The Study Habits of the Pastor

The way a pastor studies indicates the health of his spiritual life. Therefore, it is vital for the pastor to pay close attention to these three areas of study: his personal study, his sermonic study, and his intellectual study.

The Personal Study of the Pastor

Pastors are constantly interacting with the Bible through sermon preparation, pastoral counseling, pastoral visits and care, and in other areas. Often, it may seem as though their personal Bible study could be another task to complete. Pastors should guard against making such activities simply another addition to their work calendars. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advises that pastors should do more than simply read the Bible to find passages of Scripture for sermons.[1] A pastor with such engagement in Scripture is in grave error and in danger spiritually. This is not to claim that sermons cannot come from one’s personal reading of Scripture – the Word of God can work in this way – but that reading the Bible should never be for the sole purpose of finding a text to preach.

If a pastor is to be transformed into the image of Christ, it will be through a disciplined life of communion with God. Therefore, a pastor must discipline to take time for his own personal growth. This personal growth is the way he fills his reservoir. A pastor cannot fill his reservoir unless he is taking the time to nourish himself with the Word of God. Lloyd-Jones advises pastors to “safeguard their mornings” so they will not be distracted and so they will not neglect to prepare for work in the pulpit.[2]

In his book, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney offers a question that all pastors should ask themselves on a weekly (possible daily) basis: “Do you thirst for God?”[3] This is the most essential question for a pastor’s personal Bible study – the question of thirsting for God. The psalmist claims that God “satisfies the longing soul” (Ps. 107:9). But God does not satisfy the longing soul with something other than himself; he satisfies longing souls with the only true satisfaction – himself.[4] Thus, a pastor must constantly be thirsting for God to satisfy his longing soul, and this satisfaction is only achieved through a personal Bible study.

The Sermonic Study of the Pastor

Another topic to make mention of is the topic of sermonic study for the pastor. Again, while this topic is not a major theme, it must be analyzed succinctly. Pastors can often find themselves in time crunches during their week either from a neglect to discipline themselves for the task, or from other pastoral duties taking precedence during a given week. However, the sermon(s) they will preach on the upcoming Sunday should not be neglected. Far too often, pastors will resort to an “already been chewed” sermon that’s been preached before or they will resort to not putting adequate amounts of time into studying.

However, there is another problem that can arise if pastors do not intentionally evade themselves from it: preaching someone else’s sermon. Scott Gibson writes, “A responsible preacher does the majority of his or her own work, possibly stimulated by various preaching resources, and prays to God for wisdom, guidance, and discernment.”[5] This problem of preaching someone else’s sermon entails more than the sin of stealing someone else’s material, but it deals with the pastor’s heart condition. A pastor who is consistently neglecting to preach his own sermons is one who consistently neglects his own personal holiness. In other words, unless a pastor is immersed in the Word of God, he is not preaching his own sermon. Therefore, the pastor must prioritize his content toward Scripture, then the use of other resources.[6]

Nevertheless, a pastor’s sermon study could be considered a spiritual discipline because it is directly related to prayer, when done biblically. According to Wesley Allen, a typical Jew would honor an hour of study as an hour of prayer.[7] In other words, an hour of sermon preparation could be considered the same as an hour of prayer because it is communing with God to proclaim his Word to his people. This becomes a discipline because sermon preparation can often be neglected because of laziness or other priorities. However, for a pastor to prepare well, he must study well for his sermons. And, of course, this only results from a prepared soul to preach.

The Intellectual Study of the Pastor

Paul wrote to the Romans that we ought to transform into the image of Christ by renewing our mind (Rom. 12:2); Jesus added to the Great Commandment to love the Lord with all our mind (Matt. 22:37). Therefore, the pastor must be constantly learning. In order to correctly model what it means to follow Christ, the pastor must be a disciple – that is, he must devote his life to learning. Thus, a pastor can learn in a number of different ways – here are three.

First, a pastor can learn by studying theology. Theology must play a vital role in the soul care of the pastor, but also it must play a vital role in his preparation, for the Bible is theology. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advises those under his teaching to read theology until they die because being a theologian does not stop once you attain a degree.[8] In the grand scheme of pastoral ministry, you cannot adequately lead the Lord’s church unless you have a theology of how a church is supposed to be led. Of course, not only is theology of the church necessary, but likewise is systematic theology, biblical theology, practical theology, etc. necessary for the pastor to shepherd his congregation.

Second, a pastor can learn by reading Christian biographies. Biographies benefit the pastor in a couple of different ways. On the one hand, they allow the pastor to be well-read with the “greats” of the Christian faith. On the other hand, it allows the pastor to interact with Church History to a certain extent. Reading biographies of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others will afford the pastor the opportunity to establish and live the truth that history really does repeat itself, even in the church. However, reading biographies also allows the pastor to keep up with the past. Piper notes, “Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it).”[9]

Third, a pastor can learn by reading other genres. It is vitally important for pastors to read theology and biographies, but it is also important for the pastor to read other genres of literature for personal enjoyment. Many pastors enjoy a good novel or a science fiction work, but it is necessary for the pastors to give his mind a break and read something for personal delight.[10] Your mind needs rest in order to think clearly, and it is not a neglect to read something less dense for a period of time. However, even still the learning process of any believer, but pastors in particular, can never truly come to a halt – it must be constant.


[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers, 40th Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 184.

[2] Ibid., 179.

[3] Donald S. Whitney. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 15-28.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] Scott M. Gibson. Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 69.

[6] Iain D. Campbell, “Preparing the Sermon” in Pulpit Aflame: Essays in Honor of Steven J. Lawson (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016), 147.

[7] O. Wesley Allen, Jr., “An Hour of Study: Sermon Preparation as a Spiritual Discipline” Lexington Theological Quarterly 45, no 1, (Spr.- Sum.: 2013), 28.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 188.

[9] John Piper. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: B&H, 2013), 107.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 193.

The Necessity of Believing in the Penal Satisfaction View of Atonement

The atonement is one of the most important and essential doctrines of the Christian faith, for it prompts many other doctrines in Christian theology as laying the foundation. The atonement is not only the foundation for other core doctrines of the Christian faith, it is also, according to Luther, the way in which we know God. “Knowledge of God is not found through human wisdom, human powers, or human achievements. It is found in the foolishness of the cross.”[1]

            The foolishness of the cross is parallel to the way in which the church father, Anselm, communicated this doctrine. It is foolish to think that God became man to die in the place of sinful humanity and reconcile them back to God. The importance of the atonement is climaxed at the simple fact that without it, there is no such thing as Christianity. To echo Leroy Forlines, Christianity is nonexistent without the atoning work of Christ on the cross. And not only is atonement necessary, the satisfaction view of atonement is the necessary viewpoint from which to see it.

The importance of the atonement is climaxed at the simple fact that without it, there is no such thing as Christianity.

            To claim that Christ’s death was simply an example of the wrath of God on sin is to minimize the punishment for sin and the character of God. There is only one way to save the world and it is by the sacrificial, satisfactory death of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, on the cross. Charles E. Hill observes that “the whole world needs saving, and that he (Christ) is the world’s only Savior.”[2] Satisfaction matters because it is the only view presenting Christ as the one who shed his own blood for the elect of God (Acts 20:28).

Conclusion

            Not only does atonement matter for theological formulation, it also matters for correct teaching and preaching. There is always a necessity to preach and teach the penal satisfaction view of atonement from the pulpit. If there is a lack of satisfaction atonement preached, there is a lacking gospel being presented. The only true way to present the gospel is through the lens of the satisfactory death of Christ on the cross.


[1] Michael Reeves and Tim Chester. Why The Reformation Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 102.

[2] Charles E. Hill, “1-3 John” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized, ed. Michael J. Kruger (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 493.


What are the Spiritual Disciplines?

The spiritual disciplines, as defined by Donald Whitney, are “practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[1] The spiritual disciplines are found in Scripture. And an important facet to note about them is that they are practices. There may be some who believe the spiritual disciplines are equivalent to something as the fruits of the spirit – i.e. character qualities – but this is not the case. The disciplines are practices – that is, acts of being – for believers in Jesus Christ to become like him (Rom. 8:29). Dallas Willard notes, “Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture, or other attainments is achieved without it.”[2]

Paul wrote to Timothy that he should train (discipline) himself for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). According to R. Kent Hughes, Paul is exhorting Timothy to experience some “spiritual sweat.”[3] The spirituality Paul was encouraging for Timothy was one that took determination and diligence. This type of pursuit does not simply come naturally to a man – one must fight for its end. Hughes proffers, “Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back.”[4] Often, pastors find themselves in spiritual slumps for different reasons and many excuses could be given as to seek a solution to their spiritual slump. But the only real problem is the neglect of the disciplines in their life – they no longer, as the psalmist writes, pant for God like a deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1). A neglect of one’s union with Christ results in many pitfalls in ministry – spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Now, there is no specific chapter and verse that describe the disciplines. These disciplines are implicitly found in Scripture. However, when we take a closer examination of 1 Timothy chapter four, we find that Paul is exhorting Timothy to take on practices all resulting in the same dynamic – godliness. It could be that Paul had the same attitude as Jeremiah when he prophesies, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). Eugene Peterson paraphrases the attitude very well in The Message: “What delight I took in being yours.”[5] Truthfully, this is the essence of what it means to discipline yourself for godliness. Suddenly, the pastor’s attitude becomes as Jeremiah’s and he delights in the truth that he is God’s and God is his.

It is to this end the disciplines work within your life – they give you the opportunity to know God. Yes, of course, we can logically conclude there is a God from the natural world (Rom. 1:20), but this conclusion only brings one to a knowledge that a creator exists. This knowledge does not allow one to know the Creator. This is, of course, why the Bible was written – so we can communicate with our Creator. Matt Smethurst declares, “Your bible is tangible evidence that the Maker of the universe is a communicator.”[6] If God is a communicator, then a couple of notions can be brought to our attention. First, if God can be known, we must make the pursuit to know him, as his creation. The Bible is clear that no one seeks after God apart from the Holy Spirit’s drawing (Rom. 3:10; John 6:44). Therefore, to know God is to first have been given grace freely by Him. Second, if God can be known as a communicator, he must have given a message by which we can know Him. The Bible, then, is God’s message to how we can know him. John Piper has famously said that if we want to hear God speak, we must read the Bible aloud.[7] The Bible is the means through which God has chosen for those He created to know Him. Therefore, we must engage with it in order to have communion with the Creator. Pastors are no different.

The Bible is the means through which God has chosen for those He created to know Him. Therefore, we must engage with it in order to have communion with the Creator. Pastors are no different.

Conclusion

There is no greater joy than that of knowing God and the pastor’s ultimate prize in ministry will not be measured by the number of people, amount of money, or any sort of church success. The pastor’s ministry will be measured by his faithfulness to the Word of God and knowing the one who created him.

May we all be found faithfully devoted.


[1] Donal S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 4.

[2] Dallas Willard, “Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, and the Restoration of the Soul” Journal of Psychology and Theology 26, no. 1, (Spring: 1998), 106.

[3] R. Kent Hughes. Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 14.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eugene Peterson, The Message.

[6] Matt Smethurst. Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word (Denmark: 10 Publishing, 2019), 16.

[7] Desiring God on Instagram accessed September 22, 2019, https://www.instagram.com/p/6h7KulSMnA/.

The Pastor and Applying the Spiritual Disciplines

Donald Whitney gives his readers pertinent advice that can be applied to pastors. He encourages, “Don’t settle only for spiritual food that’s been ‘predigested’ by others.”[1] In other words, do your own study of the Bible before you resort to others’ work. Too often, pastors are diligent to study books before they study the Bible. This ought not be. Instead, pastors should aim to dive head-first into the Scripture for the purpose of knowing God. Jim Packer committed an entire work of writing for one purpose: to aid in all believers to understand that they one aim in life should be to know God.[2] This group of believers includes all pastors and preacher. “The pastor who neglects personal holiness has forgotten who’s in charge.”[3]

The pastor who neglects personal holiness is neglecting Christ in his life and in his ministry. The only foundation a pastor has in his ministry, but especially his personal life, is Christ Jesus. Paul instructed Timothy to pay close attention to himself as it pertains to his own godliness, because his hearers (that is, his congregation) depended upon it (1 Timothy 4:14-16). Therefore, the aim for all pastors should be godliness, because the godly character of the congregation depends heavily upon it.

If you could name the top three disciplines for a pastor to focus on primarily, Bible intake, prayer and meditation would be the place to start. J. Oswald Sanders has much wisdom to impart to his readers in regard to Bible intake. He notes, ““The discipline is always a preparatory to blessing and can bring nothing but blessing when rightly received…Food not digested is a bane, not a blessing.”[4] Sanders’ words relate to Isaiah’s words conveying that farmers do not continually plow, there are also planting, nourishing, and harvest stages (Isaiah 28:23-29). The same is true when we think of the way we read our Bibles, the way we pray, and the way we meditate on Scripture. If we are only “plowing,” we will find our spiritual life in a circular motion going nowhere.

The Importance of the Spiritual Disciplines for the Pastor

The spiritual disciplines are vitally important for a pastor. Sometimes, simply hearing the word discipline can make the wrong impression on a man in the ministry. Discipline, however, is a powerful word that we must define and heed diligently. “If you are married, the presence or lack of spiritual disciplines can serve to sanctify or damn your children and grandchildren.”[5] The spiritual disciplines’ presence, or lack thereof, can either make or break a pastor and his family. Not only can it play a part in determining your children’s future, but it can play a determining role in the pastor’s own personal life.

In a study done by LifeWay Research, it was noted that one in seven pastors admitted to Bible intake less than four times per week.[6] Although there were many who claimed to physically intake the Scriptures more than six times per week (almost 6 out of 10), there is still a need among local church for pastors to be disciplined for the purpose of godliness. Here are two reasons why.

First, the pastor is a believer. This point may seem a bit over-communicated, but realistically cannot be conveyed enough. Pastors are believers like every person in their church. The pastor is no special person that should be placed on a pedestal. He struggles like others with sin, sorrow, difficulty, and temptation. However, among the struggle of such things there should also be a pursuit of holiness. Jared Wilson notes that whatever pastors are is what their churches will become. If the pastor is a committed legalist, the church becomes legalists. If the pastor is a committed evangelist, the church will follow suit. Thus, it would follow that if the pastor dove headfirst in his Bible on a daily basis, it would naturally flow out of his speech, actions, and attitudes to affect the congregation in such a way that they would follow his lead.

Second, the pastor is a shepherd. Not only is the pastor to focus primarily on his own spiritual life, but he must be concerned with the spiritual life of those in his congregation God has entrusted under his shepherding care. Hughes explains, “There is no spiritual leadership apart from the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it follows that if we aspire to leadership in the Church, we must be full of the Holy Spirit.”[7] When pastors are full of the Holy Spirit, the church congregation will notice and want whatever he possesses. Christianity is “catchy.” Paul wrote to Timothy: “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). There is a relational quality to spiritually influencing congregants. Because God is a communicator, he ordains those shepherding his church to be relational in their shepherding. Jesus told Peter that if he truly loved him, he should feed his sheep (John 21:17). But the true act of the shepherd comes in the form of leading the sheep to flourishing. Of course, there is a massive spiritual connection to this truth. Pastors are used of God to spiritually lead their congregations to drink from the well that never runs dry.

Conclusion

Pastors need the spiritual disciplines in place in their life in order to prepare their own hearts to lead their congregations by preaching the word of God. Salvation (faith) comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Thus, pastors must take special concern with the message they proclaim each and every reach. Donald Whitney helpfully clarifies that God does not save people during the preaching of the Word, but through the preaching of the Word.[8] Therefore, it cannot be emphasized enough how important the disciplines are to the pastor who will stand at the sacred desk each week and proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord.”


[1] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 33.

[2] J.I. Packer.  Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973), 29.

[3] Jared C. Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 42.

[4] J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Maturity (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 37.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 16.

[6] While some would find this statistic fairly admirable, I would argue that there is still much work to be done. Pastors are spiritual leaders, and it is imperative that there be a consistent plan in place to be in step with the Spirit of God through a communion with His Son. See, Reasons for Attrition Among Pastors, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Reasons-for-Attrition-Among-Pastors-Quantitative-Report-Final1.pdf.

[7] Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man, 186.

[8] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines Within Your Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 67.

The Devotional Life of the Pastor

Every preacher’s spiritual formation begins with a personal pursuit of the Lord. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones recommends that a pastor safeguard his mornings. Instead of taking care of the everyday affairs of the church, he should use his mornings to prepare for the work of the pulpit.[1] However, the Doctor does not force such an attitude as necessity, instead he gives leniency to prudence and wisdom for one to know his own body and own self. For example, if a pastor is rather sluggish and not so easy to wake up in the morning, the Doctor suggests he “Work out his own programme; you know when you can do your best work.”[2] Therefore, what follows is not a descriptive plan to which a pastor should adhere, but a prescriptive plan of application for the pastor to observe in his spiritual formation.

With each personality different struggles and strengths will be made manifest that the pastor should prudently take into consideration. The Lord gives all preachers certain gifts and abilities to serve His church. However, not all pastors are given all the gifts and the ability to act them out in a Christ-honoring manner. Therefore, the spiritual disciplines are put in place for spiritual growth and for the pastor to be able to form his spiritual life as he preaches on a weekly basis to a local congregation.

The Bible Intake of the Preacher

Charles Spurgeon notes, “For the herald of the gospel to be spiritually out of order in his own proper person is, both to himself and to his work, a most serious calamity.”[3] If Spurgeon were alive today, he would find this comment to ring true of our society. Too often there is calamitous spirituality going on in the pastoral study within the four walls of the local church. There is simply not enough Bible intake for the preacher’s own soul. Paul David Tripp gives great insight to how pastors can fight the urge of spiritual calamity. He writes, “You need to preach a gospel to yourself that does not find its rest in you getting it right but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ…You need to call yourself to rest and faith when no one else knows that private sermon is needed.”[4]

The pastor has an obligation from the Lord to spiritually feed the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2). This obligation has massive spiritual implications for the local body of believers, but also for the pastor himself. The spiritual life of the pastor spans to dozens and possibly hundreds of people of a weekly basis. His spiritual formation is not only a personal endeavor for his own individual holiness, but it is also to allow the depth of his study and the breadth of his knowledge to be divinely imparted to his congregation. However, the foundation of which this process of spiritual formation all starts is simply by the pastor getting into the Word of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones advocates for every pastor to read the Bible through entirely at least once per year by their own plan or by a plan devised by someone else. He believes this should be the minimum of the preacher’s Bible reading each year.[5] While some might say this viewpoint can be a bit excessive, the purpose is not to simply “read” but to know God. Therefore, the Bible is more than just a way to select a text to preach, but a means by which pastors can know the God and grow in his likeness as they progress throughout their life in him.

The Prayer Life of the Preacher

J. Oswald Sanders observes that “The spiritual leader should outpace the church, above all, in prayer.”[6] Previously stated, the pastor’s spiritual formation is how spiritual growth and formation trickles down to the congregation. Leadership is always from the top down, and this principle manifests itself also in spirituality. However, it is possible that prayer is the most neglected spiritual discipline because of how easy and normal it is regarding the Christian life. J.I. Packer has noted that man was made for nothing more than to know God.[7] The lack of growth and health in our churches can depend on the lack of prayer coming from the pastor’s study and mouth.

If the pastor should only have one other duty, other than preaching, it should be to pray. Ronald W. Goetsch writes, “True, if you want to be a pastor, you must be a pray-er. To be either, you must be a person whose knowledge of God is not only academic and authoritative but intimate and deeply personal.”[8] The psalmist declares, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules” (Ps. 119:164).[9] The pastor’s relationship to God in prayer is immensely important when it comes to his spiritual formation. Instead of his prayer life only being academic or authoritative, the pastor must be a person of prayer because he aims to please God through his actions, which include his own spiritual formation. 

The Meditation of Scripture in the Life of the Preacher

In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney outlines seventeen different methods of biblical meditation. However, the most important aspect of his meditation methods is the distinction between meditation and daydreaming. Meditation is not simply sitting in your chair and staring at the ceiling. “That’s daydreaming, not meditation.”[10] Therefore, there is a certain methodizing exercise to meditation that many believers, and pastors, miss when it comes to meditation for their own spiritual formation.

“Meditation is not simply sitting in your chair and staring at the ceiling.”

Therefore, it is necessary to point out the purpose of biblical meditation. Meditation is ordained by God to reenergize the way the Bible affects your spiritual formation. The Word of God is not to be read and forgotten. Moses commands the Israelites to meditate on God’s word “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). Meditation is to the Christian as cud is to a cow. Just as a cow chews and regurgitates his food, so should the Christian (figuratively, of course) regurgitate the Word as he ingests it. The psalmist writes, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Not only was the psalmist a lover of the Word of God, it was what he based his entire day upon. The Bible is not only his spiritual food, but it is the spiritual love of the psalmist. Pastors can learn as much from the psalmist.


[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers, 40th Anniversary Edition, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 179.

[2] Ibid., 180.

[3] Spurgeon. Lectures to My Students, 8.

[4] Paul David Tripp. Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 136.

[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 183.

[6] J. Oswald Sanders. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Chicago: Moody, 2007), 99.

[7] J.I. Packer. Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 29.

[8] Ronald W. Goetsch, “The Pastor’s Devotional Prayer Life,” Concordia Journal 12 no. 6 (1986): 217, accessed July 27, 2019, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=fb2a4b0d-c2c4-40f0-bbea-da12fd95c84c%40sessionmgr4006.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[10] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 57.


What is the Great Commission?

The religious research institution, The Barna Group, asked 1004 churchgoers if they have simply heard of The Great Commission and the results were absolutely terrifying. Barna found out there were more people in this group of churchgoers who had never even heard the Great Commission than those who could correctly identify it and its meaning.

What is the Great Commission?

The Great Commission is actually made manifest in all four gospel accounts. While they do not all have the same verbiage, they do convey the same message from Christ Jesus and are as follows:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

“Then he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

“He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

There are two common elements in every gospel account of the Great Commission: 1) A combined effort, and 2) a personal action.

A Combined Effort

It is a rather interesting concept, this thing of the Great Commission. This sending from Christ to his apostles can be mind-boggling and a bit counter-intuitive. Here is how: Christ is God in the flesh and God is a missional God who is sovereign and reigns over all the earth. This means God does and can do what He wills and wants because of his sovereignty.

The question still demands an answer: If God is sovereign, why does Christ command us to be agents in advancing the Kingdom of God? The short answer is that God doesn’t need our help in advancing his Kingdom. But, the complication to this answer is that he commands us to make disciples in the Great Commission. Jesus told the disciples that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him” (Matt. 28:18). This means that God’s sovereignty is not only made manifest in Christ, but is the embodiment of it.

Simply put, the Kingdom of God is the theme of Scripture. When you realize that the covenants of the Old Testament were actually put in place for the institution of the Kingdom of God, it then becomes an entirely different perspective in your mind. No longer is the Kingdom of God an inanimate object, but it now becomes a reality in your life and your identity. You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God (thanks to the New Covenant instituted by Christ). Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum proffer that for covenantal theology to be properly understood, we must first understand how God has dealt with humanity throughout history. This means that we cannot accurately understand the nature of covenants and the Kingdom of God without understanding God, as manifested in Christ Jesus.[1]

But the main element of this idea is that it is covenantal! Covenants are made between two parties. Tom Schreiner defines a biblical covenant as a “relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.”[2] So, this is more than sovereignty in the sense that God is in complete control and is the only one responsible for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. There is a job for each and every believer to do because they are citizens of the kingdom of God – to take part in God’s mission in this world to proclaim Christ crucified to a world dying without hope.

There is a job for each and every believer to do because they are citizens of the kingdom of God – to take part in God’s mission in this world to proclaim Christ crucified to a world dying without hope.

A Personal Action

This personal action comes in the form of your normal, everyday Christian life. It seems a bit counterintuitive to say, but the Great Commission should be the goal of each and every believer’s existence. However, the reality is that this identity is not prevalent among evangelicals today. Instead, because of our individualistic culture, we now employ a social construct redefining what it means to be a Christian. And because of our postmodern influence, now there is no basis for absolutes within moral instruction.

But the Christian life is different.

Rather than aiming to live the Christian life alone, it is to be lived in community and covenant with the body of Christ (yes, that even includes a local church). This means that not only is our combined effort toward the Great Commission with Christ, but also with other believers. Moreover, those who disagree (to an extent) theologically can work together to spread the good news of Christ. Those from different denominations (within limits) can work together toward the same goal of being witnesses for Christ around the world.

However, the Great Commission does not begin with a community of people. It begins with you and me. It starts in the everyday life of a believer being a disciple of Christ and then discipling others to salvation and spiritual maturity in holiness.

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Bibliography:

[1] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum. God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants (Wheaton:Crossway, 2015), 5.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, “10 Things You Should Know About the Biblical Covenants,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed July 24, 2019, https://www.thegospelcoation.com/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-biblical-covenants/.

Book Review: Coffee With Mom

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During my time on campus at Welch College, I was introduced to Kairos, a college ministry at Brentwood Baptist Church. Honestly, I had not been introduced to many other forms of music, other than hymnody and southern gospel. I had a couple of Rascal Flatts CDs in my car, but I had never really listened to any sort of contemporary Christian music, nor any type of new praise and worship songs that were being written. Kairos was the first place to indeed introduce me to contemporary music in congregational singing done well. Also, it was the first place I would hear Mike Glenn, the pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church speak. Mike is a phenomenal communicator of biblical truth. He was very open about his weaknesses and vulnerable when it came to his personal life. It was something I really had never experienced.

One of how Pastor Mike was truly vulnerable was the struggles of his health and dealings he experienced with his parents. At the time, his dad was very ill and was having to be taken to doctors appointments. Also, not to mention, Brother Mike had his own stent with cancer within all of this. However, after I moved away from Nashville, I continued to follow his ministry and life through social media.

And one of the leading social media outlets Brother Mike has used lately has been twitter – specifically, the tweets of “Coffee With Mom.”

The product of these tweets – this book.

Review and Analysis

The book is filled with twenty-one chapters of Mike’s story as the caregiver of a parent who is experiencing Alzheimers and Dementia. The vulnerability I mentioned earlier in the post is typical Mike Glenn, and it is contained within this book. He begins in chapters 1-4 with giving his readers the backstory of how all of this came to be. Mike’s dad became ill some six to seven years ago with congestive heart failure. This health risk gave his mother the role of caregiver for Mike’s dad. This caretaking, if you don’t already know, can take a toll on a person – physically, spiritually and, especially, emotionally.

This is what happened with Mrs. Barbara, Mike’s mom. Barbara Glenn was a caregiver to her husband, John, for over two years. John’s health would even become so bad that Mrs. Glenn would only be able to sleep on the couch when he did not need her to do something for her. Mike writes, from a son’s perspective, just how strong his mother indeed was. She was one that never would back down from anything. She viewed backing down as weakness. Therefore, it was tough for her once her husband died – she had nothing to do and did not know what to do. Mike notes that this event in time is when they all started to notice that something was wrong with his mother. [1]

Chapters five through twenty are the vulnerable chapters where Mike simply pours out his thoughts and experience for us. And while I could recount every chapter, I believe a few quotes would be more appropriate:

“I wanted to do the right thing, but what was the right thing?”

“She wasn’t just losing her memory. She was losing her.”

“We can’t find healing until we remember, understand, and draw some kind of meaning from what happened. With Alzheimer’s and related illnesses, it’s impossible ot find this kind of coherence in your life.”

(Mike’s mom never forgot how to play the piano and he wrote this🙂 “This song [Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior] takes on a different meaning when the person playing is lost in the fog and isn’t a sinner, but a saint held captive by Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

“Love not lived isn’t love at all. Love doesn’t give you the option to do nothing.”

I’ll never forget the moments I spent with my mom and her four siblings beside the bed of my Granny when she was suffering from dementia also. I told my mom that I wish this book had come out before Granny died because they could’ve been given some comfort. One moment, about two weeks before Granny died, I will never forget for the rest of my life.

Granny had gradually been getting worse, and fluid had begun to build up around her lungs so much that she could not breathe well. In fact, she could only breathe if she pushed through the fluid, and we could hear it all. However, because she was so weak from her illnesses, she could often not muster up the strength to cough it up or even take a breath. And I’ll never forget my mom and Aunt B looking at me under their tears and their breath and asking: “What do we do?” I replied, “I don’t know.”

Brother Mike’s book, Coffee With Mom, is a wonderfully written account from a son’s/caregiver’s perspective. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is experiencing such issues, but also to those who would like more knowledge on what to do and how to do it in caring for those they love.

About the Author:

mike-glenn

Mike Glenn is the Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. Under his leadership since 1991, the church has grown to a church with eight campuses and a membership of over 11,000. He graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Glenn has written two books, In Real Time and The Gospel of Yes, and writes frequently on his blog, MikeGlennOnline.com, and for Patheos.com. He is married to Jeannie, his wife and best friend of 37 years. They have twin sons, Chris (Deb) and Craig (Nan), and three granddaughters, Mackenzie, Rowen, and Brooklyn.


[1] Mike Glenn. Coffee With Mom: Caring for a Parent with Dementia (Nashville: B&H, 2019), 31.

Should Pastors Address Cultural Issues in the Pulpit?

Suggestions for Engaging Culture in the Pulpit

The question of addressing political and cultural issues in the pulpit can weigh a pastor down. Here are a few practical suggestions for the preacher to do what he is called to do (preach), and to help him form a method of addressing cultural issues from the pulpit when necessary.

Preach Expository Sermons

Many conversations are going on within evangelical circles regarding the method by which preachers use to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ each week. It is no surprise to anyone to see different ways of preaching used each week in the pulpit. However, the essential aspect for preachers to address cultural issues is for them to preach expository sermons. Many pastors and scholars would define expository sermons in a multitude of ways; however, Hershael York has a simple, yet practical definition. He explains that

“Expository preaching is any kind of preaching that shows people the meaning of a text and leads them to apply it to their lives.”[1]

Often, a preacher’s definition contains many different elements of what preaching is, and it confuses the one who is reading. York’s definition of expository preaching gets to the heart of expository preaching – interpreting a text that invokes application.

Application allows preachers to address cultural issues. Expository preaching is not merely a “step-by-step method” to address cultural issues. Instead, it will enable the preacher the opportunity to give authority to the Scriptures while he is preaching. Too often, churches and pastors believe it is their job to address specific “issues” and receive “Amens” from a particular corner of their sanctuary. However, Russell Moore observes that Jesus “never turned the sword of the Spirit into a security blanket for the already convinced.”[2] This method has become a staple mantra for evangelical churches. It is all too easy for believers (especially pastors) to address outsiders and condemn them for where they are living their lives wrong. However, this is not the method Jesus used, nor should it be our method. Our approach should be to show them their lack of righteousness and holiness, and we do so by interpreting a text of Scripture and applying to our hearers week after week.

Allow the Bible to Speak for Itself

The Bible does not need our help when it comes to addressing any issue, specifically cultural ones. Instead, the preacher should be looking to the Bible as his sole authority in the pulpit. The Bible, according to the author of Hebrews, is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible is sufficient, relevant, and powerful enough to engage with culture at any time. Therefore, the Pastor should rest on the foundational truth that the Bible is sufficient to speak for itself. God does not need preachers to help address cultural issues. Instead, the pastor, while preaching expository sermons, can allow the Bible to speak on its authority and with its power. The pastor is nothing more than a conduit through which the message is given. John Stott writes on crossing cultural barriers in preaching. Instead of being a zeitgeist, we should be determined to build our bridge from church to culture based on the Bible.[3] The way to build our bridge and address culture is by allowing the Bible to speak for itself. Kevin DeYoung says it best:

“I want my people to expect, that as a general rule, the Bible sets the agenda not my interests or what I think is relevant.”[4]

Do Not Allow Personal Interpretation to Override What the Bible Means to Say

As preachers, we cannot merely approach cultural issues in America and place a biblical passage on its rhetoric and call it a sermon.

Hershael York exclaims that we are not at liberty to tell a bank our understanding for a mortgage means we do not have to make a payment each month.[5] The same is true in the way we preach. There is one meaning of a particular text that can be made manifest in many different applications. That there are many different applications of one text does not indicate more than one original meaning. The Word of God is relevant to all life and spans generation after generation; this proves for many different forms of application but does not change the intended meaning of a particular passage. Therefore, it is not sufficient for a pastor to stand in the pulpit and claim 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the church’s statement of revival for America. Instead, he must allow the biblical text to dictate how he presents the application of such a passage within the context of modern America.

Allowing the original intended meaning of a text to be the foundation for application is one major focal point of expository preaching. When a pastor is preaching expository sermons, he is already allowing the biblical text to be the foundation and the sole source for the sermon. Therefore, it continues to afford the preacher liberty to preach with confidence because he is proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord.”

Use the Holy Spirit’s Guidance to Address Cultural Issues

Ultimately, the Holy Spirit must be the guide for a pastor when it comes to addressing cultural issues from the pulpit. Yes, expository sermons will allow the pastor to address issues as he preaches. However, sometimes, current events will necessitate a response from a pastor. Jonathan Leeman defines this process as principled pragmatism. Principled pragmatism says that we should use wisdom to do justice.

“We must start by asking God what he intends for us and for the world, lest we let some other god set the terms.”[6]

Mainly, Leeman’s approach takes the good from all forms of politics – liberalism, conservatism, and nationalism – and leaves the bad. We can do the same in our pulpits. Take the good from cultural issues and leave the bad. Of course, we must always expose sin and evil for what it is, yet we can still do so in a loving, Christ-centered manner.

Conclusion

Pastors need a methodical approach to addressing cultural issues in the pulpit. The church is not the place to fix cultural problems – we have a public square for that purpose. However, the church can be a means through which God can reveal his truth and transform culture. Carl F. H. Henry writes, “The implications of this for evangelicalism seem clear. The battle against evil in all its forms must be pressed unsparingly; we must pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science in ethics – everywhere, in every field, we must pursue relentlessly.”[7] To do this, pastors must preach expository sermons. The expository sermon takes the text and interprets its original meaning and then applies it to the hearers’ lives. However, expository sermons also allow the Bible to do its bidding. No longer does the pastor have to depend upon his intellect or personality to address cultural issues because the Bible can speak for itself.

Another aspect of addressing cultural issues is that preachers do not have to try and make up an interpretation when they preach the Bible. Instead, they can allow the Bible to mean what it intends to say and communicate it with power and authority. The pastor cannot do any of these things without the consideration of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in their life.

Nevertheless, Christians are not to withdraw from culture. The answer, of course, is not retreating. Instead, Richard Mouw argues that Christians have a mandate (Gen. 1:28) from the Lord to live within the culture. He writes,

“This cultural mandate is an expression of God’s own investment in cultural formation, and it has in no way been canceled by the introduction of sin into the creation.”[8]

Our cultural interaction is not null and void because of the fall. If anything, it has been heightened because of how God aims to redeem creation and culture. Therefore, it is imperative for pastors to stay up to date on current events, but they should use discretion when addressing such things.


[1] Hershael W. York and Bert Decker. Preaching with Bold Assurance: A Solid and Enduring Approach to Engaging Exposition (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 33.

[2] Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville: B&H, 2015), 198.

[3] John R.W. Stott. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 139.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, “The Preacher and Politics: Seven Thoughts,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed July 14, 2019, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/preacher-politics-seven-thoughts/.

[5] York, Preaching with Bold Assurance, 30.

[6] Jonathan Leeman. How the Nations Rage: Rethinking the Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Nashville: B&H, 2018), 181.

[7] Carl F. H. Henry. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 86.

[8] Richard Mouw. The Challenges of Cultural Discipleship: Essays in the Line of Abraham Kuyper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 41.

General Atonement in 1 John 2:1-2

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[1]1 John 2:1-2

John’s[2]first epistle was written to a church or group of churches that were facing a crisis. False teaching was prevalent in the first century. So much so, that John wrote this letter in pastoral rhetoric to steer his readers as far away as he possibly could from Christological error. John wanted his readers to understand the importance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The reason God sent Jesus Christ into the world was so we could have fellowship with him (1:7). The false teachers were meddling along the lines of denying the humanity of Christ – saying he did not actually “become flesh” as John 1:1 exclaims. However, John’s message was that Christ did come down to earth as a human being to purify us from sin and to make atonement for our sins.

John’s use of words in his first epistle is very much an intentional act of rhetoric from the apostle. The specific words John uses are used with a deliberate manner to explain, specifically in 2:1-2, the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Nonetheless, there is still much debate over the overarching question: for whom did Christ die? John, then, uses these words – Advocate, propitiation, and world – to show his readers that Christ’s death leads to an atoning work for all who will believe in him through faith.

Advocate

For the entire first chapter of his letter, John has written to his readers that there is no darkness in God at all, only light (1:5). He also conveys the idea that we cannot claim to have fellowship with God and walk in darkness (1:6). But more importantly, John tells his readers that if they claim they have no sin, they deceive themselves and the truth is not in them (1:8), meaning that all humanity is affected by a sinful nature that is inclined to immoral acts and deeds. Constantine Campbell notes that “…sin exists and is a problem requiring a solution.”[3]This sinful nature is within all of humanity, and John is writing to his audience to communicate the idea that you cannot live according to sin and claim to have fellowship with God. These two attitudes are not mutually exclusive. A believer can either be for the Lord or against Him, according to John’s first epistle.

In 2:1, John speaks of writing these things so his audience “may not sin.” This notion of sinning is not to imply that his readers can achieve a state of sinless perfection. The attitude (aorist tense) of this verb is actually communicating the idea that the Christian will still struggle with the problem of a sinful nature even though they are now sharing in Christ’s glory as believers. According to John’s writing so far, this type of language (that of sinless perfection) does not comply with his oratory throughout all of chapter one. There is ample evidence of the temptation to sin within the first chapter of John in the form of the attraction of living in accordance with the world. Therefore, John is writing these things as to warn his readers to live a holy life, a godly life, for the glory of God.

However, John says, “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (2:1).” John here points to Jesus Christ as the one who is the sinner’s advocate to the Father when they do sin. This possibility of sinning is a given within the text. However, John says, if we do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father. Literally, this word paraklēton is used nowhere else in Scripture and is used here to denote that “Jesus is qualified to plead our case and to enter the Father’s presence (Heb. 2:18).”[4]This is the turning point to enter into the atonement conversation within the epistle.

Primarily, John writes a few things about Christ as our Advocate. First, John seems to convey to his readers that he wants them to grow in holiness, but there is a possibility of them not sinning. John knows his readers will find it challenging to live a life that is rid of all sinful deeds. Therefore, John writes, “if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate.” Some scholars, like Campbell, Akin, Lenski, and others, would agree that a better translation of these words would be: “when anyone does sin, we have an Advocate.” The issue here is not “if,” but “when” one does sin.

Second, John shows his readers how Christ is our representative toward God the Father. This is an important distinction to note in this passage. While this paper will argue for atonement for all people, the way John is showing his readers about Christ’s advocacy is, most definitely, a particular word only for believers. Christ cannot advocate for one he does not know. Therefore, John is declaring that Christ only advocates for those whom he knows.

Third, John shows his readers that Christ’s advocacy is for our righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is an essential qualification for dealing with the sins of fallen humanity.[5]The only way sin can be purified is to have one who is sinless intercede for those who are sinful. Not only does Christ’s righteousness play an essential role in the advocacy for believers, but his righteousness also plays an integral part in the salvation of the world.

Propitiation

Christ’s righteousness is the vitality for the propitiation of all sins. Leroy Forlines declares that the word propitiation is the most general term in the New Testament that denotes atonement.[6]This word – in the Greek, hilasmos– is defined as “God’s view of satisfaction or favorable disposing.”[7]John’s epistle is the only book contained within the canon of Scripture that uses this word, propitiation, more than once. There are four places where propitiation is used. Once in Romans, once in Hebrews, and twice in 1 John.

The word propitiation is often defined as expiation. Expiation is simply defined as the removal of guilt so that the offense of humanity’s guilt is purged. We find this view in scholars like Gerhard von Rad and Dodd.[8]Those in favor of the expiation view of atonement will often minimize the effect the crucifixion because of its gory and brutal nature. However, Forlines observes that if we were to omit propitiation – the aversion of God’s wrath toward the sinner – within the atonement, we end up compromising the justice of God.[9]If God is indeed holy, and his character is true without sin or evil, he must judge all sin accordingly. Campbell writes, “Passages that can be read in an expiatory way can also be understood in a propitiatory way, but passages that require propitiation cannot be reduced to expiation.”[10]Therefore, the only true way 1 John 2:2 should be read is through the lens of propitiation. In no fashion should there be an expiation only interpreted within this verse? John uses a word that is significantly descriptive of God’s wrath being subverted from the sinner to Jesus Christ. Even Calvin explains the heavy weight this word carries: “…God, at the very time when he loved us, was hostile to us until reconciled in Christ.[11]

John continues in verse two by writing, “He is the propitiation for our sins (2:2a).” This phrase within verse two essentially summarizes the substitutionary aspect of the atonement. The way John Stott denotes his view of atonement is constructive. He would instead believers say they view the atonement as “satisfaction through substitution” because you must have both the satisfaction of God’s wrath and the substitution of Christ for the world to have a sufficient atonement.[12]Without satisfaction and substitution, there is no atonement at all.

World

John concludes verse two with these words: “…and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (2:2b).” Although there is much debate over how the atonement is acted out in Christ’s death, there is much more debate regarding the question of its efficacy in salvation. Theologians have debated this for centuries, for this is a hallmark of debates among evangelicals. Therefore, to truly understand the correct implications and interpretation of the atoning sacrifice of Christ and, specifically, for whom it was offered, we must understand two things: the definition of “world,” and the effectiveness of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

First, a definition of what John means when he writes the word world is needed.  The Greek word, kosmos, is defined literally as all people in general considered as a whole. Robert E. Picirilli proffers that this word “world” is used in the personal sense in 2:2, a view on which Calvinists and Arminians will agree. There is a particular sense here in which the world is being used. Picirilli notes, “Whether personal or impersonal, ‘the world’ is being used very consistently by John in a sense antipathetic to the church or Christians.”[13]Essentially, John communicates this word that is to mean the entire world as it is inhabited by humanity.

Second, the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement must be described in full. Christ’s atonement needs to be examined without any theological presuppositions being brought forth in interpretation. Of course, this is a highly tricky task when interpreting the Bible. However, the job is not impossible. Therefore, a simple, analytical look is demanded.

An Analytical Perspective of the Atonement of Christ

First, we should look at what the atonement truly is. The atonement is the “expiatory and propitiatory act of Christ on the cross whereby satisfaction for sin was accomplished.”[14]This act of Christ on the cross is the only way one can obtain salvation. It is the sole way God’s wrath toward sinful humanity is averted, which is genuinely the problem in humanity that the atonement remedies. This is the reason for the atonement. God’s holiness demands that all sin must be punished. If there is no responsibility for God to punish sin and no accountability on the human being, there would be no need for the atonement at all. Forlines declares, “Sinful man is in a predicament for which he has no remedy of his own. He is under the condemnation of eternal death. The justice of God requires that the penalty be paid. Nothing less will be accepted.”[15]

Second, the extent of the atonement must be analyzed through the author’s original intent. This will be looked at a bit later on in the paper, but it must be mentioned now. Whatever John is writing within his letter, this specific passage regarding the atonement must be looked at within its context. Since the beginning of the letter, John has communicated the idea that Christians cannot be associated with the world and claim to have fellowship with God (1:5-6; 1:8; 2:5-6; 2:9-10; 2:15-16; 3:4-7; 3:9; 3:17; 3:19-20; 4:5-6; 4:17; 5:4-5; 5:10). Therefore, the world here refers not to a specific group of people. Instead, it refers to, as Danny Akin notes, an “evil organized earthly system controlled by the power of the evil one that has aligned itself against God and his Kingdom.”[16]It seems that John’s consistent use of the word “world” is defined as Akin describes here. Therefore, the best interpretation of the word “world” is to understand it as Akin has defined it. It is not, necessarily, a particular group of people of which John, instead it is the entire universe that is under the curse to which Christ’s atoning sacrifice can reach.


[1]Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages are referenced in the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2]According to modern scholarship, it is technically unknown who is the author of this epistle. Throughout church history, it has been attributed to John, the beloved disciple. Therefore, many scholars will accept him as the author – a view with which I agree.

[3]Constantine R. Campbell. The Story of God Commentary: 1,2, and 3 John(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 39.

[4]Archibald Thomas Robertson. Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1933), 209.

[5]Campbell, The Story of God Commentary, 49.

[6]F. Leroy Forlines. Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 209.

[7]James A. Swanson. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament)(Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[8]Campbell, The Story of God Commentary, 50.

[9]Forlines, Classical Arminianism, 203.

[10]Campbell, The Story of God Commentary, 51.

[11]Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 340.

[12]John R.W. Stott. The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 113.

[13]Robert E. Picirilli. Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 125.

[14]David L. Allen. The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), xxi.

[15]F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest for Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 187.

[16]Daniel L. Akin. The New American Commentary: 1,2, and 3 John(Nashville: B&H Academic, 2001), 108.

Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne have written a book that every pastor needs to obtain and read and apply to their ministry. In The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything, the authors portray just that idea: a ministry mind-shift. In the age of consumerism and seeker-sensitive movement popularity, Marshall and Payne offer a counterintuitive approach to ministry.

Their approach is not only counterintuitive, but it is biblical. In their book, they aim to persuade their readers to take a people approach rather than a programatic approach.[1]  This idea of people first puts their spiritual health at the forefront of our ministry goals and aspirations. When we place people at the top of our priorities, we find ourselves focusing more on our congregations rather than the programs we implement.

From Programs to People

This is exactly what Marshall and Payne mean to communicate. In ministry, you have trellis work and vine work, and both are needed to do effective ministry. However, they are not efficient in and of themselves, which means they must work together to achieve the same purpose and goal. Trellis work, as conveyed by the authors, is the type of work that the vine grows upon, i.e., structures and programs. This is the oxymoronic characteristic about the book – it does not disdain programs and structures, but simply lessens their value in terms of ministry efficiency and biblical faithfulness.

Instead, vine work is what is needed for ministry effectiveness – that is working to build your people rather than to implement structures, committees, programs, and so on. When we focus on discipling people into spiritual health, the ministry will flow out of that training.

“We need to care for people and help them to flourish and grow in ministry, not squeeze them dry in the interests of keeping our programs running.”[2]

This principle spans every aspect of your ministry. Instead of filling spots with people who are untrained, begin by training your people and THEN they can start their own ministries as their gifts enable them to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isn’t that how the church should operate?

The church exists to take people from where they are to where they need to be spiritually. The church does not exist to make programs for people to come and enjoy and take part in with a slight mention of Jesus and the Great Commission. Instead, the church exists to be a part of that Great Commission. Jesus did not mean for the Great Commission to be exclusive to the disciples and end with them or the early church. No, it is a co-mission which means we join alongside Christ in advancing his kingdom. If we truly believe that Christ has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:19), then we must act as though he truly does. And we do that by making disciples, not building our trellises.

“If growing the vine is about growing people, we need to help each person grow, starting from where they are at this very moment.”[3]

Conclusion

When you apply the overarching principle of people rather than programs, you find that over time your church culture will change. The culture of a church is made by the pastor and trickles down over time through the leadership then down to the parishioners. But this change does not take a few months, it takes years, possibly generations. The change Marshall and Payne are working toward in this book is long-term, sustainable change. This is the type of change that takes years to build. But if we don’t start now, it will never get done.

When we change our priority from trellises to vines, we will see that our vines will become greener and bear fruit (see the relation?). You see, all of us know the answers for what the ministry fo the church is supposed to look like, yet we still ignore it and take the latest trends and fads to apply to our current context.

It’s easy to give the right answer in theory. But faith without works is dead.”[4]


[1] Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009), 18.

[2] Ibid., 20.

[3] Ibid., 89.

[4] Ibid., 149.