I’m often asked questions about the Puritans and Puritanism. While the definitions are a bit elusive, I wanted to give you an article I wrote a few years ago for Churchman, helping navigate the waters of various definitions that have been offered. Here you go:
The gospel-centered movement may be new, but gospel-centeredness itself isn’t a novelty. Love for the gospel lies at the center of the rich heritage of evangelicalism, reaching back hundreds of years.
I’m (very) slowly plodding through The Works of John Owen, the most important theologian in my Christian life. Tucked away in Owen’s 250 pages on The Nature and Causes of Apostasy from the Gospel (in Volume 7 of Owen’s works) is a short, but insightful, delineation of what Owen calls the “proper end and design” of evangelical truths.
The context is Owen’s treatment of the first (of six) causes of apostasy from the gospel, namely “that rooted enmity which is in the minds of men unto spiritual things, abiding uncured under the profession of the gospel” (p. 82). Owen demonstrates that when the gospel doesn’t fully penetrate a person’s heart, so as to bring about the intended transformation of the heart in particular ways, then the hostility of the unregenerate nature eventually rises up against the truth, even if there has been an outward profession of faith.
But in arguing for this point, Owen takes some time to articulate just what the intended effects of the gospel are – the “proper end and design” of evangelical truths. There are three of them, which I will state in my own words, followed by some excerpts from Owen.
1. Rest and Satisfaction in Christ
The first goal of the gospel is to “take off the soul of man from rest and satisfaction in itself” and to “seek after righteousness, life, peace, and blessedness, by Jesus Christ” (p. 83). The natural inclination of fallen human beings is to look inward, to ourselves and what we can accomplish, to find the solution to our various problems. The problems may be moral, psychological, or spiritual, but the core conviction of our untransformed hearts is to think, “I can do it. I can handle this.” So, we try to live better lives, to be better people, and to find within ourselves the resources we need for goodness and happiness (or in Owen’s words, “righteousness, life, peace, and blessedness”).
But the gospel “presseth to take men off wholly from their old foundations” (p. 84). It shows us our insufficiency and redirects our trust to Christ and his sufficiency alone. The gospel shows us that “present peace” and “future blessedness” are found not in ourselves, or anything we can do, but only in Jesus.
2. Renovation of the Soul
The second goal of the gospel is one I’ve written about more extensively: the “the renovation of our minds, wills, and affections, into the image or likeness of God” (p. 83). We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, says Paul (Rom. 8:29), and the primary means God uses to effect this transformation is the gospel, applied to our hearts by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
But how does this actually happen in practice? Owen answers: “by presenting spiritual things unto us in that light and evidence, with that power and efficacy, as to transform us into their likeness” (p. 83). In other words, transformation happens when the truth of the gospel comes into our hearts with both clarity and efficacy, logic and fire, conviction and passion, Word and Spirit, light and heat.
3. A Heart for Worship
Finally, Owen says that evangelical truth “engageth the whole soul, in all its powers and faculties, through the whole course of its activity…to live unto God in all holy obedience” (p. 83-84). Worshiping God is the only rational response to the lavish mercies of God (Rom. 12:1). But when the gospel does it’s work in our hearts, worship is seen not simply as our duty to God (although it is), but as the natural reflex of our hearts in response to God’s revelation of his grace and mercy through the cross and resurrection of Christ and the gift of his Spirit.
Questions for Application
To return to Owen’s main point, let me end with some personal questions.
- Has the gospel produced these effects in your heart?
- Is your trust firmly fixed on Christ and his cross, or are you still looking inward for moral improvement and existential satisfaction?
- Are you being more and more transformed into the image of Christ?
- Do you look more like Jesus than you did a year ago?
- Do you delight to worship God?
- Do the lavish mercies of God beckon your heart to praise and enjoy him?
If not, maybe the gospel hasn’t penetrated deeply enough. Maybe there is still an “uncured enmity” or hostility to God and the gospel deep inside your soul. Be watchful. When this is the case, Owen warns, “spiritual truths are first neglected, then despised, and at last, on easy terms, parted withal” (p. 84). Religious people sometimes profess to believe without really believing. When they do, they first “stifle truth as to its operation” and eventually “reject it as to its profession” (p. 85). This is the natural course of apostasy from the gospel.
The only solution is to embrace the gospel more deeply, with an earnest desire for the Spirit to apply evangelical truths more deeply and powerfully to our hearts.
This post first appeared at Brian’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
Throughout this series (http://servantsofgrace.org/an-attack-on-marriage-is-ultimately-an-assault-on-gods-character-and-gods-word/) and (http://servantsofgrace.org/teaching-feelings-opinions-or-the-inerrancy-of-the-bible/) we’ve looked at how inerrancy relates to the family and the church but today we will look at how inerrancy relates to outreach. Some people may think that outreach isn’t really related to inerrancy at all, but such people are gravely mistaken. If the Bible isn’t without error then that will affect how we engage in evangelism, discipleship, missions, and apologetics.
At present some Christians are focusing more on what they think about the Bible rather than what the Bible says about Adam being a historical person. If Adam isn’t a historical person then we will have issues with our understanding of sin, salvation, the Church, and all facets of ministry. Theology has consequences and denying inerrancy whether explicitly or implicitly is one of those issues that while not explicitly a gospel issue will have devastating effects on our understanding and implementation of the gospel into every area of our lives and or ministries.
Outreach and Inerrancy
The mission of God is to seek and save the lost and make disciples from every people group to the glory of God. Understanding inerrancy is crucial, because our understanding of this doctrine will affect how we evangelize, make disciples, and engage in apologetics. Inerrancy is so important, because it has a direct bearing on our understanding of God’s mission to save, sanctify, and glorify a people for His own possession and kingdom. Not only does inerrancy have a direct consequence on our understanding of issues related to the family, Church, and outreach, but in denying inerrancy we will have issues with every area of our theology.
As we have already learned, inerrancy is a very important issue– one that merits serious reflection and defense. The Church is called to preach the Word of God in season and out of season and to reach people in order that they may be transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since our outreach is so important may we never forget that in seeking to make disciples we should be driven not by our opinions or feelings, but by the Word of God that pierces the heart of hardened criminals and sinners and brings them to the knowledge of the Truth through the preaching of the Word of God.
The doctrine of inerrancy is important. Denials of inerrancy are denials of God’s truthfulness to us. God would be a liar if the Bible contained error. In addition, if one denies inerrancy, then the truth of the entire Bible comes under suspicion. Believers would be left without any solid foundation for faith. No one would be certain what was true and what was not. Lack of belief in inerrancy opens the door to denying the major doctrines of the faith. While this may not happen with each person who rejects an inerrant Scripture, it is the logical result of denying inerrancy.
In the first post in this series (http://servantsofgrace.org/an-attack-on-marriage-is-ultimately-an-assault-on-gods-character-and-gods-word/) we learned about attacks on inerrancy as they relate to the family. In the second post in this series today we will learn about those who deny inerrancy by placing their feelings above the truth of Scripture.
Friedrich Schleiermacher was born November 21, 1768 and died February 12, 1834. Schleimacher began not with the Bible, a creed, or revelation, but with personal experiences that happened to the individual and the community. The influence of Schleiermacher is felt today among those who deny inerrancy by placing their opinions above the truth of Scripture. The same people who question inerrancy are those who typically have issues with the Church.
Many people are just like Friedrich Schleiermacher who think that their opinions about Scripture and the Church are authoritative. The fact is attacks on inerrancy from our culture and even within the Church are not new but rather old. Ken Ham points out that “our culture is filled with increasing numbers of people who do not believe the Bible is a credible book. As a result the culture has lost its faith in biblical authority.”[i]
Believing in inerrancy is vital to the ministry of the Church. Denying the authority of the Word of God has dramatic effects on how the preacher will preach to God’s people. Denominations that were once bastions of biblical orthodoxy are now laid in waste because they have rejected inerrancy in favor of what they believe. These people are often the one’s who don’t have an issue with the Church necessarily, but do have issues with the Word of God, because they believe that the Bible is a book full of errors. In doing this they follow in the steps of Schleiermacher who was known to place a high emphasis on how he felt rather than on what the Bible teaches.
Believing that the Bible is verbally inspired in every part and authoritative for our lives not only affects the preaching ministry of local churches, but also how ministry leaders minister to God’s people. For example, a blogger who denies inerrancy will write only about his/her thoughts about the Bible rather than coming under the authority of the Word and allowing the Word to take central place in his/her blogging ministry. The preacher who doesn’t believe in inerrancy will preach only his own opinion, but the preacher who believes in inerrancy will preach to make the point of the passage under examination the point of the sermon. The counselor who doesn’t believe in inerrancy will focus on self-help, but the counselor who believes in inerrancy will focus on what Scripture says about what the client is going through.
Christians have a superior Word than what is offered by human opinion. The Church has a superior Word because of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the reason why His Word is inspired, inerrant, sufficient and authoritative. It is because of this reason that Christians should dedicate their entire lives and ministries lives to studying, proclaiming, contending, and defending the Truth for all of their days.
[i] Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge, How Do We Know The Bible Is True Volume 1 (ARK, New Leaf Press, 2011), 10.
Charles Spurgeon is considered the Prince of Preachers but what is often not known about him and his ministry is that he faced attacks on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible he loved to proclaim to God’s people the world over. Spurgeon faced challenges from all corners with people who wanted him to compromise, and from evolution. Spurgeon in the midst of all of these challenges declared that “believers must never adjust the Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.”[i]
Just as Spurgeon faced attacks on inerrancy, evangelical Christians are under attack by those who think that marriage should no longer be defined as between a man and a woman, but rather between any combination of man or woman. At the heart of these attacks is a rejection of what the Bible teaches which makes these attacks ultimately an attack on the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.
It seems to me that those who attack the biblical teaching on marriage want to re-write the Bible to suit their own view even while they suggest that the Bible doesn’t speak to the issue of marriage. The problem with all of this is the Bible does clearly speak to this issue. If one even skims over Genesis 1-3 it becomes clear that marriage is a God-ordained institution and therefore to be treated as such. Any attack on marriage is ultimately an attack on the God who created the world we live in and get to enjoy by His grace. An attack on marriage is ultimately an assault on God’s character and God’s Word.
Attacks on marriage and the Word of God are not new but rather as old as the Garden of Eden. The Word of God always stands in judgment of men never do men– stand in judgment of it. This fundamental fact reveals the problem going on inside and outside the Church in regard to marriage: that the issue of marriage is revealed in who is authoritative– man or God. Charles Spurgeon revealed the problem when he stated that, “He that reads his Bible to find fault with it will soon discover that the Bible finds fault with him.”
As the Word of God did its work in Spurgeon’s time, so today can evangelicals be encouraged that the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is the means that God uses by His Spirit to pierce the heart of the convinced atheist, rejecters like Judas, and deniers like Peter. “When people understand they can trust in the early chapters of Genesis, they can better understand and can be more responsive to the gospel—the gospel that is based on that history.”[ii] Evangelicals need to stand firm in the grace of God and the Word of God by looking to the example of men like Spurgeon and be encouraged that God, by His grace, is still working to bring people to Himself and build His church for His glory and praise.
[i] Charles Spurgeon, An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1906), 230.
[ii] Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge, How Do We Know The Bible Is True Volume 1 (ARK, New Leaf Press, 2011), 9.
“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee.”
THE INSTRUCTIVE SIMILITUDE
Attentively observe THE INSTRUCTIVE SIMILITUDE: our sins are like a cloud. As clouds are of many shapes and shades, so are our transgressions. As clouds obscure the light of the sun, and darken the landscape beneath, so do our sins hide from us the light of the Lord’s face, and cause us to sit in the shadow of death. They are earth-born things, and rise from the miry places of our nature; and when so collected that their measure is full, they threaten us with storm and tempest. Alas! that, unlike clouds, our sins yield us no genial showers, but rather threaten to deluge us with a fiery flood of destruction. O ye black clouds of sin, how can it be fair weather with our souls while ye remain?
THE NOTABLE ACT
Let our joyful eye dwell upon THE NOTABLE ACT of divine mercy—”blotting out.” God Himself appears upon the scene, and in divine benignity, instead of manifesting His anger, reveals His grace: He at once and for ever effectually removes the mischief, not by blowing away the cloud, but by blotting it out from existence once for all. Against the justified man no sin remains, the great transaction of the cross has eternally removed His transgressions from him. On Calvary’s summit the great deed, by which the sin of all the chosen was for ever put away, was completely and effectually performed.
THE GRACIOUS COMMAND
Practically let us obey THE GRACIOUS COMMAND, “return unto me.” Why should pardoned sinners live at a distance from their God? If we have been forgiven all our sins, let no legal fear withhold us from the boldest access to our Lord. Let backslidings be bemoaned, but let us not persevere in them. To the greatest possible nearness of communion with the Lord, let us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, strive mightily to return. O Lord, this night restore us!