Book Review – Don’t Fire Your Church Members

Let’s get this straight up front – I’m a fan of 9Marks.  I think they are incredibly helpful for restoring a Biblical ecclesiology of the local church.  I’m a local church Pastor, I love the local church…it’s “God’s Plan A” for the proclamation and ministry of the gospel.

I’m also a fan of Jonathan Leeman.  Despite the fact that he is my doppleganger, he is a unique voice crying out for the elevation of importance of the local church in an ocean of gospel-light pragmatism.

Leeman is also smart.  Really smart.  Like PhD smart.  But he is also very approachable and funny.  I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him while at a recent 9Marks event.  When he is writing, he is in his element.  When he is writing about ecclesiology and church history, he is pressing the boundaries of a joyous nerd fest.  He is in his lane.  So that made this book for me, particularly the first part, a little dense.  It was like I was saying “OK, Dr. Leeman.  I know you are excited about this…but…”  BUT, the thing is he has reason to be.  The church should be something of very high priority because it is the very authority of God in the world, and it’s time we start acting like it.

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So, that brings us to “Don’t Fire Your Church Members.”  Which I’ll admit, I really didn’t understand the title until I got a few pages into this book, then I had the “Ohhhh.  I see”  moment.  Church congregations have been Biblically given a huge responsibility, and we should be enabling that responsibility, not taking it away.

As the subtitle gives away, Leeman is firmly in the congregationalist camp. Specifically, an elder-led, congregationally ruled camp, as opposed to an elder-ruled camp where the members [if there is actual biblical membership] have little to no say.

As you may have figured out, I’m pretty passionate about this too.  How we “do” church is extremely important and the Bible has lots to say about it.  I have seen first hand the carnage that is left in the wake of non-biblical ecclesiology, and as hard as it may be to overcome our pre-conceived notions of what a church should look like, it’s a whole lot better than dealing with the aftermath, immature believers, and weak theology that will hinder a church for years to come.  As Leeman writes “the question for a Christian, always comes back to, What is Biblical?” [9]

Leeman’s thesis is that congregationalism isn’t just a conclusion drawn from a few proof-texts, it’s the culmination of the Bible’s covenantal trajectory that began with Adam.  “Jesus, the last Adam and federal head of God’s new covenant people, fulfilled the office perfectly both for his own sake and on behalf of his people. These people have now been hired and deputized to fulfill the same Adamic office of priest-king. This involves representing Christ, seeking to expand the reach of Christ’s kingdom and guarding the people of God in holiness, which includes watching over both the what of the knowledge of God in the gospel and the who of the knowledge of God in the gospel.” [59]

This theme of “what” and “who” of the gospel will permeate through the book in a very helpful and accessible way.   The church should be crystal clear on what the gospel is, and how that impacts and informs everything we do, and it should be crystal clear on who makes up the biblical membership of the church itself.

The church represents God in the world and it’s palpable and public presence depends on it’s order, or polity. [71]  Get it wrong, and people get the wrong idea about God the gospel.  THIS is why how we “do” church is a really, really big deal.

Leeman is fairly well known for his position on the “keys” in Matthew 16:13-20.  This is where Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” [16:16]  and Jesus replies that Peter is right and “on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” [16:18]  Roman Catholic theology inaccurately uses this to justify that Peter has been granted the status of the first Pope and hence all other Catholic Popes have their authority tracked back to this lineage.

What this fails to grasp is that it’s not Peter that Jesus will be his church on, it’s Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus goes on to give Peter the “keys” to bind and loose things.  Leeman writes “the keys are the authority to judge an declare on what as well as who.  They deputize their holder to pronounce a judgement concerning the who and what of the gospel: what is the right confession and practice of the gospel, and who is a right confessor.” [77]  Who holds the keys?  Fast forward to Matthew 18 and Jesus is giving binding and loosing instructions on how to wield the keys of church discipline to the members of the church [in the Greek, all of the “you”/῾υμιν῾ references are plural!] – AKA “wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name.”  [Matthew 18:15-20]

So what then?  So…are our churches biblically reflecting this model?  Are they being lead by biblical elders? [1 Timothy 3; Titus 1] Is the church set up in order to facilitate this model?  Leeman is bold, but not surprising if you know 9Marks  – “To put this another way, a gathering is an essential part of a church being a church. By definition there is no such thing as a multi-site or multi-service “church”…” [100]

Yet, what do we see dotting the landscape of American churches?  Over the years, I’ve become firmly convinced in the dangers of the multi-site model…I’m still working through the multi-service aspect.  Yes, I would agree that is preferred, but there are a host of logistical questions/challenges that go along with that…

How is this most practically done?  Biblical preaching through pastors/elders, Biblical membership and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table.  “A particular church is a gathering of two or three witnesses who together testify to the name of Jesus and their shared membership in him. They do this by preaching the gospel and by employing the keys of the kingdom through the ordinances.” [103]

Church members are given direct responsibility in encouraging one another’s growth and correcting when necessary [Matt 18:15-20; Gal 6:1].  Every church member should be able to distinguish between the true gospel and a false gospel.  [Gal 1:6-9]  Therefore, every church member has an awful lot of responsibility in the what and who of the gospel-centered running of the local church.  They should not be fired from such an important responsibility by having it taken off their plate.

To do this, an understanding of how the Holy Spirit establishes elders and their role in leading this model is necessary.  Leeman helpfully points out that Ephesians 4 clearly teaches that pastors and elders have been “given” for the “equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry and the building up of the body of Christ.” [Eph 4:11-12]

How then do we go forward?  In working with other congregations, we should care how they are doing, how they are structured.  Working with them in partnership of the gospel and lovingly speaking truth.  Some will not agree and our partnerships can therefore be limited.

Within our own churches, this is where 9Marks shines.  They have many helpful resources to help churches think through how to establish what Leeman calls a “new covenant culture – a gospel culture.” [172]  The author provides a good summary in the final chapter, but definitely check out the foundational book “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” to get started.

I’m very thankful for this book and glad I stuck with it.  It’s only by reading things that challenge our thinking will we grow.  May it be in the knowledge of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

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Learning from Israel’s Thankfulness

Israel was really good at expressing thankfulness to God.  The book of Ezra records a time when the Israelites were returning to their land to rebuild the temple many years after it had been destroyed, and they had been exiled as punishment for their rejection of God.  God promised not only to punish them for their disobedience, but he also promised to restore them.  He kept that promise and they were thankful.

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel.And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra 3:10–11 ESV)

Laying foundations of templeWe can learn two things from this – first, Israel thanked God for the work in progress.  They hadn’t finished the temple…not even close…but they stopped after laying the foundation to hold a mini-party, they did so out of thankfulness to God for the work in progress.

Likewise, we are all works in progress.  Thanksgiving is always a time to consider the last year, and hopefully to give thanks.  We might be tempted to think that we haven’t come as far as we’d hoped, maybe we’ve had setbacks, or perhaps the hardest year of our lives.  But we all have progress, however small, and for that we should thank God. What foundations, that may have even been destroyed, have been rebuilt? Or are in the process of being rebuilt?  Express thankfulness to God.

Second, Israel thanked God for who he wasGod is good and he loves us.  After many years of extreme hardship, brought on by their disobedience, they have lost everything – their country, their homes, possessions, many lives and they are starting over.  But they do so while clinging to the deep-seated knowledge that God is good and he loves them.  Yes, he allowed them to be nearly wiped out, but he is bringing restoration.

Whatever kind of year you’ve had, God doesn’t change.  He is still good and he still loves you.  Trust Him.  Keep this truth in the center of your thoughts, especially in difficult times.  Our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, he forgives sin and is a God of justice. [Exodus 34:6-7]  He keeps his promises.

Israel knew this because they are back in their land, rebuilding their temple and rightfully thanking God for it.  We know this, because we live on this side of redemptive history where we know that God sent Jesus.  As He promised He sent the Messiah, that came through the line of Israel.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to rescue and redeem those who could not do so for themselves.  He came to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin, our failure, our weakness, our rejection of our God.

And we didn’t deserve any of it.

So while we can learn a lot from Israel about thankfulness, ultimately we should be thankful for what came out of Israel – our redemption in Jesus Christ.

The early got this – and Martin Lloyd Jones summed it up powerfully in his usual bluntness –

“The early Christian church was a rejoicing, praising church that is filled with thanksgiving, magnifying the grace and glory of God. They were a thankful people. But why was this? . . . What is a Christian? Well, Christians are men and women who know that they are what they are by the grace of God. Their sins are forgiven. Why? . . . Christians know that they owe everything to the grace of God in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They have received it all as a free gift . . . Now if you can believe a thing like that and not feel grateful and thankful, then I do not understand you. It is impossible.”

Christians, we should be the most thankful people on Earth all the time, but perhaps this year, I’m most thankful that God is not as blunt as MLJ.  He does understand us, our weakness, our ungratefulness and in his jaw-dropping mercy and grace gave us Jesus.  And for that…we should be abundantly thankful.

Book Review – Absolute Surrender

Andrew Murray was a South African Pastor and wrote “Absolute Surrender” in 1897…so yeah…a long time ago.  It’s a good practice to be reading a balanced diet, so yes…picking one from 120 years ago is a good stretch.  [For a super intentional reading plan look at Challies’ 2017 Reading Plan…]

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This is also part of B&H’s “Read and Reflect with the Classics” series which provides helpful questions and things to pray through at the end of each chapter.  The chapters are based on a series of sermons that Murray gave and they are good for a morning devotional read.

It usually amazes me how the issues that we face as believers in 2017 were very similar to those faced in 1897.  We still struggle with issues of surrendering all of our hearts to Jesus, the rightful owner. Murray provides a balanced perspective on this, yet doesn’t hold back from the truth – “God expects our surrender, God accomplishes our surrender, God accepts our surrender, God maintains our surrender and God blesses us when we surrender.”

Soon after we talk about the topic of surrender, the topic of love shouldn’t be far behind – again all to the goal of our growth. Murray writes “When God gives the Holy Spirit, His great object is the formation of a holy character…because nothing but love can expel and conquer selfishness.”

However…sprinkled throughout the book and towards the end especially, are comments about the “Higher Life” and Keswick movement…which I would strongly disagree with.  This movement teaches that there is a way to become a “higher level” Christian where you can sin less often or even not at all.  Nonsense.  See Romans 7.  I think the idea is that we are just supposed to know this is false, but still…not sure why it’s not pointed out more clearly as unsound doctrine.

Where this book shines is in it’s uncompromising call for us to surrender all of our lives to God, yet understanding the undeniable fact that this is HARD.  Murray, even in 1897, gets this – “When you thought of absolute surrender to God were you not brought to an end of yourself? Fall down and learn that when you are utterly helpless, God will come to work in you not only to will, but also to do…that which is impossible with men are possible with God.” [73]

This leads rather naturally into a discussion on Romans 7, one of my favorite places in all of Scripture.  The Apostle Paul is wrestling with himself and his utter sinfulness.  Many theologians claim this is a pre-Christian Paul…I can’t disagree strong enough.  The Christian life is one of constantly battling sin, thru God’s enabling of course, but it’s a cage fight to the death, and sometimes I wonder if academic scholars feel this.  We all need to get to a point, regularly, where we are feeling the weight of our sinfulness, which then leads us to feel the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”  (Romans 7:24–25 ESV)

Murray writes – “Blessed be God when a man learns to say “O wretched man that I am!” from the depths of his heart. He is on the way to the eighth chapter of Romans! When a man is brought to this confession…deliverance is at hand.” [88-89] Indeed, then we can stand with Christ and proclaim – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:25–8:2 ESV)

This is all done by his gracious empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believer.  “Nothing will help you unless you come to understand that you must live every day under the power of the Holy Ghost.” [99] What the Spirit begins in us when we surrender to Christ initially, let us not add in our idolatry by claiming our growth is up to us.  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  (Galatians 3:3 ESV)

The Christian life is one of dependance and abiding in Christ for His power to bring about the fruits of the Spirit.  God empowers us to do what he requires from us.  Treasures from the past, like this work from Murray, inspire us, encourage us and challenge us to live in worshipful surrender to our loving Heavenly Father.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

For parents, the “It’s Not All About You” speech we give to our children is a familiar one. Yet…if we were being brutally honest, how often due us parents then go and live our lives like it is, in fact, all about us.  [or maybe that’s just me?]

Enter “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” [Tim Keller, 2012, 10Publishing]

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I’ve heard about this tiny book from Keller for a while now and when I was at the Gospel Coalition MidAtlantic conference a few weeks ago they had it in the bookstore, so I grabbed it.  It will be one that I refer back to many times in the future, whenever I need to give myself a solid spiritual metaphorical punch in the face.

Keller bases this mini book on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7

Keller points out the direct opposition of the world view vs the biblical view of ourselves.  Yet the world’s view has actually changed.  Up until the 20th century, traditional cultures always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all evil in the world.  IOW – pride caused misbehavior.

But our modern world culture flipped that and the over-arching reason for misbehavior because they lack self-esteem and have too low a view of themselves.  This is why we have drug-addiction, crime, marriages in trouble and so on.

Indeed, we have become the center of [our] the universe and the Apostle Paul writes in our passage in verse 6 that we are “puffed up one against each other” – the Bible saying the problem is we are thinking too highly of ourselves.  Our egos are out of control and Keller gives us 4 things specifically about them that are the problem.  First, they are empty, we live under the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, to find a purpose in something other than God.  Second, they are painful. A distended overinflated ego is painful. Our feelings are so easily hurt. Thirdly, our egos are busy always trying to draw attention to itself. We are only proud of being more successful than whoever we are comparing ourselves to. [Hence my usual bouts of depression on the golf course.] Lastly, our egos are fragile – always in imminent danger of being deflated.

The solution?  A transformed view of self, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the passage, Paul essentially says – ‘I don’t care what others think – but I don’t care what I think either.’  His justification doesn’t come from others, nor does it come from self-validation.  It comes from God through repentance, faith, and perseverance in Jesus.

This is gospel-humility.  “It means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”  This is an ongoing process because as Keller notes “the more we understand the gospel, the more we want to change.”

When we get the gospel we flip the self-soaked view on it’s head.  We don’t live then for approval, we are approved by repentance and faith in Christ and so we live. Our basis for acceptance and approval by God Almighty is not in ourselves, but because of what Christ has done for us.

Let us forget about ourselves and live each day in the grace that he alone can give!

Book Review – Divided We Fall

Being a church planter the most frequently asked question is “What kind of church are  you?”  [READ:  “Are you a legit church or a cult?”]  Being a Non-Denom in the overwhelmingly Catholic Northeast US, people are naturally suspicious.  I get it.  Even within our small town there are several other churches, mainline denominations that, to be blunt, are preaching a false gospel.  How are we to relate to each other?  What does the unbelieving world see in all that?

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation this month we are forever thankful for the return to biblical doctrine over church corruption, the inescapable question is “To what extent has unity suffered?”

Luder Whitlock tries to address all of these questions in “Divided We Fall – Overcoming a History of Christian Disunity.”  [P&R Publishing, 2017]

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I’m very thankful for this book, and in reading this was encouraged by the way God works in our hearts to grow us, as this topic has been something that I’ve been wrestling with.

As one might expect, Luder starts with a solid foundation of what the Bible has to say, as does church history, and then moves towards more practical application.

In the perfect unity of the Trinity, God is completely harmonious.  When we draw near to this God, and our relationship with him is restored in Christ, our relationships with people will inevitably be transformed. [7]

I echo Luder’s concerns that unity has been been considered less important in the church to our shame.  “Given such an undeniably clear emphasis by Jesus on the importance of unity, how can his people afford to neglect it or treat is lightly?” [15] Hence the need for a book like this.

The author traces church history, again focusing on the Protestant Reformation, but notes that as the Reformers may have the reputation for division, they actually worked much harder in the spirit of unity.  Nevertheless, the unfortunate result of separation from Rome was a splintering of the church into many denominations, which unfortunately continues to this day.  Can’t we all just get along?

There has been some cries for cross-denominational unity and ecumenicalism and yet there is still a backlash on the protestant side against anything ‘ecumenical.’ I have had personal experience with this in my own setting. I do need to show love and grace to other churches, I will happily serve alongside them to feed the hungry or help the homeless, but I cannot participate in a worship service with people to differ on salvation.

I perceived a shift in the author’s tone to be one of “us” who are for unity and “them” that are not.  The immediate question I have is “Yes, but what about those things that are negotiable? Like justification by faith? Substitutionary atonement?”  I mean…I agree Protestants disagree on the dumbest and smallest of things [worship music? carpet colors??] and this is sin and to our shame, but there are things that we just can’t go along with – not because we have convictions, but because the Word of God says so.  Wasn’t that the reason for the Reformation in the first place?

The author writes “Here is the sobering thought that must not be avoided: If the unity of the church is as important as the Bible says it is, aren’t we obligated to attempt to surmount all impediments to it’s achievement to the greatest degree possible?” [130]

To which I say a hearty and loud YES and AMEN…but they key is “…to the greatest degree possible.”  In that, it appears the author and I differ as to what is the “greatest degree” – although I completely concur that unity in the church is sinfully neglected.  Still there are boundaries, set in God’s Word.  We cannot unify if we are preaching a different gospel.  [Galatians 1:8-9] Differences in substitutionary atonement cannot be resolved with unity…what are we unifying? [His unfortunate recounting of a conversation between Piper and Pagitt on that subject for example, p. 175.] Can we communicate better, yes?  With more love? Yes, but the challenge is doing this while not softening core doctrines, and weakening the very church we are trying to unify.

I also want to be very clear – Luder does hold firm to that which is of first importance – “Believers today are justified, as were the Reformers, in separating from those who deny the gospel and refuse to place themselves under the authority of God’s Word.”  My only wish is that this note would have been sounded louder, more frequently, and more clearly.

Even still, I’m thankful for his clarity in this and for the work of this book, it is surely needed.  Let us press on in unity for glorious gospel of God in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Processing the Las Vegas Shooting

I have the chance to speak to the students at Veritas Christian Academy at their chapel service this week.  Here’s what I plan to share and how I’m trying to process the Las Vegas shooting in my own spirit.

 The worst mass shooting in US History.  You can’t even wrap your mind around it. As expected there is no shortage of anger, sorrow, confusion and online venting.  There has also been several public responses by well-known figures – one well known televangelist even said that this was God’s punishment for athletes not showing proper respect for the flag.

I’d like to humbly suggest a few things to keep in mind as we process horrific, seemingly random, tragic events such as these. 

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First, humans cannot speak for God, apart from His Word.  God has given us his Word, the Bible, as his final and authoritative revelation about himself and how we are to relate to him. [2 Timothy 3:16-17;  Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:20-21] Russell Moore was right to quickly point out John 9:1-3a where the disciples were positive that a man born blind had sinned [or his parents sinned] in order to deserve his disability. Jesus tells them point blank “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents…”  If anyone starts any statement with “God says…” or “God told me…” there’d better be a Scripture verse immediately following.   On a more practical level, we can’t speak for God because we aren’t God and we aren’t able to understand God.  His ways are above ours and his wisdom is unsearchable.  [Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33] We try to give God human qualities to understand him better, but the reality is that he is not like us, he is completely “other” and like no one else.  [Psalm 50:21]

Second, ultimately God never stops working for his glory.  This is the second part of the text in John 9:3b. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him…” This is NOT a cheesy empty platitude that says there is always a silver lining, and that good will somehow come out of any tragedy.  Rather, it is an understanding of God’s sovereign control over all things based on a hard fought trust in the character of God — even when we can’t understand or remotely process what is happening and why.  Even though it might feel like God has abandoned us, or we are being punished, Scripture assures us that he has not and he is still at work in all things.   [Romans 8:28-30; Hebrews 13:5]  There is never a place or situation he cannot work in to transform and heal.

Third, people don’t need theological lectures in tragedy, they need comfort that flows from good theology.   What can do for those who are walking thru horrific tragedy?  Weep with those who weep.  [Romans 12:15]  There is enormous pressure to make sense of a situation.  It’s part of how God created the wonder of human beings.  We are questioners.  We are fixers.  Especially us men.  We want to just make sense of something and when emotions and pain are in the mix we want to say anything to make it all better and the reality is that we can’t. There is nothing you can say to someone to fix the pain of losing a loved one in a mass shooting – resist the urge for simple, empty platitudes, or theological lectures.  I commented to my wife after the news had broken of this terrible event that “there will be a lot of people who will never be the same again.” These things will forever change people. Forget trying to fix things, just flat out be there for someone.  Be present with them.  BUT…all of this must be grounded in the hard reality of the sovereignty of God.  No matter how it seems, the truth is that God is still in control and we need to trust him, despite what we see going on around us.  Evil will not have the last word and will not get away with anything.  God will enable us to get through this. Pray for them and with them for God to strengthen them, heal them, help them. Pray for the churches in the area to be refuges for the broken, read them the many Psalms that refer to our God as our strong tower, refuge, rock, strength. [Psalm 18; 61; 91; 144…]

Fourth, the ultimate comfort comes from the gospel.  There is one and only one reason why that gunman carefully planned to kill a lot of people and then did it:  sin.  There is one and only one answer to sin:  the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was sin and evil lodged deep within his heart and he acted on it.  Evil will be punished by a just and terrifying God.  But, we have to recognize that this isn’t the way that God created the world – he created the world perfect and good and he created us to serve him as our gracious King.  We rejected him.  We placed ourselves in the position of king of our lives.  In so doing, we fractured our relationship with God, incurred God’s wrath,  and unleashed sin into the world.  It has grown into a full blown monster and is consuming this world.  [Galatians 5:15]  However, God has provided the answer for sin.  He condescended and came to earth in the form of a human while still being God to both represent man and yet be perfect and sinless to be the perfect once for all sacrifice to reconcile us to God.  The problem man created,  God fixed.  We now live in that period where Jesus has already finished the work completely by living the perfect life, dying on the cross, and being raised from the dead,  and now we await his return where he will finally judge sin, punish evil, and banish it forever.  Those who have trusted him by faith will be reunited with him to enjoy him forever without cancer, chronic illness, racial injustice, or mass shootings.   As we see these tragedies and walk through them, we are reminded of the reality of sin and the future hope.

This is the ultimate comfort that this world cannot provide – God has done something.  God has provided the answer for sin.  Turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation of our souls, and hope for eternity.  This world is still broken and evil, though we have already seen many acts of goodness and kindness in the wake of this tragedy already, there will be more evil, more brokenness and our hope is not from this world.

God’s word reminds us of the comfort –  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” [2 Corinthians 1:3-4]

 

Book Review – Conversion: How God Creates a People

The topic of genuine Biblical conversion has been on my mind lately.  In transparency, sometimes in moments of frustration where we see people stuck in patterns of sin, brokenness and unfruitfulness.  Sometimes the reason why is because maybe they never really never truly understood and submitted to Christ, and therefore they aren’t converted, regenerated, made new.

I’m also fresh off of a 9Marks Weekender and this topic is always discussed when you are spending time reflecting on what is a Biblical church.

Enter Conversion:  How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence.  I was excited to read this as I usually am with anything from 9Marks.  I have come to value their Biblical faithfulness and clarity.

download-1Hinson clearly states the solid reasoning why a book like this is needed right in the introduction.  “There is a problem with our theology – specifically our theology of conversion. Second, there is a problem with how we apply that theology to our church.  Too often our confessional theology says one thing, while our practical theology says something else. We say that regeneration makes us new creatures in Christ, but then we teach our kids a moralism that atheists could duplicate.” [14]  I think I’m gonna like this guy.

This problem, as I alluded to above, has then tremendous snowball effects in the body life and health of the local church.

This book targets then not the symptoms, but the underlying disease.

What do we think conversion actually looks like on the outside? It should be nothing short of complete regeneration – being made new, not just being made “nice.”  This means Godly new appetites and desires, not about just becoming a better you.  Hinson makes a great point as to the tragic effect of this on our youth in the church “I fear this is why so many of my friends’ children have walked away from Christianity. They haven’t given up on being nice. They’ve simply discovered that they don’t need Jesus to be  nice.” [23]  Exactly.

This regeneration then not only is person, it is corporate – the new person is now part of the church where God’s new creation people glorify God by living how he has called them to live.  This has big impacts on church membership and church leaders.  Are we sure that the people we are accepting as church members and allowing to lead or worse yet…teach…are actually converted believers?  This is of paramount importance.

Hinson faithfully lays down a biblical foundation of conversion.  We are saved…but saved from what and saved for what?  First, we are saved from God’s wrath for sin.  We need to preach and teach this hard topic because the Bible does.  It’s not “come to Jesus; he’ll give you purpose and meaning. The trouble is, subjective problems can be solved through subjective solutions.” [35]   If we are saved from God’s wrath, then we are saved by God’s grace, saved because of God’s love, saved into God’s people, and saved for God’s glory.  The Christian life is not about our happiness or fulfillment, it’s about God’s glory.  Otherwise when those things don’t materialize we are tempted to abandon Jesus…all the while we were believing in a different gospel. [44] Amen!

What then should conversion look like?  It should include repentance…real repentance. “An exchanging of our idols for God. Before it’s a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship.” [51] It should also include faith…again real faith, not just a intellectual acceptance of a set of ideas.   What faith do we teach, model, and give our people assurance of?

Contrasting pop psych-theology, the author challenges the therapeutic gospel – we need Jesus to make us OK.  “We don’t just need to accept ourselves. We need God to accept us.”  [66] Hinson continues “Being healed then is not at all about coming to peace with ourselves. It’s about having our guild and shame and ultimately the curse removed and being restored to a right relationship with God. In other words, to be healed in Scripture is to be made holy.” [67] This is much needed perspective on this and again has a direct result in how we live.  Going back to where I began, maybe the people we are expecting to live as Christians aren’t because they aren’t actually Christians?  I underlined and highlighted this next part – “…it is not burdensome to live according to the new nature if you have it. What’s burdensome is to live according to a nature that you don’t have. In fact, its worse than burdensome. It’s impossible. Could it be that you don’t live as if you’ve been set apart because you haven’t been set apart?” [72]  #MicDropMoment

The author then diligently turns to the church itself and how a Biblical theology of conversion affects our ecclesiology.  If the church is a community of converted believers, then who are we targeting with how we “do” church?  Are we seeking to make it as comfortable as possible for those seeking?  I just read a great Spurgeon quote in a Challies post today –  “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”  Thanks, Spurg.

This also effects how we do evangelism.  It shouldn’t be a pragmatic, sales pitchy monologue. “Successful evangelism is not about getting people to respond.” [91] What we win them with we win them to.  Is what we are saying in our witnessing reflective of a Biblically grounded conversion?  How many times does our [in transparency maybe my…] evangelism get reduced to “God loves you” or “Jesus will give you purpose.”  We need to communicate plainly, honestly, urgently,  and confidently.

When we talk then about church membership, perhaps the most important thing we can do is diligently assess whether someone is truly converted.  I’m convinced this is why so many churches are in poor health.  We’ve see the implications on a personal level – how much more so on a church level!

Hinson wraps things up with a great summary chapter on why it all matters – It matters for God, it maters for us, and it matters for the world.  The doctrine of conversion is too important to be lead astray to a weaker, non-Biblical position.  I’m grateful for the reminder and foundation set here.