Book Briefs: The Wonderful Decree

Dr. Campbell has written an important work on the Decree of God. This work begins by telling readers the story of his wife dying and he articulates that is what pressed him into studying and examining the scriptures. His story will grip every reader and those seeking to search through these truths with him throughout the rest of the book. He then addresses some of the potential reservations for Calvinism. But sees that suffering strengthens faith (pg. 11), good has come from his wife’s death (pg. 14), and the existence of God deals with evils and sufferings (pg. 16). 

He then walks throughout the various challenges to the decree of God from theism – polytheism – pantheism – atheism. He describes each term and shows the differences that exist between each term. He discusses compatibilism and libertarianism. Dr. Campbell defines the doctrine of election and says that election is compatible with love (pg. 71). He gives one of the best biblical cases for the doctrine of election and walks through the scriptures.

I believe his story of his wife and how he wrestled through those things during her death is worth the price of the book. But this is one of the most helpful and soul-stirring arguments for understanding biblical election that I have ever read. 

As he moves forward, he gives a critique of Arminianism and then continues to give a strong case for unconditional election. He spends time discussing infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. He says that God’s love is an act of free grace (pg. 220). He shows how the decree of God is incompatible with Molinism and then ends this work with an epilogue (pg. 281). 

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Click to purchase on Lexham Press

The Shock of Sin and Grace in the Life of a Leader

By Mathew Gilbert

It’s always difficult to see someone you really respect fall deep into sin. Even the slightest accusation of moral failure in someone you respect changes the way you look at them forever. When we see crucial authority figures in our lives fall into sin, we struggle to trust not only that person, but that position in the future. If you catch one of your parents having an affair, you will struggle to ever trust them again. And you will also have a negative view of marriage, which likely means it will affect your own marriage if unchecked. If you hear about your pastor, teacher, or coach indulging in sin, your trust in them and their position will be shaken. It is so hard to think about people you respect sinning so deeply. It’s one thing to know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but it’s quite another to see sin creep out of the hearts of those we most respect.

I think about popular pastors who have recently been relieved of pastoral duties due to moral or leadership failures. There was a literal shockwave that ran through my social media feeds when Darrin Patrick and Perry Noble were outed for deep, latent sin in their lives and ministries. In our celebrity pastor culture, it is easy to forget that even the most charismatic leader is not immune to sin. I have lamented the number of times I’ve seen “This doesn’t surprise me” or, “I told you so” in response to the meteoric fall of evangelical leaders like Driscoll, Tchividjian, Patrick, Noble, and others. There is no place in the church for this kind of proud posturing. The shock of sin has drastic immediate and long-term effects on a church when one of her leaders falls.

I believe the life of David is a testament to the shock of sin and grace in the life of a leader. There are many lessons to be learned from David’s fall into sin, but two that help us when leaders in our lives sin revolve around the shock and awe of sin and grace.

David was a man after God’s heart and handpicked by the Lord to lead Israel as king. God even promised that David’s kingly line would culminate in a kingdom that would never end. One day, a Davidic King would sit on his throne and never give it up. David was righteous and desired to obey the Lord. But, David surprised his own people and even us by falling into a deep spiral of sin. He fell for a woman who was not his wife, and was in fact someone else’s wife! Then, in an attempt to cover his sin, David had the woman’s (Bathsheba) husband (Uriah) killed. David gave in to temptation and brought everyone around him down with him. Failing to kill his sin led him to continue in his sin. Instead of confessing his sin and trusting God to cover it with his grace, David tried to cover his sin by killing another man.
Despite David’s shocking downward spiral into dark sin, God’s shows him tremendous mercy. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin to God and received his compassion. David shares what this experience was like in Psalm 51. There are a couple things that do surprise us about David’s sin and God’s grace that really shouldn’t.

First, we are surprised that a man like David can sin the way he did. While we should expect to grow in Christlikeness throughout our Christian life, sin remains in our hearts until we die or Christ returns. Anyone is capable of dreadful sinful actions, because the dreaded enemy of sin has invaded the heart of every person. So, don’t be surprised when you or people you respect sin. Sin should always be unwanted, but it should never been unexpected.
It is a sign of either a healthy or deceived church when the people are shocked when a pastor falls into sin. It is healthy, in one sense, to be shocked at deep sin in the life of a pastor. Christians are on a path of righteousness. They are being conformed into the image of Christ. Day by day, sin is being rooted out of their hearts. However, sanctification isn’t an overnight process. It is a lifelong process. There are many battles–some won, others lost. But, we fight knowing the war has been won by Christ on the cross as he defeated the dominions of darkness and death. While we should expect sin to still be in the heart and life of ourselves and our leaders, our hearts should be broken and in one sense shocked by unrepentant sin in the life of leaders.

Second, we are surprised that God would show David such compassion in the midst of his deep and dark sin. But, we know the character of God. He is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love (Ex. 34:6). We should never be surprised at God’s grace, but we should always be amazed by it. Learn from David’s sin and God’s grace that covering your own sin with more sin will never satisfy. However, trusting God’s grace in the cross of Christ to cover your sin will always satisfy.

As deep as sin goes in the human heart, the grace of God in the gospel goes even deeper. Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Darrin Patrick, Perry Noble, and any other Christian leader who has fallen into deep sin has not exhausted the riches of God’s grace in Christ. The tank of God’s benevolence toward them isn’t on empty. It is as full as it has always been. And assuming these men are in Christ, there is a fountain of mercy and forgiveness for the mountain of sin they have allowed to grow.

The fall of leaders in our lives is devastating. It is detrimental to the influence of a local church and the Church as a whole. No one is helped when a pastor bullies his way to power, commits an affair, or launders money from the church fund. We should guard our hearts from the treacherous lure of sin, knowing that none of us are beyond a Davidic descent into a pit of sin. But we should always marvel at the grace of God, which he bestows on unworthy and fallen sinners like us. As devastating as the fall of broken leaders is, the restoration of repentant leaders by God’s grace is an incomparably sweet reality. Whenever you see a leader in your life fail morally and fall into sin, don’t point your fingers and shake your head in arrogant self-aggrandizement. Instead, bow your head in humble prayer that God would restore these men to himself and their people.

God pursues us in his grace like a relentless mother searching for her lost son at the mall. He will not rest until his children are found! And for those of us in Christ, he will bring to completion the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

For the Sake of Wisdom and Insight: A Burden for History (Part Two)

By Paul Sanchez

In my last post, I argued that to study history is to gain wisdom. As ministers of the gospel, we need wisdom to be faithful stewards of our calling. This is true of Christians in general, but particularly for those who shepherd the flock. However, if we polled evangelical pastors across the United States, I expect that relatively few read a significant amount of history. Perhaps even the most thoughtful pastors would admit that the only historical content they read is historical theology. As helpful as historical theology is, ministers can benefit from reading beyond theology. Ministers should read history to understand the culture in which they serve, the background of the people they shepherd, the patterns that are still at play, and even for the predictive insight that history offers.

Although I pastor in San Jose, CA—hardly representative of southern culture—I love the south. I believe significant needs for ministry still exist in the region, and understanding its history is necessary to meet these needs. Previously, I argued that the south has preserved a culture that is unique when compared to the rest of America. To some extent, the south still represents a genuine sub-culture. The central reason for this is the south’s shared past—its history. Here, I’ll offer a few more resources to further equip ministers, and Christians in general, to serve in their context:

1. Snay, Mitchell. Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South. New York: Cambridge, 1993.

The American Civil War is the single most important event in the history of the southern United States, and arguably for the United States as a whole. However, the religious divisions that occurred in the decades leading up to political session reveal how divided Americans already were and how significantly religion shaped the southern consciousness. Only fifteen years before South Carolina seceded from the Union, the two largest Protestant denominations in the south, the Methodists and Baptists, divided over the issue of slavery, foreshadowing political secession and the war that followed. If American religious leaders could not sustain peace, how could anyone expect politicians to do so? The ghosts of secession, the war, and reconstruction, still haunt the south. Ministers need to understand these dynamics and how they still affect the region today.

2. Kidd, Thomas S. and Barry Hankins. Baptists in America: A History. New York: Oxford, 2015.

Although this book does not focus exclusively on the southern scene, the role of Baptists in shaping southern culture is well-known. Much of the Baptist story takes place bellow the Mason-Dixon Line. Today, millions of southerners still hold membership at a Baptist church. Kidd and Hankins make a powerful argument that Baptists have experienced unity best when they were outsiders in society. As they achieved a level of insider status and peace with the social status quo, they became weakest, most fractured, and lacking in identity. Baptists were anything but outsiders in southern culture during the twentieth century, but that might be changing. If this continues, it might strengthen rather than cripple Baptists. Ministers might benefit from looking to Baptist history anew to understand their changing context both for encouragement and empowerment.

3. Ayers, Edward L. The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction. New Edition. New York: Oxford, 2007.

Edward Ayers argues that the New South was a different world from the Old. However, the era did not produce a monolithic experience for all southerners, as some historians have previously contended. Each city and sub-region had unique dynamics. Generally, however, the south modernized, finally falling in line with the rest of the Union, even as the promise of progress failed to resolve the complex issues that existed in Dixie. Ayers details the rise of Jim Crow, which reigned in the south into the 1960s. In the New South era, we see mass migration of black southerners northward and into southern boomtowns. New cities sprang up seemingly out of nowhere. For ministers serving in places like Birmingham, Charlotte, and Knoxville, this work is especially helpful for grasping the dynamics of these distinctly New South cities. For all of the south, the issue of race looms large. Understanding the New South era is essential for explaining the rising racial tensions between whites and blacks and the oppression and segregation which resulted.

4. Ammerman, Nancy. Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 1990.

In my last post, I included Barry Hankin’s Uneasy in Babylon: Southern Baptist Conservatives and American Culture. Another important work on this topic is Nancy Ammerman’s Baptist Battles. Like Hankins, she is part insider and part outsider to the conflict. She is partial to the moderate wing of the conflict, but her analysis as a sociologist is insightful. Ministers in the south, Baptist or not, conservative or less so, need to know this history. Its consequences still affect churches across the region, but also institutions of learning, Baptist state conventions, and even public sentiment. To those who were too young or not yet born during the days of the Southern Baptist holy war, it might seem far removed, but to those who experienced it, particularly those who lost the war, emotions still run high. Chances are, if you serve in a southern city, churches in your city still represent the moderate wing of the old convention. The need for sensitivity, wisdom, but also conviction, remains.


 

Paul Sanchez has pastored churches in Kentucky and Louisiana and currently pastors Emaus Church in San Jose, CA. He is a PhD student at Southern Seminary under Greg Wills, studying American religious history. He is writing his dissertation on Southern Baptist churches during the American Civil War. You can follow him on twitter @paulsanchez408 and at emauschurch.com.