Blog Archive: 2015

Blog List: 2015
Note: Lower numbered blogs can be found in
the previous year’s archive.

43. 1/1/15: Are you a fundamentalist?
44. 1/15/15: Corresponding with Calvinists
45. 2/1/15: Two new tracts: Geology and DNA / Information
46. 2/15/15: Hot vs. Cool Communication
47. 3/1/15: Is Noah’s Ark still on Ararat?
48. 3/15/15: The Shape of American Apostasy
49. 4/1/15: My mom died.
50. 4/15/15: How to fight the war on terror
51. 5/1/15: Coasting down the Sawdust Trail
52. 5/15/15: Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels
53. 6/1/15: Two New Tracts: Beauty & The Beast
54. 6/15/15: The Life of Rolfe Barnard
55. 7/1/15: What about those who have never heard the Gospel? (Part 2 – Dan Freeman)
56. 7/15/15: “Tactics” plus 2 new tracts: Tennis & Marriage
57. 8/1/15: C. S. Lewis: Brilliance and Blindness
58. 8/15/15: The Case for the ‘Real Jesus’
59. 9/1/15: William Lane Craig on Apologetics – plus 2 new tracts on Astronomy
60. 9/15/15: Finney vs. Nettleton: Why couldn’t they just get along?
61. 10/1/15: Is your church a Team of Teams?
62. 10/15/15: What the world knows about discipleship (and the churches don’t): Part 1
63. 11/1/15: What the world knows about discipleship (and the churches don’t): Part 2
64. 11/15/15: How to witness to a Muslim
65. 12/1/15: Want to be a prophet? Part 1
66. 12/15/15: Want to be a prophet? Part 2

43. Are you a fundamentalist?
January 1, 2015

The word “fundamentalist” is typically used in the secular media to insult and to marginalize. Especially maddening is the tendency of anti-Christians to lump Bible believers with “radical” (meaning “serious”) Muslims as fundamentalists. Within American Christendom, the group most proudly affirming themselves as fundamentalists are the Independent Fundamental Baptists, independent churches loosely affiliated through various seminaries, conferences, and publications. The IFB churches are quite distinct from Southern Baptists, a large “evangelical” denomination.

From the viewpoint of the secular media, evangelicals are often described as fundamentalists when emphasizing that they actually believe the Bible is true. That’s all it takes to earn the hated label of fundamentalist if you’re a left-winger. I have observed that conservative evangelicals are sometimes content to accept the label in this regard. Interestingly, conservative evangelicals (“gellies”) . . . like John MacArthur and Brannon Howse . . . act as if the IFB fundamentalists (“fundies”) don’t even exist. I do understand why. When you see yourself as the last bastion of Biblical defense in an increasingly wicked and apostate America, you don’t want to acknowledge the existence of any group that has stronger positions on inerrancy / preservation, sacred vs. worldly music, and cultural standards of dress and conduct.

Once upon a time, about a century ago, fundies and gellies were essentially a single species, yet distinguished themselves strongly from liberal denominations which insisted that good Christians invest and engage in social work, rather than merely preaching the Gospel of salvation to lost souls. I recently finished reading the 2006 revised edition of the 1980 book, Fundamentalism and American Culture, by George Marsden. In the rest of this blog I will pull out some nuggets from Marsden, and interleave my own comments, as usual. Anytime you read some definite conclusion below, you may conclude it is mine, not Marsden’s.

George Marsden

Marsden defines the type in this manner: “I have long said that fundamentalists were militant evangelical Protestants who were fighting battles on two fronts: They were fighting against the inroads of theological modernism in mainline denominations and they were combating a variety of alarming changes in the culture.” I think that’s fair. The term usefully categorizes those who stand on Biblical truth and, additionally, apply those truths vigorously in public callouts of sin and corruption.

True fundies draw a different line on Biblical truth than do gellies. Fundies stand on the New Testament Received Text and the Hebrew Masoretic text for the Old Testament, affirming that we can (even today!) construct an inerrant Bible which, in fact, has been done with precision in English via the Authorized KJV. Gellies use a variety of text types and a variety of translations, believing that the “essential truths” of God’s word have been passed down through the ages, but any given version must certainly have quite a few mistakes in detail. The two positions are dramatically different, especially because one can find many differences . . . in substance . . . among modern versions of the Bible.

In applying Biblical truth and morals to the culture, fundies are careful about music and lyrics, whereas gellies seem content to attach even loosely “spiritual” lyrics to all manner of worldly styles, including pop, rock, and hip hop. Modesty standards in dress tend to differ also, at least in church on Sunday.

In stark contrast to both modern groups, “modernists” – who have been around since Satan himself questioned the veracity of God’s word in the Garden – are characterized by unbelief, specifically unbelief in inerrancy, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Lord’s physical resurrection, and a literal 2nd coming. Modernists yet claim the label of Christian, which facilitates establishment of “churches,” seminaries, and salaried clergy, all the while interpreting “Christianity” in terms of current cultural ideas. I observe that when “truth” is defined culturally, modernism cannot be distinguished from post-modernism, in which there is no such thing as absolute truth. Nothing has really changed in the last century on the left wing of Christendom.

But back to Marsden . . . his focus is on the history of American fundamentalism from about 1870 until 1940. You won’t enjoy this book unless you love college-level history courses. Yes, it’s written in THAT style. As reflected in the title, the author focuses on the cultural and the social, treating various movements and theological positions (somewhat) dispassionately. He seems oblivious to spiritual warfare, that some things are right and some wrong, that Satan and his minions are active in religious enterprise, and about the overriding truth that souls are at stake – theological disputes are not simply academic exercises!

Interestingly, Masden admits – on the very last page of his updated edition – that he understands the difference in perspective between the theologian and the historian. He explains that the Christian scholar’s task is to judge which movements in church history are works of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to moves of the Adversary. The historian, on the other hand, refrains from judgments and analyzes the culture. The historian’s work is then available to people of different theological positions to make their own determinations. And so Marsden has written his work fairly void of “judgments,” although his disdain for “anti-evolutionists,” namely Biblical creationists, does seep through.

Marsden’s history, I note, is not really a history of Christian fundamentalists, but rather a history of leaders – of pastors, evangelists, seminary presidents and professors, and denominational chieftains. But then histories usually reflect the stories and viewpoints of leaders – of kings and despots, of generals and published scholars, of those who have the power and resources to get their story told. Yet true New Testament Christianity knows nothing of powerful leaders and the cult of personality. 1st Century churches were city-wide networks of house fellowships, led by “elders” – mature peers within the flock – with minimal and well-distributed authority. Shared leadership and equality among the brethren are NT prescriptions for effective discipleship and the detection and prevention of heresy. See my “church” essays in the Discipleship section of this site. But Christendom has usually been dominated by leaders, at great cost to the Lord’s work.

Marsden begins by noting that in 1870 many thought of America as a Christian nation. Revivals or “awakenings” increased the number and fervency of Christians, most notably in the great revival of 1857-58, that developed in many cities from noon prayer meetings led by businessmen. The Civil War also saw multitudes of troops, both North and South, converted amidst the battlefields.

In 19th Century America, Christianity made sense. A philosophical school known as Scottish Common Sense Realism propagated the ideas that all of God’s truth is unified and that anybody of common sense can understand what is important. Opposing views, like those of atheist David Hume, questioned whether anyone can know whether what he thinks corresponds to what is. Thomas Reid of the Scottish school noted that the same arguments arose in the 18th Century. Bishop Berkeley was weaving clever arguments to “prove” the nonexistence of matter. James Boswell, the biographer of literary figure Samuel Johnson, observed that Berkeley’s doctrine was obviously wrong, but impossible to refute. To which Johnson found a large rock, kicked it, and exclaimed, “I refute it thus!”

Virtually every 19th Century American would agree. Our senses DO correspond to the real world and we can know some things! If philosophers questioned such evident truths, that was their problem.

Mark Hopkins

Common Sense philosophy, applied to the Christian life, conflicted with Calvinism’s doctrine of Total Depravity which insists that man is totally unable to choose right, to repent, to believe, or to do about anything other than pure evil. Common Sense evangelicals replaced such “total blindness” with a “slight astigmatism,” insisting that man can see well enough to choose, and his fate is up to him . . . not pre-determined from before the foundation of the world. Furthermore, “Faith,” said Mark Hopkins, “. . . that is, the faith of the New Testament . . . is not simple belief. It is confidence in a person, and that confidence is never given except on rational grounds.” Confidence and rationality, of course, imply free will.

Debates on Darwinism started quickly after “Origin” was published in 1859. An 1873 meeting of the Evangelical Alliance featured an unscheduled debate in which some clergy, notably James McCosh, the President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), opined that Science and Scripture could be reconciled, neither posing a threat to the other. Opposing him was a preacher from London, George Weldon, who insisted, “If man is sprung from primeval matter, he cannot be the man spoken of in Genesis.” But as the years went by, too many “clergy” cowered in fear of atheistic man, not willing to simply examine and refute the evolutionist’s specious claims.

The most popular American preacher of 1873 was Henry Ward Beecher, the “Rick Warren” of his day. He proposed a way to avoid controversy, which is still widely promoted by the liberals of our own day . . . “While we are taught by the scientists in truths that belong to the sensual nature, while we are taught by the economists of things that belong to the social nature, we need the Christian ministry to teach us those things which are invisible.” Thus, Biblical truth gets relegated to the realm of the invisible, irrelevant to both our physical world and how men and women treat each other. Implicitly, Darwinism and even Marxism are deemed OK by the modernist as long as Christians can meditate on the unseen. Theology then isn’t about eternally valid truths, but about adjustable ideas to fit into modern culture. The result of all this, of course, is skepticism, then atheism, immorality, corruption, and chaos . . . our present world.

Henry Ward Beecher

Marsden discusses D. L. Moody at some length, featuring his stands on inerrancy and premillenialism . . . the straightforward view of Biblical prophecy in which the Lord Jesus returns to establish His Kingdom, bringing judgment on men who insist on creating and ruling their own utopia . . . who continually fail amid much despotism and war.

At least 25% of the Bible is prophetic in nature. The more liberal the professing Christian, the less he takes prophecy literally, particularly the 2nd coming of Christ. The apostolic writings were clear that believers should consider the Lord’s return to be imminent in any generation. Such anticipation promotes holiness and evangelistic zeal. The modernist tends to be at best a post-millennialist, whose focus is on making this world a nicer place to live. For over a century, first modernists, and now even evangelicals, work hard to “Christianize” the culture. What happens is that worldly culture overwhelms the churches. Personal holiness becomes a foolish concept and evangelism is all about building friendly relationships. “See how nice a fellow I am? Let me tell you about Jesus – he’s a nice fellow, too.” So many become “Christians,” but very, very few repent and are born again.

Most notably, Marsden cites Moody’s empire-building, facilitated by a focus on evangelism, and avoidance of theological controversy. Indeed, evangelical empires can be built only by avoiding doctrinal controversies. Moody’s associates and apprentices went on to establish para-church publications, revival agencies, schools, and conferences. This approach has characterized evangelicalism and fundamentalism ever since: organize and build big associations, promote the superstars, and count success by the size of the crowds that fill your auditorium.

D. L. Moody

Moody’s “3R” message was simple: “Ruin by sin, Redemption by Christ, and Regeneration by the Holy Ghost.” He spoke little of Judgment and Hell, emphasizing the love of God. Thus we see the beginnings of today’s dilution of the Gospel message, which leads more and more easily to the production of false converts. Yet Moody preached more explicitly about sins than most fundies do today, naming “lusts of the body,” “sins of fallen women,” “telling vile stories,” “drunkenness,” “selling liquor,” and “Sabbath breaking” by “hunting, fishing, boating,” and other “worldly amusements.” In 1886 Moody established the Student Volunteer Movement, energizing thousands of collegians in American and England for “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” Hopefully, much good was done through these efforts, but I note that there was no evident connection to local churches . . . which is the New Testament center of gravity for evangelism. Independent evangelistic efforts may produce some fruit, but without NT church building, the effects are short-lived. I note that Moody’s most significant campaigns in American and Britain enjoyed association with area churches of all stripes – much like Billy Graham’s campaigns – but new converts added to dead churches tend to experience stunted spiritual growth.

Moody disdained the popular modernist idea (promoted by gelly megachurches today, all over America) that charity and the Gospel work effectively together. He observed that gifts of food or coal did not provoke interest in the Gospel, just interest in the next installment of charity. His focus was evangelism, which he saw as the best way to meet social needs. A born again Christian will embrace responsibility and repent from the immorality that typically brings him to poverty. He cited Matthew 6:33 to support his case.

Moody’s premillenialism conflicted directly with the post-millenialists of his day . . . and the “Kingdom Now!” Pentecostals of our day who, along with many gelly megachurch magnates (Warren, Hybels), hope to fix the world and make a Kingdom in preparation for the Lord’s return. I empathize with Moody when he said, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given to me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’” Modernism attempts to do what God has reserved to Himself . . . establish a Kingdom. At the same time, modernism has perverted the Gospel to that of social activism, which effectively condemns souls to Hell by the multitude. You might complain that not many will get saved today, at least in America. Nevertheless, the preaching of the Gospel is the only plan of eternal merit. If social programs could somehow lift every American to upper middle class status, the nation would be at least as ungodly as at present . . . likely far worse, since physical prosperity tends to increase time for diversions. There are more sinful diversions now than at any time in the history of the world.

Moody, as I see it, was much more the progenitor of the evangelicalism of today than of IFB fundamentalism. Moody was “positive,” much like Billy Graham and modern megachurch builders. A Moody quote: “Christ’s teaching was always constructive . . . His method of dealing with error was largely to ignore it, letting it melt away in the warm glow of the full intensity of truth expressed in love. . . . Let us hold truth, but by all means let us hold it in love, and not with a theological club.” Such a quote makes me wonder just how much Moody studied his Bible.

Moody’s principal successor, R. A. Torrey, was much more the fundamentalist. A Torrey quote: “Christ and His immediate disciples immediately attacked, exposed and denounced error. We are constantly told in our day that we ought not to attack error but simply teach the truth. This is the method of the coward and the trimmer; it was not the method of Christ.” One of the reasons false converts abound in Christendom today is that truth is not distinguished from error. The Roman Catholic, for example, cannot simply be told to trust Christ. He must understand that his sacraments and masses and popery and mariolatry must be forsaken. Similarly, the Hindu cannot simply add the Lord Jesus to his pantheon of gods and ascended masters. It’s Jesus and Jesus only, repentance from falsehood and devotion to The Way, The Truth, and The Life that brings salvation.

Marsden stumbles into an insightful point . . . “Fundamentalism did not develop in seminaries, but in Bible conferences, Bible schools, and perhaps most importantly, on the personal level of small Bible-study groups where the prophetic truths could be made plain.” The closer we get to the NT pattern, especially Bible studies in small groups, akin to 1st century house fellowships, the easier it is to discern the plain sense of Biblical truth. Heresies invariably propagate from seminaries and superstar leadership. If western Christianity in the 19th century had been dominated by NT house church networks, I don’t believe Darwinism would have had any noticeable impact. Multitudes of working men and women in their local fellowships, understanding their own personal responsibility to know and act on God’s word, would have stood up and demanded, “So just what is the evidence to support this Darwin fellow’s outrageous claims? Where’s the common sense? This is just atheism masquerading as ‘science’ falsely so-called.”

One of the movements of a century ago (and longer) that is no longer an issue within American Christendom is the “holiness movement.” Marsden discusses the influences of Wesley, Finney, the Salvation Army, and the early Pentecostals . . . all went too far and too close to “sinless perfectionism.” But personal holiness among fundies, gellies, and Pentecostals – not to mention more liberal denominations – is no issue at all today. “Grace” has come to mean licentiousness for most professing Christians. TV Pentecostals like Joseph Prince and Joel Osteen actively and prosperously promote the idea that the Christian life has little or no connection to practical righteousness, or resisting the Devil, or falling to one’s knees in humble repentance for once again yielding to a sin of the flesh. Don’t ever read Titus 2:11-14 about the consequences of God’s grace. We’ve progressed far beyond such old-fashioned ideas!

As the 20th century dawned, great controversy arose regarding whether to prioritize the saving of souls or the feeding and clothing of bodies. The modernist camp then – and the evangelical camp now – consider that religion must above all be practical in order to “better mankind.” I do understand the temptation. There is no reproach from the lost world when you do physical acts of charity. The world will give awards – even the Nobel Prize! – for significant public good works. Preaching the Gospel, however, which necessitates the bad news that the hearer has wickedly sinned and is headed for Judgment, does bring emotional discomfort, reproach, ridicule, and even persecution. Furthermore, if there is no likelihood of an imminent 2nd coming, churches had better get motivated about lifting the world to a higher economic plane. Apparently, the modernist / evangelical “Kingdom” is all about economic prosperity. Just watch TBN and you’ll see.

The Fundamentals was a series of twelve paperback volumes published from 1910 to 1915 to defend the faith against encroaching modernism. A number of essays defended Scripture and attacked higher criticism. Others focused on apologetics and affirmed doctrines on the Trinity, sin, and salvation. Others attacked “isms” including Russellism (so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses), Mormonism, Romanism, Eddyism (Christian Science), and spiritualism. About 3 million volumes were published and read widely. The word “fundamentalist” eventually was attached to Christians who agreed with such basic doctrines as defended in the series.

Marsden invests a sizable chunk of print in discussion of the Scopes trial of 1925. This event seems to be a turning point in the battles between conservatives and liberals, especially among Baptists and Presbyterians. Battles over doctrine and leadership were fierce, especially in these two groups, through the 1920s. Quite often, the conservatives held the upper hand. The Scopes trial seemed to turn this upside down. Now, Marsden does not have a good factual perspective . . . and certainly not a good spiritual perspective . . . on Scopes. For a good treatment from a Biblical worldview I highly recommend the DVD by Dr. David Menton, which can be obtained from Answers in Genesis.

William Jennings Bryan

The Scopes trial ultimately had nothing to say about substance and evidence on the subject of evolution. But it was a huge media event, played cleverly by Clarence Darrow, and distorted brilliantly by the secular press to make an utter mockery of Christians who so foolishly took Genesis seriously. The creationist on hand, William Jennings Bryan, was actually no creationist at all. Yes, he was an anti-evolutionist, but he didn’t stand on a literal Genesis, and offered a pitiful defense of Biblical faith when he – so stupidly – agreed to let Darrow put him on the stand. Ugghh! What a mess! And a lesson for creationists who get a public platform to defend the faith. In contrast, from the 1960s through the 1990s, there were hundreds of debates between evolutionists and creationists, invariably “won” by creationists, even by the admission of their opponents. But the creationist must be prepared to deal with ad hominem attacks, assertions, and outright falsification. (See my essay, “Debating Creation vs. Evolution.”)

Generally speaking, in today’s “Christian” culture, it is hard even to get a dialogue going on creation vs. evolution or between fundamentalist vs. liberal interpretations of Scripture. Evolutionists tend to avoid debate. Why not, when they hold power in academic institutions and can refuse to engage, all the while insulting and scoffing at those “fundamentalists.” It’s sad. A century ago such debates were common and often enjoined with gentlemanly manners. No more. Today the creationist and the conservative are always willing. The other team has different tactics, preferring suppression whenever practical.

Clarence Darrow

I’ll conclude with a question and an answer. Am I a fundamentalist? Yes, in the sense of holding firm to Biblical truths such as the deity of Christ, salvation by God’s grace contingent upon repentance and faith, and a literal 2nd coming – pre-tribulation! Do I identify with the fundamentalists in the IFB churches? Absolutely not. They get church polity completely wrong, they don’t understand discipleship at all (the “pulpit ministry” is a woeful substitute), and their evangelism is typically corrupt, neglecting repentance and producing false converts by the droves.

Do I identify with the lighter-weight fundamentalists in evangelical churches? No . . . in addition to the list above, evangelical culture has become so worldly that the word “sin” has little meaning and few examples are ever cited from the lead performer “on stage.”

I do identify with Christians through the ages who have suffered persecution, including many throughout the world today. I haven’t suffered such persecution, of course, but I observe that persecution purifies. It purifies both doctrine and practice. When physical safety and pleasures are restricted, the spiritual takes preeminence. Repentance is clarified because true converts pay a price. The salvation of souls for eternity is measured far above any hopeful transition to middle class status. Seeking God’s will and finding it, denying sin and growing in grace are counted as gold, silver, and precious stones, while worldly amusements are accounted as wood, hay, and stubble.

In America today it’s difficult to achieve and maintain a Biblical perspective. It must be done “voluntarily,” because the persecutors don’t have sufficient power yet. Volunteering for doctrinal purity and holy living and evangelistic service – even in your own neighborhood! – is apparently much more difficult than being coerced into it by persecution. I’m a volunteer. I don’t do very well, but I have learned what the goal is, at least. I encourage you to give it a shot. Even if you achieve Biblical mediocrity, you’ll be far above the current American standard.



44. Corresponding with Calvinists
January 15, 2015

I recommend, as an annual exercise, finding a friendly Calvinist to correspond with. Personally, I don’t do this as an exercise, but occasionally I am so provoked at the illogic and spiritual blindness of some Calvinist that I feel compelled to try to reach him. It never works, but it is educational to see how the Calvinist mind works – or doesn’t.

If you want to see where I’m coming from regarding “Reformed doctrine,” you can check out one or more of my essays, such as The 10 Most Deadly Heresies Affecting American Churches in These Last Days (see section #3), or my Tract for the Committed Calvinist, or my 8/22/13 and 10/1/13 blogs in my 2013 blog archive.

Below I have pasted, with very little editing other than the deletion of salutations and closures, email correspondence with two notable evangelical Calvinists. The first and longer thread is with Mike Gendron, an evangelist who reaches out particularly to Roman Catholics. With regard to the tragic errors of RC doctrine, he thinks clearly and logically. Regarding the issues of salvation infected by Calvinism, however, not so much.

What provoked me to write was a Mike Gendron radio show, in which he and Brannon Howse lamented the tragic state of modern evangelical preaching. Weak Gospel presentations produce multitudes of false converts which populate American churches. Gendron and Howse blame the tragedy of false conversion on preaching that neglects clear explanations of sin, judgment, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Well, I agree with that, of course, but it makes no sense within their Calvinist framework. And so I wrote to Gendron to see if he would explain the inconsistencies.

Secondly, I include a bit of correspondence with Mike Abendroth, a Massachusetts pastor, also featured on Howse’s web radio network. After a show in which he affirmed his commitment to TULIP, I wrote to inquire how prayer fits into the doctrine. A few years ago, I wrote in to ask a question of Phil Johnson – MacArthur’s #2 man. Johnson had posted a blog on prayer, but said nothing about how prayer relates to Calvinist sovereignty. I asked – quite carefully – how to reconcile the two doctrines. I received no response. So I was appreciative to get an answer from Mike Abendroth.

You should note how difficult it is to get even a friendly Calvinist to answer questions directly. But first the exchange with Gendron, and then I’ll make a few comments – in italics – before the Abendroth dialogue.

Dr. Dave:

I was interested to hear that you blame the production of false converts on inadequate presentations of the Gospel. I “get” your frustration with poor Gospel presentations and I also understand your concern that such false converts shouldn’t be part of true churches.

But if the false convert is non-elect, then he is no more lost than he ever was, and if he dies as a false convert, then at least he lived with a little hope, even though it was a false hope.

In Reformed theology God will regenerate FIRST and then provide repentance and faith. If the fellow isn’t elect and so God doesn’t regenerate him, it is totally irrelevant how careful the preacher is in his presentation. He can preach repentance and faith all the day long and the non-elect won’t get it because he is totally depraved, cannot repent, cannot believe, and God will not regenerate him to allow repentance and faith.

So it seems that when you express care for the false convert — for him individually — you have somehow forgotten your Calvinist beliefs. I find that even in Spurgeon’s sermons — and he was very explicitly a staunch Calvinist – when he was pleading with a lost sinner, he actually spoke as if he believed that the fellow could choose to repent — whosoever the sinner was. And so a Calvinist with a heart — real compassion for the lost — cannot live consistently in his belief system.


Thanks for your perspective, however you did not address the false convert who is the elect of God who has been a victim of deception. Nor did you address the problems that develop when tares are allowed to be active participants in the church to cause division, dissension, and confusion. Faithful preaching of sound doctrine will result in a unity of the Spirit. Would you agree?


Thanks for responding. I completely agree with you that churches should not embrace false converts as members, for the sake of unity and additional reasons.

But what is your point about a false convert who is elect? Do you believe that his false conversion prevents him from ever getting converted? Or that he won’t get converted as soon as God wants him to be? Does that mean that you believe that the TIMING of regeneration depends on how well and when / if we preach the Gospel to the lost? I don’t think most Calvinists believe such a thing.

I appreciate your challenge about addressing that issue, but note that you didn’t nswer my question. Is your only care about purity in the church? Do you not care about the lost individual who just got false assurance? Even though he’s not elect? In TULIP he CAN’T respond to either a good or a poor presentation because God chose — from before the foundation of the world — to withhold the grace of regeneration based on the secret counsel of His will.

Please — I’m asking quite sincerely — please answer my question directly. I simply cannot find a Calvinist who doesn’t avoid the question, except those labeled “hyper-Calvinists” who are honest enough to say the equivalent of, “Tough luck for the non-elect. Nothing to be done about it.” If that’s what you really believe, then don’t equivocate. Just stand behind Unconditional Damnation for the non-elect and don’t fuss over whether they heard a good Gospel presentation or not.


First may I say I do not like the label Calvinist. I have never referred to myself as such because our ministry is to take people back to the inerrant, infallible, inspired word of God as their supreme authority for faith. Catholics always want me to embrace the early church fathers, therefore I am sensitive to calling people to embrace the Bible not the reformers.

Second, no one knows who the elect and non-elect are, however we do know that when the lost sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd (His Word), they WILL follow Him. You ask about the lost individual who has false assurance. My response is this. No one desires to be deceived. The only way they will find out is if they are confronted with the truth. When the Gospel is clearly presented and the command to repent and believe it is given the church has been faithful to the Great Commission. Those who desire to become disciples of Christ will stay, those who do not will leave. Unregenerate people who are the non-elect will run from the faithful preaching of God’s Word and the church will remain pure and seek the unity of the Spirit. I hope this helps.


Thanks for the honest answer. Honest, but cold and dispassionate, making the Great Commission purely duty, in which the evangelist — each faithful Christian witness — can make NO DIFFERENCE whatsoever in reaching an individual.

Ironically, because I believe I CAN make a difference, because “whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17), my sense of duty is magnified and my responsibility to preach in truth, with passion and compassion, is felt poignantly.

Perhaps you personally feel compassion for the lost, but your doctrine works to destroy such emotions — maybe not for you personally, but certainly for multitudes of Calvinists who are ice-cold to evangelism, because when they embrace “sovereignty” and “election” (by Calvinist definitions), they succumb to fatalism.

Your way of expressing the thought is telling . . . “The only way they will find out is if they are confronted with the truth.” Find out if they are elect, you mean. But then if you are honest in your evangelism, that is how you should explain it. Yet every Calvinist I have ever heard who preaches to the lost — Spurgeon as a notable example — pleads with the lost sinner to choose to repent, to choose to believe, to come to Christ, etc. As if the fellow actually could. Rather, to be honest, you should say, “If you are elect and God regenerates you, then you will exhibit fruits of repentance and faith. But if you’re not, you’re toast, and there is nothing to be done . . . so let me know.” So when doing Biblical evangelism . . . “Repent and believe!” . . . the Calvinist pretends AND encourages the sinner to pretend that he has something to do.

I submit that if you cannot live honestly and Biblically with your worldview, then it is a false system. (I make no pretense of trying to convince you — I know you’re committed.)

Again, thanks for responding. I am content and grateful that you have answered the question.


How interesting that you can see my heart and make a judgment that I am cold and dispassionate and make the Great Commission purely duty. That is the furthest thing from the truth.


If you read my note carefully, you’ll see that I didn’t judge your heart, but did judge your answer. Can’t you see the point? That if you or I CANNOT make a difference for the multitudes of Unconditionally Damned, then what does it matter whether I plead passionately or even coherently to them? Do you care more than God does about the non-elect? Yet Jesus wept over lost Jerusalem and Paul would have offered his own soul to save his lost Jewish brethren.

But you believe that God sovereignly ordained the damnation, WITHOUT RECOURSE, for 98% of the human race . . . a reasonable estimate, based on how many people truly exhibit the fruit of a born again life. In such a doctrine, God is blasphemously charged with hating most of humanity, not loving them, despite the testimony of John 3:16, because in Limited Atonement, He did NOT shed His blood for most of humanity. What love is that?

Wow, indeed.


Either God limits the atonement or man does. Otherwise all would be in heaven. God’s Word says He does.


I do understand your doctrine. But since you brought up your “heart,” do you care for the non-elect lost? And if so, why, since God’s sovereign plan for them is unconditional damnation?


Who do you think does the limiting? You don’t get a pass on this.


Sure. I’ll answer your question even though you ignore 90% of the points I make and the questions I have. Jesus died for the sins of the world, every individual, past, present, and future — 1 John 2:2 and John 12:32 and many others. “All” and “world” in these verses and in many other relevant ones don’t mean “unconditional elect.” I know you don’t see it that way. So man chooses whether to repent and believe. God desires all to be saved (2 Pe 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4, Rev 22:17). Yet men choose.

So yes, men choose how many get saved. And God is so incredibly sovereign that all Scripture will be fulfilled, through the prophecies of Rev 22, even though men exercise free will. Otherwise, in your worldview, Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem
and Paul’s love for 100% of the lost Jews makes no sense. And prayer makes no sense because under Calvinist sovereignty there is no point to ask God to do something He wasn’t going to do anyway. Despite all the Scripture that clearly indicates that we can pray and God will answer, sometimes because we choose to pray, and sometimes CONDITIONALLY based on whether we have been obedient children (1 John 3:22).

Calvinism makes less sense than atheism. I used to be an atheist, as you may recall, but atheists at least don’t blame God for all the evil thoughts, words, and deeds of history. Yet under C sovereignty, it’s all God’s perfect plan. What a terrible accusation against a loving God.

And so these matters aren’t small. They touch the salvation and damnation of souls, HOW you are to preach the Gospel,
and whether Christians have any responsibility beyond robotically carrying out the “plan.”


You say, What a terrible accusation against a loving God, yet you dismiss Rom. 9 to arrive at your man-centered conclusions. According to you if someone God chooses to save before the foundation of the world rejects the Gospel then he has thwarted the omnipotent power of God.


I know you are committed to the view that Romans 9 is entirely about individual salvation. Surely you know there is a quite different and more reasonable way to look at that passage. Mike, if you want to study this through in depth — because a serious Biblical analysis would take quite a few hours — I’d be happy to do that with you. I live in Chandler, AZ, and would be happy to have you visit in our home for a few days. I only ask on the possibility that you are open to such a study. If you’re resolute on Reformed doctrine, then of course there would be no point. But I make the offer sincerely.


So why do you think people reject the greatest news they will ever hear about the greatest gift they could ever receive from the greatest man who ever lived. Jesus was the perfect evangelist who gave the perfect gospel message and people not only rejected Him, they crucified Him. Why would Paul who tried to destroy Christianity become its greatest evangelist? Do you think God’s sovereign grace and choosing had anything to do with it?


Good question — Why do people reject the Gospel? Under so-called “sovereign grace” you conclude that God condemns the lost, withholding “sovereign grace,, without which they are UNABLE to repent and believe, because God designed the human race so that everyone would be born Totally Depraved / UNABLE to respond after Adam sinned.

It is clear to me, however, that man chooses to reject the Gospel. It’s his fault, not God’s. I have shared the Gospel personally with many thousands of individuals. When I do so, it is with as much clarity as I can muster, and with sincere compassion and desire that the sinner responds with conviction and repents. As I do so, I embrace the Great Commission, especially as the Lord Jesus expressed it in Matthew 28:18-20, in which He promised to be with us in the preaching of the Gospel. As I care for the lost sinner — in that very moment — I am sure that the Lord Jesus wants him to be saved far more than I do. I pray and trust that the Holy Spirit brings conviction, as promised — John 12:32, John 16:8.

If the sinner rejects the Gospel it is easy to see why. A lost sinner loves his sin. Many understand the Gospel message perfectly when they hear it clearly. Some even feel conviction.

But in conversing with them, it is clear that they are holding onto sins that they choose to love dearly. They may foolishly think that they have time to change their minds in the future, but in any case the decision is willful and deliberate.

Under your Calvinist system, you must conclude that my compassion is pointless because God already condemned — from eternity past — that same sinner, and withholds even the ability for him to believe. I, rather, hope and pray that if he rejects the Gospel now, that in the future he may repent as God continues to draw on his heart. Which I pray for — with prayers that would be pointless indeed if Unconditional Damnation is true.

I note that some — not all — presentations of the Gospel by Calvinist preachers seem devoid of compassion, which would be a natural consequence of their deadly doctrine. Those that do exhibit passion and pleading reveal that such a preacher has forgotten his doctrine and somehow hopes that the sinner in front of him might just choose to respond. This is proven by direct pleas from the preacher to repent now, believe now, turn now, etc.

So in conclusion, I don’t blame God for the sinner’s rejection — as you do. I blame man entirely, who freely takes the water of life, or freely and willfully rejects it.

You also cite Paul, perhaps suggesting that the conversion of Paul is a prototype for all conversions? Please. Paul’s experience had a number of unique characteristics as you doubtless know. But even so, it is evident from his initial interaction with the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road that he was already under conviction, certainly as a result from his presence at the martyrdom of Stephen, and from Stephen’s victorious testimony.

Mike, I do find it telling that you have no response to any points that I make, other than to switch gears and hurl another question. I do hope and pray that your conscience is still alive and you can see the totally anti-Biblical nature of Calvinist doctrine. It would certainly cost you friends and support to recant at this point in your life, but the Lord would see you through that . . . and to more useful service for Him.


I Really don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth like “I don’t blame God for the sinner’s rejection — as you do.”


Call it what you will, but any reasonable person would see the equivalence.

Mike, your silence on all the points I raised is deafening. It reminds me of many encounters I have had with Roman Catholics. Many Catholics don’t want to hear a clear explanation of the Gospel, and additionally don’t care enough to try to explain why their doctrine is correct. If they cared for my soul, as I do for theirs, and if they actually believed and could support their beliefs, why don’t they try to reach me, since in their view I must be in error and out of touch with God? When I challenge them on this asymmetry, they simply get angry and cut the conversation off.

I know why you can’t respond to the substance of the simple arguments I’ve offered. There is no logical or Biblical or compassionate response. The Calvinist view of sovereignty is insane . . . in your view even this dialogue between us was scripted by God from eternity past. In your view prayer is not asking God for something — in defiance of all Scripture on the subject. Try to teach a child what prayer is from a Calvinist point of view!! In your view election and damnation are pre-determined by God. So yes, you blame God for the damnation of 98% of the human race, because you claim that He pre-determined their damnation and withholds the only possible means — irresistible grace.

Teach a child TULIP from his early years and he will never be saved. He will never understand his personal responsibility to choose to repent and trust the Lord Jesus. He will never appreciate how God loves 100% of humanity — the “whole world.” It’s not just a little disagreement. It’s damnable doctrine. I pray you repent from it and preach the Gospel in truth.

In fact, I challenge you to publish exactly how you would share the Gospel with an individual on the street AND be consistent with your doctrine. It can’t be done.

————- end correspondence ————–

Comments: See how hard it is to get a straight answer? And yet the admissions are there. In Calvinism the preaching of the Gospel merely reveals whether someone is elect or not. Thus there is no sense in pleading and no need to waste compassion. What really strikes me is the pretense of their preaching. When they tell the sinner to repent and believe they are merely pretending that the sinner can do that. Inwardly the Calvinist is simply doing his duty, not knowing whether the sinner is elect or not. The evangelist cannot make a difference, but simply observes the response. The elect respond well and the Unconditionally Damned show rebellion. From the sinner’s point of view, when he hears the message, he is given the deceitful impression that he has a choice in the matter. What folly!

In the correspondence below with Mike Abendroth I inquire from the viewpoint of someone within his Calvinist framework. I wasn’t looking for an argument, but rather was seeking his best answer. And so I deliberately did not identify myself as an adversary of TULIP, but rather sought to understand how a Reformed pastor would counsel someone who embraced his worldview.

I do not reproduce the essay of Timothy Hammons referenced below. As you can infer from one of my responses, Hammons wrote that the objectives of prayer are principally humility, recognition of God’s sovereignty, etc. The question, of course is whether prayer is actually a pretense, or is simply what the Bible presents it to be, namely asking God for something. Does God answer prayer? Does His answer depend on whether or how we ask? Much Scripture says as much, for example, Matthew 7:7 and 1 John 3:22. But under Calvinist sovereignty, in which every thought, word, and deed are predetermined by God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, what’s the deal? And so I wrote in . . .


Got a question I’ve never been able to get a reasonable answer on. Regarding sovereignty — God’s plan for everything, everything in its time, etc., I don’t understand how prayer fits in. Is it reasonable to pray for God to do something or change something, or especially — to provoke repentance for salvation in the heart of anyone — if everything is sovereignly determined in God’s plan? Then . . . is my prayer, itself, just a sovereign act of God in my mind and heart that I really had no volition about?
Thanks for the help!


Thanks for writing. Glad you do.

Let’s start with what we know:
1. God is sovereign over all – Psa 103; psa 115, Rom 9, etc. Right?
2. God commands us to pray. Mat 6; Phil 4; Col 4. Right?
3. we are finite and cannot expect to grasp how 2 apparent truths ‘reason’ together. right?

Since you don’t know who is chosen, it is VERY reasonable to pray for the lost. See 1 Tim 2:1-7


Thanks for the thoughtful reply, including the excerpt from Timothy Hammons. I know you’re a busy guy, and I do appreciate the time.

The answers you gave are not “easy,” of course. But they do “take the pressure off,” so to speak. If the objective of prayer is humility, recognition of God’s sovereignty, and confession of my needs, then I can go directly to confession of humility, praise for God’s sovereignty, and praying only for things that are clearly “needs.” Tough prayers, which cannot be classified as “my needs,” like for God to provoke repentance in the lost, or anything that has to do with the hearts and minds of others, which may indeed not be in God’s plan . . . well, it’s arrogance to “pray” in the sense of “ask” for anything that is already determined to be or not to be. (I recall the Doris Day song, “Que Sera Sera,” which was far more theological than she would have ever thought!)

There is someone dear to me who is not regenerate and the trend is not good. But full recognition of the doctrine of election takes the pressure off. My prayers for him cannot possibly avail, one way or the other, no matter how tempted I am to be distressed over that. And neither can my “witness.”

I have shared the Gospel clearly with him and with many others, but with election . . . well, it is uncomfortable to confront the lost with their need . . . but it occurs to me that they’re not really lost . . . if elect, they’re simply not regenerate yet. If not, well my witness doesn’t avail at all, does it?

One more thing . . . I note that you didn’t answer my last question, whether my prayers are just sovereign acts of God in my mind / brain / heart, so whether I pray or not is simply the result of God’s plan. I suppose you didn’t answer because that’s got to be true, even though it feels like one of those “mysteries” because it simply doesn’t connect with our experience / feelings, etc.

Thanks again.


God has given us a love for those close to us and I think we ask the good Father in heaven for our deepest needs. the Psalms are replete with that.

Remember – God works through, very often, secondary means. like evangelism and prayer, etc. Dont minimize those.

Regarding whether your prayers are merely sovereign acts of God . . . I would classify them as God, the Holy Spirit, leading you to pray.

Don’t blame God for your lack of prayers, but thank Him when you do.

————— end correspondence —————

Comments: Note again how the difficult questions are avoided. Yet also for prayer, as we saw above on the preaching of the Gospel, pretense is the rule. We may act as if we are asking God for something, but the Calvinist “virtual reality” is that prayer is something else. Apparently, answered prayers are God’s sovereign acts in my mind which conform to His will. And therefore unanswered prayers are God’s sovereign acts in my mind which do not conform to His will.

If a Calvinist honestly embraces such ideas, how can he pray sincerely, knowing that he’s not really asking God to do something that wouldn’t otherwise happen? But I’m sure that the most rabid Reformed preacher, when his little child lies sick unto death, begs God to do something! And if he has a lost wife or brother or mother who is on the road to Hell, I’m confident he loses his theology as he both prays for God to convict and then acts to preach and plead with fervency.

So what’s going on in these irrational minds? Well, it’s like any heretical system, analogous to atheistic evolution or Islam or Roman Catholicism. When the heart is corrupt the mind will rationalize as much as necessary to avoid the truth.

Are Calvinists saved? Some are. Some aren’t. If you’re raised in the system, however, you won’t ever understand your own responsibility to repent and believe. Tragically, adult born again Christians who get afflicted and infected with Reformed doctrine will almost certainly lose their children.

Final point – these issues have eternal consequences. It’s not some minor little disagreement on systematic theology. Those Calvinists you know . . . they’re in trouble. Try to help them out. If they object, just point out to them that you’re intervening only because it’s God’s sovereign will that you do so.



45. Two new tracts: Geology and DNA / Information
February 1, 2015

A friend of ours was recently challenged, “I don’t agree with the idea of giving out tracts. You ought to be sharing the Gospel personally.” As I opine in my essay, Tracts – Choosing and Using: “Most of the ice-cold-hearts that say this won’t share the Gospel verbally with five people in a year. Others are even worse. They’ll say, ‘I believe in building relationships and friendships in order to share the Gospel.’ Duh. Of course we should be sharing the Gospel in the course of building relationships! But what about the thousands and tens of thousands of lost sinners within your reach that you never befriend? Just how many real relationships do you have?”

But it’s worse than that. Most of those who aren’t active in tracting are also not alert to take the opportunity to engage a lost soul in conversation. Many of the 121 encounters I’ve had started with me simply giving a Gospel tract to someone . . . a Chick tract (small comic book), for example:

Me: “Hi, how are ya doing? Here’s a free gift, something to stimulate your mind.”
Him: “What is it?”
Me: “It’s a good story with a Gospel message. You know, the big stuff: life, death, Heaven, Hell, what life is all about. Ever think about the big stuff?”
Him: “Sure, all the time.”
Me: “So, here’s the big question. If you died today, where would you be? Whatcha think?”

And off we go. Within 30 seconds of saying hi to a complete stranger we’re having the most serious and important conversation he’s ever likely to have on this Earth. Pretty complicated, huh? And just way too confrontational for those pseudo-sophisticated despisers of Gospel tracts.

Now, not everyone will talk to me . . . or to you. So at least give them a chance to read the Good News of salvation in a Gospel tract . . . a good tract, of course. See my “Tracts” essay for an analysis. When I visit a campus or the city streets to meet people, I’ve only got about ten serious 121s in me before I’m fairly exhausted physically and emotionally. But I may be able to hand out hundreds of tracts (on campus) or even up to 2,000 on a busy weekday in downtown Chicago.

Furthermore, those who neglect tracting, and thereby create few opportunities for 121s, also tend to fail miserably in sharing the Gospel with people they know well. Well practiced in cowardice, they never get around to the life / death / Heaven / Hell conversation with a lost coworker, neighbor, grandparent, or “friend.” Some “friend” they are if they never share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (See also Matthew 10:32-33.) And if they do get around to it, the effort is often weak and compromised. Hey, I’m not kidding. That’s the way this usually works. I’m thinking right now of “Christians” I know who have watched unbelieving relatives die . . . lost . . . yet found excuses to avoid offering a plea for repentance.

Today, as I draft this blog, I just returned from a fast food lunch and a gas fillup. But I was able to get out 15 tracts . . . two personally, and placed 13 others in spots where someone should notice them. This “works,” by the way, at least in getting the Gospel into the hands of someone who wouldn’t get it otherwise . . . even people I will never even meet!

Last night I got a phone call from an agnostic 20-year-old fellow who found a tract on his parked car somewhere “in the Midwest.” Certainly placed there by one of our friends in that part of the country. He had questions and wanted to talk. We chatted about 10 or 15 minutes and he agreed to do some homework, particularly by reading my essay, How do I know the Bible is true? Praise God for the Christian who made such a small effort, but gave that young fellow a chance to escape Hell and find the Savior. I don’t know, of course, how it will turn out for him, but at least someone cared for his soul. I do pray he calls back after doing his homework.

I’ve recently designed two new tracts especially for use on campuses or to give to anyone who has been damaged by evolutionary fantasies.

The first one below features polystrate trees, curved rock strata, and the global character of flood sediments. The second may be the biggest “slam dunk” I know how to deliver, addressing the spectacular, mindboggling complexity of the nanomachines of life. Get into this subject just a bit and you’ll know awe for God’s power and brilliance. These two tracts are also featured with the rest of my free pdf tract downloads in my “Tracts” essay.

How old are the fossil-bearing rocks tract

DNA & Information tract

Another friend recently asked me why I continue to design new tracts. Why not just use the ones I’ve already got? Good question. I think it’s worth discussing.

1. On the campuses I most frequently visit, quite a number of students have already gotten one or more tracts from me previously. But they are willing to read something new. Last week a student accepted a DNA tract from me and commented how much he liked the previous week’s geology tract. That provoked a conversation with him for the first time.

2. Different people respond differently to different arguments. The physics or chemistry major just might find the Carbon 14 tract really troubling for his worldview, while the fine arts major might resonate with the “overdesigned face” tract. Some of the tracts are a bit more “technical” than others, but each one is easily accessible to anyone who stayed awake during her high school education.

3. Over the course of a couple of years, I want to saturate a given campus with a wide variety of arguments, demonstrating that the campus religion – atheistic evolution – has nothing intelligent to say about cosmology, geology, biology, or the meaning of life.

4. Some of the tracts I use on campus are more “general purpose,” including the “Meaning of Life” tract, the tract featuring “Spiritual Leaders,” and the “Philosophers” tract. Also, EVERY tract ends with a Gospel presentation. Too short a presentation, you object? No, I know by long experience that significant effort must be expended to get a lost sinner interested enough to listen to God’s truth. The closing Gospel plea is capped with a pointer to this web site, which hopefully serves to draw the seeker deeper.

5. Every time I get out a sizable number of tracts, this web site gets a spike in hits. Occasionally, I’ll get an email or a phone call, but at least a good number of people are going another step by visiting the site. I handed out 600 of the new geology tracts recently, and the next week 700 of the DNA tracts. The site enjoyed perhaps 300 additional hits because of this modest effort. I have evidence that last Fall, after distributing a stack of the “fossil tree” tracts, that the site enjoyed at least 2000 additional hits. Apparently, that tract stirred something up. Why do I care about site visits? Each visit gives a lost sinner a chance to confront Biblical truth a little more.

6. I’m quite content for lost theists, like Muslims, to get any of these tracts. Muslim culture apparently does not generate creationist tracts. Since many such foreign students are engineering or science majors, the tracts establish common ground while transitioning to a Gospel conclusion.

7. I don’t know of good creationist tracts available from other sources. Many of the tracts generated by creationist ministries start out well with creation vs. evolution arguments, but then close weakly in their Gospel presentation.

I use lots of other tracts, too, as described in the “Tracts” essay. In town and on the streets I’ll typically use a combination of Chick tracts and the small business-size cards published by Altogether, I’m using about 25 different tract designs for various purposes these days.

If you have been so negligent in your Christian life that you are not currently in the practice of placing or handing out tracts, not to mention actually engaging in 121s, then it’s easy to get started. If I get to know you a little bit, if only by some correspondence, I’d be glad to send you – free – a sample pack of tracts, as long as you live in the U.S. If you’re overseas, I might need you to pay for the shipping. But do let me know. You should also check out the how-to essays I’ve got in the Evangelism section, plus our free e-book on 121 evangelism in the e-book store on this site.

Most born again Christians, including myself, have the experience of a number of encounters with Biblical truth before the mind and heart turn from sin and to Christ. But so few Christians in America even try to get the Gospel out that most people I meet have never heard a clear presentation before. The exceptions are notable. When I meet someone who admits some other Christian is on their case, I can see the conviction deepening as I add arguments to what they’ve already learned.

So come on, get in the game. It’s wide open for new players.

A couple of more things . . . The challenger cited in the 1st paragraph had another ill-founded objection. He criticized the tracts I used for employing a tactic of “bait and switch.” He declared it unethical to start on one subject and switch to another. Sigh. First of all, “bait and switch” applies especially to economic transactions in which the seller is trying to fleece the customer. A Gospel transaction, of course, is all about gift, grace, and mercy.

The critic would have us lead off in our first sentence about sin and judgment, I suppose. Such a critic knows nothing of human discourse or of the Biblical pattern. Throughout my life I’ve noticed that difficult matters must often be preceded with a bit of rapport-building, a mite of common-ground establishing. Consider the Biblical pattern. At Pentecost Peter built much common ground with his Jewish audience before laying on them the punchline. As did Paul with the Greeks on Mars Hill. As did the Lord Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Read a little and you’ll easily find a hundred such examples.

I’ll close with a historical anecdote (with which I begin Chapter 9 in my 121 Evangelism book):

The following account by W. Smith is typical of thousands throughout the history of evangelism. (It is quoted from Bill Brinkworth’s newsletter, The Bible View, April 21, 2011.)

While Dr. Coke was journeying in America, he once attempted to ford a river. His horse lost its foothold, and he was carried down the stream. The doctor narrowly escaped drowning by clinging to a branch which overhung the riverside. A neighboring lady gave him help when in his distress and even sent someone to retrieve his horse and other kindnesses.

Just before he left her house, he gave her a tract about salvation. For five years the doctor toiled on in the cause of Christ in England and in America. Whether his tract had been destroyed, or had pierced a human heart, he did not know. One day, at a mission’s conference, a young man approached him and requested a couple minutes of the doctor’s time.

“Do you remember, sir, being nearly drowned in the river some five years ago?”
“I remember it quite well,” replied the doctor.
“Do you remember the widow lady at whose house you stayed at after escaping from the river?”
“I do; and shall never forget the kindness she showed me.”
“And do you also remember giving her a tract when you bade her farewell?”
“I do not; but it is very possible I did so.”
“Yes, sir, you did leave a tract. That lady read it, and was converted. She lent it to her neighbors, and many of them were saved also. Several of her children were also saved; a Bible society was formed, which flourishes to this day.”

The statement moved the doctor to tears. The young man continued, “I have not quite told you all. I am her son. That tract led me to Christ. Now, sir, I am on my way to the mission field to reach others.”

We never know what fruits we can produce, when we do the Master’s work.



46. Hot vs. Cool Communication
February 15, 2015

This blog is posted in the Discipleship section as Hot vs. Cool Communication.


47. Is Noah’s Ark still on Ararat?
March 1, 2015

This blog is posted as Educational Note #15 in the Creation / Evolution Short Course on this site.


48. The Shape of American Apostasy
March 15, 2015

This blog is posted as The Shape of American Apostasy in the Discipleship section on this site.


49. My mom died.
April 1, 2015

My mom died a few days ago. She was 89 years old, outliving my dad by three years. They both died lost, which overwhelms any other aspect of their lives . . . the happy times, the struggles, the diligence of their labor, their conservative values, their mutual faithfulness, and the responsibilities they fulfilled in raising my sister and me.

Writing this blog is not easy. It’s my account of how I tried to reach my mom with the Gospel . . . what I did right and what I did wrong, but especially why I failed so miserably. My sole intent in writing is that someone will read this and find help in trying to reach a close relation.

This is really about ‘my mom’ and not ‘my parents,’ because my dad was never allowed into the game. My mom ruled the household and ruled her marriage. My efforts to reach my dad were futile because there was no way that he would go against my mother. Although I tried repeatedly, he consistently shut down any conversation. My only chance to reach him was to reach her. When he died I didn’t travel to attend the funeral. I wouldn’t attend a Roman Catholic Mass (a genuine abomination in the Biblical sense) and I couldn’t be part of speeches and conversations aimed at a false consolation . . . “At least Bob is in Heaven now and we’ll see him there some day.”

No, we won’t. When I conveyed – as carefully as I could – that I couldn’t be part of that because my dad was lost . . . in Hell . . . the offense taken was large. But I was careful to refrain from expressing the offense that I took: that my dad’s lost condition was due, at least in part, to my mom’s will. Now, my dad was not even a genuine Roman Catholic. He was a lifelong agnostic, not buying into Catholicism at all. He ‘went along’ to keep peace with my mom. Once when I asked mom on what basis she thought that dad would get into Heaven, she insisted that a priest assured her that on the basis of her faith, he could ride in on her coattails. Where did the priest get that idea? On a gross misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14.

My dad’s skepticism was responsible, ultimately, for my own conversion. Reading the books in our home library and listening carefully to comments made by dad, I came to realize the rampant corruption in Roman Catholic history. That, coupled with indoctrination in evolution, which my dad embraced enthusiastically, turned me into an atheist at age 13.

I’ve written out my testimony on this site at length so I won’t repeat it here. Relevant to this discussion is that my mom was mildly disturbed at my skepticism, but then really got aggravated when I was born again at age 16. And that touches my first and foremost failures in reaching my family.

What I should have done upon my conversion was strive to be the best son and brother possible: kind, gracious, humble, helpful, self-sacrificing, etc. Rather, I continued to lead a fairly typical American teenager lifestyle. Worse, once I had found the truth, I was eager to straighten my mom out about the errors of Catholicism and what God actually expected out of us. A poor strategy, whatever truths I may have conveyed.

I should have worked hard to ground myself in my new faith and learn how to communicate the Gospel. The message needed to be right, but also the messenger needed to be credible. I wasn’t. My fault. Yet I’ll point out that none of the Christians I crossed paths with in those days . . . including many adults who knew I was a newby . . . did anything at all to disciple me. Pitiful. My fault? Yes. But I could have been saved much grief and, possibly, seen my own family come to Christ if any adult in the several churches I visited had made an effort.

That first year after conversion was crucial. My family and lost friends should have seen dramatic fruits of conversion. They didn’t. Was I truly saved? Oh yes. But it was years before I finally developed a sense of what a Christian life should really look like. And so I missed multitudes of opportunities . . . until I graduated from college, in fact . . . to reach out effectively.

Once I got on track, newly married, a newly commissioned officer in the Air Force, I started to work on both the message and the messenger with the intent of reaching the lost. A key opportunity to reach mom arose when I had a choice of Air Force duty assignments as a young captain. I picked Albuquerque, not only for the particular research opportunity afforded there, but especially because that’s where my parents resided.

Shortly after settling in, mom agreed to a Saturday morning Bible study with me. I used my KJV, while she brought her officially approved RC version. She wanted to make sure I didn’t try to put anything over on her. We met for six consecutive Saturdays, spending an hour each time. I focused on the matter of salvation. On that subject she discovered that her Catholic version of the Bible read essentially like the KJV in every relevant passage.

I’ll never forget it. At the close of our sixth session, I pointed out to mom that she could see that everything I had ever told her about salvation was backed up Biblically . . . in her own version. She agreed that was so. And so I asked whether she would therefore repent, trust Christ, and forsake her dependence on Pope, priest, Mass, sacraments, Eucharist, and self-righteousness (works). She got very thoughtful, finally telling me that she would stand by what her ‘church’ taught her, regardless of what the Bible said. She was clear. There was no anger, no histrionics, just determined clarity. That was the last Bible study we did.

But I didn’t give up, of course. I got my parents to come to a special evening service to hear a notable traveling evangelist. This was a key turning point in my understanding of the non-usefulness of inviting people to church to hear the Gospel presented ‘professionally.’ I thought the evangelist did a pretty good job at the time. He was eloquent, powerful, dynamic . . . blah blah. It seemed good to me at the time, though. When we got back to their house I asked what they thought about the message. They were intensely critical, not just of the message, but particularly of the messenger. Details aren’t important here, but the conclusion was that mom (and dad by proxy) was really torqued at me because I liked a guy like that evangelist. I tried to focus on the facts of the case . . . to no avail. It was all quite unpleasant.

It took quite a while to restore civility. Before my career moved us across the country again, I managed to restore peace by agreeing to play by “mom’s rules.” The unspoken but crystal clear “rules of mom” were based on the principle that we would never ‘talk religion.’ Now, mom broke her own rules on occasion, and more often as the years went by, by mentioning how things were going at her parish or how great the music was at some particular service, or how so-and-so is in Heaven now.

I essentially kept the rules for about 18 years. My ‘strategy’ was ‘relational evangelism.’ I would win her over by my scintillating personality, my wit, my demonstrated career accomplishments for which she should be proud, and by my adherence to “mom’s rules.”

Pitiful. I finally realized that. My mom was striding blindly, yet purposefully, toward Hell and feeling quite comfortable along the way. Comfortable? Sure. After all, from her point of view, her son didn’t have any urgency to press ‘his version’ of the Gospel on her anymore. So maybe it’s just a difference of opinion. No big deal after all.

I have observed that the majority of born again Christians with lost relatives fall into precisely this pattern. Just keep things light and comfortable. Don’t offend. Maybe mom or grandma or sis will just ‘wake up’ someday. Yep. That’s Satan’s preferred method for evangelism.

I finally hit the wall on the ‘relational approach.’ It was a process that crystallized while I was increasingly involved in personal evangelism. I recall three particular cases . . . old guys with terminal diseases. I met each one either by referral or simply by knocking doors. Within weeks each would die, but fantasized that the next medication or some other stroke of luck would turn them around. I made the Gospel clear to each and was struck by their utter determination to die the way they lived, in some form of unfounded unbelief. One was a Catholic, one was a modernist Protestant, and one was a skeptic. The skeptic’s case was fascinating in that he had led a hard drinking, woman chasing life and expressed no desire to repent at all, despite the obvious fact that he would be incapable of ‘enjoying’ such sins no matter how many days he had left.

I also recall an elderly fellow, a Catholic whose son had died recently. Like so many others in such a situation, he would not consider any ‘truth’ that might save himself but would imply that his loved one had died lost.

Somewhere in the midst of these experiences I decided to get off the relational bandwagon and get blunt with mom again. At least I would not be responsible for letting her go to Hell without a warning. And so I put the issues on the table once again. Friction increased accordingly as mom worked to avoid any complete, thorough, lay-it-all-out conversation.

Mom threw an interesting ‘defensive tactic’ at me that you’ll find instructive. She told me that while I had been away at college 30 years before, she had some conversations with an elderly fellow she did business with. Apparently some form of evangelical or fundamentalist, he was concerned about her salvation. He got so far as to show her the ‘Romans Road’ verses and suggest that she follow him in a ‘Sinner’s Prayer.’ She did. So she was saved after all, you see.

Yet she continued to embrace Roman Catholicism, its sacraments, etc. And despise everything I had to say about Biblical faith, the new birth, and repentance from sin and such dead works as rituals, man-worship, and Mary-worship. See what marvelous havoc that Satan has made in Western Christendom by promoting manipulative ‘soul-winning’ techniques?

I finally insisted that mom spend whatever time it takes on a phone call – I was in Michigan, she in New Mexico – to have it out on what we believed and why. It wasn’t a happy time, but we spent a full hour. She had her say and I had mine. We each got to ask questions and we each made sure the other heard. The bottom line was that we both were determinedly intransigent. She would depend on her Pope and her self-esteem and I would depend on the Lord Jesus Christ.

That wasn’t the last serious conversation, but it was by far the most thorough since the six-week Bible study long before. Over the next few years mom kept trying to reimpose her rules. I refused, not letting comments pass that violated my Biblical convictions.

Interestingly, one thing she was never explicit about . . . but my uncle (her brother) told me . . . was that mom was always and significantly aggrieved at me for leaving Mother Church. Yet in all these years since I professed to be a ‘born again’ Christian, neither mom nor my uncle nor any other Catholic relation offered any substantive discussion or book or debate to try to convince me that Mother Church was THE WAY to salvation. No Catholic cared for my soul enough to try to reach me, to explain how my own faith was in such error. There was certainly aggravation, and anger, and even isolation – my uncle wouldn’t talk to me for many years.

I’ll submit this is as yet additional evidence . . . as if we needed anymore . . . against the validity of Roman Catholicism. Many times I’ve attempted to witness to an adult Catholic who angrily responds with, “I’ve got my own religion!” . . . just before he slams the door. Hey, if he really believes that, why doesn’t he care about my soul and fill me in? What kind of religion . . . and what kind of god . . . teaches his followers to despise those who are merely clueless?

As the final years of my mom’s life progressed, she got more and more aggravated at me, because I wouldn’t play by her rules. I truly did care more for her soul than for peace in our relationship. What peace is there if she would wake up in Hell and realize that I hadn’t cared enough to press the issue? And so communication ended. Was I willing to chat about little stuff like the weather, politics, the family’s health? Sure. But I also refused to not be me. What’s going on in my life? I write on spiritual topics, I share the Gospel, I design tracts, and my worldview – which touches everything under the sun, including cosmology, geology, archaeology, history, culture, and politics – is Biblical. If you don’t like ME, then I can see why you really don’t want to talk to ME.

(There’s a lot I’m not sharing in all this, of course. I loved my mom, although she convinced herself that wasn’t so. To her, ‘love’ would necessitate acquiescence. The stakes were too high for that . . . Now, I know that all you’ve got is my side and I’m simply hoping that you might trust me to recount the highlights and the lowlights fairly. Take it or leave it, and I mean that simply and graciously.)

The only ‘approach’ remaining to me was prayer. Did I pray enough? Fervently enough? Certainly not. But I have always prayed for her and hoped that the Lord would find a way to open her heart up. He loved her infinitely more than I ever could and shed His blood for her sins. I am completely confident that God answered my prayers in working to touch her conscience. But she never responded. She died lost.

I’ve heard Christians try to weasel out of grief and avoid their own pangs of conscience by saying such things as, “Well, I just hope maybe he / she repented just before death. After all, I can’t know FOR SURE whether he / she is in Heaven or Hell.” Weasel words. Grab hold of your burden for the lost around you and don’t let go. If they die without PROFESSING Christ and showing evidence, they die lost. Face it and ‘man up’ so you do the best you can with other souls in your sphere.

So my mom died lost, without any final communication with me. She . . . her soul, her spirit, her person . . . resides presently in a real place the Bible names as Hell, awaiting the Final Judgment at the Great White Throne at the end of the Millennial Age to come. Do you ever actually think about someone you know in Hell? It’s very hard. Sure, a Bible believer ‘believes’ it. But when we think of Hell our impression of its population tends to be vague, non-specific. If you can visualize what it might be like for someone you know, though . . . well, I dare you to do so for more than a few seconds.

Let’s consider the Calvinist perspective on all this. A card-carrying, MacArthur / Edwards / Piper – loving Calvinist would insist that my mom was Unconditionally Damned from the foundation of the world. That she was Totally Unable to repent because God chose in the mysterious counsel of His will to withhold irresistible grace. That Christ did not shed His blood for her sins, since she was not Elect. That in point-of-absolute-fact there was NOTHING I could have done to change her fate.

If you believe that I understand why you are cold-hearted toward the souls of men and women and children. I understand why you lift a finger so rarely – or perhaps not at all – to share your TULIP gospel with the lost souls around you. And if you do, why you display so little passion . . . so little care. But if you really embrace Reformed heresy, I must conclude that you don’t understand the love and grace of the Lord Jesus at all. That you, too, are lost. I urge you to read Section #3 of my “10 Heresies . . .” essay and my “Tract for the Committed Calvinist” on this site. And I would be happy to correspond with you . . . because I will care for you if you intersect my life and I do believe that I might make a difference . . . yes, by the grace of God. By the grace of God, He allows us to be co-laborers. We’re not robots and we’re not without responsibility . . . the Lord wants us to follow Jesus and share His burden for the lost. How we act on that responsibility may make an eternal difference in the life of the lost soul closest to your heart.

I’ll give you some specific advice . . . how to reach out to ‘grandma,’ for example. (This represents a brief summary from a portion of my book, “Evangelism 1-2-1 . . .” which can be downloaded free from this site’s e-book store.)

You really care about your lost grandma, right? So if you might get only one shot, you want to give it your best, right? Certainly your witness must be Biblical, clear, and compassionate. You might do well to glean from my sample presentations in my book or in the Evangelism section of this site. Yet some practice would help. And in practicing, you’re helping other people out. So find a street corner or walk down a sidewalk or cross a parking lot and find someone to talk to. Do it enough times in the next couple of weeks that you get over some of the jitters.

Don’t put off your 121 with grandma for long. She’s old, after all! Once you get some practice with ‘strangers,’ find some quality time for you and grandma to get together. By yourselves. Three is a crowd. How do you ‘create the opportunity’? Simply by being loving and direct . . .

“Grandma, I’m so glad to have some time to chat with you. There’s something I really want to talk with you about, because I care so much about you. So please, hear me out and be honest with me. I want to talk with you about the big stuff: you know, life / death / Heaven / Hell. Do you ever think about the big issues?”

And off you go. You’re on the same track as with anyone you meet on the street. With regard to her need for the Savior, and her misconceptions about sin, judgment, repentance, faith, and the new birth, grandma isn’t any different from anyone else. In my experience, which is considerable, you’ll have similar conversations with skeptics, gang members, business owners, lawyers, college students, and college professors. Lost people have much in common.

Finally, I want to face up to reality in a way that might provide a bit of perspective, if not comfort. I fear any comfort in the death of a lost loved one can only be cold comfort while we live in this flesh.

In Revelation 21, post-Judgment, God will wipe away the tears from the eyes of His saints. These tears likely derive from the Final Judgment of lost folks who were dear to us. The tears will then be gone, however. In eternity, clothed in glorified bodies, we will be in agreement with God in all matters. After all, that’s what genuine repentance is – coming into agreement with God, seeing righteousness and unrighteousness the way He sees it . . . at least to a reasonable degree.

Born again believers are and will be The Family of God. There are only two families after all, the children of God and the children of Satan (see what the Lord Jesus says in John 8). My true family consists of God’s saints. Those who reject my Lord Jesus are not my sisters and brothers. How can I have an extended close relationship with anyone who despises the Gospel, who trods on the shed blood of the Son of God? That’s why an unbeliever does not like a believer who is open and clear in his witness. That’s why unbelievers don’t want to be in Heaven after all. They don’t like genuine Christians – pitiful though we are in the practice of the Christian life – and they don’t want to be with the Lord Jesus, which is principally what the New Heaven and New Earth is all about. Heaven’s society would be extremely uncomfortable for the determined skeptic, the devout Catholic, and anyone else who is ‘religiously lost.’

Unbelievers don’t want the Lord’s Heaven. They want a paradise on their own rules, without consequences. Think about it. A Heaven full of unbelievers who can do whatever they want and not suffer consequences . . . would be an unimaginably wicked society, far worse than this presently corrupt Earth.

They want a mansion, but they don’t want righteousness. They want eternal life, but they despise holiness. They don’t like the Jesus recorded in Scripture. That’s why all of man’s religions redefine the historical Jesus to make Him easier to deal with. But that’s not reality.

My desire – and practice, pitiful though it may be – is to help those NOT in the family to get adopted INTO the family. I didn’t want mom to miss being part of my family. And I know you have people close to you who are in the ‘wrong’ family. What will you do about it? Will you be clear? Will you be bold? I know you’ll be compassionate . . . IF you have enough compassion to open your mouth and share the Gospel, eyeball to eyeball, making sure you are understood. Hey, at least give him / her a chance! You may save yourself some tears.



50. How to fight the war on terror
April 15, 2015

To promote true religion is the best and most effectual way of making a virtuous and regular people. Love to God and love to man are the substance of religion; when these prevail, civil laws will have little to do. – John Witherspoon

For many years now, the topic that gets the most press and the most attention from pundits is terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism perpetrated against the West, against fellow Muslim sects, and against Jews and Christians. Yet, proportionally little reporting is done by the mainstream press about Muslim persecution of professing Christians, when compared with the daily number of atrocities.

The reason I write this blog is that I cannot find ANYONE in the media that has a rational perspective. Especially fascinating are liberal politicians and pundits. Having lived through the Cold War, I’m struck by the parallels between the liberal perspective on Islam now, in comparison with the liberal perspective on Communism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Liberals consistently make excuses for a ruthless enemy bent on world domination. Liberals avoid facing reality by expostulating, “We are not at war with them!” All the while the enemy is clear about his intent to destroy or dominate anyone who enjoys freedom. Liberals promote policies of avoidance, hoping that bad things won’t happen and, if they do, the consequences won’t be too bad . . . and at any rate will only affect the ‘common people’ in fly-over country . . . in red states. (You know, it’s interesting that when the dichotomy ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states was initiated long ago, the liberal states were ‘red’ and the conservatives were ‘blue.’ That was appropriate, since red is the color of Marxism. Somewhere along the line, in some media magnate backroom meeting, the colors got switched.) Liberals also love to blame America for ‘provoking’ hatred in its enemies. This is particularly ironic because liberals have run America and its key institutions for decades . . . including politics, education (Kindergarten through graduate school), and both entertainment and news media.

I was flabbergasted a few years ago to hear a speech by a liberal full professor (University of Wisconsin) who lamented the woeful state of today’s students; particularly their lack of values, lack of discipline, and deficiency in basic skills. Which are all the result of ‘liberal values’ in raising and educating children! Whom did she think was to blame? It’s her crowd that runs the show!

Both liberal and conservative policies tend to avoid military solutions, but liberals seem far more willing to shed American blood in actions that promise no clear result – Vietnam was the classic. Liberal military actions are aimed primarily at political appeasement of moderates at home who want to think that our government is doing something. When semi-conservatives run the government, liberal politicians do everything possible to prevent a clear victory.

Conservatives lean more strongly to decisive military actions which can, to some degree, actually cause some degradation in the strength of Islamic warmongering groups or the nations that harbor them.

But nobody has an end game. Even the ‘smartest’ conservative pundits who want to defeat ISIS militarily, for example, have no end game in mind. Perhaps there is no feasible end game in any of these scenarios.

For example, what were the end games for the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? The apparently laudable goal, respected by both liberals and conservatives alike, was the establishment of secular constitutional republics. Why isn’t that working out? In fact, why is it an unmitigated disaster? Simply because the populations are committed to Islam. Islam knows nothing of democracy in the form of a constitutional republic. Serious Muslims will always put their clerics and their tribes and their own form of Sharia above any silly document foisted on them by Western infidels.

Yes, the U.S. can smash a regime with military force, whether Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan. But Americans cannot and will not indefinitely enforce a ‘secular’ puppet regime at the point of a gun. It’s neither in our constitution nor in our Constitution to be occupiers, even if we were entirely benevolent. Consider Germany after World War 2. We wanted to let the Germans run Germany and, fortunately, there were plenty enough non-Nazi Germans who valued principles of freedom to facilitate the democracy and economy enjoyed there for the last 70 years. Similarly for Japan.

Is there any mystery about the intent of Islam . . . for the last 1400 years? Of course not. It has grown via the sword and continues to do so, whether Sunni or Shia, whether Al Qaeda or ISIS or Hezbollah. Infidels, whether Jews or Christians or secularists, are to be ‘converted’ or oppressed . . . or exterminated. Hey, I’m not insulting anyone. This is what ‘they’ say. Are there any Muslim Arab leaders who want a Palestinian state, for example, that will live in harmony with their Jewish neighbors in Israel?

Islam is not compatible with the freedom enjoyed by Americans. Consider half of the Muslim population . . . women. Islam allows a man four wives, if he can afford them, and he can divorce any wife – without recourse on her part – by simple declaration. In strict (read ‘serious’) Muslim societies, women have drastically severe dress codes and suffer many restrictions on personal freedom. Why aren’t Western feminists in continual outrage? (Answer below.)

As I draft this I scanned just a couple of sources to sample some current news stories on the fruits of Islam. Here’s just a short list:

— An Islamic terrorist group kills 148 at a Kenyan university, separating Christian students from Muslims and shooting the Christians.
— A Nigerian Christian pastor is ‘butchered’ to death by Muslims. He had founded and operated a free school for 400 children.
— ISIS publicly threatens to behead America’s President and spread Sharia by converting the U.S. into a Muslim province. They proclaim, “This is the fate of anyone who opposes Islam.” The propaganda video shows an ISIS fighter beheading a captured Kurdish soldier. Note: That’s their propaganda. That’s what they want the world to see.
— ISIS accepts a pledge from the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, notorious for indiscriminate bombings and the kidnappings of girls for sex slavery.
— A legal battle in Pakistan will decide the custody of three young children, made orphans when their Christian parents were burned alive, after being falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran.
— Christians flee Mosul, Iraq, many with just the clothes on their backs, when ISIS gives them an ultimatum to convert to Islam or be killed. Many others are tortured and killed in ISIS controlled territory.
— Muslims continue to persecute Christians on the island of Mindanao (Philippines).
— Underground house church leaders in Iran print Bibles, but are arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. A Christian transporting a truckload of Bibles is given a death sentence, which was commuted after many prayers on his behalf, but he’s still in prison.
— A Sudanese boy is abandoned by his Muslim family when he professes Christ.

I could go on, but if you have any news sources outside the liberal press, I don’t need to. When Islam is in power, it oppresses . . . violently. What about American Muslims? Yes, the vast majority of American Muslims are peaceful. That’s because the ‘vast majority’ is a tiny minority within a secular culture. I have shared the Gospel with many Muslims individually. I believe that you would be hard pressed to find many (any?) American Muslims who would NOT vote for Sharia to replace the Constitution if the opportunity arose. Where are the Muslim advocates for freedom of religion? Have you heard any in the news media? I would love to see a comprehensive survey of American Muslims on the subjects of Sharia and freedom . . . Don’t forget to query the women! Why aren’t such polls taken and published?

For centuries, Islam has spread due to the actions of ‘serious’ Muslims. Not all are so ‘serious,’ but the ones who aren’t are willing to be docile and support the ones who are. I recall a discussion I had with a group of Air Force officers in the 1980s, during the heart of the Cold War. The ‘party line’ was . . . ‘The Russian people are good. It’s just the small minority, the Communist Party, that fosters the evil.’ I had a different perspective. The Communists could only attain and maintain power if the population lets them. I note that Americans threw off the comparatively light yoke of British colonialists in the 18th century, by committing their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. I submit that a population subservient to an evil ruling class participates in the evil.

I observe also that the more ‘serious’ a culture is about Islam, the more oppressive and dangerous it is. Yet the more ‘serious’ a Christian is, the more caring, self-sacrificing, and freedom-loving he is. I have had many conversations with ‘serious’ Muslims over the years. If some of these conversations had taken place on the streets of Riyadh or Islamabad, I wouldn’t have survived the day.

So why the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq? Details aren’t important: for example, whether ‘The Surge’ should have been maintained by President Obama. When one regime is crushed, another will follow . . . still wholly embedded within the Islamic worldview. If American forces were to crush ISIS forces in Iraq, it is clear (as of this date), that Iran’s Muslims will fill the void. That would be success?

The ‘wisest’ conservative commentators . . . few though they be . . . recognize that these battles must be fought not just militarily, not just economically, and not just politically, but also ideologically.

I agree! But how???? Which ideology? No one steps up to this issue. I also reviewed some current news items reflecting the dominant secular worldview of America and the Western world. Here are some samples:

— Bumper stickers are appearing with the phrase, ‘so few lions,’ a reference to Christian martyrs slaughtered by lions in the Roman Empire. A new book documents that a rising ‘Christianophobia’ has taken over academia and the media, with more and more ‘powerful people’ openly expressing hatred of Christianity, Christians, and Christian values.
— The last two New York city mayors, Bloomberg and de Blasio, have established policies that prohibit churches from renting public school facilities for worship services, although ‘equal access’ is available to non-Christian groups.
— A Texas Junior High principal was suspended from her job after including a link in the school’s e-newsletter to a Christian web site. The link was to an article that warned parents about how sex predators use apps to prey on children. What got her suspended was that the link was to a Christian web site.
— A student was rebuked and prohibited from ever again saying “God bless America” at the end of school announcements over the intercom.
— A U.S. Army chaplain was disciplined for offering Biblical references during a suicide prevention training session. The accusation included these words . . . “perceived to advocate Christianity and used Christian Scripture and solutions.”
— Italy is now a ‘dying country’ because abortion has depleted its population, with birth rates falling to 8.4 per 1000 people.
— 83% of black teens in America live in broken families. (17% live in families with both of their biological parents married and in residence.) For ‘white’ teenagers, 46% live in broken families.
— The Washington, D.C., mayor just signed a bill to force religious institutions to embrace abortions and homosexuality. In practice, this ‘non-discrimination’ bill could result in such actions as . . . “it could force Christian schools to recognize an LGBT student group or host a gay pride day on campus.”

I could go on for a long time, of course. The point is that Western ideology is entirely bankrupt. In confronting Islam ideologically, should the West publish an ideological platform that promotes abortion, gay marriage, the marginalization or outright oppression of Christians, the fantasy of evolution as THE explanation for where we came from (goo-to-you-via-the-zoo) . . . not to mention Western rock and rap music, movies with gratuitous nudity, sex, and violence, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, unconstrained fornication and adultery, and profanity as normal day-to-day discourse?

Face it: These are the values of American and Western culture, written into law and / or celebrated in our dominant institutions. Are ‘we’ going to ask Muslims to repent from their worldview and embrace Western values?

What about the ‘Christian evangelical culture’ in America? If you’ve got a few minutes, read my blog of March 15, 2015. The bottom line is that American evangelicalism is VERY WEAK. Evangelicals don’t stand against sin anymore. And fundamentalists (specifically Independent Fundamental Baptists) only do so by pulpit preaching – by their salaried clergy – within the four walls of their Sunday meeting house. They’re just not engaged. In the West, the Gospel message has been replaced with various perversions, including . . .

— Jesus wants you to be prosperous.
— Jesus wants you to be happy.
— Jesus primarily wants His followers to feed the hungry and give shoes to orphans.
— Jesus’ message is just to “love” (actually, tolerate and celebrate the wickedness and unbelief of) others.
— Jesus will save you if you simply assent to some facts and pray a little prayer.
— Jesus will save you if you’re good enough.
— The only Hell is on Earth and ‘missional’ means to give away food and clothes.
— Hey, Jesus saves everyone anyway and Hell is a fiction, and I’m offended if you don’t agree!

So what would be THE WAY to combat Islam ideologically? There is, indeed, an answer. Islam is wrong because it’s false. Just like atheism is false and Hinduism is false and Roman Catholicism is false. The TRUTH – God’s truth – is revealed in His word, the Bible. The Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ is THE TRUTH (John 14:6), and only the Lord Jesus is the source of freedom (John 8:31-36). If you disagree with all this, because you are a determined skeptic, that’s your choice – for the time being. All Christians can do is share the truth with you. But God holds you accountable and you have an appointment with Him in your future (Revelation 20:11-15). (If you actually want sufficient proof that the Biblical Jesus is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE, just start at this site’s home page and start reading. If you’re open-minded at all, you’ll have all the proof you need within the hour.)

The way to work against Islam or any falsehood that oppresses people in this life, and condemns them for eternity, is to preach the Gospel. Preach against sin and call for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Just like the prophets of old and a few Christians still do today. The only way any individual Muslim can be set free of sin and unbelief is to hear the Gospel and respond. At least let them hear!

Years ago I was with an older Christian, an itinerant evangelist, doing 1-2-1 evangelism on a downtown street. At the end of the day my friend suggested that even if nobody we talked to were to get saved, that perhaps we had at least prevented a wife-beating or some other crime . . . because we were conveying God’s law and the Gospel, and we were seeing some measure of consideration or even conviction in those who listened.

If Christians are everywhere bold in their witness, the culture will ‘feel it,’ regardless of the number of conversions. In the ‘war on terror,’ the only TRUE way to shame those who support murder and oppression is to confront the heart, mind, and conscience with righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can bring conviction (John 16:7-8). Confronting the devout Muslim with secular humanism will only fuel his fire. Can an American challenge the Muslim’s views on women’s rights while, at the same time, Western women are stripped bare and presented as sex objects? (Watch any TV? Seen a movie lately? Read any magazines?)

I’ve talked with a lot of Muslims in America – including those visiting from overseas and those who enjoy American citizenship. I can report that they are not impressed by ‘Western values.’

Consider what could be done within the borders of the U.S. What if a mere one million American Christians determined to distribute just 1,000 tracts (less than 3 per day) in the next year and share the Gospel verbally with several people, perhaps just five, each week. In a year a billion tracts would be distributed and the Gospel would confront 250 million people. Yes, there would be much overlap. Many lost people would be confronted multiple times. That’s a very good thing! The ‘culture’ would FEEL something very different. Many would say . . . even complain . . . that Christians were ‘getting in their face’ regularly.

There would be news stories and editorials debating whether the boldness of Christians was a good thing or whether it should be stopped . . . perhaps by law! The issue would be ‘on the table’ for examination. The ideological battle line would be drawn.

I have shared TRUTH with individuals who have recently been confronted by others, or have some Christian in their lives pestering them about their lost condition. When they tell me this, it’s usually accompanied by some comment like, “I think God is trying to tell me something.” Yet such experiences are rare because there are so few Christians who open their mouths!

Would the U.S. government embrace a strategy of proclaiming the Gospel as an ideological weapon against Islam? Of course not. Western governments insist repeatedly that “we are NOT at war against Islam.” And they also insist that terrorist incidents, both small and large scale (like war), are not related to genuine Islam. Thus governments won’t even admit to the existence of an elephant that’s been stomping ‘on the table’ for 1400 years. Furthermore, the leaders of Western governments despise the Gospel.

What if Christians did get busy? Would Muslims get saved? Some would. Many do in the Middle East in the midst of lethal persecution. Part of the cause of my own salvation, which is consistent with the testimonies of many others, is that some Christians camped on my trail and wouldn’t leave me alone. Thank God.

What if hardly anyone responds with repentance and faith? Well, even ONE would be worth any effort you can possibly expend. Also, the pervasive proclamation of Biblical truth will help people, as mentioned above. Sin will hide a bit more, like it used to, rather than strut boldly down the street.

Really, is there any hope for this world, or its individual residents, other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If you’re a Christian, I don’t need to belabor this point. If you’re not, you’re one heartbeat away from Hell. (See my free e-book on this subject, written just for you, which you can download from the e-book store on this site.)

Earlier, I promised to solve a mystery for you. Why don’t American feminists fight like crazy for the emancipation of women in the Muslim world? There is only one answer that makes sense. Western liberals are on the ‘same team’ as Middle Eastern oppressors. There are only two distinct ‘teams’ in this world, after all. See John 8:43-47 and Luke 11:23. This principle also explains a lot of other ‘mysteries’ in the world today . . . but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Are one million American Christians going to get busy? No. If they did, the effects would quickly permeate American culture and ‘spill over’ the rest of the world. The effect on American culture alone would be fascinating. There would be lots of discussion, even from the left, about ‘those obnoxious Christians’ that are seen everywhere trying to ram Scripture down their throats. Yeah, payback would be satisfying (I mean driving the adversary a little nuts), even apart from the pure motive of doing the Great Commission to give everyone a chance.

But hey . . . YOU could bother a few people this week. Give a bank teller a tract. Leave tracts in the restroom at Burger King or Chipotle. Talk to someone taking a smoking break outside their work place. Ask your neighbor if he’s figured out what life is all about. After he answers, tell him the TRUTH. Easy as pie. Make your days count. Give someone a chance.


51. Coasting down the Sawdust Trail
May 1, 2015

It was in 1978, when I was 26 years old, that I was first exposed to rip-roaring evangelistic meetings. I’d been saved for about ten years, but had never been part of a really conservative church before. When we joined this particular Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church, I found myself drawn to a culture in which the Bible was taken more seriously, the preaching was fervent and instructive, and there seemed to be a real passion to reach lost souls.

I enjoyed the traveling evangelist that preached a week-long meeting there. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember resonating with messages wherein sin was vile, Hell was hot, Heaven was glorious, Jesus was Lord, and His return was imminent. As my career took us to different states in the years to follow, I enjoyed a number of such meetings, including some fairly old-fashioned “tent meetings,” and a modern version of a “camp meeting.”

Truly old-fashioned camp meetings were frequent during the huge Baptist and Methodist revivals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Gospel exploded from North Carolina and Virginia into the southern states and western territories as thousands of new churches were established and hundreds of thousands were born again. Camp meetings were held to glorify God and knit together the far-flung networks of new believers. Families would come from hundreds of miles away and literally camp out during a week or two of evangelistic preaching (by multiple speakers), rousing songs, and unashamed testimonies of God’s grace to lost sinners.

Alas, that culture is long gone. What I got to see a bit of in the 1970s and 1980s was heartwarming and soul-stirring, but just a shadow of the heritage it claimed. In the last couple of decades, as I’ve (hopefully) grown in some measures of wisdom and zeal, I’ve seen the “revival scene” in the IFB culture diminish into rote for most churches and observed fairly routine performances from most salaried evangelists. The most dangerous aspect of most modern “revival” meetings, of course, is the emotional manipulation to produce “decisions,” which leads to many false converts in the pews.

I wish I could go back in a time machine and “camp out” with Shubal Stearns and the North Carolina Baptists or with Richard Cartwright and the Illinois Methodists. Hey, I’d even settle for a trip back to some meetings just a few decades ago. It’s not that I need it. The Lord has taught me to learn zeal from His word and from His Spirit. But it would be fun.

Richard Mouw

I recently finished a book entitled, The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from Their Fundamentalist Heritage, Zondervan, 2000. The author, Richard Mouw (RM), is a notable evangelical (“gelly”) leader, President of Fuller Theological Seminary from 1993 – 2013. Mouw is clearly not a conservative evangelical. When Pope Benedict XVI published the encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” in 2009, Mouw signed a public statement that called for all Christians to “read, wrestle with, and respond” to it. This encyclical was a wide-ranging treatise on injustice in the world, covering economics, government corruption, sex trafficking, and ethics based on theistic vs. atheistic presuppositions. Notably, Benedict XVI called for more power in global institutions, including world government, with the Roman Catholic Church providing the theological foundation. Mouw apparently misses the connection with the coming kingdom of the Antichrist.

Mouw was a leader in the 1990s movement “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” The emphasis was on common beliefs and care was taken to avoid disagreeable controversies. Part of the supposed commonality is shared interests in evangelism and missionary activity. If Mouw doesn’t understand the difference between the gospel of Rome and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just what does he understand? RM laments that evangelicals have worked to evangelize Roman Catholics as if they are non-Christians. He believes that gellies should call Catholics to deepen their faith. It’s not at all “calling them from spiritual death to spiritual life.” In short, if RM doesn’t understand what “lost” means, he simply cannot understand what “saved” means.

In a 2004 meeting in Salt Lake City, Mouw joined Ravi Zacharias and other evangelicals in a pow wow with Mormon leaders. In his speech Mouw apologized to Mormons for the way that evangelicals have treated the Mormon faith . . . ok, so now you know a bit of where Richard Mouw is coming from.

What provoked me to read the book is that the title implies something favorable about the historic fundamentalist (fundie) perspective in the eyes of modern evangelicals. Many . . . I mean, MANY current evangelical leaders were raised either on or close to the “sawdust trail.” Sawdust? Many 20th century tent meetings, held in a farmer’s field, used sawdust in the aisles to keep the mud at bay. Mouw notes that evangelist Billy Sunday (early 1900s) was aware of the practice of 19th century lumberjacks who, when they got lost in the woods, would search for a trail with sawdust on it. That would be the trail to follow back home. Sunday used sawdust both practically and metaphorically “in calling sinners to follow the sawdust trail to a place of spiritual safety.” The evangelist’s invitation would implore sinners to walk the sawdust trail – up the aisle – to profess faith in Christ.

Billy Sunday

The youthful Richard enjoyed tent meetings, complete with sawdust . . . “I cannot recall ever being bored at a tent meeting. The music lives on in my soul, as do many of the phrases and stories of the sermons I heard . . . I can still smell the sawdust, and this aroma carries with it spiritual associations that have shaped my understanding of what it means to be a Christian human being. And I think it is important – not only for myself but for the evangelical movement in general – to keep smelling the sawdust.”

So far so good. He goes on to explain how he has spent a good part of his life “dedicated to correcting some of the defects and excesses associated with the religion of the sawdust trail.” I can empathize. The question is whether anything of substance will be left at the end of the sawing and chopping. On my part, significant items survive. Also, whatever is removed will invariably be replaced by something. That something had better be the elements of New Testament Christianity otherwise neglected. What about on Mouw’s part? Have the fundamentalist defects been replaced by more Biblical evangelical innovations?

The author cites a 1998 lecture by Mark Noll of Wheaton College, who opined that evangelicals are “at our best when we are singing our hymns.” Mouw agrees. He loves to quote a hymn to make a serious point. He finds substance in the old hymns (and sermons) that speak to how we humans have lost fellowship with God because of our rebelliousness. The only way to get home “is to accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.” Such themes he sees as “nonnegotiable.” “All paths to God must find their way to the cross of Jesus.”

Yet evangelical culture has excised hymns almost entirely from most churches. I won’t take time here to compare the theological and musical gulf between the hymns of yore and what serves as “worship music” today. In my lifetime I have been part of, and have visited many more, conservative hymn-singing churches. Statistically speaking, such congregations lift their collective voices toward Heaven with both volume and enthusiasm. In recent years I have visited many evangelical churches that have converted the music program to the stage show led by pop rock performers. This is all done “for the kids,” of course. With rare exceptions, such congregations participate poorly, with many singing not at all, especially the young people! What foolishness! If the objective is so “worship-centric,” why can’t you get your people to sing along? We old-timers knew how to do it. (Mouw doesn’t address any of this, so this last paragraph is provided at no charge to you.)

Interestingly, because it is so indicative of the modern gelly trend, Mouw notes that he came to a point in his life when he sensed a need to grapple with “bigger and more complex questions” than what he heard on the sawdust trail. These would include the issues of justice and peace and social righteousness, plus “faith’s implications for a life of learning” – his way to describe discipleship.

The modern gelly view is that saving souls from Hell by preaching sin, judgment, repentance, etc., is old-fashioned and simplistic. The vital issues are feeding the hungry and regulating economies. It’s the megachurch’s job to build the Kingdom of God – NOW! Theology does actually matter here. Such “Kingdom Now!” folks do not believe that the Lord Jesus will return before the Millennium, establishing His Kingdom in power, as we see in Revelation 19. If Jesus, in their minds, is to delay His return until we establish justice worldwide, then we had better get busy remaking society. Saving souls is secondary and somebody else will take care of that mundane little task while we tackle the “big job.”

There are so many ironies. Just to mention a couple . . . As religious groups and governments and industries and charities jump into bed together, the eventual Kingdom of Antichrist will produce the most unjust society and the most vile culture in human history. Also, in the short term, in the Western world, there is hardly anyone actually sharing a Scriptural Gospel with lost people anymore. That “little task” isn’t getting done.

Mouw goes on to discuss “spirituality,” affirming his appreciation for the “desert fathers,” centering prayer, and “living streams” of wisdom that can be gleaned from Roman Catholic tradition. Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, and Saint Therese of Lisieux are among his favorite writers. Mouw sees spiritual insight everywhere. Ok, so if some of these guys are insightful, namely correct about the nature of God and how He interacts with people, then which guys are incorrect? Mouw, like any serious postmodern, will never say that anybody is WRONG. Except those fundies, of course.

Specifically, Mouw accuses fundamentalism of being anti-intellectual. I do, too, but not in the same way. Serious Christians should learn all they can about science, history, economics, law, etc. But all such learning must grow on the foundation of a Biblical worldview. What Mouw means is that Christians should respect scholarship which attacks a Biblical worldview. In my experience, fundies are content with ignorance, once they embrace the basics.

Fuller Theological Seminary

For example, Mouw would have the Christian find a way to meld evolution with a non-historical view of Genesis. Also, Biblical inerrancy would be an “anti-intellectual” position. The intellectual approach would be to interpret the Bible as narratives, relevant to any given culture as it might see fit.

Secondly, he attacks otherworldliness. Christians are too pessimistic, he says, “about the possibilities for healthy large-scale social change,” and so we are content to live “on the margins of our culture.” Please. Read the Bible and see whether the Lord Jesus’ Great Commission was focused on cultural improvement. Why were the apostles and so many saints throughout history martyred? Maybe they should have focused on the “big issues” of funding charities and getting laws passed to promote labor unions. The apostles were certainly otherwordly, because there is another world to come. Focus too much on the cares of this world and your neighbor will miss the New Heaven and New Earth. The problem is to wake people up to the fact of their eternal fate beyond this present world. Giving them another cheeseburger or a new pair of sneakers without a plea to repent and trust Christ is unloving and wicked.

Thirdly, the author criticizes a separatistic spirit. Here he objects to “quibbling over doctrinal minutiae and exhibiting an ungracious spirit about the behavior of others.” Hmm. Would a disagreement over the true nature of the Eucharist qualify as “doctrinal minutiae”? Would telling someone that he must repent from mariolatry and baptismal regeneration qualify as ungracious? Given Mouw’s devotion to ecumenical tolerance, I think so.

Richard Mouw insists that he believes what most would call “the fundamentals.” He believes that the bodily resurrection of Christ means that “a real body came out of a real tomb.” He, like many gellie preachers today, particularly in the emergent wing, lightly affirm that the blood of Christ saves from sins in “our sex lives and personal habits and financial dealings.” But Mouw insists the bigger focus should be on cleansing “the stains of our racism and nationalism and militarism.” He doesn’t want to depart from evangelicalism to do this, but rather wants to transform evangelicalism to shift the emphasis.

I should note that racism is a sin to repent from. Duh. We already knew this. A racist evangelical is a lost man. But I also note that racism is eagerly applied by the political (and religious) left to anyone who disagrees with a favored leftist policy. For example, if you want to reduce welfare spending you’re a racist. Or if you’re against wide open borders, you’re a racist. Or if you’re anti-abortion, you hate women. Sigh. Regarding nationalism and militarism, Mouw doesn’t get specific, but avoiding such “sins” certainly implies taking the “right” position on policy issues.

On Christian colleges and seminaries, Mouw is clearly “for” them. After all, he’s a seminary president. His defense includes the same argument used for secular universities, that there needs to be a class of people engaged in research and teaching. Also, that the “ministerial calling” must be correlated with formal theological education. All this, of course, is foreign to New Testament Christianity, which is centered on the local church. Not just the local church building on the corner in competition with the competing group on the next block, mind you. The local NT church was a city-wide network of house fellowships, organized and led by a group of elders. See my essay, Local Church vs. Universal Church. Once a “college” is established independent of God’s ordained institution, there is no limit to innovations in heresy. (Fuller Theological Seminary, for example.)

I find it ironic – perhaps Mouw doesn’t – that he affirms that theological education ought to include how to explain why JWs are wrong about the Trinity. Yet he apologizes to Mormons for evangelicals trying to explain why they aren’t born again.

Carl Henry

Mouw applauds theologian Carl Henry, particularly his 1947 plea to gellies to “develop a competent literature in every field of study, on every level from the grade school through the university, which adequately presents each subject with its implications from the Christian as well as non-Christian points of view . . . Evangelicalism must contend for a fair hearing for the Christian mind, among other minds, in secular education.”

Sounds good on the surface. I agree with the first part, but only if executed by true Bible believers who can show that the Biblical worldview makes sense of every field and produces good fruit, while anti-Biblical views necessitate error, trouble, and despair . . . which is the fact of the matter. The second part of Henry’s statement is problematic. The sense is for the Christian to plea . . . to beg . . . for a fair hearing from the secular establisment. And that is what evangelicalism has done in the academy since Henry’s day. Engage in dialogue and hope to earn the respect of Bible haters. No, no, no! God’s people are to preach the word, to proclaim truth, to call out error, to make converts, and to disciple such converts. The practical result of Henry’s plea . . . reaffirmed by Mouw . . . is more and more compromise with the Enemy’s scholars, apostasy in the seminaries, and a false version of Christianity in the churches.

Mouw cites Wheaton College Professor Mark Noll who suggests that “it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual.” Wow. I suppose that evolutionists would qualify as “intellectuals,” because they believe – with all the physical and chemical and biological evidence against them – that information develops from random processes, that proteins and DNA and ribosomes and mitochondria, etc., form spontaneously from muck, and that poplars and people share a common ancestor. Very intellectual, indeed!

What does evolution have to do with it? Anti-Christian “intellectuals” are always operating within an atheistic / evolutionistic worldview. And so they deny Biblical creation, they deny the history of the Israelite people, they deny the prophecies of the coming Messiah, they deny the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Christ, and they deny the necessity of the new birth. When they deny inerrancy, where does that come from? Secular scholars see the Bible as a tribal book of Jewish stories, not to be taken seriously. And when unregenerate wimps who pretend to be Christian college professors seek the respect and favor of the Devil’s camp, they reveal which team they are on. As a Bible believing Christian I don’t respect anti-Christian scholarship . . . and I don’t respect such scholars. If I meet one I will take the opportunity to preach repentance to him. And yes, I’ll be polite about it! In fact, I have done so on several occasions.

Mouw’s proposed solution to the “intellectual” issue is to emphasize the experiential aspects of Christianity . . . the Christian’s relationship with the Savior. In effect, he doesn’t think he can stand his ground and do battle against the scoffers on the facts of the case. Pitiful.

RM relates an anecdote about meeting a group of megachurch pastors. He tried to impress on them the importance of theological education. They responded, “We’re in the business of getting people to come to church. Seminaries are no help at all in telling us how to do that.” Mouw’s arguments that what people learn when they come to church is important . . . were not well received. RM comments that he studies the forces at work in both revivals and periods of spiritual decline. “One obvious factor in bringing about spiritual decline is bad theology.” As an example he discusses the Pentecostal interpretation of Isaiah 53:5, which goes beyond spiritual healing from our sins to a guarantee of physical healing from disease in this present world.

The irony is palpable. Hasn’t Mouw noticed that the Roman Catholics and the Mormons, among many of his other fellow travelers, embrace a wide variety of heresies? Even damnable heresies that send multitudes to Hell? He explicitly refers to “my friends from other Christian traditions – for example, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox . . .” RM sees himself as an “evangelical Calvinist.” He endorses John Calvin’s views of salvation as expressed in the Institutes of Christian Religion, and he “adheres to the Reformed tradition’s perspectives on the church and the sacraments.”

Rob Bell

So he’s apparently both a Calvinist and a universalist! In a 2011 interview Mouw stated that “Rob Bell’s newly-released Love Wins is a fine book and I basically agree with his theology.” Bell, of course, lays out a universalist theology in which Hell doesn’t exist. Mouw agrees with Bell that God couldn’t possibly condemn someone to Hell who hasn’t accepted salvation through Jesus Christ. Of course both Bell and Mouw get the premise wrong. The lost are not condemned because they have not “accepted Christ” (which is a non-Scriptural phrase anyway). The lost are condemned because of their willful and wicked sins. The offer of salvation is by grace. What would be “fair” would be condemnation.

In the same 2011 interview Mouw said that after a rabbi friend of his died, he “held out the hope that when he saw Jesus he would acknowledge that it was Him all along, and that Jesus would welcome him into the heavenly realm.” Mouw also criticized those who question the salvation of Mother Theresa just because she was a committed Roman Catholic / universalist who believed a false gospel. Mouw implied that Bell’s critics just want to keep people out of Heaven. Bell’s universalism and tolerance doesn’t extend to those who preach the reality of Hell, calling such preaching “lethal,” “toxic,” “unloving,” “creepy,” and displaying a “cheap view of God.”

RM insists that he wants to warn against both modernism and post-modernism within his Presbyterian denomination. He doesn’t see that he is completely infected with post-modernism himself. He tells of encouraging a woman who rejected her fundamentalist upbringing in favor of developing a “positive attitude toward the world in which I live,” and embracing Anglicanism which “has given me a sacramental view of reality.” Mouw told her he was really glad she had found a spiritual home where she could feel safe. How sweet. How post-modern.

Mouw criticizes fundies for wanting to “live by many rules that keep them separate from ‘worldliness.’” But what are we really talking about here? What are the ‘worldly’ pleasures that liberal professing Christians want to indulge in? Think about it. It always comes down to fornication and drunkenness – sex outside of marriage and substance abuse. That’s what “partying” typically means in the world.

Since this is already overly long . . . yet I do want to document my understanding of emergent gelly culture, at least for my own edification . . . I’ll end here. I was disappointed because I was fooled, I believe, by the book’s title. Richard Mouw apparently doesn’t think evangelicalism can learn much at all from its fundamentalist heritage. While he claims to still hold to and proclaim the old-fashioned Gospel, he self-refutes by a post-modern embrace of every goofy theological idea under the sun. He says, “I am quite willing these days to live with a little messiness in my theology.” He denies that this means he is post-modern. He attributes it to a sense of “wonder” in his Christian life.

Messy theology? No, just plain wrong. Since he obviously would never dare to speak truth to a lost Catholic or a lost Mormon or a lost ………….. (fill in the blank), he doesn’t believe the Gospel himself. How could he while smiling and patting someone on the back who is one heartbeat from Hell? Thus, sadly, he is certainly in a lost condition himself, despite being president of an evangelical seminary for twenty years.

The best that Mouw does regarding the promise of the title is to dredge up a bit of nostalgia for the sawdust trail. There is a much larger issue, though. The tragedy is that evangelicalism is “coasting down the sawdust trail.” The old-timers in the pews . . . well, now it’s the theater seats . . . interpret the words they hear in the songs and in the sermons in fairly Biblical terms. Sin, judgment, Hell, evangelism, the Gospel, the second coming of Christ. They are coasting from a long-gone culture, not realizing the wheels have come off, and they’re on a mountain road with no guard rails.

But the youngsters are getting a very different impression. Seeking truth has given way to empathizing, evangelism means feeding the poor, Hell is now the earthly condition of the economically disadvantaged, the Gospel is about building a kingdom on Earth now, and the second coming of Christ . . . well, that’s either a mystical thing or something relegated to the distant future after we’ve ‘taken our city for Christ’ . . . apparently by raising the poor up to middle class status.

Once I got into the book and realized where Mouw was coming from, I still found it interesting as an exercise in how the emergent wing of evangelicalism thinks . . . or at least thinks it thinks . . . which is muddy at best. It’s yet another example of how any worldview that departs from the simplicity of Biblical faith is rife with contradictions. No matter how well they articulate their confusion or how fervently they empathize with the downtrodden, they fall short of obeying God by despising the care of souls . . . souls who need the Savior, who can only be saved by simple repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the only Door to eternal life.



52. Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels
May 15, 2015

This blog has been posted in the Creation / Evolution Short Course as EN16: Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels.


53. Two New Tracts: Beauty & The Beast
June 1, 2015

Americans, statistically speaking, “have it all.” We live in the Phoenix valley along with four million other people. There are a LOT of middle-class neighborhoods which appear to my eyes . . . eyes of a middle-class son of a Chicago public school teacher, raised in the 1950s and 1960s . . . to be very “upper class.” The levels have changed – upward — although the complaints and whining politics have only gotten worse.

a typical house for sale in Chandler

It’s not just that the average square footage has risen dramatically. Everybody’s got central air conditioning; in my youth it was only the occasional neighbor that had even a single window unit. In the Phoenix valley a house without A/C is inconceivable. (Yet this area was inhabited for centuries past without electricity.) Frankly, you’d have to work hard to find an A/C-less house in the upper Midwest or Northeastern U.S., even though the summers are short there.

If you just think about it for a moment, you know what else is new in new neighborhoods: vaulted ceilings, cable TV/Internet, computer controlled appliances, cell networks (a phone for each family member), giant screen TVs, at least 2 (nice) cars per household with good gas mileage and lots of electronic perqs, plus audio / visual systems throughout house and car. I observe that King Solomon and every other king in ancient history did not have most of the luxuries available to any working class family today.

Additionally, refrigerators and freezers and cabinets are stuffed with food. Overindulgence and obesity are not problems just for the wealthy, but plague the “poor,” too. Backbreaking work has virtually disappeared in today’s economy and so millions join fitness centers to burn off some of the calories acquired from burritos, soft drinks, pizzas, and ice cream. In short, the “upper 99%” (actually 99.9%) are ridiculously wealthy by historical standards.

A/C - 1960s tech

And still, politics is driven by “have” vs. “have not”? It’s not a race issue. These neighborhoods are thoroughly diverse! Before moving to Phoenix we lived for several years in the Rockford, IL, area. My efforts in personal evangelism acquainted me with every part of the city, rich and poor, working class and welfare, Black and White and Hispanic and Etc. I spent considerable time near the courthouse and the central bus station, meeting people in various kinds of trouble and suffering all of life’s challenges and discouragements.

I recall one overweight (Caucasian) fellow, panhandling, trying to entice a few bucks out of me so he could buy lunch. I pointed out to him that within walking distance were various charitable organizations so that, if he timed it right, he could get six free meals a day. He said that he didn’t want to wait a couple of hours and, besides, that Rescue Mission (close by) would make him listen to some preaching. I tapped his ample belly and suggested that fasting for two more hours and listening to preaching would be a win-win. He didn’t see the humor.

So here are some observations and conclusions. You might think I’m oversimplifying and failing to appreciate the complexity of “social injustice” preached by liberal politicians, liberal academics, liberal pundits, and liberal clergy / pulpiteers. Tough. Write your own blog.

Winnebago County Courthouse, Illinois

1. The poorest sections of town have the highest concentrations of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, bars, liquor stores, and crime . . . much crime correlated with illegal drugs.
2. The poorest sections of town have the highest concentrations of broken families and fatherless children.
3. The wealthiest sections of town (just 21st century style middle-class) have the highest concentration of stable families and steady jobs. We lived in a very nice middle-class neighborhood. Here’s a sampling of the careers of some of my nearest neighbors: a retired city garbage man (sorry, sanitation worker!), a mailman, a retired retail businessman, a factory worker, an auto mechanic, a factory worker, and another factory worker. Nice houses, long and stable marriages, no apparent crime records . . . It seems that if you keep your job, don’t waste money, don’t bust your marriage up, and keep at it for a few years, then you can live very, very comfortably in America!
4. The court system, including judges, lawyers, extensive support staff, police officers, etc., is funded largely by a transfer of wealth from the poorest sections of town . . . from the people who have the least discretionary money, but persistently sin so egregiously that they run afoul of man’s law. I note that man’s law is far, far more lenient than God’s law. If you break man’s law, sin truly abounds.

5. The poorest sections of town are actually awash in enough discretionary cash to support plenty of bars, liquor stores, and drug dealers. I once calculated that the amount of money spent annually on alcohol in the U.S. could buy a nice new home for every household in Chicago . . . yes, every year. All that money – literally – gets flushed down the toilet after damaging body, soul, and spirit . . . and marriages and children.

Yet everyone – EVERYONE – wants to have it all, whether or not they have the character to work hard and steady and stay out of trouble. I’ve previously opined on the determination of modern evangelical churches to reach out with tangible charity to the most destitute 1%. And how they consistently manage to avoid sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ along the way, which addresses the BIGGEST problem of the poor – SIN!!! – and offers the solution of a Holy Spirit-led new man / new woman who can follow God’s will out of sin and poverty into a fruitful life. I’ve also observed how there is no end game for this approach: if EVERYONE achieves middle class, are we done?

Of course not. I’ve spent much evangelistic effort on the “top 99%” and can attest that sin and rebellion are rampant. Although the “successful” act enough in their own interest to avoid economic tragedy, they are quite content without God and typically scoff at the idea of a Great White Throne Judgment in their future.

Do I personally have compassion for the “bottom 1%”? Absolutely! I find they are more likely than most to give the Gospel a hearing. Perhaps not ready to repent from the sins that (usually) got them in dire straits, but at least willing to consider that sin is the BIG problem and that God is smarter than any of us.

On the other hand, the “haves” – the 99% — are complacent. As long as they’ve got their stuff and are in a stretch of reasonably good health . . . “no worries.” Yet most “haves” expend energy and worry to acquire more “stuff” and regularly complain about what they don’t have. Their focus is on the physical. They despise the spiritual.

Since Spring semester ended and my opportunities for campus evangelism have evaporated until September, I have started to ‘knock doors’ in the local neighborhood. Whether the homeowner is some form of professing Christian or not, it’s not hard to sense complacency about spiritual matters. It’s a struggle to get the perspective shifted to matters of ultimate importance.

With such things in mind, I’ve designed a tract for the “haves” and the “wannabe haves.” I’ve chosen a theme that enables a visually appealing layout, as you’ll see below. The theme is based on Ecclesiastes and entitled ‘Can you name these famous “Sex Symbols”?’ Wealth, fame, physical beauty . . . it’s all vanity. Solomon figured it out. I pray that God uses this tract to grab somebody’s attention. It’s easy to hand out. I can report that faces typically light up with interest when I offer this tract.

Click on . . . Tract – famous sex symbols

A tip for handing out this tract . . . I regularly try different approaches when I hand tracts out personally. For the “Famous Sex Symbols” tract I might simply say, “Here’s a little brain teaser. See if you can name the pretty faces. And the text talks about whether it’s really worth it to be rich, famous, and beautiful.”

The second tract I recently designed and printed is “Can you name these famous Fighter Aircraft?”

Click on . . . Tract – Fighter Aircraft

A tip for handing this one out . . . “So do you like history? See if you can name these fighters. The text is about how past history connects with future history. Check it out.”

The theme is war and prophecy – prophecy already fulfilled and the awesome events yet to come. My attempt in this tract is to shout, “WAKE UP!!” In addition to being a student of history I’ve lived long enough to recognize how much the world has changed over the last few decades. We must certainly be in the ‘last days.’

The lost are certainly complacent. Just get out there and do some 121 work, trying to get somebody’s attention for a couple of minutes. Occasionally, you can get some “traction.” In addition to my verbal witness, though, I want to send them home with something that they just might hang onto. If the rapture hits in the near future, that tract just might save them.

Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church

It’s not just the lost who are complacent. Professing Christians exude apathy as evidenced by the ones I meet locally who are perfectly content in their ‘seeker sensitive’ megachurches. No burden for souls, little knowledge of Scripture, no urgency to make their days count in the Lord’s service . . . in fact, no concept of what it means to serve God . . . and no notable difference in day-to-day life when compared with their lost next door neighbor.

Hey, look at what’s happening. Israel has been regathered, still in unbelief (Ezek 37) and the nations are at each other’s throats over Jerusalem, causing worldwide consternation . . . just as Zechariah prophesied 2500 years ago (Zech 12:3). The time is short. Days are precious.

If you’re more than just a professing Christian . . . if you are a Christian burdened for the complacent and lost souls around you . . . make your days count. Share the Gospel. Give out a tract. Recruit another Christian to do likewise. Let me know what you’re doing, too. I can use the encouragement.


Oh yeah . . . the title of this blog, “Beauty & The Beast.” Figure it out yet? “Beauty” relates to the first tract, of course. “The Beast” is a prophetic title for the Antichrist, who probably walks this Earth today, waiting for his opportunity. When it arrives, it’s too late for you and me to help anymore. And it’s certainly coming.

If you’d like a few of the tracts above for your own witnessing efforts, write to me and let me know who you are and what you’re about. If you’re in the U.S. I can send you a free package. (I don’t sell tracts, but do enjoy providing them to friends who have a heart for souls.) You can view my other tracts by clicking on the pdfs in the article, “Tracts – Choosing and Using.”



54. The Life of Rolfe Barnard
June 15, 2015

I had never heard of Rolfe Barnard (RB) before acquiring his biography from The author, E. A. Johnston, published the work in 2012. It’s one of the better constructed biographies I’ve read. Many biographers force me to read between the lines to figure out just what the subject believed. In this case there is no mystery. Johnston is theologically in the same camp as Barnard and included ten of Rolfe’s sermons, plus a large number of quotes.

RB was a very fruitful evangelist who lived from 1904 to 1969. What is particularly notable is the case that the author makes that Barnard was primarily instrumental in the formation of the sovereign grace movement among Baptists, even serving as its figurehead. Yes, Rolfe Barnard was a firmly committed Calvinist, despite preaching a Gospel message for the lost that often defied his Calvinist doctrine. In short, RB may be the most perfectly conflicted Calvinist I have yet to run across. I’ll explain that as I go along.

In analyzing accounts of evangelists and missionaries and revivals over the last 200 years, I have observed that there seem to be three key elements associated with the most fruitful of God’s servants.

1. The servant must be wholly dedicated to the Lord and to the Great Commission.
2. He must preach a sound message that camps on sin, judgment, repentance, and the new birth.
3. His overall doctrinal position must be sufficiently Biblical so as not to invalidate points 1 and 2.

The last point above is the interesting one. There are quite a number of successful evangelists – successful in the true Biblical sense of producing genuine converts who grow in wisdom and grace – who embraced some flaky doctrine. John Wesley pushed too far toward a doctrine of sinless sanctification. Charles Spurgeon held firmly to Unconditional Election. Charles Finney rejected believer’s baptism. Nevertheless, these men were wholly committed to God’s work and their message to the lost was Biblical – the same in all three cases. (I’ve read their own works very carefully!)

My conclusion is that God gives a lot of slack on point 3, as long as the doctrinal corruption doesn’t damage the heart or interfere too badly with the plea to “Repent and believe.”

Speaking to a group of Reformed pastors, Barnard said, “This generation doesn’t need to learn the doctrine of election. This generation needs to be called to repentance. This generation needs to bow to Jesus Christ!” Rolfe grieved over the multitudes of church members living in antinomianism – lawlessness. He understood that most church members are false converts. He wept over the lost, and knocked doors in the dead of winter to invite people to hear the Gospel.

Rolfe was raised in a solid Christian home. His Baptist parents were serious believers and had secretly dedicated their son for the Lord’s service. Rolfe’s ambition was to become a wealthy trial lawyer. He attended a Baptist college, was popular, maintained honor roll status, played lead roles in dramatic productions, and was the star of the debate team. What aggravated the faculty was that Rolfe created a campus atheist club and converted many to his skeptical worldview. Eventually, over 300 were members as a result of their Friday night infidel rallies.

By day Rolfe Barnard cursed God. At night he often lost sleep as he fought with God, praying, “God, if You’ll not kill me tonight I’ll surrender to You tomorrow.” The young man knew that if he became a follower of Jesus Christ, that God would make him give up his law career to preach the Gospel. He had no respect for ‘nominal Christians.’ “This easy believe stuff to get somebody to cry a little bit and make some kind of profession and call it salvation is deception. You must be willing to surrender your all to the Lord Jesus Christ and do His will.”

Later in life, like the apostle Paul, Rolfe grieved over the souls he had destroyed. And he was grateful for a friend on campus, an English professor, “who loved my soul enough to not let me go to Hell . . . who prayed for me, and wept over me.” When RB spoke of this in later life, he was an avowed Calvinist, but apparently forgot his doctrine as he told of how this professor ‘made a difference.’ Under Unconditional Election, no one can make a difference. The elect are supposedly chosen from before the foundation of the world and no man can do anything to add to or subtract from that club.

Calvinist preachers have admitted that point to me quite explicitly, albeit reluctantly. Why be reluctant? If that’s the truth, just stand by it! But the conscience rebels against a god who pretends to offer salvation to all, but has already ‘fixed the game.’

I listened recently to a radio broadcast by Mike Abendroth, a Calvinist pastor in Massachusetts. (I’ve written previously about some correspondence I’ve had with him.) He spoke to motivate the people in his church to get busy in personal evangelism. Of course for a Calvinist the motivation is primarily obedience to do your duty. He cannot actually make a difference. His job is simply to be an apparent means by which God brings the Gospel to the elect. If you neglect your duty, however, God will certainly find a different way.

Mike Abendroth

At the end of Abendroth’s sermon, though, he confessed how the reality of Hell as the destination for lost people motivated him. He was quite passionate about the need to reach people with the Gospel lest they wind up in Hell. But wait a second . . . whether the reality of Hell motivates the evangelist or terrifies the lost is irrelevant. The ‘elect’ must convert and the ‘non-elect’ must not. And so Abendroth is a conflicted Calvinist, too. He can’t quite live consistently with his own doctrine.

After college Rolfe got a teaching job in a small town public school in order to pay some debts before starting law school. It was necessary to represent himself as a solid church going citizen, so he joined a Baptist church. He didn’t know that his mother had written to the church elders to explain what a mess her son was. To Rolfe’s shock the church elected him to teach the men’s Bible class. He knew plenty of Bible, of course, but what he taught spoke especially to his own heart, driving him almost nuts. He finally surrendered his will and trusted Christ, knowing that his life’s plans would be totally transformed. It’s interesting how he describes the decision:

“I tried to get God to save me without throwing down my rebellion, but that just won’t work. You just can’t do it and call yourself a Christian. If you do, you’re certain to go to Hell. Until your rebellion is crushed and you surrender to do His will, there is no salvation.”

Note the “you do” and “you surrender.” No irresistible grace here! When Rolfe got saved he was absolutely clear about his freedom to rebel or to surrender. Rolfe soon visited his alma mater to testify of his salvation . . . no small shock to both the faculty and the members of the infidel club. He spoke for several nights in a row at the campus chapel services. The club’s president, who had succeeded Rolfe, took him to the train station, accusing him, “You’ve gone off your rocker. You used to be a brain. I hope you’ll recover and come back to your senses and get rid of all this stuff!” Interesting. How typical of the atheist to use insults instead of reason. Rolfe pled with his old friend to repent, but got nowhere. Five months later the young man died when someone shot five bullets into his chest.

Borger, Texas - 1927

Rolfe Barnard’s account of how he started a church in Borger, Texas, is worth the price of the book. In 1926 Borger was the world’s largest and rowdiest oil boom town, infested with saloons and brothels – 267 such establishments right on the long main street. He preached to individuals and crowds alike . . . “I told them that all of them there would die and they needed to repent of their sins.” The lost sinner hears that straightforward challenge and can understand what his choice is. Once again, no Calvinism in sight.

Whenever the Biblical pattern is used for Gospel preaching, TULIP is absent. Consider one of the clearest passages on repentance in all of Scripture, Ezekiel 18:30-32 . . .

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Just count all the commands for ‘you’ to take responsibility . . . you repent, you turn, you cast away, you make you a new heart. Yes, God regenerates and saves, but God makes it clear that His act of regeneration is conditional on your will. There shouldn’t even be a debate about such simple truths! It takes ‘Bible colleges’ to con you into TULIP heresy.

Rolfe preached on street corners, in the dance halls, and even inside the brothels. RB’s work was blessed by God. Over 2000 were saved and baptized and a church was planted. For a while, the town started to clean up, when Rolfe enlisted the help of the governor of Texas, a Christian, who determined to attack the utter corruption of the town’s leaders and law enforcement. Rolfe was assigned two Texas Rangers as bodyguards as over 1000 slot machines were burned and a comparable number of prostitutes were escorted out of town.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary - today

Rolfe made a mistake in 1928 (neither he nor the author recognize this). He attended Southwestern Theological Seminary for the next two years. (See my essay ”Don’t go to Bible college.” Still a young man and still a young Christian, he subjected himself to the doctrines of faculty he thought he could trust . . . before he really knew his Bible! Such a common disaster. Hey, we all tend to learn doctrine from others before we really learn our Bibles. Many, sadly, never really learn their Bibles because they sit passively, week after week, under the teaching of their ‘Senior Pastor,’ rather than embracing their own responsibility for learning God’s word. As we work hard . . . yes, work hard! . . . to learn our Bible, we must continually evaluate whether the doctrines we hold are consistent. Most Calvinists get corrupted early and then learn their Bibles through the warped lens of Reformed teaching.

At first Rolfe rebelled against the doctrine of Calvinist election, but they wore him down. Fortunately, although his mind was eventually bent, his heart was largely untouched. He became a ‘conflicted Calvinist,’ rather than a ‘hyper-Calvinist.’ A hyper-Calvinist is honest in his convictions, at least. He doesn’t much bother about evangelism because he recognizes that he can’t make a difference.

Embracing Calvinist theology cost Barnard opportunities for fellowship and collaboration with many Baptists throughout his career. Those were the days when there was more fervor for doctrinal purity and more willingness to separate over heresy. But in the decades to follow, Barnard and others worked hard to mainstream Reformed ideas within the Southern Baptist Convention. Calvinism thoroughly infests the SBC and other denominations today. Even those who reject Calvinism within the SBC don’t seem willing to fight against it, afraid of controversy, afraid of losing friends, afraid of being seen as ‘negative.’

Even when he preached Calvinism, Barnard inadvertently admitted its fallacies. The author says, “Barnard knew the doctrine of election alone preached to the head was deadening to the soul.” Barnard himself said, “The truth in itself is the coldest deadest thing this side of Hell! And there is nothing on God’s earth that does as much harm as a professing Christian expounding truth without a sob in his voice – that’s the God’s truth! Give me a ‘deep creek’ Arminian every time to a ‘dry eyed’ Calvinist. Truth not saturated in intercessory prayer burns everything it touches!”

RB was completely wrong because his doctrine wasn’t truth! Jesus proclaimed that He, Himself, is TRUTH! True truth isn’t cold and dead. How could it be?!? Yet it’s easy to see why Calvinist Unconditional Damnation mortifies the heart. The true Gospel is joyful and heart stirring, including such Biblical elements that Jesus died for all (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2), that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), and that God’s will is for all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Even within the short statement above, Barnard admits that intercessory prayer is essential. But why?!? Prayer can be of no consequence to election! And so Barnard could not live consistently with his own doctrine, even within the same paragraph.

During WW2 Rolfe served as an army chaplain . . . “I saw in the Army the product of Sunday morning easy believism without transformation of character and calling it salvation.” He ran afoul of his Roman Catholic supervisory chaplain who accused him of reaching more troops and “raising more hell” than his other 200 chaplains combined. This priest once said, “I don’t understand your philosophy. Unless a soldier can go to town on Saturday night and get him a quart of whiskey and a blonde woman, life ain’t worth living.”

Rolfe reports, “I won many Catholic boys to the Lord but I made them promise not to tell because they would have been court marshaled and so would I . . . me, for talking to a Catholic boy about his soul.”

A personal note . . . In the 1980s my wife and I took over a Sunday School bus route on the Air Force base where I lived, ultimately building it up until over 100 kids were coming to church every Sunday. This got the attention of the base’s bird-colonel head chaplain, a Lutheran. He wanted to know just what our bus and Sunday School programs were all about. I had to tread carefully and prayerfully to avoid offense, mindful of the liberty we enjoyed to bring our buses onto the base each week.

I’ll never forget his astonishment at our desire to see souls saved among these young people. At one point he asked, “But if the children get saved and the parents don’t, what have you got then?” I resisted the impulse to exclaim that those young souls would have eternal life. Would he prefer the whole family go to Hell? Far better that some would enjoy Heaven than none at all! But I simply pointed out to him that we worked to befriend the parents with the open door provided by their kids’ interest.

Barnard spent the rest of his life in evangelistic work. He saw genuine revival at times. In one notable case a pastor’s wife, along with the Sunday School superintendent and several deacons were convicted of their lost condition and repented publicly. At another Baptist church seven of the deacons opposed the work. Over the course of four days all seven died suddenly, producing a dramatic and solemn effect on that community.

As an evangelist Barnard cried out against church members who neglected the Great Commission. He said that if a church didn’t wet their building’s carpet with tears over the lost, they had no business calling themselves a church!

A few days into an evangelistic meeting at a Massachusetts church, Rolfe told the pastor that he wanted to close the meetings. The pastor was shocked, particularly because Rolfe’s reason was, “We are not getting anywhere . . . You won’t meet to pray. I haven’t seen your church on its face, weeping its heart to God. I have been asking you to do it and God is not going to bless people if they are not that kind of people. You might have some more people to join the church, but God is not going to save people in an atmosphere of dry eyes and prayerlessness.”

That meeting turned around as the pastor and his people began to pray and backed up their prayers by inviting their lost neighbors to the meeting. But consider this . . . Rolfe Barnard was firm in his belief that prayers and evangelistic leg work would determine whether God blessed and people got saved. The conventional Calvinistic view is that revivals are wholly determined by God’s sovereign will. Fortunately for many who were saved and strengthened through Barnard’s work, he couldn’t live out the doctrine he had ingested.

In the 1950s Barnard saw a deterioration in Baptist life. He saw it as a “perverted gospel” that put man at the center and removed the necessity for repentance. He believed that the evangelism of his day produced more false converts than sincere ones. And more and more preachers came out of Bible colleges with this “new gospel.”

Barnard was excluded from some pulpits because of his Calvinist doctrine. It’s sad that he ‘got repentance’ right and yet got election wrong. Preservation of repentance in the Gospel message, along with transformation via the new birth, was a vital message for the times . . . and still is. But Barnard’s efforts to proclaim truths about “man’s part” in salvation were hindered by his adherence to Reformed heresy.

He began to organize annual “Sovereign Grace Conferences” to bring like-minded pastors and evangelists together. This was instrumental in the growth of Calvinism within the SBC and increasingly within the ranks of independent Baptist churches.

I could multiply quotes to confirm that Barnard was a committed Calvinist . . . when he was preaching on doctrine. For example: “Saving grace and mercy in Christ are only exercised in redemption and regeneration toward those whom a sovereign God is pleased to save.”

Yet in preaching to the lost, his heart overrode his indoctrination. For example . . .

“If you could prove to me that God is responsible for that old wicked heart of yours, and for that old wicked body of yours and you could prove to me that you are in the shape God made you in, that would be different. But you love sin, you drink iniquity like it is water, you are prone to do evil and adverse to do good. But you can’t prove that God made you like that. Ecclesiastes 7:29 and Genesis 1:27 says, God created you in the very image of God. By your own sin you changed that image and it is now marred . . . Man is not sick or diseased but a rebel!”

Hey, what happened to Calvinist Total Depravity and Inherited Sin Nature? If Calvinism is true, then God does bring every man into the world totally depraved and he sins because he was born a sinner. But Rolfe can’t stomach that, because it goes against so much Biblical truth . . . Ezek 18:4,20 for example.

Yet in the same sermon he flips and says that God chooses who are saved. The Calvinist asserts that God’s grace is irresistible and solely for the preordained elect. The Biblicist recognizes that God draws all, John 12:32, convicts all via the Holy Spirit, John 16:8, yet many will not come, John 5:39-40.

Barnard preached that a man is unsaved because he is unwilling to accept the conditions of repentance . . . once again, refuting Calvinism in that Barnard put the onus on the will of man. As opposed to Total Depravity and Unconditional Damnation which make it impossible for the non-elect to willfully repent.

Rolfe preached, “To be saved means the consent of the heart to the sovereignty of the Redeemer.” He used invitations at the end of his evangelistic sermons, insisting, “The gospel proclamation comes as a demand to men. Repentance and faith are presented as the duty of man, and that right now. All who hear the gospel are duty bound to respond . . . We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

Thank God that Rolfe Barnard’s message to the lost was consistent and Biblical. It’s sad that his scope was limited because he aligned with the Reformed camp.

His zeal was exemplary. He chided his own camp . . . “Nothing is so terrible as a so-called Calvinist who doesn’t have tears in his heart and a passion in his soul to be a little like Christ and give of themselves so others may drink of the eternal fountain.”

Hey . . . “may drink”? . . . as if by choice? Somehow Barnard, like a few other conflicted Calvinists, never seem to connect the life-sucking consequences of a belief in Unconditional Election . . . and its necessary corollary . . . Unconditional Damnation for the 98% of the human race that is non-elect.

Barnard’s stated objective was to get men lost by preaching the law and condemning sin. That is indeed the Biblical pattern! (Galatians 3:24) He decried preachers who “refused to give the Spirit of God a chance to produce holy woe . . . and they have been getting people to believe they are saved before they ever spent one moment in godly sorrow for their sins and repentance.” He testified that his own place of rebellion was his youthful refusal to become a preacher. He knew he had to repent . . . choose to repent . . . before he could be saved.

Another point . . . Barnard plus many Calvinists I know are disturbed about false converts whose phony faith is derived from corrupt gospel presentations. But why? The false convert must simply be of the non-elect! Nothing could have made a difference.

“God Almighty has made repentance and faith a duty . . . the all-sufficient Savior is able to deliver and save to the utmost them that come to God by Him . . . to save every soul that shall freely give up themselves unto Him for that end.” – Rolfe Barnard




55. What about those who have never heard the Gospel? (Part 2 – Dan Freeman)
July 1, 2015

This blog is now posted in the section, “Museful Articles by Bonnie,” as Part 2 of “What about those who have never heard the Gospel?”


56. “Tactics” plus 2 new tracts: Tennis & Marriage
July 15, 2015

I recently read Greg Koukl’s book, Tactics – A game plan for discussing your Christian convictions. I recommend it as a very practical, easy-to-read book on apologetics. It’s useful in providing tactics for opportunities that come up with unbelievers, who might say something outrageous, just begging for you – a self-professed Christian witness – to respond with something helpful, because it’s rare to come up with something brilliant in the heat of the moment.

Koukl calls his fundamental pattern “the Columbo tactic.” It’s a reference to the TV detective played by Peter Falk, who used simple and sometimes annoying questions to paint a suspect into a corner.

In spur-of-the-moment opportunities, you typically have only a few seconds to act. For example, someone in your presence may blurt out, “It’s not rational to believe in God. There is no proof.”

Trying to answer that challenge directly would be difficult unless you’d been thinking about the issue already. The Columbo tactic is not only simpler, but more effective. Turn the tables by asking a simple question. Put the challenger on defense: “What do you mean by ‘God,’ that is, what kind of God do you reject? What, specifically, is irrational about believing in God? What kind of evidence would you find acceptable?”

Peter Falk as Columbo

Namely, just ask them what they mean, using their own words as much as possible. This also gives you time to collect your own thoughts.

Most skeptics haven’t thought through their own position. They’ve probably never been challenged to defend their own worldview. Let them stick their necks out. Don’t let them play offense. Make them play defense.

Regarding the above challenge, most determined atheists wouldn’t accept any evidence whatsoever. But more importantly, regarding rationality, I like to point out (as Koukl also brings out in his book) that rationality is not possible in a materialist’s universe, which consists only of matter, energy, and forces. Mere molecules in motion – physics and chemistry – have nothing to say about what’s really important in life . . . including rationality, logic, love, hope, meaning, integrity, beauty, etc. By the skeptic’s worldview, “she” doesn’t even exist. The next thing she says is just the result of brain chemistry. There’s nothing at all “rational” about it – in her universe.

I am in sync with Koukl’s idea that when you engage with an unbeliever, you should at least “try to put a stone in his shoe.” Give him something to think about that, with the vital help of the Holy Spirit who can bring conviction, gnaws at his mind and conscience and ultimately puts a chink in his worldview’s armor.

Greg Koukl

He also advises wisdom (Who could disagree?) on how far to press a 121 encounter. Certainly there are people who won’t hear you out and say so either directly or by their crawfishing body language. Koukl’s advice in this area is weak. His threshold for bailing out is much too low. He describes encounters in which he got started, inserted the ‘stone in the shoe,’ but bailed quickly.

Here’s the problem: If you advise and train evangelicals to bail as soon as it feels uncomfortable, your trainees will enthusiastically do just that. My experience – backed up by New Testament examples – is to work to press on the hearer the issues of sin / judgment / repentance / the Gospel / the new birth. Sure, sometimes you can’t get that far, but it’s far better to go too far than not far enough. If you consistently press – graciously, kindly, thoughtfully, etc. – you’ll gain experience to know where the line is. Don’t worry about being uncomfortable because you’re in disagreement. Let the other guy be uncomfortable!

Worse – In Greg’s personal anecdotes in which he bailed, he didn’t offer a tract. Unconscionable. Yes, try to get the stone in the shoe. But give the hearer the best possible chance to go further. Give a tract that not only makes the case you couldn’t develop, but also points to a web site that backs up the case . . . and has contact info so that if he responds he knows where he can get more answers. Koukl does mention the use of tracts just one time near the end of the book – in an anecdote in which he eavesdropped on a Christian who gave one out after witnessing – but there is no evidence that he sees tracting as particularly useful.

What kind of proof would you like?

The author has a lot of specific examples and well-thought-out tactics for a variety of scenarios. I think you’ll find his analysis helpful. So just how does Greg explain the Gospel once he gets a hearing? How does he explain what someone must do to be saved? I don’t know. He never says. I couldn’t find anything explicit on his web site,, either.

Therefore, I see the book as a nice little segment of a training program in 121 evangelism. Tactics is really about practical apologetics, which is great if you need to go there in a 121 encounter. Usually, I don’t. With most people who are willing to listen – in a totally cold-turkey on-the-street encounter, it’s easy to go through a serious Gospel presentation in 3-5 minutes, as I’ve described in this site’s essays on evangelism.

I get the sense that some evangelicals are introduced to personal evangelism through this book. That would be unfortunate. As a basic training book it gives the wrong impression, namely that the evangelist’s job is to engage in extended tactical dialogue and let the lost do most of the talking. Ingesting all of the proposed tactics would be quite daunting to the neophyte . . . especially if not trained on a specific method to share the Gospel – which is the point of the Great Commission after all.

Offense is more fun than defense.

The Biblical pattern is to preach / teach / convey / communicate the Gospel. A basic pattern is to bring the issues of repentance and faith right up onto the table for close examination. There are too many cases in which a protracted dialogue will never get to the point – the sinner needs the Savior.

Also, most books on personal evangelism and apologetics make the assumption that somehow, magically, you get someone to sit down for an extended conversation. This author, like many others, tells you how to structure that extended conversation. In practice, extended conversations are rare. Because they are rare, the evangelist who waits for such opportunities will not be skilled when they do arise. Experience counts. Most of us don’t have radio shows that invite callers to challenge our faith and few of us get invited to speak on college campuses.

In the course of “ordinary life,” opportunities are rare unless you simply create them! Walk up to someone, hold a tract out, and say, “Good morning! Here’s a free gift – something to stimulate your mind.” And, if they linger just a milli-moment, go on to say, “Do you ever think about the big stuff? Life, death, Heaven, Hell – what it’s all about?” And what do you know! You’ve just created an opportunity!

If you get invited, go for it.

Hey, I love extended encounters, especially in my living room or over lunch at a restaurant. But in order to be modestly competent in long encounters, you’ve got to practice short cold-turkey encounters frequently – by knocking doors, or finding a busy sidewalk, or visiting a college campus with young people who are happy to engage.

And have some tracts on hand ALWAYS, that serve to put a stone in the shoe, AND that give a short Gospel presentation, AND that point to a web site to explore further, AND that allow follow-up if someone’s interested.

I’ve just posted two new tracts to my article, “Tracts – Choosing & Using.” The first, entitled, “How do they do that?”, can be used as a general purpose tract or to help make the case for Creation / Design with a skeptic.

The tract illustrates the principle that anything in biology is a brilliant example of creation and a refutation of evolution. Even more, we should marvel at God’s creative brilliance and kindness in equipping us with bodies that can accomplish quite incredible feats.

Talking to a couple of students at the University of New Mexico

Many years ago I was out in the front yard watching our cat frolicing, sniffing, inspecting, and finally chasing after an insect. I thought about what it would take to design and build a robotic version of a cat, with an integrated sensor suite (sight, smell, touch, hearing), coordinated musculature and control systems, a high level of artificial intelligence, etc. The governments of the world could allocate a trillion dollars and employ the brightest scientists and engineers on the planet . . . all to no avail . . . without even addressing systems equivalent to metabolism, respiration, and reproduction.

Just how brilliant is the design of a tennis player? Here’s just the barest introduction: Click on . . . Tract – How do they do that

The 2nd tract is an essay on love, marriage, and sex. The Biblical view is dramatically at variance with the culture we live in. You’ll note that the tract covers a lot of ground. I felt I needed about a thousand words, and so went with the ‘overlay’ design. You might offer this tract to someone with the words, “Here’s something to stimulate your mind. I guarantee you’ll learn at least five things you didn’t know before.” See if I’m right about that. I do think that I’ve offered a few nuggets that just might get caught in someone’s shoe.

Click on . . . Tract – What do these scenes have in common

Hope you enjoy the tracts. Feel free to pass them on by referencing this blog or the “Tracts” essay. Also, if you would like some of our tracts to use in your own outreach efforts, let me know. Email me and let me know just a bit about you. If we’re in sync on Gospel basics, I’ll send you a sample pack . . . for free, of course. I don’t sell our tracts, but do give them away to friends who want to use them.



57. C. S. Lewis: Brilliance and Blindness
August 1, 2015

C. S. Lewis is revered by many as the most popular and perhaps the most important Christian author of the 20th century. Much has been written about him and his works. In this short blog I cannot be comprehensive in analysis, although I have read a fair sampling of Lewis’ fictional and non-fictional books. Rather, I’ll focus on just one book, C. S. Lewis – God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper, 2014. The essays represent Lewis from 1940 to 1963. Some of his essays introduce themes explored more fully in his later books.

“God in the Dock” is the title of one of the essays, a metaphor from British jurisprudence. The accused stands in the courtroom’s “dock” in public display as the case is made against him. Lewis explains:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.

Lewis decries the arrogance of modern man. He would be more horrified in the 21st century. My experience with the modern atheist is that he is not kindly at all. The judge begins with an angry presumption of guilt, which is ironic because the judge does not believe that the accused even exists.

Lewis is consistently brilliant when it comes to a defense of theism, particularly Christian theism in the broad sense. He unpacks a dispute for all to examine, and proceeds to dismantle the opposition with lethal kindness. I would have loved to watch skeptics squirm when enjoined in debate with Lewis at Oxford and Cambridge.

His essay on miracles responds to objections that it wouldn’t be fair or reasonable for God to interfere in the normal operation of the universe . . .

The experience of a miracle in fact requires two conditions. First we must believe in a normal stability of nature, which means we must recognize that the data offered by our senses recur in regular patterns. Secondly, we must believe in some reality beyond Nature. When both beliefs are held, and not till then, we can approach with an open mind the various reports which claim that this super- or extra-natural reality has sometimes invaded and disturbed the sensuous content of space and time which makes our ‘natural’ world . . . If a man had no conception of a regular order in Nature, then of course he could not notice departures from that order: just as a dunce who does not understand the normal metre of a poem is also unconscious of the poet’s variations from it.

Those that object philosophically to the very idea of miracles are merely desperate to use semantics to deny the existence of God as revealed in the Bible. Once Genesis 1:1 is allowed, then what other miracle is too hard? See Jeremiah 32:27. I note that the term “miracle”is bandied about too loosely today. I agree with the fairly strict sense of Lewis in that a miracle is a notable departure from the well-understood processes observed throughout creation . . . a departure that points to God’s intervention. Is it permissible for God to intervene? Please. He made it all. More than that, He sustains it – Colossians 1:17. Yet I observe a clumsy usage by Christians who call regeneration a miracle. Nope. That’s spiritual, internal, unseen and therefore not of the same kind as turning a few loaves and fish into a feast for a multitude.

C. S. Lewis

In another essay on The Laws of Nature, Lewis articulates a useful distinction:

. . . in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event. They are the pattern to which every event must conform, provided only that it can be induced to happen. But how do you get it to do that? . . . Up till now I had had a vague idea that the laws of Nature could make things happen. I now saw that this was exactly like thinking that you could increase your income by doing sums about it. The ‘laws’ are the pattern to which events conform: the source of events must be sought elsewhere.

The ‘source’ can be any entity with a free will, including God and man. The materialist denies God and also man’s free will which, to him, is chemistry-based illusion. The Calvinist denies man’s free will, since God ordained every particle interaction from before the foundation of the universe. That’s yet another reason I like Lewis. He definitely was not a Calvinist!

Have I seen miracles? I know I have and yet they were nothing that could be published with the cry, “See?!? That’s God.” I have seen a significant number of weather miracles associated with evangelism – no doubt in my mind – yet in each case a skeptic would plead coincidence. But the miracles weren’t for the skeptic’s amazement. They were simply to allow multitudes of skeptics to be confronted with the Gospel.

Yet in a grand sense we live in the midst of miracles at every turn. I love Lewis’ thoughts on how the compression of time wakes us up to a miracle . . .

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysis: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana.

The nanotechnology of “everyday life” ought to blow the mind of any skeptic – the moment he decides to apply a mite of rationality to what he sees in the mirror or by looking outside the window . . . not to mention what can be seen in a microscope.

I do like C. S. Lewis. For one thing, he was clearly a political and economic conservative. For example . . .

I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind.’ But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer? Admittedly, when man was untamed, such liberty belonged only to the few. I know. Hence the horrible suspicion that our only choice is between societies with few freemen and societies with none.

Amen and amen. Lewis’ horror would be multiplied today, both in Britain and the U.S. We live today in a socialist stew brought ever closer to the boiling point and the extinguishment of freeborn life.

Oxford University

Where I part company with Lewis is on the very Gospel of salvation. I could make the case from other Lewis writings, such as his famous book Mere Christianity, which reveals his severe ecumenism, his theistic evolution, and his flirtation with universalism. Or his fictional writings, especially the Narnia series, in which he gets the Biblical typology grossly wrong on sin, Satan, Christ, and redemption. But I’ll stick to the book of essays under present discussion.

To begin with, I note a Q&A session transcribed during a talk he gave to industrial workers:

Question 2. Supposing a factory worker asked you: ‘How can I find God?’ How would you reply?

Lewis: I don’t see how the problem would be different for a factory worker than for anyone else. The primary thing about any man is that he is a human being, sharing all the ordinary temptations and assets. What is the special problem about the factory worker? But perhaps it’s worth saying this:

Christianity really does two things about conditions here and now in this world:

(1) It tries to make them as good as possible, ie., to reform them; but also
(2) It fortifies you against them in so far as they remain bad.

If what was in the questioner’s mind was this problem of repetition work, then the factory worker’s difficulty is the same as any other man confronted with any sorrow or difficulty. People will find God if they consciously seek from Him the right attitude towards all unpleasant things . . . if that is the point of the question?

You might think I’m taking this quote out of context. No. As Lewis gets peppered with more fundamental questions, he doesn’t get any closer to the Biblical mark. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” the response was to the point and to the heart. The “primary thing about any man” is not that he’s human, but that he’s a sinner in need of a Savior. Now, I won’t parse Lewis’ response in detail, but I do note that the social Gospel comes rushing forth. Also observe that he cites what “Christianity” does in this world, as if it’s merely a philosophical construct. What that man needed was not Christianity. He needed the Lord Jesus. And the way he could find God was to repent, trust Christ, and be born again.

Look up (online) Lewis’ account of his own conversion. He came “kicking and screaming” from skepticism to a Christian faith. But there is nothing in his account that reflects brokenness from sin, as we see in Psalm 51. There is nothing of passing from death to life as in John 5:24. Lewis certainly became an advocate of Christian theism and was a fierce debater when faced with anti-Christian skepticism. But so are many Roman Catholics and lost Protestants. If Lewis – an Anglican – had been saved from his sins and from Hell, and been born again with a sure knowledge of the saving power of Jesus Christ, he would have had a different answer for that questioner. I hope that poor fellow found a better answer somewhere else.

Here’s another excerpt from the same Q&A session:

Voice: We don’t qualify for heaven by practice, but salvation is obtained at the Cross. We do nothing to obtain it, but follow Christ. We may have pain or tribulation, but nothing we do qualifies us for heaven, but Christ.

Lewis: The controversy about faith and works is one that has gone on for a very long time, and it is a highly technical matter. I personally rely on the paradoxical text: ‘Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God that worketh in you.’ It looks as if in one sense we do nothing, and in another case we do a damned lot. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’ but you must have it in you before you can work it out. But I have no wish to go further into it, as it would interest no one but the Christians present, would it?

Highly technical? A satisfactory answer would have been to cite salvation by faith, which produces a changed life, a life fruitful in good works. Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5-8, and Titus 2:11-14 would suffice to make the point efficiently. It’s not just of technical interest to genuine Christians, but strikes to the heart of making the Gospel clear to the lost man. I see nothing in Lewis’ answers in this essay that reflect a burden to help a lost man to understand what he must do to be saved. Ergo, he didn’t see people that way. Ergo, he knew nothing himself of the startling transformation from child of Satan to child of God.

Cambridge University

Another inquired which religion of the world gives its followers the most happiness. Lewis related that he didn’t come to the Christian religion to make him happy. “I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” Sure, that’s flippant, but could be excused if he went on to offer something more substantive. Perhaps the worst answer he gave is also the most telling:

Question 17. If it is true that one has only to want God enough in order to find Him, how can I make myself want Him enough to enable myself to find Him?

Lewis: If you don’t want God, why are you so anxious to want to want Him? I think that in reality the want is a real one, and I should say that this person has in fact found God, although it may not be fully recognized yet. We are not always aware of things at the time they happen. At any rate, what is more important is that God has found this person, and that is the main thing.

I don’t think I need to comment on that one. I do wonder whether any truly born again Christian at Oxford or Cambridge during Lewis’ time ever looked him eyeball to eyeball, and said, “Professor Lewis, I’m concerned about you. Have you been born again, passed from death to life? Was there a day when you realized that your sins condemned you? Did you humble yourself before God and repent from those sins? Did you put your trust in Christ alone? Have you been saved from Hell and now have an assured hope for Heaven? Since you never challenge anyone else in these terms it must be that you do not know salvation yourself.”

Lewis certainly had the capacity and the opportunity to find Truth if he liked. On apologetics he understood what many fundamentalists today do not. He observed that the Christian witness is just a small element within a large secular culture. To expand that witness would take a considerable effort quite foreign to both evangelical and fundamentalist culture today . . .

Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the ‘Penguin’ and the ‘Thinkers Library’ on their own ground.

Such tactics have never been employed since Lewis’ time and they never shall. Evangelical culture does not include a discipleship that develops or applies the God-given talents of its literary, legal, engineering, and scientific members. There is no cultural push back, other than from small parachurch ministries like Answers in Genesis or Creation Ministries International. Biblical worldview-based curricula are generated for home schools and some Christian schools, but this all is just a few drops in the bucket. Worse, fundamentalists (Independent Fundamental Baptist churches) despise the development of professional skills for their young. Their only exhortation is to feed the occasional enthused youth into the seminary maw so he can fill a salaried pulpit some day.

Lewis’ idea would have merit if the churches in the West operated on a New Testament model. See my essay Local Church vs. Universal Church. Because of utterly pervasive Nicolaitinism in today’s churches (clergy rule), apologetics efforts are fragmentary, including my own. I’ll note that the tracts I generate, especially for use on college campuses, seem to be well-received by Christians who profess a heart to reach the lost: “Hey, I really like these tracts!” (See the free pdf downloads near the end of my essay, Tracts – Choosing and Using.) Yet I cannot find a church that is interested in using them . . . for free. And I have explored this with dozens of churches. The churches are looking for check-writing drones to fill the pews (fundies) or the theater seats (gellies). Only the salaried clergy are allowed to show initiative or generate new programs. Alas . . . but there’s nothing to be done about it other than to plod onward.

Apologetics, as Lewis realized, serves to get your foot in the door. I was surprised to see that he understands this well . . . from his “Apologetics” essay:

I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way this shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our continued effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks – to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).

Just right. The typical lost sinner wants to blame his troubles on others, ignoring that his big problem is his extensive record of vile sins in front of a holy God. The evangelist must be specific. (See my ‘how to’ articles in the Evangelism section, like A Very Short Gospel Presentation.”) If a specific sin resonates, then camp there. If the biggest, most addictive sins succumb to repentance, the others follow easily. Yet I regularly meet both fundie and gelly “soul-winners” who avoid using the law, avoid getting specific, neglect repentance, and thereby avoid their own responsibility, defying the Biblical pattern: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” Isaiah 58:1

So typical in my personal experience is a Baptist pastor I talked with who insisted that he believed that repentance is required for salvation. He described an encounter he had in the home of a young couple living in fornication . . . and yet never brought up the “elephant in the room” while speaking with them. When I pressed him to explain why, he said that he left it for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction. Of course. That would have been an uncomfortable conversation. Coward.

I do recommend Lewis’ book. You’ll find it thought-provoking and even entertaining. The last quote I’ll give you is from the essay “Is Theism Important?”

When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, “Would that she were.” For I do not think it at all likely that we shall ever see Parliament opened by the slaughtering of a garlanded white bull in the House of Lords or Cabinet Ministers leaving sandwiches in Hyde Park as an offering for the Dryads. If such a state of affairs came about, then the Christian apologist would have something to work on. For a Pagan, as history shows, is a man eminently convertible to Christianity. He is essentially the pre-Christian, or sub-Christian, religious man. The post-Christian man of our day differs from him as much as a divorcee differs from a virgin. The Christian and the Pagan have much more in common with one another than either has with the writers of the ‘New Statesman’; and those writers would of course agree with me.

He’s quite right. We in the West live in a post-Christian culture. It’s hard to get a hearing. When the skeptic identifies you as a Christian, he immediately reacts, “Oh, that old mythology!” Just recently a grad student thrust one of my tracts back into my hand with, “I don’t have time for this nonsense!” I called after him to come back and politely discuss the matter . . . to no avail. It’s hard to get past the first ten seconds with some. Which is why I work diligently, both in 121 evangelism and in the structure and content of my tracts, to use the first ten seconds to startle the fellow into listening or reading for another twenty seconds . . . and so on. Statistically, with college-aged folks, it’s easy to get a conversation. But you’d better have something to say!

Christians who write about C. S. Lewis are wistful about meeting him in Heaven someday. I do hope I’m wrong so that I can chat with him, too. I’ll be glad to apologize for misreading him. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have. His lack of discernment is not about such ‘small things’ as a pre- vs. mid-trib rapture, or the reliability of the Received Text. His misreading of salvation is not merely an ‘oops.’ It’s unbelief. Could he have somehow missed it? Perhaps he just never happened upon the essence of sin / judgment / repentance / faith / etc? No. One thing I’ve learned very well is that the intelligentsia, the influential, the powerful – whether inside or outside the family of God – are extremely well informed. Whatever they believe – or reject – it is quite willful. What happened in Lewis’ case? Did some narrow-minded Bible-thumping dissenter (not part of an established denomination) confront him? Did Lewis scoff in response? We won’t know until the Great White Throne Judgment, if indeed something like that occurred.

Lewis was very much an Anglican, not far removed from historic Roman Catholicism. One of his essays addresses, quite elegantly, some reasons why women should not be ordained priests in the Church of England. Yet he misses the big point . . . the New Testament makes abundantly clear the priesthood of every believer. The Cross and the Resurrection mean that no one stands between God and me. The veil has been rent asunder. The Holy Spirit indwells. My prayers go directly to the Throne of Grace. My only priest is the Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Is all this important for you and me? Quite so. If you are truly born again, you know a number of people who profess to be Christians, despite a dreadful lack of discernment and hearts cold to the lost condition of those around them. Yet you succumb to the temptation in your heart, “Well, sure, he / she is a bit off on doctrine and somewhat cool to evangelism. But at least he / she is saved!” Come on, care enough about your relatives and friends to call them ducks if they continually waddle and quack . . . like ducks. This is 21st century America. Not many “Christians” are born again. Christendom is a big mission field, even in the “most conservative” fundie and gelly churches.



58. The Case for the ‘Real Jesus’
August 15, 2015

This blog is posted in the Evangelism section as The Case for the ‘Real Jesus’.


59. William Lane Craig on Apologetics – plus 2 new tracts on Astronomy
September 1, 2015

One of the ‘really big names’ in apologetics is William Lane Craig. His signature book, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics is a wonderful resource for arguments to help skeptics over their silly stumbling blocks. You do have to be a bit of an all-you-can-eat glutton, like me on subjects related to evangelism, to enjoy wading through this 400-page (lots of words per page) book. If you’re more the ‘lunch special’ type, then go for Craig’s lighter weight On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, which treats most of the same subjects quite succinctly.

William Lane Craig

I love most of Craig’s work, excepting a couple of woeful blind spots that I’ll address later. Here’s a sample of his argument from Reasonable Faith on why apologetics is vital to evangelism:

”. . . the Gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the background of the cultural milieu in which one lives. A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the Gospel which a person who is secularized will not. For the secular person you may as well tell him to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ! Or, to give a more realistic illustration, it is like our being approached on the street by a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement who invites us to believe in Krishna. Such an invitation strikes us as bizarre, freakish, even amusing. But to a person on the streets of Delhi, such an invitation would, I assume, appear quite reasonable and be a serious cause for reflection. I fear that evangelicals appear almost as weird to persons on the streets of Bonn, Stockholm, or Paris as do the devotees of Krishna.”

Or, for that matter, on most secular college campuses or urban centers in America. That’s why, to the best of my ability, I work to design both tracts and an approach to 121 evangelism that grabs the attention of people in this culture, today. (Check out the pdfs toward the end of my Tracts essay and my other essays on Evangelism.)

Apologetics – Defense of the Faith! – has two huge applications. If Christian parents don’t educate their children on TRUTH, what life is about, where did we come from, where are we going . . . the world’s unreal philosophies will slurp them up, wrecking lives and destroying souls. Craig often meets parents who have lost their children, children failed by parents and churches, should-have-been mentors who cared little to train their precious young against the idiocies of relativism, naturalism, materialism, evolutionism, Marxism, etc.

The same apologetics arguments that can educate our children can be used to provoke THOUGHT in the mind and conviction in the heart of the lost, whether lost to atheism or false religions. Craig cites a principle that you can use on the street: ”A postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison . . . you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning! People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology.”

He sees it exactly like I do. When the scoffers are relativistic only in matters of religion and ethics, “that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism!” We should make the point – on the street – that the most important issues of our existence are not technological, but rather spiritual – non-material – including love, justice, integrity, hope, meaning, and so on. How foolish to miss TRUTH in the areas that matter!

Let’s walk through some of the nuggets in On Guard. Craig cites Richard Dawkins who sums up life’s purpose in an atheist’s worldview: “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference . . . We are machines for propagating DNA . . . It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”

Richard Dawkins

In 121s with atheists I always want to make this point, which gripped my own soul as a young atheist, providing an open door to the one Christian who confronted me with TRUTH long ago. Tell the young skeptic that if he’s right, life is pointless; it doesn’t matter whether he lives another 50 seconds or 50 years; the future is nothingness and nothing he does now is worth squat. Yet he doesn’t live that way, paying big bucks to get a degree, studying hard to learn skills, making choices as if he is more than just brain chemistry or a DNA-replicating machine, hoping to find love and make a difference. Yet if he’s wrong, he’s accountable to a holy and just God who sees everything.

I’ve been accused of merely repackaging Pascal’s wager, that the skeptic is better off believing in God simply because it’s safer on the consequences. Not true! My challenge is that the consequences of error are so severe that at least some research is warranted, at least as much as would go into a term paper, especially since his purposeful lifestyle and objective morality (murder, rape, and child molesting are wrong) are consistent only with a Biblical worldview. You can’t become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ via intellectual fire insurance (Pascal’s wager), but careful investigation can lead to willful repentance and faith.

Craig is masterful in explaining logical arguments for the existence of the Biblical God. On God’s existence he camps warmly on the Kalam Cosmological Argument . . .

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The argument is logically airtight. The issue is whether the two premises are more reasonably true than untrue. If true, the conclusion necessarily follows. To deny premise #1, to insist that something came from nothing is worse than magic. “When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician, not to mention the hat!”

Atheists like to retort, “So what is God’s cause?” But premise #1 is not about mere existence, but what begins to exist. The Biblical view of God is that He is eternally existent. Time came into being along with space, matter, and energy. God is eternal and uncaused. You can disbelieve this, but try to come up with arguments consistent with both the universe you observe and the very fact that you can rationally observe this universe!

Modern objections to premise #2, in light of our observed expanding universe and the academy’s commitment to Big Bang cosmology, now focus on a mythical multiverse, infinite in history and extent, out of which our universe popped some time ago. Craig’s exposition is lucid and helpful, detailing philosophical proofs against the existence of an infinite number of actual things. Or an infinite number of actual time increments.

In short, you can imagine a ‘potentially’ infinite number, like the positive integers. But anything real can’t have an infinite number of parts. If you try to count them, one at a time, “no matter how high you count, there’s always an infinity of numbers left to count.” And if you can’t count to infinity, you can’t count down from negative infinity. If the universe has an infinite past, an infinite number of time increments before the present moment, then today can never be reached. But here we are! Any series of past events must be finite and have a beginning.

I know that was too brief, so buy the book. There are many other logically impossible or ridiculous ideas with an infinite multiverse. For example, in an infinite multiverse it is far, far more likely for us to find ourselves in a universe with just a single solar system than with the gazillion stars and galaxies we observe. Earth and its ecosystem could prosper without the rest of those stars. Further, it is far more likely that our universe would consist of a vast space in which floated a single “Boltzmann brain,” which merely imagines all of your sensations and experiences and observations, rather than posit the incredibly vast and diverse universe we actually inhabit.

If that isn’t enough insight to convince you of the bankruptcy of the idea of an infinite multiverse, consider this: Infinity is not just like any old super big number. If there really are an infinite number of universes, especially if the laws of physics can vary just a bit from one to another (which is widely fantasized), then the following histories are unfolding at this very moment! . . .

1. Frodo is climbing Mt. Doom in millions of universes, but an orc arrow kills him in many of them. (Actually this happens in an infinite number of universes within the infinite multiverse . . . yes, infinity is a strange ‘number.’)
2. Captain James T. Kirk is fighting Klingons, but survives only on some occasions.
3. Virgil Samms just visited Arisia and is testing out his new Lens.
4. An identical ‘you’ has just been elected the U.S. President and is married to a gorgeous Hollywood actress (or actor, depending). Unfortunately, you are being impeached for corruption. Sorry.

(If you don’t get reference #3 above, your literary education is woefully inadequate.)

Craig’s big hole in this area is that he is an old-Earth Big Banger. He doesn’t take Genesis 1 or Exodus 20:11 or Mark 10:6-9 simply, literally, as if God actually meant what He said. He never addresses, in either book, how his position can account for God pronouncing His creation good, Adam’s fall due to sin, initiating sickness, death, and the consequent travail of creation (Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8:21-22), and the very need for the Gospel itself!

He uses fine-tuning arguments from physics and cosmology to marvel at how God must have so carefully designed the Big Bang, not realizing that these fine-tuning arguments are better used to refute Big Bang cosmology. I won’t review all that here, but will say that any scientific theory that requires such incredibly improbable and special conditions is a rotten theory, not worthy of serious consideration.

Virgil Samms - First Lensman

What Craig did for me in this area, however, is turn me on to the calculation of Roger Penrose, a secular mathematician / cosmologist, who generates a probability calculation, using fundamental principles of statistical physics (my one-time research specialty), producing “odds against” which certainly represent a world record. Neither Penrose nor Craig realize that this argument is a slam-dunk refutation of Big Bang cosmology and a brilliant affirmation of fiat creation.

Let me introduce my two new tracts, designed especially for college students, or for anyone who has been indoctrinated in the fantastic myths of the Big Bang or a naturalistic origin of our own solar system.

The first tract summarizes . . . oh so briefly! . . . how difficult it is to pack info into a tract! . . . how simple observations refute the fable of our sun and its planets congealing from a spinning cloud of dust and gas.

Click on . . . Tract – Our Solar System Fables & Fantasies

The second tract summarizes the consternation within the astronomical community regarding the very existence of stars and galaxies. I also include the result of Penrose’s calculation and its significance.

Click on . . . Tract – Cosmology

Craig does a fine job, once he’s back on track, addressing the so-called Anthropic Principle: We find ourselves alive and well in a universe permitting life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about it! So there’s nothing to explain! . . . Supposedly the Anthropic Principle overcomes the incredible improbability of our functioning universe, the uncanny nanotechnology of living systems, our beautiful and habitable Earth, and Earth’s networked ecosystems.

Craig shows how the reasoning is bankrupt. He asks you to imagine you’ve been falsely accused of drug dealing in a 3rd world country, and dragged before a firing squad, 100 trained marksmen ready to end your life. You hear, “Ready! Aim! Fire!” The gunfire is deafening, but you observe you’re alive and unharmed! All 100 shooters missed! You conclude, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they all missed! After all, if they hadn’t all missed, I wouldn’t be here to be surprised about it! Nothing more to be explained here!”

No, you would be really curious about why they all missed, certainly concluding “that they all missed on purpose, that the whole thing was a set up, engineered for some reason by someone.”

Craig’s chapters on morality and suffering are solid, as are his expositions on the “real Jesus” of Biblical history, the historical evidence for the Resurrection, and the reasonableness of salvation through the Biblical Gospel. Craig’s hole in the latter chapters is that he plays the world’s game, looking at the texts of Scripture as if they are merely historical documents, in order to build the case for a genuine Christian foundation in history. He plays the game well, but misses the stronger case that can be made presuppositionally, by affirming (and supporting) Biblical inerrancy through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . not to mention preservation through the Masoretic Hebrew and Greek / Latin Received Text.

In short, Craig has a modern evangelical mindset, bypassing issues of inerrancy and preservation. It doesn’t happen often, but I have met skeptics who go after textual corruption as enough of an excuse to deny Biblical truth. The modern evangelical languishes among versions based on an ever-changing Critical Text, leaving him little to say in response. I have found that a quick defense of inerrancy and preservation can startle a skeptic enough to enable discussion on other, more vital issues, like sin / justice / judgment / repentance / (a reasonable) faith / and the Gospel.

Overall . . . you should get one or both books. Learn this stuff. You might be able to help someone who’s been conned by the pseudo-intellectuals who dominate the classrooms and the media.



60. Finney vs. Nettleton: Why couldn’t they just get along?
September 15, 2015

I’ll be completely open about my perspective. I admire and thank God for Charles Finney, the well-known 19th century revivalist. I’ve read his detailed memoirs, two independent biographies, his Systematic Theology, and his Revival Lectures. Fundamentalists love him. Calvinists hate him and ascribe most of the evils afflicting modern evangelism to his account.

Asahel Nettleton

Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844) was a contemporary of Finney (1792-1875). Many Calvinists see him as the most outstanding revivalist the world saw in the century following the ministry of George Whitefield. Whereas Whitefield attracted public crowds of many thousands, Nettleton labored in small towns from New England to Virginia, working with pastors to stir up churches and communities.

Both Nettleton and Finney were blessed by God to see multitudes saved and Christians revived. Nettleton’s ministry took off and was well-established several years prior to Finney’s. They labored within the same church culture in New England and New York state for the most part, within Congregational and Presbyterian churches. It was inevitable that they would meet and, with hindsight, inevitable that they would lock horns.

I recently finished a thorough biography, Asahel Nettleton: Revival Preacher, by E. A. Johnston, published in 2012, and sold by the good folks at If you love history (like you, Rob), it’s well worth the effort. But it’s a serious treatment, with many sermon extracts and letters in fine print, so it’s not for the casual reader.

I’ve been aware of the Nettleton / Finney conflict for a long time, and so was glad to discover this bio. The purpose of this blog is my shot at evaluating the reasons for the fruitfulness of Nettleton’s preaching and an assessment of the conflict with Finney. If you’re a Calvinist, you won’t agree with much that I say.

Nettleton recounts a ten-month period that culminated in his conversion at age 17. Listening to sermons on Calvinist doctrine and reading narratives by Jonathan Edwards brought conviction and even desperation to his soul. Later in life he described these events to Bennet Tyler, who writes, “He would sometimes say to himself, if I am not elected, I shall never repent. This would cut him to the heart, and dash to the ground all his self-righteous hopes.”

Yet he came to the conclusion that it was “his immediate duty to repent . . . (but) such was the wickedness of his heart, that he should never repent, unless God should subdue his heart by an act of sovereign grace . . . his distress was sometimes almost insupportable . . . he supposed himself to be dying and sinking into hell.”

Finally, after a particularly brutal period of several hours, “there was a change in his feelings . . . A sweet peace pervaded his soul . . . he obtained peace in believing.”

The way I interpret Nettleton’s conversion is that he repented and trusted Christ . . . yes, and showed MUCH evidence of genuine conversion in his life . . . but DESPITE the Calvinist doctrine that tormented him. He got the ‘duty to repent’ right, although at first (rightfully) grieved by the teaching that he was unable to repent without God’s sovereign act. I find Nettleton to be one of the most honest Calvinists I have run across. He ‘gets’ that TULIP is horrifying because only the ‘elect’ will be given grace to repent. Yet he embraces man’s responsibility to repent and believe, despite the inherent contradication.

Most Calvinists call this a ‘mystery’ when it is no such thing. A contradiction is entirely different from a mystery. Anyone with a healthy conscience understands that ‘inability’ precludes ‘responsibility.’ Even the secular court systems comprehend that someone who is unable is not held responsible. Nettleton faced up to the contradiction, often using such words as “difficulty” and even “absurdity” when preaching. Yet he remained a staunch Calvinist throughout his life.

Charles G. Finney

Many Calvinists of his time and some today are called “hyper-Calvinists” because they squarely face their commitment to “Total Inability” and “Unconditional Damnation” for anyone not “elect.” And so multitudes of churchgoers would drift through life waiting for God to zap them, or not, since there is nothing man can do. Both Nettleton and Finney attacked this idea, pressing on the lost – whether church members or not – on their duty to repent.

In short, Nettleton and Finney had much in common with regard to their delivery of the Gospel message to the lost. It was their foundational theology that was in glaring conflict. Finney believed in man’s free will to choose. Nettleton did not. Nettleton preached Calvinist sovereignty and election before preaching law, sin, willful repentance, and faith in Christ. Finney preached law, sin, willful repentance, and faith in Christ on the rational presupposition that it was possible for man to willfully repent because he is ‘able’ to do just that!

Nettleton’s theology was based entirely on that of Jonathan Edwards who insisted that man has a ‘natural ability’ to believe but a ‘moral inability.’ This is classic Calvinist doublespeak, neither taught by Scripture nor experienced by man. (If you’re a committed Calvinist, I know I can’t help you here. Why are you still reading?)

The bio’s author, E. A. Johnston, a Calvinist and an admirer of Nettleton (and a despiser of Finney), writes, “Thus the basis of Asahel Nettleton’s conversion experience became the foundation for all his future labors in times of revival.” Indeed. His preaching would invariably start with TULIP, but then transition to a plea to repent NOW!

While in college at age 25 Asahel’s health suffered for several months. His college roommate, the Rev. Jonathan Lee, wrote that Nettleton “passed through a protracted season of deep mental anxiety and depression . . . in which he greatly questioned the genuineness of his Christian experience.” Nettleton tried to cope by studying Edwards’ writings and sermons on “Evidences of Regeneration.” Nettleton “passed through such an agony of spirit . . .” but “before the next term he gained peace, and enjoyed a better state of health.”

It is not uncommon for a serious Calvinist to doubt the ‘evidence of regeneration’ in his life. Really, all he can do is examine whether he is ‘persevering’ – the ‘P’ in TULIP. Of course, as a Christian you must examine yourself, “whether ye be in the faith.” Nevertheless, as John Calvin himself insisted, it is easy for a professed believer to fool himself, to assume regeneration while still lost. Because of the idea of Unconditional Election, there is nothing that a Calvinist can do . . . himself . . . if he doubts his salvation. To him salvation is wholly of God and the Totally Unable doubter has no power to repent and believe.

Consider the noted American pastor R. C. Sproul, who wrote, “. . . suddenly the question hit me: ‘R. C., what if you are not one of the redeemed? What if your destiny is not heaven after all, but hell?’ Let me tell you that I was flooded in my body with a chill that went from my head to the bottom of my spine. I was terrified . . . maybe I’m not saved after all.” Sproul goes on to say that he realized he couldn’t point to his obedience (evidence) and he couldn’t be sure about his heart, but “then remembered John 6:68 . . . Peter was also uncomfortable, but he realized that being uncomfortable with Jesus was better than any other option!”

George Whitefield

Wow. No assurance in that theology, is there? If a born again Christian doubts his salvation, he need merely do what brought him into the family of God in the first place: Repent from sins and trust in Christ – run to the Cross! I don’t have to wonder whether God sovereignly regenerated me. I have Biblical assurance that He did because I met His condition – repentance and faith. Which is something I willfully did and, if somehow I missed it, could willfully do this very moment. Thus the idea of “Perseverance” in TULIP borders on a works-based hope for salvation. It’s almost the opposite of eternal security.

In my blog of August 1, 2014, I note that Jonathan Edwards had doubts of his own salvation. His wife suffered from lack of assurance at the end of her life, as did others close to them. Such doubts do not spring from Biblical theology!

At the end of Nettleton’s life, he admitted, “I have never allowed myself to be very confident of arriving at heaven, lest the disappointment should be the greater. I know that the heart is exceedingly deceitful, and that many will be deceived. And why am I not as liable to be deceived as others?”

Nettleton preached TULIP, but labored to overcome the impression of many Calvinist church members that election gave them an excuse to avoid willful repentance. It’s no mystery, of course, how indoctrination in TULIP can produce fatalism. Nettleton understood that, yet labored in the midst of contradiction. Despite a doctrine in which God unconditionally damns the non-elect, Nettleton’s “heart yearned with compassion” for the lost, delivering his pleas to repent with a natural solemnity, working to reach mind, conscience, and heart. Nettleton labored hard for the conversion of souls, exhorting them and praying for them.

A quote by Dr. Heman Humphrey, a co-laborer in revivals with Nettleton, reveals the doctrinal conflict quite starkly. In observing the work of other evangelists whose style and doctrines they despised, Humphrey writes of Nettleton . . . “Though he would not deny, that there might be some real conversions in the great excitements which attended their preaching, it was his solemn and painful conviction, that multitudes were deceived with false hopes, who, under different instruction and measures, might have been brought to a saving knowledge of the truth.”

Hey! What do you mean “might have been” . . . if only “different instruction and measures” were used? And what’s the big deal if multitudes of the non-elect have false hopes? At least they had some comfort in this life, while unconditionally damned from before the foundation of the world.

Nettleton preached that “rebels must throw down their arms” and “submit unconditionally” or they would have “no hope of pardon.” It’s easy to see that when sinners heard that they were condemned in their sins and must “throw down their arms” and “submit,” that they understood their choice . . . despite the confusion and despair that would have developed from the exposition of TULIP. Nettleton sounded almost ‘Arminian’ at times when his heart yearned for his hearers to understand. For example, he proclaimed, “Salvation is freely offered,” and then quoted Isaiah 55:1-2 and Rev 22:17. And again, “Salvation has been freely offered to you.” Yes, ‘YOU.’ As if Nettleton forgot that the non-elect don’t get that offer because Christ didn’t die for them . . . the ‘L’ in TULIP.

The direct plea to “you” and salvation conditioned on “if you” filled Nettleton’s evangelistic sermons. “Your day of grace is limited – soon you will have passed the bounds of divine mercy.” “You are required to break off all your sins.” “If you halt at this . . .” “If you are ashamed of Him, he will be ashamed of you.”

George Whitefield preaching open air in Bolton, 1750

Finney preached with exactly the same emphasis, but based on the theology that man can choose to be saved anytime he wants. The biographer criticizes this as “man-centered” rather than “God-centered.” Yet Nettleton, like any fruitful evangelist, Calvinist or not, put the burden directly on man to repent . . . and REPENT NOW! Just as if a man could . . . now. As if God is not willing that ANY should perish, but that all should come to repentance . . . now!

Nettleton’s take on the doctrinal problem is interesting: “There are many who think they see a great inconsistency and absurdity running through almost every discourse which they hear. ‘Ministers contradict themselves, they say, and unsay; they tell us to do, and then tell us that we cannot do.’ This difficulty some of our hearers see and state for themselves; others think they see it, but cannot state it. This difficulty I am calculating to state in all its absurdity, ‘You sometimes call upon sinners to believe and repent; and then tell them that faith and repentance are the gift of God. You call upon them to do what needs almighty power to effect.’ My hearers, this is correct. We are guilty of this absurdity; and the Bible talks just so too.”

Fascinating. He admits the difficulty, even the absurdity, yet blames the Bible. It takes seminary training to warp Scripture that badly, however. In the sermon from which I extracted the quote above, Nettleton goes on to yank verses out of context and commit a variety of logical absurdities. Johnston admits that “Unfortunately, the deep bog of the so-called ‘New England Theology’ has simply mystified many who cannot get their heads around it.” Thankfully!

Calvinists accuse Finney (and me and anyone who disagrees) of insisting that regeneration is by the will of man. They insist that regeneration comes first, and then repentance and faith follow. The accusation is false. The Biblical view is that man willfully repents and believes. God then regenerates and the Holy Spirit indwells. Both types of evangelists speak to sinners as if it’s up to them to “submit.” The Calvinist must pretend, however, because he thinks the sinner can do no such thing.

I believe that Finney is especially hated by Calvinists – even today – because his revivals took hold so widely within Calvinist denominations. It was a miracle that Finney was ordained within the Reformed camp and let loose on their churches. He was always up front about his theology and not shy about skewering false teachers. He occasionally quoted a popular jingle of his day:

You can and you can’t;
You will and you won’t;
You’re damned if you do,
And you’re damned if you don’t.

Finney’s success generated some ‘copycat’ evangelists who tried to emulate his style to one degree or another. None of those names has survived the historical record, but Finney was regularly blamed for the stylistic excesses of his copycats. Nevertheless, there were definite stylistic differences between Finney and Nettleton. The Nettleton camp deemed Finney’s preaching to be too “bold and harsh,” and decried the practice of naming individuals from the pulpit who were notorious for practicing wickedness in a community.

Finney, like many later evangelists, also called for sinners under conviction to ‘rise up from their seats,’ even to come forward for prayer. This was all very controversial, and properly subject to debate regarding the ‘best way’ to reach out to the lost.

I find irony in the following criticism: “Nettleton worked best with individuals – in their home or in the ‘anxious’ meeting. Finney made full use of the pulpit, and from it enjoined the masses to repent. He was a master of group psychology and played on their fears and anticipations. Finney appealed to the emotions and thereby hoped to reach the mind and the heart . . . For Nettleton the sinner must first understand.”

The irony is in the similarities between the two men. The above characterization of Finney could just as easily have been laid on Nettleton. In fact one of the strongest accolades that Nettleton received from his admirers was his deep understanding of human nature. The preaching of both men – who both made “full use of the pulpit” – produced deep emotions. Finney – the lawyer – certainly used reason to persuade the mind (go ahead and read his Systematic Theology). Finney was also criticized for public prayers for people by name and for allowing women to pray in public. Debates on such subjects within American Christendom today are mere shadows of the uproar in 19th century culture.

There were two major areas, however, where the fellows differed. Nettleton was completely committed to supporting the local pastor in the community in which he labored. He worked to avoid doing anything that might undermine the authority of or the affections given to the local clergyman. Finney was not so committed, regularly engaging in meetings independent of local clergy. This was grossly offensive to the establishment, which was beholden to clergy / laity distinctions . . . a Roman Catholic tradition, quite alien to New Testament doctrine . . . as I have written about extensively on this web site.

The big area of dispute was doctrine, of course. Nettleton embraced TULIP. Finney saw Reformed doctrine for the damnable heresy it is. A principal reason they both enjoyed evangelistic success is that they both preached law / sin / judgment / repentance / faith / new birth / transformed life.

Nettleton and Finney met on two occasions. The author wishes that we could have been ‘flies on the wall.’ Indeed. Unfortunately, much of Nettleton’s criticism of Finney was based on second hand reports. Nettleton’s health had suffered considerably during the period of Finney’s labors and so he couldn’t travel very much. If they could have spent more time together and observed each other’s work in detail, I believe they might have developed a friendship . . . except perhaps for the doctrinal issues. I look forward to seeing both in Heaven. I admire both fellows considerably!

Some of the accusations laid on Finney, both then and now, are simply lies. For example, Calvinist Iain Murray writes that Finney “believed that all that was needed for conversion was a resolution signified by standing, kneeling, or coming forward . . . This was the main reason for the opposition . . . This was the heart of the issue.”

So let’s review some of Finney’s convictions and practices. Finney describes his approach to revival preaching . . . “The doctrine of moral depravity was thoroughly discussed, and urgently pressed upon the people; the spirituality and authority of the divine law was also made prominent; the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ as sufficient for all men, and the free invitations of the Gospel based thereon, were held forth in due proportions. All men were represented as by nature dead in trespasses and sins, as being under condemnation and the wrath of God abiding on them. Then they were pointed to the cross of Christ, and every inducement presented to lead them to a total renunciation of self-righteousness, and of all selfishness in any form, and to a present thorough committal of themselves and of their all to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Finney explains that many Presbyterian ministers would instruct sinners “to use the means of grace, to pray for a new heart, and wait for God to convert them.” Nothing much has changed for the confused Calvinist. I occasionally tune in to Brannon Howse’s web radio show. Infrequently, some caller makes clear that he is unsaved. Brannon’s plea to him is to pray that God gives to him conviction and enables him to repent. So sad. A few years ago Brannon was lock step with Ray Comfort and would have implored the lost to repent and believe — now. That’s the Bible’s message whenever the prophets or the apostles or the Lord Jesus Himself dealt with the lost. There was no insipid suggestion to pray and wait. The command is to repent now! Besides, of what profit is prayer to the non-elect? Brannon’s transformation to Calvinism is complete.

Finney called on sinners “to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, and pressed the duty of instant surrender to God.” (See Ezekiel 18:30-32.) “We told them the Spirit was striving with them to induce them now to give Him their hearts, now to believe, and to enter at once upon a life of submission and devotion to Christ.”

I cannot believe that Nettleton would object to any of that except the idea that the Atonement was sufficient for all men.

Finney insisted that moral depravity was voluntary in contradiction to the “T” in TULIP, but in perfect accord with everything the Bible records about pleading with a rebellious sinner. Finney insisted that “It is the truth that engages his attention,” that he “must present the truths to be believed, the duties to be done, and the reasons for those duties.”

I find it fascinating that Johnston ‘cherry picks’ quotes from Finney’s memoirs, neglecting information that works against his case. Disappointing.

Regarding public ‘call outs,’ Finney explains, “I concluded then, and have always thought since, that to call the sinner right out from the mixed multitude to take a stand for God, to be as open and frank in his renunciation of sin before the world as he had been in committing it; to call him to change sides, to renounce the world and come over to Christ . . . was just what was needed.” (See Matthew 10:32-33, Romans 10:9-10.)

Finney affirmed the necessity of regeneration “under the teaching and persuading influence of the Holy Ghost.” He describes his much criticized methods . . . “The measures were simply preaching the Gospel, and abundant prayer in private, in social circles, and in public prayer meetings . . . Sinners were taught to renounce their own will . . . never told to wait for God’s time to convert them . . . The only obstacle in the way was their own stubborn will . . . to strip them of every excuse . . . that faith is a voluntary, intelligent trust in God as He is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Pains were taken to show the sinner that the entire responsibility is upon himself; that God is entirely clear, and will ever remain so if the sinner is sent to hell.”

Finney writes, “I have found thousands of sinners of all ages who are living under this delusion, and would never think themselves called upon to do anything more than merely to pray for a new heart, live a moral life, read their Bibles, attend meeting, use the means of grace, and leave all the responsibility of their conversion and salvation upon God . . . I actually found it difficult to keep from screaming to the people to repent; and not to think that they were doing their duty in merely praying for repentance.”

The picture given is similar to that in evangelical churches across America, including Reformed churches. A child indoctrinated in TULIP is easily convinced of her election, assures herself that her moral life and church attendance are evidences of regeneration, and happily embraces a doctrine whereby God did salvation in her heart all by Himself. And so she never sees – at the requisite deep heart level – her own responsibility, her own wickedness, her own duty to repent and trust Christ and make her a new heart. And so, because she doesn’t repent and make a new heart, the Holy Spirit doesn’t regenerate and finish the work, making her a new heart and a new spirit. So yes, the doctrine is damnable.

Finney abhorred undue excitement as did Nettleton. They both feared the making of false converts, but only Finney had rational theological grounds for such a fear. Under ‘U’ no one who is elect can possibly become a false convert and die lost.

Hey, if you’re a Finney critic, at least read his memoirs. If you’re going to go public with criticism of his life and doctrine, then do some diligence and read his Systematic Theology and his Revival Lectures.

Finney’s converts often spent hours or even days examining themselves, agonizing in prayer, and exhibiting fruits of repentance before proclaiming a joyful faith in Christ. He never ‘pulled the trigger,’ on a sinner, manipulating him into a profession, and declaring salvation where there was no evidence. What a false accusation to lay at his feet, that he was the progenitor of the phony altar calls of modern meetings, the manipulative soul-winning methods, and the production of false converts who never show a born again life. Such accusations stem from unreasoning hatred, which must stem primarily from Finney’s fruitful attacks on heretical Calvinist doctrine.

Look . . . I’m not a ‘disciple of Finney.’ He had his difficulties, which you can discern from studying his life and doctrine. As far as I have observed, however, the principal attacks on Finney are from those who despise his exposure of Calvinist heresies.

In Finney’s memoirs he writes extensively about his disputes with Nettleton and Lyman Beecher – a Boston pastor who aligned with Nettleton for some years, before embracing Finney wholeheartedly. I won’t summarize Finney’s take on the dispute, but it’s worth reading, especially for the level of historical detail he offers on who did and said what and when. Finney did his best to make public exactly what was true and what wasn’t.

If you enjoy the history of evangelism I highly recommend The Original Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, edited by Rosell and Dupuis. It’s very readable; it’s informative, educational, and challenging. The Nettleton biography by Johnston is worthwhile if you’re a glutton for detail and can stomach the author’s bias. (Yes, we’re all biased. The issue is how well one’s bias correlates with Biblical reality.)

If you’re closely associated with Calvinist folks, it won’t be long before you hear the name of Finney maligned. Be ready to offer a challenge. If you want to provoke some feisty dialogue, reference this blog.



61. Is your church a Team of Teams?
October 1, 2015

This blog is posted in the Discipleship section as “Is your church a Team of Teams?”


62. What the world knows about discipleship (and the churches don’t): Part 1
October 15, 2015

This blog is posted in the Discipleship section.


63. What the world knows about discipleship (and the churches don’t): Part 2
November 1, 2015

This blog is posted in the Discipleship section.


64. How to witness to a Muslim
November 15, 2015

This blog is posted in the Evangelism section.


65. Want to be a prophet? Part 1
December 1, 2015

God enabled the prophets of old to see the salvation of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, and the future Kingdom of God in all its glorious life, peace, and righteousness. Since the Lord gave His disciples the Great Commission, all believers are to be forth-tellers of the grace of the One Way to find forgiveness, hope, and purpose. In such a sense all disciples are commissioned as prophets to the lost around us. If you are born again, a child of God, bequeathed an inheritance of eternal riches beyond imagination, you have a choice . . . to be an obedient, gracious, and bold prophet, or to be a selfish, timid, and silent prophet.

James L. Snyder recently published a book of sermons by A. W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet: Who Speaks for God?, wherein Tozer correlates the responsibilities of the modern prophet with those of our Biblical progenitors. Although Tozer’s bias is that today’s prophets will typically be “called of God” into paid ministry, his analysis certainly applies to all of us who have been called from darkness into light.

A. W. Tozer, 1897 - 1963

In this blog I’ll pull out nuggets from Tozer that I find especially gleaming, and I’ll interleave my own thoughts along the way.

Snyder suggests that Tozer illustrates the apparent Biblical principle that those who seem right for the job of prophet – in man’s eyes – are not the ones called by God. Rather, God chooses a man or a woman out of sync with the current generation, usually because he or she does NOT fit in.

Of course, being an odd duck does not necessarily qualify you, but as you work to serve God, if others tend to judge you as rubbing the fur the wrong way, it’s at least possible you’re on the right track. Consider the reverse: If you’re a good fit to evangelical (gelly) or fundamentalist (fundie) culture, and it’s clear that Christian culture has fallen off the cliff, then you’re part of the problem, not the solution . . . and the rocks loom large.

When Tozer was a young pastor, he confided to his mentor that he wanted to love God more than anyone of his generation. Dr. H. M. Shuman, then President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), told A. W. to prepare himself to suffer greatly. Perhaps Shuman was thinking of God’s warning to Paul, how much the apostle would suffer for His name’s sake.

Tozer confesses that the warning was prescient, how much it cost him to put God first, but that “it certainly has been well worth it.” Yes, even in America those who try to stick their nose into the spiritual battle will suffer. In considering what tiny little work I try to accomplish to get the Gospel out, I have experienced clear opposition in health issues, in circumstances, and in friendship.

One principle I’ve learned from experience is that when you volunteer to challenge Satan’s iron grip on our lost communities, God holds you to a higher standard. I have suffered chastisement at times for starting to go ‘off track.’ I am convinced that my life would go smoother, with respect to Satan’s opposition and with respect to conviction and chastisement by God’s Spirit, if I just went with the gelly or fundie flow. I marvel at all the believers I meet in various churches who don’t bother to ‘get in the game’ at all, and yet putter along quite contentedly, wasting their lives one day at a time, oblivious to their coming appointment at the Bema.

Tozer “cries out in desperation that what we need today are prophets.” With startling discernment, particularly because he is observing evangelicalism within the 1950s (!!), he concludes that “the voice of the prophet today is seldom heard . . . because the noise and clatter of our culture have so invaded the church that they have drowned out that voice.” And so “the church is in danger of falling into the quagmire of heresy.”

Peter Drucker

It’s not in danger anymore. American churches have already fallen over the cliff and many have crashed on the rocks below, rocks of false conversion, Calvinism, Pentecostalism, postmodernism, evolutionism, corrupt Bible translations, pop-rock ‘worship’ entertainment, palatial building programs, ‘man-of-God’-centered authoritarian leadership, and activities galore, especially for the kids(!) – noise, noise, noise – all the while neglecting or corrupting the core elements of New Testament church life: evangelism and discipleship.

I recently visited an “Evangelism / Discipleship” course for several weeks in a conservative gelly church. To their credit there aren’t many churches that even try. I have offered to give seminars on 1-2-1 evangelism to several churches, but have been consistently rebuffed. In this course the emphasis was all ‘relational’ as if it’s simply impossible to just walk up to someone and share the Gospel. Most of the instruction seemed to emphasize what NOT to do, rather than offer specific instruction on what TO DO.

One middle-aged couple related how it was just so far out of their comfort zone to walk across the street to meet a new neighbor, even apart from witnessing to them. Another older lady proudly affirmed how she got rid of a couple of Mormon missionaries who came to her door. When no one in the class reacted, I asked her if she had repented for missing that opportunity – after all a couple of lost people just showed up at her door wanting to talk about spiritual things! You would have thought that I’d done something very unseemly for saying such a thing. And this class was filled with ‘mature believers’, Christians for many years, and clearly the subgroup within this church that actually cares about the subject. So tell me just what these churches are accomplishing in ‘discipleship’ if their senior saints are so weak?

Why so weak? As I’ve written elsewhere on this site, ‘church life’ is active and busy, busy, busy for the paid clergy, while passive for the bill-paying laity. The laity listen a lot, but never quite develop or practice(!) skills, raising their children to see ‘church’ as a weekly, pleasant, light-hearted, passive interruption in their ‘real life’ out there in the world.

Bill Hybels

Tozer sees heresy as “conveniently leaving out some of the truth. The old message has become boring and so they ‘try to jazz it up somehow.’” The language changes, even in the Gospel presentation, telling people that they “need a relationship with Jesus,” that they should “accept Him,” “receive Him,” “ask Jesus into your heart,” “fill the God-shaped hole in your heart.” Repentance, sin, judgment, Hell, holiness – those are old-fashioned words that don’t communicate to this young generation!

Sigh. How lightly do modern gellies and fundies change God’s words, making ‘church’ relevant, and thereby changing doctrine, producing many false converts, and occasionally some real ones who don’t look much different even after decades of faithful, passive attendance.

Tozer cites G. K. Chesterton (a Roman Catholic I don’t recommend who occasionally said some clever things, though), “Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” Oh, if only there were some saints around! Actually, I’m sure there are, but most of today’s true prophets will be found in the East, in the exploding house church movement in China, Vietnam, and other locales where Satan works directly and violently in opposition.

It’s amazing that Tozer discerned such trends in the 1950s – ‘conservative’ times in America in almost all parts of society. He saw three elements that blocked spiritual development: sensationalism, emotionalism, and entertainment. I won’t elaborate much here. A Tozer conclusion: “What most people do under an emotional high will never translate into daily disciplined living for God.”

The styles vary within the fundie and gelly camps, but it’s clear that church services are deemed powerful and even ‘fruitful’ if emotions run high, whether driven by pulpiteer or rock band. I’ve talked with a number of Christians over the years who confess that they felt so good on Sunday, but on Monday morning it was ‘same old, same old.’ Yeah, nothing really changed in mind, heart, and spirit. In fundie churches many who ‘hit the altar’ on Sunday will be back again the next week.

Tozer laments, “There seems to be no condemnation element in the church anymore. Conviction has lost its place, and nobody is calling the church to repentance. There is nothing to repent for anymore. We are God’s happy, happy little children, dancing our way into Heaven. What a pathetic description.”

On the potential for revival, “What we desperately need today is another revival, but I do not see one on the horizon. I pray for it constantly. I hope for it now more than ever. And God knows, we desperately need it today.”

This type of thinking does not exist anymore in gelly culture. Revival isn’t even a valid concept. Why should it be? We’re in a megachurch boom, driven by the marketing genius of Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and their unregenerate mentor, Peter Drucker. The lip service is still there among the fundies, however, who ‘schedule’ revival meetings once or twice per year. At one such meeting I visited a few years ago, I asked a senior saint why they were having a week-long revival meeting, since they’d had one just six months before. Hadn’t they been revived? Had anything changed? He was speechless. I was just asking.

In both gelly and fundie culture the messenger is more important than the message. It’s a cult of personality, if you’d be honest with yourself. Tozer notes, “It’s common to say, ‘Let us go hear so-and-so,’ as though that preacher is better than any other preacher around. It is not the messenger; it is the message that needs to be proclaimed. If you study the Old and New Testaments, you will soon discover that no prophet can ever become a celebrity.”

God save us from Christian celebrities, from ‘man-of-God’ preachers, from professional conference speakers! Tozer quotes the grandfather of Charles Spurgeon, who said, “Charles can preach the Gospel better than me, but he cannot preach a better Gospel.”

I’ve seen again and again, that when the fundie pastor is out of town, another pastor or paid evangelist is brought in to ‘fill the pulpit.’ Apparently, the discipleship in the churches is so poor that there is nobody in the membership that can open up the Bible and talk about it. Gelly megachurches, at least, tend to rotate the preaching responsibility among the paid pastoral staff. But from the perspective of the ‘laity,’ it’s all passive, sleep-inducing, forgettable, irrelevant.

See my two recent blogs about how the world understands discipleship far, far better than the churches do. It’s not difficult, it’s just laziness and rebellion on everyone’s part, clergy and laity alike. By the way, when I use the terms “clergy” and “laity,” I hope you appreciate the implied condemnation. These are Roman Catholic concepts, defining a higher class interposed between God and a lower class. But Biblically, all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9, etc.). The establishment of a paid clergy — “ministerial” — class, separate from a passive laity is a blight on so-called evangelical or fundamentalist “churches.”

So what are you thinking? Perhaps, “That Dr. Dave – what a gloomy guy!” Maybe. But I’d rather be sad and in touch with reality than bubble-headed happy and clueless. The days march on toward the Second Coming. 150,000 souls will die today and wake up in Hell. I write in the scant hope that someone might read this, wake up, and say, “Hey, maybe I should figure out how to make my life count a little better. Maybe I should be doing something for Jesus other than just singing lovey-dovey praise songs with the teens on Sunday. Maybe I should learn to share the Gospel Biblically and then go do it. Maybe I should find some Christians to encourage and teach – and be taught by – rather than just shake their hands on Sunday morning with a superficial grin on my face.”




66. Want to be a prophet? Part 2
December 15, 2015

In James Snyder’s recently published book of selected sermons by A. W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet: Who Speaks for God?, we can see that our current evangelical (“gelly”) and fundamentalist (“fundie”) church cultures were already festering in the 1950s. The prophets of old, whether Jeremiah addressing the apostate people of Judah, or John the apostle, pleading with the rapidly sliding churches of Asia Minor, delivered messages targeted for God’s people in that day.

Tozer points out that the prophetic message isn’t for everybody . . . “those who do not own God receive no message from God except the message of repentance.” He’s quite right. God’s message to the lost is to repent, expressed so graphically in Ezekiel 18:30-32 or succinctly by Peter in Acts 2:38, by Paul in Acts 20:21 and 26:20, or by the Lord Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Mark 1:15 and at the end in Luke 24:47.

Yet both gelly and fundie churches, desperate to attract crowds, put on the best seeker-friendly show they can, all the while exhorting their people to “invite your friends to church” so the professional paid clergy can exhort the lost to “have a relationship with Jesus.” But from the perspective of a lost visitor, the winsome speaker on stage acts as if everyone present is already a believer, so he must be OK, too. The preacher is merely suggesting a few adjustments in your life to make you happy and prosperous. Jesus is there to help you get what you want out of life.

Tozer says, “We are a generation of negotiators. We want to give a little here and get a little there, thinking we can bring this method into our relationship with God.” For the lost this is deadly stuff. For the believer, the persistently insipid call to mild readjustment produces a church akin to Laodicea.

Tozer again: “That path back to God’s heart is a direct route . . . the path is always radical . . . neither passive nor convenient . . . Whatever the cost, I gladly bear it and draw nearer to God.” In Isaiah’s plea (chapter 30) to “a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord,” God promises trouble and suffering, while the Lord waits until He may be gracious to His people, to exalt them and have mercy on them. When the weeping is done, they will be able to “hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (That way is narrow as Jesus taught (Matthew 7:13-14).) What is the next thing we see? God’s repentant people “defiling” their idols and “cast(ing) them away as a menstruous cloth.”

Where’s the call in today’s churches to cast away the idols, the menstruoth cloths of pop culture, worldly entertainment and social media, adulation of sports teams and ‘heroes,’ the neglect of study, prayer, evangelism, and discipleship?

Tozer suggests that “the secret of Elijah’s courage was that he had been with God and stood in His presence. He had discovered the ultimate reality.” Elijah didn’t find a philosophy or a lifestyle. He found God.

You can’t find God on the typical weekly schedule lived by American Christians. We fall into the scam that if we are faithful in attendance and “involved” in church activities, then we must be OK. After all, that’s the pattern established by the paid pastoral staff to produce ‘mature Christians.’

Hey, life is filled with responsibilities of work, child-raising, chores, etc. But we can – and must – walk with the Lord Jesus in the midst of daily necessities. And then . . . when we have some discretionary minutes or hours . . . how do we invest them? In study, in seeking God, in thoughtful meditation on God’s word and His black-letter revealed will? In prayer for believers we know? In prayer for boldness to reach out to the lost . . . regularly? How much noise is in our lives! Our intellectual and spiritual diets are filled with candy bars and doughnuts!

What gets in the way is sin, of course, not just sins of commission, but sins of laziness, apathy, distraction, selfishness, and basic carnality. Hey, I know something about this, experientially. As I get closer and closer to the Bema, I marvel – in horror – at the wasted moments, days, and years as I look back.

Tozer asks, “What did you do last week differently than you would have done if you had not been a Christian? How do you live differently every day? . . . Is Jesus Christ simply the boutonniere on the human lapel – something nice, something pretty? Is Christianity just a decoration, or is there reality back of it?”

Everyone memorizes (or at least used to) Ephesians 2:8-9. What about verse 10? Believers love Titus 3:5. What about verse 8? What about Titus 2: 11-14? Hey, don’t be lazy! Look it up! And what about James 2:14? Can that kind of faith save you? Tozer worries that most Christians, when pushed hard enough, fall to pieces. “When the pressure is on, religion goes one way and they go another.” This can manifest in the most elementary ways. When circumstances are unpleasant, do you snap at the spouse or the kids? When pressure mounts, the disciple clings to the Lord, begging for grace to endure AND for grace to lift up those around her . . . because everyone else has trouble, too. “We are to become the incarnated Word, walking around giving flesh to the doctrines we believe.”

Tozer cautions, “In looking at all of these prophets, especially Elijah, we can see that they were notoriously hard to live with . . . his faith in God cost him something. He did not go to church once a week and give an occasional donation.”


Elijah got lonely. There were 7,000 other prophets out there, but they “were silent, and nobody knew they were there.” Does anyone know you’re there? Ezekiel’s commission (2:4-5) didn’t promise any measure of success, but God assured him that if he went, at least people would know that there was a prophet among them. Elijah, like all the prophets, suffered humiliation. He condescended to be fed by ravens at one point, and by a widow woman at another. But he stood up for God. Tozer: “Look at him and be a better woman. Look at him and be a better man . . . Look at him and glorify God, for Elijah’s God still lives today.”

Tozer marvels that many who know the truth act like they don’t believe it half the time, “and those who have a religion that is all mixed up, false, miserable and degrading believe it fervently.” In Elijah’s time, Ahab and Jezebel, and multitudes of Baal worshipers were fanatics in their faith. Most Jews weren’t. In the two years we’ve lived in Arizona (at this writing), we’ve had Jehovah’s Witnesses come to our door at least six times. (Yes, I work hard to share the Gospel with them.) How many Christians have knocked on our door? Zero. How about in the last 40 years, as we’ve moved all over the country? I can recall two Christians who knocked on our door, but neither wanted to share the Gospel. They just wanted us to visit their church. After listening to their pitch I challenged them on why they didn’t probe to see whether I knew the Lord. Why didn’t they try to tell me about the central issues of life, death, Heaven, Hell, etc.? As I recall . . . no answer.

The world’s religions tend to be complicated and noisy or, for those who prefer mysticism and altered mind states, mindless. The prophets of Baal were certainly noisy. So are today’s ‘worship services.’ But the world and its religions have no help in disaster, especially in the valley of the shadow of death.

Today’s overt non-Christians are reluctant to give up all the world has to offer. Like what? “They have to have amusements, fun, liquor, dope, immoral dance and all the rest in order to keep from crying out in fright like a child in the dark. They cover up the fact that they are scared, by making a lot of racket and calling it fun, and then they pay people for it.” There’s a lot of that in the church, too. Both believers and un- are wirelessed in and wirelessed up, desperate to avoid any quiet time lest thoughts of eternity intrude.

Wilderness of Judea

“God calls you to be a soldier, a good, hard soldier . . . (but) ministers feel they have to pat and paw over everybody to get them in . . . (and) dilute and edit and modify and amend and trim down the Gospel.” Extending the application . . . That’s why gelly churches love the modern versions, dumbed down to grade school level, foisting interpretive translations in place of the literal, despising the precision of God’s actual words in the Hebrew and Greek – for which there are clear equivalents in English – preferring modern colloquialisms that often pervert the Author’s intent. God’s condemnation is certain (see Rev 22:18-19).

“Heaven is not filled with weaklings . . . It is full of soldiers and martyrs . . . and the clean man who loved his God and loved his generation.” But there’s a lot of ‘fun’ in the world. Capitalism has produced a lot of time off for fun and a lot of toys to fill free time. And still the news is filled with complaints about the economy and tax policies and the markets. Americans are richer with more toys and capacity for fun than enjoyed by any people in the history of the world. Yet contentment is rare. The middle class suburbs of today are equivalent to the upper class neigborhoods of the 1960s, yet even that upper class had no internet or big screen TVs or tech-equipped SUVs.

Hey, all the toys and other possessions that consume our lives . . . what are they made of? The minerals used in their construction come from the ground. That stuff that people live and die for is just dirt! Get some perspective. Don’t live and die for dirt . . . or for ‘fun.’ “Baal can give you a big-time Saturday night, but come Sunday morning he leaves you with a frightful hangover.”

Tozer believed that the church in his day was already in a state of senility. The marks of senility include:

• Inflexibility, analogous to the stiffness of old age when it’s not so easy to stoop down and pick something up off the floor. For the church it shows up as long-term expensive and useless buildings and programs. I note that Tozer’s thinking here is akin to that of my 10/1/2015 blog, “Is your church a Team of Teams?”

• Loquacity, the tendency to talk a lot. Problems are addressed by talking a lot. After lots of conversations and meetings, everyone goes home, but nothing changes. Evangelism gets lots of lip service, as does discipleship, but nobody wants to actually do those things. Evangelism consists of hoping people come to church and discipleship consists of listening to the weekly winsome talk.

• Weakness and inactivity. I would apply this especially to lack of prayer, with the majority of prayer meetings devoted to aging and sickness issues, rather than toward revival. I have noticed that most evangelical ‘life groups’ take the summer off. They don’t want Christian fellowship or discipleship to interfere with all the summer fun.

• Focus on the past. This is much more an issue for fundies than for gellies. Fundies love to reminisce over the great preachers of old, “when giants walked the earth.” Gellies seem to avoid thinking about both past and future. They’re quite existential.

Laodicea today

Tozer addresses the question, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah? . . . He is here now waiting for us to fulfill certain conditions.” One such condition is fearlessness, as demonstrated by the prophet on Mount Carmel. As I’ve written before on this site, I have discovered that most gelly churches are actually opposed to what they call ‘confrontational evangelism,’ which is simply eyeball-to-eyeball Gospel outreach. If it’s not relational, you see, it’s just too scary and even mean-spirited to walk up to a stranger and tell him some truth.

Other conditions include dedication (Don’t quit!), Obedience (to the full counsel of God), and Prayer (for service and power). Only fundie churches sing the old song anymore, “Have Thine own way, Lord.” I would suggest it’s dangerous to sing such a song if not done with sincerity of heart. When God finds someone that meets His conditions, He’ll do the same for him as He has done for others.

Tozer suggests that if you’re a little despondent about your spiritual life, “do not let the joy boys come and cheer you up.” Don’t look for the easy way out. Tears are OK. “A tearless Christianity is no Christianity at all.” Spend some time with God instead of seeking distractions. “It is not the presence of others that cures loneliness; it is the presence of God,” who is the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Ps 46:10) Find His presence in the stillness. Cut the noise out of your life.

John the Baptist spent time in the wilderness to do just that. He didn’t need lots of company, lots of distraction, lots of noise; yet his life was full and people traveled to hear him. Filled with the Spirit, John had vision, which put him out of sync with his world . . . because his world was out of sync with God. “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” does not reflect the attitude of someone who is going with the flow. Yet bluntness provoked repentance. He didn’t sneak up on his listeners, trying to entice them with the perks of “having a relationship.” Furthermore, he didn’t continually draw attention to himself: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John preached in the wilderness, a place “characterized by waste spaces that are no good to God or man.” Tozer laments, “In our day, we preach the Gospel and make converts, but we make converts to the wilderness . . . We are supposed to be a garden of God, but we are of formless wilderness . . . and those wild plants will only be cut down and thrown into the fire . . . We are so busy with our jobs and raising our children and going to school and keeping up with programs and going to so many places . . . that we forget that there is a wilderness.”

God is looking for another “voice crying in the wilderness,” but drowsiness lies upon our churches. The Second Coming of Christ is at hand and the Lord’s disciples are called to prepare the way. Any one of us can clear a bit of road, but not by fitting the popular pattern. What to do? In our own individual lives, Tozer says to straighten the paths, fill the valleys, destroy the high places, and smooth the rough places. Yes, those are metaphors, but if you enter into a period of stillness, God will show you . . . very quickly . . . how to apply them.



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