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Maybe it’s because we’re so humble. . . heeding the advice of Solomon to let another man praise us and not our own lips. Or perhaps its because we’re so consumed with our own callings that we’re oblivious, except for our general faith that God is at work, to the massive, intricate, and exciting story that God is weaving on a daily basis with our work and the work of brothers and sisters we have never met. Regardless of the reason, the fact is simple – the Church isn’t all that good at telling its story. By “story” I don’t mean the elements of the Gospel that we are so committed to preach, but the vastly bigger picture of that Gospel working revolutionary change in people and communities all over the globe. We hear testimonies of individuals often in our local congregations when a dramatic conversion occurs or when a missionary comes home to visit, but there exists no entity with the vantage point to compile the stories of individual leaders and local bodies in the cities of men into the expansive landscape that is the daily growing city of God — until now. On January 5th, U R B A N G L O R Y will begin exposing the expansion of the Kingdom in cities all over the world by broadcasting the stories of prominent and every day church leaders, innovative ministries, influential scholars, and revolutionary professionals who are all threads in the incredible tapestry that God is weaving to spread his Glory to the nations. We invite you to be the first to check it out and let your friends know as well. The future of this exciting new platform depends on your involvement.
Our first podcasts for 2009 will include …
Johnny Hunt talks about his agenda for his upcoming term as president of the SBC, and shares his thoughts on the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates within the SBC.
Gerald Hiestand clarifies his unconventional views on dating and sexual purity and lets us in on his passion for the new SAET Society, the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology.
Aaron Skinner of Kairos Creative challenges the church to think differently about the role of brand development for community presence and the sake of the gospel.
Matthew Elliot shares his story about coming to grips with the role of emotion in the Christian life during his Ph.D. studies that culminated into his high-praised books Faithful Feelings and Feel.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have some concerns about one of the required readings for my course in Evangelism at Southern Seminary, A Pastor’s Sketches by Ichabod Spencer. He was a Presbyterian minister in Brooklyn New York who journalized some of his evangelism encounters. My last post on this topic attempted to demonstrate that he confused Calvinism with the gospel.
Oddly enough, although Ichabod is a Presbyterian minister and confuses the gospel with Calvinism, there is an Arminian principle from which Spencer seems to operate. It seems clear to me that he is either a Calvinist or at least very Calvinistic (he is after all a Presbyterian minister, see “Introduction to Spencer and his Sketches”). Yet, he seems from time to time to speak as though he believed in the sort of grace that lingers in the heart of an unbeliever just long enough to give them the chance to either accept that grace or resist it (137). This belief is confirmed throughout the book, especially when he bases the obligation of the unconverted to repent and believe, not only on the grounds of the divine command, but also in their supposed ability to obey the divine command because of the aid he indiscriminately assumes is given to them:
The Holy Spirit is their offered aid; and surely that aid is enough. They should know and feel it to their heart’s core, that they are now, on the spot, to-day, under the most solemn obligations to repent, not only because sin is wrong, but because God offers them the aids of the Holy Spirit: ‘In me is thy help.’ Their impenitence not only tramples under foot the blood of the covenant, but also does despite to the Spirit of grace (142).
When people are aware of a need for effectual saving grace, and they honestly evaluate themselves as yet unable to come to Christ, Spencer sees fit to remove any such impression from them as quickly as he can (161). Spencer seems to be convinced that unbelievers are all indeed able to come to Christ. As he said to the man who claimed he could not repent: “You say you cannot repent. He has not said so. He commands you to repent” (161). Spencer seems to be Arminian at this point, assuming that if the Lord commands it, we must be able. He argues that ability is the ground of duty. Or to say it another way—since it is the gracious work of the Holy Spirit that he assumes makes everyone able—he believes that grace is the ground of duty. He seems to operate on this principle more than once, but his belief in this is most clearly seen in his dealings with the man who claimed that he could not repent:
You reject his offered help—the help of the omnipotent Spirit. And for this reason you will be the more criminal if you do not repent. . . You can repent, just in the way that others repent—just because God is your help (164, emphasis mine).
Perhaps it is most abundantly clear in the following reflection:
Sinners certainly ought to repent, for God commands them to repent. But in my opinion, he does not design to have them understand his command as having respect only to their own ability to repent, and not having respect to the proffered aids of the Holy Spirit. Such aids constitute one grand ground on which his command is obligatory, and sweep away ever possible excuse (165, emphasis mine).
What I am calling Spencer’s Arminian principle conflicts with my understanding of grace. The scriptures do not teach that everyone has the ability to come to Christ, but only those who are effectually drawn by the power of the Father (John 6:44, 64-65). We should not assume in our evangelism (as Spencer does), that the Holy Spirit works on all in such a way that morally enables them to accept or reject the gospel. Unbelievers are responsible to repent and believe simply because God commands it, not necessarily because they are morally able. If moral ability is a prerequisite to duty, all those who are not under the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit would be exempt from their duty (hence the teaching of hyper-calvinism). However, Spencer never wants to let the unbeliever think that she is unable to come to Christ. This is the whole point of his chapter labeled “I Can’t Repent,” where he expends no little amount of time and energy to convince a man that he is indeed able to repent (161).
Another example of this principle at work can be seen when the man who struggled with the doctrine of election responded to his admonition for him to pray. He said, “But the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord” (233). Spencer rejects this claim as though it were not in the Bible:
‘That,’ said I, ‘is your own declaration. God has not said so. Such a declaration is not to be found in the Bible, though people often suppose it is, and though there may be some expressions which appear to resemble it (233).
Yet this man quoted a biblical passage almost word for word: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9). This is not the only time Spencer seems to be embarrassingly ignorant of pertinent biblical texts.
Not long ago Todd reported indignantly that he had been unjustly accused of copyright infringement for posting John 3:16 Conference messages. He complained that someone had gone to the authorities without confronting him personally (like Christians are supposed to do). Now Chris shares his side of the story, and claims the recording of the messages was legal, but distributing them to others was illegal, and that he did in fact contact Todd personally. Here are some excerpts from his comments:
I am the one who posted on Todd’s site that the audio recording being posted on his site was illegal, You have been misinformed if you believe that it is legal. No notice has to be given. The speakers are the legal owners of the material and they granted Jerry Vines Ministries the right to record and reproduce the material. It does not matter that the recordings were made by an individual. He has the right to record the material (unless notice is provided), but he does not have permission to distribute unless he has permission from the copyright owner.
I am not the one that contacted the blog host and reported the activity. I did what was biblical and went to my brother in Christ and confronted him of his sin. He removed the material and in my mind the issue is/was settled.
I would wonder why you would accuse Jerry Vines Ministry of having no integrity. What have they done…. Todd is the one that violated the law. And while he is the one that broke the law he has no been accused of having no integrity.
… I too am shocked by how Jerry Vines Ministries is being attacked when they have done nothing wrong and the way they are being treated despite the fact that they are the ones that broke the law. Why is no one condemning the actions of Todd? Todd is relying on the ignorance of his “tech guy” and he is getting wrong advice.
Chris … Glad you get your side of the story. Maybe the Proverbs 18:17 principles applies here. “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”
If Chris is right, all those who recorded the John 3:16 conference and posted them or sent them to a bunch of friends may have broken the law (even if by ignorance).