Hypothetical Salvation for Hypothetical Believers? Nope.

God is under no obligation to save anyone, so when (out of sheer grace) He decided to save, He did it in His way.

The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity. To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of the atonement is a false form of Christianity.

Even from the earliest chapters and books of the Bible we see atonement as central to those who would do life with God. In Eden, after the fall of man, for the first time in history God made atonement for His people by shedding the blood of an animal and using it’s skin to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices in Genesis 4, Noah offered sacrifices to God in Genesis 8, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all do the same thing each time God meets them or blesses them. We see many other offerings in Genesis, but when Israel gets into slavery in Egypt and when God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and say ‘Let My people go’ in behalf of God it is here where we see the doctrine of atonement coming into view clearly.

After 9 plagues completely devastate the Egyptians, God brings a dreadful decree to close out His assault on Egypt. He tells Moses of His plans and Moses tells Pharaoh in Exodus 11:4-6, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.’ Moses leaves Pharaoh’s presence and God gives Him further directions in chapter 12, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months…On the 10th day of this month every man shall take a lamb for his household and on the 14th day of the month you shall kill the lamb at twilight. Then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house…the blood shall be a sign for you…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.’

It was the blood that saved Israel from death, it was the blood that secured their redemption from Egypt. Paul picks up this theme in 1 Cor. 5 where he calls Christ our Passover Lamb. The parallel is clear is it not? Just as the blood of the lamb secured Israel’s redemption from Pharaoh and Egypt and sent them on their way to the promise land, so too, it is now the blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb, that secures our redemption from Satan, sin, and death and sends us on our way to the greater Canaan. It was the blood of the lamb that atoned for Israel, it is the blood of the Lamb of God that atones for us.

From this point on, we see God instituting His Law, which has many prescriptions in it for various offerings and sacrifices intended to atone for the sin of the people. This Law is then what all of the Old Testament prophets courageously and consistently called God’s people back to. Therefore, atonement has always been central to the people of God, and when we come over into the New Testament we find that all the sacrificial atoning work of God culminating in one act of atonement, the cross of our Lord Jesus.

What I’ll labor to show you now is that just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people in the Old Testament, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, was for and only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.

6 points to show you this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’ 

The Atonement was Accomplished

Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who??) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’ 

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession. John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.

I’ll end with one thought:

Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation attainable, and we cannot attain it on our own! This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe. In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect.

Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’

J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’

Here we see it: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.

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Books vs the Bible?

If there is one thing you may not know about me is my love of books.

If you saw my library you’d see I have lots of books, from many different generations, different styles, different genres, different authors, different denominations, and those don’t even cover the ones on my Logos collection. Beginning in my early days in college at an interdenominational school here in Florida we were taught to think outside the box and read from many different authors who challenge our presuppositions about ministry, theology, doctrine, and practice. I’m very grateful for those early days. It trained me to think outside of my own theological spectrum. Now, not only did my time there teach me to think outside of my boundaries, it also taught me to appreciate the value that books have in forming the Christian life.

In literature and books we have great wisdom from men and women that have gone before us. We have their application of Scripture and encouragement for times of sorrow and times of joy. We have their instruction on how to think through hard issues. We have their synthesis of Scripture to point us to a fuller understanding of the text of Scripture. However, it is important to understand those books should never take the place of Scripture in your spiritual life.

In too many cases it is easy to become overwhelmed by the knowledge of those who came after the apostles rather than the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Himself. We must never overlook the importance of Scripture alone as the foundation for our spiritual health. You are grown most fundamentally through the Word of God. Therefore when it comes to reading apart from it, it is important that we choose books that will encourage and inform us on the truth of Scripture. Books that will encourage and push us forward in our spiritual journey. This is especially true when it comes to selecting devotionals.

Do we choose resources that encourage and inflame our love for the Scriptures? Do we choose resources that encourage and push us back to know more about what the Word of God says, or do we select devotionals that point us back to ourselves and what we think about things?

Do not be deceived by false teachers that would put their words above God’s Word. In our day and age it’s very easy to be misled by false teachers through the books that we read, especially from books sold in Christian bookstores. Just because a Christian bookstore sells it does not make it Christian or Biblical in its application of Scripture or its understanding of God’s word. But I guess the question remains what do we read?

First and foremost read the Bible.

It is the only thing that gives us hope, that truly reveals an understanding of who God is. This is not to dissuade you from reading, but rather to make sure that our foundation is set first and foremost on our understanding of God. We must read with an aim to know and see God in His Word and in the words of others.

Second, read books that will encourage you in your walk with the Christ

Now these are books that can range from daily devotionals to theological works.  Most of us since early days in our Christian faith were encouraged to do a daily devotional. Throughout Church history many great men have written their own devotionals, such as Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which are still used by many even today. Aside from devotionals though you’d also find great spiritual encouragement through theological works such as J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, or even something slightly newer like Knowing God by J. I. Packer. 

On our own homepage we list the four theological works that each of us are currently reading. As you can see from the list currently both Adam and myself are reading books by Michael Horton. Adam, reading one of his newer works, Ordinary. This book encourages us to see that our lives, even though they may appear ordinary, are really the supernatural work of God. Myself, on the other hand, am reading a book that he wrote several years ago on our call to be disciple makers. Horton does this by walking us through the importance of the great commission and our job as believers to follow through with that call. You can see each of these books seek to further our knowledge of God and a reliance on Him through the Scriptures.

Third, Read a good biography

For many of you this third category seems obvious. Biographies are very common in our day and age so much so that their use to actually be a television channel dedicated to them. That should be no shock to you that we as believers should be encouraged to read good biographies especially about the lives of the saints of God who lived before us. You’d be amazed at the things that believers went through and how through the power of God they overcame their trials and temptation and found joy and contentment in Christ alone. Biographies are great blessing to the Christian as we see time and time again the work of the Lord in His saints. Now I am not saying to go out and buy the two volume George Whitefield biography collection by Arnold Dallimore, though it is a fantastic book series, but there are some great short biographies put out by Ligonier ministries, also John Piper on his website Desiring God wrote some short biographies on some great saints such as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards that can bring great encouragement to your Christian walk. Mostly, biographies help us to know that we are not alone in our journey, we are not the first to experience the things that we’ve experienced, just as the Lord was faithful to them so too we can trust that he will be faithful to us.

Finally, (though not least in importance) enjoy a good work of fiction.

Now this being the last category that I’ll discuss for many of us it may be our favorite category. A good fictional novel  can range from some of the great works of the past like To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist or The Lord of the Rings to some of the newer works of fiction such as the works of Stephen King, Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin or maybe J. K. Rowling. Fictional works help to expand our imaginations. They can help us to see the world in a different light, especially for ministers, fictional novels help us to think differently about the world around us. Fictional novels can open our imaginations, broaden our visual vocabulary, and allow us to get a look into the way our culture thinks and acts by the way they write about the world.

In conclusion this is an encouragement to those of us who love books, who love our libraries, who love great authors and theologians, so much so that we spend great deals of time with them, to not lose sight of the truth of God in the midst of the words of others. And to those who don’t read as often, to see, in works of theology, works of Christian growth, stories of brothers and sisters who have walked the path before, an opportunity for you to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and to grow in your understanding of the work of God through the lives of others.

Above all else again the Bible must be central to our understanding. While we can learn from great men and women through their writings as they have experienced the work of God in them, through them, and through their knowledge of Him, they are still but mortals. Their words are but temporary while the Word of the Lord is eternal.

Tolkien & Owen On Communion With God

 If you have ever read The Lord of The Rings or watched the movies, one of the main themes that drives the plot is fellowship. You are introduced to characters like Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Sam as well as the silly and inseparable duo that enjoy second breakfasts Merry and Pippin. The relationships each had with each other were deep before the great journey and it grew more intimate while on it. Struggles and battles, victories and loss all shaped the fellowship they had with each other. At the end you got a glimpse of how the bonds that they made were indivisible.

This is the stuff of communion.

And it doesn’t just happen in fantasy. The fellowship of close friends in a common purpose embodies one of the most precious privileges that we cherish and long for in this life. Whether in a strong Christian marriage or with that friend who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24), or, ultimately, in our union and communion with God.

Communion With God 

Normally when we see or hear the word ‘communion’ we automatically think of the ‘Lord’s Supper.’ Communion hopefully does happen when we do the Lord’s Supper, but it’s not limited to that event. John Owen says it like this, “Communion relates to things and persons. A joint participation in anything whatever, good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions.” To have Communion with God is an intimate, mutual, covenantal bond between God and his people. Normally when the Bible talks about communion and fellowship, specifically in the New Testament, the Greek word is koinonia. The words primary meaning is “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” J.I. Packer does much for us in explaining what this kind of communion with God looks like, “Communion with God is a relationship in which Christians receive love from, and respond in love to, all three persons of the Trinity.”

Read the words of Owen. “Now, communion is the mutual communication of such good things as wherein the persons holding that communion are delighted, bottomed upon some union between them. Our communion then, with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return unto him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” So without Christ and ultimately because of sin, communion with God is impossible. As Owen puts it, “By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion hath light with darkness?” Communion can only be a reality because of the Triune God being sovereign has sought to reconcile His enemies to Himself. By sending His Son, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The wrath we deserve fell upon Him and He stood in our place as our substitute. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

This communion is possible because each of the persons of the Trinity plays a unique role in the salvation of the elect (1 John 5:7). The Father elects to save His people in Christ (Eph. 1:4). The Son is appointed and willingly offers Himself as the Savior and Mediator (Luke 22:29; Heb. 10:5–7). The Holy Spirit furnishes Christ with the gifts necessary to accomplish His saving work (Luke 1:35; 3:21–22; 4:18), and also applies the benefits of Christ’s work to those whom the Father gives to the Son (John 6:38–39; 17:4). Thus, in a delightful harmony of mutual love and purpose, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally covenanted to redeem the elect community.

The glorious truth is this that, all areas of our covenant relationship to God are Triune “so that no one may boast.”

Our justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ‘Triunely’ planned, purchased, and applied. Our access to God is through Christ, by the Spirit, and to the Father (Eph. 2:18). The gifts of the Spirit are won by Christ and offered to the Father (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our worship is through the mediation of Christ, by the Spirit, and presented to the Father. Our prayers are in the name of Christ, by the Spirit, and addressed to the Father.

All that we have from God and enjoy with him is Triune.

The End of a Remarkable Writing and Speaking Ministry: An Update on J. I. Packer’s Health

199A0573_02-300x533Good post from Justin Taylor recently on J.I. Packer:

We at Crossway learned this week that J. I. Packer (who will, Lord willing, turn 90 years old in July 2016) has developed macular degeneration in his right eye. His left eye has had macular degeneration for over a decade. He consented to let this information be shared publicly.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for those over the age of 65. The macula is a small spot near the center of the retina that helps to focus on objects straight ahead. Degeneration of the macula does not in itself lead to total blindness, but it can make it nearly impossible to read, write, or even recognize faces.

The disease struck Dr. Packer’s right eye over Christmas, which means (at time of writing) he has only been living with this for the past few weeks. He is unable to read, and therefore he will be unable to travel and speak. Because so much of his writing involves initial working with a ballpoint pen and blank paper, he is also unable to write.

You can read Ivan Mesa’s TGC interview with Dr. Packer today on his perspective on these developments.

Two of his final books have had resonance with the challenges he is currently facing: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (Crossway, 2013) and Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Crossway, 2014).

In the latter volume, he explained the difference between a worldly and a biblical view of aging:

How should we view the onset of old age? The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss, whereby strength is drained from both mind and body and the capacity to look forward and move forward in life’s various departments is reduced to nothing. . . .

But here the Bible breaks in, highlighting the further thought that spiritual ripeness is worth far more than material wealth in any form, and that spiritual ripeness should continue to increase as one gets older.

The Bible’s view is that aging, under God and by grace, will bring wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing, and encouraging. In Proverbs 1-7 an evidently elderly father teaches realistic moral and spiritual wisdom to his adult but immature son. In Psalm 71 an elderly preacher who has given the best years of his life to teaching the truth about God in the face of much opposition prays as follows:

You, O LORD, are my hope,
my trust, O LORD, from my youth. . . .

Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
forsake me not when my strength is spent. . . .

But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (Ps. 71:5914-18)

And Psalm 92:12 and 14 declare:

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. . . .
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green.

This biblical expectation and, indeed, promise of ripeness growing and service of others continuing as we age with God is the substance of the last-lap image of our closing years, in which we finish our course. Runners in a distance race, like jockeys in a horse race, always try to keep something in reserve for a final sprint. And my contention is going to be that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.

I thank God tonight that James Innell Packer’s course is not yet finished and that he is still running the race. In accordance with this counsel, I pray it will be a spiritual sprint through the finish line.

50 Books J.I. Packer Thinks You Should Read

The folks over at Crossway have compiled a list of 50 books that J.I. Packer believes we should read.  It’s hard to argue with Packer on most anything, and it’s no different when it comes to these suggestions.  If you’re like me you’re wondering what books are coming around the corner, or what you’ll be reading next.  This list will set your reading schedule for quite some time.


1

Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: Three Essential Books in One Volume
Francis A. Schaeffer

“What is the long-term significance of Francis Schaeffer? I am sure . . . that I shall not be at all wrong when I hail Francis Schaeffer—who saw so much more . . . and agonized over it so much more tenderly than the rest of us do—as one of the truly great Christians of my time.”

2

Am I Called?: The Summons to Pastoral Ministry
Dave Harvey

“This is the fullest, most realistic, down-to-earth, and genuinely spiritual exploration of God’s call to pastoral ministry that I know. I recommend it most highly.”

3

Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity
John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth, Editor

“Here is a weighty tract for the times, in which a dozen Reformed scholars survey the ‘open theism’ of Pinnock, Sanders, Boyd, and colleagues, and find it a confused, confusing, and unedifying hypothesis that ought to be declared off limits. Some pages are heavy sledding, but the arguing is clear and strong, and the book is essential reading for all who are caught up in this discussion.”

4

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever
Michael Horton

“Learned and lucid, masterfully organized, and vigorously expressed, this full, solid, and exact study of Geneva’s reforming pastor is an outstanding piece of work. In all four sections Calvin comes to vigorous life. Calvin’s reputation for godly wisdom, and Horton’s for vivid writing, will certainly be enhanced.”

5

Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love
Jonathan Edwards; Kyle Strobel, Editor

“For Jonathan Edwards, the true Puritan understanding of Christianity as love-life in God through Christ was a lifelong theological-pastoral-devotional focus, and his fullest display of it is found here. Kyle Strobel’s comments help us appreciate this classic on communion with God.”

6

Choosing a Bible: Understanding Bible Translation Differences
Leland Ryken

“A masterful and convincing argument for literal, that is to say, transparent translation of the Holy Scriptures.”

7

Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election
Sam Storms

“Storms’s offensive against Arminian-type views of election among evangelicals is a very solid piece of work. The thoroughness of its arguments gives it conclusive force.”

8

Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader (2 Volumes)
William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, Editors

“Understanding apologetics as explicating, affirming, and vindicating Christianity in the face of uncertainty and skepticism, Edgar and Oliphint have skillfully selected the best primary sources to introduce us to this ongoing task. Their work fills a gap in scholarly resources and highlights the strength, wisdom, and solidity of the prominent defenders of our faith.”

9

Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious
Christopher Catherwood

“Honest historian Christopher Catherwood informs us straightaway that he views the Christian story through the lenses of Protestant, Reformed, evangelical, baptistic, free-church spectacles. His telling of the tale, journalistic in style while scholarly in substance, then proves his point. You will find this book clarifying and invigorating.”

10

Communion with the Triune God
John Owen; Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Editor

“Here is a modern reader’s edition of a classic Puritan work by a classic Puritan author. It is a powerful Trinitarian profiling from Scripture of the truth that fellowship with God is and must ever be the inside story of the real Christian’s life. John Owen is a profound teacher on all aspects of spiritual life, and it is a joy to welcome this reappearance of one of his finest achievements.”

11

ESV Study Bible
Lane T. Dennis, Executive Editor; Wayne Grudem, General Editor

“I was privileged to act as General Editor of the English Standard Version, and now that I look back on what we did in producing that version, I find myself suspecting very strongly that this was the most important thing that I have ever done for the Kingdom, and that the product of our labors is perhaps the biggest milestone in Bible translation in certainly the last half century at least, and perhaps more. And now, as Theological Editor of the ESV Study Bible, I believe that the work we have done together on this project has set an altogether new standard in study Bibles.”

12

Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More Than 100 Disputed Questions
Wayne Grudem

“In a troubling debate, resolution of which is currently out of sight, this extended monograph is a must-read for all who care about biblical authority, Christian relationships, and well-ordered church life. Laboriously and exhaustively, with clarity, charity and a scholar’s objectivity, Wayne Grudem sifts through 118 current challenges to the Bible’s apparent teaching on men and women. This is the fullest and most informative analysis available, and no one will be able to deny the cumulative strength of the case this author makes, as he vindicates the older paths.”

13

Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue
Andreas J. Köstenberger

“Here is an excellent, searching, full-length study on the moral and spiritual requirements of being a professional, evangelical, biblical scholar. This book will do great good to those of us who ply this trade.”

14

Fallen: A Theology of Sin
Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, Editors

“These essays provide a very thorough mapping of sin’s ugly reality. Rarely do we meet such realism as we find here.”

15

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective
David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, Editors

“A massive product of exact and well-informed scholarship . . . with landmark significance. . . . I give this book top marks for its range of solid scholarship, cogency of argument, warmth of style, and zeal for the true glory of God. I recommend it most highly.”

16

God in the Storm
Marc Maillefer

“The thoughts and stories in this truly pastoral book give fresh luster to the precious truth that our God is indeed with his people in trouble.”

17

God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation
Andreas J. Köstenberger with David W. Jones

“In breadth of coverage, thoroughness of learning, clarity of analysis and argument and, I think, soundness of judgment, this solid, lucid, pastorally angled treatise has no peer. Evangelicals who research, debate, teach, and counsel on gender, sex, marriage, and family will find it an endlessly useful resource. The easy mastery with which the author threads his way through forty years’ special pleadings gives this compendium landmark significance, and I recommend it highly.”

18

God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger

“Returning to a topic on which they both have already shown mastery, the Köstenbergers here round off their achievements with a full, lucid, and compelling demonstration that all Scripture treats male leadership as the creational pattern. Complementarians in particular will find here an invaluable resource, as indeed will any other open-minded Bible students.”

19

Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus
Jared C. Wilson

“Wilson labors to make us appreciate the greatness and grandeur of the gospel and its Christ. Again and again he succeeds.”

20

He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
Graham A. Cole

“This latest addition to the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series maintains the high standard already set. Graham Cole has written the widest-ranging textbook on pneumatology that currently exists. Meticulous and sharp in handling texts, and scrupulous on matters of method, he offers us cool, clear, sober answers to more questions about the Holy Spirit than probably any of us have hitherto thought to ask. New ground is not broken, but solid ground of a mainstream Reformed sort is set forth throughout. Well done, Dr. Cole!”

21

Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength
Bryan Chapell

“In this study book, a wise man shows how the grace of God in Christ, and the holy joy of Christian living, go beyond what many think. Would you appreciate a fully biblical and Reformed demonstration of how the love-words and love-works of our triune God transform life? Then you should read and digest Holiness by Grace.”

22

Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals
Trevin Wax

“How should God’s American people put the lordship of Jesus Christ on display in their lives? Wax’s searching answer is biblical, basic, businesslike, and blunt.”

23

Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is?
Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger

“Dr. Köstenberger gives us a here a solid, sad, scrupulously fair case study of ideology deflecting exegesis over an entire generation. She shows conclusively that the attempts of a long series of scholars to find Jesus affirming women’s leadership in some way have entirely failed. Surely this is an important cautionary tale for our times.”

24

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace
Jonathan Aitken

“A new life of John Newton is a fitting celebration of the bicentennial both of Newton’s death and of the abolition of the slave trade, Wilberforce’s triumph in which Newton played a key role. Master biographer Jonathan Aitken is in fine form, sympathetic, insightful, scholarly, and vivid, and his book, like its subject, must be rated spectacular.”

25

Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome
R. Kent Hughes and Barbara Hughes

“I recommend that every pastor first read the Hughes’s book privately and then go over it with his lay leaders. Doing this will not be less than a milestone and might well be a watershed.”

26

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books
Tony Reinke

“If you don’t read books as both a discipline and a delight, then you should; and if you need help here, as in truth all of us do, more or less, then this is the book for you. Don’t miss it!”

27

Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ
Tony Reinke

“Here is mastery! As the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and reigning, was the life-giving focus of the Evangelical Revival, and as George Whitefield was its supreme awakener, and John Wesley its brilliant discipler, so ex–slave trader John Newton was its peerless pastoral counselor and perhaps the greatest Christian letter writer of all time. In his 768- footnote digest of the spiritual wisdom in Newton’s thousand-plus published letters, along with his published sermons and hymns, Reinke distills a vast flow of pure honey for the Christian heart. This is a book to read over and over again.”

28

No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God
John S. Feinberg

“Feinberg reads theology with a philosopher’s eye and writes it with a philosopher’s sensitivity to illogic and incoherence.”

29

Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith
Jon Bloom

“Vivid, nourishing sketches of Bible characters learning to live with their sometimes startling Lord.”

30

One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation
Marcus Peter Johnson

“Theologian Johnson is a Reformed thinker who restates for us Luther’s and Calvin’s Bible-based insistence that union with Christ is the framing fact within which, and whereby, all the specifics of salvation reach us. His book merits careful study, for he does his job outstandingly well.”

31

Overcoming Sin and Temptation
John Owen; Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Editors

“The editors of this volume have worked hard to make Owen’s unrivalled insight into the Christian’s inner war with sin accessible to all, and the result is truly a godsend.”

32

Prayers for People under Pressure
Jonathan Aitken

Prayers for People under Pressure is for those in the thick of things, and both the selection of prayers and the accompanying reflections are brilliant. Jonathan Aitken’s transparent, unassuming, down-to-earth, in-God’s-presence style as he speaks of God and ourselves has huge force, taking us often to the edge of eternity. This is an anthology I shall treasure and use.”

33

Preaching the Word Commentary Series
R. Kent Hughes, Editor

“Throughout the Christian centuries, from Chrysostom and Augustine through Luther, Calvin, and Matthew Henry, to Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Ray Stedman, working pastors have been proving themselves to be the best of all Bible expositors. Kent Hughes stands in this great tradition, and his exciting expositions uphold it worthily.”

34

Quo Vadis, Evangelicalism?: Perspectives on the Past, Direction for the Future: Nine Presidential Addresses from the First Fifty Years of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Andreas J. Köstenberger, Editor

“During its almost sixty years of life, the Evangelical Theological Society has grown in numbers and in intellectual vitality, spiritual vision, and a strategic sense of mission to the wider church and the still wider world. This selection, ranging from the bright to the brilliant, celebrates and will surely further the Society’s ongoing progress.”

35

Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times
Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor, Editors

“When evangelicals confuse an improper passion for novelty with a proper pursuit of academic and pastoral relevance, the results can be distressing. I cannot express how grateful I am for the well-formed wisdom with which this book points to the abiding and decisive relevance for future route-finding of the old theological paths.”

36

Redeeming Sociology: A God-Centered Approach
Vern S. Poythress

“Using the triadic analytical technique derived from the truth of the Trinity, Poythress continues his quest for an undistorted, biblical understanding of the sciences, this time zeroing in on linguistics and sociology. This is a work of first-rate thinking. Demanding yet enriching, this book is a major contribution to modern reformation and its intellectual renewal.”

37

Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
C. John Collins

“Collins maps the entire interface between faithful biblical interpretation and questions of all sorts posed in the name of the sciences. Interesting, fair-minded, shrewd, and clear from start to finish, this will prove outstanding as a pastoral resource.”

38

Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God
Bobby Jamieson

“Scripture is for sound doctrine, sound doctrine is for real life, and real life is for real church growth. So says Jamieson, and he hits the nail on the head brilliantly every time.”

39

The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Where They Are, and Their Politics
Christopher Catherwood

“Bright, breezy, and wearing his learning lightly, historian Catherwood has crafted a most illuminating cross-sectional review of the global evangelical movement as it is today. I found it unputdownable; I think many others will too.”

40

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism
Mark Dever

“For most of us, personal evangelism is the reverse of easy, and so it becomes a task we evade. Mark Dever writes to shake us up about this, clearing our heads as to just what evangelizing involves and motivating our hearts to go to it realistically and responsibly. This is a word in season that will surely do a great deal of good.”

41

The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept
Mark Dever

“Here is a vigorous, juicy, engaging, life-centered, God-honoring set of sermons, brilliantly overviewing the entire New Testament: a truly rich resource from which to benefit and borrow. Dr. Dever is a Puritan in twenty-first-century clothing, and it shows.”

42

The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come
John Bunyan; C. J. Lovik, Editor

“If any smoothing of Bunyan’s seventeenth-century language plus new colored pictures can set Pilgrim’s Progress aglow in the hearts of today’s young readers, this lovely book will surely do it.”

43

The Shepherd Leader at Home: Knowing, Leading, Protecting, and Providing for Your Family
Timothy Z. Witmer

“With marriage and the family under present-day pressures, it takes a wise man to think and write well about being a husband and father under God. This book reveals Dr. Witmer as just such a wise man, and makes his wisdom available to us all. Highly recommended.”

44

The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary
Fred G. Zaspel

“Well before the transdenominational convergence of what we now call the evangelical church, B. B. Warfield spent forty years as the Presbyterian Horatius, holding the bridge that leads into the citadel of the Westminster Standards against those he saw as spoilers from the wastelands of liberalism. A heavyweight academic and a complete player in the fields of systematic, exegetical, historical, and polemical theology, he scattered his wisdom in hundreds of articles, which this book surveys and integrates with great skill. Warfield can now be seen in his full stature as the godly giant that he was, thanks to Fred Zaspel’s labor of love. Best thanks, and hallelujah!”

45

Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God
Bruce A. Ware

“Open theism supports its reducing of God’s sovereignty by denying his full knowledge of the future. If any doubt remains as to whether this falls short of the Bible’s teaching and waters down Christian faith and hope, Bruce Ware’s pastoral reasoning will surely dispel it.”

46

Things That Cannot Be Shaken: Holding Fast to Your Faith in a Relativistic World
K. Scott Oliphint and Rod Mays

“The authors make vivid the two-way street of our communion with God and God’s being with us. Their book is full of things that we today need urgently to take to heart.”

47

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
John Piper

“Thinking—the alert, meticulous, probing, logical, critical use of the mind—will be a highway either to godliness or to its opposite, depending on how it is done. Taking leads from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper surefootedly plots the true path here. His book should be, and I hope will be, widely read.”

48

To Know and Love God: Method for Theology
David K. Clark

“Clark sets forth a wide-ranging, constantly centrist, moderately technical, analytically alert demonstration of the what, why, and how of the evangelical theological task, interacting at each stage with rival positions. No comparable across-the-board vindication of evangelical mental method exists; this is a landmark book.”

49

Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer
Bryan A. Follis

“The real Francis Schaeffer—Reformed apologist, youth evangelist, lover of God and of people—is here profiled and celebrated. The best appreciation of Schaeffer and his legacy yet written.”

50

Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity
Anthony L. Chute, Christopher W. Morgan, and Robert A. Peterson, Editors

“Biblical evangelicalism must always be churchly, and churchly evangelicalism today cannot avoid being denominational. And denominational evangelicalism is a spiritual smorgasbord, offering more spiritual wealth and wisdom than any one person can possibly take on board. In these pages evangelical leaders become tour guides to their own denominational heritage. Authoritative? Yes. Absorbing? That too. Enriching? Very much so. Taste and see.”

Must We ‘Earn the Right?’ to Share the Gospel?

It’s a fact that Christians now believe we must earn the right to share the gospel.  Therefore most Christians think of evangelism as starting friendships where the aim is to cultivate trust to the point where a conversation about the gospel would be natural and comfortable.  Is this a Biblical way to think about evangelism?  No, it’s not.

The first time this belief surfaced in black and white was in J.I. Packer’s book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961)This book is a foundational document on evangelism, divine sovereignty, and human responsibility.  Besides this one thought, I do think the book is great.  On page 90 Packer says the following:

The right to talk intimately with another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him…we must be justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ and in speaking to them about their own spiritual needs…

I know that many who may read this will instantly think that I’m the one who is wrong to say Packer is wrong here, but hear me out.  This line of thinking that we must ‘earn’ the right to share the gospel, and be ‘justified’ in bringing up the gospel with people makes one error.  It makes the error of being more cultural than Biblical.  Do you see Jesus or any of the apostles earning the right to share the gospel in the Bible?  Did Philip earn the right to intrude on the Egyptian eunuchs reading time to ask him “What are you reading?” (Acts 8) Did Stephen earn the right to share with the people before they stoned him? (Acts 7) Did Paul earn the right to preach to those cities?

The answer to this question, from the Bible, is always the same: no.  Everyone who shared the gospel was more concerned with getting the message of Jesus out than the person’s feelings about being offended by the gospel.  If the Jesus or the apostles were concerned with ‘earning’ the right to share the gospel before they shared, I think the growth of the Church would have been drastically reduced.  Perhaps that’s why we decline and downgrade today?  This is where J.I. Packer, and the many who agree with him on this issue, have uncritically accepted a cultural rule over the Bible.

Don’t hear me saying what I’m not.

I am not saying that friendships are a bad way to share the gospel, they are and should be used and sought after diligently.  I am not saying that we ought to just go out banging people in the head with our Bibles, screaming at them to repent.  I am not saying that evangelism should be done without love, it ought to.

I am saying that I think Packer is wrong to say that sharing the gospel with someone has to be earned.  It does not.  Would it be loving to let a blind man keep walking toward to edge of a cliff?  No, it wouldn’t.  No one in their right mind would ever think upon seeing this, “I cannot go up and tell him he’s going in the wrong direction, I don’t want to intrude on his choices, and besides, we don’t even know each other, how could I tell him to change the path he has chosen to walk on?”  That is absurd to the highest degree, and just like that, today too many Christians view evangelism in the same manner.  “We cannot just go up to people and say their wrong, and that they should repent and turn to Jesus, that would be foolish and offensive.”  Have we forgotten that the message of the cross is ‘foolishness to those who are perishing?’ (1 Cor. 1:18)

We must remember that Jesus never earned the right to share Himself with others, and the apostles never earned the right to share the gospel.  Christians must take up the gospel, as it is, and share it with those around them, in love.  We know their end is hell if they do not repent, and that should move us to share with them and plead with them, IN LOVE, to turn to Jesus while there is still time.

May we never withhold sharing the gospel because we think we have not earned the right to do so.

No messenger of a king bearing the king’s message ever waited to earn his right to share the word from his king.  He shared it, because that was his calling.  So too, all Christians are ambassadors for Christ, and it is our joy to share the gospel with as many as we can.  If Christ has given us approval to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we need not earn another’s approval to share the gospel, the message of the one true King.

This is one place where J.I. Packer has uncritically accepted part of his own culture as Biblical.  Have you done the same?

Let Go and Let God? No Thank You.

J.I. Packer:

I was converted – that is, I came to the Lord Jesus Christ in a decisive commitment, needing and seeking God’s pardon and acceptance, conscious of Christ’s redeeming love for me and his personal call to me – in my first university term, a little more than half a century ago. The group nurturing me was heavily pietistic in style, and left me in no doubt that the most important thing for me as a Christian was the quality of my walk with God: in which, of course, they were entirely right. They were also, however, somewhat elitist in spirit, holding that only Bible-believing evangelicals could say anything worth hearing about the Christian life, and the leaders encouraged the rest of us to assume that anyone thought sound enough to address the group on this theme was sure to be good. I listened with great expectation and excitement to the preachers and teachers whom the group brought in week by week, not doubting that they were the top devotional instructors in Britain, perhaps in the world. And I came a cropper.

Whether what I thought I heard was what was really being said may be left an open question, but it seemed to me that what I was being told was this. There are two sorts of Christians, first-class and second-class, ‘spiritual’ and ‘carnal’ (a distinction drawn from the King James rendering of 1 Cor. 3:1-3). The former know sustained peace and joy, constant inner confidence, and regular victory over temptation and sin, in a way that the latter do not. Those who hope to be of use to God must become ‘spiritual’ in the stated sense. As a lonely, nervy, adolescent introvert whose new-found assurance had not changed his temperament overnight, I had to conclude that I was not ‘spiritual’ yet. But I wanted to be useful to God. So what was I to do?

‘Let go, and let God’
There is a secret, I was told, of rising from carnality to spirituality, a secret mirrored in the maxim: Let go, and let God. I vividly recall a radiant clergyman in an Oxford pulpit enforcing this. The secret had to do with being Spirit-filled. The Spirit-filled person, it was said, is taken out of the second half of Romans 7, understood (misunderstood, I would now maintain) as an analysis of constant moral defeat through self-reliance, into Romans 8, where he walks confidently in the Spirit and is not so defeated. The way to be Spirit-filled, so I gathered, was as follows.

First, one must deny self. Did not Jesus require self-denial from his disciples (Luke 9:23)? Yes, but clearly what he meant was the negating of carnal self — that is to say self-will, self-assertion, self-centredness and self-worship, the Adamic syndrome in human nature, the egocentric behaviour pattern, rooted in anti-God aspirations and attitudes, for which the common name is original sin. What I seemed to be hearing, however, was a call to denypersonal self, so that I could be taken over by Jesus Christ in such a way that my present experience of thinking and willing would become something different, an experience of Christ himself living in me, animating me, and doing the thinking and willing for me. Put like that, it sounds more like the formula of demon-possession than the ministry of the indwelling Christ according to the New Testament. But in those days I knew nothing about demon-possession,and what I have just put into words seemed to be the plain meaning of ‘I live; yet not I, but Christliveth in me’ (Gal. 2:20, KJV) as expounded by the approved speakers. We used to sing this chorus:

O to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
O to be lost in thee;
O that it may be no more I
But Christ who lives in me!

Whatever its author may have meant, I sang it wholeheartedly in the sense spelled out above. The rest of the secret was bound up in the double-barrelled phrase consecration and faith. Consecration meant total self-surrender, laying one’s all on the altar, handing over every part of one’s life to the lordship of Jesus. Through consecration one would be emptied of self, and the empty vessel would then automatically be filled with the Spirit so that Christ’s power within one would be ready for use. With consecration was to go faith, which was explained as looking to the indwelling Christ moment by moment, not only to do one’s thinking and choosing in and for one, but also to do one’s fighting and resisting of temptation. Rather then meet temptation directly (which would be fighting in one’s own strength), one should hand it over to Christ to deal with, and look to him to banish it. Such was the consecration-and-faith technique as I understood it – heap powerful magic, as I took it to be, the precious secret of what was called victorious living.

But what happened? I scraped my inside, figuratively speaking, to ensure that my consecration was complete, and laboured to ‘let go and let God’ when temptation made its presence felt. At that time I did not know that Harry Ironside, sometime pastor of Moody Memorial Church, Chicago, once drove himself into a full-scale mental breakdown through trying to get into the higher life as I was trying to get into it; and I would not have dared to conclude, as I have concluded since, that this higher life as described is a will-o’-the-wisp, an unreality that no one has ever laid hold of at all, and that those who testify to their experience in these terms really, if unwittingly, distort what has happened to them. All I knew was that the expected experience was not coming. The technique was not working. Why not? Well, since the teaching declared that everything depends on consecration being total, the fault had to lie in me. So I must scrape my inside again to find whatever maggots of unconsecrated selfhood still lurked there. I became fairly frantic.

And then (thank God) the group was given an old clergyman’s library, and in it was an uncut set of Owen, and I cut the pages of volume VI more or less at random, and read Owen on mortification – and God used what the old Puritan had written three centuries before to sort me out.

Must We “Earn the Right” to Share the Gospel?

It is almost a fact that most Christians now believe that the “right” to share the gospel must be earned.  Therefore most Christians think of evangelism as starting friendships where the aim is to cultivate trust to the point where a conversation about the gospel would be natural and comfortbale.  Is this a Biblical way to think about evangelism?  Yes and no.

This belief, I think, comes from J.I. Packer’s very good book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961)This book is a foundational document on evangelism, divine sovereignty, and human responsibility.  On page 90 Packer says the following:

The right to talk intimately with another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him…we must be justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ and in speaking to them about their own spiritual needs…

I disagree.

I know that many who may read this will instantly think that I’m the one who is wrong to say Packer is wrong, but hear me out.  This line of thinking that we must ‘earn’ the right to share the gospel, and be ‘justified’ in bringing up the gospel with people makes one error.  It makes the error of being more cultural then Biblical.  Do you see Jesus or any of the apostles earning the right to share the gospel in the Bible?  Did Philip earn the right to intrude on the Egyptian eunuchs reading time to ask him “What are you reading?” (Acts 8) Did Stephen earn the right to share with the people before they stoned him? (Acts 7) Did Paul earn the right to preach to those cities?

The answer to this question, from the Bible, is always no.  Everyone who shared the gospel was more concerned with getting the message of Jesus out than the person’s feelings about being offended by the gospel.  If Jesus or the apostles were concerned with ‘earning’ the right to share the gospel before they shared, I think the growth of the Church would have been drastically stunted.  This is where I think Packer, and the many who agree with him on this issue, have uncritically accepted a cultural rule of polite-ness over the Biblical call to boldly witness.

Do not hear what I am not saying please.

I am not saying that friendships are not a great way to share the gospel, they are and should be used and sought after diligently.  That was how I became a Christian.  I am not saying that we ought to just go out banging people in the head with our Bibles, screaming at them to repent.  I am not saying that evangelism should be done without love, it ought to, or else I fear we may become more evil in the sight of this world than the aroma of life to the lost.

I am saying that I think Packer is wrong to say that sharing the gospel with someone has to be earned.  It does not.  Would it be loving to let a blind man keep walking toward to edge of a cliff?  No, it wouldn’t.  No one in their right mind would ever think upon seeing this, “I cannot go up and tell him he’s going in the wrong direction, I don’t want to intrude on his choices, and besides, we don’t even know each other, how could I tell him to change the path he has chosen to walk on?”  That is absurd to the highest degree, and just like that, today too many Christians view evangelism in the same manner.  It’s understandable why we think like this, but we must give this up.

We must see that Jesus never earned the right to share Himself with others, and the apostles never earned the right to share the gospel.  Christians must take up the gospel, as it is, and share it with those around them, in love.  We know their end is hell if they do not repent, and that should move us to share with them and plead with them in love to turn to Jesus while there is still time.  No messenger of a king bearing the king’s message ever waited to earn his right to share the word from his king.  He shared it, because that was his life’s calling and duty.  So too, all Christians are ambassadors for Christ, and it is our joy to share the gospel with as many as we can.  If Christ has given us approval to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we need not earn another’s approval to share the gospel, the message of our king.

We are children of our time, but this is one place where I think Packer has uncritically accepted part of our own culture as Biblical.  Have you done the same?

Let Go and Let God?

J.I. Packer:

I was converted – that is, I came to the Lord Jesus Christ in a decisive commitment, needing and seeking God’s pardon and acceptance, conscious of Christ’s redeeming love for me and his personal call to me – in my first university term, a little more than half a century ago. The group nurturing me was heavily pietistic in style, and left me in no doubt that the most important thing for me as a Christian was the quality of my walk with God: in which, of course, they were entirely right. They were also, however, somewhat elitist in spirit, holding that only Bible-believing evangelicals could say anything worth hearing about the Christian life, and the leaders encouraged the rest of us to assume that anyone thought sound enough to address the group on this theme was sure to be good. I listened with great expectation and excitement to the preachers and teachers whom the group brought in week by week, not doubting that they were the top devotional instructors in Britain, perhaps in the world. And I came a cropper.

Whether what I thought I heard was what was really being said may be left an open question, but it seemed to me that what I was being told was this. There are two sorts of Christians, first-class and second-class, ‘spiritual’ and ‘carnal’ (a distinction drawn from the King James rendering of 1 Cor. 3:1-3). The former know sustained peace and joy, constant inner confidence, and regular victory over temptation and sin, in a way that the latter do not. Those who hope to be of use to God must become ‘spiritual’ in the stated sense. As a lonely, nervy, adolescent introvert whose new-found assurance had not changed his temperament overnight, I had to conclude that I was not ‘spiritual’ yet. But I wanted to be useful to God. So what was I to do?

‘Let go, and let God’
There is a secret, I was told, of rising from carnality to spirituality, a secret mirrored in the maxim: Let go, and let God. I vividly recall a radiant clergyman in an Oxford pulpit enforcing this. The secret had to do with being Spirit-filled. The Spirit-filled person, it was said, is taken out of the second half of Romans 7, understood (misunderstood, I would now maintain) as an analysis of constant moral defeat through self-reliance, into Romans 8, where he walks confidently in the Spirit and is not so defeated. The way to be Spirit-filled, so I gathered, was as follows.

First, one must deny self. Did not Jesus require self-denial from his disciples (Luke 9:23)? Yes, but clearly what he meant was the negating of carnal self — that is to say self-will, self-assertion, self-centredness and self-worship, the Adamic syndrome in human nature, the egocentric behaviour pattern, rooted in anti-God aspirations and attitudes, for which the common name is original sin. What I seemed to be hearing, however, was a call to deny personal self, so that I could be taken over by Jesus Christ in such a way that my present experience of thinking and willing would become something different, an experience of Christ himself living in me, animating me, and doing the thinking and willing for me. Put like that, it sounds more like the formula of demon-possession than the ministry of the indwelling Christ according to the New Testament. But in those days I knew nothing about demon-possession, and what I have just put into words seemed to be the plain meaning of ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Gal. 2:20, KJV) as expounded by the approved speakers. We used to sing this chorus:

O to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
O to be lost in thee;
O that it may be no more I
But Christ who lives in me!

Whatever its author may have meant, I sang it wholeheartedly in the sense spelled out above. The rest of the secret was bound up in the double-barrelled phrase consecration and faith. Consecration meant total self-surrender, laying one’s all on the altar, handing over every part of one’s life to the lordship of Jesus. Through consecration one would be emptied of self, and the empty vessel would then automatically be filled with the Spirit so that Christ’s power within one would be ready for use. With consecration was to go faith, which was explained as looking to the indwelling Christ moment by moment, not only to do one’s thinking and choosing in and for one, but also to do one’s fighting and resisting of temptation. Rather then meet temptation directly (which would be fighting in one’s own strength), one should hand it over to Christ to deal with, and look to him to banish it.

Such was the consecration-and-faith technique as I understood it – heap powerful magic, as I took it to be, the precious secret of what was called victorious living.

But what happened? I scraped my inside, figuratively speaking, to ensure that my consecration was complete, and laboured to ‘let go and let God’ when temptation made its presence felt. At that time I did not know that Harry Ironside, sometime pastor of Moody Memorial Church, Chicago, once drove himself into a full-scale mental breakdown through trying to get into the higher life as I was trying to get into it; and I would not have dared to conclude, as I have concluded since, that this higher life as described is a will-o’-the-wisp, an unreality that no one has ever laid hold of at all, and that those who testify to their experience in these terms really, if unwittingly, distort what has happened to them. All I knew was that the expected experience was not coming. The technique was not working. Why not? Well, since the teaching declared that everything depends on consecration being total, the fault had to lie in me. So I must scrape my inside again to find whatever maggots of unconsecrated selfhood still lurked there. I became fairly frantic.

And then (thank God) the group was given an old clergyman’s library, and in it was an uncut set of John Owen, and I cut the pages of volume VI more or less at random, and read Owen on mortification – and God used what the old Puritan had written three centuries before to sort me out.