Sanballats and Tobiahs

The model of church planting we are adopting here in Solihull is probably not the easiest. Send a guy in, guy makes contacts as best he can, guy starts worship service, guy keeps making contacts with others, guy develop leaders, etc. Thanks to God that Dr Al Lutz was that ‘guy’ to start with! We now have a small group of people who are growing in the Lord in various ways.

(If you are reading this, Al, it was good talking to you on the phone the other day.)

There are other models of planting and perhaps they are easier – say, if you’ve got lots of people. Send group in, group makes contacts as best they can, group starts worship … you get the idea. That’s fine if you have a group! If not, what should you do? The EPCEW wants to plant churches, so it just gets on with it, under God. It is careful with resources and training men. But it gets on with the task in hand – the Great Commission to plant churches.

No matter what the model used, one thing is certain – it isn’t easy. I say that, not to try and gain sympathy. I don’t need or want that. I say it, because I have known what to expect. With three years of church-planting experience now (I know, I’m a mere pup still) I know enough to know that there are going to be struggles, joys, pain, opposition, confrontation, fun all mixed in together.

Amongst those who come to a new church plant are those genuinely seeking salvation. That’s wonderful. To see them find faith in Christ and to see a growing love for him is superb. Just the best thing.

But I am under no illusions. There are those who are more like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They come with an air of spirituality, they talk the talk. But soon they start complaining. Things are not quite right. Small things. They start explaining how they like their church ‘served up’ to them. When they realise they are not going to get it the way they want it they go somewhere else. But they don’t quite let go. They spend time behind the scenes explaining how ‘that church’ is not right, sowing seeds of doubt and discontent. Those small things are now big things. Sheep-worriers.

We are getting a little of this kind if thing now at SPC. I am not discouraged. Sanballats and Tobiahs are to be expected. We just keep building with one hand while taking up our swords in the other for the spiritual battle. “I will build my church” says Jesus. Yes, Lord, build it! Make it strong! The gates of hell will not prevail.

We will work side by side with those willing to work while believing the promises of God, and do it with joy.

What of those complainers, sheep-worriers, church-consumers? I can only pray that in time they get a right perspective on this kingdom work. I fear for them. I want them with us sharing in the sheer pleasure of building for the Lord. But only for that.

Sanballats and Tobiahs

What Paul Learned

Paul. What a guy. I stand in awe of the kind of thinking and experience that leads to this kind of statement:

…my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4,5, ESV)

I wonder how long it took him to learn to say that and mean it. He was clever enough that he could have used the plausible words of wisdom of the philosophers of his day. But instead of fabulous rhetorical techniques he had learned to use simple speech. Instead of adapting and ‘improving’ the message’, he just delivered what he was given.

I find this to be so counter-cultural. So against the grain. So much so that it would be easy to dismiss: ‘Ah, but Paul, if you were in my situation…’ etc etc.

Paul had learned that the heart of man will run after all kinds of impressive things. Paul feared that people would trust him. He may even have feared that he might want people to trust him!

True saving faith has God and his work as the object.

So Paul, though in the forefront of proclamation, paradoxically, must be in the background. Surely, only God can do this in a preacher.

What Paul Learned

Saving Faith

I read some great stuff on what saving faith is and isn’t the other day, by William Guthrie. As well as writing the brilliant The Christian’s Great Interest (Banner of Truth, 1969), Guthrie was also an Ayrshireman like myself, ministering in the 17th century in Fenwick some 15 miles north of where I was brought up.

Guthrie says that,

…justifying faith is not to believe that I am elected. or to believe that God loveth me, or that Christ died for me, or the like … I say, true justifying faith not any of the aforesaid things; neither is it simply the believing of any sentence written, or that can be thought upon … None of these, nor the believing of any such truth evinces justifying faith or that believing on the Son of God spoken of in Scripture; for then it were simply an act of the understanding; but true justifying faith, which we now seek after, as a good mark of an interest in Christ, is chiefly and principally and act or work of the heart and will
(pp. 61,62)

This may seem quite shocking, especially since, as I have sometimes heard, Christians will often encourage a prospective new Christian to believe that ‘Christ died for you’. True: this is essential. But Guthrie goes beyond this kind of statement recognising that knowing these things and believing them to be true is merely an intellectual state. Faith, however, goes deeper, affecting the motives and principles of life.

Guthrie goes on to illustrate this with the following statements and Bible references,

The Scripture hath clearly resolved justifying faith into a receiving of Christ … The receiving of Christ is explained [in John 1:12] to be the believing on His name. It is also called a staying on the Lord (Is 26:3); a trusting in God, often mentioned in the Psalms, and the word is a leaning on him. It is a believing on Christ … When God maketh men believe savingly, He is said to draw them unto Christ; and when the Lord inviteth them to believe, he calleth them to come to Him. (John 6:37,44)
(pp. 62,63, emphasis Guthrie’s)

‘Receiving’, ‘staying on’, ‘trusting’, ‘leaning on’, ‘believing on’, and ‘coming’ are all participles of response which cannot be done without a change of heart and will. Justifying, saving faith can never be a matter of mere understanding.

Now, in this section of his writing Guthrie is seeking to show that because it is not a matter of the intellect, but a matter of the heart and will, saving faith is therefore not as difficult to discern as some would make out. He goes on:

Now, I say this acting of the heart on Christ Jesus is not so difficult a thing as is conceived. Shall that be judged a mysterious difficult thing which doth consist much in desire? If men have but an appetite, they have it; for they are ‘blessed that hunger after righteousness’ (Matt 5:6).
(p. 63)

This is the clincher. Asking someone how he knows he has saving faith is not a matter of listing doctrines. It is the same kind of question as asking how he knows he is hungry. Silly question – he has an appetite. He can feel it as a desire for food. In the same way, a person with saving faith has an appetite for his Saviour, Jesus Christ. He has a desire for him. We see this exemplified in Paul,

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Phil. 3:8b,9, ESV)

This is what saving faith does. It wants Christ. Let’s settle for nothing less.

Saving Faith

No Pretentiousness

In many ministries, there is relentless pressure for constant growth: Every year the numbers have to be bigger, the results more impressive, so that donors will be moved to write another check. By contrast, I once heard Schaeffer speak at a conference where he was asked what would happen if, someday, the money didn’t come in. He responded simply, “I guess we’ll be smaller.” The conference hall errupted into applause at such a refreshing lack of pretentiousness. His mentality was that God had a time and a purpose for L’Abri, and when it had fulfilled that purpose, it might simply end.

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004) p.376.

Got to read more Schaeffer.

No Pretentiousness

Total Truth

Compartmentalisation is a problem for Christians. What I mean is that we have got into the habit of looking at the world in different ways depending on the situation we find ourselves in, whether at home, with the church, at work or wherever. It’s an indication of a lack of a coherent ‘worldview’. Any new Christian experiences this to some extent as the gospel brings new eyes to life. The hope is that over time the maturing Christian’s worldview becomes well-rounded and consistent over all areas of life. However, many Christians seem to get stuck at an early stage and just decide to live with the tension of compartmentalisation.

Nancey Pearcey’s book, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004), brings a spotlight to bear on this issue and shows that the problem is wider than simply personal discomfort. Rather the problem has been around for a long time, and has resulted in the containment of Christianity in society to the private sphere, while the public sphere is left to practical materialists.

The book is divided into four parts. The first traces the roots of the public/private divide, starting with the medieval nature/grace dichotomy, showing the emergence of the fact/values dichotomy of the modern period.

Part 2 examines the foundational question of any worldview: the question of origins. Here Pearcey presents an analysis of Darwinism, which she shows to be not simply a scientific theory but the basis of a materialistic worldview which is the accepted premise of many other disciplines. The implications of Darwinism are critiqued. Pearcey also compares the merits of Intelligent Design.

Part 3 looks at the development of Evangelicalism (in the USA) since the Reformation. In particular the relationship between early naturalist philosophies and early American political theory are explored. The confluence of political sceince and the changes brought about in the church by the First and Second Great Awakenings, leading to spiritual individualism, if anything made a virtue of the public/private split. The advent of Darwinism made the split permanent as evangelicals lacked the intellectual weaponry to resist. As a result, evangelical Christians live effectively without a coherent worldview.

Part 4 draws us back to the nature of true spirituality and the need for the complete renewal of the Christian mind. Only Christian theism can make sense ot the world we actually experience.

This was a facinating and enthralling book. It is well written, has many personal anecdotes and also pays due respect to the influence of Francis Shaeffer on Pearcey’s life. Only in part 2 does the argument become somewhat technical. For those without some knowledge of science the section may prove difficult.

It gives a satisfying explanation as to why we are where we are – why evangelicals seem so weak in the public sphere. We are weak privately and we have not seen it coming. Evangelicals have been like the proverbial frogs boiled slowly in water. We know something is wrong but we see no need to jump out.

The book closes with the reminder of the kind of Christian lives we must live. We must follow in the footsteps of Christ, taking up our cross daily, putting self to death, and following him in new life. Pearcey furnishes us with plenty of anecdotes of how this is absent in Christian ministry in the USA.

What I find interesting here is that Pearcey is laying out the practical outworking of the doctrine of sanctification – the ongoing, daily living in the gospel, a life marked by daily repentance. Pearcey’s conclusion flags up that the failure of evangelicalism in the public sphere is really a failure to grasp the gospel in its fullness. Recover the gospel and destroy compartmentalism.

Buy the book.

Total Truth


A while ago I quoted Richard Dawkins and his description of ‘faith’. Do you remember?

Faith means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.
(The Selfish Gene, 1976)

It is a definition no Christian recognises.

Here’s a much better one. Geoffrey Grogan, writing of the historical basis of the New Testament, and referring to John 20:30,31 and 1 John 5:13, says

Here then we see that the purpose of this literature, and this appears to be true of the New Testament as a whole, is to elicit and to strengthen faith; faith, that is, in Jesus as the Son of God, faith in Jesus as theologically interpreted. Faith grows as it feeds on facts, not on feelings nor on fancies. Faith is greedy for facts; it has an insatiable appetite for them.
(The Christ of the Bible and the Church’s Faith, Mentor 1998, p.86)

Now, I get that description.



We went to City again last night. Six days of Creation this time. General point good: creation ought to stimulate our praise and worship.

But – Framework hypothesis. Not so good. I have never really understood why evidence of poetic structure in Genesis 1-3 means it is not to be taken as literal history.

Just because I sing about the Atonement or the Trinity in poetic forms in hymns does not cause me to doubt that these things are literally true.

Am I just being thick?