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Author Archives: lifecoach4God

About lifecoach4God

I am the Lead Pastor of Valley Baptist Church (Bay Area), born and raised in Huntington Beach, Ca,, and currently living in Novato, California. I am married to my best friend of 26 years - Dana - and have five adult children; and five grand children. I have been a Teaching Pastor for over thirty years. I was privileged to study at Multnomah University (B.S. - 1988); Talbot School of Theology (M.Div. - 1991); Westminster Theological Seminary & Northwest Graduate School (D. Min. - 2003). I founded Vertical Living Ministries in 2008 with the goal of encouraging Christian Disciples and Leaders to be more intentionally Christ-Centered in how they live by bringing glory to God in nine key areas of life: personal spiritually, in marriage, in their families, with friends, vocationally, physical health, finances, discipleship, and mentoring .

Great Article on Journaling Your Prayers by Bill Hybels

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Note from Dr.David Craig – The book Honest To God? by Bill Hybels is unfortunately out of print. The article below is adapted from Chapter Two of the Book. I include it here with the hope that those who read it will be especially helped with regard to their prayer lives. I can still remember reading this chapter as a young youth pastor trying to develop an authentic and intimate prayer life with God. The example Hybels gives of journaling prayer has been immensely helpful to me over the last 28 years of life and ministry. May God use this article to help you connect intimately and authentically with God. 

*”A New Dimension in Spirituality” by Bill Hybels

I backed the car out of the driveway as I do every morning at 5:45. I switched the radio from a program on ethics to the Tokyo stock closing. While I drove through the neighborhood subdivision, I critiqued architectural designs. I bought coffee at the twenty-four-hour coffee shop and successfully avoided the talkative cashier. As I turned onto the church campus, I formulated a convincing defense for a ministry plan I hoped the staff would adopt. I climbed to my third floor office, wondering about the productivity of the nighttime maintenance crew. I shuffled through the mountain of mail on my desk and wished someone else could answer it.

I spun the my chair around and looked out the window at the church lake, steaming in the crispness of the morning. In that quiet moment I saw the previous quarter hour for what it had been—an hour tainted by purely human perspective. Not once during that hour had I seen the world through godly eyes. I had been more interested in international finances than in the moral demise of out nation. I thought more about houses than the people inside them. I had considered the tasks awaiting me more important than the woman who served my coffee. I had been more intent on logically supporting my plans than sincerely seeking God’s. I’d thought more about staff members’ productivity than their walk with the Lord or their family life. I’d viewed correspondence as a drudgery rather than a way to offer encouragement, counsel, or help.

It was 6:00 A.M. and I needed a renewed heart and mind. Like a compass out of adjustment, my thoughts and feelings were pointing in the wrong direction. They needed to be recalibrated—to be realigned with God’s accurate, perfect perspective.

You see, in the space of a day my relationship with Jesus Christ can fall from the heights to the depths, from vitality to superficiality, from life-changing interaction to meaningless ritual. That’s a humbling admission, but it’s true. In a mere twenty-four hours, I can slide from spiritual authenticity into spiritual inauthenticity.

Some years ago I got tired of this daily descent. I decided then to either do something to stop it, or to get out of the ministry. Christendom didn’t need another inauthentic leader.

I began to pray for guidance and to experience with various disciplines that would help me be more consistent. Eventually I developed a three-phased discipline that I employ every day to keep me truly “connected” to God. It’s not the only path to spiritual authenticity, but for me and many of my friends, coworkers, and church members, it’s proven to be a genuinely life-changing discipline.

YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?

Over the years, as I traveled and spoke at churches and conferences, I occasionally met leaders who somehow seemed to avoid the daily slide into artificial Christianity. Whenever I could, I asked what their secret was. In almost every case, they said “journaling”—the daily process of examining and evaluating their lives in written form.

Now if you think I heard that and ran out to buy a journal, you’re dead wrong. I thought the idea was ridiculous. I envisioned the saints of antiquity, with fragile parchments and ink-dipped quills, waxing eloquent in the flickering light of a candle. People who had time for that were not like me. They didn’t have my schedule or live with my kind of pressure. Besides, blank sheets of paper scared me. I’m not the “deep” type; I haven’t had an original thought in my life. What would I write?

Still I had to admit that too often I repeated the same mistakes again and again. Too often I went to bed with regrets about my actions. Too often I made decisions inconsistent with my professed values. In a rare moment of honesty, I faced the fact that I was living under the tyranny of an unexamined life.

At that time, I was chaplain for the Chicago Bears. Occasionally before the Monday morning Bible study, I’d join them at Halas Hall while they watched films and did postgame analysis! They would go over every play of the previous day’s game so they could learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in the next game.

Finally, I understood. The journal’s were simply telling me to do a postgame analysis! How could I expect to be conformed to the image of Christ without evaluating my mistakes and progress? How could I grow without examining my character, decision-making, ministry, marriage, child-rearing? Maybe journaling was for me.

YESTERDAY

I was still worried about facing a blank sheet of paper, but a well-known author offered a simple suggestion: Buy a spiral notebook and restrict yourself to one page a day. Every day start with the word “Yesterday.” Write a brief description of people you met with, decisions you made, thoughts or feelings you had, high points, low points, frustrations, Bible-reading—anything about the previous day. Then analyze it. Did you make good decisions, or bad? Did you use your time wisely or waste it? Should you have done anything differently?

Evaluating my day would help me avoid repeating my mistakes. But writing for five or ten minutes would also slow down my pace. I knew I needed that. I’m a morning person, and when I get to the office at 6 A.M., I’m ready to roll. The phone starts ringing, the adrenaline starts pumping, and there’s no stopping me. If journaling could slow me down, I would be ready to really connect with God.

I decided to try it. My first journal entry says this: “Yesterday I said I hated the concept of journals, and I still do. But if this is what it takes to rid myself of inauthentic spirituality, I’ll do it. If this is what it takes to reduce my RPM’s enough to talk and walk with Christ, I’ll do it. I’ll journal.

And I have—nearly every day. I’ve never written anything profound, but in simple terms I’ve chronicled the activity of God in my life, relationships, marriage, children, and ministry. I’ve also worked through feelings, confronted fears, and weighed decisions. And I’ve slowed down enough to meet with God.

NOW WHAT?

The only problem with slowing down and meeting with God was that I realized I didn’t have much to say. The second part of my path to spiritual authenticity, my prayer life, was amazingly weak, and had been for years.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to pray. I always had good intentions. I tried to pray. But I would get down on my knees and say, “Dear God…” and in five seconds my mind would be in outer space. I would start thinking of people I hadn’t seen in years, making up problems for solutions that didn’t exist, strategizing for new ministries, or planning family vacations. 

It was so frustrating. I normally have a tremendous ability to concentrate. I pride myself with an ability to stick with a project till it’s done. But prayer did me in every time. I would hear of people speak of praying for four hours, and I would feel terrible knowing I couldn’t pray for four minutes. 

I would probably still be a prayerless man if a friend hadn’t suggested his habit of writing out his prayers. He said God created him with a very active mind, and the only way he had been able to “capture” it and focus on God was to write out his prayers. I thought to myself, “That’s me! That’s what I need to do.” 

Another concern I had about my prayer life was imbalance. I knew how easy it was to fall into the “Please God” syndrome. “Please God give me…help me…comfort me…strengthen me…” I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to pray with balance.  So adopted a simple pattern of prayer that’s not original with me. But it includes the four sturdy legs of balanced prayer.

ADORATION

Each morning after filling out my “yesterday page,” I write a big A on the next page, then spend a few minutes writing a paragraph of praise to the Lord. Sometimes I paraphrase a psalm, or attempt to write a poem. Sometimes I write the words to a praise song, then sing it quietly in the privacy of my office. Often I focus on the attributes of God, sometimes listing them all, sometimes meditating on just one. 

Though I’ve been a Christian for years, I never privately worshiped God on a consistent basis—until I started writing out my prayers. Worship os foreign to us. We were made for it. Yet because of sin, worship doesn’t come naturally. We have to work at it; we have to be disciplined at it. And like any other learned activity, the first few times we try it, we feel awkward. But our sincerity, not our eloquence, is what matters to God.

There are several reasons for beginning prayer with worship. First, worship reminds us that we’re addressing the Holy Majestic God and prevents us from reducing prayer to a wish list—the “Please God…” syndrome again.

Second, worship establishes the identity of God. It reminds us that God has power to intervene in any situation, that He cares about us, and whether we are in a car, an office, or an airplane, He is always available to us.

Adoration also purges. After five or ten minutes in adoration, I find my spirit has been softened. My heart has been purified. My agenda changes. That burning issue I just had to bring to God’s attention suddenly seems less crucial. My sense of desperation subsides. I begin to say, and mean, “It is well with my soul. I am enjoying You, God. I am at peace.”

Finally, adoration is the appropriate introduction to prayer simply because God deserves it.

Begin to worship God when you pray. Be creative. Experiment. Use verses and psalms to get you started. Don’t worry if you feel clumsy at first. God’s heart is thrilled by even our most feeble attempts.

CONFESSION

I used to be an “oops” confessor. I would say an unkind word to someone, then say, “Oops, Lord, I’ll have to confess that to You later.” Then I would exaggerate a story, and say, “Oops, Lord, I’ll catch that one later too.” All day I would add the tally, fully intending to clear the bill later.

But later seldom came. When it did, I would make a blanket confession of “my many sins.” I thought I was wonderfully honest and humble, claiming my sins like that. In reality, it was a colossal cop-out.

You see, blanket confessions are nice, virtually painless. But they do nothing to transform our hearts. It seems confession has to hurt a bit, even embarrass us, before we’ll take it seriously. 

One way to make confession hurt is to write out specific sins. Do you know what it’s like to see your sins in print? Try writing something like this: “Yesterday I chose to wound Lynne with my words. I was cruel, insensitive, and sinful.” Or, “Last night I told Todd I would play ball with him, but I didn’t keep my word. I lied to my son.”

It’s easy to justify our behavior: “I had a rough day. I was busy. Lynne shouldn’t have expected so much from me.” Or, “I intended to play ball. It just didn’t work out.” But we need to see our sins for what they are. Writing them out helps.

In one particular Sunday message, I emphasized the fact that we’re all sinners who need a Savior. After the service, a salesman informed me that he didn’t consider himself a sinner. I asked If he had been faithful to his wife. “Well, I travel a lot you know…” Then I asked about his expense account. “Oh, everybody stretches the truth a little bit…” Finally, I questioned his sales techniques. Did he ever exaggerate or overstate a claim? “That’s standard in the industry…” “Well,” I said, “you just told me you’re an adulterer, a cheater, and a liar.” “How dare you call me those things?!” He was appalled by my “brash insensitivity.”

As hard as it was for him to hear those words, I believe I did him favor. I also believe I do myself a favor when I write in my journal, “I am a liar. I am greedy. I have a problem with lust. I am envious.: Two things happen when we confess our sins honestly.

First, we experience the freedom of forgiveness. For years I tried to run the race of faith with chains of unconfessed sin tangled around my legs. I didn’t know how much they were hindering me until I quit playing games and got honest with God.

Second, gratitude for God’s forgiveness motivates us to forsake our sin. Why hurt Someone who loves us that much? Why disobey Someone who extends so much grace to us?

There doesn’t appear to be much true confession in Christian circles. That’s a shame, because exciting things happen when God’s children get honest about their sin. Five days of having to call oneself a liar, a greedy person, a cheat, or whatever, is enough to drive any spiritually sensitive person to forsake that sin.

A man in my church recently began “confessing” in his journal. He said, “My sins didn’t bother me much before. Now I realize I have to take them seriously, and do my best to forsake them. When it comes to this sin business, I have to fish or cut bait.”

We all need to realize that sin is serious business and enlist the Holy Spirit’s help in forsaking it. Then we can make progress in rooting specific sins out of our lives, and we’ll know what the Scripture means when it says, “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

THANKSGIVING

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” For years I misunderstood this. I thought having feelings of gratitude toward God was the same as thanksgiving. It isn’t.

Do you remember the ten leapers described in Luke 17? They begged Jesus to heal them, but when He did, only one bothered to thank Him. Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?”

I am confident that the other nine were thankful. They had to be. If you had a debilitating, terminal illness that rotted your limbs and made you a social outcast, and suddenly you were cleansed and healed, wouldn’t you have tremendous feelings of gratitude toward your Healer? Of course you would. But nine lepers didn’t take the time to say it. And that mattered to Jesus.

One summer I took my son Todd for a helicopter ride at a county fair. He was so excited he could hardly stand it. Later, I thought he was asleep in the car until he slid his arm around my shoulder and said, “Dad, I just want to thank you for taking me to that fair.” That expression of gratitude tempted me to turn the car around and go back to the fair for round two.

When I understood that distinction between feeling gratitude and expressing thanksgiving. I decided to become a more “thanks-giving” man. I want to be like the one leper who ran back and showered Jesus with thanks. I want to be like Todd, who warmed my heart with his gratitude.

We’re God’s children. We have the power to offer Him joy through thanksgiving. In my journal, I thank God for answered prayers, and for specific spiritual, relational, and material blessings. Almost everything in my life fits under one of those categories. By the time I finish my list. I’m ready to go back to adoration.

An added benefit of giving thanks is a transformed attitude. I used to be a very covetous man. I struggled hard with wanting more than I had. But a daily look at my blessings has led me from covetousness to contentment to awe at the abundance in my life.

SUPPLICATION

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). After adoring God, confessing our sins, and thanking Him for His goodness, we’re in the right frame of mind to ask God for what we need.

Nothing is too big for God to handle or too small for Him to be interested in. But sometimes I still wonder if my requests are legitimate. So I’m honest with God. I say, “God I have told You how I feel about this situation. You’ve asked me to make my requests known, so I have. I would love to see You do this. But if You have other plans, I don’t want to get in the way. If these requests are wrong, or the timing isn’t right, that’s fine. We’ll go Your way.”

Sometimes I don’t even know how to begin to pray about a certain situation. Then I say, “I don’t know what to say, Lord.” If You’ll tell me how to pray, I’ll pray that way.”

God honors that kind of prayer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” 

I break my prayers into four categories: ministry, people, family, and personal. Under ministry I pray for my church. Under people I pray for my staff and elders, and I pray for my friends, both Christian and non-Christian. Under family I pray for Lynne, Todd, and Shauna. I pray that I would be a godly father and husband. I pray about finances, education, vacations, and other areas of my family life.  Under personal I pray about my character. I pray that God would help me be more righteous man. 

Make up your own categories of prayer. Then keep a list of what you’ve prayed about. After a few weeks, look back over it. You’ll be amazed at what God has done.

LISTENING

Journaling and writing out my prayers slow me down enough to hear God’s still, small voice. The third step in my daily discipline is to listen and ask God to speak to me.

Scripture says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It’s these quiet moments after prayer that really matter. They nourish authentic Christianity. Power flows out of stillness, strength out of solitude. Decisions that change the course of our lives come out of these quiet times. 

I begin with these words: “Lord, You talked to Your children all through history, and You said You’re unchangeable God. Talk to me now. I’m listening. I’m open.”

Then I ask four questions. I never hear an audible voice, but often I get impressions that are so strong I write them down.

First, I ask, “What is the next step in my relationship with You?” Sometimes I sense nothing, and interpret that to mean, “We’re all right. Don’t worry. If I wanted to say something I would. Just relax in My presence.”

At other times He tells me I need to learn more about His character. One time I sensed God telling me to loosen up. I was too concerned with how to please Him, and had to learn to enjoy Him more.

Second, I ask, “What’s the next step in the development of my character?” I always get a response from this one. There seems to be plenty of rough edges for God to chip away at! “Honesty,” He’ll say, or “Humility,” or “purity.”

God has taught me that in regard to character, little things matter. At the office, I usually do only ministry-related correspondence; the church pays the postage. Occasionally, however, the distinctions between ministry and personal correspondence blurs. Once during my listening time, I sensed God telling me to be more scrupulous in distinguishing between ministry and personal mail.

That afternoon I taped quarters to two of my outgoing letters. My secretary said, “What’s this?” I said, “Just pay the meter. It’s important.” It’s such a little thing, but not to God.

Third, I ask, “What’s the next step in my family life?” Again, God gets specific. “Be more encouraging Lynne. Take time to serve her.” Or, “You’ve been out of town a lot. Plan a special getaway with the kids.” Being a godly husband and father is a tremendous challenge for me. I need God’s suggestions.

Finally, I ask “What’s the next step in my ministry?” I don’t know how anyone survives ministry without listening to God. Most of my illustrations, messages, and new ministry directions come out of this time of listening. I would have little creativity and insight without it. 

You might ask other questions: What’s the next step in my vocation? In my dating relationship? In my education?

Over time, you’ll become more adept at sensing God’s answers to these questions. You’ll receive Scripture verses, ideas, or insights that are just what you need. Those moments of inspiration will become precious memories you carry with you all day.

The great adventure of listening to God can be scary sometimes. Often God tells me to call or write someone, or apologize for something I’ve done, or give away a possession, or start a new ministry, and I think, “Why? I don’t understand?”

But I’ve learned to walk by faith, not by sight. God’s leadings don’t have to make sense. Some of the wisest direction I’ve received has been ridiculous from a human viewpoint. So If God tells you to write someone, write. if He tells you to serve somewhere, serve. Trust Him, and take the risk.

PURSUE THE DISCIPLINES

Several years ago, I played on a park district football team. During the warm-up before our first game, I learned that I would play middle linebacker on the defensive unit. That was fine with me; my favorite professional athlete is Mike Singletary, All_pro middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

The game started. When it was time for the defense to take the field, I stood in my middle linebacker position, determined to play with the same intensity and effectiveness I’d so often seen in Mike. Scenes of nationally televised Sunday afternoon football games flashed through my mind and psyched me for a major hit.

The opposing offensive unit approached the line to run the first play. Mimicking Mike, I crouched low and stared intently at the quarterback, readying myself to explode into the middle of the action in typical Singletary style. The battle raged…and reality struck with a vengeance. Using a simple head fake, the quarterback sent me in the opposite direction of the play, and the offense gained fifteen yards.

So went the rest of the game. By the fourth quarter I came to a brilliant conclusion: If I wanted to play football like Mike Singletary, I would have to do more than mimic his on-the-filed actions. I would have to get behind the scenes, and practice like he practiced. I would have to lift weights and run laps like he did. I would have to memorize plays and study films as he did. If I wanted his success on the field, I would have to pursue his disciplines off the field. Discipling is no less important on the field of Christian living.

One of the most positive trends in the contemporary church is the recent interest in the spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, has been called “the book of the decade,” and I believe it is. After five years of journaling, writing out my prayers, and listening to God, I am delighted to discover additional disciplines to further enhance my pursuit of a consistent spiritual life.

Willard asserts that the key to being conformed to the image of Christ is to follow Him in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988, ix.).

If we want to be like Christ, we have to live as He lived. That doesn’t mean we focus on the special moments when His character and compassion shone in the public spotlight or try to mimic Him in the way I tried to mimic Mike Sigletary on the football field. It means we imitate His entire life, including the behind-the-scenes disciplines that prepared Him to shine when the pressure was on. It means we “practice the activities he practiced.”

What are these activities? The disciplines include “solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God’s Word and God’s way, and service to others (See Willard, ix).

Every true Christian wants to live like Jesus lived—to love the unlovely, to serve with grace, to resist temptation, to uphold conviction, exhibit power. But we can only live that way if we devote ourselves to the same disciplines He practiced. If Jesus pursued these disciplines to maintain spiritual authenticity, how much more must we.

In his book, Willard suggests disciplines of abstinence and engagement. The former include solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice. The latter include study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission (See Willard, 158). 

We have looked at the discipline of prayer. I conclude with a discussion of solitude and fasting.

SOLITUDE

The discipline of solitude isn’t entirely new to me. For years I’ve spent my first hour at the office alone, journaling, praying, and listening. After that, I spend time in quiet message preparation before meeting with other staff members. I’ve also made periodic use of brief getaways for solitary retreats.

Recently, however, I have incorporated even more solitude into my schedule. As I get in better touch with the natural ebb and flow of my life, I see a direct correlation between ministry effectiveness and the amount of time I spend alone. Solitude builds my emotional and spiritual reserves and increases my ability to help others.

I am a relational person. I thrive on the stimulation of being with people. I’m learning, however, that there is a danger in being with people too much. It can drain my spiritual vitality and dilute my effectiveness. I may still enjoy being with people, but I have nothing worthwhile to offer them. Lately, when I’ve noticed my life getting too crowded with people and activity, I’ve scheduled lunchtimes alone. I go to a local restaurant, eat by myself, and let God refresh me.

Because of the demands in my work, I was often tempted to schedule ministry appointments one after the other. If I had an evening meeting at church, I would return to my office immediately after dinner so I could “get some work done” before the meeting. I’ve learned however, than an hour of “disengaging” may be a better use of time. If I sit for an hour in my backyard, and enjoy the evening sun, I can attend the meeting refreshed and offer something worthwhile.

What do I do in these occasional hours of quietness? I step out of the day’s frantic pace, and focus my attention on God. I remind myself that He’s in control. I ask for the infilling power of the Holy Spirit. I dwell on His love. Sometimes I sit and watch my kids play, or just sit quietly with my wife. Sometimes I walk in the country. There are no set rules for making solitude count. Just be quiet. Let God do His work.

FASTING

I hesitate to write about fasting, because I’m such a novice at it. But if this book is to honestly chronicle the work of God in my life right now, I have to mention the tremendous impact that fasting has had on me.

There are numerous benefits to fasting. One is the purely physical benefit of cleansing our bodies; another is the psychological benefit of learning self-control and denial. But what has most benefitted me is the increased alertness to spiritual perspectives. Prayer, Bible study, and meditation on Scripture, worship—all are enhanced when I am fasting. I think I feel an inner abandonment that makes me a more usable vessel.

Once Jesus’ disciples complained because they were unable to cast out a certain demon. Jesus said, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). I’m beginning to understand why Jesus said that. Spiritually motivated fasting seems to unlock a deeper dimension of spiritual power. Recently, I’ve sensed God working in and though me in ways I hadn’t previously experienced. I attribute the excitement and productivity in my ministry to this simple discipline of fasting.

Are you ready for a spiritual challenge that holds a storehouse of rewards? Try fasting. If you don’t know how to begin, read the fifth chapter of Stormie Omartian’s book, Greater Health God’s Way. She gives careful guidelines and thoroughly explains the physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits.

To people who have grown up in food-obsessed America, fasting sounds like a fate worse than death. In reality, it opens the door to freedom and strength.

A WHOLE NEW DIMENSION

I took a giant step on the path to spiritual authenticity when I started journaling, writing out my prayers, and listening to God. The disciplines of solitude and fasting have opened up new dimensions of that journey.

I can’t say what it will take for you to become spiritually authentic. But before I can say this: There are no shortcuts. Wishing for spirituality isn’t enough. Growth that produces power and consistency requires strategy and discipline.

*Adapted from Chapter Two in Honest To God by Bill Hybels, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

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Book Review on R.C. Sproul’s: The Prayer of the LORD

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Great Insights and Principles On Prayer – Reviewed By David P. Craig

There are some great books that hone in on the specificities of what has commonly become known as “The Lord’s Prayer” – particularly it’s exposition from Matthew 6:9-13. This week I will be completing a preaching series on the “Lord’s Prayer” which began in January and will be ending in May of 2018. I read seven books specifically as expositions or sermons based on the Lord’s Prayer of which this was one of those seven. I also consulted various commentaries on the passage as well.

Of all the resources I consulted on the Lord’s Prayer that I enjoyed Sproul’s the most. This book not only breaks down the specific petitions in the prayer but also contains helpful chapters on the following: “How Not to Pray”; “Questions and Answers” on Prayer from various passages of Scripture; and a whole chapter devoted to the question: “If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?”

If I were only going to get only one book specifically on “The Lord’s Prayer” this is the one I would recommend. Sproul is a master communicator and does an excellent job providing insights, principles, and pointed applications that help you to be more God-centered, God-focused, and God-glorifying in your prayer life. As I have been taking in Sproul’s insights I have found myself growing in my intimacy with Christ, and helping others to do the same.

 

 

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Dr. Walt Russell on The Biblical Concept of Discipling Others

MULTIPLYING COMMUNITIES THROUGH DISCIPLESHIP

Two surfers walking on the beach

In many respects the last generation’s barrage of literature on the subject of “discipleship” has generated more heat and smoke than light. Many contradictory  constructs have been offered. What does the Bible say about being “a disciple” and “discipling” others? Is there a word from God upon which we in the church can build a biblical and consistent philosophy of ministry discipleship? Where do we fit in all of the valuable data about character development gained from research in the social sciences? Is the integration of the biblical view of a discipleship ministry with the social science view of character development ever possible? Hopefully, this article will begin to answer some of these vital questions. This attempt will first seek to lay a biblical foundation and framework for discipling others; and secondly, to suggest a general philosophy of discipleship from the biblical concept.

THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF “DISCIPLE”

The Derivation of the Concept of “Disciple” One searches the Old Testament in vain to find the term “disciple” or even to find the contemporary concept of “discipleship” within the pages of Israel’s history and literature. One wonders if persons were “discipled” in Israel since the Word of God does not emphasize such a concept. The only possible answer is “Yes, they must have been ‘discipled,’ but perhaps through somewhat differant means than normally advocated by contemporary advocates.” The Hebrew theocracy was set up by Yahweh to emphasize the nation’s relationship as a whole to Yahweh. The emphasis was corporate and all teaching and learning were related directly to the revealed will of God. There was no room for men to speak authoritatively to other men apart from the revelation from God (Kittel, 427 – Much of the research data in this section has come from the article mathetes in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol, IV, pages 415-460), edited by Gerhard Kittel. This article will be referred to in this essay as “Kittel,” with the appropriate page number). Also, the training and maturing of the youth was centered in the home (e.g., Deu. 6). Israel found no room in such a structure for the classic discipler/disciple relationship as pictured today. Moses did not “disciple” Joshua per se. rather, Joshua was Moses’ “servant” (Hebrew, ebed). The prophets did not have disciples, but rather they had assistants and servants (e.g., na’ar in 1 Kings 18:43) (Kittel, 428).

The basic concept of “disciple” that one finds in the gospels and the concept that is used as the model for discipleship in the church is derived from Greek philosophy and Rabbinical Judaism (Kittel, 431-441). The Greek term mathetes “disciple” was used of a member of a philosophical school, a student of medicine, or an apprecntice of a trade in hellenistic culture (Kittel, 438-40). In Rabbinical Judaism a “disciple” attached himself to a teacher or rabbi in much the same manner as was done in Hellenistic culture (which was the source of Judaism’s practice). The disciple subordinated himself in almost servile fashion to his rabbi in order to learn all that the rabbi had to teach. In both the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures two very significant observations could be made about the rold of the disciple:

(1) The time spent as a “disciple” was only transitory until the disciple could become the teacher, rabbi, doctor, tradesman, etc.

(2) The emphasis in both cultures wa generally on objective content (e.g., learning a trade). There are notable exceptions like Socrates’ methodology, but generally this observation holds true. Jesus’ usage of the concept “disciple” in the gospels is obviously derived from Rabbinical Judaism (and ultimately from Greek culture). However, He greatly midified the general concept by emphasizing at least four unique aspects:

(1) Being a “disciple” of His was not a transitory stage that one passed through on the way to a more sophisticated and respected level. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus was a permanent relationship and was the climax of every man’s aspirations (Kittel, p. 448).

(2) Jesus called His disciples they did not select Him as their Rabbi.

(3) Jesus emphasized commitment to His Person first, and then commitment to objective content about His Person. In a sense these are inseparable, but according to Jesus’ emphasis the commitment to His Person not just His teaching was given priority (e.g. Mark 1:17 and John 21:21-22).

(4) Jesus emphasized faith in Him as the true test of a disciple’s commitment (e.g. John 6:60-66). This emphasis is totally unique and unparalleled in Greek and Jewish culture.

At this point one may question the need to go so deeply into the historical derivation of the concept of “discipleship”. Very crucial and necessary applications will be drawn from this historical data that will be foundational in forming a biblical structure for discipling others. These applications will be made in the second part of this essay. First, we must explore the biblical usage of the term “disciple”.

The Biblical Usage of “Disciple”

The word mathetes (“disciple”) occurs 268 times in the New Testament. Thirty of these occurences are in the Book of Acts and the rest are distributed among the gospels, particualrly in matthew (74 times) and John (81 times). Perhaps at this point it would be interesting to see how contemporary writers feel “disciple” is defined. The following is a representative example of the plethora of such definitions: “Disciple: A Christian who is growing in conformity to Christ, is achieving fruit in evangelism, and is working in follow-up to conserve his fruit.” (Gary W. Kuhne, The Dynamics of Personal Follow-Up, 130). This comprehensive disciple

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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WALTER RUSSELL is a Professor of Bible Exposition at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA. He earned his degrees at Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.); St. Mary’s Seminary (M.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and University of Missouri (B.S.). Dr. Russell’s areas of expertise are exegesis, hermeneutics, and New Testament theology, especially as they relate to world evangelism and the spiritual growth of the church. He has an extensive background in collegiate ministries, university teaching, and the pastorate, having planted two churches. He authored The Flesh/Spirit Conflict in Galatians and Playing with Fire: How the Bible Ignites Change in Your Soul. Dr. Russell has contributed articles to Bibliotheca SacraJournal of the Evangelical Theological SocietyGrace Theological JournalWestminster Theological JournalTrinity Journal, and Christianity Today. His life themes are the primacy of the Great Commission in the life of the church, the renewal of the church through the development of dynamic community, and the strengthening of the church through vibrant teaching of the Scriptures.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in Discipleship

 

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THE THREE STAGES OF DISPENSATIONALISM

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CLASSICAL REVISED PROGRESSIVE
Other Names Essentialist Normative Non-dispensational
Dates 1830-1952 1952-present 1987-present
Scholars Darby, Scofield, Chafer, Ironside McClain, Walvoord, Pentecost, Ryrie Bock, Blaising, Saucy, Ware
Dispensations Seven Four or More Three or More
Schools Dallas Dallas, Talbot, Western, Moody, Grace Dallas, Talbot
Covenants David future; Two new covenants Davidic future; One New Covenant Davidic Present; One New Covenant
Continuity Sharp Discontinuity More Continuity Even greater Continuity
Peoples Two separate programs: Israel-earthly;

Church-heavenly

Converging programs: earthly/heavenly distinctions are minimal One people: the church continues program with Israel until Israel believes
Believers of Daniel’s 70th Week Tribulation saints who are not part of the church Tribulation saints who are not part of the church Tribulation saints who are part of the church
Church Age Parenthesis in God’s program with Israel Parenthesis in God’s program with Israel Not a parenthesis but a progressive outworking of God’s program
Postponement Theory Belief that the kingdom was postponed due to Israels rejection Believed by many but de-emphasized Not taught due to the progressive fulfillment of the kingdom
Kingdom Totally Future Mostly Future (majority) or Total Future (some) Present now, though fullest dimensions are yet Future
Spirit during Tribulation Absent and not indwelling Present but not indwelling Present and indwelling
Sermon on the Mount Millennial Principles Present ethics while anticipating the kingdom Present ethics while anticipating the kingdom

RESOURCES ON CLASSIC/REVISED AND PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM:

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF DISPENSATIONALISM:

Dispensationalism Before Darby by William C. Watson.

Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption: A Developing and Diverse Tradition edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider.

CLASSIC:

The Scofield Reference Bible. Oxford University Press. 1909, 1917, 1937, 1945.

God’s Plan of the Ages: A Comprehensive View of God’s Great Plan from Eternity to Eternity by Louis T. Talbot.

Dispensationalism and Systematic Theology by Lewis Sperry Chafer.

REVISED:

The New Scofield Reference Bible. Oxford University Press, 1967.

Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie, 2007.

Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths by Michael J. Vlach, 2017.

Things to Come by J. Dwight Pentecost, 2010.

PROGRESSIVE:

Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism by Darrell L. Bock and Elliott Johnson, 1999.

Progressive Dispensationalism by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, 2000.

The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism by Robert Saucy, 2010.

Dispensationalism, Israel And The Church by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, 2010.

 

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Jewish Evangelism in the New Millennium in Light of Israel’s Future (Rom. 9-11) By Dr. Walter C. Kaiser Jr

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It is impossible to read and interpret the epistle to the Romans without confronting its central issue—the relation of the Jewish people to God’s plan of salvation and evangelism. Throughout the entire apostolic ministry of Paul, we, in fact, find this “two-step missionary pattern”: [Note #1: This expression is from Mark D. Nanos, The Mystery of Romans: The Jewish Context of Paul’s Letters (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), 239-47]. “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:10 RSV). Paul’s custom, upon arrival in a city where he had not previously preached, was first to enter the synagogue to preach, then to preach to the Gentiles of that city. [Note: #2: Acts 17:1-2, “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”]. This two-step pattern is a distinctive of the apostle’s ministry and message: the Jew first and then to the Gentiles.

Nevertheless, even though all will agree on the correctness of this assessment, it has become commonplace among more recent theologians to regard the Christian church as the new successor and replacement for the Israel of Romans 9-11. Or alternatively, Israel is treated as a parenthetical insertion into, or disruption to the Gentile evangelistic outreach of, the otherwise unified argument of the book of Romans.

Examples of the former mistake can be seen in a fairly large number of places. The second Vatican Council described the Christian church as “the new Israel.” [Note #3: Geoffrey Chapman, The Documents of Vatican II (London: n.p., 1966), 24-26, as cited in D.B. W. Robinson, “The Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” Reformed Theological Review 26 (1967): 81. Robinson also alerted me to several of the surfaces that follow from the church documents.] A similar document titled “Report of the Joint Commission on Church Union of the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches of Australia” also identified the church with “the true Israel.”[Note #4: Joint Commission on Church Union, The Church: Its Nature, Function and Ordering (Melbourne: Joint Board of Christian Education, 1964), 12ff.]. These citations are only a small representation of the reigning thought among many reformed and covenantal theologians today.

But just as troubling is another sentiment among many dispensational and non reformed theologians. This perspective asserts that the doctrine of salvation in the book of Romans can be dealt with apart from the question of the Jewish people. It is thought that Romans 9-11 is merely a parenthetical insertion between Romans 1-8 and Romans 12-16, one that momentarily halts the discussion of the doctrine of salvation in the former passage and its practical implications in the latter. Even though this group correctly believes there is a future for ethnic Israel of the flesh, they do not clearly connect it with the present-day church. It is almost as if the plan of God for salvation changes as the days of the eschaton appear in the windup of the present period of history.

To counter such a belief, both of these positions must come in for some serious modification according to the biblical data. The task of this article, then, is not only to interpret the meaning of Romans 9-11 as faithful to the apostle’s assertions, but also to show that Romans 9-11, with its message about Israel, is integral to the subject matter of the epistle as a whole with its single plan of the salvation of God.

The Ancient Covenant: A Troubling Question

Romans 9-11 is not, as Hendrikus Berkof affirmed, some sort of “eccentric outburst, nor is it particularly difficult, as is suggested by the contradictory explanations.” [Note #5: Hendrikus Berkof, Christ the Meaning of History, trans. Lambertus Buurman, Dutch 4th ed. (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1966), 141.]. Berkhof went on to correctly observe that this text becomes especially difficult only when we wish to make it say something it does not say.

Why, for example, does the apostle say, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom. 9:2 NIV)? So strongly does Paul feel about this matter that he could wish himself personally accursed and cut off from the Messiah if it would have the benefit of bringing his Jewish brethren to the light of the gospel in the Messiah (Rom. 9:3).

Surely, this is a noble and praiseworthy sentiment, but it does not explain why the area of Jewish acceptance of the gospel is so troubling for Paul. Only when we get to Romans 11:1 do we find out what is so troubling to the apostle: “Did God reject his people?” The question poses a potential problem not only about Israel, but a bigger problem not only about Israel, but a bigger problem about God. In short, how can the everlasting plan of God be trusted and believed in for the salvation of all peoples? If God—the same God, who, based on His word and his own life (Gen. 12; 22; Her. 6:18)—once promised to Israel similar outcomes as those found in Romans 9-11, but has now rejected Israel and turned his back on them, what is left of the doctrine of the faithfulness and dependability of God? It is simply impossible for God to lie or go back on what he promises. Therefore, the problem of Israel is the problem of God due to his eternal promise-plan. [Note #6: I have developed the continuity theme of the promise-plan of God between the two testaments in my books Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) and The Christian and the “Old” Testament (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Press, 1999).].

The answer Paul will give to his own question is that the rejection of Israel is not total or complete, but only temporary and partial at that. “It is not as though the word of God had failed; for not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6 NIV). That is, there are many Israelites who are not lost, but are saved. This same divine discriminating policy has been observed from the very beginning. God chose Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau (Rom. 9:7-12). In so doing, Paul argues, God was not unjust. The marvel is that anyone experienced the mercy of God. The better question to ask is why God spared anyone at the time of the golden calf (Rom. 9:14-18). Furthermore, this divine sovereignty does not exempt human responsibility, for while the grace and mercy of God cannot be pursued by works, but only by faith (Rom. 9:31-32), mortals still culpable for their own refusals of this grace of God. But there is more to the answer: in Romans 10 Paul demonstrates that the rejection of so large a number in Israel is not arbitrary or out of character for God. Israel disregarded the righteousness that came from God and substituted instead a homemade righteousness that refused to submit to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3). Most of Israel failed to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9). Thus, there is no way that any Israelite, who rejects God’s way of salvation, can blame anyone other than themselves. Had not the prophet Isaiah cried out on God’s behalf, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations” (Isaiah 65:2) Paul used in Romans 10:21 this very argument from the prophet Isaiah to show that many of the Jewish people must bear responsibility.

The rejection of the majority of Israel, however, is “neither absolute nor unqualified.” [Note #7: Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 142]. Romans 11:1-10 argues that God’s dealings with the Jews and the Gentiles are closely interrelated. What may have seemed to be a divine rejection of the Jewish people was and is not such, for there has always been a remnant selected by grace who did believe and were saved (Rom. 11:5). Thus, the gospel had a twofold effect: some were saved and others were hardened by the same good news. This double effect mirrors that which the plagues of Egypt had on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The plagues were meant to lead the Egyptians to repentance (Exodus 7:17; 9:14, 29 et passim), but it hardened many off them. Some did believe (Ex. 12:38), but most, like Pharaoh, rejected all of God’s evidences.

Israel: An Indefectible Destiny

It is clear that Paul focuses his attention on Israel in these three chapters, but what “Israel” is Paul thinking about? Nowhere else in Paul’s writings has he expounded and used the term Israel so centrally and so insistently. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings, Israel occurs only five times (NIV):

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:18—“Consider the people of Israel,” a passing allusion to the sacrificial order in the older testament;
  2. 2 Corinthians 3:7, 13—“the Israelites,” who were unable to look on Moses’ face when he came down from Mount Sinai;
  3. Ephesians 2:12—“excluded from citizenship in Israel,” refers to Christians who were not part of the state of Israel;
  4. Philippians 3:5—“of the people [stock] of Israel,” describes Paul as being a legitimate Jew;
  5. Galatians 6:16—“Israel of God,” is a passage hotly contested both for and against an identification with Israel.

In Romans 9-11, however, the term Israel or Israelites occurs fourteen times. But this recurrence represents more than focus: Paul speaks from within, and on behalf, of Israel. We shall badly misunderstand Paul if we think that he has renounced his membership within Israel due to his faith in Jesus. The apostle never seceded from his Jewish heritage and his people, for what he taught was consistent with his Jewish faith taught in the Tenakh.

Paul proposes no new definition for Israel: for him there was only one Israel. C.F.D. Moule had thought that the name Israel had lost its original character, with Paul reserving the name Jews for those who are externally, or by both, Jewish, and the term Israel being reserved for those who were part of the people of God, the religious community. [Note #8: C.F.D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1962), 46.]. This cannot be sustained however, in biblical usage. These two terms, Jews and Israel, are never contrasting terms, for when Paul wished to make that distinction, he spoke of those who were Jews “outwardly” versus those who were Jews “inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29).

The real character and definition of Israel is set out in Romans 9:4-5. Their articles of incorporation, as it were, included “the adoption as sons,” “the divine glory,” “the covenants,” “the receiving of the law,” “the temple worship,” “the promises,” “the patriarchs,” and “the human ancestry of Christ [the Messiah]” (NIV). But even more startling, this calling and these gifts were “irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). God himself could not change his purpose and plan toward his people whom he had set as the object of his election (Rom. 11:2).

It is this simple but complex affirmation that makes Romans 9-11 so difficult for those who approach it with a different idea in mind. The Jewish people are forever loved by God because of the promise God had given to the patriarchs (Rom. 11:28). Moreover, the promise of Isaiah 54:17 was true: “Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation” (NIV). This would be fulfilled when “all Israel” would be saved (Rom. 11:26).

Therefore, we must not separate and set asunder an eschatological Israel of the promise from an ethnic-empirical Israel of history. The Israel that Paul refers to in these three chapters is the one that “descended from Jacob/Israel” (Rom. 9:6, 10). What is more, the salvation of the Gentiles is closely related to the salvation of Israel, two arms of the one and same divine purpose and plan of God. That single plan for both is, in fact, the finale to the whole argument of the book of Romans. Paul concludes, “Messiah has become a minister of the circumcision {Jews} for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8-13). Accordingly, the salvation of the Gentiles rests on the promises given to the patriarchs just as much as did the salvation of the Jews. But that same salvation is the one now confirmed in the appearance of the Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus, who is also a minister to the Jewish people with the same message of salvation.

There is the marvel: even though the Gentiles lacked the covenant and the divine promises made with Israel, they can now enter into that same experience though faith without becoming Israelites. They are partners with Israel, but not Israel. As believers, Gentiles are “children of Abraham” (see Gal. 3:29), but that’s not the same thing as saying they are “children of Israel.” [Note #9: This fine point is made by Robinson, “The Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” 89. Robinson notes that this equation is sometimes made by theologians, but Paul never makes it.].

Paul uses the former term, but he refrains from using the latter. Thus, the term of continuity between believers, Jew and Gentiles, is “the people of God.” [Note #10: For further details, see Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Israel as the People of God,” in The People of God: Essays on the Believer’s Church, dedicated to James Leo Garret Jr. (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 99-108.]. God may, and does, call other nations as “his.” Egypt, for example, is called “my people” in that future day of the Lord (Isa. 19:25). He also took out of the Gentiles “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14), but in no case did the writers of Scripture ever thereby consider these new believers as the “new Israel” and to be equated with national Israel.

The One Olive Tree

The imagery of the olive tree [Note #11: The most extensive treatment of the olive tree is found in A.G. Baxter and J.A. Ziesler, “Paul and Arboriculture: Romans 11:17-24, “Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24 (1985); 25-32.] is developed to warn the new Gentile believers that they have not supplanted Israel or that the ancient promises made to the patriarchs have been rescinded. W. D. Davies suggests that Paul may have purposely chosen the olive tree analogy over that of the vine, which is more natural to the Jews. The olive, Davies remarks, is a powerful symbol of Athens and the Greek culture. [Note #12: W.D. Davies, “Paul and the Gentiles: A Suggestion Concerning Romans 11:13-24,” in Jewish and Pauline Studies (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 153-63, esp. 155].

Paul’s primary purpose, though, was to make his sharp contrast between the wild and cultivated olive trees. The wild tree (Gr. agrielaios) was unproductive and bore no useful fruit, thereby making it a perfect analogy for contrast between the Jewish culture as supplied by God and the Hellenistic culture of the Gentiles.

The olive tree analogy focuses on the root and the branches. The other symbols in Romans 11:16, that of the “firstfruits,” the “dough,” and the “whole batch,” serve the same purpose as the root and the branches: the solidarity of the part with the whole. The apostle uses the Semitic concept of solidarity when he argues that the character of the root of a tree, or body, carries over into the whole plant or the branches into two separate entities, for the quality of the source of nourishment inheres in the quality of the resulting branches.

But what is the “root”? Whether the root is Abraham, the blessings and promises given to Abraham, or Messiah himself, as he is the “seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made” (Gal. 3:16ff.), makes little difference here. The same covenantal promise of God is referred to in any event: the promised Messiah who would come though Abraham. It is this root that sustains all the branches, whether they are newly grafted in or part of the original olive tree.

The branches, however, are a different story. The olive tree is rightly regarded as the Israelites’ “own olive tree” (Rom. 11:24). But does the entire tree represent Israel? Yes, insofar as it represents the dependence of Israel on the Abrahamic blessing. “Certain,” or “some” (Gr. tines), of the olive branches, however, have been lopped off (Rom. 11:17). So sensitive is Paul to the unbelief of his people that he uses the word “some,” or a “certain”  number, of branches have been cut off, thereby suggesting a minority, even though he perceives that it is a majority for the present time (cf. Rom. 3:3).

But from what have these natural branches been cut? They have not been severed from their ethnic entities, for they are still Jews regardless of their lack of belief. Moreover, Paul uses the passive verb (Gr. exeklasthesan—Rom. 11:17, 19029) for the breaking off of the branches, indicating that it is the action of God himself. (If it is a middle voice, then the action is one that the branches have brought themselves.) The branches have left the promises that God to Abraham. It is not that these branches have been replaced, but branches from a wild olive have been grafted in—in and among those natural branches that still have their roots in the promise of Abraham. The salvation now enjoyed by the Gentiles is continuous with the root of Abraham. In this way, Gentiles share in what had originally been given to Israel, which “some,” or “certain,” of Israel now reject.

The Gentile believers are designated as a wild olive. It is not their “wildness” that is in view here, however, but that they are not “cultivated,” “cultured.” In and of themselves, the Gentiles will never produce olive oil. (Had Paul used a vine for his analogy, it wouldn’t have worked because the wild grapevine does produce wild grapes.) Therefore, if the Gentiles are going to produce anything, they must be grafted into the people of God who spring from the root of Abraham. The Gentiles do not “support the root, but the root supports [them]” (Rom. 11:18 NIV). Without this root, Gentile Christians cannot live—nor can the church exist, for it would float in midair with no anchorage in the past or present.

Has God grown weary of Israel? Is that why some of the natural branches were lopped off? Paul meets this misconception in Romans ,11:19. On the contrary, the Jews have chosen not to believe and thus were lopped off. The Gentiles have been grafted in not because of a superior virtue on their part; rather, it was solely because of their belief (Rom. 11:19-20). Jews who believe in Messiah do not need to be grafted into an alien root as do the Gentiles, who came from paganism (Rom. 11:23-24). Jews could be re-engrafted into the olive tree all the more easily than the Gentiles were grafted in.

The ultimate acceptance of the Jews into those “in Christ” would be like “life from the dead” (Rom. 11:15 NIV). By this, Paul meant that more than merely untold spiritual blessings would result. The “acceptance” (Rom. 11:15—Gr. prolempsis) would be an act inaugurating the end of all things. The final act of history would rest upon the Jews. When these who were “in Abraham” would also be “in Christ,” untold benefits would result, signaling the coming of the eschaton itself.

The Mystery of Romans 11:25

The “mystery” in Romans 11:25 does not hark back to the olive tree analogy so much as it does to the earlier statements in Romans 11:11-14, with its reference to “provoking to emulation,” i.e., “arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” (Rom. 11:14 NIV). The mystery is not so much that “all Israel will be saved” as it is how all Israel will be saved.

So the mystery is not the fact of Israel’s having “stumbled” (Gr. proskoptein). Note that Paul distinguishes between Greek ptaiein, “to stumble,” and Greek piptein, “to fall.” Israel has stumbled but not fallen. The question is why Israel stumbled and how they will be saved. The mystery, then, is the process that God is employing to bring about Israel’s final redemption.

How, then, does the metaphor of “hardening” of Israel illustrate the mystery of how God is dealing with the nation that has rejected him? Paul has used the concepts of “stumbling,” over the “stone that causes men to stumble” (see Rom. 9:32-33 NIV), and the branches that have “been broken off”(Rom. 11:17)—as well as the concept of “hardening” (Rom. 11:7)—to indicated the status of “the others” from the “remnant” (Rom. 11:7, 5). Mark D. Nanos comments that the word hardening (Gr. porosis) is derived from a medical group of words that refers to the hardening swelling of a bone that has been broken. It was used frequently and so interchangeably with the Greek paposis, meaning “maiming,” or “blinding,” that there was often little or no distinction between the two terms. [Note #13: Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, 261]. This hardening is not final, but is a temporary division of Israel that will set up the final benefits that will come in the end times.

What, then is the “partial hardening,” or “hardening in part” (Gr. app merous—Rom. 11:25) that has come over Israel? Some interpreters argue that only a part of the people were hardened while others argue that all Israel is hardened partially. But Paul is only concerned here with that part of Israel that has stumbled, not with all of Israel stumbling partially. Further, not all Israel has been hardened, even partially. There have always been a remnant and holy branches in the nation of Israel. But it is the hardened part in contrast to the remnant, that is in Paul’s view, who will eventually see and believe along with the newly grafted-in Gentile believers.

When will this hardening that has come over a part of the Jewish people end? Not “until [Gr. achri, a conjunction followed by an untranslated relative pronoun hou, that gives a future, temporal sense] the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25 NASB). Sometime during or after the “fulness of the Gentiles” (KJV) takes place, this hardening of part of Israel will end.

But what di Paul mean by “the fulness of the Gentiles”? The “fulness” (Gr. pleroma) usually takes on a numeric quality of that which brings to completion what had been planned or sought. The RSV translates the term “fulness” in Romans 11:12 as the “full inclusion,” or “full number.” Thus, God has in mind a full number of Israelites just as a full number of Gentiles. When the full number of the Gentiles is reached, it will be Israel’s opportunity to experience their full number. The gathering of Gentiles goes on throughout all history, but there will come a time when this process will be wrapped up. That time is similar to Luke 21:24, where “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (KJV). Upon that happening, Jesus’ comment was, “You know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31 NIV).

The benefits that God has bestowed on the Gentiles are but “the proleptic deposit of what God will bestow upon Israel at the culmination of salvation history.” [Note #14: Bruce W. Longenecker, Eschatology and the Covenant: A Comparison of 4 Ezra and Romans 1-11 (Sheffield, UK: Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 1991), 261]. That is the point of Paul’s jealousy motif: Israel will one day realize that some Gentiles are enjoying what was originally promised to all Israel and thereby be provoked to jealousy to start emulating the faith that the Gentiles are exercising. Accordingly, the Gentiles are presently awaiting their full adoption as sons (Rom. 8:23), an adoption that Israel originally enjoyed (Rom. 9:4). These two adoptions come together, as we have already seen in Romans 15:2, where it is said that Gentiles share in the blessings of the Jews.

All Israel Will Be Saved

All Israel” cannot refer to the church. Instead, the real goal of Paul’s ministry could now be announced: it was the restoration of “all Israel” as God had promised (Rom. 11:26).

The “And so” (KJV Gr. kai hoots) that introduces verse 26 is descriptive of a process that plays off the earlier “until the full number of the gentiles has come in.” As Nanos said, “This balance allows one to avoid  the bifurcation most interpreters find necessary to support their larger reading of Paul’s message here. Paul is telling his reader both how and when God is saving ‘all Israel.’” [Note #15: Nanos, The Mystery of Romans, 274].

Surely this will answer Anthony A. Hoekema’s objection that Romans 11:26 does not say, “And then [implying the Greek word tote or epeita] all Israel will be saved,” but it has (kai) hoots (“thus, so, in this manner”), a word manner, not temporal succession. “In other words, Paul is not saying, ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and then (after this has happened) all Israel will be saved.’ But he is saying, ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.’” [Note #16: Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 144-45].

Hoekema’s objection was dealt with more than a decade before Hoekema’s time when Hendrikus Berkof also connected the “And so” with “until the full number of the gentiles has come in.” But a point that both Hoekema and Berkhof missed was that Romans 11:27 linked this “And so,” with “this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” That has to be a clear reference to the new covenant [Note #17: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “The Old Promise and the New Covenant,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 15 (1972): 11-23.] that Jeremiah announced in 31:31-34 and that is seen in some sixteen other passages that refer to the “eternal covenant,” “my covenant,” or “the new heart and the new spirit.” The contents of that new covenant are not only a replication of the promises made to Abraham and David but an expansion of them into the future.

The late Reformed theologian John Murray commented, after noting that Romans 11:26-27 is a quotation from Isaiah 59:20-21 and Jeremiah 31:34, “There should be no question but Paul regards these passages as applicable to the restoration of Israel.” He went on to say, We cannot dissociate this covenantal assurance from the proposition in support of which the text is adduced or from that which follows in verse 28 [‘on account of the patriarchs’]. Thus the effect is that the future restoration of Israel is certified by nothing less than the certainty beginning to covenantal institution.” [Note #18: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 2:99-100.].

It can be concluded then, that while the “And so” may not be as fully temporal in its reference as some may desire, it is sequential in though and consequential in that it ties the promises of the patriarchal-Davidic-new covenant with the coming of the full number of Israel. Once this interconnectedness is admitted, the three elements—Messiah, the gospel, and the land—come back into play once again.

Hoekema also did not like limiting the “full inclusion” to the end times. But this too came from a refusal to see the past and present remnant of Israel as the foundation and guarantee that God would complete his eschatological and climactic act. Had not the prophets of Israel depicted a remnant returning to the land (e.g., Isa. 10:20-23) and becoming prominent among the nations in the latter day (Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1)? Paul’s phrase of “life from the dead” in Romans 11:15 takes on new force in light of Ezekiel’s figure in 37:12, 14. There, Ezekiel intoned, “O my people. I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel…I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land” (NIV).

But how many of Israel will be saved—“all”? It cannot mean “true” or “spiritual” Israel, as some have alleged, as if the church had supplanted Israel. That was the very point Paul was arguing against.

The notion of the substitution of the church for Israel was a historical development that Richardson says first began with Justin Martyr around A.D. 160. [Note #19: Peter Richardson, Israel in the Apostolic Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 205-6.]. But this conclusion is not based on what Paul is claiming in this passage; it owes more to many having concluded that Israel has been rejected. Surprisingly, however, Paul claims the reverse: Israel has not been rejected. Indeed, the church is built on the shoulders of the ancient promises to Israel and the future restoration of all Israel.

So how many did “all Israel” involve? “All Israel,” argued Dunn, was a common idiom for corporate or collective Israel as a whole. It referred to Israel as a people, even if not every person was necessarily meant. [Note #20: James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1988), 38B:681. See, for example, 1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Chronicles 12:1; Daniel 9:11, etc.]. The apostle has maintained a distinction between the “remnant” and “the others” in Israel. His goal was to “save some of them” (i.e., “the others,” Rom. 11:14 NIV) who were among the hardened. In this way, he sees all Israel being saved.

How will the coming “deliverer,” who comes out of Zion, accomplish this task of restoring Israel and regathering the dispersed of Israel? Contrary to Mark Nanos, the Dekliverer is a christological figure. He alone is able to “turn godlessness away from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26 NIV). If it is asked, “When shall Deliverer do this?” the answer is “When [he] take [s] away their sins” (Rom. 11:27 NIV), as was promised in the covenant promises.

Thus the pendulum of history swung from Israel to the Gentiles, but it will swing back to Israel again. And that is but another way of stating the mystery of this passage. From the standpoint of Messiah, many of the Jewish people are enemies of the gospel, but from the standpoint of God, they are beloved for the sake of the patriarchs (Rom. 11:28).

Conclusion

It is possible that the Gentile Christian church has lost its rootage and connectedness with its past and the single plan of redemption that stretched from eternity to eternity. When many in the church denied a physical Israel as being a part of God’s plan, it lost its missionary and evangelistic strategy for Jews, for it floated in the air without any antecedent history of, or connectivity to, the plan of God delivered in and through Israel.

The key objection to replacement or parenthetical theologies was made by Willis J. Beecher in his 1904 Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary. He warned,

“If the Christian interpreter persists in excluding the ethical Israel from his conception of the fulfillment, or in regarding Israel’s part in the matter as merely preparatory and not eternal, then he [sic] comes into conflict with the plain witness of both testaments…Rightly interpreted, the biblical statements include in their fulfillment both Israel the race, with whom the covenant is eternal, and also the personal Christ and his mission, with the whole spiritual Israel of the redeemed in all ages.” [Note #21: Willis J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 383. See also Walter C. Kaiser Jr. “The Land of Israel and the Future Return (Zechariah 10:6-12),” in Israel: The Land and the People, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998), 168-85.].

Jewish evangelism in the new millennium will need to take a full accounting of this marvelous book of Romans. God’s plan of salvation cannot be announced without taking the promise of God given to Israel and her history into its purview. The two-step program of Paul appears to be more than a matter of personal strategy: it is a program to go to the Jew first and also to the Gentiles, and has a divine rationale behind it. It would be wise for the church to once again take another look at how she is carrying out the work of the kingdom and how she is regarding the nation of Israel. Otherwise we will have small victories here and there, but we will miss the full favor of our Lord, who calls us to a much higher biblical standard of performance for the sake of his excellent name and his Jewish people.

Adapted from Chapter Two in To The Jew First: The Case For Jewish Evangelism In Sacrifice and History. Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel, 2008.

 

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Is Replacement Theology Heretical?

THE HERESY OF REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY BY DR. DAVID HOCKING

REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY

DISPENSATIONALISM

(1) The Nation of Israel was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. (1) The Nation of ISRAEL will NEVER cease to exist (Jeremiah 31:35-37, Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” 
(2) God has forsaken Israel because of their sin & diso-bedience (Deut.29:19-20,23-28; 31:16-17). (2) God has NEVER permanently forsaken ISRAEL (Psalm 89:30-37). I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah (34-37).
(3) Israel forfeited their right to the Land by their sin and diso-bedience (Lev. 26:40-43). (3) The promise of a LAND is based on an EVERLASTING COVENANT Leviticus 26:44, “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God”. And Psalm 105:8-11, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.” 
(4) Because of Israel’s sin & diso-bedience they are no longer recipients of God’s pro-mises. (4) God’s promises to ISRAEL are not based on their performance or merit. Isaiah 46:9-11, “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
(5) Israel was rejected because the Jewish people crucified Jesus (Acts 2:22-23, 36; 5:30; 7:52-53). (5) The Jewish people did NOT crucify Yeshua. Matthew 20:18-19, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” The Jews killed by stoning to death – not by crucifixion – that was invented and performed by the Romans (Gentiles).
(6) The Church is the new “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). (6) The “ISRAEL of God” refers to Jewish Messianic believers. Galatians 6:15-16, ”For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” There are two groups of believers referred to here – notice the conjunction “and”
(7) When a Jew accepts as his Savior, he is no longer “Jewish” (Gal. 3:28). (7) When a Jewish person becomes a believer in Yeshua, that person does NOT cease to be Jewish. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
(8) God has “blinded” the Jewish people (Is. 6:10; Rom. 11:25). (8) The partial “blindness” of ISRAEL does NOT eliminate their future salvation. Romans 11:25-29, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
(9) The Church is true Israel in the OT (Acts 7:38). (9) There is no “CHURCH” in the Old Testament. (ecclesia = qahal – “a gathering” – not the church).
(10) Jewish worship is no longer needed (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 11:20-26) (10) Jewish worship is NOT condemned in the New Testament. Romans 14. Romans 14 is all about being gracious with believers with different preferences of how they honor the Lord in worship and life. It does not nullify Jewish worship whatsoever.
(11) The Judgments of the Book of Revelation happened in 70 A.D. (11) The judgments and events in the Book of Revelation were NOT fulfilled in 70 A.D. Revelation 6:12-17, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”  The Book of Revelation was most likely written in 95 AD – 25 years AFTER the destruction of Jerusalem.
(12) The return of the Jewish people came before 70 AD (Ezekiel 36:8-11). (12) The return of the Jewish people did NOT happen in 70 AD. Ezekiel 36:24, “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.” And Amos 9:14-15, “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. Immigration records show that there 193 nations (newest being South Sudan) and that Israel has people from 185 nations right now!
(13) The Conversion of the Jewish people happened in the first century AD (Acts 2:41; 4:32-33). (13) The conversion of Israel at the end of the Tribulation did NOT happen in 70 AD. John 1:11, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” AND Acts 13:45-46, “But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” The Conversion of the Nation of Israel will take place at the end of the future Tribulation Period. Ezekiel 39:29, “And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”  And Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
(14) The Second Coming of Christ in terms of judgment happened in 70 AD (Matthew 16:27-28). (14) The phrase “some standing here” in Matthew 16:28 (“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”)  is referring to Peter, James, and John. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.“ And 2 Peter 1:16-18, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
(15) The words “this generation” refer to those who saw the Roman invasion and destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:34-35). (15) The words “this generation shall not pass” in Matthew 24:34 are referring to the Nation of Israel – Jeremiah 31:35-37. The word “generation” is referring to a race of people – Israel. Matthew 23:34-37, “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
 

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My 10 Favorite R.C. Sproul Books by David P. Craig

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Since R.C. Sproul’s promotion into the presence of Christ’s glory on December 14, 2017 I have had mixed emotions. No single person has had a greater influence on my understanding of the Triune Nature of God, the Gospel, the Bible, Reformed Theology, Philosophy, Apologetics, teaching, and preaching than R.C. Sproul. There have been a lot of great tributes to R.C. in recent days, but I have been out of sorts since his passing. I have sorrowed as if I lost a blood brother and comrade in the ministry. He was the mentor who has most influenced me by far – especially intellectually – helping me to love the Lord my God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength. The way I am going to pay tribute to R.C. is by writing about the books he wrote that influenced me the most. I have read over 60 of his books.

At one time I could keep up with his writing and let him know at a book signing table at a Ligonier Conference (early 90’s) that I had read all his books and he said to me, “I bet you haven’t read Soli Deo Gloria: Essays in Reformed Theology: Fetschrift for John Gerstner; a book I edited for my Mentor in 1976.” He was right, I hadn’t read this book. I’ve since read his chapter in that book entitled “Double-Predestination.” But I was never able to keep up with his writing while he was alive. Since his death I have been re-reading some of his books, articles, watching videos, and listening to his audio recordings. I am so grateful that Ligonier Ministries has such a plethora of his resources available so that maybe before I die I can catch up on all the great writing, teaching, and preaching of this amazing Theologian and friend in Christ.

I never thought I would be so sad at someone’s death that I only met a few times “live”. I attended four Ligonier Conferences and was able to say hello to him each time and thank him for his ministry in Fullerton, and Pasadena in CA; and Orlando twice. I also got to spend some time in a smaller group setting with him at WTS in Escondido while working on my D.Min. there. Dr. Sproul was always humble, gracious, and kind. He treated me with dignity and respect and modeled what he taught. As others have made great tributes to him, I’d like to give my “two-cents” with the hope that maybe I can influence others to read, or listen to him. I can honestly say that I love R.C. and can’t wait to see him on the other side. I am grateful beyond words for what he has meant and will continue to mean to me and has tremendously deepened my relationship with Jesus.

I will write a little blurb on each of the 10 books he wrote that have impacted me the most:

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(1) Apart from the Bible itself – no other book has made a greater impact on me than The Holiness of God. At the time (summer of 1986) I had never heard of R.C. Sproul. I was a second year student my sophomore year at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. I was working at a church near my home as an intern that summer working with college students. On my day off I went first thing in the morning to read a book at my favorite spot in a cove in Corona Del Mar near my home in Huntington Beach. On the way to the beach I stopped by the bookstore (Pilgrim’s Progress Bookstore – long since out of business, unfortunately) and R.C.”s book caught my eye. I was fascinated by the topic and decided that I would read it at the beach.

I don’t know how long it took me to read the book, but by sunset I was reading the last words at the beach and found myself literally on my knees weeping over my sin in repentance before this Holy God of which Sproul knew so well. I realized that though I had been a follower of Christ from the age of six; I was in practice full of unconfessed sin; a great idolater; and desperately needed to elevate my view of God and His character and attributes.

Since 1986 I’ve probably read this book a dozen times. It’s my go to book when I need to re-charge my spiritual batteries. It’s also set the tone for my personal life; relational life, ministry, teaching, and preaching. Reading this book helped me strive to place God at the center of all of life and seek to live “Coram Deo” – before the face of God and for His glory.
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(2) A close second to R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God in impact is his classic Chosen By God. Like many young college or seminary students I wrestled with the concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, free will, faith, election, and how all these work together. I was definitely (though I’d never heard the term before) a Semi-Pelagian or Arminian before reading this book. R.C. brilliantly and cogently helped me see that I was dead in my sin and that I needed nothing short of the miracle of God’s electing grace to save me from a destiny banished from Him – had He not sovereignly  graciously and mercifully intervened. I’ve given at least 100 copies of this book away over the years and it’s my go to book to recommend to anyone who wrestles with how God saves His chosen ones. If anyone wants to understand the biblical doctrine of predestination – this book is an outstanding introduction.

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(3) Shortly after reading Chosen by God while in Bible college I read a book called the Psychology of Atheism by R.C. Sproul which I found in the school library. The book has been re-published under the title: If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists? This book peaked my curiosity because at the time I had an ongoing ministry with philosophy students at a college department across town called Reed College. There was a period of time where I would drive over to Reed College once a week and wait outside the Philosophy Department to talk with Philosophy students (most of whom adhered to Atheism or Agnosticism). R.C. Sproul’s book is essentially a practical exposition of Romans 1. It makes a great case for the fact that people are atheists not because of the evidence of atheism, but because they want to live in sin. I found this to be the case then; and I still find this to be the case. In our secular culture I consider this book “must” reading for believers who take evangelism and apologetics seriously. It gives one a deep understanding of the psychological makeup of those who are in rebellion against God.

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(4) Another book that has helped me tremendously in the area of apologetics and evangelism is Reason to Believe. I read this book when it was titled Objections Answered when I was doing a lot of evangelism with professing Agnostics and Atheists in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I still think this is the best book available to give to lay-people to help them answer the 10 biggest objections to the Christian faith. R.C. is famous for making the complex simple via his use of language, illustrations, and biblical theology and exegesis. I have used his arguments in this book hundreds of times over the years in evangelism, teaching, and apologetics.

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(5) Pleasing God. I can’t remember the first time I read Pleasing God, but it’s a book I’ve read and used in counseling, teaching, and preaching many times over the years as a great introduction to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. In this book Sproul tackles the greatest enemies in the battle of our seeking to please Christ: the battle with the flesh; the world; and Satan. Laced throughout this book is the reality of God’s grace and practical ways to please God. I still think this is the best introduction available on the biblical doctrine of sanctification.

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(6) I have read this book on the Attributes of God as it has transformed into three different titles over the years: One Holy Passion; Discovering the God Who Is; and most recently Enjoying God. There simply is no better introduction on the character, nature, and attributes of God than this book. R.C. does a wonderful job of explaining the major concepts of how God is different than us and worthy of our worship and passion.

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(7) The best introduction to how to read and study the Bible is still Knowing Scripture. In this short book R.C. gives a plethora of helpful information for anyone who wants to know how to read, interpret, and apply the Scriptures.

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(8) One of the most comforting and practical doctrines for Christians to understand is the providence of God. R.C. has helped thousands of believers around the world be comforted through his teaching on the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign working to bring about His ends for our good and God’s glory in all things in his classic The Invisible Hand of God.

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(9) The least understood Person of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit. In The Mystery of the Holy Spirit R.C. handles the biblical portrayal of the Holy Spirit with great clarity and makes the complex and controversial issues related to the Spirit understandable and practical. I know of no other better introduction to the Holy Spirit than this great work by Dr. Sproul.

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(10) In 2012 I had a brutal bout with cancer. I read several books while undergoing treatment and wrestling with pain, unemployment, and even death. I have read a lot of books on suffering over the years, but this is still my first choice to give caregivers, people in pain, and those helping people understand the biblical purposes and practical ramifications of suffering.

I feel sort of bad because I’ve left out a lot of great books by Dr. Sproul. Even though many books of R.C. are introductory in nature. They are all deep, profound, cogent, and full of helpful theological truth that are practical, weighty, and lead one to becoming more and more like Jesus each day. It seems that almost every book R.C. Sproul wrote was well written, thorough, and yet he never said too much. I have given away more of his books as gifts than any other author by far. I’ve also recommend his books more than any other author. He was so omnicompetent it’s just hard for any modern writer or theologian to match him on just about any subject. I will continue to read Sproul’s books, listen to his teaching, and watch his videos. He had a unique style, was always interesting, and always taught me something new about the glory and grandeur of God. I can’t wait to see him in heaven and listen to him chatting it up with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and the many he influenced along the way – like me.

 

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