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David Mathis on “What Does the Bible Say About Baptism? Six Texts We Cannot Ignore”

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Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, said, “There is on earth no greater comfort than baptism.” Luther was famous for fighting against sin and Satan by preaching to himself, “I am baptized! I am baptized!”

Luther was not claiming to be saved simply because he was baptized. Rather, he rightly perceived the wonder and glory of baptism. He saw the visible, external act of baptism as an objective reminder of the invisible, internal reality of new birth and the faith through which we are saved on the basis of Christ alone. Luther was, after all, the great champion of justification by faith — as well as one captivated by the power and grace of baptism.

Yet, as a baptist, I can’t help but observe that something was missing in Luther’s reminder to himself about his baptism. Luther was what we call a paedobaptist (or infant-baptist). He himself was baptized as an infant, not in response to a profession of his own faith, but because of the faith of his parents — the faith they prayed would be manifest someday in their newborn son. Luther himself supported and practiced infant-baptism not only of adult converts, but also of the infants of Christian parents.

How much more powerful would recalling his baptism be if he could actually recall it? What if his baptism would have been an expression of saving faith already plainly present in his soul, rather than just a hope and prayer of his parents?

Repent, Believe, Be Baptized

Luther is not alone in leaving something to be desired in his vision of baptism. God has embedded his sacraments with more than meets the eye. For all of us, the “visible words” of the ordinances teem with depths of wonder and power into which we grow and mature. Christians of all stripes can anticipate shades and textures of meaning in Christian baptism we have yet to realize.

Before I lay out six of the most important New Testament texts to consider, let me acknowledge at the outset that godly evangelical pastors, scholars, churches, and seminaries stand on both sides of this question. The issues are many, and the arguments often complex, and I have great respect for many dear infant-baptist brothers and sisters.

Nevertheless, we credobaptists (or believer-baptists) — who baptize, typically by immersion, only those who give a credible profession of faith — have a deeper case than only what’s on the surface of the biblical text. For instance, as you often hear from believer-baptists, if you go looking in the New Testament for an example of an infant being baptized, you won’t find one. We don’t overlook the obvious, but we do go further and deeper.

(1) Mark 1:5 

All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to [John] and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Without exception in the New Testament, baptism is tied to repentance and faith in the baptizee. John’s baptism, the precursor to Christian baptism, was explicitly, repeatedly, and irreducibly tied to repentance. “They were baptized by [John] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins (Matthew 3:6). John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance(Matthew 3:11). In the Gospels and Acts, John’s baptism is summarized as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; also Acts 13:24; 19:4). 

Then, in telling the story of the early church, Acts repeatedly ties Christian baptism to repentance and faith:

  • Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
  • “Those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).
  • “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip” (Acts 8:12–13).

(2) Acts 18:8 

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

Infant-baptists often point to the “household baptisms” mentioned in Acts 16:33, 18:8, and 1 Corinthians 1:16 and argue that any infants in these households would have been baptized. However, as John Piper writes,

Nowhere in Scripture is there any instance of an infant’s being baptized. The “household baptisms” (mentioned in Acts 16:15, 33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16) are exceptions to this only if one assumes that the household included infants. But, in fact, Luke steers us away from this assumption, for example in the case of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:32), by saying that Paul first “spoke the word of the Lord . . . to all who were in [the jailer’s] house,” and then baptized them. (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry,  156–157)

In Acts 18:8, Luke clarifies immediately, in the ensuing sentence, that simply being in the newly Christian household was not enough for baptism. Belief in Jesus was prerequisite: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

The believer-baptist argument goes deeper than such instances in the Gospels and Acts, but we often begin here. And not just in the early-church narratives, which can be thorny in terms of prescription, but also in the Epistles. Four anchor texts in the apostolic letters bind baptism and faith with a clarity and simplicity that is unmatched in the infant-baptist argument.

(3) Galatians 3:26–27 

In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Paul assumes that those who have been baptized and those who have saving faith are the same group (with no sanctioned outliers). Faith and baptism belong together in the church’s practice and in the individual Christian’s experience. Those who evidence saving faith should be baptized. And those who have been baptized have given expression to saving faith.

No allowance or provision is made here, or elsewhere, for some who would have been baptized apart from a profession of faith, in anticipation of faith to come.

(4) Colossians 2:11–12

In [Christ] you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

The mention of circumcision is important because one of the main arguments for infant-baptists is that as circumcision was administered to every male born into God’s first-covenant people, so baptism should be applied to every child (male and female) born into believing families of God’s new-covenant people, the church. However, this is not what Colossians 2, or any other New Testament text, says about circumcision.

Here “the circumcision of Christ” refers to his being cut off, at the cross, for our sins, and the “circumcision made without hands,” which Paul applies to every believer, is spiritual circumcision, that is, new birth (as commentator Doug Moo notes, “the connections . . . are between spiritual circumcision and baptism,” Colossians, 269, n18).

Of these new-covenant people who are born again, circumcised in heart, Paul expects the new-covenant inaugural rite of water baptism to have been applied. As we’ll explore more below, the new-covenant recipients of baptism, as the counterpart to old-covenant circumcision, are those who have new birth (not mere natural birth), a spiritual circumcision which does not happen apart from faith. Colossians 2:11–12, like Galatians 3:26–27, presumes active and professed faith in all baptized, not just their parents.

(5) Romans 6:3–4 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

As in Colossians 2, the baptized are those who have been buried into Jesus’s death and raised to new life in him. Not only does the image suggest immersion, rather than sprinkling or pouring, but more importantly, “newness of life” testifies to new birth and its effects, not mere first birth.

An “old self,” into which we were born (Ephesians 2:1–3), has been crucified (Romans 6:6) or put off (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9). And Paul says such is true of “all of us,” all the baptized. We all now “walk in newness of life,” not in the oldness of our first birth. The infant-baptist argument that presumes faith in the newborn does not do justice to the litany of New Testament texts about conversion, putting off an old man, and walking in newness of life.

(6) 1 Peter 3:21

Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This text is often avoided, by believer-baptists and infant-baptists alike, because it raises the question about what it meant by “baptism . . . now saves you.” However, if we understand the verse aright, we both clear up that confusion and see further confirmation that baptism is nothing less than an objective expression of subjective repentance and faith (new birth) already present (not simply hoped for) in the baptizee.

Peter anticipates we will be surprised to hear “baptism . . . saves you,” so he immediately explains. He does not mean that the external act of baptism, “as a removal of dirt from the body,” has salvific power on its own. Rather, the instrument connecting the believer to Christ for salvation is the invisible condition of the heart (faith) that is being externally expressed in baptism.

Baptism demonstrates objectively and externally the subjective and internal “appeal to God for a good conscience.” Baptism saves not as an outward act but through the inward faith it expresses. Peter’s statement hangs together on baptism expressing a saving, spiritually newborn condition of heart in the believer.

Plausible or Biblical?

Beyond the instances in the narratives, and the didactic words of the apostles tying baptism to faith, we also make our argument on theological and covenantal grounds. I’ll leave that for the next article, but there is something fitting about not moving on to those arguments too quickly. Essential to the credobaptist position is doing justice to the demonstrable teaching of the New Testament.

The best infant-baptist voices typically provide admirably plausible, reasonable, and consistent arguments. The key issue for us as Christians, however, should not be whether the argument is plausible and consistent, but whether it is taught by the actual text of Scripture.

While we must move on, in due course, to the more theological and covenantal arguments, we dare not pass too quickly over the plain, stubborn, obvious readings of the New Testaments texts. Whatever your tradition, a good argument for the nature and application of Christian baptism cannot ignore or minimize what the Bible actually says, including these six important texts.

*David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines. This article was adapted from David Mathis’ article entitled What Does the Bible Say About Baptism? Six Texts We Cannot Ignore, desiringgod.org (May 27, 2019).  

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Book Review on R.C. Sproul Jr.’s – Growing Up With R.C. – Truths I Learned About Grace, Redemption, and The Holiness of God

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Reviewed By David P. Craig

I have to admit that I read this book with great reluctance. I was hoping it would not be another Franky Schaeffer angrily vomiting on his famous parents type of book. I was pleasantly surprised to read a book that endeared me even more to R.C. Sproul Sr., and made me appreciate the honesty and respect of R.C. Jr., for his wise and loving Heavenly and Earthly Father’s.

I am grateful that R.C. Jr. has written this book for three reasons: (1) It made me understand more of where he is coming from – I especially appreciated his transparency and humility in admitting his own struggles with the flesh; (2) I appreciated his insights and gleanings of grace and wisdom from his dad and mom over his lifetime; (3) I am grateful for his Christ-centered focus and glorying in the grace of God in the Gospel.

I just want to say “thank you” to R.C. Jr. for sharing your father with us. Thank you for owning up to your own struggles and modeling repentance and faith in Jesus alone. Thank you, Lisa (R.C. Jr.s, wife) for praying for and unconditionally loving your husband. And thank You R.C. Sr. and Vesta for your passion for Jesus and for the grace and mercy you have given your children. 

I heartily commend this book as a respectful tribute to R.C. Sr., and an even greater tribute to our Gracious and Merciful Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ.

 

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*5 BIBLICAL TRUTHS ON BAPTISM

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Article Written By David Schrock

Too often baptism is seen as waters that divide. In the New Testament, however, baptism publicly identifies Christians with their Lord and one another. Especially in Paul, baptism is appealed to as a means of unity in the church. Those who have died and risen again with Christ are known by their common baptism (Romans 6:3–6). As Paul says in Galatians 3:25–29, all those who are “one in Christ Jesus” have been “baptized into Christ.” Baptism, therefore, is a means of identifying those who are one in Christ.

This unifying purpose of baptism explains why Paul is emphatic about baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter one. Instead of unifying the church in Corinth, it was dividing it. In response to the news that the church was fractured by personality cults (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ,” v. 12), Paul reminds the Corinthians of their unity in the gospel (see 1:17–2:16). He reproves them for the way baptism was playing a part in dividing them, and in the process Paul presents five truths about baptism.

1. Baptism Identifies Us With Christ

The Corinthians had made the mistake of identifying their baptism with the person who baptized them. Or at least, that’s what Paul’s rhetorical question overturns in verse 13: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Absolutely not!

Baptism doesn’t connect us to the individual who immerses us; it identifies us with the king represented by that individual. Even if that person later disqualifies themselves from ministry or leaves the faith, the baptism remains valid. Baptism symbolizes Christ’s work of grace; it doesn’t confer grace in itself.

As Jesus taught in Matthew 28:19 (“make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), baptism identifies us with Christ, as it is administered by his church. In this way, baptism is the way Jesus gave his disciples to publicly identify with him. He could have said build an ark or move to Israel, or stop cutting your hair. In the Old Testament he commanded some of his people to do these things. However, in the New Testament, baptism is the initiatory rite of every follower of Christ.

Baptism is what marks out Christians and divides them from the world. It symbolizes our spiritual unity in Christ and brings visible unity to Christ’s church. Therefore, if you want to publicly identify with Jesus, water baptism is the way.

2. Baptism Doesn’t Save; It Announces Salvation

First Corinthians 1:14 is a fascinating verse because of the way it downplays baptism. Paul says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you . . .” And to paraphrase, “Oh well, except for a few like Crispus and Gaius. And, oh yes, the household of Stephanas too. I don’t remember anyone else” (vv. 14–16).

These verses disclose the humanity of Paul’s letter, and strangely his Godward praise for few baptisms reveals something about baptism. Most immediately, it reveals that baptism was a concern for Paul in Corinth—why else the emphasis on baptism right after introducing the problem of divisions? Clearly, Paul’s gladness for baptizing only a few people relates to the factions in the church (v. 12).

More theologically, Paul’s words reveal that baptism is not salvific—i.e., baptism does not grant or guarantee salvation; it announces salvation. If baptism effected salvation (as in the erroneous doctrine of “baptismal regeneration”) he would not be able to say: “I’m glad I baptized only a few.” He can only say this if baptism symbolizes the real thing.

Therefore, we conclude from this verse (and the rest of the New Testament), baptism doesn’t confer or complete salvation; it announces the antecedent, already-present gift of salvation. In fact, baptism makes two announcements, one by the individual and one by the church.

3. Baptism Is An Individual Announcement

Most familiar to us in baptism is the reality that baptism gives the individual an opportunity to pledge themselves to Jesus. In Acts, when individuals repented and believed, they “publicized” their newfound faith by baptism. The same is true today. When I was 17 and just beginning to learn how to walk with God, I was asked if I wanted to be baptized. I absolutely did. Somewhere during that year, God opened my eyes to see my need for Jesus and filled my heart with faith.

I spent weeks preparing to give my testimony, so that before entering the water I would verbalize my trust in Jesus. At my baptism I shared my testimony and my faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. The visible act of baptism was personalized by the verbal announcement I made just before.

In every baptism, the individual makes a public confession of their sin and their need for a savior. For this reason, it is vital he or she knows how baptism symbolizes the gospel they believe—i.e., death and resurrection with Jesus (Rom 6:3–6). At the same time, churches must help individuals know what they are announcing in baptism. Ideally, this includes the person sharing their testimony of conversion (through writing, video, or speaking).

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul identifies two names and one household baptized by him. These individuals testify to God’s work of grace in Corinth and each of them publicly announced their break from Corinth and their allegiance to Christ in their baptism. In this way, they reiterate the point: baptism is an individual announcement. But that’s not all.

4. Baptism Is Also A Church Announcement.

In 1 Corinthians 1 we find two ways baptism is the church’s announcement. First, consider the time Paul spent in Corinth compared to the number of people he baptized. How could Paul spend 18 months in Corinth and only baptize a few people? The best answer is that he instructed others to baptize. In other words, he entrusted the work of baptism to the church that he planted in Corinth.

When Paul came to Corinth, no church existed. Typically the church, as an embassy of the kingdom, baptizes the new citizen of the kingdom. Because baptism and church discipline are the means by which the church exercises the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:18–20; 18:15–20), the church is the spiritual institution authorized to baptize.

However, when a church does not exist, as in Corinth, it must be the apostle or missionary who baptizes. This is what Paul did in Corinth (see Acts 18). But as soon as he baptized a few, he apparently handed over the baptismal duties to someone else.

This leads to a second observation. In verse 17 Paul declares, “For Christ did not send me to baptize.” What an odd statement. How can Paul say Christ did not call him to baptize? What about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19)? Was Paul only called to make converts, not disciples? He did in fact baptize some; so what is Paul saying?

I don’t believe Paul is confused or negligent in his calling. Rather, he understands his calling as distinct from the work of the local church (where baptism is “housed”). He was not a local pastor. He was an apostle (1 Corinthians 1:1), an evangelist, a missionary. If you follow Paul through Acts, he went around preaching the gospel and planting churches. Even when he stayed from longer periods (18 months in Corinth; 3 years in Ephesus), he was not a local elder per se.

It’s for this reason that Paul distinguishes his mission as a call to preach the gospel and not to baptize. In planting churches, it makes sense he would baptize some, but as a roaming apostle his life-calling was not to baptize many in a local church.

Broadening Paul’s personal conviction to a wider principle, his statement reiterates the point Jesus made about the keys of the kingdom. They are not given to any individual but the church in its local assembly. It is the local church that baptizes believers—unless, of course, no church exists. In which case, someone like Paul in Corinth or Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) baptizes a new convert in hopes that he (or she, in the case of Lydia) will be part of a new church.

The abiding principle is this: the church has the responsibility in baptism to testify to a person’s faith. The church does not have the power to confer or complete salvation. However, it does have the delegated authority to baptize believers in Christ based on their visible faith, which leads to a final consideration: the relationship between belief and baptism.

5. Baptism Follows Belief

Believer’s baptism, defined as baptism following belief, is the pattern in Corinth. Acts 18:8 says, “And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” This comports with the regular pattern in Acts: the gospel is preached, people believe, and they are baptized.

Throughout the New Testament, baptism comes after belief. Even when households were baptized, as with Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16), the baptism came to the believers of the household.

Acts 16 bears this out. When Paul was in Philippi, the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responds: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). In short, it is not baptism that saves, it is faith in Jesus Christ. However, because baptism is the means by which individuals make their faith public, and the way churches affirm their profession, Luke continues the baptismal story of the jailer:

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (vv. 32–34)

Notice the stress on the preaching of the Word (v. 32) and the joy of receiving that Word in faith (v. 34). Significantly, it wasn’t just the jailer who rejoiced in faith; it was the whole household. There is no mention of infants here; no mention of sprinkling. Sprinkling cannot be “baptism” because the word baptizō means “to immerse.” The pattern repeats: baptism follows belief.

Historical records show the origin of infant “baptism” did not occur until the practice of “emergency baptisms” began in the third century.[1] In the New Testament, the regular pattern is for baptism to follow belief. To a church divided by the practice of baptism, Paul emphasized their belief in the gospel. In fact, Paul’s words about divisions exacerbated by baptism (vv. 13–16) are followed by his corrective: a renewed vision and focus on the cross of Christ (vv. 17–25).

In truth, baptism is given to affirm the faith of those who believe the gospel. In Corinth, they had lost sight of Christ’s cross (1:18–25), the Father’s calling (1:26 – 31), and the Spirit’s illumination (2:6–16). Indeed, baptisms that should have been pointing to the gospel of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had become an object in and of themselves. And for that reason, Paul called the church to look through the symbol to the substance, to see the one God in whose triune name they were baptized. Indeed, this is the unifying purpose of baptism—to conjoin through the same covenant sign believers in Christ to enjoy the same fellowship with God by the same Holy Spirit.

A FINAL WORD

Today, baptism is both overemphasized and underemphasized. Some make baptism necessary (and sufficient) for salvation. Others, in response to this overemphasis, make light of baptism. Likewise, some put no barrier around baptism, letting anyone who wants to dive in. Still others, who want to only baptize true converts, make it overly hard to be baptized. To be balanced, faithful pastors and churches should aim to affirm evident faith as soon as possible.

For some, like the Philippians jailer, it will not take long to observe their faith or to join that brother or sister in affirming his or her faith with baptism. For others, for children or those who are still hazy about the gospel, the decision to baptize may take longer. In principle, though, the five truths outlined above will be helpful to remind us of the importance of baptism. While not essential for salvation, it is essential for the health and witness of the church. Moreover, churches who take baptism seriously serve individuals well by stressing the seriousness of baptism and the joy it is to be baptized.

*Adapted from the article: “Waters That Unite: Five Truths About Water Baptism” by David Schrock. David is the pastor for preaching and theology at Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. This article was adapted from 9marks.org 

[1] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 857: “The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. There was a slow extension of the practice of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about his propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries.” See also Steven A. McKinion, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings,” in Believer’s Baptism: A Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright; Nashville: B & H Academic, 2006), 163–88.

For Further Reading/Study on Baptism:

Jamieson, Bobby. Understanding Baptism.

Jamieson, Bobby. Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required For Church Membership.

Pratt, Jr. Richard, editor. Understanding Four Views on Baptism.

Wright, Shawn D. Believer’s Baptism.

Wright, Shawn D. & Ferguson, Sinclair (editors). Baptism: Three Views.

 

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Book Review on Bryan A. Follis’ “Truth and Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer.”

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Evangelistic Help for the 21st Century

Book Reviewed by David P. Craig

One wouldn’t think that a person who ministered and died in the mid to late 20th century would be one of the most helpful models for apologetics and evangelism in the 21st century, but in this book Follis makes a compelling case for Francis Schaeffer being an excellent model for us in these key areas of living out the Christian life.

Though Francis Schaeffer has been both lauded and attacked as a Theologian, Philosopher, and Apologist. He never claimed to be a proponent of any of these monikers. Schaeffer did not consider himself an academic or even an intellectual. When Schaeffer was frequently asked what he was he would say repeatedly (according to James Sire and others who knew him well) that he was not in “academic apologetics but his interest was in evangelism.”

When you read the works of Schaeffer, in particular what he classified as his Trilogy:  The God Who Is There; Escape From Reason; and He Us There, And He Is Not Silent” you would think he is actually an outstanding Theologian, Philosopher, and Apologist. However, all of Schaeffer’s writing (beginning at the age of 56) was really from his ministry of listening to, teaching, and counseling of a wide variety of humanity (from disillusioned Viet Nam veterans to hippies, from blue collar workers to white collar intellectuals. Schaeffer was primarily interested in the Lordship of Christ and that he would make a compelling case with others of how a relationship with Jesus was the center of everything.

The center of anyone’s life – if it is not filled with Christ – is ultimately a meaningless or empty center. Therefore, in this book Bryan Follis demonstrates how the writing, speaking, ministry, and lifestyle of Francis and Edith Schaeffer was so impactful because it was full of genuine love for humanity (as made in God’s image – and thus extremely valuable) and wrapped in objective truth in propositions and principles that emanated from the Bible.

In the final analysis what the Schaeffer’s modeled was a ministry that was balanced powerfully with a leaning into the supernatural reality of the Holy Spirit that resulted in genuine love and compelling truth. Christians that emphasize either truth without love, or love without truth will have a hard time in apologetics or evangelism. The Schaeffer’s are a wonderful model for all Christians for all time. They showed tangibly how to love God with all ones mind, heart, soul, and strength and in the process loved many “neighbors” as themselves into the Kingdom of God.

Follis has provided an excellent overview and guide into lessons that we may glean so that we too may be effective evangelists for Christ in the 21st century and beyond.

 

Book Review on Francis Schaeffer’s “True Spirituality”

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Spirituality for The Real World

Reviewed By David P. Craig

In the introduction to this book on sanctification (how to live the Christian life) Francis Schaeffer says that it should have been his first book. In most of his books he is primarily concerned with engaging the mind, but this is a book that is primarily concerned with engaging the heart. He didn’t write this book until 1971, but wrestled with its contents mainly in 1953 and 1954 while on furlough from his ministry in Switzerland. Much of the material in this book came from Schaeffer’s wrestling with the reality of Christianity. He was wrestling with whether or not Christianity was true, and whether or not this truth in application really worked in the real world.

Here’s what Schaeffer discovered as God brought him out of his crises of faith:

(1) He found a solid foundation for how own faith and life. He became convinced again that the Bible answers the most basic questions that all humans can ask. This gave him delight in the biblical message as the source of the only true explanation of our existence.

(2) He developed a confidence in the Scriptures as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God. This confidence in the Scriptures would in God’s providence, be of enormous help to him in the work the Lord was preparing for him to accomplish.

(3) In the same way, he was being prepared to deal with the great barrage of questions, doubts, and hurts that would come at him from Christians who were struggling with their faith, for in the years to come many of these people would come to his home at L’Abri for answers.

(4) Prayer became more real to him and the supernatural realities of God’s working in his life and the lives of those he ministered to became paramount to the success of L’Abri. He would often say, “How many churches and ministries would not even notice and would carry on in exactly the same manner as usual, even though every reference to dependence on the Holy Spirit and to prayer were suddenly to disappear from the pages of the New Testament!”

5) He discovered that the central, unfolding theme of God’s revelation is the love shown by God to us, and the trusting and dependent love that we are called to show Him in return.

Early in the book Schaeffer distinguishes the difference of  justification by faith (the beginning of the Christian’s life) and sanctification by faith (the rest of the Christian’s life). He says, “The important thing after being born spiritually is to live. There is new birth, and then there is the Christian life to be lived. This is the area of sanctification, from the time of the new birth through this present life, until Jesus comes or until we die.”

In thirteen chapters Schaeffer does a masterful job of showing that that Christian life involves the head, heart, and hands and biblically, theologically, and practically develops the following four themes:

(1) The true Christian life, true spirituality, does not just mean that we have been born again. It must begin there, but it means much more than that. It does not mean only that we are going to be in heaven. It does mean that, but it means much more than that. The true Christian life, true spirituality in the present life, means more than being justified and knowing that I am going to heaven.

(2) It is not just a desire to get rid of taboos in order to live an easier and a looser life. Our desire must be for a deeper life. And when I begin to think about this, the Bible presents to me the whole of the Ten Commandments and the whole of the Law of Love.

(3) True spirituality, the true Christian life, is not just outward, but it is inward–it is not to covet against God and mankind.

(4) The Christian life is positive–positive in inward reality, and then positive in outward results. The inward thing is to be positive and not just negative, and then sweeping out of the inward positive reality, there is to be a positive manifestation externally. It is not just that we are dead to certain things, but we are to love God, we are to be alive to Him, we are to be in communion with Him, in this present moment of history. And we are to love men, to be alive to men as men, and to be in communication on a true personal level with men, in this present moment of history.

Schaeffer does a wonderful job of addressing the world, the flesh, and the devil; as well as helping you find freedom from the bondage of sin. He also shows the antithesis of Christian living in comparing the reality of Christianity with the unreality of other religions and world-views.  I highly recommend this book in helping you understand the wonderful and exhilierating doctrine of sanctification.

 

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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Unshackled: The God of WM. Paul Young

Excellent review from my good friend Dr. David Steele – Thanks for taking the time to write such an excellent critique of “Lies”

Veritas et Lux

liesWM. Paul Young, Lies We Believe About God, New York: Atria Books, 2017, 273 pp. $13.48

Lies We Believe About God is the latest book from the author of The Shack, WM. Paul Young. The author originally penned The Shack   at the request of his wife as a Christmas gift to his six children. First published in 2007, this book has sold over 20 million copies and was recently unveiled as a feature film.

The Shack struck a central chord in people, many of whom confess that the storyline helped them overcome personal pain and tragedy, what the author refers to as, the Great Sadness. Wes Yoder, who endorses The Shack summarizes the ideas in this story. He writes, “The Shack is a beautiful story of how God comes to find us in the midst of our sorrows, trapped by disappointments, betrayed by our own presumptions.” Eugene Peterson…

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Posted by on March 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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