I Shouldn’t Be a Reformed Baptist

I am regularly asked why I don’t go to the largest, fastest growing church where most twenty somethings go in our town. It doesn’t make sense to some why my wife and I choose to be part of a simple average sized church. By Bible-Belt expectations, I shouldn’t want to go to church where the worship is boring and the teaching is irrelevant. However, I find the Reformed Baptist tradition and others like it not only compelling but needed for my generation in particular.

My generation grew up in a declining fundamentalism and a rise in “attractional” or “seeker sensitive” churches. Entertainment started being thrown at us every week in an effort to keep church relevant for teens who seemed to be leaving after having gone off to college. Now we are adults and an entertainment church with a program or ministry to offer for everyone is the assumed model. In this context, many are finding the Reformed tradition refreshing.

Substantive Theology

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

The answer for the restless young Christian is not deemphasizing doctrine but rather a theology that takes God seriously. This is evidenced in the rise of the “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Substance was found where something was obviously lacking.  Reformed theology was the answer to my discontented faith. I found a reasonable faith that not only answered my questions regarding Christianity but quenched a thirst for spiritual growth that lacked what was to be found in contiual substance. This led to an empowering knowledge and relationship with God that then led to experiential devotional practice.

Reformed theology presents us with a God who is more than we realized before, sin that is greater than we previously thought, grace that is even greater, and people who seek a real relationship with God. A real relationship requires that we learn about someone else. Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying that professional theologians are the only ones who can truly know God. Rather, I recognize that everyone is a theologian. We want to know God, the question is how are we attempting to know Him? We must find God through Scripture alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, to God’s glory alone. Anything else will be found lacking.

Substantive Worship

God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24

At least from my experience, there seems to be a growing interest in a liturgical styled church service. Millennials in particular are often attracted to this format of worship and I don’t think it is due to hipster inclination. A simple but serious service is compelling when in most worship experiences casualness replaces reverence. Instead of showing up on Sunday morning to “experience worship” we arrive to participate in worshiping in spirit and in truth. Typically, Reformed churches follow a simple recipe for corporate worship that is Word-centered. Praying God’s Word, Singing God’s Word, Preaching God’s Word, Seeing the Word through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as fellowshipping around God’s Word. I found these simple but real acts of worship to be fulfilling on Sunday mornings. A Word-centered service that is simple, structured, repetitive, and consistent  becomes attractive because it is what we need.

From a cultural-Christianity perspective it is unlikely that I would be a Reformed Baptist. However unlikely, I am glad that the Lord has brought me to this tradition. Of course no tradition is perfect no matter how thankful we are to be a part. So let us all seek to know God through the scriptures, and worshiping together in spirit and in truth.

Grace and Peace,

Danny Thursby

Review of David Allen’s The Extent of the Atonement

Recently Jeff Johnson posted a review of The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review by David Allen at the Founders Ministries blog. Jeff offers a succinct description of the book, as well of the strengths and weaknesses he has identified in it. For example, when discussing the strengths of the book Jeff asserts that:

Though this is not the only historical survey of the doctrine of the extent of the atonement, it is the only comprehensive survey of the topic. From Irenaeus (AD 130-202) to David Schrock (b. AD 1980), and with almost every notable theologian in between, Allen has provided us with a valuable catalog of the history of the extent of the atonement. Therefore, I am thankful, first of all, for now having such a resource available for my own study on the subject.

However, when discussing the weaknesses of the book, Jeff asserts that:

Allen is mistaken when he limits the extent to sufficiency alone. He is wrong when he says: “For all who affirm limited atonement, the atonement can only be sufficient for those for whom it is efficient.” This is not true for the majority of 5-point Calvinists who have affirmed that actual (extrinsic) sufficiency extends to all universally.Consequently, the extent of the atonement includes more than just its sufficiency. For 5-point Calvinists, limited atonement means limited efficacy. Thus, to disprove limited atonement, as it is presented in the Canons of Dort, Allen has to do more than disprove the limited extent of its actual sufficiency. Allen has to do something more difficult, he has to disprove the limited extent of its inherent efficacy. Without making the distinction between the two sides of the extent of the atonement, Allen muddies the waters a bit. And this, I think, is a real weakness in the book.

I hope these two excerpts will inspire our readers to check out the entire review as well as Jeff’s own excellent book He Died for Me.

Bob Schilling Reviews ‘He Died for Me’

In a Facebook thread earlier today, Bob Schilling posted this brief, but helpful, review of Jeff Johnson’s most recent book He Died for Me:

Having read the book, I’d recommend it to all as a title that challenges some modern assumptions among those who love the doctrines of grace. While defending the free offer of the gospel to all people, Johnson, a committed Calvinist, revisits the implications of the time-proven “Lombardian formula” – the famous statement articulated by Peter Lombard (1096-1164), that Christ’s death is “sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.” Universal sufficiency and limited efficacy.

Pastor Johnson deals with Theodore Beza’s (Calvin’s successor) revision of the formula which was also later adopted by men like John Owen, Francis Turretin and A.W. Pink. They revised the sufficiency to be a “hypothetical sufficiency” – that is, Christ’s death is not actually sufficient for all men, but would have been, if God had so intended it to be. You see both sides of this debate at the Synod of Dort, and language that delegates could take in both directions: the classic position, an extrinsic sufficiency, a real sufficiency for all men; or an intrinsic sufficiency – an atonement of infinite value, not a universal scope. Both could subscribe to the language used at Dort: “This death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, and is of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”

Chapters 10 and 11 I found very helpful. Chapter 10 is a helpful critique, with the aid of many Reformed theologians, of John Owen’s quantitative view of the atonement and his famous “trilemma.” Owen’s position, says Johnson, and many others – proves too much. The death of Christ does not immediately save anyone. Redemption, though accomplished on the cross, must be applied through faith. Even the elect, prior to their conversion are under the wrath of God (John 3:36; Eph. 2:3); they are not united to Christ personally, until they are justified through faith. “It is possible for Christ to be a sufficient sacrifice for unbelievers without the sacrifice being automatically applied to them” (pg. 126).

The “Case for Universal Sufficiency,” chapter 11, is especially powerful. In preaching the Gospel, we are preaching the cross. We can’t disjoin the death of Christ from the good news we are preaching to them. More than that, God is making His “appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). On what basis is God promising eternal life and salvation to all people, if Christ has not in any sense died for them? “For this reason, John Bunyan was right when he said, ‘For the offer of the gospel cannot, with God’s allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel.'” (pg. 142)

The Reformed Tradition has a healthy diversity, and a cornerstone of Reformational thought is to be always examining what we believe in the light of the clear teaching of Scripture. Calvinists need to be more aware of the legitimate breadth of orthodoxy by those committed to our historical confessions.

There’s lots of good material in this small book – I hope that many will pick it up and read through it carefully.

I couldn’t agree more. As I have stated in a previous post on this blog, Jeff’s book convinced me. Previously I would still have classified myself as being in the High Calvinist ranks, although allowing for common grace to be a benefit of the atonement for all mankind, until my conversations with Jeffrey Johnson as he worked on finishing the book, followed by my reading of the book when it was finished. It was reading the book with an open heart and mind, though, that won me over and moved me to the Moderate Calvinist camp. A subsequent conversation with Curt Daniel only helped to reinforce my newfound position. The seeds had already been planted, though, as a result of articles Bob Gonzales had written some years back and which are now being rewritten and posted again on his new blog. I now look back with astonishment that I had actually missed so much in my prior reading of men such as Charles Hodge. As Curt put it in my aforementioned conversation with him, I have finally given my Calvinist soteriology some needed “fine tuning.” I had been heavily influenced by Owen early on in my development (although I took issue with his exegesis here and there), and I followed his mistake in not seeing clearly the difference it makes when we recognize that election does not flow from the atonement but precedes it. What an obvious point! But I missed its significance until I had my “Owen glasses” removed by Jeff’s Scriptural observations.

He Died for Me by Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson’s new book, He Died For Me, is now available in paperback. Jeff describes the book as essentially about an “in-house debate among Calvinists,” and that it is. But I think even non-Calvinists would learn a great deal from this book. It is an excellent introduction to the historical debate concerning the efficacy and sufficiency of the atonement that anyone interested in the issue ought to read. Whether one agrees with Jeff’s final answer or not, he or she will certainly come away with a better understanding of the issues, both biblically and historically, and, no doubt, a better understanding of his or her own position as well. As for me, I approached the book with a fairly high degree of skepticism, but I was surprised by it in several ways. First, I was surprised to discover that I did not understand the historical background of the debate nearly as a well as I thought I did. Second, I was surprised to discover that I hadn’t been nearly as consistent in my thinking on the matter as I thought I had been. And, third, I was surprised that the book won me over. Jeff convinced me of his position. In addition, the book is written in a very clear and accessible way. So, for all these reasons, I highly recommend it. Even if you are not convinced by Jeff’s own arguments in the end, you will certainly learn a lot from the book. However, you may just end up being as surprised as I was. You may just end up agreeing with it! Be sure to buy your copy now

Churches, Get a Calvinist Pastor! by Tom Nettles

Earlier today the Founders Ministries blog posted an article by Tom Nettles entitled Churches, Get a Calvinist Pastor! Here are the reasons Tom listed that churches should seek Calvinist pastors:

1. A Calvinist firmly believes in the divine inspiration of Scriptures.

2. A Calvinist firmly believes the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

3. A Calvinist firmly believes the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

4. A Calvinist firmly believes in religious liberty.

5. A Calvinist firmly believes in missions and evangelism.

6. A Calvinist firmly believes in Christ-centered preaching.

7. A Calvinist firmly believes in holiness of life.

8. A Calvinist firmly believes in regenerate church membership.

I recommend reading the article, with which I happen to agree, because I am convinced that the Doctrines of Grace are revealed in Scripture.

Sam Waldron’s Interview with Dr. Curt Daniel on Hyper-Calvinism

Sam Waldron recently posted a four part blog series containing an interview with Curt Daniel concerning the issue of Hyper-Calvinism. Here are the links to each post:

Interview with Dr. Curt Daniel (part 1 of 4)

Interview with Dr. Curt Daniel (part 2 of 4)

Interview with Dr. Curt Daniel (part 3 of 4)

Interview with Dr. Curt Daniel (part 4 of 4)

As the interviews reveal, Curt wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Edinburgh on “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill” back in 1983. Curt has expert knowledge of the issue, as well as of the history and theology of Calvinism in general. In fact, I also highly recommend checking out Curt’s teaching series on The History and Theology of Calvinism.