Archive for August 25th, 2007

…. I bet no one ever confesses sin at Ingrid’s church.

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“We need to adjust our presentation of the gospel. We cannot dismiss the fact that God hates sin and punishes sinners with eternal torment. How can we begin a gospel presentation by telling people on their way to hell that God has a wonderful plan for their lives?” It is true that God has a wonderful plan for their lives—but it is that they would repent and trust the Savior, and receive the righteousness of Christ.”
- John MacArthur

The re-examination of the gospel presentation is a continuing process that is a combination of evaluating the common understandings and the sincere and uncompromising desire to include all the vital components of the saving message. Of what use is preaching the gospel if it either cannot be understood or equally that it is incomplete or deficient? A hundred section bridge is not a bridge with only ninety-nine sections, and the bridge with all one hundred sections is of no use if it cannot be found. So the suggestion that we should always communicate the gospel in truth and completeness and with the core spiritual components that makes it eternal and trans-cultural is imperative.

But as one of my constant observations I must again take issue with the last sentence as it is presented in a reformed context.This theology is what it is and those who espouse it cannot run from it, neither should we allow them to. When Dr. MacArthur states that “It is true that God has a wonderful plan for their lives – but it is that they would repent and trust the Savior, and receive the righteousness of Christ” he is overstating and actually misrepresenting his own theology. How can he encourage believers to present the gospel to sinners and inform them that God’s plan is for them to trust Christ, as it were, when that statement just may be a lie if the sinner to whom they are witnessing is not included in the redemptive plan of God?So while it is true that many of the formula gospel presentations are ineffectively pragmatic and remove much of the Biblical completeness in the message, the essence of the gospel presentation in the reformed (et. al.) persuasion must be tailored to accurately reflect what they believe. They cannot assure the person of any plan that God has for them, in fact, it just might be that God’s plan is hell for the individual with whom they are sharing Christ. You cannot have it all ways and if you embrace some form of Calvinism you should not be offended by remaining consistent with your theology, you should desire to be as consistent as possible in what you communicate to saint and sinner alike.

Now a Christian who believes Christ died for every man and that salvation has been made available to all sinners can with a clear conscience share the good news that Christ died for their sins and offers them eternal life in Him. But if a Christian believes that Christ only died for a few, would it not be Biblically honest and in the interest of full disclosure to communicate that fact to the sinner himself? Why not? If that sinner is predestined to be saved it cannot alter his conversion, and it would surely give a more Biblical view of salvation and even help to prevent false professions of faith based on the assumption that the person is assured of being chosen. The presentation of John 3:16 must include a defining of the word “world” in order not to mislead the person and again encourage a false understanding that Christ died for everyone in the entire world, no, this sinner must understand that he may or may not be a candidate for salvation lest he make a false profession based upon faulty assumptions and not the direct drawing of the Spirit which is reserved for only the pre-elected and not the desire/will of the listener. The sinner may desire to trust Christ but how can he be sure that this feeling is the Spirit and not his own counterfeit will which would give him a tragic sense of security when if fact he was still lost.

My contention is that in order to insure the most authentic conversion experiences, which I believe is the thrust of Dr. MacArthur’s point, we all must present the gospel truth in the most clear and complete way. For me that means I can with all confidence and Biblical authority offer everyone the gift of eternal life through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But for men like John MacArthur this should mean that their message must include a caveat of caution that includes the truth that Christ only died for the limited elect, not so the sinner can better discern if the Spirit is drawing him, no, the sinner’s place is only reactionary to the Spirit’s will, but the message should be accurately and completely presented for God’s glory and Biblical consistency. No?

Now the amazing thing is that the gospel presentations of the reformed group never seem to make a clear revelation of the limited scope of redemption and the cross of Christ. Why not? Well, you say, it doesn’t really matter in the presentation, we are supposed to preach the same to all creatures and God will do the work. If that is true, then why does it matter at all and why does everyone make such an important issue of it if that truth doesn’t even need to be told to lost sinners to whom it affects most directly? And what would be the most effective way to avoid shallow and fleshly professions of faith than informing the lost person of the limited scope of Christ’s death? Doesn’t the Scripture exhort people to examine themselves to see whether they are in the faith? And doesn’t that Scripture by implication warn of false conversions? So are we saying that we can only warn of false conversions after the false conversion is made? And are we saying that the witness to sinners must be limited in truth, and that informing a sinner that he may not be chosen is for some reason unwise.

And in Dr. MacArthur’s theology the completeness of the message is uneventful in the salvation of souls, the Spirit will save who God wills to be saved not predicated on the completeness of the gospel presentation, hence the obvious truth that many are saved under a free will message. But the reformed group would stress, and correctly so, that we should endeavor to most completely and accurately communicate the truth of salvation’s gospel because of God’s glory and the sacredness of His Word. And that brings us back to the original point, if I am reformed, and part of my understanding of the gospel scope is its limitations, should I not make that clear for God’s glory?

Therefore, a reformed believer can never and should never tell a sinner that God’s will for his life is to believe the gospel and be saved. That perhaps is a misspeak by Dr. MacArthur, but he should immediately see the incongruous nature of such a statement and abandon any further implications in the future. And he should not be offended when it is pointed out to him, he should embrace it because, after all, he desires to present God’s truth as he believes it, right? And what offense could anyone take by being exhorted to make clear that which you believe? The discussion of those beliefs is for another time, but since we are all avidly examining everyone’s gospel presentation we all need to let our own words come under the scrutiny of what we believe. It’s only right.

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Phoenix on the beachThis past weekend was one of lots and lots of emotion here in the Lyons family. We finished moving my oldest son, Phoenix, into his dorm up at Purdue (aka “the ONLY Indiana University” if you live in our house), and I’m not sure my wife has stopped crying yet (at least on the inside). It was also a weekend for amazement and an object lesson in what it means to “always be ready”.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Luke 12:35-40

As many of you know, Phoenix was accepted into the Purdue Varsity Glee Club this summer, an organization I have always been impressed with. This is its 114th year in existence – at a school without a music program! In fact, the lack of a music program is, I believe, part of the secret of its success. As a club that receives no university support, it is free of the pitfalls of church/state arguments, which means that it is able to unapologetically expect high moral fibre in its members and sing sacred music without fear of legal busybodies. Each year for the past 74 years, the PMO has hosted a Christmas Show (not a “Holiday Extravaganza” or “Winter Concert” – a “Christmas Show”) that is nothing short of spectacular. Typically, the first part of the show is traditional and modern, primarily secular, Christmas music with large dance/interpretive routines and lots of instrumentation. The second part of the show is then a Christmas Cantata that rivals anything I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard a LOT of college/professional choirs). But I digress…

Back to this past weekend.


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