Friday, June 28, 2013

The PCA's Insider Movement Study Committee

My goal was to make it through my entire career as a PCA minister without ever speaking from the floor at the General Assembly. However, I chose to give up that dream this year. I had asked my friend, Dr. Nabeel Jabbour, to serve on the PCA's Study Committee of the Insider Movement. I knew our denomination needed to hear his voice. He is a man who loves Jesus and has sacrificed much in taking the gospel to the Muslims. I knew that some would misunderstand his position. So, when he chose to offer a Minority Report at the Assembly, I chose to stand by my friend, hoping that my brothers would listen to what he had to say, things we needed to hear.

Since that time, a number of articles have appeared in The Aquila Report that are critical of the Minority Report of the PCA’s Study Committee of the Insider Movement. While I am sure that these articles were written with a love for God, for truth, and for the church, I believe there are a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations in several of these. Since I was mentioned by name in one of these reports, I felt that it was important that I offer a response.

First of all, it must be remembered that the Minority Report affirmed the very same Affirmations and Denials as the Majority Report. That is, both reports reached the same conclusions. In fact, I tried to offer a substitute motion on the floor that would only accept these Affirmations and Denials as well as the Recommendations to the Churches. However, I was properly ruled out of order. 

One must remember that the Minority Report, together with last year’s report, affirms that God is Trinity and can only be properly worshipped as such, that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that Jesus is the Son of God. In no way does the Minority Report suggest that salvation is found in any other than through Jesus Christ.

One charge leveled against the Minority Report was that it said that a Muslim Background Believer (MBB) could continue to worship at the mosque. It says no such thing. A Christian could not continue to engage in Muslim worship at a mosque and pray the prayers at those services. That would be syncretistic. The Minority Report never endorses any such activity.

In reading the critics of the Minority Report, one is left with the impression that the Minority Report is saying that Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God and therefore essentially the same faith. The Minority Report says no such thing. That is a misreading of the clear intent of the author. If that were the case, there would be no need to evangelize Muslims. The Minority Report (and those who supported it) would clearly affirm that salvation is only found in Jesus and one cannot worship the true God without coming through Jesus. Furthermore, the Minority Report states that Muslims recognize the true God “when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 2329, line 26). That is, they cannot come to know God apart from Jesus.

During the debate, the author of the Minority Report was charged with saying that he hoped that the gospel would penetrate Islam. That is a misrepresentation of what he said. What he said was that he hoped that the gospel would penetrate the Islamic world. There is a critical distinction between those two statements. There are some proponents of the Insider Movement who believe that the gospel can penetrate the religion of Islam. They view it as yeast infiltrating the loaf and even believe that Islam can be transformed. Such a belief is syncretistic. The Minority Report in no way endorses that. Islam is a false religion. Christianity cannot be mingled with it and remain Christianity. However, all of us, I assume, hope and pray that the gospel will penetrate the Islamic world. That is why we send missionaries to Muslim countries.

Another argument leveled against the supporters of the Minority Report was that they appealed to emotion rather than the facts. My impression was just the opposite. The most emotional speech at the Assembly was by a delegate claiming that the term “Allah” could not properly refer to the one true God. This statement is not only inaccurate but offensive to every Arabic speaking Christian who has ever lived. The Bible was translated into Arabic long before the English language came into existence. Just as the term “god” can refer to both the true God and to idols, the term “Allah” can, and does, refer both to the God of Scripture and various other deities. It is a generic term. I am sure the brother who made that statement was well-meaning, but it is both false and damaging. 

Furthermore, most of the arguments against the Minority Report’s stance on the Arabic word “Allah” could be leveled against the Majority Report as well. It seems that many who argued against the Minority Report had not read this section of the Majority Report. Attachment 2 of the Majority Report gives a solid explanation of the use of this word and some of the complexities surrounding it.

The most controversial statement in the Minority Report is found on 2329, line 26: “Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” If one reads the entire section, one can see that the Minority Report is saying that the Muslims recognize the true God only when the veil has been lifted. The report would have been more clear if the word “Yes” above where changed to “only.” Yet, that was clearly the meaning the Minority Report had in mind. Only the most uncharitable reading could come to any other conclusion.

The question raised by this statement is, when the Muslim refers to Allah, to whom is he referring? Both Muslims and Christians agree that there is only one God and that this God is the God of Abraham. However, the Muslim does not recognize this God as the Father of Jesus Christ, a truly fatal flaw. If one reads Attachment 2 of the Majority Report (p. 2261, line 6 and following), one will find that Luther believed that the Muslims had a corrupt understanding of God while Calvin claimed that the Muslims worship an idol, a different god altogether. While I tend to agree with Calvin, I do not think Luther is blasphemous in his assertion. Yet, the critics of the Minority Report are making this very charge. Is it really blasphemous to say that Muslims have a corrupt understanding of who God is? Again, I would urge the reading of the Majority Report’s Attachment 2 and one will find little difference between the two reports on this matter.

Finally, one must remember that the reason the Assembly voted to amend the Majority Report by adding to it the Minority Report was due to some deficiencies in the Majority Report. When I spoke at the Assembly, those were the issues I addressed. I will not go into them here. My hope and prayer is that the Committee will have heard the concerns of the Assembly and address the weaknesses in its Majority Report. I am hopeful that there will be one report coming back to the Assembly next year that we can all heartily support.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Are You Wearing Your Armor?

Bryan Chapell gives this wonderful picture of what it is like to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6):

The way I visualize this truth—that we are enabled by confidence in the armor God provides—follows very precisely the imagery of Paul. I can imagine looking out through the faceplate of the helmet of salvation that God has given me. Coming toward me I see the assaulting forces of the Evil One with all his dominions, powers, and authorities. Simply seeing the approaching cloud of darkness from this mighty enemy, I fear that I cannot stand. The ground shakes, and my knees begin to buckle.

Then, the apostle Paul—like a general on the field of battle—calls out, “Steady now. Do not retreat. Take your stand. Be strong, in the power of his might. Forget the strength you thought you could provide. Remember the might of the armor God has given you. Resurrection power has given you a breastplate of his righteousness, the shield of faith, feet that are shod with readiness that comes from being at peace with the Sovereign of the universe. Beyond all of these defenses, he has given you an ultimate weapon, the sword of the Spirit that is the Word of God. Now, confident of the strength and integrity of the armor that you have been given, stand firm.”  

Is there any degree of human effort in resisting sin? Yes, of course there is.17 Already we have discussed the faith, church, and family patterns that are God’s means of nurturing Christian health. In addition, study of God’s Word, commitment to righteousness, and the proclamation of the gospel are means by which we are readied to repel Satan. Richard Foster personally articulates the responsibility that every maturing believer assumes:  

"[T]hrough the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength, I will order my life according to an overall pattern that conforms to the way of Christ. Over time this process will develop deeply ingrained habits in me so that, at the moment of crisis, inner resources to act in a Christlike manner are available."

Chapell, Bryan (2003-02-10). Holiness by Grace (pp. 148-149). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why a High View of Grace is Essential to Holiness

Bryan Chapell's book Holiness by Grace is one of my favorite books on how to grow in Christ. In this quote, Bryan cites one of my other favorite teachers on grace, Jerry Bridges.

"With much wisdom Charles Spurgeon said, 'While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; but when I knew him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon by breast that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good."

"Another church leader echoes, '. . . the man who comes to obey God will love him first . . . the love of God is the beginning of religion.' Love of the Savior draws us from the lure of temptation.

"Faith in the love that paid the penalty for our sin also provides powerful motivation to flee temptation. Were God merely a frowning tyrant—if all I feel when I face him is guilt and defeat—then I will never have the joy of my salvation that is spiritual strength. Yet because he has provided a way of escape from my guilt, I have reason to go to him in prayer to ask his forgiveness and to seek his aid. Gazing upon the cross, not fearing or fleeing from “the ogre in the sky,” destroys the power of temptation. Its allures lose their power over me when I am resting in the arms of a Savior who makes me eternally secure in his love.

"Jerry Bridges writes with deep insight into the power our security in Christ provides for our continuing sanctification:   'A legal mode of thinking gives indwelling sin an advantage, because nothing so cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of guilt. On the contrary, nothing so motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding and the application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.

"'Robert Haldane in his commentary on Romans . . . said, “No sin can be crucified in heart or life, unless it is first pardoned in conscience. . . .'"

Chapell, Bryan (2003-02-10). Holiness by Grace (pp. 108-109). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Monday, May 6, 2013

How to Have a Meaningful Life

"Nothing within this world is sufficient basis for a meaningful life here. If we base our lives on work and achievement, on love and pleasure, or on knowledge and learning, our existence becomes anxious and fragile— because circumstances in life are always threatening the very foundation of our lives, and death inevitably strips us of everything we hold dear. Ecclesiastes is an argument that existential dependence on a gracious Creator God— not only abstract belief— is a precondition for an unshakeable, purposeful life."

Keller, Timothy (2012-11-13). Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (p. 100). Dutton Adult. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

True Repentance vs. False Repentance

A while back, I preached on King Saul's false repentance. Dr. Bryan Chapell sums up the difference between true and false repentance well here:

"False repentance is less concerned with the spiritual contamination of sin than it is with the personal consequences of sin. True repentance is chiefly concerned with the wrong we have done to our Savior and to others. Repentance of the first kind is self-preoccupied; true repentance is a selfless seeking of spiritual fellowship and renewal. False repentance flees correction; true repentance seeks it."

Chapell, Bryan (2003-02-10). Holiness by Grace (pp. 79-80). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Choose a Job

This is from Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller:

"Paul uses these same two words [calling and assigning] here when he says that every Christian should remain in the work God has “assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” Yet Paul is not referring in this case to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks—“ secular jobs,” we might say— and naming them God’s callings and assignments. The implication is clear: Just as God equips Christians for building up the Body of Christ, so he also equips all people with talents and gifts for various kinds of work, for the purpose of building up the human community."

"Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others."

"We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor, and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose. The question regarding our choice of work is no longer “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” The question must now be “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?”

"If the point of work is to serve and exalt ourselves, then our work inevitably becomes less about the work and more about us. Our aggressiveness will eventually become abuse, our drive will become burnout, and our self-sufficiency will become self-loathing. But if the purpose of work is to serve and exalt something beyond ourselves, then we actually have a better reason to deploy our talent, ambition, and entrepreneurial vigor— and we are more likely to be successful in the long run, even by the world’s definition."

Keller, Timothy (2012-11-13). Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work (pp. 65-68). Dutton Adult. Kindle Edition.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Not Happy With Your Marriage? Keep a Marriage Diary

Therapist Aaron T. Beck noticed that many couples have a tendency to notice only what is wrong. Couples in this situation often need help to consciously fight this tendency. So, he advises couples to keep “marriage diaries,” chronicling the things their mates do that please them.

"In his book Love Is Never Enough, he describes a couple, Karen and Ted, who kept such a diary. One week, Karen noted several things that she appreciated about Ted: He sympathized with me about some bad behavior by one of my clients. He pitched in to help clean up the house. He kept me company while I was doing laundry. He suggested we go for a walk, which I enjoyed.

Beck said, “Although Ted had done similar things for Karen in the past, they had been erased from her memory because of her negative view of Ted.” The same effect held true for Ted’s memory of the nice things Karen had done.

Beck cites a research study by Mark Kane Goldstein, who found that 70% of couples who kept this kind of marriage diary reported an improvement in their relationship. “All that had changed was their awareness of what was going on,” Beck wrote. “Before keeping track, they had underestimated the pleasures of their marriage.”

Source: Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan (2013-03-26). Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Kindle Locations 1673-1682). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Subersive Pastor

Eugene Peterson writes:

“As a pastor, I don’t like being viewed as nice but insignificant. I bristle when a high-energy executive leaves the place of worship with the comment, “This was wonderful, Pastor, but now we have to get back to the real world, don’t we?” . . .
“I bristle and want to assert my importance. I want to force the recognition of the key position I hold in the economy of God and in his economy if he only knew it.

“Then I remember that I am a subversive. My long-term effectiveness depends on not being recognized for who I really am. If he realized that I actually believe that the American way of life is doomed to destruction, and that another kingdom is right now being formed in secret to take its place, he wouldn’t be at all pleased. If he knew what I was really doing and the difference it was making, he would fire me.

“Yes, I believe that the kingdoms of this world, American and Venezuelan and Chinese, will become the kingdom of our God and Christ, and I believe this new kingdom is already among us. That is why I am a pastor, to introduce people to the real world and train them to live in it.Peterson, Eugene,The Contemplative Pastor, pp. 27-28.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What is more important to happiness: compensation or commute time?

"When deciding between job offers, most of us give a lot of weight to salary, even though money and happiness don’t have a directly proportional relationship. Studies consistently show that money can buy happiness, but only up to a certain point. Once one’s basic needs are met, the value of the additional material goods that come with greater wealth diminishes rapidly. The nationwide 2004 General Social Survey found that Americans earning under $20,000 per year reported being significantly less happy than those in a higher income bracket, but more than 80 percent still described themselves as “pretty happy” or “very happy.” Above this tier, people are relatively happier overall, but further increases in income hardly make any impact. For the most part, people earning $100,000 are no more satisfied with life than those earning half that sum. Other studies have found that this trend—rising income without an attendant rise in reported happiness—holds true even for Americans who earn more than $5 million per year. We may be too strongly drawn to higher salaries because our reflective system convinces us that more money buys greater comfort and security, which is an objectively better outcome. But the system may fail to include in the equation the psychic cost of the commute and of the loss of leisure time that often accompanies the bigger check. A study by Daniel Kahneman and colleagues found that commuting is by far the most unpleasant part of the average person’s day, and spending even an extra 20 minutes in transit is one-fifth as harmful to your well-being as losing your job. You might consent to a lengthy commute because you want the larger house in the nicer neighborhood, perhaps with better schools, but these benefits rarely counteract the negative effects of longer travel time." (Iyengar, Sheena (2010-04-01). The Art of Choosing (pp. 132-133). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition)

Money is a helpful, useful tool, but if you turn it (or even what it can do for you) into an idol, it will never deliver.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Who Is Happier; Fundamentalists or Atheists?

Most people assume that the fewer restrictions one has in life, the happier a person will be. Yet, Dr. Sheena Iyengar, professor at Columbia University conducted some research that showed some surprising results. She interviewed over 600 people from nine different religions. She writes, "These faiths were categorized as fundamentalist (Calvinism [Yes, she calls considers Calvinists to be Fundamentalists], Islam, and Orthodox Judaism), which imposed many day-to-day regulations on their followers; conservative (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Methodism, and Conservative Judaism); or liberal (Unitarianism and Reform Judaism), which imposed the fewest restrictions. In fact, some branches of the liberal religions don’t even require their practicing members to believe in God, and the largest percentage of Unitarian Universalists described themselves as secular humanists, followed by those with an earth- or nature-centered spirituality."

Here is what she found: "To my surprise, it turned out that members of more fundamentalist faiths experienced greater hope, were more optimistic when faced with adversity, and were less likely to be depressed than their counterparts. Indeed, the people most susceptible to pessimism and depression were the Unitarians, especially those who were atheists. The presence of so many rules didn’t debilitate people; instead, it seemed to empower them. Many of their choices were taken away, and yet they experienced a sense of control over their lives. This study was an eye-opener: Restrictions do not necessarily diminish a sense of control, and freedom to think and do as you please does not necessarily increase it."

Here is to being a happy "Fundamentalist!"

Iyengar, Sheena (2010-04-01). The Art of Choosing (p. 27). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Planning to Grow


 In the modern church’s backlash against legalism, we often are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Because we do not want to be legalists, we are afraid to formulate some manmade standard of spirituality that consists of a list of duties. That is a good thing. However, the danger is, without some sort of plan, we become passive in our own spiritual development. This results in spiritual immaturity, spiritual decline, and even what we used to call “backsliding.”

We can safely say that if one does nothing to cultivate his soul, his soul will not flourish. At the same time, we can also say that there is no set, biblically prescribed program that everyone should follow in order to grow. There are biblically prescribed elements to spiritual growth, but one incorporates these elements into his or her life can vary. That means, each Christian must be intentional and active in his own spiritual growth. Passivity will not do.

One approach to being proactive in your own spiritual growth is to develop your own “Spiritual Renewal Plan”, or SRP. This is the plan that you develop so that you can continue to grow in grace.

What Your Plan Should Include

Spiritual Disciplines

While the Bible does not outline a program for us, the Bible is clear that there are certain “means of grace” that should be a regular part of every Christian’s life. These include:
  • Corporate Worship (church)
  • Prayer
  • Bible reading/study/preaching
  • Fellowship
  • The Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)
In addition to these, there are other disciplines that the Bible tells us are helpful to our spiritual growth. These include: serving, fasting, giving, evangelism, meditation, singing, solitude, etc…
Your SRP should include these activities. In addition, think about the things that you do or have done that you have found to be spiritually refreshing. It could be that reading certain books or attending a particular conference, or even listening to certain music stirs your soul. Include these things in your spiritual plan as well.

Other things to include

You may find it helpful to include things such as exercise or date nights with your spouse or family devotions as part of your SRP. It is your plan. So, put on there whatever it is you think you need to do in order to grow spiritually.

Constructing the Plan

Be Realistic

As you develop your SRP,be realistic. If you haven’t been reading your Bible at all, then it is unrealistic to set a goal of reading it for one hour every day. It is a lot like exercise. If you have not been exercising, you would not begin by running 5 miles a day. You would start with a much smaller, more realistic goal. Try 10 minutes of Bible reading and 5 minutes of prayer.

Be Challenging

While you do not want to set unrealistic goals, you also do not want to settle for mediocrity. The spiritual disciplines need to become a regular part of your daily life. Yet, remember, the goal is not to prove yourself to God through disicpline and hard work. The goal is to grow in God's grace by focusing on it constantly.

Add Variety

Do some things daily, some things weekly, some things monthly, quarterly or yearly. There are some wonderful spiritual disciplines that you cannot do every day or even every week (like fasting or solitude), but if you do not put them in your plan, then you will never do them.

Also, you may not want to do the same thing everyday. For example, you might decide to read the Bible for 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and listen to a sermon or message in the car on the way to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Don’t Let Failure Stop You

If you set a goal to read your Bible everyday and then go a week without reading it, it is easy to get discouraged. Don’t. Just keep at it. Just because you fail for a time, that doesn’t mean you have to quit or that you are a failure. Just start again. You are going to mess up some, maybe even a lot, but, if you keep after it, you will begin to see solid, steady spiritual growth.

At any time that you discover that your plan is not working, then simply take to time to revise it and make it a more realistic plan that you will actually do.

Build It Into Your Calendar

Once you have decided what you are going to do, enter it into your calendar. If you do not put it into your calendar, you probably won’t do it. This is particularly important for things that you do not do every day or every week.
If you are planning a weekend away with your spouse, even if it is not for another 6 months, put it on your calendar. If a conflict comes up, you can move it, but you cannot delete it. Putting it on your calendar forces you to think about it and increases your chances of following through. So, everything in your plan must be entered into your calendar.

Constructing Your Plan

Below are some ideas of things to include in your SRP. You might choose a couple of things in each category, or create your own ideas. More is not better. The goal is to regular use of the means of grace so that you might walk in God's grace.


  • Read the Bible for 10 minutes
  • Pray for 10 minutes
  • Listen to an MP3 of a sermon while exercising
  • Pray with my wife every night
  • Read a devotional
  • Read 1 chapter of the Bible
  • Read or sing a hymn or inspirational song
  • Read a Bible story and pray with the kids


  • Family Devotions twice a week
  • Attend church
  • Prepare for and Participate in Small Group Bible Study
  • 1 hour of in-depth Bible study
  • Meet with men’s group or friend for accountability
  • Be home for dinner 4 times a week
  • Work out three times a week
  • Listen to sermon MP3’s twice a week in car on the way to work
  • Listen to sermon MP3's while exercising
  • Date night with my wife once a week
  • Tithe
  • Take one child out to breakfast each week for time alone with dad
  • Family Game Night once a week
  • Journal twice a week
  • Try to have one spiritual significant conversation with an unbeliever each week
  • Pray for the pastors each week

Monthly or Quarterly

  • Read one spiritual refreshing book
  • Spend half day alone in prayer
  • Spend half day with my wife in prayer
  • Meet with a friend for real accountability once a month


  • Spend one day in prayer and fasting
  • Attend a retreat or conference
  • Take one weekend away with my wife without the kids and use some of the time for in-depth prayer
  • Read two spiritually refreshing books
  • Take one day alone for a personal spiritual retreat
  • Go on a mission trip