Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Greatest Love Possible (John 3:16)

The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw


During this time of year when we prepare our hearts for the Advent of the King, it is appropriate to reflect upon John 3:16, where we learn about the love that was demonstrated to us in His first Advent.

God = The greatest Lover
So loved = The greatest degree
The world = The hardest to love
That He gave = The greatest act
His only Begotten Son = The greatest gift
That whoever = The greatest opportunity
Believes = The greatest simplicity
In Him = The greatest attraction
Should not perish = The greatest promise
But have = The greatest certainty
Everlasting life = The greatest possession

It seems every Christian has a favorite Bible verse. With John Wesley it was Zechariah 3:2: “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” David Livingston preferred the last words of Christ to His disciples, recorded in Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace” and was a former slave trader, reveled in Romans 5:20: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Luther loved Romans 1:17: “The just shall live by faith.” I’m not in the league of these men, but mine is Romans 3:26: “That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” But John 3:16 has to be the all time favorite verse of the Church down through the centuries. Its richness cannot be exhausted.

In the Greek text there are three clauses in the verse: (1) the main clause (God so loved the world); (2) the result clause (that He gave His only Son); and (3) the purpose clause (in order that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life).

I. The Love of God

It was not necessary for God to send His Son, for He could have let us perish as He did the angels who fell with Satan. He did not owe us love. In the first portion of the verse, we will focus on three words. First, “so” is an adverb that indicates the manner of His love, not the intensity, though His love was infinitely intense. Second, “Loved” is not just an emotion but a doing, as the rest of the verse clearly states. Love is action. Third, “World” is here not a quantitative term that indicates how many He loved. Rather, it is a qualitative term, revealing the kind of people God loves: those who love darkness rather than light, as the next verses state. In other words, His love extends to sinful ones, like you and me (see vv 18-21). We don’t exalt God’s love by saying the infinite God loved a finite number of people. We exalt His love by acknowledging that the Most Holy Creator stoops to love His rebellious creatures. His love is exalted by the kind of person He loves, as seen in the following passages:

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-7).

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

“For the object of His love is not the world in its first condition when He pronounced it “very good,” but the world ruined by sin and condemned for apostasy. . . . Yet without any change in His claims or character He loved us. And this love is not a mere relenting which might lead to a respite, or simple regret which might end in a sigh. There is no merit in loving what is lovely. There is nothing about man but his misery to attract the Divine attachment. Man’s sin is not his misfortune, but his fault. And the marvel is there is nothing God hates so much as sin, and yet no one He loved so much as the [elect] sinner.” (Biblical Illustrator)

Therefore, the grandest thought we can have is expressed in the words of the simple song many of us learned as children:

Jesus us loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.

Moreover, this love of God is infinite, for He is infinite. That means it will never end, that its depth cannot be plumbed, that nothing can stop it, that it conquers all:

. . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height —to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).

God’s infinite love is demonstrated in the account of the martyrs of Ecuador. In 1955, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, and three other missionaries who had previously made inroads with the Huaorani tribe were massacred. Yet the murderous hearts of the Indians were transformed as Nate’s sister Rachel and Jim’s wife Elisabeth not only forgave them but went to live among them to share the Gospel. Love is the most powerful force there is.

God’s love is giving, continually giving to us all that we need. As a giving love, that in turn means it is unchangeable.

For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob (Malachi 3:6).

The Old Testament book of Hosea presents God’s unchanging love for Israel. God commanded Hosea to marry a former prostitute to illustrate His love for Israel, and when she fell back into her sin, God commanded Hosea to go get her and clean her up again! God wants us to recognize that we are the undeserving prostitute upon whom He showers His love.

II. Result of His Love (He Gave)

There is virtually no mention of the love of God in the New Testament without the Cross being in the context. The Cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s love, and it provides the pattern for human love as well:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph 5:25).

Further, observe that we are not the reason for God’s love. We cannot be, for we are too sinful. Not even Christ is the reason for God’s love, for Christ is the manifestation of God’s love, not that the Son won God’s love for us. It was because God loved us that He gave His only Son! The Father and the Son loved us! Indeed, the whole life of Christ is a manifestation of the love and mercy of God, for Christ never turned anyone away who asked for mercy.

When we consider that God gave His Son, we must not think that the Father made the Son do something He did not want to do. We are told, in fact, that He “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). He always delights to do the Father’s will, so He came willingly.

“His only Son” means not only that Jesus Christ was unique, the one and only, but also that He was the one who was begotten from all eternity so that we can say He was always the Son just as the Father was always the Father. “Only begotten” is one word in Greek, and does not mean begotten in the sense of beginning. Thus the Nicene Creed says that the Son was “begotten not made.” He is one of a kind, the only Son of the Father, and the best He had to give. The incarnation is the greatest mystery in the Bible because in it we find God Almighty in the Son adding to Himself humanity forever. As man He could not raise Himself from the dead, and as God He could not die. But as God-man, He died, shed His blood for us, and raised Himself from the dead.

Right after my daughter had her first child, a son, she said to me on the phone: “Daddy, for the first time I’m beginning to understand God’s love in giving us His Son. I’ve only had my son less than an hour, and I cannot imagine giving Him up for others, especially for those who might hate him.”

Once I was talking to a couple who were having trouble in their marriage, and the wife kept saying that her husband did not love her. He kept saying he did, and he listed all the things he had done for her: nice house, expensive cars, beautiful clothes, and so forth, to which she responded: “You’ve given me everything but yourself.” God gave Himself. That is the result, the manifestation of God’s love.

How do we know that God loves us? He gave Himself to us and for us in the person of His Son. It is not just all the marvels of creation, the food, shelter and so many things that demonstrate His love, but God gave HIMSELF!

We are also to reflect God’s love to others, even to those who hate us, who use us, yes, even to the spouse who wearies us with his/her sins, to the boss who takes advantage of us, and to the person in traffic who cuts us off.

III. Purpose of His Love (everyone who believes)

Believing seems so simple that the world rebels against it. One person stated to me that he could not conceive of a God who would allow someone to cause a lifetime of misery to others only to escape at the last minute by “just” believing in Jesus. My reply was that he underestimated the value of the gift, for no one gets away with anything: the Son took the punishment. And believing is not so simple as just saying the words “I believe in Jesus,” but it is a total commitment to Christ to love and serve Him to death.

But on the other hand, it is simple in one sense. He is there and available for His people:
It is said that some years ago a vessel sailing on the northern coast of the South American continent, was observed to make signals of distress. When hailed by another vessel, they reported themselves as “Dying for water!” “Dip it up then,” was the response, “you are in the mouth of the Amazon river.” There was fresh water all around them, they had nothing to do but to dip it up, and yet they were dying of thirst, because they thought themselves to be surrounded by the salt sea. How often are men ignorant of their mercies? How sad that they should perish for lack of knowledge! Jesus is near the seeker even when he is tossed upon oceans of doubt. The sinner has but to stoop down and drink and live. (Spurgeon)
But belief is also something that holds on to the mercy of God:

When a shipwrecked sailor, left to the mercy of the waves, has no help within reach or view but a spar or mast, how will he cling to it, how firmly he will clasp it — he will hold it as life itself. If a passing billow sweeps him from it, with all his might he will make for it again, and grasp it faster than ever. To part is to perish; and so he clings — and how anxiously! So the awakened sinner feels. The ocean of wrath surrounds him; its billows and its waves go over him. Hell yawns beneath to engulf him. The vessel is an utter wreck. All its floating timbers are very rottenness. Oh, how he strains his eye searching for a mast, a plank, a spar! His eye rests on the only hope, the only rock in the wide ocean of wrath, the Rock of Ages, the Lord Jesus. He makes for the Savior — he clasps Him. He cleaves to Him. Every terror of sin and of unworthiness that strives to loosen his hold only makes him grasp with more terrible and death-like tenacity, for he knows that to part company is to perish. (Biblical Illustrator).

There are two sides to the one coin: “may not perish but have eternal life.” There is the negative (not perish) and the positive (have life with God). This is the free gift!

Perishing is possible. We don’t like to think about hell, but the Lord Jesus talked more about hell than all the rest of the Bible combined. We could wish hell were not true, but we must not apologize for God’s truth. Every fiber of my being could wish it were not true, but every fiber of my being tells me it is true if God has righteousness — and He does have righteousness. We must be warned to “flee from the wrath to come,” as John the Baptist put it.

Jesus said:

And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:46).

Paul stated:

. . . when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

The Apostle John proclaimed:

And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name (Revelation 14:11).
And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

No one is annihilated, but they go on forever in full consciousness. What makes hell so awful is being in the immediate presence of the infinitely holy God devoid of all righteousness and without any grace at all. Yet we read:

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).

The final words of this verse, “but have eternal life,” may be the most comforting because they mean that we have it right now! That is the gift! Our life with God in heaven begins right now. John does not say one day we’ll have eternal life, but HAVE (present tense in Greek) the life now. And isn’t that what John’s epistle states: “HE WHO HAS THE SON HAS LIFE, but he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 John 5:12).? Because we have life now is one reason I’ve said in the past that death for the Christian is a change of geography, but not much else. We go from enjoying eternal life now in a sinful state to enjoying it in a perfect state, which means we’ll be able to have the full enjoyment of God! Right now our sins hinder us from enjoying our relationship with God.


In John 3:16, we have a view into the heart of God: He delights in mercy, not in wrath. There are no second-class citizens of God’s kingdom, the Church, for we are all loved by God, and every one of us has been given the Son for our surety, our inheritance. Thus whatever the Son has, we have.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32).

What are our needs that Christ supplies? (1) We need to know about God, and Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father (John 14:9). If you want to know what God is like, read about Jesus in the Gospels. (2) We need a savior from our sins, and Jesus is the perfect savior, not only taking our punishment in our place but also delivering us from sin’s power so as to enable us to overcome the enslaving power of sin. (3) We need to have victory over our greatest enemy, death. We don’t like to think about death, but we will all die. Christ also died, and His resurrection is our resurrection!

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb 2:14-15).

Thank God for giving His Son for us and to us, God’s greatest gift, Himself. He who has the Son has life, and he who does not have the Son does not have God’s life. Amen.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Preaching Jesus versus Pleasing People

The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.
31 October 2008

Suppose you visit a church. The sermon is about how to succeed in life. Point one is to be kind to yourself, for Jesus said that we must love our neighbors “as ourselves.” It is negative not to love ourselves. Point two is to think positive thoughts, for how can you achieve success with negativism? Thus, believe in yourself. Point three is to follow three easy steps to financial success.[1] After all, God wants to bless His children, doesn’t He?

If someone who knew nothing about Christianity were to visit this church a dozen times, hearing basically the same things, would he understand what Christianity is all about? Does this sort of teaching help us to know Christ?

Now suppose you enter a Mosque. You hear: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” You attend a dozen times, and always hear that creed and the Koran explained. Would you know what Islam is about?

What is wrong with this picture? Can we win spiritual battles with materialistic mantras while Islam teaches their people the essence of their faith?

At the so-called Christian church mentioned above, there is no mention of sin, no mention of the Triune God, no mention of the Incarnation, no mention of the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins, no mention of His bodily resurrection or ascension, no mention of the Bible as the Triune God’s infallible revelation of Himself, indeed, no mention of anything that is distinctively Christian. At too many local churches, the Bible has been turned into a popular psychological manual, and Christ-centered preaching has been traded for motivational pep-talks designed for self-improvement. God may not be glorified, but worshipers go home happy, and that seems to be all that matters.

We are told that people do not want to hear about sin, judgment, and the crucifixion, but are the congregation’s preferences relevant? Has the Church in the past taken its message from the people’s desires or from God’s infallible Word, the Bible? Is the pulpit determined by the pew or the pew by the pulpit? Let us consider a few reasons why preaching must be focused on the message of the Church and of God’s Gospel as revealed in the Bible.

First, if anyone reads the Bible, he will quickly discover that the majority of the content is narrative, but there are some shorter books of the Bible that contain primarily theological and moral instructions in light of God’s law. In the Old Testament, for example, historical narrative begins in Genesis and ends in Esther, which is most of the Old Testament. The poetry and wisdom literature (Job through Song of Solomon) are given to help one to be wise and “successful” from God’s point of view, which means knowing how to live for God. Then the five major prophets and the twelve minor prophets are God’s concerns with sin in the lives of His people. These are supporting documents that are not intended to advance the historical narratives but to bring God’s covenant lawsuit against His erring people. These books supplement the narrative sections of the Bible and often address issues that were prevalent at the time written.

The New Testament follows basically the same pattern. The four Gospels and Acts establish the basic narratives about Jesus and the history of the Church, with Paul’s epistles supporting the theology of the first five books of the New Testament. The seven very short General Epistles provide us wisdom regarding how to live pleasing to God, and the Revelation is the victory of the Church through the ages, a fitting end to the 66 books of the One Book. (Read Genesis 1-3 with Revelation 21-22, and you’ll see how the Bible begins and ends with the same themes.) In other words, the Gospels and Acts tell us what happened, and the epistles give us the divine interpretation of the Gospels and Acts. For example, the Gospels tell us that Christ died (history), but Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “Christ died for our sins” (theology). Then Paul adds: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” which ties the Old Testament to the New Testament, demonstrating that one theme is common to both testaments. In other words, the Bible reveals basically one message, which is the fall of man into sin and redemption, and it reveals this by historical narratives.

Second, one way to know whether a religion is true is to find out whether it is anchored in history. If so, and if the history is reliable, the religion may be also.[2] The Bible is not a philosophy but history, though it contains philosophy. One can read the Koran for a philosophical approach to God, or one can follow Buddhism, Hinduism, or New Age for the same, which is a great weakness of these religions. How would we know whether Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism is correct? We must either make a leap of faith against our intelligence, based on some experience, or we must use reason to figure it out. Thus either experience or reason is enthroned, both of which are man-centered, and the result is to rule out revelation as final authority. But God is revealed historically, especially in Jesus of Nazareth, for the one who has seen Him has seen the Father (John 14:9).

How do we know that Christianity is correct? There are real events in history that can be validated, such as the great works of redemption, which are creation (Romans 1:18ff), the flood, the exodus from Egypt, the death of Christ on the Cross, and especially the empty tomb. We rest our entire case on the bodily resurrection of Christ as historically revealed and easily validated by early sources. Indeed, there was never a discussion of whether the tomb was empty, but the discussions were always how it got that way. Then there is the creation of the Church from twelve men who hid from the authorities when their Lord was crucified, afraid they would be next, but then gladly went to their deaths after His resurrection. How do we explain the change? We have hundreds of eyewitnesses to His resurrection, four early written documents with witnesses to His resurrection (five including Acts). The New Testament manuscripts are the best attested documents in ancient history; nothing else even comes close. We have real cities that still exist and are in the daily news (Nazareth, Jerusalem), real people (Pontius Pilate who is well known in history), secular writers who speak of the Lord’s resurrection (even though they may not have believed it), of the period of darkness when the Lord was on the Cross, and so on. The fact that these historical events have been independently attested lends tremendous credence to the rest of the story. In these events we are confronted with God Himself, not just given thoughts or experience to analyze.

Take Islam for example. How do we know it is true? One man claims that an angel appeared to him and dictated the Koran. (This is the same in Mormonism, both Islam and Mormonism being copycat religions of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but without historical validation.) Where are the miracles? Where is the history to validate this? Where are the cities in the Book of Mormon that allegedly existed in the USA centuries ago? Where are the multiple witnesses? Are we to trust one man’s word without historical confirmation, without a death and resurrection? By contrast, the Bible was written in historical circumstances over a period of 2,000 years if we go back to Abraham and by about 40 different authors, and archaeologists keep digging up artifacts that support the biblical account. In a court of law, which faith could be proved, the one with one witness and no confirmations from circumstances, or the one with at least 40 witnesses and centuries of independent confirmations?[3]

Moreover, if Christianity is grounded in history, revelation is Lord, not reason. I don’t mean that we believe something contrary to the evidence or that we don’t use our minds to understand or to conclude, but that reason is not final authority. Rather, reason is servant to revelation in Christianity, whereas in Buddhism and Hinduism, not to mention the psychological approach to modern preaching, reason must be the judge of what is being presented, or some kind of mystical experience that cannot be communicated. Today with the human-centered approach to preaching, anyone who does not like what he hears can go down the street to some other church, and in smorgasbord style, choose what soothes his ego. But if the great works of redemption were presented at all churches, as they once basically were, every worshiper would be confronted with God in whatever church he attended.

Third, the psychological pep-talk approach to preaching really makes Christianity just another natural religion, not a supernatural one, and eviscerates its power in confronting people with God Almighty. The power of God for salvation is the Cross, not our so-called wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18ff). It is precisely in the offenses of Christianity, such as the Cross, where the power of God resides to convert people. Pep-talk preaching is basically a liberal approach, making Christianity just another moral religion that can be molded into what one wants since one’s reason is in charge, not revelation. This was the approach of Thomas Jefferson, who took a razor blade to the Bible and cut out all the supernatural works of redemption that Christ did while on earth, especially His miracles, reducing Christianity to morals only. In a private letter, Jefferson wrote to John Adams on April 11, 1823:

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.[4]

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s “prophecy” has come true, as evidenced by the mess Christianity is in, especially in the West.

Positive thinking churches do not confront culture because they have nothing unique to say, no powerful word from God about sin, judgment, and the life to come, but are just another human voice to make people feel good. John Gresham Machen wrote an incredibly insightful book, Christianity and Liberalism, that I highly recommend, in which he argues that Christianity without its historical, supernatural revelation is not Christianity at all, but some hybrid religion.

Fourth, we are changed by viewing God, not ourselves. The modern approach to preaching tends to focus on ourselves, our needs, our wants, our successes, how we can live a wonderful, fulfilled, and happy life. It’s all about me. But we become like that which we behold. God has revealed Himself in the great works of redemption, and Paul states in clear terms in 2 Corinthians 3:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (v. 18).

In other words, Paul says we are to behold God in Christ, for in Him God is revealed finally (Hebrews 1:1ff), clearly (John 14:9), and sufficiently (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Reducing Christianity to psychology[5] makes us the focus, makes us the glory of ourselves. As we are encouraged to behold ourselves, we become selfish, self-centered, wanting God to bless us according to our understanding of blessing, which means, of course, that we should have money, a wonderful self-image, a fantastic marriage, a great place to work—in short, God becomes the genie in the bottle to jump out and grant our wishes if we only rub the lamp correctly.

Fifth, let us not run past this last statement too fast: “rub the lamp correctly.” This faulty idea is that if we take a particular action, then God must respond, which is moralism and legalism, and what is worse, it means that our obedience is the condition for God’s grace. This is what I call “ought” religion. Our obligation (“ought”) is the condition for God to change us. We initiate, God responds. But that is backwards. This formula makes the horizontal the basis for the vertical, by which I mean we relate to God (vertical) from ourselves (horizontal). But throughout Paul’s epistles, Paul gives us the “is,” the grace, and then commands the “ought.” In other words, our obedience rises out of God’s grace: the vertical relationship with God is the basis for our relationships with Him and with one another.

Do we want to be successful in our marriages? We must preach Jesus’ love for His bride and the bride’s submission to Him (Ephesians 5:22ff). Do we want to know how to forgive and how to be forgiven? We must see how God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). Do we want success in life? We must see how God defines success and pursue that (Psalm 1). Do we want our people to change and be conformed to the moral image of Christ? We must hold Him up so people can see Him, for if He is lifted up, He will draw all people to Himself (John 12:32). Anything else is just playing church games to be popular. We are not in a popularity contest with other ministers, but in a judgment contest to please Him who is “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16), whom to know is life eternal.

As Anglicans in the liturgical tradition, we have a tremendous advantage over other churches, for the Book of Common Prayer requires preachers to read and generally preach on the Gospels, historical acts of redemption, to confront the people with revelation, and not to skirt the miracles, for they especially are God’s revelation to us. Furthermore, the epistles are read with the Gospel Lessons to give the theology of the Gospels.

Moreover, reciting the Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian) grounds the local church in the faith. Notice how the Nicene Creed, which is the most basic Creed held by all branches of Christendom, is designed around the Holy Trinity and the great historical acts of redemption in Christ:

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
...Maker of heaven and earth,
...And of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
...The only-begotten Son of God;
...Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
...God of God, Light of Light,
...Very God of very God;
...Begotten, not made,
...Being of one substance with the Father,
...By whom all things were made:
...Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
...And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
...And was made man,
...And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
...He suffered and was buried,
...And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
...And ascended into heaven,
...And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
...And he shall come again with glory judge both the quick and the dead:
...Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
...The Lord and Giver of life,
...Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
...Who with the Father and the Son together worshipped and glorified,
...Who spake by the prophets.
...And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
...I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
...And I look for the resurrection of the dead,
...And the life of the world to come. Amen.

Now, when people come into our churches and hear this, they will know what Christianity is about. It is this faith that will overcome the world, overpower Islam, and save the soul. Anything less is self-serving. This Creed is the wonderful combination of historical revelation from God to us and of theological meaning of those historical events.

These truths are those which the Holy Spirit can use to work grace in someone’s life, just as the Lord said in John 16:

"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

The Holy Spirit does not convict of sin if we do not preach it, especially the sin of not believing in Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not[6] convict of righteousness if we do not preach the commandments and preach the righteousness of Christ who was received by resurrection and ascension back into His Father’s presence. The Holy Spirit does not convict of judgment if we do not preach it, especially that Satan was judged by the Cross and resurrection (Hebrews 2:14-17), which means that if the worst sinner of all time was judged, so will everyone else be judged.

But we do not really believe this passage in John 16, so we withhold preaching the truth of sin, righteousness, and judgment. We think we can do a better job than the Holy Spirit, so we don’t mention these three interlocked truths. They are negative, and we want to be positive. As a result, we leave people feeling great about themselves but unprepared to face God in the judgment and impotent to live for Him now. May the Triune God help us not to “improve” His Gospel, but just to proclaim it. God the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Amen.

[1] (Yes, the Bible has a lot to say about finances, and there is a proper time to teach on these matters, but not when we come to worship God and proclaim His Gospel.)
[2] There are other ways, of course, such as the impossibility of living life without assuming the Triune God and His commandments.
[3] We are speaking of legal proof, not the formal logical proof of apologetics.
[4] Link to source. Apparently John Adams was a Calvinist. Jefferson began his letter to Adams thusly: “The wishes expressed, in your last favor, that I may continue in life and health until I become a Calvinist . . . would make me immortal.”
[5] There is a place for psychology, but not in presenting the Gospel.
[6] When we say God “does not” do these things, we do not mean He “cannot,” for He is sovereign, but He has chosen normally to work through His people for the salvation of others.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update after Hurricane Ike

Dear friends,

Everyone associated with Cranmer Theological House appreciates your prayers and concern during this time of rebuilding after Hurricane Ike. Rest assured that Dean Crenshaw and his wife are alive and well, as are Bishop Grote and all of the students we've heard from, but at this point much of the Houston area is still dealing with limited services and resources. Please pray . . .

  • That utilities and other services will be restored quickly to the greater Houston area.
  • That our students do not suffer undue financial setbacks because of lost work.
  • That God will provide traveling mercies to all of our students who had to evacuate.
  • That God will heal Bonnie, the mother of one of our students. Bonnie is undergoing test to diagnose a heart problem (not related to the storm).
  • That classes can resume soon.

Most of all, we are thankful for God's continued protection. Our Lord is truly gracious to His people!

In Christ,
Dss. Teresa Johnson

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

GAFCON Statement

Cranmer House is pleased to direct your attention to the following documents issued by the REC following the Global Anglican Future Conference:

GAFCON - Statement

Our Presiding Bishop's Report on GAFCON

May God bless all who work for Christian unity founded on biblical truth.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Donne and the Via Media

In an attempt to summarize and categorize the life and ministry of Donne, William Mueller writes the following:

“John Donne was an early seventeenth century Anglican to the core. If the Divine Comedy is a literary monument to Thomism, and The Pilgrim’s Progress the dramatic embodiment of Puritanism, then the Sermons of Donne are the most compelling presentation of that Summa of Anglicanism: Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiatical Polity.” (p149)

A careful reading of Donne’s life and sermons reveals that he possessed a keen awareness of the genius of Anglicanism. In my estimation he fleshed out at least two essential elements that marked the English Church of the seventeenth century:
  1. Donne knew not only what to say but what not to say. The axiom, “There are some things better left unsaid,” most certainly applies to Donne.
  2. Donne possessed a pastoral flexibility that enabled him to skillfully accentuate what Anglicanism considered to be the essentials of the faith, while tactfully avoiding what she reasoned to be issues of needless controversy.

While considering these issues, it is helpful to remember that Donne lived out these principles in an effort to unify both a national Church and the Church Catholic. This ministry paradigm was labeled the via media, or the “middle way” between Rome on the one hand and the progeny of Geneva and Wittenberg on the other.

One of the greatest tributes that can be paid to Donne is that during his sixteen year ministry he maintained his theological equilibrium. This is especially noteworthy since he lived in an era when the Church was rocked by excitable circumstances that left her bruised and staggering.

Donne knew the necessity of and limits of reform. He possessed the diplomatic savvy to delicately navigate the English Church through the turbulent waters of change without running her aground on the rocks of schism.

In a sermon preached at St. Paul’s on Philippians 3:2, “Beware of the circumcision,” he writes, “[Circumcision] is an orderly, a useful, a medicinal, a beneficial pruning and pairing off, [of] that which is superfluous.” Concision (i.e. mutilation) on the other hand, “is a hasty and a rash plucking up, or cutting down, and an unprofitable tearing down, and rending into shreds and fragments . . . “ (X p112)

Donne considered the disease of Rome to be superfluity, or an excessive amount of extra-biblical baggage that hung like millstones around the necks of weary parishioners. On the other hand, the Separatists were plagued by deficiency, or an unbridled zeal to cast off the meaningful traditions of the Continental and English Church.

To continue with St. Paul’s and Donne’s illustration, it might be said that the Anglican Church was able to carefully circumcise its Roman foreskin while avoiding emasculation at the hands of the Separatists.

In a sermon preached at White-hall, April 30, 1620, Donne wrote, “Sects are not bodies but rotten boughes, gangrened limmes, fragmentary chips, blowne off by their owne spirit of of turbulency, fallen off by the waight of their own pride, hewn off by the excommunications and censures of the Church. Sects are no bodies, for there is nothing in common amongst them, nothing that goes through them all; all is singular, all is my spirit and thy spirit, my opinion and thy opinion, my God and thy God, no such aprehension, no such worship of God, as the whole Church hath been aquainted withall, and contented with."

According to Donne, true religion is not to be found “either in a painted Church, on the one side, or in a naked church, on the other; a church in dropsie, overflowne with ceremonies, or a church in a consumption, for want of such ceremonies, as the primitive church found usefull, and beneficiall for the advancing of the glory of God, and the devotion of the congregation.” (VI p284)

As one might expect, Donne asserted that the evenhanded, carefully measured, and levelheaded mean was to be found in the Church of England.

“. . . we stript not the Church into nakedness, nor into rags; we divested her not of her possessions, nor of her ceremonies, but received such a Reformation at home, by their hands whom God enlightened, as left her neither in a dropsie, nor in a consumption; neither in a superflous and cumbersome fatness, nor in an uncomely and faint leanness and attenuation.” (IV p106)

It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance which Donne places on the Church’s responsibility to distinguish between the fundamentals and the indifferent, collateral doctrines that qualify as the nonfundamentals of the faith. For Donne and the English Church, the essentials of the faith, or the sine qua non, were to be found in the Apostle’s Creed and the Thirty-Nine Articles.

Here, Donne states in explicit terms his greatest objection to the Roman Church, that is, its insistence upon making “indifferent things to be necessary.” In the aforementioned sermon, he is mostly likely reacting to the Council of Trent which met between 1545 to 1563 to redefine its doctrine and condemn the Reformation.

Donne diagnosed the diseased-ridden papacy as overestimating the authority of the Church and undervaluing the role of Scripture in establishing doctrine. Donne and the English Church of the seventeenth century affirmed that the Church does not make articles of faith but merely declares them.

In a sermon on Job 19:26, preached at Lincoln’s Inn, he writes, “In the Gospell, the way is, Fecit, & dicta sunt, God makes articles of faith, and the Church merely declares them, presents them.” (III pp94-95)

He tells King Charles and the congregation at Whitehall on April 1, 1627, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24) When Christ so addressed his apostles, he was urging them to ‘Preach all that, preach nothing but that which you have received from me.'” (VII p395)

Elsewhere he added, “. . . they deliver more than the Scriptures do, and make other rules and cannons equall to Scriptures.” (VII p402)

The result of this ecclesiastical amalgam of Scripture and tradition is that the Roman Church was as quick to damn those who denied collateral doctrines as those who denied the fundamental teachings of Christ.

Having made a sufficient stand against the frontal assault of Rome, Donne was careful to guard the flank of Anglicanism by deflecting the verbal blows of the Separatists. They “have gone away from us and vainly said that they have as good cause to separate from us, as we from Rome.” (X p174) If Rome had too many “essentials” for Canterbury, then Canterbury had too many for the Separatists.

Generally speaking, the Separatists believed that the English reformation had moved the Church in the right direction but it failed to move it far enough. Seventeenth-century Anglicanism, on the other hand, insisted that the Separatists were as rigid about nonessentials (vestments, kneeling at prayer, church music) as the papists.

“Call not ceremonial, and rituall things, essentiall parts of religion, and of the worship of God, otherwise then as they imply disobedience; for obedience to lawful authority is always an essential part of religion.” (VI p258)

The first part of the statement frees Anglicans from the collateral doctrines of Rome and would seem to liberate the Separatists from the demands of English ceremony. The second statement frees Anglicans because they didn’t recognize the authority of the pope. Yet, it hobbled the runaway sects, for they were lawful citizens of King Charles, who was head of both Church and state.

“Except there be error in fundamental points, such as make that Church no Church, let no man depart from that Church, and that religion, in which he delivered himself to the service of God at first.” (III p129)

For Donne, the Separatists were too contentious over indifferent matters, too willful and proud of their own opinions, and too disrespectful of God-ordained authority. They would rather desert the Church than tolerate its nonessentials.

“In matters that are not fundamental, it is better to be wrong than to be uncharitable, and the man who is uncharitably right may have less chance of entering heaven that the one who is charitably wrong, for in such cases, humility, and love of peace, may, in the sight of God excuse and recompense many errors, and mistakings.” (VII p97)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Why Study Apologetics?

By Frank M. Levi

The question “Why study apologetics?” implies that there are positive reasons for engaging in such a study. However, before answering that question there is a negative question that needs to be addressed. Why do many shy away from apologetics, some even finding the discipline rather revolting? There are three main reasons that come to mind.

The word “apologetics conjures up visions of a formal debate between a Christian and an atheist in some academic environment, throwing arguments containing words like ontological and epistemological back and forth at each other. These types of debates do take place, but it gives the average believer the false impression that apologetics is just for the intellectually elite. The truth is that most of us are capable of greater things mentally that we might realize. Our minds and reasoning abilities are part of the image of God and when we use our minds in the right way we are bringing glory to our Creator. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20 ESV). Refusing to apply our minds, even to difficult doctrinal issues, is every bit as much a sin as theft or covetousness. Some aspects of apologetics may be difficult, but one does not have to be an intellectual giant to benefit from its study.

Another reason why some have been turned off by apologetics has nothing to do with apologetics, but with the apologist. Some of this criticism is legitimate and some is not. It is certainly true that apologetics does tend to attract augmentative people, as well as those who are afflicted with intellectual pride. To anyone who is argumentative by nature or who enjoys the superior feeling they get from proving someone else wrong I would say, don’t study apologetics until you repent and become more mature spiritually. Unfortunately, some so-called apologists have done more harm than good toward the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

However, some paint with a very broad brush and consider all apologists to be prideful, arrogant people. Such is certainly not the case. Obviously anyone engaged in doing the work of apologetics is going to be convinced of the truth of his position. Today it is quite unpopular to say that one really believes something to be absolutely true. Consequently when an apologist presents an argument, it is more likely that he will be attacked rather than the argument he is presenting. C. S. Lewis has been accused of engaging in “triumphalistic” apologetics because he maintains that atheism is provably in error.[1] In a recent article in Christianity Today about L’Abri, one of the current instructors there is quoted as saying, “Presuppositionalism can appear to be humble, but actually it’s quite arrogant. . . .”[2] Two responses to this sort of criticism are appropriate. First, words such as “humble” and “arrogant” apply to persons and their character and not to ideas or philosophical positions. Individuals may be humble or arrogant, but their ideas and beliefs are valid or invalid, sound or unsound. Those who use personal epithets such as “arrogant” in an attempt to cast a negative light on a philosophical position are making a category mistake, i.e., they are confusing and mixing qualities that may be true of one category (the apologist), with a second category (the argument used by the apologist). This amounts to the same thing as saying that algebra is arrogant because the textbook and the professor insist that there are correct and incorrect answers to the math problems on the test. Some apologists may be arrogant, condescending, and argumentative, but to say that apologetics as a disciple is so is unfounded. Secondly, to say that someone such as Lewis is triumphalistic and therefore conclude that his arguments are to be rejected is to commit the logical fallacy called ad hominem. Ad hominem is the attacking of the man rather than his position. Such attacks are often used in political campaigns. But the ad hominem proves nothing, for a man may be arrogant and abrasive and still have a valid argument.

Hopefully, we have been able to clear away some of the common reasons for not studying apologetics so we may now turn to the positive reasons for pursuing this discipline. Number one on my list may be a surprise to many because it has nothing directly to do with debating a non-believer. I would say that the first and most basic reason for a Christian to study apologetics is for their own spiritual benefit. One of the most famous arguments for the existence of God is the Ontological Argument, which was formulated by St. Anselm (1033-1109) during a time in history when it would have been difficult to find an atheist with whom to debate. So why did Anselm develop such a complex argument? The argument begins, “And so, Lord, do thou, who dost give understanding to faith, give me, so far as thou knowest it to be profitable, to understand that thou art as we believe: and that thou art that which we believe. And, indeed, we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.” What we have here is a prayer coming from the heart of a true believer requesting that God would grant him greater understanding of his heavenly Lord. True knowledge begins with faith, but faith seeks greater and greater understanding of its content. St. Augustine wrote, “I believe in order that I might understand.” Faith is fundamental to any discipline. Even the scientist must have faith in his rational and observational abilities as well as faith in the validity of the scientific method. Armed with that faith the scientist explores the intricacies of the physical world, seeking greater understanding of nature. St. Augustine began with faith, but he didn’t fall into fideism, i.e., faith devoid of intellectual content. No, St. Augustine longed to know all that he could about the God who created him and loved him. For saints like Augustine and Anselm and many others apologetics is first and foremost a prayer to know and understand God and His ways better. When we are in love, we want to know as much as possible about the one we love.

As Christians our faith is always under attack, not so much by skeptics, but by someone much more clever and ruthless. St. Paul commanded us: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11 ESV). The apostle tells us that we need “the belt of truth” and “the shield of faith” if we are to stand against such an enemy. Much of the battle for the faith takes place in the mind of the believer as Satan throws his flaming darts of doubt at us. How are we to resist? We fight off his attacks by having faith and knowing the truth. In all honesty most Christians will never have an opportunity to use the ontological argument in a discussion with a non-believer or ever be a participant in a formal debate. But Christians regularly have to do battle with Satan’s attacks on their faith. Apologetics helps us face our doubts and questions, which often we suppress or deny, and defeat them. It is only after we have increased our own assurance and know why we believe what we believe so that we will be able to speak with confidence to the non-believer.

The final reason to study apologetics, which some mistakenly think is the only reason, is the presentation of the faith to the non-believer in a clear and persuasive way. The Scriptural basis for apologetics was stated clearly by St. Peter when he wrote, “. . . always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. . . .” (1 Peter 3:15,16 ESV) St. Peter was not writing to college professors or professional apologists. No, he was writing to every Christian. Every one of us has a responsibility to prepare ourselves so that we might be able to explain our faith to a non-Christian when the opportunity arises. When we hear the word apologetics, many of us immediately envision Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein engaged in The Great Debate. But the reality is that most apologetic encounters take place in the context of a Christian explaining Christianity to some interested non-Christian. Much of the work is simply clearing away common misconceptions about our beliefs. That is something every Christian should be able to do, but it does take study and preparation. Alister McGrath made this point quite well when he wrote: “Remember Augustine’s remarks about Christianity after hearing Ambrose of Milan preach: ‘I had yet to discover that it taught the truth, but I did discover that it did not teach the things I had accused it of.’”[3] Satan has only one weapon—the lie. Only one weapon, but he uses it quite effectively. Satan’s lies are defeated by the truth, and we need to be able to confront his lies with the truth. Instead of being only an academic study reserved for the intellectually elite, apologetics is one of the most practical of disciplines. That it is not for the average Christian is also one of Satan’s most effective lies.

So why study apologetics? We study apologetics that we might know our Lord better and to equip us with the armor we need to resist the attacks of the devil on our faith. We also do so for the benefit of others, not to defeat them but to help free them from Satan’s lies that they too might know God and glorify His holy name. Amen.

[1] See C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea by Victor Reppert IVP.
[2] Christianity Today, March, 2008, article “Not Your Father’s L’Abri,” p. 60.
[3] Alister McGrath, Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Myths, p. 193.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

End Time Hysteria

By The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.
© 20 February 2008

We have extremes today regarding the Second Coming of our Lord. On the one hand, we have those who are full preterists, virtually denying the Second Coming of Christ altogether, or else saying it happened at AD 70. On the other hand, we have the prophecy buffs who interpret every thing in the news as a sign of the imminent Rapture. I call this “newspaper eisegesis,” reading into the Bible from current events.

I was once invited to an online debate about whether there is a Second Coming, and the person who invited me was of the opinion that it had taken place at AD 70. I sent back an email that I was objectively closed minded since the three creeds of the Church (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) stated that there was a Second Coming, that every Reformation doctrinal statement I was aware of stated it, and that it was yet in the future, not at AD 70, as important as that event was. The man wrote back a scathing email saying that he thought I was supposed to be a Reformation man, believing in Sola Scriptura. My response was that that expression did not mean just the Bible and me. The Reformers did not believe that the Bible was the only authority but that it was the ultimate authority, and I am unwilling to interpret the Bible contrary to the history of the Church. I also quoted the great Presbyterian Charles Hodge who taught at Princeton for fifty years:
If the Bible be the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and if . . . the Spirit guides the people of God . . . into the knowledge of the truth, then the presumption is invincible that what all true Christians believe to be the sense of Scripture is its sense.[1]
But this is a small movement, and I surely hope it remains such.

The other movement—the Rapture movement—is much larger. I was reared in it, and there are many fine Christians in what is called dispensationalism. The problem is the inordinate emphasis given to a certain view of the Second Coming. This unhealthy emphasis tends to ignore such creedal doctrines as the Holy Trinity, creation, Incarnation, the Church and sacraments. It is not that all these “weightier” matters of the law are not believed but that they are ignored. We’ve had students here at Cranmer House who came from that background, who had been fired from their churches for not being “pre-trib” but were never asked anything about the Holy Trinity. In the doctrinal statment of Dallas Theological Seminary (the “Mecca” of this view) as of 2003, which remains unchanged from 1972, there was one sentence on the Holy Trinity and four long paragraphs on “The Dispensations.”

This imbalance comes over into one’s theology as “end times” being what is really important, not what the Church hammered out over the centuries in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. One is subtly trained to treat anyone who is not pro-Israel as suspect, if not outright liberal. This in turn has led to a Christian Zionism that supports Israel back in the land as the fulfillment of prophecy, and back as God’s people. But one can emigrate to Israel today as an atheist but not as a Christian, demonstrating that they are Christ haters, anything but God’s true people. If one were to demonstrate from the Bible that the land promise was fulfilled in Old Testament Israel and that it was upgraded in the New Testament to include the whole world (Rom 4:13; Matt 5:5; 28:18-20), he would be labeled a heretic. Or, as Dss Teresa Johnson has so eloquently put it, we have a kind of Rapture each time we have Holy Communion:
We have a Rapture during every Eucharist service when we are invited to ascend into heaven to commune with our Savior. Everything Satan does is designed to divert our attention from what it needs to be on. If we are thinking about the Rapture, we are not looking for the Real Presence that is available to us now. If we are wondering if the Real Presence turns the bread into a not-bread corpus, we are not looking at the continuing Corpus Christi in the form of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints.
Some may read this and say that we do not believe in a real Second Coming, but that would be false. Jesus will come at the Last Day to judge the living and the dead (John 5:28-29; 11:24; 12:48), and it is my view that there will be a Rapture at that time, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff, but the “Rapture” will simply be part of the Second Coming, not a secret coming separated by seven years.

My plea is that we hold tenaciously to the Second Coming, be charitable about various views of it (pre-mill, amill, post-mill), do not become Christian Zionists and support those who hate Jesus and His people but consider them as candidates for evangelism, and especially that we do not label other Christians as false prophets who disagree with our end time scheme. After all, the Church for 2,000 years has not held to such an emphasis, but has ever promoted the belief in the Last Day judgment with Jesus appearing as Lord and Judge. At the Last Day, it is not the Rapture that will deliver us, but that we believe
. . . in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And so on. Amen.

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:437.