Book Review: “God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel”

The gospel of Jesus Christ is always a call to come and die. Never has the gospel been any other call to those whom God elects. However, over the course of several decades, the American scene of Christianity fostered the rise of what is now known as the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. This gospel, a false gospel, claims that as long as you will be faithful to God and “give” him your best (in whatever ways that entails), he will reward you with health, wealth, and prosperity.

Costi Hinn, the nephew of prosperity preacher, Benny Hinn, was an heir in a prosperity ministry just a few short years ago. In his book, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel, he relives the situations in which he found himself as he not only was a prosperity preacher, but was awakened by God’s grace to the truth of the (true) gospel. Here are a few takeaways from his book:

The Truth About the Prosperity Gospel

Hinn (Costi) defines the prosperity gospel in this way:

“The prosperity gospel makes human satisfaction to be material, and Jesus to be the cherry on top.”[1]

The ministry of Benny Hinn began by him being influenced by a woman preacher named Kathryn Kuhlman. Kuhlman was one of the earlier proponents of the prosperity gospel movement in the twentieth century. Costi recounts his uncle Benny following in the footsteps of Kuhlman (and a few others) which would then form his uncle’s own ministry to millions over the next several decades.

Growing up in the Hinn family was no small task, Hinn (Costi) explains. He notes that death was never talked about and every family member simply understood that they were the spiritual elite. The simple reality for those involved in the prosperity gospel movement is that if you were diseased or sick in some way, this was a clear sign that your faith was not amounting up to what was needed for God to bless you. As the spiritual elite, the only way death and disease were talked about was at a crusade when someone would approach the faith healer for healing (like Costi’s uncle Benny).

Over the course of the book, Hinn recollects the many different ways in which the prosperity gospel ultimately distorts the true gospel found in the Bible. And essentially, this is the claim he makes about the PG: it is a false gospel. “The prosperity gospel sells salvation and false hope.”[2] In other words, the prosperity gospel sells a message which says that as long as you will have enough faith or give enough money to the faith healer (like Benny Hinn), God will continually give you health, wealth, and prosperity.

Questioning Everything

For young Costi, however, the questions began while he was on a ministry trip with his uncle Benny in India. He describes the group arriving in India and his uncle refusing to get out because he did not “want to deal with the smell until [he] absolutely had to.”[3] In other words, Benny Hinn was so attached to his ivory tower that even the simple smell of India was too much for him. Costi remembers thinking, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Of course, we know now (from the book itself) that this was the sovereignty of God revealing to him the deceitfulness of the prosperity gospel incrementally.

Yet, it would be a few more years before these thoughts would produce change in Costi. You see, one of the things about the Hinn family is that you never disgrace the family name by challenging its patriarchs, like uncle Benny. However, when Costi continued to find truths revealed in the Scripture (often from a college baseball coach at Dallas Baptist University), he felt as if he had no choice. This mentor of Costi’s led him to challenge much, if not most, of his family’s antics, and eventually led to his conversion.

Reaching the Deceived

Without giving away the main premise of the book, one of the most important sections within it is chapters ten and eleven. Hinn not only gives his major critique of the prosperity gospel off and on throughout, but he also offers a biblical approach to health and wealth (chapter 10), and ways to reach those who are deceived by the prosperity gospel (chapter 11). These two chapters are honestly the climax of the book, for they show the depths of genuine love and affection that Costi Hinn has for those who are deceived by the prosperity gospel. He not only has seen it, but has lived it and he wants others to be brought to the truth.

Conclusion

If you want an easy-to-read book that is very detailed regarding the prosperity gospel, this book is for you. If you are interested in Costi’s story, this book is for you. If you are struggling with the promises of the prosperity gospel yourself, pick this book up. You will not put it down.


About the Author

Costi Hinn is a pastor and author whose passion is to preach the gospel and serve the church. He provides ministry resources on a variety of topics at www.forthgospel.org, and his work has been featured on media outlets like CNN, Christianity Today, and ChurchLeaders.com. Costi and his wife has four young children.


[1] Costi W. Hinn. God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 174.

[2] Ibid., 155.

[3] Ibid., 72.

Virtual Lord’s Supper: Biblical or Unbiblical?


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about so many different what-if thoughts within the republic of the United States. I know there are many who are out of work and, if you live in Arkansas (as with other states), the schools will no longer hold a session for the 19-20 school year. Many churches (like yours and mine) have been faced with the challenge of now moving to a fully online church *for now.* Instead of being able to gather together and worship the Lord, we are having to post sermons to Facebook and YouTube in order for our people to see them and continue to stay connected to our churches.

Yet, another aspect of this age of virtual church are the virtual ordinances. Many churches have been trying to perform a virtual Lord’s Supper and have familial washing of the saint’s feet (for those of us who are Free Will Baptists). There are a few specific biblical components to church ordinances that I would like to note here, hopefully (and prayerfully) for our benefit:

  • First, let’s clarify these two ordinances[1]. Of course, it is fairly obvious what these two ordinances are and how they are enacted within the church. Yet, it is vitally important to understand what they are. As for the ordinances, there are three main passages from which the church takes its reasoning to approach the Lord’s table and to wash the saint’s feet: Matthew 26, John 13, and 1 Corinthians 11 (Lord’s Supper), and John 13 (Washing of the Saint’s Feet). The Lord’s Supper is meant to be taken ” as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor. 11:26). Though some might be, I am not convinced the Bible gives a certain number of times per year or per period to approach the table. I do, however, believe that we should not neglect observing the Lord’s Supper. Yet, the number of times per year a church does this can be a bit contingent upon the church itself. As for the Washing of the Saint’s Feet, I believe this ordinance should be observed every time the Lord’s Supper is taken.
  • Second, the ordinances are, in fact, Church ordinances. The most important feature for the ordinances is that they are the ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ. This truth has one main implication of which I would like to focus: the ordinances are only for the gathered church. I understand why this may not settle well with some folks, and that is fine. But we must understand that the ordinances of the church are only meant to be carried out in the context of the assembly of believers. Why? They have been instituted by our God for the edification Christ’s body, the Church. 1 Corinthians 11 shows us (on multiple occasions) that the Supper is meant to be taken together as a body of believers.

“The ordinances are only for the gathered church.”

  • Third, the ordinances should only be done in the context of a local church. Once again, this is another biblical principle that may upset some folks, especially during the COVID-19 quarantine. However, even in specific circumstances that prevent us from gathering as believers, we must not forget the biblical mandates in which we have been given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And one of the principles we find regarding the Lord’s Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet is that every time these are mentioned, they are mentioned in the context of a local church gathering. Bobby Jamieson writes: “The Lord’s Supper enacts the church’s unity. It consummates the church’s oneness. It gathers up the many who partake of the same elements together, in the same place, and makes them one.”[2] In other words, the Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet are both means by which the Lord has ordained in order to promote and breed unity within his Church.

Biblical or Unbiblical?

Of course, this question is a bit more difficult than a simple yes or no regarding biblical centrality. In my honest opinion, I don’t believe the question is as simple as one can make it. In other words, I don’t think there is a way to simply say yes or no to a virtual Lord’s Supper and Washing of the Saint’s Feet as biblical or not. It’s just not that simple.

I don’t want to come across as haughty or arrogant by saying a virtual Supper or Feet Washing is unbiblical. However, I do want to stay as close and true to the Bible’s perspective on how we should partake in the Supper and the Washing of the Saint’s Feet. From my perspective, though, and my reading of the text, I cannot look at Matthew 26 and 1 Corinthians 11 and conclude that the Lord would permit us, as His church, to approach His table and Wash the Saint’s Feet anywhere else BUT our local churches. In 1 Corinthians 11, we find the phrase “when you come together” no less than three times, implicitly showing us that the Supper is not meant to be taken apart from the assembled body of believers. 1 Corinthians was written to the church at Corinth. So, Paul is showing his readers the reality that the Supper has only been instituted by the Lord Jesus for the purpose of building one another up in unity and accountability.

Concluding Thoughts

More than anything else, I know everyone wants to follow the Lord and be as faithful as they can to Him during this pandemic. However, while we are choosing faithfulness, we must also not neglect exegetical faithfulness. According to all of my findings in the Bible, I don’t find a reason to support a virtual online Lord’s Supper or Washing of the Saint’s Feet. Here are a few concluding thoughts:

  • First, I don’t believe the Bible is affirmative of doing anything that should be done in the local gathering of believers. I know this may be a difficult truth to take in, but there is more to church than simply gathering together and worshipping. Church is for unity, accountability, building one another up, singing to one another, and more.
  • Second, the ordinances are to be taken in the church. I see no clear evidence for any allowance of something different within Scripture. The only affirmative situation is “when you gather together.”
  • Third, we must do what we believe is the most faithful biblically. Ultimately, this issue is about faithfulness to God and His Word. I understand that there is much room for disagreement here. So, this goes with my next concluding thought…
  • Fourth, I cannot say a virtual ordinance is unbiblical. Though I cannot say it is unbiblical, I will say it is unwise and unfaithful to the biblical text, according to my interpretation.
  • Fifth, I understand these are difficult times. Living through this pandemic has done a lot for me as a local church pastor. This pandemic has made me rethink so many things, including things like Church Ordinances.
  • Sixth, and most importantly, we must do what is the most faithful action biblically. Ultimately, I want my life to be known by how faithful I was to the Lord and His Word, and I pray and hope you do, as well.

Is it unbiblical? No, probably not. Is it the best option? No, probably not the best option either. When our local church leadership gathered in the middle of March to evaluate what to do regarding the virus, we decided then and there that we could reschedule our Supper and Feet Washing without any breach of conscience. Friends, there is nothing wrong with not having ordinances on Easter or waiting to partake together. However, I believe it to be most wise if we wait until we can all gather together again to approach the Lord’s table and wash each others’ feet.


[1] I mention only two ordinances because the church ordinance of Believer’s Baptism really is not an issue when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic of our day.

[2] Bobby Jamieson, “Can Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Go Online?” The Gospel Coalition, accessed April 14, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/baptism-lord-supper-online/.

Introducing, Haddon Charles Campbell

The quarantine decided to get to our pregnant mommy and our second little bundle of joy determined to make his arrival a couple of weeks early!

Haddon Charles Campbell was born on Monday, March 30, at 10:50 in the evening. His birth was at a record time for us Campbells. Kaylee had just returned home from work on Monday and was in the floor playing Candyland with Beckett. Beckett was begging her to go outside, but mommy was tired and he deemed Candyland an appropriate counter-activity. Yet, as the game ended and mommy was cleaning up the game, her water broke.

In the other room, I was two minutes away from starting our virtual leadership meeting for our church. Needless to say, that was a no-go for me. Instead, we packed up our things, took Beckett to my parents’ house, and headed to the hospital.

We arrived at the hospital around 6:30 to become aware that Kaylee was already dilated to a 6 – which is over half-way to delivery time. And by 10:50, after three simple pushes, Haddon was born!

Super-Woman

Listen, I cannot begin to tell you just how much of a superwoman my wife is. She was a trooper in the delivery room! But not only in the delivery room…at the hospital…at home…as a mother of two. She is the most tremendously determined woman I know! It is absolutely God’s grace on my life to have her as my partner for life.

The Name

Haddon Charles Campbell has a name that is very near and dear to my heart and my wife’s family. Of course, if you know me at all, you know that I have a preaching hero in Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was the fiercest preacher in the history of Baptists and also the most biblically-centered pastor-theologian – I want to be like him. Yet, my father-in-law has a first name of Charles. So, we have killed two birds with one stone, if you will.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Haddon Charles Campbell

COVID-19 and the Return of Jesus

The recent threats of the coronavirus have sparked quite the conversation among many believers of whether or not this could be the unknown circumstances to bring about the return of Christ. This virus has invoked believers in questioning biblical prophecy and events that are to unfold before the return of Christ.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, the entire realm of doctrine known as eschatology (the study of end events) is maximally debated because of the Bible’s ambiguity about the subject. Of course, this results in the many different viewpoints held by confessing evangelicals. So, before getting into the bulk of this post, I would like to address a couple of different points here.

First, no one really knows which millennial view is correct. While all of us who hold to a particular view of the millennium, none of us (I am convinced) can hold any view with 100% certainty. The Bible is not clear regarding these issues. So, we must understand from the onset that one specific millennial view does not “top” another. Instead, every view attempts to understand the unfolding of the end of time correctly and biblically sound.

Second, it is vitally important to never attempt to “date” the return of Christ. Jesus is overtly clear in the gospel of Matthew that no one knows the day nor the hour (24:36). Of course, we who know anything of history understand that many have attempted to nail down the date in which Christ will return. Because the Bible is clear that no one knows the date in which Jesus will return, we must halt our attempts of trying.

Eschatology and COVID-19

As most everyone has seen on social media, there are many claiming that COVID-19 is something like the mark of the beast or the introductory “worldwide pandemic” into the great tribulation. I have seen many believers post articles claiming the locust attack in Africa and the coronavirus are both indicators of the worldwide terror to introduce the great tribulation. Also, I have seen posts like this (below) claiming the COVID-19 is the mark of the beast.

In light of these instances, let me give you a few simple points of exhortation (from my millennial view) about how we should be viewing this pandemic and the return of Christ:

  • The Bible is not a book to be taken 100% literally. Before you dismiss this point because it seems as if I am denigrating the infallibility of the Scriptures, hear me out. I am not claiming that the Bible is not 100% true. Instead, I am claiming that the Bible is not to be interpreted, in every case, literally. There are many genres of books contained within the Scriptures that demand a figurative literary interpretation. Some of those genres will include books like Psalms, Proverbs, Daniel, and Revelation. These books are not meant to be interpreted literally for every single verse. Even Jesus’ words in Matthew 17 cannot be taken 100% literally. When he says that as long as your faith is the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains, he is not telling you that you can move mountains. In essence, it is a metaphor to show the power of God regardless of our own feebly amounts of faith.
  • The Kingdom of God is present NOW. This may be a point of disagreement for some folks, and that is ok, but we must be understanding that Jesus came to institute the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In other words, Jesus came to earth to show that he is in control right now. His rule and reign as King of Kings is not a futuristic event, but a present reality! One purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to show those in Nazareth and elsewhere that the Kingdom of God has commenced, and they must respond to the King in faith and belief.
  • No one knows the day nor the hour. Matthew 17:36 – “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is merely showing his disciples that even his human limitations he took on (Phil. 2) do not allow him the opportunity to know when his return will commence. Thus, we can conclude that we should not be attempting to make educated guesses on when this will occur also.
  • The world is cursed, but Christ will redeem it when he returns. Isaiah 65 gives believers great encouragement regarding the new heavens and the new earth. Isaiah comforts his readers in exile by showing them that at the end of time, Jesus Christ will return, and he will make all things new. Notice, however, that Isaiah never claims that Christ will be making all new things. Instead, what Christ will be doing is taking what has been cursed in this world and recreating it to which it was initially created. Because Christ will be doing this, we understand that our future is not founded upon the events that will unfold this event, but his redemption becoming our reality in full view. 
  • The Bible is clear that Christ will return, but that is all upon which it is 100% clear. We must not be willing to make definitive claims upon which the Bible does not make its definitive claims. Of course, this is where the main disagreements regarding the end events come into play. However, in my view, the 1,000-year reign, the tribulation, the “rapture,” are all things mentioned in Scripture, but are mentioned from a figurative standpoint rather than literal events. I know this is not everyone’s interpretation of Revelation 19-20 and 1 Thessalonians 4. However, it is the best way I believe those chapters are interpreted through the lens of the entire story of Scripture.

Conclusion

Friends, I understand these are trying times. But we must always remember these truths regarding Christ and his return. Though the Church has endured many different hardships and pandemics throughout its history, the Lord has remained faithful and has never left his Church without a firm foundation, and he never will.

Why Conditional Election?

Ultimately, the main point of disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians comes down to two main theological elements: predestination and election. In fact, Arminius himself declared these were the two points of disagreement between his theology and Calvin’s theology.[1] Arminius made some major claims against the predestinarian nature of Calvin’s theology and specifically, determinism:

“Great is the use of this doctrine as it establishes the grace of God when it ascribes the whole praise of our vocation, justification, adoption, and glorification, to the mercy of God alone, and takes it entirely away from our own strengths, works and merits (Rom 8:29).”

Arminius’ comments above show us that his beliefs regarding predestination actually involve one who has already become regenerate. Much to the dismay of our Calvinist brethren, Arminius claims that Romans 8 is geared toward believers rather than those who have yet to be regenerate. Instead, Arminius argues, in the aforementioned quote above, that Romans 8:28-29 deals with the predestination of the one who has been regenerated rather than the unbeliever.

F. Leroy Forlines has a similar message in his book:

“If God foreknew the elect as being His, it is necessarily inferred that this foreknowledge presupposes this person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.”[2]

In other words, Forlines refutes the Calvinistic understanding of predestination to show that God’s foreknowledge is just that – knowledge before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) of who would believe in Christ and who would not believe in Christ. Instead of there only being a certain group of people whom God will save, Arminius (and Forlines) make the claim that God’s foreknowledge is his eternal decree of those who are found in Christ to be redeemed by His blood and regenerated by His Spirit.

“If God foreknew the elect as being His, it is necessarily inferred that this foreknowledge presupposes this person’s belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.” -Leroy Forlines

Election

Yet, the most important doctrine for the classical Arminian framework of theology is the doctrine of conditional election. Election is the most important doctrine because it coheres with one of the staple beliefs for classical Arminianism – a freedom of the will. Freedom of the will is much different than many Calvinist theologians describe of Arminianism. Instead of this freedom being a human participation in salvation, it is the freedom to think with our minds, feel with our hearts, and act with our wills. Forlines has named this idea the total personality. He explains that the total personality is the way in which human beings bear God’s image.[3]

If human beings are total persons (thinking, feeling, and acting beings), then their wills are acted upon by themselves rather than someone else, and to impose someone else’s will upon another human being’s will to act actually devalues what it means to be a person. And since human beings are total persons, Free Will Baptists (and all classical Arminians) proffer that election has four distinct characteristics[4]:

Election is Christo-Centric. One of the central elements of election, regardless of your theological viewpoint, is that election only takes place in Christ. Ephesians 1:4 shows us this that those whom God chose before the foundation of the world are chosen in Him. Arminius claims this reality in his writings, that the biblical order of salvation is vitally important to the biblical understanding of election (we will come back to this).

Election is personal and individual. In all cases within the storyline of Scripture, election is always based upon individual election rather than corporate. Of course, we know that the children of Israel were an exception in the Old Testament, but we also understand that many of Israel were not saved. In fact, Paul references this problem in Romans 9:7 saying, “nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.” In other words, Paul shows us here that election is based upon faith in Christ. Even passages like Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 8:29-30, we find individual believers being elected to salvation, not groups. Arminius also argued that you do not see groups named in the Lamb’s Book of Life, only individuals (Rev. 17:8).

Election is eternal. Arminius said, “God does nothing in time, which he has not decreed to do from all eternity…If it were otherwise, God might be charged with mutability.”[5] It might be refreshing to our Calvinists brothers and sisters to hear from us that we believe in eternal election. God is not unsure of who are His children and who are not, He has known from eternity past.

Election is conditional. Of course, this is the main point of disagreement for Calvinists and Arminians – whether election is unconditional or conditional. I will not attempt to explain the Calvinist understanding of unconditional election, but instead will simply flesh out the classical Arminian understanding of conditional election in brevity. Essentially, the disagreement boils down to how one views the order of salvation.

If election to salvation precedes faith (Calvinist thought), then, according to Forlines, human beings are sanctified before they are ever justified, which he asserts is illogical within the parameters of Scripture[6]. Therefore, the biblical order of salvation should go as follows: faith, justification, regeneration, sanctification, glorification. So, then, how can God elect anyone? This, of course, brings us to another definition of a word that is thrown around and abused quite a bit in modern-day Christianity: foreknowledge.

Picirilli defines God’s foreknowledge in this way:

“God eternally and necessarily possesses knowledge of all possibilities.”[7]

So, according to Picirilli and Forlines, God knows (and has known) who will repent and believe in Jesus Christ for salvation , which in now way minimizes his omniscience and foreknowledge, but instead proposes the idea that God’s foreknowledge allows him to see through the corridors of time who will meet the condition of salvation: faith in Christ.

Of course, we must address a couple of talking points. First, classical Arminians believe that salvation is completely and only a work of Jesus Christ. Though we do believer that election is conditioned upon faith in Christ, we do not believe anyone can have faith in Christ unless the Holy Spirit draws them to himself and convicts them of sin and convinces them of the truth. Second, we understand that faith is not a “work” of salvation. Instead of faith being a “work” on man’s part, it is simply a response to the drawing power and conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is adamantly clear that the way to salvation is two things: repentance AND belief.

Conclusion

So, why conditional election? Ultimately, we believe in conditional election because it seems to fit with the theology of Scripture as a whole. However, we also see that God has created us with minds, hearts, and wills that allow human beings to respond to his influencing and convicting power and Spirit. Conditional election does not minimize a person’s “personhood,” but instead works alongside it to allow for a response.

“For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace.”

Romans 4:13-16a


[1] Pinson makes this claim in his work, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville: Randall House, 2015).

[2] F. Leroy Forlines, “Romans” in The Randall House Bible Commentary (Nashville: Randall House, 1987), 236.

[3] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest for Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 139.

[4] These four characteristics of Election are taken from, Robert E. Picirilli. Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002).

[5] Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will, 26.

[6] Forlines, Quest, 236.

[7] Ibid., 52.

Reading the Bible’s Prepositional Phrases

Most of the time, preachers and Bible scholars will encourage their people or audience to study the Bible by looking at key themes and key words. Now, before you quit reading this post, please understand that I am not belittling this type of Bible study method; I think it absolutely necessary for one’s own study of the Bible. However, I do also believe that many people miss the point of passages whenever they find the incorrect key words or key themes (which is very likely). So what do we do?

Well, of course, the obvious answer to this question is to continue in learning how to do correct exegesis and homiletics. Exegesis is simply the act of explaining the meaning of a text. So, the task of exegesis aims to find the one specific meaning from the biblical author to his original audience. Homiletics, however, is the task of taking that information from your exegesis and applying it to yourself. These two tasks of exegesis and homiletics should be a continual goal for every believer as they study their Bibles, because these two tasks illuminate the meaning of the text and apply that meaning to the student’s life.

However, there is one element of these two tasks that I have developed over the years which has helped me tremendously in understanding the meaning and applications of texts: taking special notice of the prepositional phrases. You miss the point of many passages of Scripture without these prepositional phrases. Think about it with this example:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)

As you notice, I have bolded the prepositional phrases within this common passage of Scripture. When you remove phrases like “by grace,” “through faith,” “of yourselves,” and “of works” you will actually miss the point of this passage. You miss grace, faith, yourselves, and works as an intricate part of the passage speaking to our salvation that only comes from God alone and nothing we have to contribute.

The prepositional phrases cannot be ignored. Otherwise, we might just miss the entire point of the passage!

Actually, Christianity IS Religion.

It is easy for Christians to herald the ever-so-popular phrase, “It’s not religion; it’s relationship.” And, to be honest, I understand the nature of this motto and affirm that you cannot simply have pharisaical tendencies, be a legalist, and still go to heaven. Why? Because Jesus makes it very clear that our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). So, yes, you must have a relationship with Christ in order to be a Christian – believing this is of utmost importance.

However, a consequence of such sayings is the opposite extreme – neglecting Christian living altogether because one has a relationship with Jesus. In other words, I fear that people use this phrase to avoid the “religious” aspect of Christianity. The Bible has things to say about “religion” that many people tend to avoid. So, if we are going to be Christians who are committed to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word, we must understand that religion IS a part of the Christian faith. The apostle James makes this very clear in chapter one of his epistle:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So, here are a few observations I’ve found from James 1 that really enhance the argument that Christianity is much MORE than a relationship with Jesus.

James 1 – Religion Exposed

First, we see James exhorting his audience to be steadfast, even during persecution. Most, if not all, scholars believe James was written to a believing audience who were mainly of Jewish descent (James 1:1). I believe this is the case, as well. So, because James’ audience is Jewish, we know that they were experiencing great persecution under the reign of Nero (most scholars contend that James wrote his epistle some time around 62 A.D.). However, we find this also in James first discourse with his audience – verses 2-11. James exhorts his readers to “count it all joy” when they encounter trials and tribulation. Why? Because God works these things within our lives to produce endurance! The greek word for endurance is hypomonēn, which literally translates at steadfast endurance.

So, James here shows his readers that trials are a part of the normal Christian life. Paul echoes this same thought in 2 Timothy 3:12 – “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Throughout this discourse on persecution, James shows his readers that though they may experience persecution, their faith does not have to waver. Though you are tested, ask God for wisdom because he gives to all generously, but do not doubt he will give it (1:5-8). He also calls those blessed who do not waver under trials because they understand their sanctifying nature. These trials are not from God; instead, we give into them by our own fleshly desires (1:13-14). Knowing this truth helps us to understand how the Christian is supposed to be lived – in utter devotion to God, regardless of circumstance.

Second, James exhorts his readers to live our their beliefs. If there is one thing I wish all believers understood, it is that right belief informs right living. James seems to echo this type of understanding of the Christian life. Verse 22 – “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” The word delude, here, denotes a fraudulent reasoning. In other words, James is conveying that if you convince yourself that hearing is satisfactory, you actually deceive yourself into believing you’re living the Christian life at all. He is essentially saying, “If your hearing doesn’t inform your doing, you are doing it all wrong.”

He is essentially saying, “If your hearing doesn’t inform your doing, you are doing it all wrong.”

Then we come to the verses considering religion. What does James have to say regarding religion?

Third, James conveys that religion comes from your theology. Once again, the mantra shows itself – right belief informs right living. James puts it this way:

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

James 1:26

What does James mean here? I think it is rather obvious – he means that religion is the offshoot of what you believe! If you have a religion that only informs your mind but not your actions, you have a religion that is devoid of significance (GK – worthless).

Conclusion

So, what do we do with religion? Is Christianity more than a relationship?

Well, first, we must understand that religion is the consequence of theological belief. If you have no beliefs about anything, then you have no religion because religion is contingent upon belief. Beliefs are what inform your actions. Therefore, religion is the result of your theology. However, we must secondly understand that Christianity is also a religion. We, as Christians, often forget this reality. Often, Christians focus solely on the relational aspect of their faith without allowing that relationship to inform the way they live – this is not the Christian life Jesus calls us to.

Instead, Jesus calls us to a life of obedience: knowledge that informs action.

On This Day: Spurgeon Dies.

What can we learn from the death of the prince of preachers?

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers since Christ or the Apostle Paul, is unlike any other Christian figure in history. But what made him this way? What employed his unending courage to stand up for truth? Are you ready for the answer? He believed what he preached. He believed what he read in Holy Scripture. He lived out what he believed. He never compromised the truth contained within the Word of God.

Spurgeon’s Funeral Procession on this day, 1892.

1) Devotion

Charles Spurgeon was much more than a great preacher, though this might be his most famous characteristic. Yet, Spurgeon was committed to sound, biblical truth and its proclamation more than his own influence and popularity. Spurgeon’s popularity came from his commitment to the Lord and his Word. Spurgeon never wavered from the clear, understandable exposition of the Bible on a weekly basis. He never backed down when specific difficulty and controversies arose in his life. He simply stood on the Bible and never moved. Like the psalmist writes, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season” (Ps. 1:3).

Spurgeon’s devotion to the Lord was founded upon the promises in the Bible. Spurgeon stood upon the truths on the Bible because it is the Scriptures themselves that provide faith to those who hear it.

2) Unashamed Commitment

Though I would disagree with Spurgeon on his Calvinism (and his treatment of Arminianism), his devotion to the Scriptures is what fueled his fight against Pelagianism (a view which I would deem as unbiblical) – specifically in the Downgrade Controversy. His fight against the departing from orthodox Christianity by those in the Baptist Union in England was one that every pastor and Christian ought to study. Spurgeon resigned and departed the Baptist Union because of their departure from biblical orthodoxy. Yet, he never resolved to compromise biblical truth for cultural acceptance. He wrote in his own magazine publication, The Sword and Trowel, “I would like all Christendom to know that all I asked of the Union is that it be formed on a Scriptural basis.”[1]

3) Unreserved Proclamation

Spurgeon was simply another breed of a preacher. I’m not sure there has ever been any other preacher like him other than Jesus or the Paul. He simply believed that God’s Word would do the work it would set out to do! My, oh my! We can learn from this as preachers and believers.

Reading his sermons, you find this truth to be made manifest – Spurgeon never compromised the content of his sermons. And though his ministry was given to thousands weekly (yes, thousands!), his entire goal for his preaching ministry was to preach the Word. Murray describes it this way: “He did not claim attention to his message because of its success but because of its divine authority.”[2]

Conclusion

The prince of preachers was more than a great preacher with millions reached; he was an ordinary person like you and me. If we can learn these three things from him, we will see the Lord work in great ways because we are dependent upon Him and his Word to do the work – not ourselves!


[1] Iain H. Murray. The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1973), 155.

[2] Ibid., 18.

Why is Pastoral Preparation Necessary?

Though the spiritual disciplines are the means by which one grows into a state of maturity in holiness, all believers must ascribe themselves to these disciplines and especially pastors. Peter expressed the necessity for spiritual growth when he commanded those under his leadership to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); Likewise, Paul instructed Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1). These commands – indicate that their readers are to be in continuous growth and strengthening in the knowledge and grace that comes from Jesus Christ. Such strengthening and growth for the believer comes from the spiritual disciplines, and the pastor who sees the disciplines as important will see growth in his spirituality. 

Pastoral Growth by Discipline

As the pastor’s growth ultimately is contingent upon his participation in the spiritual disciplines, he must be habitually involved in the disciplines of Bible intake, prayer, meditation, service, and evangelism. Though the disciplines are the foundation upon all of the pastor’s ministry, it is primarily the foundation upon which pastors can preach faithfully the Word of God. Faithful biblical preaching flows from the pastor’s soul and reaches the hearts of those to whom he is preaching. Since the disciplines prepare the pastor’s heart to engage exegetically and homiletically with the Word of God when the pastor neglects the spiritual disciplines, his sermon preparation becomes lacking. 

For this reason, the disciplines should be the primary in the pastor’s life, because the disciplines are the means by which pastors are to grow in holiness. Growth in holiness is a biblically warranted necessity for all who profess their loyalty to Jesus Christ, so this includes the pastor as his life as a believer. However, it also includes the pastor’s different activities in which he pursues to prepare his sermons. Thus, the spiritual disciplines necessitate the pastor to address his own soul before he ever constructs a sermon.

The pastor’s soul is cared for in four specific areas: his devotional life, prayer life, study habits, and leisure time. The pastor’s devotional life is necessary, because in it the pastor immerses himself in the Word of God. Like every other believer, the pastor must engage his mind and heart with the biblical text through intake, prayer, and meditation. Each of these methods of devotion to God are for the purpose of knowing (mind) the Word and internalizing (heart) the Word. Furthermore, the knowledge of God through the Word and the internalization of such truths in the Word are what affect the wills of all believers, especially those who lead God’s church through the pastoral office.

Nonetheless, the disciplines are not the only avenue through which pastors should prepare their soul to preach. A pastor’s study habits, and leisure time are a necessity throughout the weekly tasks of pastoral ministry. Studying for sermons entails more than simply thumbing through the biblical text and/or a few commentaries. Studying for sermons takes time so the pastor can determine the meaning of certain discourses in Scripture while also aiming to apply the propositions of these passages to those who will hear them proclaimed. Applying pericopes to a specific congregation takes devotion and diligence in the study. Studying is also necessary for the construction of one’s own sermons. If a pastor is to preach at all, he must aim to preach his own sermons which result from his personal devotion to Jesus Christ.

So, for a pastor to correctly prepare his own heart to preach, he must do so by the disciplines of expository preparation. The first way in which the pastor disciplines himself to prepare his own heart to preach is by his own submission to Christ. Right belief always informs right living, and this method of living is the foundation upon which all growth in holiness builds itself. The way to holy living is through one’s commitment to the Lord Jesus himself, which entails a relationship with him. 

The second way pastors discipline their hearts is through prayer. Prayer is the dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for the power to live the Christian life. However, it is also the dependence upon the Lord Jesus for the power to prepare sermons through the power of the Spirit. These first two disciplines are the bedrock of all other disciplines. However, they are also the underpinning of the pastor’s sermon preparation as he disciplines his heart to preach.

A third discipline for pastors to prepare his heart to preach is through the act of biblical meditation. Biblical meditation is the internalization of biblical truths to morph one’s life into the image of Jesus Christ. Meditation assists a pastor to think like one and to form habits of spiritual maturity to grow in the Christian life. Fourth, the discipline of Bible intake allows the pastor to meditate on such dialogue from Scripture. Without a consistent intake of God’s Word, the pastor has no message to proclaim to a congregation. Therefore, a consistent intake of God’s Word entrusts the pastor with a consistent message of truth each week.

A fifth discipline in the preparation of sermons is the pastor’s own sanctification. A pastor’s becoming like Christ must be his foremost activity for his lifetime. It is the pastor who will be the model of godliness for those under his leadership. The pulpit is one way in which the pastor can emulate a sanctified lifestyle to those in his congregation. Thus, the discipline of sanctification is modeled through the pastor’s preaching. Therefore, a sixth discipline for expository preparation is biblical interpretation. Biblical interpretation is not simple task, but it is a necessary one, nonetheless. It is through biblical interpretation that true application can be extrapolated. Therefore, it must be done with integrity and precision. A seventh discipline is the theological instruction for pastors as they prepare to preach. Preaching is theological and therefore, it compels the pastor to become a theologian. Preaching communicates the truths of God through the intense study and interpretation. However, it does not require a formal degree, but a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then can the eighth discipline of application be formed by the pastor. Yes, biblical interpretation and theological instruction are, in fact, necessary for a sermon.

 However, a sermon is not complete without application. Unless the listeners are hearing how theology and biblical truth can change their hearts toward Christ Jesus, there is no sermon. However, application can only come to fruition through a ninth discipline of observing life with one’s congregation. Observing life is Murray Capill’s term for building relationships with one’s congregation. Thus, the pastor can only know the situations of those in his congregation if her is to spend time with them building relationships. These disciplines allow the pastor the opportunity to sit in his office and consider the weight of preparing a sermon that is biblically centered and worshipful to the Lord. Though biblical teaching is good, teaching is informational. Preaching, however, should be transformational. It must transform the heart of the pastor, and as the pastor preaches those same truths will transform the hearts of those who hear.

The Necessity of Expository Preparation

Therefore, the spiritual disciplines do matter to the pastor for not only his own soul, but also for his heart as he prepares to preach. It is the application of the disciplines that will navigate the pastor toward holiness in order that his sermon preparation is done with integrity and devotion rather than out of obligation. Thus, expository preparation focuses on the preacher because all holiness, godly living, soul care, sermon construction, and sermon delivery begin with the pastor and his heart. If the pastor is focusing on his own heart during preparation, the sermon will come from a heart submitted to God and devoted to proclaiming Christ and him crucified. However, if there is not expository preparation, there can be no expository preaching. Therefore, the pastor must endeavor to prepare his own heart to preach so he can preach Christ. Expository preparation manifests itself in this mission – preparing a pastor’s heart to preach for the glory of God. May all who preach love the God which they proclaim.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Preaching as Worship – Part 3

Preaching as Worship

Since preaching is an act of worship, the pastor stepping up to the sacred desk to preach must be reverent and serious, because preaching hangs eternity in the balance for all who hear. The task of preaching alone brings its own difficulties to overcome. However, another task of the pastor is to be the worship leader for each service, because the Word of God directs our worship. Thus, if the pastor tries to make worship an effect rather than a lifestyle of glory and honor to God, he loses the centrality of the Word of God in worship. But it could possibly cause the pastor to lose biblical centrality in his preaching and preparation. Thus, here are four reasons why the pastor can never lose the Bible as his central component to preaching in worship

The Gospel is Good News

Paul David Tripp explains that one of the most crucial elements to understanding the gospel is understanding that the gospel is for all people when he writes “No one gives grace better than a person who is deeply persuaded that he needs it himself and is being given it in Christ.” Hence, the pastor preparing himself to preach by allowing himself to come under the authority of the text will then give the best presentation of the gospel because he has first had his affections transformed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The gospel has several components to its makeup, and they are the following.

First, man is fallen and without Christ. It is not secret that mankind is in a predicament spiritually. This predicament comes from the fall in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve disobeyed the commands of God and placed their fleshly priorities above God’s standard of living. This disobedience thereby affected all their posterity (Rom. 3:23) and has left each human being in a state of sinfulness separated from God.

Second, in the person of Jesus Christ, God came down to humanity to save them from their sins. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is truly God and truly man, came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died the death for human beings in their place which does two things that manifests themselves in the next two components.

Third, those who believe in Christ are justified. Justification by faith alone is the doctrine upon which Christianity stands or falls. If justification is denied or ignored, Christianity is demarcated to mere moralism. Mankind is innately sinful and the only remedy for such sinfulness is a perfectly divine being who can pay humanity’s debt in their place. Because humanity is sinful, they cannot make their way toward God in any fashion (John 6:44). Yet, because God is holy, he must judge all sinfulness. However, God in his kindness sent his Son to pay the penalty for human beings so they can know him. In other words, Jesus Christ’s death justifies sinful humanity before God (2 Cor. 5:21). 

Fourth, those who are justified are so because of substitutionary atonement. Substitutionary atonement is the only viable belief for a follower of Jesus Christ; it is the only biblical option to satisfy the wrath of God for the sins of humankind. This component of the gospel is also an important factor to note because it understands the death of Christ to be a literal death for sin, not a mere example of God’s hatred of sin. Instead, the wrath of God due human beings was poured out on Christ through his death on the cross in order that humanity might gain access to the Father through Him. 

The gospel is good news because it has nothing to do with human beings, but only is possible by the work of God in the lives of human beings through His Spirit. This gospel is the only message worth proclaiming, and pastors must get it right as they preach.

Preaching is Proclamation

In the grand scheme of preaching, a vitally important aspect is proclamation. To proclaim the message of the gospel is the evangelize. “‘Proclaim’ is complementary to the more specific term ‘evangelize’ (euangelizomai) or the phrase ‘announce the good news,’ which contains within its meaning the object that is announced or proclaimed—the good news.” Since the purpose of all Christian life is to be witness for the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8), the pastor witnesses to the Lord  through Christian proclamation. Though there is a difference between preaching and evangelism, the two cannot be separated in the life of the pastor. The pastor must be adamant to never lose the priority of his own personal evangelism because of his life in Christ as a believer himself. However, the proclamation to those under his preaching every week must be a bit different. 

Preaching, unlike evangelism, is geared toward believers (for the most part). The purpose of preaching is to proclaim the gospel to those gathered as the body of Christ. Therefore, most (if not all) of the audience of which the pastor is preaching will be believers. Hence, there is a necessity for the gospel to shape how one lives. However, if unbelievers are present – which is a likely possibility – pastors must always aim to preach Christ crucified and risen for our salvation. 

Salvation is brought about by proclamation (Romans 10:17). Preaching is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ to those gathered as a body of believers (1 Cor. 2:13). Both methods of proclamation ascribe the Lord glory because they are both warranted practices of Scripture. But most importantly, preaching is worship because it exults God as the sovereign Being who does everything for his own glory and our good.

Preaching is Exultation

The ultimate goal of all things done in the church is the glory of God. Even creation itself ascribes to this purpose. The psalmist exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Piper gets it right in declaring that God delights in all he does. He writes, “If God is not under constraint by forces outside himself to act contrary to his good pleasure, but rather acts only out of the overflow of the joy of his boundless self-sufficiency, then all his acts are the expression of joy and he has pleasure in all that he does.” Piper’s comments on God taking pleasure in all he does helps his readers understand the magnitude of God delighting in himself in all of his glory. Therefore, preaching is done for God’s glory because it is God’s Word in which God delights. This is the heart of exultation – understanding the purpose of corporate worship as the “visible, unified knowing, treasuring, and showing of the supreme worth and beauty of God.”

Conclusion

In summary, worship is the goal of all that is done within the local church and within the lives of believers. Our lives, according to the apostle Paul, are living sacrifices to God as our act of worship (Rom. 12:1-2). However, to truly understand what it means to worship, one must begin with the Scriptures. It is the Bible itself that is the foundation of the truth that is communicated. The Bible is true because it is God’s revealed Word to humanity, but also because it coheres with reality; it is rational. To worship God in Spirit and truth is to worship him as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. This also will fill the sermon’s content which alone is worship to God because it is a regurgitation of his Word to his people so they will live for his glory in worship to him.

However, for a pastor to truly understand and lead a worship service, this process must begin in his own heart. The worship leader (that is, the pastor) should be immersed in the Bible to apply to himself first, then he can effectively apply it to his hearers. The application spans itself into many different areas to include the way he studies, why he studies, and the sermons he preaches. Then, once the pastor understands the weight of preparation, he can then proclaim the good news of the gospel in a worship service for the glory of God.