The Eclipse of the Gospel and the School of Hard Knox

A Powerful Man

I stood in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Clouds gathered overhead and people walked curiously through the front doors. Here, the famous reformer, John Knox faithfully tended the flock until his death in 1572.

Once inside this massive cathedral, I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of this place. I was overwhelmed by the architecture – the awe-inspiring flying buttresses that point worshippers to the transcendence of God. A single elevated pulpit is located in the center of the sanctuary. It stands strategically above the worshippers, which symbolically places God’s Word above sinful creatures.

John Knox brought reform to Scotland and re-energized a nation that had all but forgotten God. Knox helped awaken a nation that neglected God’s truth which led to a virtual eclipse of the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes Knox as a man who preached “with the fire of God in his bones and in his belly!  He preached as they all preached, with fire and power, alarming sermons, convicting sermons, humbling sermons, converting sermons, and the face of Scotland was changed …” Simply put, the faithful preaching of Knox brought much needed reform to the Scottish landscape and renewed evangelical fervor to the church.

John Knox courageously raised the banner of the gospel and defended the truths of the Protestant Reformation. He was unashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and fearlessly proclaimed the Word of God. He stood boldly and with Peter and the apostles, obeyed God rather then men (Acts 5:29). Indeed, Knox is a true exemplar of faithfulness in the face of adversity.

A Personal Lesson

As I made my way out of St. Giles, my mind was filled with stories surrounding the life and ministry of John Knox. As I turned to gaze again at the rising fortress where Knox served the Lord, a thought occurred to me. It was not a new thought. Rather, it was a lesson that has moved me for many years now but in this moment, the lesson was magnified as I scanned the edifice of St. Giles. The lesson is this: church history matters.

It seems like such a simple lesson. But it is a lesson that many contemporary Christians are unfamiliar with. Even as a young Bible College student, I failed to understand the importance of church history. The buildings seemed so old and the names were so hard to pronounce. It is a sentiment that is not unique to me. I hear it all the time. I hear the cruel remarks about John Calvin and the caricatures that biased people have cooked up about Jonathan Edwards. But when we move past all the petty talk and face reality, we realize that church history truly does matter.

A Pivotal Mindset

First, Church history matters because when we forget the past, we fail to learn valuable lessons that impact our lives. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So Christians who minimize the importance of church history are vulnerable to the theological error that plagued the church in the past. Additionally, they repeat the sins committed by our forefathers.

For example, Arius committed a fatal theological error by teaching that Christ was the first created being. This theological controversy which erupted in 318 A.D. led to a series of heretical Arian propositions:

  1. The Son was created by the Father.
  2. The Son owed his existence to the will of the Father.
  3. The Son was not eternal, that is, there was a time when he was not.

Such teaching stood diametrically opposed to Scripture and was outside the bounds of orthodoxy. In the end, Arius rejected the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Second, Church history matters because it strengthens our faith. Scripture instructs, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7, ESV) The term remember is a present imperative verb that means, “keep thinking about,” or “call to mind.”

Remembering godly leaders in church history is not optional; it is a command in sacred Scripture. The author of Hebrews does not limit the scope of these “leaders” to men like Moses, Abraham, Paul or Peter. He instructs us to remember leaders “who spoke to you the word of God.” So remembering leaders like Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Luther, and Spurgeon is an important part of the Christian pilgrimage. We do well to follow in their paths by boldly proclaiming the truth and living faithfully before the Lord, even when our detractors heap insults on us for faithfully remembering these heroes of the faith.

Third, Church history matters because God ordained specific events that lead to the worldwide spread of his glory. Church history truly is “his story.” Whenever we discount history, we subtly stand in judgment over God and claim to know a better way. Whenever we disparage church history and subtly place ourselves in a position that was never ours to enjoy. Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3, ESV).

The School of Hard Knox

John Knox was a faithful man who led a gospel-centered life, according to the grace that was given him by his Savior. His relentless preaching helped drive away the darkness and restore the light of the gospel to his land. Almost five hundred years later, St. Giles still stands but the truth has fallen on hard times. Once again, the gospel is being eclipsed by man-made philosophy and foolishness.

As Christ-followers, we must learn well the lessons that church history teaches us. When we forget the past we falter in our faith and fail to exalt the sovereign purposes of our Savior. When we forget the past, we become comfortable stumbling around in the dark and begin to glory in our ignorance.

Let us become educated in the School of Hard Knox. And may the gospel shine brightly again. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV). And may we recover our love of truth and our passion for the gospel.

True Spirituality – Francis Schaeffer

Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020),

Francis Schaeffer was one of the most insightful Christian thinkers of the Twentieth century. Schaeffer’s love for truth and lost people helped galvanize a generation for the sake of the gospel.

True Spirituality, originally written in 1971 alerted readers to the importance of propositional truth and set them on a course that enabled an approach to the Christian life that is timeless. Crossway Books has reprinted this important work for a new generation of readers.

The great strength of True Spirtuality is its simple presentation of the gospel. Schaeffer shows how creatures are shackled by sin and points the way to freedom through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

One sentence sums up what Schaeffer refers to as true spirituality: “To live moment by moment through faith on the basis of the blood of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is the only really integrated way to live.”

I commend True Spirituality to first-time readers of Francis Schaefer and urge them to continue the journey by pouring over some of his other well-known works such as The God Who is There, He is There and He is Not Silent, and Death in the City.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning

grudemWayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2018), 1212 pp.

Wayne Grudem has become a household name in evangelical circles over the years. His landmark book, Systematic Theology, is used in Bible Colleges and Seminaries around the world. I have personally taught through his excellent book at least six times. As a result, hundreds of men and women have been equipped and edified in the Christian faith.

Dr. Grudem’s newest offering, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning is a wonderful companion to Systematic Theology. The book weighs in at over 1,200 pages and will likely turn some readers away. But walking away from Grudem’s book would be like gazing at a massive treasure chest and refusing to open it for lack of time or desire. Both responses would be tantamount to foolishness.

The introduction alone is worth the price of the book as the author establishes the foundation for Christian ethics by grounding his discussion in the holy character of God and sacred Scripture. Indeed, the essence of Christian ethics is living Coram Deo, and to the glory of God.

The remainder of the book is organized around the Ten Commandments. The basic outline is as follows:

  • Protecting God’s Honor
  • Protecting Human Authority
  • Protecting Human Life
  • Protecting Life
  • Protecting Property
  • Protecting Purity of Heart

Grudem does not leave any stone unturned here. Every ethical topic imaginable is explored. Each topic, of course, is subjected to uncompromising biblical standards.

Christian Ethics is a breath of fresh air that will embolden followers of Jesus Christ and challenge them to live with God-centered resolve in a postmodern ethos that has forgotten God. It is not only a response to the zeitgeist that surrounds us; it is a rally-cry for faithful Christians to live in a way that pleases the triune God!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Why I Love the Apostle Paul – John Piper (2019)

John Piper, Why I Love the Apostle Paul (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 204 pp.

The aim of John Piper’s most recent book is to help readers get to know Paul the apostle. Piper’s motive is that Paul’s “God-entranced soul and his unparalleled vision of Jesus Christ and the authenticity of his life would move you to admire him and believe his message and embrace his Lord.”

The name of the book is Why I Love the Apostle Paul. Thirty reasons are supplied in short, readable chapters as Dr. Piper unpacks the heart and soul of one of the greatest thinkers and theologians of all time.

This book reveals the underbelly or the foundations of Piper’s well-known Christian hedonism. Many have fought against the very notion of such a worldview. Some have cast it aside as heretical; others have discounted it or marginalized its value. The arguments for Christian hedonism that Piper presents are not only biblical; they are robust, logical, mind-shaping, and heart-warming. The central thought of Piper’s Christian hedonism is this:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper’s latest offering, while not necessarily an apologetic for Christian hedonism, is a worthy defensive and brilliant articulation of the philosophy which has undergirded the author’s life and ministry.

Quite frankly, Why I Love the Apostle Paul is an enthralling book. It is certain to open many eyes to the depth, breadth, majesty, and beauty of the gospel. The deep biblical realities that Dr. Piper unfolds are powerful and encouraging. This is a book that deserves to be read over and over again!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Called to Suffer

running man on bridge

The “health and wealth” gospel continues to wield a powerful influence on many people around the world. This movement is fraught with theological danger and should be resisted and opposed by thoughtful Christians. Al Mohler addresses this troubling trend:

Prosperity theology is a false gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God. In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises too little. The gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity. While we should seek to understand what drives so many into this movement, we must never for a moment fail to see its message for what it is – a false and failed gospel.

In contrast to the “health and wealth” gospel, the Bible calls followers of Christ to suffer. We are called to suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26). We are called to patiently endure suffering (2 Cor. 1:6). We are called upon to suffer for Christ’s sake (Phil. 1:29). In 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, we learn that God has ordained that we will suffer.

The fact that we are called to suffer is one of the clear themes of Scripture. The Bible says, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20–21, ESV).

The apostle Paul challenges us to “rejoice in our sufferings …” (Rom. 5:3). This biblical mindset requires us to set our hope upon the risen Savior. It requires us to pay close attention to God’s revealed word. We know that suffering is not an end in itself. We know that God is using suffering for his purposes. And we know that suffering is ultimately for our good and for his glory. Listen to Paul’s God-centered perspective in his letter to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16–18, ESV).

We are a people of unshakeable hope. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, we have much to rejoice in. Indeed, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

The great Welsh pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us, “Faith produces hope, and the more clearly and consciously we have that hope, the more we shall know the love of God to us, and the more, in turn we shall love God.” Yes, we are called to suffer. Yes, we will experience adversity. But we cast our hope on a sovereign God who controls it all and will one day make all things new!

Stand Strong for Christ

man wearing brown leather dress shoes stepping on brown wood

We are living through one of the most tumultuous times in American history. It seems like every day a new challenge surfaces. We face trials, temptations, suffering, and grief. We hear rumors about the fate of our Republic. Conspiracy theories are at a fevered pitch. None of this should surprise us. In Jesus’s day he told his disciples:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:6–14, ESV).

Jesus has a way of bringing us back to ground zero. He always tells the truth and he always has our best interests in mind. Is it any wonder that Paul admonished the Ephesian believers to put on the armor of God? He writes:

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:14–20, ESV).

In order to be battle ready, we need the courage of Christ. We need to put on the armor of Christ. And we need to stand strong for Christ.

The Puritan William Gurnall writes, “To stand is the opposite of to flee or to surrender. A captain who sees his men retreating or on the verge of surrender gives the order, ‘Stand!’ and every soldier worthy of his calling responds at once to his captain’s voice. In like manner, every Christian is to respond to God’s call to ‘Stand!’ – or, in other words, steadfastly to resist and never yield to the attacks of Satan.”1 Taking such a stand means that we not only stand for Christ; we also stand against some things. We stand against:

  • An ungodly world. Paul warns us about the kosmos (world) in his letter to the church in Colossae. He writes, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
  • An ungodly agenda. Scripture describes the essence of this agenda in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. I encourage you to read through this section of Scripture and become familiar with this ungodly agenda.
  • An ungodly enemy. Satan is our enemy, a foe who is backed by a horde of evil demons. They are Satanic ambassadors who do the bidding of the prince of darkness. They seek to hinder the work of the ministry (1 Thes. 2:18). They work with all their might to stir up pride among the people of God. Ultimately, their aim is to destroy (John 10:10).
Prepared for Battle

Are you battle ready?

  • Do you have the courage of Christ?
  • Are you wearing your spiritual armor each day?
  • Are you standing strong for Christ?

J.C. Ryle reminds us, ““Take away the gospel from a church and that church is not worth preserving. A well without water, a scabbard without a sword, a steam-engine without a fire, a ship without compass and rudder, a watch without a mainspring, a stuffed carcass without life, all these are useless things. But there is nothing so useless as a church without the gospel.”2

Let us stand strong for the sake of Christ.

  1. William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1655), 285.
  2. J.C. Ryle, Light From Old Times (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2015), 45.

Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life

kel

Bob Kellemen, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, pp. 246.

One man blazed a trail in the sixteenth century that laid the groundwork for countless numbers of Christians. Martin Luther was the primary agent who God used in a mighty way as he hammered his 95 theses on the castle door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. He unleashed a theological revolution known as the Protestant Reformation, where the doctrines of grace were recovered and the gospel began to exert a powerful influence in the lives of people.

Counseling Under the Cross by Bob Kellemen explores the life and legacy of Martin Luther and reveals how his theological framework influenced his counseling ministry.

What Shaped Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?

Part one explores Luther’s background and alerts readers to the oppressive environment that was so common in the sixteenth century. Luther fought desperately to find peace with God but was doomed to failure apart from completed work of Christ which is received by grace alone through faith alone.

Kellemen explains how Luther’s anxiety impacted his life in his early adult years. Luther admits, “For I had hoped I might find peace of conscience with fasts, prayers, and the vigils with which I miserably afflicted my body, but the more I sweated it out like this, the less peace and tranquillity I knew.”

The author continues, “Before he came under the influence of the cross, Luther lived life as a man terrified that he would never find peace with God because his God was not a God of peace. Luther lived with a constant sense of guilt and dread in the face of a terrifying, angry, and unforgiving God.”

The only way Luther found relief is by casting all his hope and future on a sovereign God, by grace alone through faith alone. Kellemen writes, “The Christ of the cross transformed Luther the man terrified before God into Luther the man at peace with God.” This newly converted man now saw God in a different light which not only radically affected his life; it altered his ministry at every level.

What is the Shape of Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?

“Luther’s counseling reflects his theology – it is cross-shaped and gospel-centered.” Part two reveals the shape of Luther’s pastoral counseling. The author examines Luther’s approach to pastoral counseling by exploring two primary angles.

First, soul care: comfort for suffering.Luther’s theology and methodology of sustaining and healing are presented with specific examples of how the Reformer encouraged and edified the saints.

Second, spiritual direction: confrontation for sinning.Specifically, Luther’s theology and methodology of reconciling and guiding are presented here. Again, the author paints a pastoral portrait of Luther and shows him at work among the Body of Christ. While soul care (noted above) involves comforting and encourages Christians, spiritual direction involves a confrontation with people. Kellemen adds, “In reconciling soul care, we seek to startle one another with the gospel.” Such a nouthetic approach is mandated in Scripture (Col. 1:28) and plays a vital role in biblical counseling.

EVALUATION

Counseling Under the Cross is a treasure chest of gospel nuggets. Bob Kellemen does a beautiful job of explaining how Martin Luther applied the gospel to everyday life. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the emphasis on indicatives and imperatives. The author makes it clear that both are important aspects of the Christian life: “Salvation in Christ (gospel indicatives) frees, empowers, and motivates us through faith to serve others in love (gospel imperatives). Progressive sanctification is faith active in love – exercising the love that comes from faith in the grace of Christ.”

I strongly urge pastors, counselors, and church leaders to prayerfully study Counseling Under the Cross. Additionally, I urge readers to pick up a copy of my book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther, as a companion volume to Bob Kellemen’s excellent work.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin

calMy recent book, A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin is available now! Here’s a brief synopsis.

“… But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

A Godward Gaze is a snapshot of a man on a mission. It is about one man who set his sights on the Celestial City and never looked back. His name is John Calvin. He was a pious man, driven by God’s glory and a love for Scripture. His holy pursuit was rare among men and a model for followers of Christ. David Steele points readers to a truly remarkable man – a biblical expositor, a theologian, and a courageous reformer. Calvin changed a city and helped changed the world. His godly example may change your life.

Pick up your copy today. https://www.amazon.com/Godward-Gaze-Holy-Pursuit-Calvin/dp/1095816462/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=a+godward+gauze+david+steele&qid=1559651630&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmr0

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self – Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 425.

The sexual revolution of the 60’s fundamentally changed the cultural landscape in North America. Yet, percolating beneath the surface was an even more diabolical worldview; a worldview that many are unfamiliar with. Even those who have engaged with the history of Western civilization may be jolted when the implications become clear.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman pulls back the veil and alerts us to the underlying ideologies that have catapulted our current views about self and sexuality in the Western world. Trueman shows readers in a precise and shocking way how men have forgotten God and presents reasons for their tragic decision.

The driving argument of Trueman’s work is this:

The issues we face today in terms of sexual politics are a symptom or manifestation of the deeper revolution in selfhood that the the rise and triumph of expressive individualism represents.

The emphasis we find in Trueman bears some similarity to John Piper’s recent contention that “the essence of sin is minimizing God and making much of self.”1

Several negative reviews have been submitted that are not sympathetic to Trueman’s work. What these reviews fail to understand is that The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is neither a lament nor a polemic. It is in the words of Trueman, “an attempt to explain how the revolution of the self came to take the form it has in the West and why that is so culturally significant.” The goal of the author is achieved and is undergirded by meticulous research from multiple angles – theological, sociological, psychological, and beyond.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self should be celebrated for its candor and penetrating analysis of the human condition. It sufficiently lays the groundwork for more study and deeper discussions in the coming days.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

  1. John Piper, Providence (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2021), 127.

The White Flag Unfurled

wf

These are troubling times. We live in a day which is marked by theological error and apostasy. Leaders are falling, truth is routinely maligned, and compromise is celebrated. A glance across the cultural milieu reveals an unfurled white flag. The white flag has been hoisted high and a diabolical deal has been struck. This flag reveals a horrifying reality which must be addressed, namely – final surrender in the church.

The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church diagnoses our current condition and offers biblical action steps for marching forward in a way that glorifies God. It is call to faithfulness in age that is characterized by weak knees, passivity, and capitulation. It instills courage in weary Christ-followers who toil in a post-Christian era.

“Here is a passionate call from a pastor’s heart, from a man widely read, who sees with great clarity the difficult situation the church now faces, with opposition without and weakness and compromise within, who believes the battle will be won by the faithful believing and by the courageous teaching and proclaiming of the Word of God.”

DR. PETER JONES, Director, TruthXchange, Author of “The Other Worldview,” Escondido, CA

“David Steele is a champion for the truth of God’s word.The White Flag not only exposes the destructive enemy of doctrinal compromise that threatens the contemporary church; it inspires godly courage in all believers to stand firm in defending the truth of Scripture no matter the cost. Read this excellent book to be blessed and emboldened by its timely message.”

WAYNE PICKENS, Founding pastor of Homestead Country Gathering, La Grande, OR

“Dr. David Steele exposes a clear and present danger threatening our churches. This is a biblical, bold, urgent call-to-arms reminding us that our Commander-in-Chief has entrusted us to a “Precious Treasure” that must be protected as well as proclaimed.”

NATE PICKOWICZ, Author of Reviving New England and How to Eat Your Bible.

Order your copy of The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church here!