Posted on Monday, July 23, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

I am a Protestant. There is no getting around it. And since “evangelical” has lost all meaning in the church today I find myself turning once again to that word birthed in the religious and political turmoil of the 16th century: Protestant. The Protestant Reformation was a movement of protest. It was a protest against the moral squalor and theological error that had come to characterize the Roman Catholic Church. The selling of indulgences to finance the new and extravagant St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, widespread immorality and biblical illiteracy among the highest levels of Church leadership, and of course the tragic departures from biblical doctrine were the sparks that ignited the fires of reformation.

From those early years of reformation was birthed the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Baptist denominations. It led to the founding of new institutions of higher learning, new political movements, fresh missionary zeal, and the colonizing of the New World. There were also an untold number of martyrs offered in the fires of the Roman Church. From England to France to Italy Protestant “heretics” were burned to death. The roots of resentment ran deep and the divide seemed insurmountable.

In recent years however there has been renewed interest among certain evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders to forge a new unity between the long divided churches. At the forefront of this movement is a group called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Its leaders are serious heavyweights like Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and Richard John Neuhaus a former Lutheran turned Roman Catholic priest. I respect both of these men a great deal. In fact, I am an enthusiastic reader of First Things, the magazine edited by Fr. Neuhaus. The purpose of ECT is to achieve as much unity as possible between Catholics and Protestants. They seek to maximize the emphasis on those points in which the two groups agree while not denying where differences persist. Their goals are, in my mind, noble. I support efforts to bridge whatever gaps are “bridgeable.” However, I believe the efforts to bring a deep and lasting unity between Protestants and the Roman Church are naïve.

Don’t misunderstand. I love unity. More importantly, our Lord loves the unity of His people and even prayed for it. “The glory that You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” (John 17:22). The implications of this prayer extend far beyond local congregations. The unity of the church universal is a lasting concern of our Lord. In the Apostle’s Creed we rightly confess our belief in “one holy catholic church.” Evangelicals not raised in a confessional church are often made squeamish by those words. But the little “c” catholic in the creed is not a reference to Rome. “Catholic” means universal. To say that one believes in the one holy catholic church is to affirm that God has filled His world with worshipping communities of Christ-followers. It is to affirm that the church extends far beyond our own little local body of believers. This is a source of encouragement. God will not be without a witness. He will spread His church to the utter most parts of the world. For this reason, Christians are happy to recognize true churches wherever it pleases the Lord to raise them. It also grieves Christians when the church universal becomes divided.

The divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals is lasting testimony to man’s fallen state. The proliferation of denominations among Protestants is almost mind boggling. In fact, Rome points to the number of different denominations as proof that the Protestant Reformation yielded nothing but division within Christ’s body. However, sentimental notions of unity should not keep thoughtful Christians from asking whether the existing divisions represent necessary doctrinal fences or are merely pointless quarrels. The fact is, doctrine divides at least as often as it unites. Even in the Roman Church there are deep divisions and various factions. There are liberal Catholics, charismatic Catholics, feminist Catholics, fundamentalist Catholics, “Vatican II” Catholics, and those Catholics that insist that the Latin Mass is the only legitimate mass. So for all Rome’s boasting in their unity, theirs is a house divided.

Please understand that I am not “anti-Catholic.” I have no doubt that there are many sincere Christians in the Roman Church. I also believe that we can and should cooperate with one another as much as possible. However, to do so without also acknowledging why we differ is to deny that such vital issues as the sole sufficiency and authority of Scripture, Justification by faith alone, and the imputed righteousness of Christ are not important.

Posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

N.R. Needham, a wonderful church historian has written a very fine book called The Triumph of Grace: Augustine's Writings on Salvation. Follow this link (Link: Augustine on the New Life in Christ) to a chapter from that book that deals specifically with God's grace in the conversion of sinners. The church today needs to rise above its Pelagian leanings and reassert a robust, God-centered theology of salvation. Take your time and read Needham's chapter carefully. You will be blessed by high thoughts of God's extraordinary grace.


Posted on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Mining For Wisdom is a great devotional book that takes the reader through the book of Job. The author, Derek Thomas is a world-class authority on Job. I highly recommend it. You can order the book through my recommended reading list. Go to the "devotional" section and you will find a connection to Mining for Wisdom.

Posted on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” This stunning question was offered up by Job in the aftermath of that dark day when his children, his wealth, and his good name were taken from him. Later, even his health would be shattered and his mind tortured. Job’s question reflects an understanding that God is sovereign in all things including human suffering and the actions of Satan. Sadly, this robust and thoroughly biblical doctrine is often rejected by many evangelicals. Indeed, the thing that disturbs so many of the readers of Job is the realization that what lies behind the suffering of Job is the hand of God. This is the unsettling truth that boils below the surface of the entire book: Job’s suffering is ultimately God’s doing.

Going back to the beginning of the book of Job we observe a mysterious exchange between God and Satan. The ancient serpent comes before the courts of heaven to report on his comings and goings. How it must gall Satan that God requires him to give a report, as it were, on what he has been up to (1:6-7). By the time verse eight rolls around things get really strange. God actually initiates the trials of Job: “Have you considered my servant Job?” says God to Satan. There is something in us that wants to cry out, “God, what are you doing? Job doesn’t deserve this!”

So, back to Job’s question: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10). Job understands that even things that are “evil” and calamitous come ultimately from the hand of God. Take a deep breath. This is the clear testimony of Scripture. In I Samuel 16:14-15 we are told that God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul. Another example of this unsettling truth is when David took a census in order to number the people of Israel. This was a sin against God that Joab warned David not to commit. But David persisted in his plans and took the census. Afterward, “David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly’” (I Sam. 24:10). So far so good, except for the fact that it was God who incited David to take the census. “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (I Sam. 24:1). God used David’s prideful census taking as the occasion to judge Israel. And the inspired text affirms God’s sovereignty over David’s decision while at the same time not excusing David from responsibility.

The most supreme example of this seeming contradiction is the cross of Christ. Jesus’ death upon the cross as our substitute was preordained by God (Acts 2:23a; 4:27-28). Yet this particular moment in history which went exactly according to God’s sovereign design required that certain men commit particular evil acts (Acts 2:23b; 4:10). The texts which proclaim God as ultimately sovereign over all things are unfamiliar to many Christians because pastors won’t touch them with a ten foot pole. But in so doing they rob God’s people of a faith that is strong enough to sustain them in the most troubling times.

We must not ignore the “hard truths” of Scripture. However, we certainly must be careful. We know that God does not do evil. He is not wicked in even the remotest sense of the word. He in no way ever sins. God is pure righteousness and always acts righteously. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). And yet, there is a way in which God can send evil and calamity our way and still be completely free of evil and wrongdoing. It almost makes one’s head spin. But we must surrender some of our logical categories to the revelation of Scripture. And what Scripture reveals is that God is completely sinless and good but is ultimately sovereign even over the evil that comes our way. If we try to fully reconcile this reality we risk falling into error either by calling into question God’s goodness on the one hand or denying His sovereignty on the other. Our inability to fully comprehend the mystery of God’s total sovereignty should not result in our dismissing it. The Westminster Confession of Faith wisely states the truth without trying to figure it out completely:
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin…”

In his classic work The Providence of God, Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer writes:
“In the confession of God’s almighty power, the personal, living God is confessed. Responsibility is not crowded out by His power; neither is the meaning of guilt and punishment. We are deeply conscious of the impossibility of our discerning the relation between the Divine activity and ours, but we are able to see in Scripture that the incomparable enterprise of God is in its Divine character so great and majestic that it can embrace human freedom and responsibility within itself without being thereby assaulted or even limited…
“Even in his most apostate acts man cannot break out of the sovereign concern of God. Divine revelation does not let us penetrate the mystery of this consonance, this harmony. The living God rules here!...The Scriptures show us God’s work. Then, in history, we are shown how unparalleled that work is. It is striking, for example, that Scripture does not speak of God as being at work in leading Judas down the road to the act of betrayal. It says that Satan filled Judas’ heart. He who sees this well will not look on this work of Satan and Judas’ betrayal as one side of a dualism, independent and detached from God’s work, but will bow before the power of God which is present even in the acts of extremist sin, and will stand speechless at the wisdom and mystery of His ways.”

It is his grasp of this very truth that allows Job to worship God in the midst of his loss. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (1:20-21). It simply will not do for Job to say that God passively “allowed” these calamities to befall him. We often resort to this in an effort to get God “off the hook” for human suffering. But God does not want to be let off the hook. Job rightly understands God to be the One who took away from him just as surely as He gave to him in the first place. The writer is careful to point out twice that in attributing his suffering to the hand of God “Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22; 2:10).

What are we to do with a God who gives and takes away? How are we to respond to a God who sends his people both blessing and calamity? What is more, what happens if this God chooses to offer us no answers? In those unsettling and confounding moments may we say with our tutor Job:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Posted on Monday, July 16, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

This is a great messagae on God's sovereignty in suffering ( The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God :: Desiring God ). It was a message delivered by John Piper at the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. The text, audio, and video of the message are available by following the link. Be blessed!


Posted on Saturday, July 14, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Here is a great resource for information on and writings by some of the great Puritans (Monergism :: Puritans ). Enjoy!

Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

More good stuff from Michael Horton’s article in the most recent issue of Modern Reformation Magazine:

“We work very hard today to make grace normal rather than utterly disorienting. We bend over backward backwards to show how Christianity is ‘practical,’ how it conforms to our common sense and moral intuitions. ‘Practical Christianity’ (deeds, not creeds) is touted, although the actual practice of Christians is, according to the statistics, indistinguishable from that of non-Christians. The ‘righteousness that is by works’ looks for somewhere to go and something to do, while ‘the righteousness of faith’ receives Christ as he comes to us in the gospel (Rom. 10:1-13)…

“Sharing a common heritage in the revivalism of Charles Finney, mainline and evangelical Protestants have trouble being recipients of grace. The church becomes an army of activists – social engineers, moral reformers, event planners, life coaches – rather than a theater of grace where God has the lead role. As a result, the focus is not on how God gets to us (the logic of grace) but on ‘inducements sufficient to convert sinners with,’ as Finney put it, following his basically Pelagian view of the moral ability of fallen people. Finney’s Systematic Theology explicitly denies original sin and insists that the power of regeneration lies in the sinner’s own hands…”

This, by the way is not far from the common conception held by many evangelicals, particularly Pentecostals, Nazarenes, Methodists, and Southern Baptists. Many of us grew up learning from well meaning pastors that being born again (regeneration) comes about as a result of something we do. But this is remarkably different from the teaching of Jesus. In answer to Nicodemas’ inquiry on how to gain eternal life in heaven Jesus said, “You must be born again” (or, “from above”). What a wonderful metaphor for regeneration! Is there anything with which we have less to do than our birth? Jesus is assaulting Nicodemus’ “can-do” approach to salvation; an approach that many evangelicals share. To further drive home the point that the miracle of regeneration is an act entirely of God’s free will, Jesus added, “The wind (a reference to the Holy Spirit) blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Horton goes on:
“American evangelicalism seems at least in its most popular forms today to be a version of spiritual technology – almost magic, with every new movement and best-selling author offering his or her own ‘Ten Steps’ to harnessing God’s power. In this context, grace is less God’s favor shown to sinners on account of Christ than the opportunity God has provided for greater spiritual and moral power if we cooperate properly, using our free will. John Newton the slave trader may indeed have been a ‘wretch,’ but surely not I…

“Grace can only be recognized in the face of Christ, for there the strangeness of God, of ourselves, and God’s method of redemption converge. Counter-intuitive, disruptive, and unsettling, the grace defined by Golgotha requires an entirely new set of presuppositions about God, ourselves, and how the relationship works. Yet the measure of the sheer gratuity of God’s grace is that it even gives us those new presuppositions in the very act of being given. Grace is God’s refusal to allow us to define ourselves or to have the last word. Rather, it is the surprising announcement that salvation is ‘not the result of human decision or effort, but of God who shows mercy’ (Rom. 9:16).”


Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The Strategic Ministry Planning Team at Metro East has spent time during our work talking about what it means to be a Gospel-Centered or Gospel-Driven church. I found this article ( GospelDrivenLife: The Gospel must be everything ) today on Mark Lauterbach's blog that says it quite well. Please take the time to read it.

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Jim over at Old Truth has an interesting article ( Confessions of a 'Numbers' Pastor ) on the modern church's obsession with numeric success. Check it out.

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

Michael Horton has written an excellent article in the July/August edition of “Modern Reformation” magazine ( The title of the article is “Grace: How Strange the Sound.” As I read it I was reminded once again how easy it is for Christians to have shallow or otherwise misguided notions of just how radical grace truly is. We sing “Amazing Grace” but we adopt ideas that reduce grace to God’s passive response to our initiative. In a sense we come to see grace as a power that is made effective only inasmuch as we allow it to be effective. While we may say that grace is “amazing” what we are truly amazed by is the power of our own sovereign will that, in the end, even overcomes the very purposes of God. This unfortunate, but common way of thinking is why one prominent theologian speaks of the “pelagian captivity of the church.”

Horton writes:
“We work very hard to make God user-friendly. That’s why the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, terrified by God’s voice, decided to make a golden calf that they could manage more safely. Instead of trembling in God’s presence, they ‘sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play’ (Ex. 32:6). We hear people talk today about their personal relationship with God as if he were a locker room pal or even a romantic interest. However, when people were actually confronted with God’s presence, they always came apart at the seams. Even Moses trembled with fear (Ex. 19-20; Heb. 12:18-29). Isaiah was all set to go on his mission to announce the woes (curses) on everybody else until he received a vision of God in his sanctuary, with seraphim and cherubim calling to each other, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.’ Isaiah could only respond, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Nevertheless, one of the seraphim brought a glowing coal to the prophet and, touching it to his lips, said, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for’ (Isa. 6:3-7). Peter, hardly known for a reverent temperament, responded to the amazing catch of fish at Jesus’ command, fell on his knees and said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8).

“To confess that God is holy is to say that he is not only quantitatively but qualitatively different from us. In other words, he isn’t simply better than we are, nicer, friendlier, more knowledgeable, more powerful, more loving. He is incomprehensible, unfathomable, unsearchable. We can only have access to him because he has willed to be our God, revealing himself by speaking ‘baby talk’ – accommodating to our frail capacities. Grace is God’s willingness not only to condescend to our creaturely finitude even to the point of assuming our flesh, but to give his life for us ‘while we were still enemies’ (Rom. 5:10).

“God is intolerant of sin, but just as infinite in his love and long-suffering. God is just and righteous, unable to let bygones be bygones, and yet he is free to have mercy on whom he will have mercy. To have mercy on the wicked, however, God cannot suspend his justice. God’s justice did not require the salvation of anyone, so his grace is totally free. When God is gracious toward sinners, it is not because his justice is sacrificed to his love, but because he has freely found a way to be ‘just and the justifier of the ungodly’ (Rom 3:26). At the cross, not only God’s love but his strangeness – his utter difference from us – is most clearly displayed…”

“[G]race is not an impersonal substance; it’s the personal attitude and action of God in Jesus Christ toward those who deserve the very opposite. Without the phrase ‘who deserve the very opposite,’ grace is nothing more than God’s warm wishes that make us feel better as we suppress the truth about ourselves…Only when we actually encounter God as he truly is do we finally know ourselves as we truly are – and only then can grace be truly grace. Grace is not self-esteem, moral uplift, or therapeutic recovery. It is nothing less than God’s favor on account of Christ: a new Word (justification) that generates a new creation (sanctification and glorification).”