5 Lectures from Trueman

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It seems to me that every pastor needs interaction with the best of men from other Christian traditions. Such interaction protects against the accusation of insulation. We need the sharpening power of other convictions and interpretations on Scripture, theology, and history. And it helps when the given interlocutor is full of wit and wisdom.

One such man for me is Carl Trueman. I read and listen to anything of his I can get my hands on. I don’t always agree with him, but oh how he challenges my often preconceived notions of evangelical Christianity. He’s consistently insightful and frequently hilarious. If you haven’t learned from him before, here’s a good place to start.

Changing Times, Unchanging Truths

Back in October 2012 The United Christian Church of Dubai, pastored by John Folmar, hosted Trueman for Truth & Faithfulness: Timeless Truths for Changing Times. He lectured five times on historical giants such as Knox, Owen, Warfield, Machen, and Lloyd-Jones. Each talk contains his characteristic historical verve and they are also full of random, illuminated asides. Download the lectures below, queue them up on a playlist, and listen to them whenever you have the time—I’m sure you’ll find them rewarding.

What Spurgeon Can Teach Us Today

Back in 2012 RTS-Orlando established the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies in honor of Roger Nicole (1915-2010). Nicole, a founding editorial board member of Christianity Today, was a distinguished visiting faculty member at RTS from 1989 to 2000. The NIBS typically hosts an annual Spurgeon Lecture in April. The Spurgeon Lecture, named after the great Reformed Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon, is designed to equip and inform the audience on a broad range of theological, historical and cultural issues.

In 2013 John Piper delivered the Spurgeon Lection with a message titled, “The Life and Ministry of Charles Spurgeon.” I think the Prince would have been pleased. Watch the lecture below, be amazed, and be encouraged.

A Faithful Friend

M'Cheyne

Some years ago I heard John Piper recount recount the genesis for his love affair with Jonathan Edwards. He said, “One of my seminary professors suggested to us back in 1970 that we find one great and godly teacher in the history of the church and make him a lifelong companion. That’s what Edwards has become for me. It’s hard to overestimate what he has meant to me theologically and personally in my vision of God and my love for Christ.”

Upon hearing that advice I immediately set about finding a “lifelong companion” from church history.

A Whimsical Purchase

For quite a while it seemed as though Edwards would be my own historical mentor.  It all began with George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life, a ravishing account that still may be the best biography I’ve ever read. Marsden, for me, was the gateway into further Edwards study—study I found unusually captivating. So many aspects of his life and ministry invigorated my soul: his ruthless devotion to God, warmth in cherishing God’s sweetness and beauty, unmatched theological profundity, and faithful labor in his home. And so it was from 2007-2010 that Edwards was my homeboy.

Yet something happened in the summer of 2010 that shifted my focus from the Northampton man; on a whim I purchased The Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar. My life has, quite literally, never been the same.

They’d Weep Just Looking at Him

I first came across the name of M’Cheyne in 2007 when I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers. The Doctor said,

You remember what was said of the saintly Robert Murray McCheyne of Scotland in the last century. It is said that when he appeared in the pulpit, even before he had uttered a single word, people would begin to weep silently. Why? Because of this very element of seriousness. The very sight of the man gave the impression that he had come from the presence of god and he was to deliver a message from God to them. That is what had such an effect upon people even before he had opened his mouth. We forget this element at our peril, and at great cost to our listeners.

I thought to myself, “Now that’s saintly seriousness worth pursuing.” At Lloyd-Jones’ prompting, later in Preaching and Preachers, I took up M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. While I was, in some way, with M’Cheyne every day, I knew little about his story and ministry. These were the years of Edwards fandom and fervor after all. So I picked up Bonar’s work on Mr. M’Cheyne to inform my ignorance and I dare say my “Lifetime Companion/Historical Mentor” instantaneously shifted from Edwards to the young Scotsman.

I think the best way to describe the quick change was M’Cheyne’s ordinaryness. Edwards is called “the greatest American thinker” for a reason—his intellect is otherworldly. Any personal aspirations to be like Edwards could only get so far because there will ever be anyone like Edwards. M’Cheyne, however, had no extraordinary gifts. Yes, he was a fantastic student who ardently loved poetry and the classics, but such characteristics were hardly unique in Scotland at the time. He was in the gospel ministry for only seven years before he died unseasonably young. So what then does M’Cheyne have to offer? Here’s my best answer: M’Cheyne models ordinary ministry set aflame by extraordinary devotion to Christ.

I want to be like that.

Passion Overflowing

To read M’Cheyne is to read the soul of a man inflamed with love for Christ. His twin passions were evangelism and holiness; not unlike our Savior’s heartbeat. He stoked the flame of love for Christ through earnest commitment to the word and prayer. I’ve yet to hear anyone encounter M’Cheyne without sensing a challenge from his white-hot intensity toward and love for Christ.

In his introduction to Owen’s The Mortification of Sin J.I. Packer recounts how Keswick theology had made him frantic in the pursuit of holiness. “And then (thank God),” Packer writes, “[I] was given an old clergyman’s library, and in it was an uncut set of Owen, and I cut the pages of volume VI more or less at random, and read Owen on mortification—and God used what the old Puritan had written three centuries before to sort me out.”

I can sympathize with the need for spiritual sorting. At key occasions in my life and ministry over the last five years God has used M’Cheyne to sort me out. It’s no overstatement to say that on at least two occasions M’Cheyne saved my ministerial soul.

That’s what a lifelong companion does.

Do you have one?

If so, fantastic. Immerse yourself in that person’s life until it’s hard to separate his thoughts from your own. If you don’t have a historical mentor, choose wisely . . . and patiently. It may take you years to find one, but you’ll know it when he or she arrives, for they will likely sort you out with power and ease. That’s what friends are for.

“An Awful Weapon”

From its inauguration John Piper has delivered a biographical message at the Desiring God Pastors Conference. I’ve personally found these talks to be the highlight of each conference.

This year’s DGPC doesn’t have a biographical talk scheduled, so if you’re clamoring for some stirring vignette of an oak of righteousness here’s a great one: “He Kissed the Rose and Felt the Thorn: Living and Dying in the Morning of Life: Meditations on the Life of Robert Murray M’Cheyne.”

M’Cheyne said, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” His life proved that maxim true o’er and o’er, and continues to do so today. Listen here or watch below and let the young Scotsman inspire, challenge, and comfort.

3 Books Every Pastor Should Read: On Reformation History

Books are some of the best friends a pastor can have. How to know which friends to have is quite difficult, for as the inspired Preacher said, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Every so often I recommend three books for pastors on a given topic, hoping the suggestions might inform your book budget.

Few eras of church history are as pivotal – and interesting – as those seminal years we’ve come to call The Reformation. It was a time when bright and often bombastic personalities took the stage, forever altering the course of Christ’s church. Theological lines were drawn so deep into the spiritual sand that we are still trying to sort out all the details almost 500 years later.

One of the best ways to understand the contours of the Reformation is to read the standard biographies on men like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and Knox. But most of us don’t have the time or resources to work through a biographical stockpile. So, here are a few suggested books to help you better understand those turbulent, yet tremendous years.

014303538XmThe Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCullouch. Carl Trueman first turned me on to this excellent volume, so I will let the good doctor from Westminster try to convince you. Trueman says, “MacCulloch is one of the best Reformation historians alive and this is what I would call a brilliant, scholarly beach read—well-constructed explanatory narrative history, rooted in profound and accurate scholarship, laid out in the grand epic style. My guess is that readers wanting a good, scholarly, readable history of the Reformation—and one which will not break the bank—should buy this.”

9781433669316mThe Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation by Michael Reeves. This was one of the T4G giveaways back at the 2010 conference and my first introduction into Reeves’ ministry. Pastors need to pay attention to both. The Unquenchable Flame is, hands down, the most readable and piercing introduction into the Reformation you can find. Reeves is on his game in this one, and that man’s got game. Mark Dever seems to agree in his endorsement, “With the skill of a scholar and the art of a storyteller, Michael Reeves has written what is, quite simply, the best brief introduction to the Reformation I have read.”

9781921441332mThe Essence of the Reformation by Kirsten Burkett. This one gets a spot in the top three because of Burkett’s accessibility and the inclusion of classic works from Reformation giants like Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer. DA Carson commends this one as well, ““I do not know any book that more succinctly gets across, in readable prose, what the Reformation was about. This new edition combines Birkett’s superb text with some judiciously selected primary documents. This is a book to distribute widely among lay leaders and other Christians who want to be informed of the heritage of the gospel that has come down to us.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Vol. 3: Renaissance to Reformation by Nick Needham. Comprehensive, free from academic jargon, and thus easy to read and digest. This is a great example of why you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols. I find Nichols to be one of the more underrated historians working in the Reformed world today, and this one proves it. The subtitle should give you a decent hint at the fun prose awaiting interested readers.

Check out my past suggestions in the “3 Books Every Pastor Should Read” series here.

A Series Worth Serious Investment: Vol. 5

For several years Reformation Trust has quietly been publishing a brilliant series entitled The Long Line of Godly Men.

The series’ editor Steve Lawson writes,

This Long Line of Godly Men Profile series highlights key figures in the agelong procession of sovereign-grace men. The purpose of this series is to explore how these figures used their God-given gifts and abilities to impact their times and further the kingdom of heaven. Because they were courageous followers of Christ, their examples are worthy of emulation today.

Each volume is compact and contains a delightful harmony of biography, theology, and practicality. I find them accessible in presentation and challenging in application. With each read you will want to rise up and say, “We want again such giants of the faith! Lord, help me to be such a servant of God!” Here are the current titles in the series, every one is well worth your investment in money and time.

HER06BH_200x1000The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steve Lawson. During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Reformers’ most effective tool was the pulpit, and all of the Reformers were gifted preachers. This was especially true of Martin Luther, the man regarded as the father of the Reformation.

Luther used every legitimate means to make known the truths of Scripture. His strategies included writing books, tracts, pamphlets, and letters, as well as classroom lectures, public debates, and heated disputations in churches and universities. But his chief means of producing reform was the pulpit, where he proclaimed the truths of God’s Word with great courage. In a day when the church greatly needed to hear the truth, Luther’s pulpit became one of the most clarion sounding boards for God’s Word this world has ever witnessed.

In The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther, Dr. Steven J. Lawson shows the convictions and practices that fed Luther’s pulpit boldness, providing an example for all preachers in a day when truth once more is in decline.

TRI06BH_2_200x1000The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair Ferguson. The writing and teaching of John Owen, a 17th century pastor and theologian, continues to serve the church. Daily communion with God characterized his life and equipped him for both ministry and persecution.

In The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, the latest addition to the Long Line of Godly Men series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson offers careful reflection and insight for Christians today as he highlights Owen’s faith in the triune God of Scripture. We’re reminded that regardless of our circumstances we can know God, enjoy Him, and encourage others.

UNW01BH_200x1000The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steve Lawson. Jonathan Edwards is well known as perhaps the greatest theologian the United States has ever produced. He is equally noted for his preaching and writing. But in this Long Line Profile, Dr. Steven J. Lawson considers the unique focus and commitment with which Edwards sought to live out the Christian faith.

Lawson examines Edwards’ life through the lens of the seventy resolutions he penned in his late teens, shortly after his conversion, which cover everything from glorifying God to repenting of sin to managing time. Drawing on Edwards’ writings, as well as scholarly accounts of Edwards’ life and thought, Lawson shows how Edwards sought to live out these lofty goals he set for the management of his walk with Christ. In Edwards’ example, he finds helpful instruction for all believers.

EXP03BH_200x1000The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson. Looking to the past for outstanding Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-changing preaching, Dr. Steven J. Lawson focuses on sixteenth-century Geneva, Switzerland. It was there that John Calvin ministered for decades as a faithful shepherd to a flock of believers.

Here is an intimate portrait of Calvin the preacher-the core beliefs that determined his preaching style, the steps he took to prepare to preach, and the techniques he used in handling the Word of God, interpreting it, and applying it to his congregation. In the pulpit ministry of the great Reformer, Dr. Lawson finds inspiration and guidance for today’s church and calls on modern pastors to follow the Reformer’s example of strong expository preaching.

MIG01BH_200x1000The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond. John Knox, the great Reformer of Scotland, is often remembered as something akin to a biblical prophet born out of time—strong and brash, thundering in righteous might. In truth, he was “low in stature, and of a weakly constitution,” a small man who was often sickly and afflicted with doubts and fears. In The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, a new Long Line Profile from Reformation Trust Publishing, author Douglas Bond shows that Knox did indeed accomplish herculean tasks, but not because he was strong and resolute in himself. Rather, he was greatly used because he was submissive to God; therefore, God strengthened him. That strength was displayed as Knox endured persecution and exile, faced down the wrath of mighty monarchs, and prayed, preached, and wrote with no fear of man, but only a desire to manifest the glory of God and to please Him.

For those who see themselves as too weak, too small, too timid, or simply too ordinary for service in God’s kingdom, Knox’s life offers a powerful message of hope—the biblical truth that God often delights to work most powerfully through people who are most weak in themselves but most strong in Him.

GOS23BH_200x1000The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steve Lawson. Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of nineteenth-century London, is remembered today as “the prince of preachers.” However, the strength of Spurgeon’s ministry went far beyond simple rhetorical skill. In The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, Steven J. Lawson shows that Spurgeon fearlessly taught the doctrines of grace and simultaneously held forth the free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.

In thirty-eight years as pastor of the congregation meeting at the New Park Street Chapel and later the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon propounded Calvinistic theology with precision and clarity. Yet he always accompanied it with a passionate plea for sinners to come to Christ and be saved. Lawson traces these twin points of emphasis throughout Spurgeon’s long, fruitful ministry.

The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon is a passionate call for all Christians to follow Spurgeon in maintaining the proper balance between divine sovereignty in salvation and fiery passion in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

EVA06BH_200x1000The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steve Lawson. England in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was in the midst of spiritual decline, marked by lifeless sermons, strife, persecution, and malaise. Into this dark time, George Whitefield burst forth as one of the greatest preachers the church had seen since the time of the Apostles.

Called the “Grand Itinerant” for his unprecedented preaching ministry, Whitefield crossed the Atlantic Ocean numerous times and lit fires of revival on two continents. Yet, as Dr. Steven J. Lawson illustrates in this latest entry in the Long Line of Godly Men Profiles series, we must note that Whitefield was a man whose extraordinary evangelistic fervor was marked by remarkable piety and deep theology, and whose unswerving devotion to his God led him to risk all that he had to preach the name of Christ.

POE01BH_200x1000The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. In an age of simplistic and repetitive choruses, many churches are rediscovering the blessing of theologically rich and biblically informed songs. In the latest addition to our A Long Line of Godly Men Profile series, Douglas Bond introduces us to Isaac Watts, “the father of English hymnody.” Douglas Bond urges Christians to delight in the grandeur, beauty, and joy of Watts’ poetry. We pray that you would regain a sense of God’s majesty as we celebrate the God-given poetic wonder of Isaac Watts.

Click here to see previous entries in the “A Series Worth Serious Investment” series.

An Old Path to Know

Sanctification

The recent sanctification debates in the broader Reformed world have taken us well back into the 16th century. It’s there where much of our discussions on a law/gospel hermeneutic, union with Christ, and three uses of the law find respective historical beginnings.

But I’ve wondered if our focus on the Reformation and Puritan eras have led us to neglect another era’s teaching on sanctification and its [largely negative] impact on today: Keswick Theology.

THE “W” IS SILENT

Have you heard of Keswick? From 1875-1920 Keswick Theology1 was a major force in the evangelical world. While you may not have heard “Keswick” before, odds are you’ve encountered its effect in American evangelicalism. And it’s usually unhelpful.

The movement’s hallmark is a chronological separation between justification and sanctification. This paradigmatic truth is evident in how many Christians recount their testimony: “I was saved at the age of seven, but it wasn’t until I was sixteen or seventeen that I fully gave myself to the Lord.”

To help you get a simultaneous handle on Keswick’s aberrant understanding of the Christian life and a biblical understanding of sanctification we turn to a living expert: Dr. Andy Naselli.

A DOUBLE DOCTOR

20100515_118.bw_.pngAndy Naselli serves as Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He teaches courses primarily at the seminary-level on Greek exegesis, New Testament, biblical theology, and systematic theology. He loves to study and teach how the theological disciplines (exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology) interrelate and culminate in doxology.

Andy earned two PhDs before he turned thirty: a PhD in theology from Bob Jones University and a PhD in New Testament Exegesis and Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under D. A. Carson. He served as Carson’s research assistant from 2006 to 2013 and continues to work with him on various projects, including the theological journal Themelios, for which Carson is editor and Andy is administrator.2

It’s that PhD from Bob Jones we are concerned about because it is a masterful analysis and critique of Keswick Theology. The 100,000 word dissertation was published in 2010 as Let God and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology. If you have the time and cash money to grab a copy, I’d highly recommend it. Rick Phillips says,

If you are seeking a biblical understanding of the Christian life, read Andy Naselli’s Let Go and Let God? If you wish to avoid sidetracks that can absorb years of your life in fruitless confusion, then pay attention this careful study of the Bible’s doctrine of sanctification and searching critique of the Keswick theology. With this book, Naselli has provided an important service to many Christians who have been or might be led astray by well-meaning but false teaching on the Christian life.

If reading the dissertation sounds daunting, don’t worry, there are two other mediums to get the substance of Naselli’s work.

KESWICK CLIFF-NOTES

In 2008 Naselli gave the William R. Rice Lecture Series at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary on Keswick Theology. In the course of three lectures he distilled his dissertation down to about 20,000 words . . . a much more manageable count for most pastors! So grab the lecture PDF or mp3s below and grow your understanding of this stream of teaching on sanctification. And your appreciation for a more biblical model of how to grow in Christ.

You can download all these resources and more on Naselli’s website.

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  1. Pronounced “KEH-zick” and named after a small English town.
  2. Bio taken from BCS.

History for the Ministry

History & Ministry

Earlier this year, when preparing to preach on the life and ministry of Spurgeon, I listened to John Piper’s biography on the Prince from way back in 1995.

About eight minutes into the talk he said something that so resonated with my heart for the place of history in pastoral ministry,

Oh how fortunate we are, brothers of the pulpit, that we are not the first to face these things. We are so fortunate. I thank God for the healing of history. Do you read history? Are you slipping into the abyss of the present? It is an abyss brothers! You cannot know yourself, or your times, or your God if you only know the present. I bless God for history and books.

Amen! Pastors need historical sensibilities if they are to engage the contemporary landscape with wisdom and truth. For history is an oh so powerful discipline.

History reminds us modern novelties aren’t really all that novel. History establishes precedent. History enshrines heroes. History discerns the ordinary consequences of decisions. History examines conclusions with hindsight. History exposes present-day blind spots. In other words, history brings awareness.

ARE YOU AWARE?

One of the great verbs of the New Testament is ἀγρυπνέω (agrupneó). It means to be sleepless, watchful, or alert. It paints the picture of a shepherd who stays awake at night to guard his sheep from the creeping presence of wolves and predators. Jesus uses the verb when talking about how His disciples are to live in light of His immanent return. In Gethsemane He used it when warning the Inner Circle against falling into the temptation to sleep. The great apostle used it when exhorting the Ephesians to constant prayer.

Pastor, are you awake today? Or are you, like good Dr. Piper said, falling asleep in the abyss of the present.

Faithful pastors are those who are ever alert and aware. They keep one eye out for any who would harm the body. One ear is always turned to discern danger in the common chatter. Leading includes protecting and history functions as something like armor of awareness for the ministry.

WHERE TO BEGIN

While I believe that every pastor needs history I don’t presume to believe the every pastor loves history. If that presupposition is true I know that many of you might need some unique encouragement in pursuing history as a pastoral discipline. Here then is my one piece of advice: read biographies.

I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t like a good story, and a good story is exactly what good biography is. So be a profligate reader of biography. Read the standard Christian biographies on giants like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edward, and Spurgeon. Read the Pulitzer prize winners on presidents, politicians, and people of power. Not only do I think you will be fascinated by the respected individual’s life, I think you will also be rather surprised at how much history one learns in such an endeavor.

For example, I remember reading Dallimore’s work on Whitefield and was utterly amazed at two things: 1) the sheer Spirit-wrought stamina of the great soul winner, and 2) how Whitefield’s methods were something of a seedbed for 19th century evangelicalism. And if you know anything about 19th century evangelicalism you know that much of our modern evangelical world is direct fruit of those happenings from two hundred years ago.

But more on that tomorrow.

SUIT UP!

History has power. When the weapon of days gone by is used rightly is not only keeps the pastor alert, but it produces wisdom, caution, modesty, and humility. Will you wield it in your ministry?

The Easter Hymn

Here’s a solid spin on Wesley’s classic Christ the Lord is Risen Today, just in time for Easter.