their understanding of human nature. Her findings revealed that both liberal Presbyterians and conservative Southern Baptists portray “a God whose primary function lies in providing psychological benefits to individual church members.” She writes, “…Modern Protestantism in the United States has been greatly influenced by general trends toward secularity, specifically by tendencies toward individualism, trust in psychotherapy, ideological relativism, and reliance on rational procedures that mark our culture as a whole” (p. 5).

There have been a few notable exceptions to this trend away from biblical anthropology. The venerable R.G. Lee wrote:
“My own definition of the grace of God is this: the unlimited and unmerited favor given to the utterly undeserving. Let us think of the strength of grace. Sin is very powerful in this world. Sin is powerful as an opiate in the will. Sin is powerful as a frenzy in the imagination. Sin is powerful as a poison in the heart. Sin is powerful as a madness in the brain. Sin is powerful as a desert breath that drinks up all spiritual dews. Sin is powerful as the sum of all terrors. Sin is powerful as the quintessence of all horrors. Sin is powerful to devastate, to doom, to damn.
“Here is the sinner’s only hope, although, until quickened by the Spirit of grace, he does not know it. No man can rescue himself from the tyranny of sin. Men may reform, but they cannot regenerate themselves. Men may give up their crimes and their vices, but they cannot, by their own strength, give up their sins. Can the Ethiopian change his skin? No. Can the leopard eliminate his spots? No.”

In a sermon on the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 Lee writes:
“Nicodemus was blind and blind to the fact that he was blind. Nicodemus was ignorant – and ignorant of the fact of his ignorance. Nicodemus was dead – and dead to the fact that he was dead. Nicodemus was lost – and lost the fact that he was lost. He did not know that unless men are converted and become as little children – not masters in scholarship, not philosophers of the academic grove – they cannot see the Kingdom of God. Adam, the federal head of the race, plunged into sin and carried the whole human race with him…Nothing but regeneration will save this generation…
“I repeat, the natural man, in his unregenerate state, cannot understand the things of the Spirit (I Corinthians 2:14). He is blind (II Corinthians 4:4); he is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3); his understanding is darkened (Ephesians 4:18-19); full of evil thought (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9), and unable to please God (Romans 8:8).”

The late W.A. Criswell, long time pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas did not shy from explaining what the Bible declares about unregenerate man.
“We are dead. We are corpses. We are born in that death. We are born in sin, even conceived in sin. All of our propensities and affinities flow in the direction of sin. We are by nature set in a fallen direction. Have you ever stood by the might of Niagara? The great river falls over that precipice. It naturally does. It is un-coerced. It falls by nature…I am bound, paralyzed between two steel rails, one, my fleshly lust and the other, my own fallen will…The initiation of our salvation, of our calling, of our regeneration, of our new birth, of our salvation is in God and not in us. Consequently, our new birth, our regeneration, our calling is a gift of God.”

Criswell goes on to quote the Isaac Watts hymn:
Why was I made to hear thy voice
And enter while there’s room
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?

Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly force me in
Else I’d still refuse to taste
And perish in my sin

* I am indebted to Dr. Mark Coppenger’s article in issue #25 of the Founder’s Journal for many of the quotes from early Southern Baptists.

Posted on Monday, September 03, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I hope you will read this article (Articles) by D.A. Caron on the Gospel. It is edifying. It is also a reminder that Christians MUST get the Gospel right. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. It is the Church's essential message. It is THE Good News. It is the matter of FIRST importance.