Articles

Who is Jesus?

This week, the blog is sponsored by the D3 Winter Conference, hosted by Boyce College. This year’s conference is designed to help high school students answer, with biblical fidelity, life’s most essential question: “Who is Jesus?” Registration is underway now for the March 10-11, 2023 in-person event.

Who is Jesus? Your answer to that question will ultimately determine your eternity. Yet, that is a question that Christians and non-Christians have been asking for more than 2000 years. As generations come and go it is vital that each new generation of Christians be challenged and equipped to answer this age-old question. Furthermore, it is paramount that younger (or newer) Christians answer this question from a biblically informed perspective. Who is Jesus according to the Bible?
In this current cultural climate, it is not uncommon for parents and pastors to wonder, is the younger generation of Christians prepared to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3)? In other words, is the 9th grader in your church youth group ready to defend their faith? Is the high school senior ready to articulate from a biblical worldview the person and work of Jesus on a college campus? These are urgent and timely questions for the next generation.
Today, Christians young and old are faced with competing ideas and claims concerning the identity of Jesus. Was he simply a wandering teacher? Was he a mythical figure used to pass down moral and meditative thoughts? These notions and others are commonly expressed in popular culture. Furthermore, many people, when talking about Jesus are prone to emphasize and highlight the qualities that best justify their personal opinions and perspective. Some want to emphasize his love, others his forgiveness, others his willingness to stand against the religious and political rulers of the day, and some are content to merely quote the words of Jesus that best serve their agenda.
So, back to the original question, Who is Jesus? At the outset of 2023, one could argue that it has never been more important for the next generation of Christians to be able to answer that timeless question. At the D3 Winter Conference we will challenge and equip high school students from the Bible to rightly understand and confidently respond to the question: Who is Jesus? Main speakers will include Drs. R. Albert Mohler Jr., Jimmy Scroggins, Paul Akin, and Rev. Scott Long. Breakouts will be led by Drs. Jeremy Pierre, Dustin Bruce, and Curtis Solomon. Over the course of the conference we will discuss the person and work of Jesus, the significance of his birth and death, be challenged by his words and commands, and discern what it really means to follow Jesus today.
At Boyce College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are passionate and intentional about equipping the next generation of Christians to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. One of the ways we seek to accomplish that purpose is through the D3 Winter Conference. This conference is designed for Christian high school students to develop and mature in their faith. The D3 Winter Conference will take place in Louisville, Kentucky on March 10-11, 2023. We look forward to seeing you there!

How Can I Have a Good Conscience?

Good Monday morning, and thank you for listening today. We begin the week with a really sharp and robust question from a listener named Arnaldo. Here it is: “Hello, Tony and Pastor John. Thank you for your labors on this podcast! My question is one that I have struggled with for over two decades now. It’s this: How can I live with a good conscience? The apostle Paul often talks about the conscience, and how specifically a ‘good conscience’ is something he always lived with, apparently even before he became a Christian (Acts 23:1; 24:16). We also see that a ‘good conscience’ is a qualification for Christian leaders (1 Timothy 3:9). And having a ‘good conscience’ is an important goal of the Christian life for all believers (1 Timothy 1:5, 19).

“When I read the way Paul uses the word conscience in these contexts, it seems like he’s saying it means to be ‘presently walking in obedience to everything God has revealed to him.’ He does not seem to mean that he’s trusting in Christ’s blood to cover over his indwelling sin. I believe in both the doctrine of indwelling sin and of progressive sanctification (according to texts like Proverbs 4:18 and Romans 7:21–23). God is always revealing to me new areas, and sometimes old areas, where I need to grow in holiness. These are very real sin issues that I can’t simply stop doing, like turning off a light switch. These are ones in which I am engaged in a long-term, ongoing struggle and fight. So I pray daily for forgiveness (according to 1 John 1:8–10 and Matthew 6:12).

“All this means that I literally never have a good conscience — I am always aware of important ways in which I presently need to repent and become more holy. So if a good conscience is a basic Christian issue, and Paul always had one, yet I will always know of sin areas in my life — and if I have to pray daily for forgiveness — how could I, or any Christian for that matter, ever attain to a good conscience?”

Well, Arnaldo has done his homework. He laid out texts in that question, as I hear it, that contain all the pieces. I’ve got a few to add that might take a little turn. Wow, he’s not winging it here in asking that question. If there’s a solution, and I do believe there is, it’s probably found inside those texts that he was just commenting on, but maybe drawing some inferences from them that were not necessarily accurate.

Sin That Dwells Within

I feel the force of the question. Experientially, walking in a good conscience is not easy for me since I share Arnaldo’s deep awareness of my ongoing, indwelling sin. That’s Paul’s term in Romans 7:17, 20, 23. We all have remaining corruption and indwelling sin. The more keenly you are aware of that, the more you will feel embattled at the level of needing a good conscience.

“The whole New Testament does assume that in this life, nobody attains sinless perfection.”

I get it. I mean, I think that’s a serious question. The whole New Testament does assume that in this life, nobody attains sinless perfection. We need to just settle that. That’s one of the premises. Nobody attains sinless perfection in this life.

Jesus said that we would pray, “Forgive us our debts” right after, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11–12). They go together. Every day, say both of those. Paul said, “Not that I have already attained [perfection], but I press on to make it my own” (Philippians 3:12). He referred to the sin that dwells in him and cried out in dismay, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Jesus pointed to the publican who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” over against the Pharisee who was thanking God that he had such a clear conscience — and he said that the one who cried out for mercy about his sin went down to his house justified (Luke 18:10–14). It was good for him to own his sinfulness, not to say, “Oh, it doesn’t exist. I’ve got a clear conscience. I don’t have any sin to repent of.” We feel the force.

Now, I think 1 John 1 is not only especially illuminating but gives us a category alongside good conscience that may provide the solution.

Walking in the Light

Here’s my reading of 1 John 1, starting with verses 6 and 7.

If we say we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Now, that is staggeringly amazing. “If we walk in the light . . . the blood of Jesus . . . cleanses us.” Wow. Here’s 1 John 1:8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Now he’s reeling it back in and saying, “Don’t assume that when I say, ‘Walk in the light,’ I mean sinlessness.” First John 1:9–10 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Now, what’s amazing about this passage is that it says we must be walking in the light for the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from our sins. Then he says that this walking in the light doesn’t mean sinlessness. We are liars if we say it does. Then he explains that when we walk in the light, we see clearly enough — we have light — to know sin, to see sin as what it is and hate it and confess it. Then we enjoy ongoing cleansing and forgiveness.

“A good conscience is virtually the same as walking in the light.”

Here’s what I would draw from this if I use the category of conscience to explain this passage: a good conscience is virtually the same as walking in the light. Christians should be able to say, “I’m walking in the light,” and mean it, and mean by that, “I’m walking in a good conscience.” Which means I don’t think we should equate having a bad conscience with having indwelling sin. Now, that may be the most important thing I say, Tony. Let me say it again. I’m inferring, from what I’ve said from 1 John 1, that having a bad conscience is not the same as having indwelling sin. They’re not the same.

Our Clear Conscience

That’s my basic answer to Arnaldo’s question. He feels that as long as he is aware of the reality of indwelling sin, as in Romans 7, he cannot have a good conscience. Now, if that were true, I don’t think Paul could ever have a good conscience, but he clearly says he does have a good conscience.

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience” (2 Timothy 1:3). He expects the elders of the church to do the same: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). That’s the goal for all Christians. According to 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” I don’t think we should equate a good conscience with sinless perfection in this life, nor equate a bad conscience with the presence of indwelling sin or remaining corruption. Rather, a clear or a good conscience is like walking in the light.

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin [in other words, if we interpret “walking in the light” as “sinless perfection”], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7–9)

David’s Example

I think both Paul and John inherited this concept of ongoing, indwelling sin that nevertheless coexists with a good conscience from the Psalms in the Old Testament.

For example, in Psalm 25, David confesses three times that he’s a sinner. “[God] instructs sinners in the way” (verse 8); “Pardon my guilt, for it is great” (verse 11); “Forgive all my sins” (verse 18). The psalm comes to an end in verse 21 like this: “May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”

In David’s mind — now, he’s writing under God’s inspiration, and this is not the only place in the Psalms; there are a lot of psalms that distinguish the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are really righteous: they’re walking in the light; they have a good conscience. In David’s mind, there is an integrity and an uprightness that is aware of indwelling corruption that breaks out at times in sins. It does. And that ongoing reality of indwelling sin does not nullify what David calls his integrity and his uprightness.

I think Paul and John saw that. They were immersed in the Old Testament and used language that way. John used the language of walking in the light though we are imperfect. Paul used the language of walking in a good conscience though we are imperfect. I think for all of them (David, Paul, John), the key that enabled them to think this way is that they all knew God had made a way for all their sins to be passed over — namely, the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. David knew this was coming, and Paul and John knew it had come.

I do think Arnaldo is right to say that justification by faith is not the same as walking in a good conscience, or walking in the light, or having integrity. Those are real character traits, not imputed righteousness. Nevertheless, it’s the covering of all their sins by the blood of Jesus that enables them to look upon their conscience and walking and integrity with thankfulness and confidence that it really will be accepted by God as good, though imperfect.

People of Integrity

Here’s one last implication. People might think, “Well, how does this matter?” Here’s a concrete illustration of how it matters. Suppose a pastor is accused falsely of being unfaithful to his wife. The reason he’s accused is because someone in the congregation hates him and wants him to be dismissed. When he comes before the church or the elders to state the truth, with his children present and his wife looking on, that is not the time for him to say to the church, “Well, yes, I am a sinner like everybody else. I’m no better than adulterers. Everyone has indwelling sin that crops out from time to time. I shouldn’t be put on a pedestal. I’m no better than anyone else.”

No, no, no. That is not the time to say that with your kids listening, and your wife listening, and the whole church wondering. What you need to say at that moment is this: “My conscience is clear. I am a man of integrity. I have walked in the light. I have never touched that woman or any woman sexually besides my wife. This accusation is not true.”

I think that is one of the implications of what Paul is saying when he says to the elders and to the rest of us that we should walk in a good conscience — or as John would say, walk in the light.

The Other Lord’s Prayer

The KJV translation of the Lord’s Prayer is one of the most well-known portions of Scripture in the West. But we find the Lord’s Prayer twice in the Gospels — once in Matthew (6:9–13) and once in Luke (11:1–4). Doubtless Jesus delivered this prayer on multiple occasions. While the Matthew and Luke versions are remarkably similar, there are a handful of important differences. The most obvious difference is Luke’s omission of “Your will be done” and “Deliver us from evil.” In this article, however, we will briefly sketch two of the subtler differences and apply these insights to our personal lives.

Before we comment on a handful of unique features of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, we will first examine one common, salient denominator between the two presentations of the Lord’s Prayer (a point I expand upon further in my Handbook on the Gospels). Both evangelists underscore the name “Father” at the beginning of the prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2).

Our Father

This appellation is odd, as Jews typically do not address God as their “Father.” The Old Testament primarily casts God as Israel’s covenant-keeping King who rules over the cosmos and graciously commits himself to preserving his people. This explains why the typical names are, for example, “Lord,” “Yahweh,” and “God.” While the Old Testament presents Israel’s God as Father on a few occasions (Exodus 4:22–23; Deuteronomy 1:29–31; 32:6; Psalm 103:13–14; Proverbs 3:11–12; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Malachi 2:10), the title appears relatively rarely.

In the four Gospels, on the other hand, Jesus’s favorite term for addressing God is “Father” (for example, Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:38; Luke 2:49; John 5:17). Furthermore, Jesus, on a number of occasions, claims that God is also the “Father” of the disciples (Matthew 5:16, 48; 6:1; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36; 11:13; 12:32; John 14:7, 21). What accounts for the shift of language from the Old Testament to the New? Richard Bauckham argues that “Jesus may have understood Abba to be the new name of God that corresponded to the new beginning, the new exodus, the new covenant with his people that God was initiating” (Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, 67). Just as God gives Israel a distinct name for himself in the exodus (Exodus 3:14–15), so now God receives another name in the second exodus.

The term “Father,” then, would include not only a new dimension of intimacy but also a new revelatory description of Israel’s Lord. God, the Father, will now be known by his work of redemption in his Son. The Lord’s Prayer, then, is primarily marked by pleading to God to continue working out the new eschatological phase in his program — the long-awaited second exodus.

Teach Us to Pray

Now that we can appreciate the trajectory of the Lord’s Prayer more fully, let us consider how Luke frames the prayer. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew (6:9–13) occurs within the famed Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29), whereas Luke places the account in Jesus’s journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51–19:27).

All three Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’s journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, but Luke reserves more than one-third of his narrative for the journey. This portion of Luke’s Gospel is largely filled with parables and difficult sayings. The crowds (and Luke’s audience) must be willing to suffer for the sake of the kingdom and embrace a Messiah who suffers and bears God’s curse. The Lord’s Prayer, then, serves as a guide for communing with God, asking him to achieve his redemptive purposes in the life of believers, and solidifying one’s commitment to him.

“The Lord’s Prayer serves as a guide for communing with God.”

Luke dedicates more space to Jesus’s prayer life than any other evangelist (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 22:41, 44). Jesus prays at critical moments in his ministry. Indeed, prayer bookends his ministry: we find Jesus praying at his baptism in the Jordan River (3:21) as well as on the cross (23:46). We should assume that the disciples, like many first-century Jews, would have sought a robust prayer life. They would have recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5–9) in the morning and evening and often prayed in their local synagogues.

The second half of Luke 11:1 reads, “When [Jesus] finished [praying], one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” This verse gives us the impression that the disciples noticed something peculiar about Jesus’s prayer life. Was it when Jesus prayed, how he prayed, or what he prayed? Was it all three?

Each Day’s Bread

Five imperatives are found in both Matthew’s and Luke’s depictions of the Lord’s Prayer — “hallowed,” “come,” “give,” “forgive,” and “lead . . . not.” The first two commands are somewhat synonymous since they entail the expansion of God’s presence throughout the cosmos (Luke 11:2). The remaining three petitions constitute the manner in which the first two are carried out. That is, the requests for provision (11:3), forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from temptation (11:4) entail the responsibilities of the disciples in the ever-expanding kingdom.

Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Give us today our daily bread” (6:11), whereas Luke adds, “Give us each day our daily bread” (11:3). The addition of “each day” (to kath’ hēmeran) accents the disciples’ radical dependence upon God’s provision in their lives. This precise idea of relying upon God providing “bread” for his people recalls Jesus’s first wilderness temptation, where the devil entices Jesus to transform a stone into bread (Luke 4:3). Jesus refuses and then quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’” (Luke 4:4). In Deuteronomy 8, the general point is that Israel must be wholly dependent upon God’s life-giving promises and presence. If Israel trusts God, then the nation will enter the promised land, “a land where bread will not be scarce and you [Israel] will lack nothing” (Deuteronomy 8:9).

The Lord’s Prayer likely has in mind Jesus’s wilderness temptation and Deuteronomy 8 — a passage that, in turn, looks back to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and God’s feeding them daily with manna. Because Jesus succeeded in clinging to the promises of God by not transforming the stone into bread, he gained the victory over the devil. Jesus’s success in the wilderness empowers the disciples to conquer sin and thereby receive the “daily bread” of the Lord.

In a word, the daily provision of bread the Father delivers to his people concretely demonstrates that they have spiritually entered the promised land of the new creation. Perhaps, then, Luke’s addition of “each day” functions as a continual reminder of God’s end-time blessing in one’s life.

Forgive Our Sins

Luke’s prayer also contains another unique detail. Matthew’s Gospel reads, “Forgive our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), but Luke’s Gospel states, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4 NIV). The forgiveness of sins is exclusively bound up with Jesus’s atoning work on the cross.

Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, expected God to forgive the sins of his people at the end of history — a final, eschatological act of pardoning grounded in the servant’s faithful atoning ministry (Isaiah 43:25; 52:13–53:12; Jeremiah 31:34; Micah 7:19). Luke explicitly identifies Jesus as the long-awaited servant of Isaiah (Luke 2:32 [citing Isaiah 49:6]; 22:37 [citing Isaiah 53:12]). Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, then, rests upon Jesus’s sacrificial death.

Remarkably, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Prayer before his work on the cross, but we must remember that all of Jesus’s life is oriented toward securing forgiveness of sins on the cross (see Luke 3:3, 21; 5:20–24; 7:47–49; 24:47). In addition, because Jesus’s followers fully identify with Jesus, they are endowed with the authority to grant “forgiveness” to others. What is true of the “servant” is true of his followers — the little “servants.”

Pray Like This

How do we apply these truths to our daily lives?

“Those forgiven have firsthand knowledge of the need for forgiveness.”

First, by asking God to provide us “each day our daily bread,” we admit our radical dependence on him, pleading with him to finish what he began. God has initially and spiritually placed us in the promised land of the new creation, but we still await the full transformation of our hearts and bodies.

Second, Jesus calls us to always ask God to grant us forgiveness of sins. While Christ died for our sins once for all, we continually come before the throne and plead with him to forgive the sins that beset us. In addition, he commands us to extend forgiveness to those who have offended us. Those forgiven have firsthand knowledge of the need for forgiveness, so we should never be tightfisted in granting it to others.

The Decay of the World and the Love of God

Do you ever find yourself wondering just how much the Lord loves us? Do you ever find yourself wondering just how good his purposes can be and just how glorious his plans? Do you ever find yourself wondering if God really cares?

I found myself pondering these matters the other day after a friend sent me an article about the precipitous rise of euthanasia in Canada. What politicians insisted would be nothing more than a means to hasten death for those who are terminally ill has actually become a means to prey upon the vulnerable.
While many request euthanasia to avoid pain in their final days, some are now using it simply because they are downcast or impoverished. Veterans who seek help for emotional turmoil are being offered the option of suicide. Those who can’t afford to live are being allowed to die. As the article says, “Since Canada legalized euthanasia in 2016, there has been a strange balancing act at the heart of its medical system. There is a national suicide prevention hotline you can call 24/7, where sympathetic operators will try to talk you out of killing yourself. But today there are also euthanasia hotlines, where operators will give you the resources you need to carry out your wish. Doctors and nurse practitioners are now in the business of saving the lives of some patients while providing death to others.” And all this is taking place before the rules grow even more permissive in the months ahead.
This is just one of many moral abominations that has taken root in the modern Western imagination—a context in which aborting babies is understood to be as inalienable a right as voting, in which even questioning the goodness of assisting children in transitioning from one gender to another (as if such a thing were even possible) is considered contemptible, in which the basic family structure that holds society together is being disparaged and undermined. “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
If we were to list all of society’s ills we would be here all day and all night. And it brings to mind one of the Bible’s most sobering woes—one of its most terrifying warnings to those who turn from God’s ways. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” We see all of this before us each and every day.
Yet my purpose here is not to recount the ways in which society curses God, but to consider God’s love for his people. There is a connection between the two. For as I have pondered society’s full-out rebellion against God, I also found myself marveling that he does not just strike this whole world and everyone in it with his hand of judgment. Why does he allow all this evil to continue? Why does he permit people to carry on and even deepen their rebellion against him?
Surely the answer is not apathy. Surely it is not inability or disinterest. There must be some other very good reasons. And the best I can figure is that those reasons must relate to God’s love and purposes.
God loves his people—the people he chose to be his own even before he created this world. Yet clearly not all of his people have yet been saved—nor probably even been born. God’s love for his people is so great that he will continue to tolerate all of this sin and rebellion, all of this hatred toward him, until the last of his chosen and beloved children has been born, has heard the gospel, and has been saved.
And then God has purposes he means to accomplish in this world, the foremost among them being glorifying himself. His purposes in this world must be so good and must bring such glory to his name that he permits evil to continue. For God freely makes use of the evil actions of men to bring about the best of his plans and accomplish the best of his purposes—purposes like the preservation of his people through famine and the salvation of his people through Christ’s crucifixion. Even the greatest evil is God’s servant to accomplish great good.
So the next time you are faced with the sheer depravity of this world, allow it to point you beyond the evil of man to consider the purposes of God. The next time you are forced to consider the rebellion that exists in the hearts of men, consider also the love that flows from the heart of God. You will see that his purposes are so good and his heart so tender that he will continue to allow mankind to rage against him and commit abhorrent acts so that he might welcome in all of his people and further the glory of his great name.

A La Carte (January 30)

Good morning. Grace and peace to you.

Today’s Kindle deals include several books in the Theologians on the Christian Life series.
Killed by what they thought would save them
“Seventy years ago, on the last Saturday morning in January, the MV Princess Victoria left the port of Stranraer in South-West Scotland. She was heading for Ireland with 179 people on board – but never arrived.” This article offers a few illustrations from the disaster.
Just because I’m religious, doesn’t mean I’m superstitious
“Has this ever happened to you? You’re speaking to someone about Christ and all of the sudden the conversation takes a turn for the weird. Not the normal weird of being a Christian in a fallen world, but I mean weird weird.”
Why Body Image is an Australian issue
Murray Campbell offers quite a long reflection on body image and related issues.
Unlocking Heaven
“Yet we know that locks can be picked. As our church’s resident locksmith knows, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Especially considering today’s use of electronic locks, it is possible to hack your way past any locked barrier if you have the right amount of knowledge and skill. Not so with heaven.”
How My Dying Friend Helped Me
Kevin considers some of what he learned from a dying friend.
The Picture Frame
“Whether in frames or boxes, we hold onto our happy memories, an older version of curating our lives before the advent of social media. Because we don’t snap pictures of tantrums, do we? Of the lies and defiance, the visits to hospitals and police stations, the long nights of illness or comforting broken teenage hearts?”
Flashback: The Key To Making the Most Out of Congregational Singing
Of course we sing to God, but we also sing for one another. God is the object of our worship, but our singing is also a means of mutual encouragement. In our singing, we all have equal opportunity to proclaim truth.

Laziness is not an infirmity; it is a sin. It affects the whole of our lives. —Alistair Begg

Wallpaper: Stability

January 30, 2023

“In the midst of triumphs and trials alike, here is what can give you stability: that God’s steadfast love and mercies toward you will never expire.” —Alistair Begg

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Encore: Evangelicalism from 2000–2020

In November, Christ Over All offered a decade-by-decade engagement with evangelicalism. We would encourage you to go read many of those fine essays. In this two-part “Encore Essay” by Mark Devine, we return to our November theme, Engaging Evangelicalism, because of its many applications for our January theme: Roe v Wade after Dobbs.
While Evangelicals should not define themselves by politics, they have had an outsized role in political affairs throughout America’s history. Therefore, to understand evangelicalism one must grapple with the various ways politics, and especially the Pro-Life movement, have intersected with one another. To that end, Mark DeVine follows the last twenty years of evangelicalism to show the cross currents which have blown through our country.
Picking up a theme introduced by Jeff Robinson in his two-part narrative, the most significant movement among young evangelicals in North America between the years 2000 and 2020 was the resurgence of Reformed theology. Heading into the 2000’s Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 church planting network influenced a broad swath of young evangelicals with Reformed theology. On the other coast, it was New York City pastor and The Gospel Coalition co-founder Timothy Keller who greatly influenced the Reformed resurgence among young evangelicals—what Colin Hansen called the “Young, Restless, and Reformed”—penetrating even the largest evangelical denominations and publishing houses. In the middle of the country were streams identified with the preaching of John Piper in Minneapolis, Don Carson’s writing and scholarship in Chicagoland, and Albert Mohler’s institutional leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Perhaps the most surprising development in these yearly years of the Reformed Resurgence was its embrace by entity heads from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).[1]  Likewise, representing the rising generation of multi-site church pastors, Matt Chandler understood and shared with younger SBC-ers the staying power of institutions. At a 9Marks at 9 event, he said, “movements come-and-go, but institutions stay.” In this way, the staying power of this Reformed resurgence would occur largely within the safe harbor of larger denominations such as Keller’s own Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) the immense SBC.
1. Despite an abundance of anti-Calvinists present at all levels of the Southern Baptist Convention, Keller’s gospel-centered appeal to a rising generation of Calvinists in SBC seminaries and other institutions led to an ever-widening embrace of the Keller movement.
In what follows I will give a broad brushstroke of this movement along with some of its key thought leaders.
Making Calvinism Cool
The Reformed Resurgence found rich soil in the theological ground cultivated for decades by bestselling theologians John R. W. Stott, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and John Piper—men who led movements of their own. But by the mid 2000s, Driscoll—who also gained notoriety for his work in the emerging church—was arguably the face of the burgeoning recovery of Calvinism among young evangelicals sweeping the country. One impressive feature of the movement was its effective targeting of notoriously resistant contexts for gospel advance—the great cities of America. 20- and 30-somethings in skinny jeans were in cities across the nation, by the tens of thousands, happily sitting under candid preaching about sin, hell, and predestination. Through his nationwide reach, Driscoll helped make Calvinism cool.
Multiple scandals that eventually came to a head in 2014 led to the demise of Mars Hill and the dimming of Driscoll’s once bright and rising star. But other Calvinistic preachers continued preaching and leading, and one of them rose to greater prominence: Timothy Keller.[2] Keller had amazed church planters across the evangelical world by his success in Manhattan, and once The Reason For God appeared in 2008, Keller emerged as a nationally recognized star, a uniquely gifted apologist for the faith, and a church planting guru. With keen cultural awareness, Keller’s engagement within the context of a metropolitan city not only opened doors to share the gospel in New York—and in The New York Times—but it also resonated with Christians across the country hungry for a doctrinally-based approach to evangelism.
2. While it’s difficult to assess popularity, a rough metric in google trends (which shows how often certain terms are searched for by millions of people online) shows the general rise of Driscoll and then his eclipse by Keller after 2014—as measured by search results of “Mark Driscoll” and “Tim Keller.”
Indeed, both Driscoll and Keller sought to advance a robust Reformed theology in urban settings. But Keller’s strategic posture could hardly have contrasted more sharply with Driscoll’s. Driscoll assaulted Seattle audiences with an at times in-your-face, confrontational brand of preaching. Keller’s relaxed, open, comforting dialogical style prioritized the approach commended under the “About Us” tab on The Gospel Coalition website. What is true of the organization he co-founded is also true of himself—Keller strives to provide resources that are “winsome and wise, and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
When Cool Begins to Freeze Evangelical Light
By 2016, the Keller movement—at least in its theology of a sovereign God, its church planting philosophy, its Christocentric preaching method, and its apologetic posture toward the culture—found itself deeply ensconced within both the PCA and the SBC and many other centers of evangelical influence. Keller had released one bestselling book after another and had become for evangelicals something of a national sensation. Yet in 2016, Keller and his movement found itself the subject of unrelenting and withering criticism, not from the politically progressive communities they served, but from their conservative theological siblings who charged them with accommodating their message to the progressive urban cultures they inhabited.
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Worship, Polity, & the PCA

All is not well in the way worship is conducted in the PCA. Even as observance of the Lord’s Supper becomes more frequent in our churches, it seems that errors in its conduct multiply. These include the bizarre and biblically-unfounded practice of intinction (where the bread is dipped in wine and the two actions of the supper become confused), distribution of elements by unordained persons and even children, and so-called “young child communion” where some churches regularly admit children as young as four years old to the table. 
The state of worship in the Presbyterian Church in America is arguably better than it has ever been, at least as far as liturgy goes. More churches now use recognizably Reformed liturgies than at any point in the denomination’s history. These are liturgies that include the biblical elements of worship—they are not just the standard evangelical format of  “30 minutes of singing/30 minutes of preaching.” What may be lacking though are the hard-to-define (but essential) qualities of reverence and awe. What may be trending is leadership of worship that does not comport with or support presbyterian polity. And what may be chipping away at the foundations of proper worship are errant and novel practices, mostly regarding the Lord’s Supper.
Granted, most PCA churches employ liturgies that have more in common with those of the Continent rather than those of the holy presbyterian isle, Scotland. A standard PCA liturgy looks something like this, with minor variations in order and terminology:
Call to worshipHymn or psalmInvocationLord’s PrayerConfession of sinDeclaration/assurance of pardonConfession of faithSinging of the doxologyPrayer and offeringPastoral prayerScripture readingHymn or psalmScripture readingSermon (with prayer before and after)Lord’s Supper (weekly or monthly, bookended by additional prayers)Closing hymn or psalmBenediction
This is scripturally-regulated worship made up of biblical elements. The dialogical pattern of God speaking by his Word and his people responding in prayer, praise, and confession is obvious. There are many prayers and lots of scripture. Rearrange the order, change a term or two, and you have a liturgy that is common not only to most PCA churches, but also to most of the confessional churches affiliated with the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) and, indeed, to most conservative Reformed churches the world over for the last five centuries. But otherwise-solid liturgies may be undermined by things done, left undone, or done improperly—additions, omissions, and errors.
What are some examples of tangible and intangible things which have been added to liturgies, to the detriment of simple, biblical, Spirit-and-truth Reformed worship? We would propose the following:
First, an overly horizontal, man-centered ethos may be reflected in informal or casual approaches to the service, which could include announcements or presentations that break up the dialogical-biblical flow and tone of the service. These might focus on service opportunities or might amount to promotional pitches complete with video presentations or distribution of materials. Fellowship times in the middle of the service (sometimes called “passing of the peace” or even “halftime.”) might succeed in establishing a familiar or homey feel even as they distract from the holy purpose of worship. Children’s activities or the departure of children from the service at some point may also prove disruptive. Other unwelcome additions include showy musical performances, loud or complex musical accompaniment or leadership (which may also dominate visually as a central focus),  or other inappropriate visual elements. Too often, we also find whole seasons imported to the simple, ordinary,  and biblical Reformed tradition, like Lent and Holy Week. Somewhat related are the eclectic additions of the Anglican-attracted, which includes complicated and variable clerical garb and vestments, crossings, bowing at prescribed times, or turning to face a cross, bible, or procession. Finally (and possibly most destructive) we may bring “the warfare of the world…into the house of God,” as J. Gresham Machen lamented in the 1920s. In his day the imported social and political issues included “things that divide nation from nation and race from race…human pride…the passions of war.” Little has changed in the last 100 years since Machen published Christianity and Liberalism. The battle for spiritual worship continues.
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Comparing Overture 15’s Dissenters to Presbytery Votes

To date (January 25, 2023), 51 presbyteries have voted on Overture 15, with 30 voting to pass and 21 voting not to pass, under the two-thirds threshold to bring the amendment to the floor of the 50th General Assembly. Overture 15 has passed in 81 percent of the presbyteries without a dissenting commissioner (17-4), while it has only passed in 47 percent of the presbyteries with a dissenting commissioner (14-16).
 
Recording a dissent is an important feature of presbyterian polity. It allows officers to disagree respectfully with their fellow elders, expresses solemn opposition to a position held by a majority, and provides transparency and accountability in public record. While I’ve voiced my own approval of Overture 15, nonetheless I am grateful for the men who had the conviction to record their dissent, as well as for the process that allowed them to do so.
Although members of a court agree to submit to the outcome of a vote, the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order allows for members of a court to record a dissent or protest (BCO 45-1). A dissent is “a declaration on the part of one or more members of a minority, expressing a different opinion from the majority in its action on any issue before the court, and may be accompanied with the reasons on which it is founded” (BCO 45-2).
Recorded in the minutes of the 49th General Assembly are the names of the commissioners who recorded their dissent from the majority that passed Overture 15 (see pp. 80-85 in the GA minutes).
Although the reasons for a dissent may be recorded to accompany the names of those dissenting (BCO 45-2), so long as it is “couched in temperate language” (BCO 45-5), no reasons accompany the names of those dissenting in the minutes. Since that time, various individuals have published their opinions and reasons for dissenting in writing.
Who are the dissenters?
Altogether, 199 commissioners representing 58 presbyteries recorded their dissenting vote. Ruling elders (44, 22%) were disproportionately underrepresented among dissenters relative to their presence in the court (663, 31%), while teaching elders (155, 78%) were disproportionately overrepresented by the same comparison (1499, 69%).

The data seem to suggest that REs are more likely than TEs to support the passage of Overture 15, though of course more research would be needed to confirm such a hypothesis. Given this pattern, it is also interesting to note the presbyteries where the number of REs dissenting exceeded the number of TEs dissenting (Evangel, Southern New England, Southern Louisiana, and Philadelphia, each with one more RE than TE dissenting).
Which presbyteries did dissenters represent?
Nashville presbytery had the greatest number of dissenters with 19 (7 REs, 12 TEs). Evangel (6 REs, 5 TEs) and Metropolitan New York (1 RE, 10 TEs) each had 11 dissenters, Missouri presbytery (3 REs, 7 TEs) had 10, and Northern California (1 RE, 7 TEs) had eight. Five other presbyteries had six dissenters each. Another 48 presbyteries had five or fewer, including 20 each with one dissenter.

Thirty presbyteries did not have a single commissioner recording a dissenting vote. They are: Arizona, Ascension, Canada West, Columbus Metro, Fellowship, Grace, Gulf Coast, Heartland, Heritage, Illiana, Iowa, James River, Korean Northeastern, Korean Northwest, Korean Southern, New Jersey, New River, Northern New England, Northwest Georgia, Ohio, Pee Dee, Philadelphia Metro West, Platte Valley, Providence, Savannah River, Siouxlands, Southeast Alabama, Southwest Florida, Warrior, West Hudson.
What is the status of these presbyteries with respect to Overture 15?
As recording a dissent indicates more impassioned opposition to Overture 15, it is reasonable to believe that these commissioners may be playing a role to that effect in their presbyteries. To date (January 25, 2023), 51 presbyteries have voted on Overture 15, with 30 voting to pass and 21 voting not to pass, under the two-thirds threshold to bring the amendment to the floor of the 50th General Assembly. Overture 15 has passed in 81 percent of the presbyteries without a dissenting commissioner (17-4), while it has only passed in 47 percent of the presbyteries with a dissenting commissioner (14-16).

Concluding Thoughts
As I’ve already stated, I have great respect for presbyterian polity, and the processes by which men debate issues at hand, vote, and even express disagreement with outcomes. It is therefore important for men elected to office to engage with the issues and participate in the process. This includes both teaching and ruling elders. Given some of the disparities on those dissenting, for good or for ill, ruling elders are the tillermen who will help steer the direction of the PCA by their participation or lack thereof.
Matthew Lee is a ruling elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, AR.
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Confused Classifications at Credo: Or, Hans Boersma Is Not Reformed

No matter how that question is answered, someone who favors regarding Scripture and tradition as being our proper rule of faith (regula fidei) over Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is channeling the beliefs of Rome rather than the Reformation, and may not be justly termed either evangelical or Reformed – or for that matter, Protestant, his formal church affiliations (the Anglican Church in North America) notwithstanding. 

It is curious to find an outsider discussing one’s group and its tenets. The thing is often helpful, since the outsider brings a different perspective that can help those within a given group realize where their beliefs are lacking in consistency or clarity, or where they have too much exaggerated their presumed strengths or understated or ignored their weaknesses. It is not particularly curious to find an outsider defining the nature of one’s beliefs or purporting to determine who is and is not a part of one’s group, however. When someone who is not a Presbyterian says that we are too prone to squabbling amongst ourselves, mere justice to the truth often compels one to grimace in pained agreement. But when a member of another tradition or an unbeliever comes along and tells you what you believe or includes within your communion someone you consider an outsider, the result is not amusement or begrudging agreement.
So it is with some annoyance that we find a Lutheran interim pastor and former professor at two Baptist institutions (Eastern University and Gateway Seminary), Carl Mosser, discussing what he calls the Reformed reception of the beatific vision in Credo. Of particular interest are the following statements:
Convinced departure from traditional Christian teaching about humanity’s chief end is adverse to healthy spirituality, Boersma and Allen seek to retrieve the doctrine for the sake of renewal. They are especially concerned for its recovery within the Reformed tradition.
And:
When theologians like Hans Boersma and Michael Horton unpack humanity’s chief end in terms of the beatific vision and deification, they are not importing exotic doctrines into the garden of Reformed theology.
Michael Horton and Michael Allen are professors at Reformed institutions, but Hans Boersma is not Reformed in any meaningful sense of the term, contrary to what these statements seem to imply, and contrary to what is implied yet more strongly in one of the footnotes:
Though historically a minority position within the Reformed tradition, Allen and Boersma both incline toward a Christological understanding of the beatific vision indebted to John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. 
Boersma holds the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House, works especially in “patristic theology, twentieth-century Catholic thought, and spiritual interpretation of Scripture,” is motivated by his interest in what he calls “sacramental ontology,” and has published books like Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery about major trends in the Roman communion. He also quotes Pope Francis approvingly, refers to himself as a Christian Platonist, and is on record saying that the Reformation was a tragedy that should be lamented.
And while such things ought to suffice to dispel the mistaken notion that Boersma is somehow Reformed, the same issue affords material evidence that makes that fact yet more painfully obvious. Asked “who have been your most formative influences in theology and ministry?” Boersma replied:
I would say Henri de Lubac, the twentieth-century Jesuit patristic scholar, has been the most formative for me. His understanding of participation, his reading of the church fathers, and especially his reappropriation of spiritual exegesis is profound, and has deeply shaped my reading of Scripture and my entire metaphysical outlook. Beyond de Lubac, Yves Congar’s view of tradition (and its relation to Scripture) has also been important to me. It helped me leave behind a sola scriptura view and acknowledge the inescapable intertwining of Scripture and tradition—and as a result, I’ve come to have a much more receptive, appreciative attitude toward the Christian past.
Most Reformed people would answer that question with Calvin, Martyr, Bucer, Flavel, Sibbes, Watson, Rutherford, Owen, Chalmers, M’Cheyne, Hodge, Warfield, Lloyd Jones, Sproul, or some other reformer, Puritan, or later Reformed minister or theologian. With Boersma we get a Jesuit (!) and Yves Congar, a major and deeply controversial figure in the Roman communion who was heavily involved in Vatican II, as well as an unabashed admission that Boersma has abandoned sola scriptura because of what he regards as the “inescapable intertwining of Scripture and tradition.”
Now lay aside the thorny taxonomic question of the precise relationship of the Reformed and evangelical traditions of the Reformation, and whether they are utterly distinct (as R. Scott Clark would argue) or fundamentally intertwined, as many others would suggest (especially on the Presbyterian side of the wider Reformed tradition). No matter how that question is answered, someone who favors regarding Scripture and tradition as being our proper rule of faith (regula fidei) over Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is channeling the beliefs of Rome rather than the Reformation, and may not be justly termed either evangelical or Reformed – or for that matter, Protestant, his formal church affiliations (the Anglican Church in North America) notwithstanding.
And yet notwithstanding such a painfully obvious display of Romanist[1] inclinations as I have quoted above, Mosser on three occasions implies that Boersma is Reformed. You might be forgiven, dear reader, for thinking that such a blunder on his part and the part of Credo’s editors justifies being rather skeptical of everything else that Mosser writes when he purports to present the Reformed acceptance of the beatific vision. We shall consider that important matter in a subsequent article, but for now let it be noted that by such sloppiness in presentation Credo is unhelpfully skewing the lines of what qualifies as Reformed; and almost I begin to think that people who purport to “retrieve classical Christianity” from the medieval and early church, but who cannot accurately classify theologians in the here and now, are perhaps not fully to be trusted in the former endeavor either.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.

[1] My use of Romanist rather than Catholic when referring to the beliefs of the papal communion is not intended as an epithet, but arises because on a consistent Protestant view Rome is a false church and therefore has no right to present itself as catholic, inherent in which is the suggestion that we, who are outside her communion, are therefore severed from the true church of Christ. We would say that we are the true heirs of the catholic faith, and that Rome’s peculiar doctrines are later accretions that frequently undermine the true faith. Hence in Animadversions Upon Fiat Lux Owen speaks of affairs “when once Romanism began to be enthroned, and had driven Catholicism out of the world” (p. 260). Again, the term is used for reasons of conscience, not to promote hatred.
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