The Theological Backbone of William Tyndale (1494 – 1536)

Today  marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale.  This faithful man was born in 1494.  He attended Oxford, Magdalen Hall and Cambridge University.  A student and adherent of the Protestant Reformation, Tyndale engaged in numerous debates with Roman Catholics.    One leader in the Roman Catholic church mocked Tyndale: “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope.”  Tyndale, never one to mince words replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws.  If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy who drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you.”

Tyndale was a confident, bold, and fearless theologian and scholar who translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English, likely with Luther’s help in Wittenberg.  But Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned for 500 days in a kangaroo court, and ultimately convicted.  He was sent to be strangled and burn at the stake in the prison yard on October 6, 1536 – the same year that Calvin published the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

May God raise up a new generation of leaders like William Tyndale – courageous and bold; men with a theological backbone and rock solid integrity.  May God raise up  a new generation of men who say what they mean and mean what they say; men who are unashamed of the gospel; men who are utterly unwilling to compromise the truth; men who are willing to be burned at the stake for the sake of truth.

Semper Reformanda!

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Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (2013)

kellerI have yet to meet a person who enjoys pain and suffering.  Yet suffering is a part of the warp and woof of life.  It is not a part of God’s original intent for creation.  Since Adam’s first sin, pain and suffering have been an abnormal part of the cosmos.  Suffering is an unwelcome guest who bullies his way to the table and makes demands – much like a  soldier on a bloody battlefield.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller addresses this topic with candor and clarity.  Keller leaves no stone unturned here.  The book is organized into three sections:

Understanding the Furnace

Keller introduces the problem of pain and suffering and explores some of the philosophical challenges that Christ-followers must understand and address.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity,” writes Keller.  Yet our culture has a tendency to respond to suffering in ways that are helpful and wrongheaded.  The moralist response to suffering is to “do good.”  The fatalist’s response to suffering is to “hang in there” and “endure.”  The dualist response to suffering is “purified faithfulness.”  And the secular response to suffering is focussed on “technique.”  A combination of these erroneous responses to suffering litter the current milieu and produce a generation of confused and discouraged people.

Keller rightly alerts readers to the importance of worldviews and their relation to the subject of pain and suffering.  Ultimately, the matter of pain and suffering is a matter of faith.  “Faith,” writes Keller “is the promise of God.”  He adds, “We can be fully accepted and counted legally righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ, solely by free grace … It means freedom from fear of the future, from any anxiety about your eternal destiny.  It is the most liberating idea possible and it ultimately enables you to face all suffering, knowing that because of the cross, God is absolutely for you and that because of the resurrection, everything will be all right in the end.”

Facing the Furnace

Part two provides readers with the theological muscle – a crucial part of the battle.  Keller unpacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and provides a painful but biblical rationale for the role of suffering the lives of people.

At the heart of this discussion is an important look at the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The author summarizes, “That is, in order to satisfy justice, in order to punish sin so that in love he could forgive and receive us, God had to bear the penalty for sin within himself.  God the Son took the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father.  And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony – out of love for us.”

Keller’s treatment in part two travels great distances to help resolve the problem of evil – the so-called “Achilles heal” of the Christian faith: “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

While Keller never attempts to provide a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, his treatment of this thorny subject is some of the best in print.  He may not satisfy the disciples of David Hume, Voltaire, or Sam Harris – but he does give ample ammunition for believers who are looking for honest answers.

Walking With God in the Furnace

Parts one and two explore the philosophical and theological angles of pain and suffering.  Part three helps readers with practical application.  They are given practical tools for “walking with God in the furnace.”  The very notion of walking with God in the furnace assumes pain – pain that some are unwilling to admit.  But practical experience reveals that we live in a broken world; a world which has been torn to shreds by the consequences of sin.

Keller urges readers to walk with God in suffering: “If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there.  You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone.  Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do.”  So the gospel is the first and last defense of every Christ-follower; indeed it is the hope of the watching world.

Second, the author stresses the importance of weeping during seasons of adversity.  Elijah serves as an example of a man who cried out in great agony.  He was a man unafraid of weeping.  Such an approach is not only honest – it is a sign of emotional health.

Third, Keller demonstrates the need for trusting in God during days of pain and adversity.    Joseph is portrayed as an example of a man who trusted: If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way.”  Jesus too demonstrated trust in his Father and points believers in the identical direction.  Keller continues to alert readers to other tools that they should utilize during their dark days.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is a watershed book that deserves to be read.  Christ-followers will no doubt be encouraged by this Christ-exalting book; a book which drives readers to the cross of the suffering Savior.

Highly recommended!

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God – Timothy Keller (2014)

Over the past twenty-five years, I have read books on prayer by thekeller Puritans and Reformers, the Quakers and the contemplative writers, the Desert Fathers, and even some living authors who think they have something unique to contribute to the discussion.

Timothy Keller’s newest work, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God is quite frankly the best book I’ve ever read on prayer.  This short review will only touch the tip of the iceberg; so I encourage readers of Veritas et Lux to read this incredible book for themselves.

Keller’s work is divided into five parts:

  1. Desiring Prayer
  2. Understanding Prayer
  3. Learning Prayer
  4. Deepening Prayer
  5. Doing Prayer

The book aims to show that  “prayer is both conversation and encounter with God” and demonstrates that prayer is both “awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.”

Keller rightly notes, “A book on the essentials of prayer should contain three components: the theological, experiential, and methodological.”  The author succeeds in presenting a lucid theological framework for understanding prayer.  He presents the experiential side of prayer by citing numerous Scriptural examples and drawing on the work of many Christ-followers in Church history.  And he sets forth a workable methodology, which in the final analysis includes many different forms that may appeal to different kinds of people.”  Keller’s book is biblical, engaging, God-centered, gospel-centered, and Spirit-fueled.

Prayer: Experiencing  Awe and Intimacy With God will confront readers with the God-centeredness of Jonathan Edwards, the earthiness and practicality of Martin Luther, and the theological precision of John Calvin.  This work will undoubtedly be used by God to encourage faithful prayer, enlist new prayer warriors, and revitalize a church that has neglected the important discipline of prayer.

5 stars

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 183 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

The Indispensable Need for Unity: Part 5

For several days now, we have been discussing unity.  We have argued that there is an indispensable need for unity, especially in the local church.  Thus far, we have seen:00000141

  • The Definition of Unity
  • The Defining Marks of Unity
  • The Deterrents to Unity
  • The Devil’s Hatred of Unity

The previous discussion uncovered an important principle that Satan uses division in order to divert the people of God, which will, in the final analysis, distract them and lead them in a direction that will destroy the aim of unity.  So notice, finally, the destructive nature of division.

The Destructive Nature of Division

 The foundational observation is this.  The first division that takes place after creation is the Fall of man in the garden.  Simply put, our first parents experienced division when Eve usurped her husband’s leadership.  There is not only horizontal division between Adam and Eve; there is the vertical division between people and God.  God warned Adam that when he ate of the forbidden tree, he would surely die (Gen. 2:17).  When Adam and Eve disobeyed Scripture tells us that “their eyes were opened” (Gen. 3:7).  Consequently, they became enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3) and were enslaved to sin (John 8:34).

Second, the sin of division is listed among the deeds of the flesh.  The destructive nature of division becomes readily apparent when it is viewed in the context of Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia.  Paul the apostle writes, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19–21, ESV).  The word “division” is translated from a Greek word, translated as “heresy” or “faction.”  While division may appear petty to some, it is listed among the sins of the flesh.  And note, the warning, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 21).  Jude 18-19 also includes a serious warning for people who cause division: “They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 18–19, ESV).  Division is a serious sin that must not be tolerated among the people of God!

Third, recognize that division destroys church families.  Paul admonishes the church at Corinth, a church who became well-known for their carnal behavior: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV).  The present tense of the verb translated “appeal” demonstrates Paul’s urgency in putting this matter before the Corinthians.  The word translated “divisions” comes from the Greek word that is commonly translated “schism.”  The word implies a “tearing apart or splitting apart.”  It also involves the opposition of sound doctrine.  Suffice it to say, division will strike mercilessly against the very fiber of a local church.  It will take on a life of its own.  Division is a relentless enemy.  Division is a vicious monster.  It is a malignant cancer that will devastate and destroy.  Division is a virus that must be confronted boldly and biblically.   If divisive people are left unchallenged, they will annihilate a church from the inside out.

Finally, division is contrary to the purposes of God.  The apostle Paul pleaded with the church at Rome to be on guard against anyone who might introduce the cancer of bitterness in the church family: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17, ESV).  He uses a different Greek word, translated “division” here.  The word means, “dissension or discord” and is virtually synonymous with the “schism” that we learned about in 1 Corinthians 1:10.

Summary

Here is the takeaway: God hates division.  God does not approve of factions or schisms.  God, however, places a premium on unity.  So we confess there is an indispensable need for unity in the church.  As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, may we stand in unity around the purposes of the church.  May we stand in unity around sound doctrine.  For we will not equivocate or compromise the doctrinal standards of the church.  May the unity the emerges in the church begin with each faithful Christian and may it flow like “oil down Aaron’s beard” for the benefit of local congregations.  And may the world take notice!  May the world recognize that we are disciples of Jesus who stand together in unity which will be expressed in the kingly reign of Christ in a future day to come!

The Indispensable Need for Unity: Part 4

00000141The Devil’s Hatred of Unity

Make no mistake – the devil despises unity.  He will do whatever it takes to divide family and friends.  He will pull out all the stops to divide a church or ministry.   And he will work tirelessly in order to divide a country.  One of the things that Satan hates the most is a unified church family.  Note several reasons for the devil’s utter antipathy of unity.

First, when God’s people are united, the body of Christ works as God intends – harmoniously.  Paul speaks of this unity in 1 Cor. 12.  “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that they may be no divisions in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (ESV).  Here we see that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  God is honored and glorified when the body of Christ works in a harmonious fashion; when the people of God are mobilized and faithfully exercising their God-given spiritual gifts.  Satan on the other hand, loathes the very notion of unity with a devilish passion.

Second, when God’s people are united, the gospel goes forward in great power.  We see this demonstrated most vividly in the book of Acts.  In Acts 1:8, the apostles receive a promise; a promise of the Holy Spirit’s power that will accompany their ministry as they faithfully proclaim the gospel to the nations.  In Acts 2, the day of Pentecost arrives and Peter preaches a bold sermon that results in the conversion of 3,000 people (Acts 2:41).  As the people of God devote themselves to the purposes of the church (Acts 2:42), God faithfully “added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).  In Acts 4:4, we witness the conversion of 5,000 more people as they sit under the preaching ministry of Peter.  This pattern occurs over and over in the book of Acts.  When the people of God stand united, the gospel goes forward in great power – all the more reason for the devil to despise a united church.

Third, when God’s people are united, Christ’s agenda triumphs over people’s personal agendas.  Here’s a principle to remember: Rejecting bickering results in rejoicing together.  When personal agendas are set aside for kingdom purposes, Christ’s agenda prevails.  So the devil will work strenuously to pit believer against believer.  Woe to the church who passively sits by while the personal agendas of carnal people win the day.  When personal agenda strike at the core of the local church, the devil has gained a major victory.

Fourth, when God’s people are united, God is greatly glorified.  When forgiveness is at the center of a church family and grace marks the ministry, people are encouraged and God receives the glory.  When selfish agendas are cast aside, God is glorified.  When “pet projects” are shelved in order to defer to a higher purpose, God is glorified.  Paul notes, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 4:15, ESV).

We have uncovered some reasons why the devil hates unity.  But it does not end here.  Satan not only hates unity; there is something he loves, namely, division.  The devil relishes a people who are divided.  He is eager to promote division, especially in the church.  So notice several reasons for the devil’s love of division in the church.

The Devil’s Love of Division 

First, when the church is divided, effectiveness fades.  Nothing could be plainer.  When people are at war, the troops lose strength and effectiveness wanes.  Quite honestly, division takes work.  And while the people who are engaged in division grow weak, it is the faithful efforts of shepherds that are ultimately affected.  I often wonder if people who spark division really understand how pleased the devil is with their work.

Second, when the church is divided, ministry morale declines.  This principle is related to the previous one.  For whenever division takes root in a church, ministry morale by definition will be on the downgrade.

Third, when the church is divided, the flesh is stirred to action.  I have learned from experience that when a group fosters division in a church, their sinful activity has a stunning effect.  It actually brings out the worst in people.  It serves, if you will, as a sin catalyst – igniting the flesh in people who moments before were faithfully serving God.  It is no wonder that the devil has such a passion for division.

Fourth, when the church is divided, the gospel is tarnished.  I was never much of a math student but here’s an equation I understand and have seen firsthand over the years.  Gossip + division = a lack of love.  And if we take John 13:35 seriously and affirm that people will recognize that we are disciples because of the love we show one another, it stands to reason that a divided church actively and aggressively tarnishes the gospel.  Francis Schaeffer rightly notes that the “final apologetic” is our love for one another and the unity expressed in the context of relationships.  I’m convinced that Satan is perfectly happy to see the gospel being proclaimed by a divided church – because the luster of the gospel is being adulterated which results in a weak, tepid, and ineffective message.  May God help us!

Fifth, when the church is divided, the Holy Spirit is quenched and grieved.  When Jesus prayed the High Priestly prayer in John 17, he said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21, ESV).  In other words, the Trinity has from all eternity been in perfect fellowship and unity.  So when disunity invades a church, it strikes at the core of who God is.  Division militates against what is precious to God, namely, unity.  The Holy Spirit, therefore, is quenched and grieved when division puts a stranglehold on unity.

Sixth, when the church is divided, God is not glorified.  Of course, whenever a church is divided, God is not honored.  And when God is not honored and glorified, we find the devil grinning ear to ear.  I heard a pastor say a few days ago that he “does not believe in the devil.”  Now the arch-enemy of our souls is really smiling.  He’s not only managed to spark division in the church; he’s convinced one of the leaders in the church that he is only an imaginary enemy.

So we come back to the primary assertion, namely, there is an indispensable need for unity in the church of Jesus Christ.  A church that fails to live up to the biblical ideal is a disobedient church; a church that is marginalized; a church that is weak and ineffective.  May God give us strength to obey the mandate before us.  May we stand side by side in unity all for the great namesake of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Indispensable Need for Unity: Part 3

Over the last few days, we have defined unity and discovered some critical marks of biblical unity.  00000141Today, let us mark out the deterrents to unity; roadblocks that prevent God’s best in the local church.

The Deterrents to Unity

1. Marriages that are Divided

The first division that occurred in marriage took place in the garden between our first parents, Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1-7).  Eve was deceived by the serpent.  Her deception led her down a slippery slope which resulted in her usurping of Adam’s headship; headship that was granted by God.   Adam relinquished his God-given role as the leader in his marriage and stood by passively.  The division that took place in the garden led to what I call the post-fall propensity.  Adam’s sin plunged humanity on a sinful path that leads to death (Rom. 5:12).  The post-fall propensity affects both men and women in marriage to this day.  Men struggle with one of two sins in this area.  They struggle with being docile – the sin of passivity (Gen. 3:6-7) and they struggle with dominating their wives (Gen. 3:17). Both sins result in the ungodly abdication of the leadership role that is granted by God. Additionally,  in this arena, women struggle with usurping their husbands’ authority (Gen. 3:17).  This sin expresses itself in ungodly assertiveness.  The combination of ungodly abdication and ungodly assertiveness leads to a sharp and contentious division in marriage.

2. Leadership Teams that are Divided

Nothing will marginalize a church quicker than a leadership team that is divided.  There are two broad areas to consider.  The first involves a person or group of people who make efforts to divide a leadership team.  Often times, unexposed sin motivates such an effort and must be dealt with swiftly or sin will eat through an organization like a cancer.  When Paul confronted the sexual sin at the church in Corinth, he warned, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Cor.. 5:6-7).  Sin that is allowed to fester is like unwanted mold or rust that continues to grow until it destroys everything in sight.

The second kind of division may involve two godly people who disagree on a theological matter or the direction of a given ministry.  Paul and Barnabas disagreed on a matter that led them to go their separate ways (Acts 15:39, ESV).  Barnabas sailed to Cyprus with Mark at his side and Paul traveled to Syria and Cilicia with Silas.  The fascinating result is found in Acts 15:41 – “And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”  These men understood the deadly danger of division and determined to maintain the unity of the church by separating and going in different directions.

3. Gossip

Gossip is a sin that appears to be tolerated in many churches.  This should never be – for gossip is a serious sin in the eyes of God.  Ezekiel 36:3 refers to gossip as an “evil” activity.  Paul includes gossip along with a list of other sins including covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, and maliciousness (Rom. 1:29, ESV).  Gossip is listed among other sins like quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, and conceit in 2 Corinthians 12:20.  Proverbs 16:28 says, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”  And Proverbs 17:9 warns, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Indeed, gossip should not be found among the people of God.  Gossip has the power to divide and even destroy a church.

4. Personal Agendas

Hang around a local church for any amount of time and one is bound to find people with personal agendas.  Worship styles, philosophy of ministry, polity, and a whole laundry list of items contribute to this thorny matter.   Yet Scripture calls us to put the needs of others before our own; we are called to humble ourselves and seek the good of others.  Personal agendas left unchecked will fester and spark division in the church.  Personal agendas can dismantle the unity of a church almost overnight.

5. People Who Oppose Leadership

Finally, people who politic and form splinter groups to oppose the leadership pose a grave threat to the unity of the church.  We will examine this problem in the next post.  But suffice it to say, these schisms not only hurt the unity of the church; they displease the Savior and cast a long shadow on the Bride of Christ; a shadow which extends into the world and communicates a message that does great harm to the church.

These deterrents to the unity of the church must be identified, confronted, and challenged with the full weight of biblical authority.  Again, we aim for unity in the church.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, ESV)