Controversy Among Christians

controversy
by Sean Perron

I’m finally reading through the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This book is a response to “evangelical feminism” and it is now in its third edition. It is one of those books that I bought years ago. You know, one of those books that you mentally reference, look at on the shelf, admire, want to read… but alas.

I have been convinced for many years with the basic premise and thesis of the book, but now am greatly benefitting from reading through it. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the book is how the authors handle controversy among Christians.

There is no doubt that feminism, headship, submission, etc. are hot topics. Yet these scholars are winsome, kind, and convictional. Below is a section from the concluding chapter that I resonate with regarding how to think about unity vs. controversy. Perhaps you will also find it helpful when it comes to processing controversial issues among believers.

“Yet one of the groanings of this fallen age is controversy, and most painful of all, controversy with brothers and sisters in Christ. We resonate with the Apostle Paul – our joy would be full if we could all be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2:2).

But for all his love of harmony and unity and peace, it is remarkable how many of Paul’s letters were written to correct fellow Christians.… The assumption of the entire New Testament is that we should strive for peace by striving to come to agreement in the truth. Peace and unity in the body of Christ are exceedingly precious… “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17). But it is first pure. Peace is not a first thing. It is derivative. It comes from hearty agreement in truth….

For the sake of unity and peace, therefore, Paul labors to set the churches straight on numerous issues – including quite a few that do not in themselves involve heresy. He does not exclude controversy from his pastoral writing. And he does not limit his engagement in controversy to first-order doctrines, where heresy threatens. He is like a parent to his churches. Parents do not correct and discipline their children only for felonies. They long for their children to grow up into all the kindness and courtesy of mature adulthood. And since the fabric of truth is seamless, Paul knows that letting minor strands go on unraveling can eventually rend the whole garment….

The point is this: We do not love controversy; we love peace. We love our brothers and sisters who belong to Christians for Biblical Equality. We long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But we are bound by our conscience and by the Word of God, for this very cause, to try to persuade the church that the vision of manhood and womanhood presented in this book is true and beautiful. It is a precious gift of God to the church and to the world.” (404-406, second edition)

 

My “Journal Books”: A Reading List

pexels-photo-134602

Some books on my shelf function like journals.  I can remember who recommended it, where I read certain sections of it, and how it changed specific aspects of my life.  The best books I have read are books that read me.  They inform my thoughts, change my feelings, and adjust my actions.  God has used many authors and many books in my life, but these are the ones that have had the “journal-effect” from middle-school onward.  

Middle School

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis.  I believe I was in 8th grade when I read this book for the first time, and reread every year I was in high school.  This was the book God used to help me begin to “own” my faith, and grow in my confidence that the Christian faith isn’t just good, but also true – which is what makes it the most beautiful news any person can hear.  This book also is what inspired me to begin writing.  Lewis’ clarity, beauty, and depth are remarkable and inspired me to want to give my life to sharing this faith that Lewis communicated so beautifully.  

High School

Don’t Waste Your Life – John Piper.  This book had an explosive impact on my life my freshman year of high school.  Piper gave me an all-encompassing vision of the Christian life and an all-satisfying vision of Jesus Christ that changed me forever.  Like many, his chapter “Boasting Only In the Cross” wrecked me in the best way – I can still quote sentences from it.

Jesus Among Other Gods – Ravi Zacharias.  I was first introduced to Ravi Zacharias through his preaching ministry, and was deeply struck by his ability to communicate the truth of Christ with conviction and compassion.  He knew when to be sharp, and knew when to be gentle.  This book contained that same flavor that first attracted me to him, and informed the way I did evangelism in my relationships.

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis.  This is a strange book, which is what made it so memorable and compelling for me.  It opened my eyes to the reality that spiritual warfare is not primarily a reality of hobgoblins and goosebumps, but rather a war for our thoughts, desires, and loyalties that happen when we gossip with friends, indulge in anger, and immerse ourselves in worldliness.  This book will make you vigilant over your soul and sensitive to the serpents schemes.  

College

Future Grace – John Piper.  When I was in college, I almost walked away from the Christian faith as a result of severe depression and doubt.  God used this book to anchor me to his Word, refine me, and give me a deeper trust in his promises.  This book changed and shaped the way I view the process of sanctification in the Christian life, and daily influences the way I fight sin and strive for holiness.  

Total Truth – Nancy Pearcey.  If I am asked what is the best book on apologetics, I say this book instantly.  Pearcey argues for the Christian worldview as a comprehensive one that gives reasonable and compelling answers to all the objections the world brings its way.  She demonstrates a confidence in God’s Word that I want to mark my ministry and life.  

The Things of Earth – Joe Rigney.  Ever since I read Don’t Waste Your Life, I struggled to find the balance of living a radical life for Christ and resisting worldliness, while still enjoying things like ice cream, laughing with friends, and going on vacation.  Joe Rigney calls them “the things of earth”  This book expanded my view of what it means to live faithfully toward God while also enjoying his gifts.  If you read Don’t Waste Your Life, read this book right after it.  

Do More Better – Tim Challies.  I love thinking about and practicing the best productivity methods.  I read Matt Perman’s “What’s Best Next?” and loved it, but found it difficult to recommend to busy Mom’s, men with full-time jobs, and even college students.  Challies’ “Do More Better” explains basic productivity methods from a God-centered lens – and he does it in under 100 pages!  I’d recommend this to any student beginning college or to a man at the beginning of marriage.  

This Summer

The Reason for God – Tim Keller.  I have been hearing about this book for years, and finally picked up an old copy and am reading a few pages before bed every night.  I’m about halfway through and have found this book compelling, creative, and winsome.  Keller is clear and profound and, in my opinion, very convincing.  I would give this book to any skeptic I know to begin conversations about spiritual things.  Keller speaks the language of our culture.

A Pastor’s Sketches – Icabod Spencer.  I’m finding that this book has not been widely read by many pastor’s today, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Icabod Spencer was a pastor in Brooklyn in the 1800s and has recorded two volumes of his conversations with people inquiring about the Christian faith.  Spencer’s sensitivity to people, commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, and pastoral concern for others is imitable.  

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965.  I’m almost finished listening to the second volume of William Manchester’s magisterial portrait of Churchill.  All the leaders I respect have been influenced in some way by Churchill.  Obviously, Churchill is a very flawed man, but his influence in WWII and his vision, foresight, and courage in the face of evil is remarkable and inspiring.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

What is Godliness?

food-sunset-love-field
by Spencer Harmon

It’s a prerequisite for Christian leadership. It’s championed in Christian literature. It’s absence is a red light in romantic relationships.   It’s heralded in thousands of churches every Sunday.  It motivates accountability groups, is commended by Christians around the world, and is summarized in one word:

Godliness.   

But godliness is dangerous.  Not because you may be persecuted if you pursue it – although you may.  Not because Satan will oppose you at every turn of your striving towards it – although he will.  Not because your sinful flesh will roar in resistance as you reach for it – although it will.  No, godliness is dangerous for a much more subtle reason.  

Godliness is dangerous because we use the word so much.  And where words are used often, assumption follows closely behind.  As we continually use this word without defining it from God’s Word, vague definitions take root.  As a result, people who should be pricked are comforted, people who should be freed are burdened, and at worst a culture of shallow holiness implants itself in our Christian communities.  

When something is precious and being threatened, you guard it from multiple sides.  The same is true with godliness.  We not only need to know what godliness is, but also what it isn’t.  

WHAT GODLINESS ISN’T

Godliness is not gifting.  God gives his church gifts, but we should not equate them with godliness.  The Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, but at the same time were rebuked for heinous sin (1 Corinthians 5; 11:17-22).  Preaching, teaching, counseling, music, writing, leadership, persuasiveness, hospitality – all of these things can be included in godliness, but are not godliness in and of themselves.

Godliness is not personality.  Godliness is not politeness, an easy going attitude, or diplomacy. Jesus was not perceived as polite by the money-changers when he turned over their tables and called them robbers.  He wasn’t perceived as diplomatic when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs.  He wasn’t perceived as easy-going when he rebuked his disciples.  Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with Gentiles.  James rebukes the rich.  All of these men were godly, and one of these men was God himself.  

Godliness is not knowledge.  A robust knowledge of theology, a nuanced understanding of the human heart, and sharp apologetical skills does not make us godly.  Knowing things makes us accountable for them.  The Pharisees were men of astute knowledge, but Jesus tells them they are blind to spiritual reality (John 9:40).    

Godliness is not a leadership position.  The greatest cause of trembling for me as a young pastor is that I would begin equating godliness with my position rather than my character.  Just because we lead a discussion group or Sunday school does not make us the godliest person in the room.  Being a pastor does not automatically mean you become the holiest person in the church.  No, the Bible assumes this principle: the higher the leadership, the deeper the character (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  And the higher you get without deeper character the more likely you are to fall.  

Obvious gifting, a dynamic personality, rigorous knowledge, and lofty leadership are wonderful.  They should be affirmed in the local church lifted up as worthy of pursuit.  But these qualities are not what the Bible defines as godliness.  Knowing this for myself is challenging and clarifying as I aspire towards greater Christ-likeness in daily life.

CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLINESS

Godliness believes the truth.  The fountainhead of godliness is knowing and believing the truth.  Trees need seeds, houses need foundations, cars need gasoline, and godliness stands on truth.  The man who follows a false map walks in the wrong direction.  False teaching in the New Testament warrants swift rebuke because it leads people to sin and death.  The apostle Paul calls the gospel itself the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16).  The apostle Peter says godliness comes through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).  This is why every saint is called to speak the truth in love to one another. (Ephesians 4:15)

Godliness is dignified.  In 1 Timothy 2-3, dignity is a marker of the Christian community from the laity to the leadership.  We should pray for leaders so we can live dignified lives (2:2), pastors should lead their families with all dignity (3:4), and deacons are to be dignified (3:8, 11).

Dignity is the outward reputation of a godly heart.  Dignity doesn’t flow from trying to look dignified, but it’s the result of a heart that loves Christ and others.  The Bible calls this living worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) or conducting yourself with fear (1 Peter 1:17).  It’s a life that appreciates that gravity of their salvation in Christ, and lives a life dripping with that gravitas.  

Godliness is marked by good works.  The person who spends all their time in a prayer closet but never loves their next door neighbor isn’t a godly person in the Bible.  Godliness is not just private piety, but public goodness.  Godliness is a light that is meant to be seen (Matthew 5:16).  Good works signify a godly person, and the nature of good works are to not remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:25).

Godliness is a fight and race.  Godly people are marked by fighting and fleeing, racing and pushing, practice and persistence.  Paul tells young Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).  Training involves intentionality and vigilance that monitors the areas of life that propel you towards or away from your goal.  This means that godliness doesn’t come automatically to us, we must intentionally grow in it, practice it, and discipline ourselves for it.  

GODLINESS HAPPENS TO US

Two parallel truths meet when we talk about godliness.  The first truth is obvious from everything written above: godliness can’t be assumed. It must be understood, pursued, and intentionally fought for.  Godliness doesn’t just happen to us.  Yet, there is a second truth that undergirds the first truth: godliness does happen to us.  

The human heart does not thirst for godliness out of the formation of new habits, but from the transformation brought about by the new birth.  God’s Spirit transforms the human heart by cleansing it from sin and giving it a new nature that desires to grow in godliness (John 3:1-8).  The human soul becomes tender as the seed of the gospel breaks through cement-soil hearts.  May we grow in this grace that he might reap a fruitful harvest.  


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

Two New Books: Letters to a Romantic

Dear Readers,

We have some exciting news.

We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.  

The books are called Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement.

The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:

  • Marriage vs. Singleness
  • First Date
  • Should We Be in a Relationship?
  • Do We Have a Bad Relationship?  
  • What if I am not a Virgin?
  • Should I Guard My Heart?

The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:

  • The Length of Engagement
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Loving Your New Parents
  • Should We Elope?
  • Handling Conflict
  • On Birth Control

The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice.  Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.

Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world.  We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.  

We are not relational gurus.  Quite the opposite.  We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost.  We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives.  We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.

In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriage that discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.

As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.

 

Until then,

Sean and Spencer

 

Held Together in Grief

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

The doctrine of providence is deep enough to bring comfort during life’s most grievous tragedies. Even the deepest cuts can be soothed by the sovereignty of a kind God. Consider the terrible pain of the death a loved one. The doctrine of providence may be one of the only balms in the midst of such pain.

In his systematic theology, Michael Horton begins his chapter on providence by quoting Colossians 1:16-17. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” These verses are packed with the providence of God even though they do not explicitly mention ways in which God works in creation.

Colossians 1:16-17 confirms that God is not absent from suffering. God crafted the world and is still intimately involved with it. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. This means that nothing occurs apart from God’s involvement. God does not watch us grieve from the sidelines. He is present, active and near.

If a couple loses their child, the doctrine of providence found in Colossians 1:16-17 can hold them together. They can be comforted knowing that Jesus reigned as Lord before, and he continues to reign afterwards. He has not left them to face tragedy alone. They can rest in the fact that the same Jesus who created their child is actively working in this situation. Jesus is involved and those grieving are included in the verse “In him all things hold together.”

God is specifically identified in these verses. It is Jesus who is holding all things together by the word of his power. This same Jesus suffered brutally on the cross to endure the curse of sin. Jesus knows what it means to weep and he knows what it means to writhe in pain. Jesus did not suffer in vain, and he will reverse the curse on this scorched earth. One day soon, all that is wrong will be turned right. Until then, let us draw near to him with our grief and have him hold us together.

Thou Shall Not

HPIM1841
by Spencer Harmon

Christians are gloriously and delightfully free.  The law can’t condemn us, Satan can’t accuse us, sin can’t enslave us, and death can’t defeat us.  New desires, new hearts, clean consciences, transformed minds.  This is who we are.  These are the incredible, unchanging realities for every person who has rested on the unchanging grace of God and put all their confidence in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The message of the gospel is a message of amazing freedom.

Yet, oftentimes, we use this freedom to go back to the sins that we have left.  We pick up the chains that were broken from our bruised wrists; we sit in the jail cell with the door wide open.

One of the great lies that Satan uses to keep Christians in the cell is legalism.  You’re sitting in the movie theater with your Christian friends, and all of a sudden the film takes a horrific turn hellward.  You should leave.  But then it starts, “I don’t want to be a legalist”  You don’t want to be that person that makes the whole group uncomfortable and feel like bad Christians at the movie theater, do you?

The problem with this thinking is that Bible never presents a deep desire for holiness as legalism.  It presents it as the normal life of a Christian. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10); Paul beat his body (1 Corinthians 9:27); Jesus prayed all night (Luke 6:12).  None of these men were legalists, and all of these exerted significant restraint in their daily lives, saying “no” to a hundred sinful things in order to have the One Great Thing.

“But I don’t want to be a Pharisee!”  But what was Jesus’ problem with the Pharisee’s?  “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).  The Pharisee’s kept the rules because they thought it made them right with God; Christians keep the rules because they have been made right with God and they want to please their Father.  Pharisee’s walk out of movie theaters because they think it will force God to be on their team; Christians walk out of movies because because they’re already on God’s team, and they want to honor the coach.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).  The freedom the Christians have in Jesus is not a horse to ride into the saloon of satan, but is rather a basin where you wash the feet of others.  Do you feel bad when you have to correct a conversation?  Do you feel like a legalist when you change the channel during a sexually charged commercial?  The glorious reality is that you are free not to feel that way.  “No” isn’t a cuss word; fleeing sin isn’t legalism.  It is when saying “no” becomes your basis for a right standing before God that you become a legalist.  It is when you’re identity is found in the movies you don’t watch and the music you don’t listen to instead of Christ when you become a Pharisee.

So, next time you want to walk out of a movie, turn the channel, look the other way when everyone else gawks, don’t feel foolish – feel free.  Your identity is not wrapped up in the fact that you are running away, your identity is wrapped up in the one to whom you are running.  Let your vision of Him be clear, and let your desire for Him dictate your life. Come out from the dark and into the light; rise from the dead and into life; the chains are broken, the cellar door has swung open, and your once shackled legs are now empowered to walk in the smile of God the Father.  “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:3-4)

Happy Intercession Day

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

It is important to note that the story does not end with Jesus rising from the dead. Christians may understand Christ’s resurrection, but the emphasis of Christ’s exaltation could be neglected. Jesus ascends into heaven and sits down at the right hand of God the Father. God placed Jesus on display for all to see, enjoy, and obey.

I was recently jarred by this idea when reading New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ by Dr. Tom Schreiner. He argues that it is the exaltation of Christ through the resurrection that crowns Jesus as king. All of the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah are fulfilled and proven true in this event. In Psalm 110:1, God tells God to sit at His right hand. God the Father asks God the Son to join him on his ruling throne. In Acts 2:36, the Apostle Peter realizes this and says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who you crucified.”

This means that Jesus was in some sense not ruling as king until this event.

“We know from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus was the Christ during his earthly ministry, and therefore this verse does not teach that Jesus “became” Lord and Christ only when raised from the dead. The point of the verse is that Jesus became the exalted Lord and Christ only at his exaltation. He did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand.” (292-293)

It is a very stunning statement to say that Jesus did not reign as Lord and Christ until he was raised from the dead. Nevertheless, this appears to make the most sense of Acts 2:36. Jesus is crowned king of Israel and assumes his royal place of honor. Thousands of generations had been waiting for this moment and the resurrection of Christ enable it to happen.

In Luke 4:8, Jesus himself recognized and preached that the Holy Spirit had anointed him according to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus has always been divine and was the Messiah upon entering the world. Even though he was already the Messiah, he was not yet reigning at the right hand of God. Schreiner points this out commenting on Philippians 2:9-11. “Jesus is exalted as Lord because of his humiliation. The Son of God, of course, reigned with the Father eternally. But Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man, was exalted as Lord only at the resurrection.” (326.) Jesus was called to suffer on the cross in obedience to the Father before he would be exalted on high. The exaltation of Christ through resurrection is the appointment of his reign as the victorious messianic king.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, believers would not have a living mediator between them and God the Father. By rising from the dead, Jesus proves that he truly was the Christ who suffered for the sins of the world. The believer can be assured of a future hope because of the exaltation of Christ through the resurrection. Christ is currently praying to God on behalf of us. Hebrews 7:25 testifies to this reality when it says, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Celebrate Easter and have a Happy Intercession Day!