June 19, 2017 | by: Sam Storms; THE GOSPEL COALITION

Biblical preaching has fallen on hard times in the western world. There’s certainly no lack of speaking and sharing and shouting. And dramatic presentations and video clips are prevalent in pulpits across America. But there is precious little biblical preaching. The Bible makes a token appearance here and there, but rarely to be explained and expounded and acknowledged as authoritative for how we think and live. There are several reasons for this dearth of biblical preaching, ten of which I’ll mention.

(1) For one thing, pastors have stopped preaching because they have stopped studying. In effect, they have stopped talking because they have little to say. If they do have a lot to say, it’s typically their own ideas and idiosyncrasies unrelated to the inspired text.

(2) This next statement may sound harsh, but so be it: If you are not called to study, you are not called to preach. I’m not suggesting you need a seminary education or a Ph.D. (although both would be wonderful, if God so leads you). But I am saying that a prerequisite for consistent, effective biblical preaching is devotion on a daily basis to in-depth study of the Scriptures. The 19th century Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon once said, “If we are not instructed, how can we instruct? If we have not thought, how shall we lead others to think?”

(3) The lack of study may be traced to several causes. The first culprit is simple laziness or sloth. Again, it was Spurgeon who said: “If by excessive labor, we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master’s service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of Heaven!”
And again, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed.”

Make no mistake: the kind of study that makes for effective exposition is hard work. It requires countless hours, week in and week out, prayerfully and passionately reading and analyzing and evaluating the text, together with careful construction of messages that both accurately reflect what the text meant then and what it means now. There simply are no shortcuts to what God regards as successful pulpit ministry.

(4) Another reason for the lack of study among pastors and thus the dearth of biblical preaching is a pervasive anti-intellectualism that has taken root in our churches. There is a revolt against the importance of the mind in the Christian life, especially among charismatic Christians. Many are paralyzed by the unwarranted fear that too much of the Word of God will eventually quench the Spirit of God. Pause for a moment and reflect on the absurdity of such a thought! We must remember that the mind isn’t our enemy, the flesh is. Our flesh is to be mortified but the mind must be renewed (Romans 12:1ff.). Again, the problem isn’t the intellect, but pride. Thinking isn’t a threat. Arrogance is. It isn’t the Word of God that threatens the vibrancy of life in the Spirit but ambitious, self-serving sinners.

(5) Another reason for the demise of preaching is that many pastors have lost confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. If the Bible is not truly the word of God written, if it is not infallible and therefore trustworthy in what it says, no wonder that so few preach its texts. If the Bible is fundamentally no different from any other book, better to preach from what will arouse and entertain your audience. If you regard the biblical text as merely “inspiring” (as are also Shakespeare and Austen, etc.), but not “inspired”, your commitment to it will progressively wane and wither.

Preaching will not long survive if one does not embrace the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Scripture, notes Geoffrey Thomas, “is the breath of God; every sentence and every phrase is the sigh of Jehovah. . . . It is not their perfect reliability that gives the Scriptures their unique authority. It is not even their complete truthfulness. The Bible is powerful because it is the Word of God; what it says God says” (“Powerful Preaching,” in The Preacher and Preaching, 371).

Bryan Chapell concurs:

“Without the authority of the Word preaching becomes an endless search for topics, therapies, and techniques that will win approval, promote acceptance, advance a cause, or soothe worry. Human reason, social agendas, popular consensus, and personal moral convictions become the resources of preaching that lacks ‘the historic conviction that what Scripture says, God says'” (Christ-Centered Preaching, 23).

(6) A symptom of this loss of confidence in the authority of Scripture is the predominance in today’s pulpits of the topical sermon. In one sense, of course, all sermons are “topical” in that they are about something specific. But there is a difference between a topical address or speech and a textual sermon. A discourse is not a sermon unless it is textual, i.e., rooted in a phrase, a passage, a paragraph of the Bible.

Many preachers, notes J. I. Packer, “simply do not trust their Bible enough to let it speak its own message through their lips. . . . [The result is that] in a topical sermon the text is reduced to a peg on which the speaker hangs his line of thought [or a diving board from which he plunges into the pool of his own ideas]; the shape and thrust of the message reflect his own best notions of what is good for people rather than being determined by the text itself” (“Why Preach?” in Preaching and Preachers, 4).

(7) Another reason for the demise of preaching again comes from Packer. “Low expectations,” he writes, “are self-fulfilling” (4). Many people today have never been taught to expect anything powerful from the exposition of Scripture, and so, not surprisingly, they receive little. “Today’s congregations and today’s preachers seem to be mostly at one in neither asking nor expecting that God will come to meet His people in the preaching, and so it is no wonder that this does not often happen” (4-5).

(8) Another factor is that rituals often push preaching into obscurity (or reduce the time available to devote to exposition of the word). This isn’t necessary. I have been greatly enriched by the beauty and stability of liturgical worship. Ceremony and sacrament shouldn’t, but on occasion do, tend to marginalize preaching.
The contemporary emphasis on congregational participation in virtually every phase of corporate worship (not a bad thing, by the way!) has led some to find preaching boring. Of the five senses, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing, the latter has been minimized while the other four have been accentuated. People in church today want to see pageantry, smell incense and flowers, taste the sacraments, and touch whatever can be touched. But hearing the Word of God has largely lost its appeal.

By the way, I’m not at all suggesting that worship should be exclusively oral in nature. I enjoy and encourage the restoration of the aesthetic dimension into our churches. If there is anything we Protestants can learn from our friends in the Orthodox and Catholic Church it is the importance of holistic devotion to God, a worship that engages the entire man, body and soul and spirit. But we must guard against letting this renewal of the aesthetic diminish our confidence in the life-changing, Christ-exalting power of the preached Word. Besides, there is a unique and often incomparable “beauty” in the preached word that no sight, sound, smell, or flavor can rival.

(9) Related to the previous point, preaching is on the wane because the power of the spoken word to communicate significant and life-changing truth has become suspect. We live in an action-oriented, visual, culture where mere “words” are trivialized and “sermons” are viewed as archaic.

Many applaud these changes, seeing in them a much needed shift from the logo-centricity (or word-centeredness) of traditional evangelicalism to what they perceive as a more holistic approach to Christian ministry.

(10) Preaching has also fallen on hard times because, in fulfillment of Paul’s prophetic warning, the time has come “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). People don’t want biblical preaching and, sadly, few are willing to buck the tide of popular sentiment.
Paul identifies the problem. People will develop a distaste for “sound doctrine,” insisting that it is either irrelevant (“who cares what you believe, just as long as you live right”) or disruptive (“I don’t like being told to repent of sins or hearing about hell, etc.”), or divisive (“people will take sides on controversial issues and split our church!”).

People will prefer entertainment to exposition (“wanting to have their ears tickled”). Hankering after the new, the odd, the unusual, the sensational, will replace the desire for the solid meat of the Word. They will look to their own “desires” rather than the desires of God to determine what they will hear. One of the greatest temptations preachers face today is scratching the “itch” of so-called “felt-needs” among their congregation. There is often a significant difference between “felt-needs” and “biblical-needs”. What people often want is not always what they need.


Life After the Dash from Zero to 2 Billion
A Review of Two Recent Books on Smartphones and Social Media

Andy Crouch / June 7, 2017

Winston Churchill’s tribute to the architecture of the House of Commons—“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”—has endured as an aphorism because material culture, like buildings, so often slips into the background. Only when we’re compelled to pay attention—as happens when we experience the disorientation of cross-cultural travel or when, as in Churchill’s generation, we must rebuild buildings that had been suddenly destroyed after standing for centuries—do we really see the reflexive power of culture, the ways that human life is shaped by material things.

But none of us can miss the most striking change in material culture in our lifetime. In a single decade we have dashed from a world with zero smartphones (if you don’t count the clunky pre-2007 ancestors of the iPhone) to a world with 2 billion of them. We’ve taken a kind of cross-cultural trip to a new world stuffed with glowing rectangles—and apparently, we’re traveling on a one-way ticket. We’re still getting over the jet lag, and the queasy discovery that although we bought these devices because of what they promised to do for us, they’re also doing something to us.

This is one reason we need artists and writers (and Churchill was both). They help us pay attention to how our culture shapes us, bringing hidden cultural patterns to light, putting them in context, and ideally restoring in us a sense of agency and possibility rather than passivity and inevitability. That is very much the aim and the result of two important, though different, recent books: Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You and Donna Freitas’s The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost.

Reinke—a senior writer for desiringGod.org—writes with heartfelt passion as a Christian: “Eternity, not psychology, is my deepest concern.” Freitas—who teaches at Hofstra and collaborates with Christian Smith’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame—writes with the more measured, though still empathetic, voice of a scholar and researcher. But their perspectives converge on what you might call hopeful alarm—a conviction that our devices are busily shaping us into people we never wanted to be, along with at least a glimmer of promise that we can find a path out of our mediated mess.

Better Way

Reinke begins his book with “a little theology of technology,” which is fundamentally a reminder of the good, God-given, and constructive role of all human culture in the “garden-to-city unfolding of history.” Like many authors, he treats all of humankind’s skill- and tool-based transformation of the world as equivalent to “technology”: “a trajectory of shovels, sickles, and horse-drawn plows, and then tractors, irrigation systems, and now GPS-guided (and GPS-driven) equipment.” I think treating this as a single trajectory is misleading—if technology were just more tools, we wouldn’t need a new word for it. There’s a wider and more significant gap embedded in those transitional phrases “and then . . . and now” than Reinke implies. Still, he’s right that this whole story is part of the larger human calling to cultivate and create in the world, with potentially glorious results.

But when he gets to the real subject of this book, every one of his “12 ways your phone is changing you” is about a deficiency, a change in the wrong direction—“we are addicted to distraction,” “we fear missing out,” “we get comfortable in secret vices,” and so forth. If the job of every Apple ad is to portray the smartphone as a gleaming gateway to childlike wonder and fulfilling relationships with beautiful people, Reinke’s book is the anti-Apple ad, pointing out how often our smartphones cut us off from real life. His “12 ways” are artfully constructed to show both the superficial results of our device obsession and its deeper consequences for the health of our souls and bodies, and the grave threat they pose to our ability to fulfill the great commandment to love God and love our neighbor.

We need artists and writers. . . . They help us pay attention to how our culture shapes us, bringing hidden cultural patterns to light, putting them in context, and ideally restoring in us a sense of agency and possibility rather than passivity and inevitability.

This would seem overly negative if we didn’t all sense that it was true. In fact, I suspect it’s in the very nature of technological devices that they cannot change us, except for the worse—and it’s exactly this quality that separates tractors, irrigation systems, and GPS-guided equipment from the shovels, sickles, and even horse-drawn plows our ancestors used. Those tools required and formed both character and skill, and sometimes even wisdom and courage. Our devices, on the other hand, disburden us (to use the term of philosopher Albert Borgmann), but in doing so they also lose their capacity to form us in either body or soul. No wonder we sense that our smartphones are diminishing our power to be truly human—people of wisdom and courage, growing in love of God and neighbor—even as they vastly expand our capacities in other ways.

But alongside Reinke’s discerning critique, he offers useful pointers toward a better way. He concedes that few people are going to become “digital monks.” (It occurred to me, reading this, that going truly device-free, just 10 years into the smartphone era, is already just as impossibly radical a step for most of our neighbors as a vow of celibacy or poverty or obedience.)


Instead he does what good pastors have done for centuries when faced with the complexities and compromises of their people’s “secular” (i.e., non-monastic) life: offer simple disciplines and boundaries that can keep our misguided passions and trivial pleasures in check, and offer a vision of the good life that is far better than what the world can offer. You finish the next-to-last chapter of 12 Ways feeling like (1) you probably should just throw away your smartphone, (2) you probably won’t, and (3) by God’s grace, it’ll probably still be okay.

And then, in an elegant epilogue that draws on G. K. Chesterton, Reinke calls us to wonder and worship in a way that makes all our infatuation with our smartphones, and our anxiety about them, seem small and ultimately inconsequential next to the glory that is going to be revealed. Which is probably the best way to keep your phone from changing you.

College Students and Their Social Media Use

Freitas’s The Happiness Effect is both more restricted and more expansive than Reinke’s. She limits herself to a single topic—the effect of social media on the lives of college students—that turns out to have myriad dimensions, each of them explored in informative, artfully crafted chapters on selfies and self-image, sex and sexting, public and private identity, and more.

The method is the same as in her groundbreaking book Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses—in-depth interviews correlated with broad surveys of students on secular, Catholic, and “Christian, non-Catholic” (in practice, I think this generally means evangelical) campuses. Sex and the Soul demonstrated both the dominance of hook-up culture (on secular and Catholic campuses, at least), which is widely acknowledged, and also the incredible ambivalence students felt about it, which is not. Likewise, The Happiness Effect leaves no doubt that social media play a huge role in the lives of college students—in this case, there doesn’t seem to be any discernible difference between evangelical-college students and their secular and Catholic peers—but it also shows just how uneasy almost all students feel about social media and its demand for a constant presentation of public perfection.

Freitas is amazingly free of alarmism given the alarming trends she writes about. If you tend to be in the “society is going to hell” school (my own tendency, I’ll admit), Freitas will introduce you to students who are disarmingly thoughtful and articulate and show flashes of real wisdom and courage. Only a handful of her subjects—such as a trolling, online-bullying fraternity bro who shows no signs of self-awareness or remorse—are unsympathetic or evidently mired in addiction and pathology. There’s a bit of “the kids are all right” in Freitas’s tone, born of her admirable respect and even love for the students she interviews.

Now, Freitas’s subjects are a lucky bunch. All of them, by virtue of being at a residential college or university, are winners in their generation’s educational and financial lottery (even if they’ll have student debt to pay later). Social media may be less benign for the half of American adults their age who aren’t in school (not to mention the 30 percent of young men who are neither in school nor working). Age 18 and older, her students are old enough to resist the worst pressures of social media—though many of them narrate harrowing experiences from middle and high school. They’re charmingly dismissive of dating apps like Tinder—which Freitas finds plays a surprisingly small role in their lives.

But of course they would be. Right now they’re surrounded by thousands of other available young men and women their age—in a few short years, many of them will be living far more isolated lives in cities where, I’m told, the average Tinder user spends eight and a half hours a week swiping. For that matter, they live, most of them for the last time in their lives, in a community that integrates work, play, and daily life in a genuine, embodied community, all within walking distance. In one sense, Freitas could hardly have picked a research group more sheltered from technology’s worst effects.

Even with all these advantages, Freitas’s subjects still seem shell-shocked, looking for the exit from the world the app-makers have built for them. My generation leapt onto Facebook as fast as we could—this generation is shyly shuffling off, leaving only the most anodyne, employer- and grandmother-approved shell of themselves behind. They take refuge in the privacy of Snapchat or (less healthily) the total anonymity of Yik Yak, the one social network Freitas comes the closest to unequivocally condemning. (Happily, its end seems nearer now than it was during her research.) She finds very few “digital monks” who can give up social media entirely—it’s too useful, for one thing, in streamlining communication and keeping up friendships—but she finds plenty who are looking for ways to limit its effects.

She also finds a few who seem genuinely at home, both in the real world and on social media—and the great gift of The Happiness Effect, as with Sex and the Soul, is how attentive Freitas is to religion and students’ own religious lives. The handful of students who seem to have found a genuinely healthy, peaceful way to make the most of social media turn out to have deep religious—and for the most part specifically Christian—roots. There’s Jennifer, who seeks to uplift others, share her faith, and glorify God in everything she posts. There’s Jae, whose keen observations about the potential of social media to be “idolizing” strongly suggests he has read Reinke. He simply quit Facebook when it became an idol for him (though he’s still on Instagram). And there’s Jose. Freitas’s description of him is worth quoting at length:

When Jose mentions having “to be careful” about what he posts during our interview, he is talking about making sure that his posts about his faith are authentic and rightly intended. . . . Among the students I interviewed, Jose is virtually unique in the authentic way he uses social media. . . . [W]hat sets him apart is that he appears to express genuine feelings online, which is something most young people are afraid to do. As with Jennifer, this appears to be driven by his commitment to God. Also, like Jennifer, posting with God and faith in mind seems to energize Jose rather than demoralize him.

It’s a beautiful, and rare, moment in the book—a picture of someone who, against all odds and very much in the minority, has found a way to be true both to himself and to God, even on social media.

Reshaping Our Smartphones

Winston Churchill uttered his famous words about buildings shaping us in 1943, urging that the House of Commons be rebuilt even while the war that had destroyed it was still going on.

Ten years into the smartphone era, we have many reasons to be thankful for their benefits. But it’s not hard to see that some important things are crumbling around us as well. Reinke and Freitas not only help us see the cracks in the system; they also point us in a more constructive direction.

Our phones have shaped us. It’s time for us to do some shaping in return.

Tony Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017. 224 pp. $14.99.

Donna Freitas’s The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost. New York: Oxford University Press. 368 pp. $18.98.



Scientists marvel over ear’s intricate design
INTELLIGENT DESIGN | Researchers studying the detection of localized sound discover precise and complicated process
Posted 6/15/17

For most of the day, our ears and brains work together to tell us what direction the sounds we hear are coming from. A mother immediately looks in the direction of a crying child because her brain has localized the sound and can tell exactly where her child is. It happens so automatically she doesn’t even think about it. But the process of sound localization has been a mystery to researchers, until now.

We hear because sound waves strike our eardrums and cause them to vibrate. We are able to localize sound because the sound waves emanating from a certain place will not strike both eardrums at exactly the same time. The time interval between the sound waves striking one eardrum and then the other is referred to as the interaural timing difference (ITD). Scientists have known for a long time that our brains interpret the ITD to tell us a sound’s direction. But the baffling mystery has been how that ITD, only millionths of second long, can remain stable and consistent as the auditory signals travel through neurons on their way to the auditory cortex.

Researchers at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich just found the answer by studying the process in gerbils and mice. Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details multiple and very intricate, precisely timed processes that must work together to preserve the ITDs as they travel from the ear drum all the way to the brain’s processing center.

This “neuronal processing requires exceptional temporal precision,” according to the researchers. It’s exactly the kind of precision that points to the creative design or our God, not the random mutations of Darwinian natural selection.


Recognizing the Holy Spirit’s Work Today
FROM O. Palmer Robertson Jun 12, 2017 ; TABLETALK


Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

This little poem for children by Christina G. Rossetti captures at once something of the wonder of the wind, as well as the concreteness of its work. The wind is never seen but is clearly known by its work.

Jesus Himself compared the will of the wind to the work of God’s Spirit (John 3:8). Those who have seen His work know His reality. And yet, very little of the Spirit’s work is properly recognized by God’s people today. As a consequence, too much concentration focuses on the subjective experience of the Spirit rather than the broader dimensions of His reality. So the present article focuses first on the objective work of the Spirit, and then on His subjective work.

The Wondrous Work of the Holy Spirit Outside the Believer

First, the Holy Spirit created and sustains all life. Equally with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the source of this universe and all that is in it. The creation narrative of Genesis informs us that “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.” Just as an eagle “broods” over its nest to bring forth life, so the Spirit of God served as the life-infusing agent at creation (Gen. 1:2; Deut. 32:11). When the psalmist speaks of the earth as being “full of creatures” and the sea “teeming with creatures beyond number,” he declares: “When you send your Spirit they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30; see also 24–25). The molecules, the atoms that constitute everything in this earth, and the gravitational forces that bind the world together all derive their functioning power from the sovereign creating and sustaining Spirit.

Not only in creation, but also in the accomplishment of redemption, the Spirit of God plays a primary role. For apart from His marvellous, mysterious work, there would have been no incarnation of the Son of God. The Spirit was the one who caused the conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin. Dr. Luke reports the results of his careful investigations. The Holy Spirit came upon the virgin Mary, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her (Luke 1:35). So apart from the Spirit there would have been no incarnate Savior.

So the objective working of the Holy Spirit in creation and redemption deserves careful attention. This great God the Spirit, this all-powerful person of the Godhead, must be appreciated for all that He is and does. He is not a milque toast will-o’-the-wisp who only comes as a divine after-thought in the progress of redemption. From creation to consummation He is the Great One who continually performs wonders.

The Wondrous Work of the Holy Spirit Within the Believer

In similar fashion, the scope of the Spirit’s work within the life of the redeemed must be appreciated in all its fullness. Note well seven works of the Spirit among the elect, the favored of the Lord:

First, the Spirit regenerates. How often have the clear words of Jesus been misunderstood! People universally re-write “You must be born again” so that the phrase reads instead, “You must born yourself again!” Not only does this mis-interpretation make no sense grammatically (an intransitive verb has no object); it makes nonsense of a profound spiritual truth. Just as you did nothing to cause yourself to be born into this fallen world, so you can do absolutely nothing to bring yourself into the divinely renewed world of redemption. You must be born “of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 8). You cannot even coerce the Spirit of God to effect your regeneration. The wind blows where it will — and it is the Spirit’s will, not yours, that causes a person to be born from above (John 3:3). Indeed, if your will is renewed by the regeneration of the Spirit, you will choose to cry out to God for salvation, just as the newborn baby cries out once born. But give the divine Spirit the glory He deserves! Your cry for salvation comes as a consequence of your new birth, and never could be the cause of regeneration. The Spirit Himself sovereignly does this great work of total renewal.

Second, the Spirit assures. You keep on sinning even after you have been born again, don’t you? So how can you be so sure that you are a child of God?

You can be so bold because the Spirit within you attests directly to your spirit that you are a son of God. In this most wondrous of works, “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:16). Nothing less than the Spirit’s constant working could keep the sinner certain of his salvation. But who would dare contradict the solemn witness of God’s own Spirit? Because of His personal testimony within your own spirit, you can be at peace. Be assured. If His witness is there, you are a son of God.

Third, the Spirit seals. The gummed seals we use today on an ordinary letter are not so impressive. They can be easily ignored and violated. But in the days of old, dripped wax with an official stamp of the king made it a perilous thing to break the royal seal.

So the Regal Spirit seals every believer in the possession of all the blessings of redemption. In this case, it is the seal of the King of kings that cannot be broken. Beyond making you certain at the present moment that you have been redeemed, the Holy Spirit seals you in the permanent possession of your salvation. For “having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” until the day of Christ’s return (Eph. 1:13b, 14a). It is a settled fact. His sealing work cannot be undone — all “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14b).

Fourth, the Spirit sanctifies. The apostle Paul uses a strange comparison and contrast to describe this work of the Spirit. “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit,” he admonishes (Eph. 5:18). So what happens when a person gets drunk? Well, the alcohol of the “spirits” gets into his bloodstream and permeates every part of his person. He walks differently and talks differently, and he sees, hears, and acts differently.

So is the experience of everyone who is “filled” with the Spirit. God’s holiness, the holiness of the Holy Spirit, permeates every part of his person. He goes happily to places of worship, praise, and prayer — places he would not otherwise go. He talks boldly about Jesus the Christ. To abuse, he responds with love.

This experience of being filled with the Spirit is not something that happens once and then is done. The phrase literally reads, “Be being filled with the Spirit.” Constantly, continually, more and more extensively, be permeated in all you think, say, and do by the abiding influence of the divine Spirit. It’s the greatest possible experience of life.

Fifth, the Spirit brings forth fruit in the life of every believer. And what a fruit it brings forth! No less than nine specific products of the Spirit are listed (Gal. 5:22, 23). But even for the first three of these fruits the world would give its all: “LOVE, JOY, PEACE.” But little do they know that it is only the indwelling Holy Spirit of God that is capable of producing true love, joy, and peace within the sinner’s heart. He can and will do it when no one and nothing else can.

Sixth, the Spirit distributes gifts. Never has every believer received all the gifts, but every believer in every age has received some gift for ministering to others (1 Cor. 12:7–11). Sometimes it is asserted that unless a person has manifested the gift of “speaking in tongues,” he cannot have been baptized by the Spirit. But Paul makes it very plain. Not all believers have received the gift of speaking in tongues, but all have been baptized into the one body of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, 29–30). Once in the age of the apostles, God gave the gifts necessary for providing a solid foundation of revealed truth to establish an infallible guide for the life of the church throughout the ages (Eph. 2:19–20). These gifts were essential for the grounding of the church on solid, unshakable revealed truth. But since this foundation has no need of being laid again in every new generation, these specific gifts related to new revelation have not been manifest since the days of the apostles.

Yet, to every single member of the body of Christ the Spirit gives spiritual capacities for ministering to others. For some, it is the gift to preach or to teach God’s Word (Eph. 4:11). For others, it is the gift of encouragement (Rom. 12:8a). For still others, it may be the gift of administration (Rom. 12:8b). No greater sense of fulfilment in life can be found than when you are using your spiritual gifts to the fullest. If you are a blessing to others, you know you are most fully blessed. And this most satisfying of experiences will come only through the outworking of God’s gifts, given to you by His Spirit.

Seventh, the Spirit empowers for worldwide witness. The resurrected Christ promised it: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be my witnesses” to the world (Acts 1:8). The Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, and His power for witnessing to the world has been present ever since. For two thousand years, the Christian Gospel has continued to spread to every continent and nation.

By the coming of the Spirit of God into your life, you are empowered to give a worldwide witness, as well as a local witness, by your praying, your testifying, your giving, and your going. How great a privilege it is to be the instrument of witness to the whole world by the power of Christ’s Spirit.

So the Spirit does a great work, both without and within. A proper appreciation of His mighty deeds should stir up a spirit of submission and praise. For He accomplishes far more than inspiring spontaneous utterances within the occasional assemblies of believers. Creation, redemption, and consummation are all a part of the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit.




When the wonder of the gospel breaks into your life, you feel as though you are the first person to discover its power and glory. Where has Christ been hidden all these years? He seems so fresh, so new, so full of grace. Then comes a second discovery—it is you who have been blind, but now you have experienced exactly the same as countless others before you. You compare notes. Sure enough, you are not the first! Thankfully you will not be the last.

If my own experience is anything by which to judge, discovering Romans can be a similar experience. I still remember, as a Christian teenager, the slow dawning of this thought in my mind: all Scripture is God-breathed and useful to me, but it also seems to have a shape and structure, a center and circumference. If that is so, then some biblical books may be foundational; these should be mastered first.

Then came the realization that (alongside systematic theologies) biblical commentaries must be the foundation of my book collection. Blessed in the Scotland of those days with free tuition and a student allowance, I purchased the wonderful studies of Romans by Robert Haldane and John Murray. (Only later did it strike me that a certain ethnic prejudice may have been present in me, since both were Scots!)

As I studied Romans, wrestling with some of its great truths, struggling with some of its tough passages (surely it is to them that 2 Peter 3:14–16 refers!), it became clear that countless feet had walked this way before. I had only just begun to join them in discovering the mind-renewing, life-changing power of what Paul calls “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1; 15:16), “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16; 15:19), and “my gospel” (Rom. 2:16; 16:25). Soon it became clear why Martin Luther called Romans “the clearest gospel of all.” The gospel of Romans can be summarized in one word: exchange. In fact, as Paul summarizes the teaching of Romans 1:18–5:11, he concludes that Christians “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom. 5:11, emphasis added). The root meaning of the Greek word katallagē, translated “reconciliation,” is a change (or exchange) taking place. Paul’s gospel is the story of a series of exchanges.

Exchange number one is described in 1:18–32: knowing the clearly revealed Creator God who has displayed His glory in the universe He has made, humanity has “[ex]changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image … exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator … exchanged the natural use for what is against nature” (1:23–26, emphasis added)—all variations on the same root.

Exchange number two is the direct, divinely ordained consequence of this: God exchanged the privilege of man’s communion-knowledge of Him for His righteous wrath against man (Rom. 1:18ff). Instead of knowing, trusting, and lovingly glorifying God, mankind by its ungodliness and unrighteousness (the order is significant) drew forth God’s judgment.

Thus, communion with God was exchanged for condemnation by God. Neither is this merely eschatological, far off in the future; it is invasive in a contemporary way. Men and women give God up and flaunt their pretended autonomy in His face. They think, “We despise His laws and break them freely, yet no threatened thunderbolt of judgment touches us.” In fact, however, they are judicially blinded and hardened. They cannot see that the conscience-hardening and body-destroying effects of their rebellion are the judgment of God. His judgments are righteous—if we will have ungodliness, then the punishment will come through the very instruments of our crime against Him. In the end, we have exchanged the light of His presence for present inner darkness and future outer darkness.

Exchange number three is the gracious, unmerited (in fact, demerited) exchange that God provided in Christ. Without compromise of His righteousness revealed in wrath, God righteously justifies sinners through the redemption He provided in Christ’s blood-propitiation for our sins. This Paul states in the rich and tightly-packed words of Romans 3:21–26.

It is only later in the letter that he gives us a different, and in some ways more fundamental, way of looking at this: the Son of God took our nature and came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3) in order to exchange places with Adam, so that His obedience and righteousness might for our sakes be exchanged for Adam’s (and our) disobedience and sin (Rom. 5:12–21).

Exchange number four is that which is offered to sinners in the gospel: righteousness and justification instead of unrighteousness and condemnation. Moreover, this Christ-shaped righteousness was constituted by His entire life of obedience and His wrath-embracing sacrifice on the cross, where He was made a sin offering (He came, says Paul in Rom. 8:3, “on account of sin,” or “to be a sin offering”; NIV).

In addition to insisting on the fact that this divine exchange is consistent with the absolute righteousness of God (Rom. 3:21, 22, 25, 26), Paul stresses that this way of salvation is consistent with the teaching of the Old Testament (“being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,” v. 21; cf. 1:1–4). He also insists that we contribute nothing to our salvation. It is all of grace. The sheer genius of the divine strategy is simply breathtaking.

Exchange number five emerges here. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, when John Calvin moves from Book II (on the work of Christ) to Book III (on the application of redemption), he writes:

We must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son—not for Christ’s own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us … we obtain this by faith.

In response to the great exchange that has been accomplished for us in Christ, there is an exchange accomplished in us by the Spirit: unbelief gives way to faith, rebellion is exchanged for trust. Justification—our being declared righteous and constituted in a righteous relationship with God—is not made ours by works, ceremonial or otherwise, but by the exercise of faith in Christ.


This excerpt is adapted from In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson.




J. Gresham Machen and the Regulative Principle

D. G. Hart and John R. Muether

One of the lesser known episodes in J. Gresham Machen’s (1881-1937) stormy career was his nomination in 1926 to be Princeton Seminary’s professor of apologetics. Since 1906 he had taught New Testament at Princeton and distinguished himself in works such as The Origin of Paul’s Religion (1921) as the foremost conservative biblical scholar of his day. Yet, the field of apologetics was not foreign to Machen, as evidenced by his popular books, Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and What Is Faith? (1925), works that forcefully defended historic Christianity and the importance of theology. Nevertheless, what made Machen’s nomination to the chair of apologetics unusual was not his lack of formal experience but rather the opposition his nomination aroused.

The election and promotion of any Princeton professor required confirmation by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’s General Assembly. This step in the nomination process was usually a mere formality. In the history of Princeton no nominee had ever been vetoed. Yet a different outcome awaited Machen. The 1926 General Assembly received a report that questioned his soundness because of his attitude toward Prohibition. At the spring meeting of the Presbytery of New Jersey Machen had voted against a resolution that endorsed the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. He did not want his vote recorded because he knew his position differed from most American Protestants. The prohibition of the sale and distribution of alcohol enjoyed widespread support as an effort to retain the Christian character of the nation at a time of unprecedented non-Protestant immigration to the United States. Machen’s opposition to Prohibition was a major reason for the General Assembly’s failure to confirm his nomination. As one of his friends later told him, the Assembly was “rabidly Prohibitionist”; commissioners could not understand why a good Christian would not support such an obviously good and biblical cause.

Machen opposed Presbyterian support for Prohibition, however, not because he approved of drunkenness or preferred unpopularity. Rather he did so for important theological—even Reformed—reasons. In a statement defending his position (never published again because of the damage his friends believed it would have done) Machen argued that the church had no legitimate rationale for taking a side in this political question. Aside from the question of the relations between church and state, he believed that the church was bound by the Word of God and so all of its declarations and resolutions had to have clear Scriptural warrant. The Bible did not, however, provide support for Prohibition. It taught the idea of temperance, that is, moderate consumption of alcohol and the other good things of God’s creation. This meant that Scripture forbade inebriation. But even here the Bible did not give directions to government officials for abolishing drunkenness. Should this be a matter for the federal government to regulate or should states and local governments? Was legislation the best way to shape public sentiment or was an educational program more effective? Was regulation of private citizens’ behavior even a proper concern of the state? The Bible did not answer these and various other questions. So, Machen concluded, the church had no business meddling in the politics of Prohibition or any other matter where Scripture did not speak.

Machen’s reasoning here was an extension of the Regulative Principle. In the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition this principle has typically been applied to public worship. It teaches that we may only worship God as he has commanded us to worship him in his Word. People who hear this doctrine for the first time often understand it as overly negative and restrictive, as if we have no freedom in worship. Though the Regulative Principle does limit what we may do in worship, just as important is what it teaches about liberty of conscience and the Lordship of Christ. As the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches (20.2), “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” To bind the consciences of believers on the teaching of Scripture is to recognize and extend Christ’s Lordship. But to do so only on the basis of human wisdom or preference is to usurp his rule.

This principle is what separates Presbyterians from other Protestants. Unlike Lutherans and Anglicans who believe that churches may do whatever God’s word allows, Presbyterians and Reformed teach that churches may only do what Scripture commands; hence the name Reformed, “reformed according to the Word.”

The Regulative Principle applies not only to worship, but to all aspects of the church’s life and witness. Unless the church can find a clear warrant from Scripture for a particular teaching or practice it may not speak or act. Otherwise it runs the risk of binding the consciences of believers and usurping the Lordship of Christ. In this broader sense the Regulative Principle is only a variation on the formal principle of the Reformation, namely, “sola scriptura.” The Reformers believed that Rome had substituted the word of man (i.e. the papacy) for the Word of God. John Calvin grappled with just this issue when he responded to the argument that he should submit to the laws of the Roman church even if they were unjust because God commands that Christians submit to the powers that he has ordained. Calvin responded that it was not a question simply of enduring “some grievous oppression in our bodies.” The real issue was “whether our consciences shall be deprived of their liberty, that is, of the benefit of the blood of Christ.” According to Calvin this was no trifling matter. “No necessity ought to be imposed upon consciences in things in which they have been set at liberty by Christ,” he wrote, because without this liberty man could have no peace with God. “If [believers] wish to retain the grace which they have once obtained in Christ; they must submit to no slavery; they must be fettered by no bonds.”

The wider implications of the Regulative Principle are important considerations for officers charged with governing the witness and practice of the church. Especially in an age when congregations are taking on more and more responsibilities, from day care to Christian aerobics, the Regulative Principle counters with a wise reminder that the work of the church is prescribed by her head, the Lord Jesus Christ speaking through his Word, and that he has commissioned officers to make disciples of all nations, not on the basis of human wisdom or ingenuity but by the faithful proclamation of his Word.


D. G. Hart and John Muether are coauthors of Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Both are ruling elders in the OPC—Mr. Hart at Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA and Mr. Muether at Lake Sherwood OPC in Orlando, FL. Extracted from Ordained Servant 6.1 (January 1997).

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Primer on an Evangelical Classic: “The Life of God in the Soul of Man,” by Henry Scougal
Jun 13, 2017 | Justin Taylor; BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

The short classic The Life of God in the Soul of Man originated as a private letter of spiritual counsel to a friend, but author Henry Scougal (b. 1650) allowed it to be published a year before he died in 1678 at the age of 27.

Sixty-eight years later, in the spring of 1735, Charles Wesley (1707-1788), whose mother Susanna had commended it to her sons, gave a copy of this little book to his friend George Whitefield (1714-1770). Upon reading it, Whitefield was convinced he “must be born again, or be damned.” Whitefield testified that he “never knew what true religion was” until he read this book.

Who Was Henry Scougal?

Henry Scougal was a Scottish minister, theologian, and author.

Upon his graduation in 1665 from King’s College, University of Aberdeen, the 19-year-old was appointed professor of philosophy at the school.

In 1673, after a one-year pastoral stint, he became professor of divinity at King’s, where he served until he died of tuberculosis five years later, just shy of his 28th birthday.

What Scougal Means by “True Religion”

By “true religion” Scougal means something like authentic spirituality or genuine Christianity.

He is at pains to defend the term from common misconceptions among Christians. “I cannot speak of religion,” he writes, “but I must lament that, among so many pretenders to it, so few understand what it means.”

Three Places Where Religion Does Not Reside

Scougal identifies three places where religion is incorrectly located.

(1) Theological correctness. Some place religion “in the understanding, in orthodox notions and opinions; and all the account they can give of their religion is, that they are of this or the other persuasion, and have joined themselves to one of those many sects whereinto Christendom is most unhappily divided.”

(2) Moralistic reductionism. “Others place it in the outward man, in a constant course of external duties, and a model of performances: if they live peacably with their neighbors, keep a temperate diet, observe the returns of worship, frequenting the church and their closet, and sometimes extend their hands to the relief of the poor, they think they have sufficiently acquitted themselves.”

(3) Affectional emotionalism. “Others again put all religion in the affections, in rapturous heats and ecstatic devotion; and all they aim at, is, to pray with passion, and think of heaven with pleasure, and to be affected with those kind and melting expressions wherewith they court their Saviour, till they persuade themselves that they are mightily in love with him; and from thence assume a great confidence of their salvation, which they esteem the chief of Christian graces.

Where True Religion Does Reside

Scougal’s point is that none of these are sufficient by itself, and that to isolate one as the essence of true religion inherently distorts both the virtue and the reality of the whole.

Those who are acquainted with true religion “will entertain far different thoughts, and disdain all those shadows and false imitations of it. They know by experience, that true religion is an union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul; or, in the Apostle’s phrase, it is ‘Christ formed within us.’ . . . Briefly, I know not how the nature of religion can be more fully expressed, than by calling it a divine life.” True religion is “a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us.’”

Scougal calls it a life (or vital principle) because of its permanency and stability, its freedom and unconstrainedness.

He calls it a divine life because it stands in a universal and unbounded affection, in mastery over our natural inclinations.

This means that sound doctrine and moral action and affectional engagement are necessary but not sufficient; they are the “particular exercises” of piety, but they the root or source of it. They are outflows of the divine life in the human soul.

Four Forms of the Divine Life in the Life of the Believer

This divine life, Scougal argues, is “an inward, free and self-moving principle . . . a new nature instructing and prompting.” This animating principle takes the following four forms in the life of a believer.

(1) Faith is the root of the divine life. It is “a kind of sense, or feeling persuasion of spiritual things; it extends itself unto all divine truths; but in our lapsed estate, it hath a peculiar relation to the declarations of God’s mercy and reconcilableness to sinners through a mediator. . . .” If faith is the root, then love to God and charity to man, along with purity and humility, are the branches.

(2) Love is “a delightful and affectionate sense of the divine perfections, which makes the soul resign and sacrifice itself wholly unto him, desiring above all things to please him, and delighting in nothing so much as in fellowship and communion with him, and being ready to do or suffer anything for his sake, or at his pleasure. . . . A soul thus possessed with divine love must needs be enlarged towards all mankind . . . this is . . . charity . . . under which all parts of justice, all the duties we owe to our neighbour, are eminently comprehended; for he who doth truly love all the world . . . so far from wronging or injuring any person . . . will resent any evil that befalls others, as if it happened to himself.”

(3) Purity is “a temper and disposition of mind as makes a man despise and abstain from all pleasures and delights of sense or fancy which are sinful in themselves, or tend to . . . lessen our relish of more divine and intellectual pleasures, which doth also infer a resoluteness to undergo all those hardships he may meet with in the performance of his duty: so that not only chastity and temperance, but also Christian courage and magnanimity may come under this head.”

(4) Humility is”a deep sense of our own meanness, with a hearty and affectionate acknowledgment of our owing all that we are to the divine bounty; which is always accompanied with a profound submission to the will of God, and great deadness to the glory of the world, and the applause of men.” Scougal argues that religion is better understand by actions than by words, “because actions are more lively things, and do better represent the inward principle whence they proceed.” Scougal points to the divine life of our Savior as exemplifying divine love, express in his diligence to do his Father’s will, his patience in bearing affliction, his constant devotion, his charity to men, his purity, and his humility.

The Excellence and Advantage of True Religion

In Part 2, Scougal considers the excellence and advantage of religion. The worth and excellency of a soul is measured by the object of its love, and the way to grow in holiness is to behold divine excellence. This alone can bring us true happiness. It is impossible for God to deny his love to a soul wholly devoted to him. Horizontally, nothing can be more satisfying than a heart enlarged to embrace the whole world. Impure delights are unsatisfying. Finally, contrary to the world’s expectations, there is a sweetness in being lowly and self-abased through humble service.

Experiential Objections

Having defined the root and the branches of this divine life, along with the advantages of its excellency, Scougal takes a pastoral turn in Part 3, addressing the situation of one who might agree with this understanding and its desirableness, but concludes in sadness that it is impossible to achieve since it requires a new nature instead of just attainable outward observances. Scougal counsels his reader to put aside such unreasonable and discouraging fears, encouraging him to be strong in the Lord, doing what he can and depending on divine assistance. Scougal offers numerous suggestions, both positively and negatively, to cultivate and practice these virtues and qualities. In particular, he encourages the shunning of sin and the use of the means of grace (especially prayer and the sacraments) in following Christ.

An Imperfect Classic

Scougal’s classic deserves all of its praise. It is a book whose profundity far outmatches its length. But as with all books, it must be read critically. J. I. Packer, who lauds and recommends the book highly, expresses one lament about the book, which is worth citing in closing:

One could wish, however, that his exposition had been more explicitly and emphatically Christ-centred.

Like so many seventeenth-century writers, he lets himself assume that his readers know all about Jesus and need only to be told about real religion, the life of faith and faith-full turning Godward as opposed to the orthodoxism, formalism, emotionalism, and legalism that masquerade as Christianity while being in truth a denial of it.

Packer continues:

Had Scougal elaborated on the Christian’s union with Christ, which the New Testament sees as regeneration by the Holy Spirit;

had he explained incorporation into the Saviour’s risen life, whereby Jesus’s motivating passion to know and love and serve and please and honour and glorify the Father is implanted in sinners so that it is henceforth their own deepest desire too;

had he thus shown, in black and white, that imitating Jesus’s aims and attitudes in serving God and mankind is for the born-again the most natural, indeed the only natural, way of living, while for the unregenerate it is hard to the point of impossible;

[then] his little treatise would have been immeasurably stronger.

As it is, Scougal’s profile of divine life in human souls is much more complete than his answer to the question, how do I get into it?—or, how does it get into me? This is a limitation.

C. S. Lewis once offered advice to modern readers:

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. . . . The only palliative [to our cultural blindspots] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.

Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man is one such older book worth reading.