At the end of part 2 of the Mortification of Sin, John Owen responds to the question: “When God speaks it, we must receive it, that is true; but how shall we know when He speaks?”  To which Owen responds –

There is, if I may so say, a secret instinct in faith, whereby it knows the voice of Christ when He speaks indeed; as the  babe leaped in the womb when the blessed Virgin came to Elizabeth [Luke 1:44], faith leaps in the heart when Christ indeed draws nigh to it.  ‘My sheep,’ says Christ, ‘know my voice’ (John 10:4)–“They know my voice; they are used to the sound of it,” and they know when His lips are opened to them and are full of grace.  The spouse was in a sad condition (Song 5:2)–asleep in security; but yet as soon as Christ speaks, she cries, ‘It is the voice of my beloved that speaks!’  She know His voice, and was so acquainted with communion with Him, that instantly she discovers Him; and so will you also.  If you exercise yourself to acquaintance and communion with Him, you will easily discern between His voice and the voice of a stranger.  And take this criterion with you: When He does speak, He speaks as never man spoke; He speaks with power, and one way or other will make your ‘hearts burn within you,’ as He did to the disciples (Luke 24:32).  He does it by ‘putting his hand at the hole of the door’ (Song 5:4)–His Spirit into your hearts to seize on you.



Southern Baptist Identity

October 12, 2009

I am currently reading the book Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future, edited by David Dockery.  Most of the material in the book was presented at Baptist Identity conferences at Union University.  Since these chapters have been published, even more has been written on the subject.  I would like to generate some discussion about this topic by summarizing each chapter and offering some of my own thoughts.  So here goes.

In the introduction, “Southern Baptists in the Twenty-first Century,” David Dockery demonstrates the need for clarification about Baptist Identity by briefly explaining how that identity was defined in the twentieth century and why that is not sufficient today.

According to Dockery “for almost five decades, during the middle of the twentieth century, Southern Baptists followed the same organizational patterns, the same programs, and the same Sunday school lessons.  These practices were to Southern Baptists what the Latin Mass was to Roman Catholics” (13).  He names some of these programs as Bible drills, GAs, RAs, Training Union, WMU, Brotherhood, Sunday School, and similar worship patterns such as the Baptist Hymnal.  Dockery uses the words cultural and programmatic to describe Baptist identity during these years.  He states that this unified identity gave Southern Baptists its pervasive influence particularly in southern white culture.

Dockery maintains that this identity no longer suffices because Southern Baptists have become more regionally and ethnically diverse, and often look outside of the SBC for church models and heroes.  We must move toward “consensus and renewal.”  This will include “convictional and confessional beliefs” and “collaborative and cooperative service.”  In summary of the first, Dockery says “we need an authentically confessional faith, grounded in Scripture and the best of our Baptist heritage, a convictional faith that will not give in to this secular age with a spirit of defeat” (17).  Under the section “Collaborative and Cooperative Service,” the author emphasizes that Christian love and cooperation authenticate our confession.  He advocates a compassionate sense of cooperation.

He closes the introduction with 12 “initial steps toward renewal.  I’ll list them without his explanations for the sake of space.

1.  We must begin afresh to appreciate the best of Baptist history/heritage.

2.  We must balance commitment to the material principle of the gospel and the formal principle of inspired Scripture.

3.  The new consensus must be built upon a full-orbed doctrine of Scripture, which affirms that only those beliefs and practices that rest firmly on scriptural foundations can be regarded as binding on Southern Baptists.

4.  Defining the circumference is necessary, but we should not expect or demand uniformity, lest we impose a straightjacked on our fellow Southern Baptists.

5.  We must recognize that a confession of the Bible’s truthfulness is an important safeguard, a necessary, albeit an insufficient, statement for the SBC to maintain consistent evangelical instruction and theological method, which is needed for an orthodox statement on matters of Christology, the doctrine of God, and salvation.

6.  A model of dynamic orthodoxy must be reclaimed.

7.  We must recognize that Southern Baptists have historically reflected considerable diversity.

8.  We must take seriously the biblical call to unity in accord with the Nicene affirmation of the oneness and universality of the church, as reflected in the Orthodox confession (1678).

9.  We need to be reminded of where Southern Baptist might be were it not for the conservative resurgence — as well as a recognition of where we could be if we ever become untethered to Holy Scripture.

10.  We need a new spirit of mutual respect and humility to serve together with those with whom we have differences of conviction and opinion.

11.  We want to begin to build a new and much-needed consensus around the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

12.  Twenty-first-century Southern Baptists need not only to affirm the Bible’s truthfulness and the saving power of the gospel, but we need to evidence our concern for these matters by careful biblical interpretation and theological reflection, faithful churchmanship, proclamation, worship, repentance, and prayer.

I have three concerns about this introduction.  First, I’m not convinced that SBC identity was ever fundamentally programmatic.  Nor am I convinced that we are as culturally diverse today as Dockery suggests.  If SBC identity did once revolve around having the same programs and orders of worship then shame on us.  And we should not seek to correct this identity problem simply because it doesn’t work anymore, but because it is a wrong basis for unity and a sad basis for identity.

Second, though Dockery does issue several calls for unity in confession, there is no call to the centrality of the glory of God.  Point 6, calling for dynamic orthodoxy sounds good, but it is not enough.  The list of conversation partners makes me wonder what is meant by “orthodoxy.”  (He lists Nicea, Chalcedon, Augustine, Bernard, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, the Pietists, and the revivalists.)  It is not enough to have an orthodox doctrine of God.  Our doctrine of God must make us God-centered in theology and practice.  Our goals must all be subordinate to the chief end of glorifying and enjoying God.

Third, the call to consensus around the gospel is good, but there is no definition of what is meant by gospel.  When talking about ecclesiology he names specific points (“We must also clearly affirm the importance of worship, regenerate church membership, and local church autonomy and cooperation, as well as believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” 19)  But when calling for gospel consensus the most that is said is “Jesus Christ and his atoning death for sinners” (20).

I very much appreciate his remark about getting the gospel right as prior to missions and evangelism.  “We need to take a step back, not just to commit ourselves afresh to missions and evangelism, as important as that is.  We need to commit ourselves foremost to the gospel, the message of missions and evangelism, the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and his atoning death for sinners” (20).



October 12, 2009

As an example of a good Christian theologian, John Owen observed two controlling principles (among others) that are instructive to all pastors, according to Dr. Rick Daniels.  For one, he brought his theology to bear on the needs of the time.  The pastor-theologian asks “What implications does this truth have for the lives of my people at this time?”  Secondly, and more importantly because it will impact every other question, is the necessity to relate every truth to the Bible’s exposition of Christ.  Dr. Daniels stated that Owen’s entire theological system is an exposition of Christ.  Owen’s commitment to these two principles, and the way that he faithfully brings them together in treatises and sermons, is a model for contemporary pastor-theologians.  We must see every truth in relation to Jesus Christ before bringing it to bear on the lives of His people.

This Christocentric principle meant that Owen rejected other alternatives that were adopted by some ministers of his time.  He rejected both rationalism and mysticism because they are not tied to the revelation of the Christ of Scripture.  The rationalist’s knowledge of God is restricted to the application of human reason to his limited perception as he observes the natural order.  The mystic’s knowledge of God is restricted to the applictaion of human imagination and existential experience.  The exposition of Jesus Christ that leads to saving knowledge of God requires something beyond these restrictions, something from outside of the subject, namely Divine special revelation.  Owen also rejected moralism, which marginalizes Christology while emphasizing practical Christian living.  Owen laid the foundation for practical Christian living in the knowledge of Christ.

By application of this Christocentric principle, Owen saw that everything edifying would be founded in Christ.  All of God’s involvement with creation is through the mediation of the Son.  All theology is, therefore, Christ-centered.  Indeed, Dr. Daniels affirmed, for Owen a truly Trinitarian Theology is Christocentric.  We may only use the creation rightly in relation to Christ.  Providence is expounded in the light of Christ.  The gifts of ministry are fruits of the tomb of Christ.  Our approach to God through Christ our Mediator is made possible by the incarnation of Christ in humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection and ascension).

Whether we are seeking the conversion of sinners, the sanctification of the saints, or the maturation of the church, let’s bring the truth to bear through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Dr. Rick Daniels did us a great service by outlining John Owen’s Christology at our latest Fraternal meeting.  His dissertation on this subject, completed for Westminster Seminary, is available through Reformation Heritage Books for $25.  I will post several highlights from his talk in the next several days.  I begin with an extended quote of Owen, which Dr. Daniel’s read from Owen’s sermon “A Vision of Unchangeable, Free Mercy, In Sending the Means of Grace to Undeserving Sinners,” which can be found in vol. 8 of Owen’s works (Banner of Truth, pp. 2ff.)

Jesus Christ is all, and in all; and where he is wanting there can be no good.  Hunger cannot truly be satisfied without manna, the bread of life, which is Jesus Christ;—and what shall a hungry man do that hath no bread?  Thirst cannot be quenched without that water or living spring, which is Jesus Christ;—and what shall a thirsty soul do without water?  A captive, as we are all, cannot be delivered without redemption, which is Jesus Christ; —and what shall the prisoner do without his ransom?  Fools, as we are all, cannot be instructed without wisdom, which is Jesus Christ; —without him we perish in our folly.  All building without him is on the sand, which will surely fall.  All working without him is in the fire, where it will be consumed.  All riches without him have wings, and will away.  “Mallem ruere cum Christo, quam regnare cum Caesare,” said Luther.  A dungeon with Christ, is a throne; and a throne without Christ, a hell.  Nothing so ill, but Christ will compensate.  The greatest evil in the world is sin, and the greatest sin was the first; and yet Gregory feared not to cry, ‘O felix culpa, quae talem meruit redemptorem!” —“O happy fault, which found such a Redeemer!”  All mercies without Christ are bitter; and every cup is sweet that is seasoned but with a drop of his blood; —he truly is “amor et deliciae humani generis,”—the love and delight of the sons of men,—without whom they must perish eternally; “for there is no other name given unto them, whereby they may be saved, Acts iv.12.  He is the Way; men without him are Cains, wanderers, vagabonds:—he is the Truth; men without him are liars, like the devil, who was so of old:—he is the Life; without him men are dead, dead in trespasses and sins:—he is the Light; without him men are in darkness, and go they know not whither:—he is the Vine; those that are not grafted in him are withered branches, prepared for the fire:—he is the Rock; men not built on him are carried away with a flood:—he is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the author and the ender, the founder and the finisher of our salvation.  He that hath not him, hath neither beginning of good, nor shall have end of misery.  O blessed Jesus! how much better were it not to be, than to be without thee!—never to be born, than not to die in thee!  A thousand hells come short of this, eternally to want Jesus Christ, as men do that want the gospel.

In a recent discussion with Bruce Ware I had shared that John Owen understood the mortification of sin to be relative and not absolute.  Dr. Ware quickly added that there is one thing, however, that is absolute, namely, the removal of sin’s dominion in the life of a believer.  I agreed and added that Owen agreed as well.  Yesterday, I read the following in Owen’s work on the Holy Spirit, in which he has a brief chapter on the mortification of sin: “Who or what shall have the principal conduct of the mind and soul (chap. 8.7-9) is the matter in question.  Where sin hath the rule, there the Holy Ghost will never dwell.  He enters into no soul as his habitation, but at the same instant he dethrones sin, spoils it of its dominion, and takes the rule of the soul into the hand of his own grace.  Where he hath effected this work, and brought his adversary into subjection, there he will dwell, though sometimes his habitation be troubled by his subdued enemy.”

John Owen, The Holy Spirit, The Works of John Owen vol. III, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1850-53, reprint 2000), 551.


Follow the link to Mohler’s convocation address.  Thanks to Brad Fleming for bringing this to my attention.

I was humored that the primary opposition to the motion for a Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce was that it was the work of Calvinists and Calvinist “sympathizers.”  While opposing a motion calling for attention to greater efficiency and effectiveness to make disciples of all nations, one man accused the authors of the motion of being Calvinists who do not concern themselves with the conversion of sinners.  He stated that the reason Southern Baptists are not reporting as many conversions as in the past is because there are so many Calvinists arising within the denomination; and everyone knows that Calvinists don’t evangelize the lost.  At least he was certain of this, himself.   He seemed to imply that a Great Commission Resurgence will only come with a Great Calvinist Purge.  (I hope that this man came to his understanding of Calvinists through dialogue with Arminians, and not through first hand encounters with Calvinists.)

Andrew Fuller and William Carey also called for a “Great Commission Resurgence” among Baptists in their day.  Their solution, however, was not to purge the church of Calvinism.  Instead, they argued that the Reformed faith, being biblical, was an impetus for just such an endeavor.   In a letter to Dr. Ryland, Andrew Fuller quoted certain propositions from the Synod of Dort to demonstrate his agreement with Calvinism.  He quoted the following: “The promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life; which promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought promiscuously and indiscriminately to be published and proposed to all nations and individuals to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.”

Could it be that the resurgence of the Doctrines of Grace and the centrality of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ are an impetus for a renewed zeal for missions?