BOLD REFORMERS REFUSE TO COMPROMISE THE TRUTH

IMGP0693My grandfather, the late Rev. V.W. Steele, used to say, “Never compromise the truth.” “Don’t ever sell you soul for a mess of pottage,” Grandpa would surmise, with fire in his eyes. He understood the deadly influence of compromise, which plagued the church in his generation. He saw the crippling impact of liberalism, which waged war against the Bible and stifled the people of God. Few people listened to V.W. Steele’s counsel. Even fewer are listening today. So, compromise continues to make inroads in the lives of God’s people, in the local church, and in mainstream culture.

The Trauma of Compromise

Compromise is traumatic because it wreaks havoc on our lives. “The human spirit,” David Wells writes, “is now being moved not by profound thinking but by the experience of living in a metropolis presided over by bureaucracy, tranquilized by television, awash with the racket of closing cultures.”1 The end result of compromise is a suffocated church which is producing spiritual weaklings, unable to discern and powerless to make a difference in our world.

Explanation of Compromise

Compromise is a lowering of standards. It is, as the New Oxford American Dictionary defines it, a matter of accepting “standards that are lower than is desirable.” Such a move is not in keeping with historic Christianity. Indeed, compromise fails to honor the living God.

Compromise is a gradual erosion of what was once cherished. Typically, this deterioration is slow moving; it does not take place overnight. Rather, it is an imperceptible steady decline, which may not even be recognizable until it is too late. Like ocean waves that slowly chip away at the shores on a beautiful beach, so too, does compromise gradually erode the professing Christian who gives in to its demands.

Compromise is a cowardly pursuit. This mindset places higher regard for comfort and pleasure than the truth of God’s Word. This cowardly pursuit may feel right initially, but it eventually leads to a life of misery (Ps. 1:5-6).

Compromise is ungodly. It is man-centered. It placates and caters to the flesh. It is opposed to the things of God. In our generation, compromise is viewed as a strength instead of a vice. John MacArthur observes, “Compromise has become a virtue while devotion to the truth has become offensive.”2 Compromise is viewed as a necessary and strategic move in a pluralistic society. Compromise may look right, but if left unchecked, it always leads to disaster. The Scripture warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but is end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25).

The Trial of Luther

Martin Luther understood the paralyzing effects of compromise. He saw how compromise slithered its way into the fabric of the church and began to devour the gospel, verse-by-verse and line-by-line. He witnessed how compromise in the priesthood eroded the integrity of the church from the inside out. Luther’s pilgrimage to Rome awakened him to the compromise that plagued the church. Martin Marty notes, “He expressed shock at the chaos, the filth, and the practices of locals who urinated in public and openly patronized prostitutes.”3 He watched with horror as the church he loved grew more and more like the world.

Luther never dreamed he would experience such wanton excess and sinfulness as he made his way to the holy city: “When I first saw Rome, I fell to the ground, lifted my hands, and said, ‘Hail to thee, O holy Rome.’” That impression quickly dissolved, however. He continued, “No one can imagine the knavery, the horrible sinfulness and debauchery that are rampant in Rome.”4 In Luther’s mind, the die was cast. And a new context emerged; a context that would set the stage for the Protestant Reformation.

Traits of a Person Who Refuses to Compromise the Truth

Like Luther, the apostles in the first-century church were swimming against the cultural tide. In Acts 5, their boldness landed them in prison (v. 18). But God performed miracles to advance his sovereign purposes: “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out” (Acts 5:19).

God instructs these men to preach the gospel: “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20). Two imperative verbs appear in verse 20. God commands the apostles to “go” (poreúomai). And God commands these men to “speak” (laléō). Both verbs are written in the present tense, which suggests ongoing action, an unceasing ministry of proclamation – despite the persecution they will continue to face.

The response of the apostles is recorded in verse 21: “And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought” (Acts 5:21). The apostles respond with obedience, decisiveness, and bold resolve. The apostles were bold reformers!

When confronted by the officials, the response of the apostles is consistent with God’s command: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30–31).

But pay close attention to the guiding principle that precedes the response of these bold reformers: “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The Greek word translated “obey” (peitharchéō) means to trust or obey with confidence. That is to say, the apostles placed supreme faith in the living God, so much that they were willing to obey God from the heart. This brand of bold obedience is prepared to endure the consequences and glorify God, even to the point of death.

What are the defining features of a bold reformer who refuses to compromise the truth? What unshakeable and unbreakable principles will guide bold reformers down a path that stands strong and steadfast before God?

A bold reformer is committed to the truth of the gospel

Bold reformers do not read the opinion polls. They do not canvas the neighborhood to see what people are interested in hearing. They do not smooth out the rough edges of the gospel in order to gain a wider hearing. They listen to God’s Word; they obey God’s Word; they surrender to the lordship of Christ. Bold reformers are committed to the veracity of the gospel.

A bold reformer is willing to take risks for the sake of the gospel

John Piper makes a strong case for taking risks for the sake of the gospel: “It is the will of God,” writes Piper, “that we be uncertain about how life on this earth will turn out for us. And therefore it is the will of the Lord that we take risks for the cause of God.”5 Piper continues, “If our single, all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death, and if the life that magnifies him most is the life of costly love, then life is risk, and risk is right. To run from it is to waste your life.”6

A commitment to boldness and taking risks for the sake of the gospel is a countercultural pursuit, one that will draw blank stares from some people and invite stern criticism from others. Yet, a willingness to take risks is a crucial qualification on the bold reformer’s resume. Owen Strachan likewise urges Christ-followers to take risks. He writes, “We’re saved to plunge headlong into a life of God-inspired, Christ-centered, gospel-driven risk. We don’t know when the Master is returning; we don’t know what may come of our efforts. We’re not guaranteed any earthly results. But we are called to work while there still is time.”7

So, bold reformers cut against the cultural grain. They step out in faith and trust God with the results. They go places where others fear to tread and they leave the results with God. And they may, in the final analysis, pay the ultimate price but will also reap a heavenly reward. A bold reformer is willing to take risks for the sake of the gospel.

The world does not need a compromised church. The compromised church will give the world what they want, not what they need. The compromised church says, “The world is tired of expository preaching.” The compromised church says, “We don’t exercise church discipline on the unrepentant—we just love them.” The compromised church says, “Tone down the message.”

The world does need bold reformers who refuse to compromise the truth! The world needs Christians who say what they mean and mean what they say. The world needs believers who value conviction and maintain fidelity to the Word of God. The world needs blood-bought Bible folks, people who are willing to go to any length to be numbered among the obedient. Herman Bavinck rightly identifies such a person, a theologian who bears the marks of a bold reformer: “Bound by revelation, taking seriously the confessions of the church, a theologian must appropriate the Christian faith personally. This is a liberating reality; it made it possible for heroic figures such as Martin Luther to stand up to false teaching and misconduct in the church. We must obey God rather than men.”8

May God raise up a new generation of bold reformers who draw clear lines; people who are convinced of the truthfulness of Scripture; leaders who refuse to back down. This world desperately needs to hear from bold reformers who refuse to compromise the truth!

Dr. David S. Steele is the Senior pastor at Christ Fellowship in Everson, Washington. He is the author of Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. He blogs regularly at http://www.baldreformer.wordpress.com.

This article was first published at Servants of Grace.

  1. David F. Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 287. ↩︎
  2. John F. MacArthur, Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses its Will to Discern (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994), 47. ↩︎
  3. Martin Marty, Martin Luther: A Life (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), Kindle edition, Loc. 278. ↩︎
  4. Martin Luther, Cited in Stephen Nichols, Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought (), 30. ↩︎
  5. John Piper, Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than Waste It (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012), 30. ↩︎
  6. Ibid, 17. ↩︎
  7. Owen Strachan, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Books, 2013), 30. ↩︎
  8. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 15. ↩︎

Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT: RELATIONSHIPS, ROLES, AND RELEVANCE – Bruce A. Ware (2005)

Recent years of scholarship have surfaced some terrific books on the doctrine of the Trinity.  Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance by Bruce A. Ware is among the best.  Dr. Bruce Ware defines and defends the doctrine of the Trinity with biblical precision, Christ-exalting passion, and theological muscle.

Chapter one unfolds the importance of the doctrine.  Ware draws the reader in by illustrating ten reasons to focus on the “wonder of the Trinity.”  Readers are given a treasure-trove of ammunition that not only demonstrates the rationale of this doctrine; it shows the practical ramifications for marriage, career, and relationships in the local church.

Chapter two surveys the long history of the doctrine.  The author shows why the early Christians accepted the Trinitarian formulation.  His explanation is rooted in both Scripture and the writings of the church fathers.

Chapters 3-5 takes an in-depth look at the respective roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Dr. Ware makes it clear throughout his treatment that “every essential attribute of God’s nature is possessed by the Father, Son, and Spirit equally and fully.”  Each chapter concludes with practical and powerful points of application.  There is no abstraction here.  Dr. Ware is concerned with linking truth with the affections and God-centered response.

Chapter six develops a theme that was originally explored by Christian thinkers like Augustine and Jonathan Edwards, namely – the Trinity as society or as Dr. Ware puts it, “in relational community.”  Ten key principles are presented that need to be fully digested and applied in the real world.

Dr. Ware has done in invaluable service for the church in this book.  He has unpacked the doctrine of the Trinity in a way that is clear and biblical.  He has skillfully applied this essential doctrine in a way that can strengthen a Reformed spirituality among believers.  And he has rightfully challenged the egalitarian movement with the biblical antidote that should define a new generation of Evangelicals.

Highly recommended!

5 stars

A Different Kind of Happiness – Larry Crabb

crabbLarry Crabb. A Different Kind of Happiness. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. 245 pp. $13.24

These days, happiness appear to be a hot topic. David Murray packaged several books about happiness under the title, A Bundle of Joy: Six Books on Christian Happiness. And Randy Alcorn made a very important contribution with his book, Happiness. Larry Crabb’s new book, A Different Kind of Happiness is a welcome addition and offers new insights which will encourage readers in their Christian journeys.

Crabb presents the purpose of the book at the outset: “To think through what it means to really love and to explore the truth that sets us free to relate closer to the way we wish we could, to love like Jesus.”

Four questions drive the book and help fulfill the purpose presented above:

  • Is there a kind of love, a better kind, that brings joy when it is given, not when it meets with a satisfying response from another?
  • Is there a kind of happiness that survives both the most damaging relational pain caused by another and the most discouraging and devastating of circumstances?
  • Is there a connection, a cause-effect relationship, between offering undistorted love and experiencing strong happiness?
  • Is Jesus-like happiness as a good feeling, or is it better known as a living and sustaining reality, an awareness of both loving life as it should be lived and a freedom to do so?

Crabb suggests two kinds of happiness:

“Second-thing happiness” is what we experience when life goes well. We feel blessed. We feel happy. Goals are achieved, spiritual disciplines are practiced. Ministry takes place. All these things lead to a feeling of happiness.

“First-thing happiness” is experiencing the joy of Jesus. It is the happiness that Jesus experienced during his earthly ministry. It is the joy that came as he freely gave of himself. We too, experience this kind of joy as we share the overflow of Jesus in our own lives.

A Different Kind of Happiness guides readers on the narrow path in pursuit of the kind of life that Jesus delights in giving his people. This is a weighty book, packed with personal reflection and pain. Crabb writes with a stunning degree of transparency, rarely found among Christian authors these days. He wrestles with doubt, loss, illness, adversity, and uncertainty.

Crabb is candid about the opposition he has received over the years. A few observations that may help critics, both in the past and the present include:

  • An emphasis on the gospel that is unapologetic.
  • An alignment with the New England Puritans.
  • A radically God-centered orientation.
  • A repudiation of the secular counseling model.

These observations should go a long way in appeasing Crabb’s critics and invite a new audience of readers that may have been frightened away by any negative reviews.

I don’t agree with everything Larry Crabb writes. But one thing he does: he makes me think. He makes me ponder. He asks difficult questions. This book is no exception. I invite readers to read Dr. Crabb’s latest work. Some quiet reflection and time to ponder the principles here will prompt deep encouragement and lead to a different kind of happiness.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, With All of Our Heart – Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress. The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, With All of Our Heart. Wheaton: Crosswaypoy
Books, 2016. 224 pp. $14.49

The Dutch statesman, Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine.’” Such is the theme of the recent book by Vern Poythress, The Lordship of Christ: Serving Our Savior All of the Time, In All of Life, with All of Our Heart.

Poythress attempts to show readers that the Lordship of Christ extends to every area of life, including politics, science, art, the future, education, and work. Nothing is excluded.

The author sets the stage by making the crucial assertion that the lordship of Christ extends to believers and unbelievers alike. No one is excluded. Every atheist, agnostic, neo-pagan, gnostic, new ager, evolutionist, and every Christian is subject to the lordship of Christ. The general tone of the book is to help readers understand the implications of living in a world where Christ is Lord over all.

Poythress carefully establishes the basis for a Christian worldview which is grounded in absolute surrender to Jesus Christ: “To confess Jesus to be Lord is to confess him to be God, the same God who is the God of Israel and who created the world.” Poythress continues, “Jesus is therefore worthy of absolute allegiance. In giving allegiance to Jesus we are at the same time giving allegiance to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, because the three persons are God.”

At the end of the day, every person who stands under Christ’s lordship also recognizes that glorifying him brings the highest measure of satisfaction. Poythress observes, “We find our deepest satisfaction and the deepest fulfillment of who we are – who we were created to be – when we serve God: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’”

One of the most helpful aspects of this book is a basic repackaging of Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic method. Standing with Van Til, Poythress demonstrates the principle of antithesis (which was also popularized by Francis A. Schaeffer). The author demonstrates how knowledge is always derived from God and is therefore, never autonomous: “We must not seek knowledge autonomously, in independence from or isolation from God’s words. That is a form of rebellion, which dishonors God’s way of living. When there seems to be a tension between God’s word in Scripture and what we are learning from other sources, Scripture has the priority because it is the word of God.”

Some books are meant to be nibbled at; others are meant to be devoured. The Lordship of Christ is of the later sort. This is a serious book for anyone who is serious about pursuing Christ and glorifying him in every arena of life. College students and Seminarians should devour this wonderful book and find great freedom in living under the authority and lordship of Jesus.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

John Gregorious – Still Voice

gregJohn Gregorious. Still Voice. Spotted Peccary, 2016. $9.49

He was the best guitar teacher I ever had. Those were the days when I wanted to learn rock scales and riffs. “Teach me the tricks,” I would say. He was always gracious and taught me exactly what I wanted to learn. That was nearly thirty years ago. If I could press the reset button, I would ask my teacher to school me in the ways of ambient guitar.

His new album is called Still Voice. His name is John Gregorious. The record is seasoned and mature. The disc is filled with beautiful harmonies, layered with stunning background vocals that send chills up the unsuspecting spine. The album contains elements that are uniquely haunting; others elements inspire with rich texture and joyful notes.

Gregorious is a tremendous talent that needs to be heard and celebrated. Fans of Phil Keaggy will be impressed with the beautiful phrasing and will no doubt be begging for more. Still Voice is an album that is worthy of an army of listeners. 46 minutes of soul-storing music will capture the attention of music lovers everywhere. Purchase the album today!

Eyes Wide Open: Miracles and Mistakes on My Way Back to KoRn

wBrian “Head” Welch. With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles & Mistakes on My Way Back to KoRn. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. 214 pp. $16.36

With My Eyes Wide Open is the biographical account by Brian “Head” Welch, guitarist for the popular metal band, KoRn. Welch describes his conversion to the Christian faith, his departure from KoRn, and the days of bitter pain which followed. After several years away from the band, Welch tells the tale of his journey back into KoRn and some of the more recent events which mark his life. The author invites readers into his world – days that were marked by betrayal, loneliness, questioning, doubt, and a rebellious daughter to boot.

Welch writes with a level of transparency that is difficult to find these days. He does not shy away from sharing the painful details of his life, even as a Christian. The author is quick to point out how God’s grace transformed his life but also shares the low points of his Christian journey.

I have written nearly five hundred book reviews over the past few years. My aim is to honestly review books, commending the good and warning what may be antithetical to historic Christianity. This book is no exception. While the story presented here is inspiring and heart-warming, there are some troubling signs that need to be addressed in an honest review. I present these critiques as if Brian Welch and I had the privilege of enjoying a cup of coffee together. Perhaps one day we can make that a reality! In the meantime, I would encourage the author to three commitments:

  1. Be driven and motivated by God’s Word, not emotions or feelings. Throughout the book, Welch refers repeatedly to “signs” which inform many of his decisions. Feelings certainly have a role to play in the Christian life, but should follow the principles of God’s Word not dictate God’s Word.
  2. Get grounded in biblical and systematic theology. Read solid works by men like R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and Wayne Grudem. Such an approach will require breaking free from extreme charismatic groups that focus on mystical experience and downplay doctrine.
  3. Recognize that God generally works in the realm of the ordinary. He uses the ordinary means of grace found in the local church, namely – the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the administering of the ordinances for the building up of the body of Christ. Yes, God works in the realm of the extraordinary and continues to perform miracles and mighty acts that display his power. But the ordinary means of grace are no less powerful that a visible miracle.

It would be easy to cast aside these doctrinal concerns and focus on the redemptive aspects of the biographical tale. But setting aside doctrine is tantamount to compromise and must be avoided at all costs.

This is a book I wanted to like and pass along to music lovers. While “Head’s” conversion to the Christian faith is exciting, the doctrinal problems associated with the charismatic movement make it difficult swallow and even more difficult to endorse. In addition, the affiliation with the recent documentary, Holy Ghost raises deep concerns and should give discerning readers pause.  Then and only then will the eyes of the readers have eyes wide open.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.