"Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller" 7

January 28, 2007

In a sermon preached at a Minister’s Meeting at Clipsone on April 27, 1791, Fuller expounded on “Instances, Evil, and Tendency of Delay, in the Concerns of Religion” and used Haggai 1:2 as his text. His conclusion is such an incredibly powerful call for sinners to repent and turn to Christ. I want to include most of it here. It is a call that all men must repent of their sins and turn to embrace the Son. May we all be so passionate in presenting the Gospel to a lost and dying world!

This is found in the Works, I:151.

O thoughtless sinner! trifle no longer with the murder of time, so short and uncertain in its duration; the morning of your existence; the mould in which you receive an impression for eternity; the only period in which the Son of man has power to forgive sins! Should the remaining part of your life pass away in the same careless manner as that has which has already elapsed what bitter reflection must needs follow! How cutting it must be to look back on all the means of salvation as gone for ever; the harvest past, the summer ended, and you not saved!

Suppose a company, at the time of low water, should take an excursion upon the sands near the sea-shore: suppose yourself of the company: suppose that, on a presumption of the tide’s not returning at present, you should all fall asleep: suppose all the company, except yourself, to awake out of their sleep, and finding their danger, endeavour to awake you, and to persuade you to flee with them for your life; but you, like the sluggard, are for “a little more sleep, and a little more slumber:” the consequence is, your companions escape, but you are left behind to perish in the waters, which, regardless of all your cries, rise and overwhelm you! What a situation this would be! How would you curse that love of sleep that made you refuse to be awaked–that delaying temper that wanted to indulge a little longer! But what is this situation compared with that of a lost soul? There will come a period when the bottom of the ocean would be deemed a refuge; when, to be crushed under falling rocks and mountains, instead of being viewed with terror as heretofore, will be earnestly desired! Yes, desired, but desired in vain! The sinner who has “neglected the great salvation” will not be able to “escape,” nor hide himself “from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne,” nor from “the wrath of the Lamb!”

My dear hearers! consider your condition without delay. God says to you, To-day, if he will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. To-day may be the only day you have to live. Go home, enter the closet, and shut the door; confess your sins; implore mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ; “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him!”

A Review of "Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis" by Crawford Gribben – Preface and Chapter 1 – "The Rapture Fiction Phenomenon"

January 27, 2007

In this first post on a review of Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis by Crawford Gribben we’ll introduce you all to Dr. Gribben, treat a little bit of the reasons for writing and his background in the preface to the book, and treat chapter 1 of the book, “The Rapture Fiction Phenomenon.”

Dr. Gribben is the lecturer in Renaissance literature and culture at the University of Manchester, a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the author of The Irish Puritans: James Usher and the Reformation of the Church (also from Evangelical Press). Before his current post at Manchester, he taught in the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, and was a visiting lecturer at the University of Lausanne and a visiting scholar at Westminster College, Cambridge. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society . His research interests centre on three major themes: the literary culture of puritanism; relationships between literature and theology, especially in Irish and Scottish contexts; and the history of apocalyptic and millennial thought (taken from the back of the book).

In the preface to the book, Gribben identifies the main reason for writing. He rightly notes the theological decay in much of evangelicalism and specifically in the modern “rapture fiction” movement so characterized by the Left Behind saga.

He importantly explains that he is not specifically arguing against dispensational premillennialism rightly because eschatology is less important of an issue than the Gospel. He notes people like James Montgomery Boice and John MacArthur who are defendants of dispensationalism yet continue to hold a solidly Reformed soteriology. I think though, as a side note, Gribben continues to assume that normally dispensationalism embraces a “free grace” view of sanctification based on his footnote comments on MacArthur. It should be known that there is no decidedly dispensational view of sanctification (see for instance Jonathan R. Pratt, “Dispensational Sanctification: A Misnomer” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 7 (Fall 2002): 95-108). He also is not arguing against dispensationalism because his background where he was saved was within Brethren assemblies of those who were committed to dispensationalism.

Gribben starts off on the right foot. He sets us dispensationalists at ease realizing that he is not trying to tear apart our movement but instead is attacking problem areas within the movement. For that, he is commended.

Chapter 1 of the book titled, “The Rapture Fiction Phenomenon,” sets the stage for the rest of the book by introducing us to the genre of “rapture literature.” He rightly acknowledges that the world is “future obsessed.” Hollywood continues to produce end-time movies which the populace gobbles up. Y2K and 9-11 only served to fuel the desire and obsession of people in the end times. Gribben does an excellent job of tracing the developing obsession with the end times over the last number of decades.

Gribben rightly notes what the popular dispensationalism of America believes regarding the rapture of the Church and the 7 year Tribulation period and rightly notes the political connection between popular dispensationalism and an American way of life. But, more importantly, he correctly notes that the political and mainstream beliefs of popular dispensationalism is not necessarily shared by the theologians of the movement (he quotes Stephen Spencer and J. Dwight Pentecost, both of Dallas Theological Seminary fame, as being those of a more “theological” dispensationalism).

He correctly notes how dispensationalism grew through the Scofield reference Bible and the ministry of Moody Press. Much of the Bible Institute movement was decidedly dispensational in the beginning. While popular dispensationalism has deteriorated from a biblical/theological framework, the original beginnings of the popular movement were decidedly biblical and theological as people once again had a desire to study out the Word of God.

I think Gribben is the right man to have written this book. While he is not a dispensationalist he does not characterize dispensationalism as a doctrine of the devil as some have come to from other camps. He rightly acknowledges that one can be a dispensationalist and still hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a dispensationalist I am glad to see this recognition. And more so, I am glad that someone has taken the time to identify the problems of “popular dispensationalism” and attempt to deal with their watered down form of the Gospel.

I look forward to continuing to interact with Gribben and this book. I think it is a valuable book for informed laymen and those in the ministry to read and interact with. If popular dispensationalism is as popular as Gribben says it is, we have much to fear if they water down the Gospel.

Next week we will review and interact with Gribben’s second chapter, “The Origins of the Secret Rapture.”

New Series – Baptist Distinctives

January 25, 2007

At the church I was previously pastoring at, I taught through the Baptist distinctives and then developed it into a position paper for the church. I thought it would be valuable here to share it with the blogging world for critique and suggestions. I will post the first distinctive below:

You may be thinking, what makes a Baptist any different from other churches? What sets apart a Baptist church from other denominations? Essentially what makes us different is what is known as the “Baptist Distinctives.” This can be easily explained using the acrostic, BAPTIST:

  • Biblical authority of the New Testament for faith and practice
  • Autonomy of the local church
  • Priesthood of all believers
  • Two ordinances (Believer’s Baptism by Immersion and the Lord’s Supper)
  • Individual soul liberty
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Two offices of the church (Pastor and Deacon)

While various other types of churches may hold to one or more of these distinctives, Baptist churches hold all of them.

Biblical Authority of the New Testament for faith and practice

By biblical authority we mean that everything we believe and do in our church rests about the absolute authority of the Bible. The Bible is authoritative for all matters of faith and practice within the local church.

2 Timothy 3:16–17 reveals to us that the Bible is that which is directly from God, or God-breathed literally. It is profitable for every area of life and faith and practice. It reads “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (All Scripture taken from the ESV).

2 Peter 1:19–21 reminds us of the importance of God’s Word for our lives and that the Bible is not merely the words of men but are directly the words of God! It reads also, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Finally, 2 Peter 1:3 explains that everything we need for a life of godliness is provided through knowledge of God. We know that knowledge of God is revealed to us through His word. It reads, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

Therefore, the Bible is the absolute and only authority for the all matters of faith and practice for individual Christians and for the local church.

What specifically separates Baptists from other denominations though is the specific focus on the New Testament for matters of church faith and practice. Since the church is a new entity formed at Pentecost (Acts 2), the specific area of the Scriptures dealing with how the church is run and what it is to believe is the New Testament. The Old Testament, while still Scripture and profitable for all areas of spiritual life, does not speak about the nature, function, purpose, and beliefs of the local church.

Therefore, while the Bible is the absolute and only authority for believers, it is the New Testament primarily that is the ultimate basis for faith and practice in the local church.

New Series: A Review of "Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis" by Crawford Gribben

January 21, 2007

I’ve discovered that people love blog series. So I decided to do a series. What I wanted to do was to work very carefully through a very important recent work. This has given me an excellent reason to carefully read and critique my friend Crawford Gribben’s new book, Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis (Evangelical Press). While I have yet to actually meet Crawford, we have talked many times online and I find him to be a real kindred historian. His interests in millennialism is also a keen interest of my own. Therefore, I thought it would be useful to take a week to carefully go through each of his chapters.

Now, Crawford and I hold dearly to the fundamentals of the faith and the doctrines of grace but we do hold some differences on matters of eschatology. My hope is that I can fairly interact with Crawford’s arguments and represent him carefully, even while disagreeing with him.

Perhaps even Crawford himself would end up critiquing my critique of him! I have yet to tell him of my plan but will be doing so soon.

So, I hope that you will all look forward to our weekly interaction in the book Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis. I should be posting on the preface and chapter 1 by the end of this coming week.

Pastors and Theologians: Use your Language Carefully!

January 21, 2007

Over at The Elephant of Kettering, Dr. Gerald Priest, Professor of Historical Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (my alma mater), makes some important comments about Andrew Fuller’s use of language on the atonement. Read his post found here.

You can see how Fuller’s adoption of problematic governmental language in his discussions of the atonement lead to much unnecessary controversy. When you study Fuller carefully, you find that he truy sees the main thrust of the atonement as penal substitution. Yet, his adoption of his friend’s New England governmental language lead many to question his orthodoxy.

This lead me to do some thinking of late on how we must use our language carefully. As pastors, theologians, church historians, etc. it behooves us to handle the Word of God rightly; to understand the Word carefully; and to represent it accurately. Our people rely upon us to carefully instruct them in the doctrines of the Word. If we are not carefuly in how we do so, we can lead people down very dangerous paths.

When we are teaching people about the purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ (which we should be doing!), we must be careful in our language! Not only that, careful use of theological verbiage will help to prevent unnecessary controversy and arguments especially when we truly agree with those whom we are arguing!

The ministry of the Word is the most important thing we can be doing in this life. Therefore, we should be doing it with that much more care. Pastors and theologians… use your language carefully! If Andrew Fuller, the greatest Baptist theologian of the 18th century could make a mistake like this, don’t you think that we could too? We must be careful in how we use our theological language.

"Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller" 6

January 21, 2007

Fuller’s most important work, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, is still important today. His call to call men to repentance is something that many churches are failing to do again today. It might not be because of distorted view of the doctrines of grace as in Hyper-Calvinism, but it is just as bad when it is a distorted view of the sinfulness of man which prevents offers of the gospel. Fuller, in his concluding remarks to his 2nd edition of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, reminds us once again of the calls to repentance of Christ, the Apostles, and the Prophets, and how this is the true religion of the Scriptures. While many today believe that men can change themselves of their own wills, in contrast to what Fuller was arguing, many fail to address the root heart issue and fall into the same trap of the Hyper-Calvinist and address outside issues.

This portion is taken from, “Concluding Reflections,” in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (Works, II:387-388).

Christ and his apostles, without any hesitation called on sinners to “repent and believe the gospel;” but we, considering them as poor, impotent, and depraved creatures, have been disposed to drop this part of the Christian ministry. Some may have felt afraid of being accounted legal; others have really thought it inconsistent. Considering such things as beyond the power of their hearers, they seem to have contented themselves with pressing on them such things which they could perform, still continuing the enemies of Christ; such as behaving decently in society, reading the Scriptures, and attending the means of grace. Thus it is that hearers of this description sit at ease in our congregations. Having done their duty, the minister has nothing more to say to them; unless indeed, it be to tell them occasionally that something more is necessary to salvation. But as this implies no guilt on their part, they sit unconcerned, conceiving that all that is required of them is “to lie in the way, ad to wait the Lord’s time.” But is this the religion of the Scriptures? Where does it appear that the prophets or apostles ever treated that kind of inability which is merely the effect of reigning aversion as affording any excuse? And where have they descended, in their exhortations, to things which might be done, and the parties still continue the enemies of God? Instead of leaving out every thing of a spiritual nature, because their hearers could not find in their hearts to comply with it, it may safely be affirmed they exhorted to nothing else; treating such inability not only as of no account, with regard to the lessening of obligation, but as rendering the subjects of it worthy of the severest rebuke. “To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach and they have no delight in it.” What then? Did the prophet desist from his work, and exhort them to something to which, in their present state of mind, they could hearken? Far from it. He delivers his message whether they would hear, or whether they would forbear. “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.’ And did this induce him to desist? No: he proceeds to read their doom, and calls the world to witness its justice: “Hear, O earth! behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it,” Jer. vi. 10-19.

Excellent "How To" Series over at Steve Weaver’s Blog

January 8, 2007

Expository preaching can sometimes be one of the most difficult things to do. And to do it well can be even harder. Steve Weaver is out on the front lines doing it Sunday in and Sunday out. He has prepared a really excellent series on expository preaching. It is not necessarily a “How To” preach expository messages but a “How He” preaches expository messages. It is well worth the read and will be helpful in your own preaching ministries. Check it out here at Pastor Steve Weaver’s blog.

"Listening to the Past – Lessons from Andrew Fuller" 5

January 8, 2007

I am sorry all for the delay. My life has been very busy as of late. Things now though are getting better and I’m ready to bring back those truths from probably the greatest Baptist theologian of the 18th century, Andrew Fuller.

This section comes from one of Fuller’s circular letter for the Northamptonshire Association. It comes from the 1806 letter titled, “The Pastor’s Address to His Christian Hearers, Entreating Their Assistance in Promoting the Interest of Christ.” It is a challenging letter to Christians to be active and loving members serving Christ in their congregations.

This quote concerns the example of the early church for today (The Works of Andrew Fuller, III:346).

“The primitive churches were not mere assemblies of men who agreed to meet together once or twice a week, and to subscribe for the support of an accomplished man who should on those occasions deliver lectures on religion. They were men gathered out of the world by the preaching of the cross, and formed into society for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom in their own souls and in the world around them. It was not the concern of the ministers or elders only; the body of the people were interested in all that was done, and, according to their several abilities and stations, took part in it. Neither were they assemblies of heady, high-minded contentious people, meeting together to argue on points of doctrine or discipline, and converting the worship of God into scenes of strife. They spoke the truth; but it was in love; they observed discipline; but, like an army of chosen men, it was that they might attack the kingdom of Satan to greater advantage. Happy were it for our churches if we could come to a closer imitation of this model!”