Questions from Packer on our Adoption

“To help us realise more adequately who and what, as children of God, we are, and are called to be, here are some questions by which we do well to examine ourselves again and again.

Do I understand my adoption? Do I value it? Do I daily remind myself of my privilege as a child of God?

Have I sought full assurance of my adoption? Do I daily dwell on the love of God to me?

Do I treat God as my Father in heaven, loving, honouring, and obeying him, seeking and welcoming his fellowship, and trying in everything to please him, as human parents would want their child to do?

Do I think of Jesus Christ, my Saviour and my Lord, as my brother too, bearing to me not only a divine authority but also a divine-human sympathy? Do I think daily how close he is to me, how completely he understands me, and how much, as my kinsman-redeemer, he cares for me?

Have I learned to hate the things that displease my Father? Am I sensitive to the evil things to which he is sensitive? Do I make a point of avoiding them, lest I grieve him?

Do I look forward to that great family occasion when the children of God will finally gather in heaven before the throne of God, their Father, and of the Lamb, their brother and their Lord? Have I felt the thrill of this hope?

Do I love my Christian brothers and sisters, with whom I live day by day, in a way that I shall not be ashamed of when in heaven I think back over it?

Am I proud of my Father, and of his family, to which by his grace I belong?

Does the family likeness appear in me? If not, why not?

God humble us; God instruct us; God make us his own true children.”

~ J.I. Packer, Knowing God 

 

Do You Have Zeal for Your Saviour?

J.C Ryle:

“Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature – which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted – but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men . . .

“A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies – whether he has health, or whether he has sickness – whether he is rich, or whether he is poor – whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence – whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish – whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise – whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame – for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it – he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray. . . If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill (Exod. 17:9-13). If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of ‘zeal’ in religion.” (Practical Religion).

“If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it – he is content.”

J.I Packer:

The jealousy of God threatens churches which are not zealous for God.”

“We love our churches; they have hallowed associations; we cannot imagine them displeasing God, at any rate not seriously.  But the Lord Jesus once sent a message to a church very much like some of ours – the complacent church of Laodicea – in which he told the Laodicean congregation that their lack of zeal was a source of supreme offense to him. ‘I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot.’ Anything would be better than self-satisfied apathy! ‘So then because thou art luke-warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. . . Be zealous therefore, and repent’ (Rev. 3:15 f., 19, KJV).

“How many churches today are sound, respectable – and lukewarm? What, then, must Christ’s word be to them? What have we to hope for? – unless, by the mercy of the God who in wrath remembers mercy, we find zeal to repent? Revive us, Lord, before judgement falls!” (Knowing God).

 

Television and an Idiot Culture

I recently read Os Guinness’ book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What To Do About It. It is a very brief, yet thought-provoking study on the history of evangelicalism and Christianity and culture. In it, he argues how the majority of American evangelicals have come to reject intellectual, theological, doctrinal, and knowledgeable Christianity. One argument he makes is that Christianity is being heavily influenced by secular American culture, particularly through television.

He makes a very convincing argument as to how television is encouraging a culture of entertainment and especially a non-thinking, idiot culture. I thought I would share part of what he says in this post:

“First, television discourse has a bias against understanding. With its rapid images, its simplistic thought, and its intense emotions, television is devoid of the context needed for true understanding. Its superficiality amounts to a form of disinformation. ‘Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.’

“Second, television discourse has a bias against responsibility. The same rapidity, variety, and intensity of images that provides the viewer no context for true understanding also prevents the viewer from engaging with the consequences of what is experienced. The abrupt – sometimes absurd – discontinuities between programming and advertising particularly makes this so. ‘There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political burden so costly . . . that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, ‘Now . . . this.'”

“Third, television discourage has a bias against memory and history. Its very pace and style creates a nonstop preoccupation with the present. Incoherent perhaps, irresponsible certainly, the ceaseless, breathless flow of the Now renders viewers incapable of remembering. As television superjournalist Bill Moyers laments, ‘We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little of the past sixty centuries or the last sixty years.’

“Fourth, television discourse has a bias against rationality. With rare exceptions, television so disdains ‘talking heads’ that the very act of thinking becomes unthinkable on television. A thinker questioned might pause to reflect, ‘Now let me see . . . What do you mean?’ But on television, such thinking is too slow, too uncertain, too boring. As any aficionado of such shows as ‘The McLaughlin Group’ knows, television answering is performing, not pondering. It is theatre rather than thinking, entertaining drama rather than edifying debate. To criticize such shows as if they were anything else is to miss the fun, they would say.

“Fifth, television discourse has a bias against truth and accuracy. Credibility was once linked to veracity – someone or something was believable because of being true or not true. Today, however, credibility serves as a synonym for plausibility – whether someone or something seems to be true. Credibility in the television age has little to do with principle and all to do with plausibility and performance. ‘Is it true?’ is overshadowed by ‘Was it compelling/sincere/entertaining/charismatics?’ The smile and the assured answer now carry the day.”

 

 

PRC (9): Experiential Preaching Resources

In connection with what I posted earlier, these lectures by Joel Beeke on Experiential Preaching are really beneficial and I would highly recommend them. He defines the issues well and really distinguishes how a sermon can be good expositionally, but be lacking experientially.

If you have a concern for good Reformed, experiential preaching in your church, I would strongly encourage you to take a listen!

http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopupvideo.asp?SID=131141439432

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=215141535410

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=22214184238

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=326142056553

PRC (8): The Need for Experiential Preaching

A disadvantage to writing a series of posts and publishing each individual post as you write it is that after you have argued something, you later find a better way to express it. Indeed, thinking about it, I could summarize my concerns with PR preaching as being a lack of experiential preaching.

This post will quite heavily quote from Joel Beeke who really seems to be the strongest advocate for a return to Reformed Experiential preaching in the church world today.

What is Experiential Preaching?

Experiential preaching is preaching that explains, “how a Christian experiences biblical truth in daily living.”[1] It is preaching that “stresses to know by experience the truths of the Word of God. Experimental preaching seeks to explain in terms of biblical truth how matters ought to go and how they do go in the Christian life. It aims to apply divine truth to all of the believer’s experience in his walk with God as well as his relationship with family, the church, and the world around him.”[2] Experiential preaching is then heavily applicatory and preaching that causes one to search the heart.

Experiential preaching is also preaching that has Jesus Christ as the pre-eminence.[3] It is preaching that is filled with the doctrine of Jesus Christ, that has Jesus Christ weaved in and throughout the entire sermon. Beeke writes,

  • Experiential preaching, then, teaches that the Christian faith must be experienced, tasted, and lived through the saving power of the Holy Spirit. It stresses the knowledge of scriptural truth that is able “to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Specifically, such preaching teaches that Christ, who is the living Word (John 1:1) and the very embodiment of the truth, must be experientially known and embraced. It proclaims the need for sinners to experience who God is in His Son. As John 17:3says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The word know in this text, as well as in other biblical usages, does not indicate casual acquaintance, but a deep, abiding relationship. For example, Genesis 4:1a uses the word know to suggest marital intimacy: “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain.” Experiential preaching stresses the intimate, personal knowledge of God in Christ
  • . . . . experiential preaching not only addresses the believer’s conscience, but also his relationship with others in the church and the world. If experiential preaching led me only to examine my experiences and my relationship with God, it would fall short of affecting my interaction with family, church members, and society. It would remain self-centered. True experiential preaching brings a believer into the realm of vital Christian experience, prompting a love for God and His glory as well as a burning passion to declare and display that love to others around him. A believer so instructed cannot help but be evangelistic, since vital experience and a heart for missions are inseparable.[4]

Experiential preaching, in many ways, goes hand in hand with expository preaching, though expository preaching can be such that it is not experiential. Experiential preaching is preaching that desires to explain the word of God to the congregation in such a way that it speaks to the Christian experiences of sin, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, judgement, conversion, regeneration, blessedness, joy, etc. I will not deny that I’ve heard a lot of good expositional sermons in the PRC, but it was rare to find a good experiential sermon in the PRC. The believer needs both to be fully fed.

Why is Experiential preaching important?

Joel Beeke:

  • For one thing, when experiential preaching is lacking, the cutting edge of the gospel becomes less sharp and is dulled. Where the experiential element of preaching is missing, sermons tend to become homilies or lectures, abstract Biblical explanations and lessons rather than “the lively [and life-giving] preaching of the word.” More serious, however, where there is no experiential preaching, automatic faith becomes a real danger. Lack of experiential preaching, i.e., preaching that insists on the gospel being experienced in coming to faith and growing in faith, promotes a form of godliness that denies the power thereof (2 Tim.3: 5). The neglect and failure of experiential preaching can lead to “a generation made up of people like Nicodemus!” (Wielenga, cited in Acta Synode, CGK 1937, p. 158)
  • Experiential preaching is urgently required for the spiritual health of the church of every age and the continuation of the Christian church through the ages. Without experiential preaching the preciousness of the covenant of grace and being a member thereof is soon lost. Of course, experiential preaching does not preserve the covenant of grace but it constantly points to the Mediator of that covenant in Whom and through Whom the covenant of grace is extended from generation to generation.[5]

How does the PRC lack Experiential Preaching?

The PRC lacks experiential preaching in the ways that I have already argued in other posts: lack of discriminatory preaching, an unbalanced emphasis in preaching to covenant children, and a lack of preaching the law and gospel in such a way that it cuts directly to the heart.

Experiential preaching has also never been an emphasis in the PRC. Indeed, I never grew up hearing the term. Rev. Kortering would seem to agree with me in his Standard Bearer article “Experiential Preaching” (May 1990):

  • The term, experiential preaching (sometimes also called experimental), is not commonly used among us. It is more commonplace in the English and Puritan tradition—which has some connotations (a mystical tendency) which we would not endorse. As I listen to some criticism, read articles, enjoy discussions on how to evaluate the preaching in a given church or our churches in common, it seems to me that we are grappling for words. The old doctrinal-practical dichotomy for describing sermons just does not fit. Every now and then we hear a criticism that the sermon is just too doctrinal, that we need practical preaching. Most of us do not know what is meant by “practical” preaching. More helpful is the term “applied” preaching. This is helpful because the entire Word of God, whether the passage is of a more doctrinal nature or whether it deals with the daily life of the saints, must be applied to the church which has gathered in worship. The preacher fails in his task to expound the Word of God if he does not carefully and with much diligence tell the congregation how this affects their lives and how they are to respond to such truth.[6] (I also encourage you to read this article on Experiential Preaching in its entirety. Rev. Kortering raises some very good and practical points regarding preaching: https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/index.php?q=node/48889)

To be clear, I do not think the lack of experiential preaching in the PRC is an issue of semantics. I believe it is an issue of emphasis in the preaching. PR preaching has a very strong emphasis on explaining and defending doctrine from passages of Scripture. The preacher can often get so busy doing this that he fails to apply what he has just preached. And yes, application may be there, but the question always is: is it good application? The preacher must preach in such a way that the applications strike the heart of those in the congregation. He must preach the applications in such a way that the heart is dug into. Just because there is application in a sermon, does not necessarily mean that the application itself was applied in a discerning, thought provoking, soul searching manner.

I believe that part of the culprit here is the way that the Heidelberg Catechism is preached. Often the preaching of the catechism becomes an exposition of the catechism and not an exposition of Scripture itself. If one is going to preach from the catechism, there is not necessarily a problem with taking a theme from the catechism and preaching on that topic. But that theme must first be taken from the Scripture and then that theme must be preached expositionally and experientially from the text. There is the tendency when preaching from the Catechism to give a lecture on a doctrinal truth with a bit of application. The result is a lecture on PR doctrine with proof-texting and thus a lack of good expositional and experiential preaching.

Conclusion:

There is a need in the PRC to return to the good Reformed practice of experiential preaching. There is a need for the PRC to modify the way they preach the Heidelberg Catechism, so that it becomes more Biblically expositional and experiential. There is a need for them to have preaching that speaks to the heart and not just to the head.

 

[1] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 700

[2] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 700

[3] Beeke, A Puritan Theology, 700

[4] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-experiential-preaching/

[5] http://frcna.org/messenger/item/8881-

[6] https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/index.php?q=node/48889

Thomas Brooks on Assurance, Arminians, and Roman Catholics

I’m currently reading through Thomas Brooks book Heaven on Earth as discussed in my last post on the PRC: “PRC (7); Puritans, Assurance, and Preaching” and came across this pertinent quote on the issue of Arminians and assurance. Can the Puritan doctrine of assurance be likened to Arminianism? This quote would imply a definite no!

“By these ten arguments it doth evidently appear, that believers may in this life attain unto a well-grounded assurance of their everlasting happiness and blessedness. I shall apply this a little, and then close up this chapter.

“Use. This precious truth thus proved, looks sourly and wishly [with eager desire] upon all those that affirm that believers cannot in this life attain unto a certain well-grounded assurance of their everlasting happiness and blessedness, – as papists and Arminians: all know that know their writings and teachings, that they are in arms against this Christ-exalting, and soul-cheering doctrine of assurance. ‘I know no such thing as assurance of heaven in this life,’ saith Grevinchovius the Arminian. Assurance is a pearl that they trample under feet; it is a beam of heaven that hath so much light, brightness, and shining glory in it, that their blear-eyes cannot behold it. Assurance is glory in the bud, it is the suburbs of paradise, it is a cluster of the land of promise, it is a spark of God, it is the joy and crown of a Christian; the greater is their impiety and folly that deny assurance, that cry down assurance under any names or notions whatsoever. They are rather tormentors than comforters that say, poor souls may know that there is a crown of righteousness, but they must not presume to know that they shall have the honour to wear that crown; and that makes God like King Xerxes, who crowned his steersman in the morning, and beheaded him in the evening of the same day.

“Arminians are not ashamed to say, that God may crown a man one hour, and uncrown him in the next; they blush not to say that a man may be happy and miserable, under love and under wrath, an heir of heaven and firebrand of hell, a child of light and a child of darkness, and all in an hour. Oh what miserable comforters are these? What is this but to torment the weary soul? to dispirit the wounded spirit, and to make them most sad whom God would have most glad? Ah! how sad it is for men to affirm, that wounded spirits may know ‘that the Sun of righteousness hath healing in his wings,’ Mal. iv. 2; but they cannot be assured that they shall be healed. The hungry soul may know that there is bread enough in his Father’s house, but cannot know that he shall taste of that bread, Luke xv. 17. The naked soul may know that Christ hath robes of righteousness to cover all spots, sores, defects, and deformities of it, but may not presume to know that Christ will put these royal robes upon it, Rev. iii. 18. The impoverished soul may know that there be unsearchable riches in Christ, but cannot be assured that ever it shall partake of those riches, Eph. iii. 8. All that these men allow poor souls, is guesses and conjectures that it may be well with them. They will not allow souls to say with Thomas, ‘My Lord, and my God,’ John xx. 18; nor with Job to say, ‘My Redeemer lives,’ Job xix. 25; nor with the church, ‘I am my beloved’s, and his desire is towards me,’ Cant. vii. 10. And so they leave souls in a cloudy, questioning, doubting, hovering conditions, hanging, like Mahoment’s tomb at Mecca, between two loadstones; or like Erasmus, as the papists paint him, hanging betwixt heaven and hell. They make the poor soul a Magor-missabib, a terror to itself.

“What more comfortable doctrine than this? What more soul-disquieting, and soul-unsettling doctrine than this? Thou art this moment in a state of life, thou mayest the next moment be in a state of death; thou are now gracious, thou mayest the next hour be graceless; thou art now in the promised land, yet thou mayest die in the wilderness; thou art to-day a habitation for God, thou may to-morrow be a synagogue of Satan; thou hast to-day received the white stone of absolution, thou mayest to-morrow receive the black stone of condemnation; thou art now in thy Saviour’s arms, thou mayest to-morrow be in Satan’s paws; thou art now Christ’s freeman, thou mayest to-morrow be Satan’s bondman; thou art now a vessel of honour, thou mayest suddenly become a vessel of wrath; thou art now greatly beloved, thou mayest soon be as greatly loathed; this day thy name is fairly written in the book of life, to-morrow the book may be crossed, and thy name blotted out for ever. This is the Arminians’ doctrine, and if this be not to keep souls in a doubting and trembling, and shivering conditions, what is it? Well, Christians, remember this is your happiness and blessedness, that ‘none can pluck you out of your Father’s hand,’ John x. 29; that you are ‘kept,’ as in a garrison, or as with a guard, ‘by the power of God through faith unto salvation,’ I Peter i. 5. ‘That the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but the kindness of the Lord shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on you,’ Isa. liv. 10. ‘That Christ ever lives to make intercession for you,’ Heb. iii. 25; and that men and devils are as able, and shall as soon, make a world, dethrone God, pluck the sun out of the firmament, and Christ out of the bosom of the Father, as they shall pluck a believer out of the everlasting arms of Christ, or rob him of one of his precious jewels, Deut. xxxiii. 26, 27. I shall close up this chapter with an excellent saying of Luther: ‘The whole Scripture,’ saith he, ‘doth principally aim at this thing, that we should not doubt, but that we should hope, that we should trust, that we should believe, that God is a merciful, a bountiful, a gracious, and a patient God to his people.’

Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth, in the Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. II, 328 – 330