From My Heart, Out Of My Mind

Is This Any Way to Talk About Grace?

Posted by Don Bryant on April 16, 2014

It’s all grace!!! This is the essential Christian confession. Of course, the various denominations and movements accuse one another of not being grace centered enough. The Protestants say to the Roman Catholics that though they confess grace they obfuscate it by introducing works into ultimate justification. The Reformed accuse the Arminians of short-selling grace because Arminians believe, generally, that one can fall from grace. The Arminians accuse the Reformed of limiting grace because saving grace is only for the few and not for the many. The Lutherans accuse the Reformed of not making a careful enough distinction between the Law and the Gospel, and the Reformed accuse the Lutherans of not seeing the grace of God in the three uses of the Law.

We are all trying to “Out-Grace” one another. It takes us to some very absurd expressions and overstatements so that our view of grace is seen as the biblical one. It is in these overstatements that one can lose touch with the biblical mindset, for it is not only what we say but how we say it, how often we say it and what we don’t say.

I am increasingly hearing phrases like this: “we can’t out-sin the grace of God.” As it stands, it is true, everything else being equal and those words meaning exactly what the Bible means by them. However, we can sin in such a way that the grace of God is without effect if it is not mixed with faith and repentance. We must speak of faith and repentance when we speak of grace. If we do not, we lose grip on what the Bible means by grace. Un-responded to grace ceases to be saving grace. The absence of cooperation with grace means being lost.

I hear loads of hopeful words about the grace of God that are not measured. And churches fill up with people absolutely enthralled about how much God is for them and how certain they can be of his favor. But there is hardly a word about faith and repentance. It is almost as if in some minds this dampens grace, qualifies grace, limits grace. This is not wise. It is not the biblical message. Grace always invites us to repentance and faith and obedience. These do not earn grace, by definition, or otherwise it would not be grace. But let there be no mistake, the Bible qualifies in what sense grace is to be understood.

We must speak about grace the way the Bible speaks of it in order to do good to sinners. I am finding in NeoCalvinism a flirting with antinomianism in some of their more extreme statements. Us Pastors are finding many a parishioner living in the most garish of sinful lifestyles absolutely assured that because grace is grace heaven is their certain home. Where did they come up with this model of grace? Did they dream it up on their own? Hardly. This they have been taught. And anyone, they have been told, who does not believe the same is a legalist.

I appeal to those task it is to teach God’s Word, say what God’s Word says in the way that it says it. Keep one truth in balance with other truths. If we don’t, sin will increase and the church will fill up those who under the banner of grace have not appetite for holiness and no lifestyle of deepening faith and repentance.


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Winsome Words 4/16/14

Posted by Don Bryant on April 16, 2014

The general rule is that those who listen most and speak least will be the most useful to sufferers. —David Murray

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Hitler finds out that Calvinism is wrong and Arminianism is true

Posted by Don Bryant on April 16, 2014

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The Dangers of Deductive Theological Reasoning

Posted by Don Bryant on April 12, 2014

Deductive reasoning can be dangerous in theological studies. An example of deductive reasoning in theology goes like this: “if the Bible teaches A, then the Bible must also teach B that follows from A.”

Where’s the error? The Bible does itself not teach B. It teaches A, and it is we who believe that B must necessarily follow. Soon it easily becomes that B is as necessary as A. B might be true, but the key word is “might.” Even if we think the reasoning is airtight, we should readily admit that it is an inference.

Here’s an example, limited atonement. Most who have studied this will readily admit that this is not directly taught in the Bible, and that those passages which could be teaching it are susceptible of other interpretations. In Calvinist circles not only is limited atonement taught, limited atonement becomes the actual turning point of their soteriology. On the face of it, this is strange. What is initially a deduction is transformed into the center of salvation itself.

Here is another example. God is sovereign. Therefore everything that happens is decreed by God, or otherwise he would not be sovereign. Soon meticulous providence becomes more important than sovereignty itself. The Bible clearly teaches the sovereignty of God. For some this necessarily means that all things that happen are directed by God’s positive will for sovereignty cannot be sovereignty is this is not so. But the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, and it also teaches that some things happen even though God does not will for them to happen. This is the data of Scripture. If we explicitly change what the Bible seems to directly teach because rationally it cannot be teaching that because another passage of Scripture says this, that or the other, then soon we are off into a rationalism that can take us far away from the Bible.

In other words, what begins as only an inference becomes the center. This is a process that takes us to places where we shouldn’t go. I listen to a lot of NeoCalvinistic sermons and read their blogs and articles. I am often impressed how often limited atonement comes up no matter the initial topic. In their mind, the inference becomes so central that if the inference is wrong, the whole system of doctrine is wrong. Therefore, the less clear becomes the way we teach the more clear.

While deduction has its place and cannot be wholly avoided, we must be careful to keep it in its place. By and large, our theology should be built on the explicit teaching of Holy Scripture, on biblical data. This keeps us in the safe zone and serves as a check on narrow theological systems that fragment the unity of the Body of Christ.

I understand that some will protest that this provides too strict a limit on the project of theology. I don’t agree. What it does is make a clear distinction in reasoning, and our theological systems should recognize it.

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On this day, Thursday, 11 April 1833, The Great Rowland Hill Dies

Posted by Don Bryant on April 11, 2014

The Grace of Rowland Hill’s Death

Rowland Hill

IN HIS FIRST PARISH, Rowland Hill offended some farmers by comparing them to their pigs. Just as their pigs never gave a single look at the oak tree that dropped acorns for them, he said, so they never gave a look to the One who provided their blessings. Plain talk like this earned him a reputation as an eccentric, but, as the famous preacher C.H. Spurgeon posited, “Men called him eccentric [literally “out of the center”] because they themselves were out of center.”

Hill became a pastor at a time when there were few evangelicals in the Church of England. Many of the state-paid clergy neglected their duties or lived blatantly immoral lives. The common folk had little knowledge of Christian doctrine and national morals were suffering.

Evangelists like Whitefield, Berridge, and Wesley were changing the culture by preaching out of doors. With Whitefield’s example before him, Hill decided to carry the gospel where it was most needed. Even while at school, he preached in fields and visited the sick. Church leaders, however, were scandalized by this behavior and refused to ordain him as a priest for many years.

Hill’s conversion had come from reading Isaac Watts’ hymns for children. An older brother, Richard, encouraged him. However, when Hill, who had been educated at some of England’s best-known schools (Shrewsbury, Eton, and Cambridge), decided to preach evangelical sermons, his angry father cut his allowance in half. He sent Richard to silence the younger Rowland, but instead Rowland persuaded Richard to preach.

A shrewd judge of character, he once turned the tables on a boxer who was hired to assault him. Sizing up the man, Hill motioned him forward, saying he had come to preach to the people in the hope of doing them some good; he had heard he was to be opposed, but  had been told of the boxer’s strength and skill and believed it. He told the man he was placing himself in his hands for protection, and asked him to join him in his carriage after the service to go to dinner. Flattered, the boxer promised to protect him and boasted afterward of the honor done him.

Some young men who set out in a boat swearing they would drag Hill behind it did not fare so well. They capsized and all of them drowned.

Hill inherited some money and built Surry Chapel in London, where he preached when not on the road. He founded many Sunday schools and was a leader in forming the British and Foreign Bible Society, the London Missionary Society, and the Religious Tract Society. Despite the opposition of the established church and hostile gentry, he preached 23,000 sermons all over England, Scotland, and Wales. Many people who came to heckle him or to hear his wit became Christians.

Shortly before Hill’s death, two elderly men asked to have the privilege of shaking his hand. Fifty years earlier, they said, as young sailors, they had filled their pockets with stones and come to a service prepared to have some “fun” pelting him. However, his opening prayer and the message that followed had cut them so close to the heart they went home afraid to go to bed for fear they would drop into hell in their sleep. They traced the transformation of their lives to that encounter.

Hill’s last illness was brief and he was conscious almost to the last moment. “I have no rapturous joys, but peace—a good hope through grace, all through grace,” he said. On this day, Thursday, 11 April 1833, at the age of eighty-nine, he died. He was buried a few days later in front of the pulpit in Surrey Chapel, which had been his base of operations for fifty years.

Other Notable Events

Pope John XXIII issues his Pacem in Terrisencyclical regarding the establishment of universal peace.

The Handel and Haydn Society of Boston gives a full performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’sPassion according to St. Matthew.

Richard Allen becomes the first black American Methodist Episcopal bishop.
Sarah Platt Haines Doremus becomes the first president of the Women’s Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands. She will become known as the “Mother of Missions.”
Assassination of Bishop Stanislaus of Krakow Poland, murdered while he celebrated mass. He had incurred the enmity of King Boleslaw by excommunicating him for his many crimes.

Pope Vigilius issues his Judicatum against theThree Chapters. As a result, the Bishops of Africa, Illyria, and Dalmatia, with two of his own confidential deacons, withdraw from his communion. Two years later, the African bishops will anathemize him and he will eventually withdraw the Judicatum.

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Winsome Words 4/11/14

Posted by Don Bryant on April 11, 2014

“You must learn that if you are a Christian, you will without a doubt experience all kinds of opposition and evil inclinations in the flesh. For when you have faith, there will be a hundred more evil thoughts and a hundred more temptations than before.”   Martin Luther

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On this day, 10 April 1802, Johann Lange is born

Posted by Don Bryant on April 10, 2014

Johann Lange Wouldn’t Call Christ Mythical

Johann Peter Lange

JOHANN PETER LANGE was a farm boy who became an internationally famous Bible scholar. He was born on this day, 10 April 1802, near the town of Elberfield, Prussia. His father, a farmer and wagon driver, taught his son these trades, expecting him to help out. However, the younger Lange loved reading. His father understood his passion and allowed him to indulge his inclination as much as business allowed.

When Lange attended school, he so impressed his Latin teacher with his abilities that the man urged him to study for the ministry. So it was that shortly after his nineteenth birthday, Lange entered a college at Düsseldorf. The following year he moved on to the University of Bonn where he studied under the evangelically-minded Dr. K. I. Nitzsch. In spite of the general tendency of German theological scholarship to discredit the Bible, Lange remained fully committed to its validity.

While serving as a pastor, he gained recognition as a theologian when he rebutted D. F. Strauss’s skeptical Life of Jesus in 1836. Liberals at the University of Zurich invited Strauss to become professor of theology there but, before he could fill the appointment, the city underwent a spiritual and political revolution. Lange was called in place of Strauss. He served Zurich for thirteen years and wrote his own three volumes on the life of Christ before he moved back to his alma mater, the University of Bonn.

Lange wrote many other books. The most popular has been a twenty-five-volume commentary of the whole Bible. Philip Schaff translated this into English and it became well-known among evangelicals in English-speaking countries. Lange also wrote hymns, such as “The Lord of Life Is Risen.”

The Lord of life is risen,
And love no longer grieves;
In ruin lies death’s prison,
Sing, heralds, Jesus lives!
We hear the blessed greeting;
Salvation’s work is done!
We worship Thee, repeating,
Life for the dead is won!

Lange remained at the University of Bonn the rest of his life. He lectured until five days before his death in 1884.

Other Notable Events

Death of Betty Greene, a Women’s Air Force Service pilot during World War II. She had founded the Christian Airmen’s Missionary Fellowship in 1945, later known as the Missionary Aviation Fellowship.
Watchman Nee is arrested. This Chinese Christian becomes well-known in the West when his many books are published.
Listeners who hear the first complete public performance of Brahms’ Requiem in the cathedral of Bremen this Good Friday are overwhelmed. The master composer has taken his texts from the German Lutheran Bible and focuses on consoling the living so it is surprisingly upbeat.
Nestorius is made Patriarch of Constantinople. His attacks on the use of the term “Theotokos” (God-bearer) to describe the Virgin Mary will lead to clashes and get him declared a heretic. He will not deny Jesus’s nature as God but feels the term challenges the important reality of Christ’s human nature.


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Winsome Words 4/10/14

Posted by Don Bryant on April 10, 2014

Worship is to be a reality check which re-calibrates our minds so that we might live as aliens in a foreign land.   Carl Trueman

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Brandeis decides to withdraw degree from Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Another black woman takes a hit from the academy

Posted by Don Bryant on April 10, 2014

Brandeis University just decided to withdraw an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 85 of about 350 faculty signed a letter in support of withdrawal and students have mobilized to support the same. Of course, the university knew all about Ali but is now pleading ignorance of her critiques of Islam. They simply caved. Sounds similar to what is happening to Condoleeza Rice at Rutgers. Strong black women who do not tow the line are kept at the back of the line.

Ali is one of the most courageous people of our time. She was raised in a strict Muslim family in Somali, but after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced the faith in her 30s. She sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, under circumstances that later became the centre of a political controversy. In 2003 she was elected a member of the House of Representatives. A political crisis surrounding the potential stripping of her Dutch citizenship led to her resignation. While in the Netherlands she wrote the screenplay for Theo van Gogh’s movie Submission, after which she and the director both received death threats, and the director was assassinated. She is a founder of the women’s rights organization the AHA Foundation.

The AHA (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) Foundation is a nonprofit organization for the defense of women’s rights. It was founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007 and is based in New York, New York, United States. Originally formed to support Muslim dissidents who had suffered for their religious or political beliefs, the organization’s scope was broadened September 2008 to focus on women’s rights. The goal of the AHA Foundation is to combat crimes against women and girls such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honor killings. Its key activities include education, outreach and legislative advocacy.

I use videos of her speeches in my World Religions classes. She is seriously critical of Islam, but is soft-spoken and intellectually sophisticated. She is no firebrand rabble rouser. She is not just a critic of Islam, which she is, but also is an equal opportunity critic as an atheist of religion in general. You would think Brandeis would love her! She fits their profile – a woman, black, anti-religious. But her critique of religion and Islam in particular runs smack up against the other primary value in the academy – speak no evil of Islam. Islam’s opposition to Christianity is a value in the academy. This fits into the academy’s  multiculturalism, as well. Buddhists and Hindus do not speak against Christianity. Muslims do. Therefore, Muslims have a special place at the university table. Of course, there is the fear element. People who do speak out against Islam or support those who do will find their safety compromised. Certainly, Ali has found this to be so. But this fear also extends to the serious inconvenience of Muslim lobby groups. They are super aggressive and do not share the Western spirit of tolerance of competing religions. Islam continues to dream theocratic dreams – the unity of church and state, or mosque and state, if you will.

She is the author of Infidel, Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations, and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. She is also a Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.


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Winsome Words 4/9/14

Posted by Don Bryant on April 8, 2014

Jesus isn’t looking at us, as observer and critic; he’s living in us, as transformer and lover.   Scotty Smith

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