Thursday, September 29, 2011

JI Packer on the Sovereignty of God

“I do not intend to spend any time at all proving to you the general truth that God is sovereign in His world. There is no need; for I know that, if you are a Christian, you believe this already. How do I know that? Because I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers. In prayer, you ask for things and give thanks for things. Why? Because you recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you have had already, and all the good that you hope for in the future.

…This is all luminously clear to us when we are actually praying, whatever we may be betrayed into saying in argument afterwards. In effect, therefore, what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the Lordship of his God.

Nor, again, am I going to spend time proving to you the particular truth that God is sovereign in salvation. For that, too, you believe already. Two facts show this. In the first place, you give God thanks for your conversion. Now why do you do that ? Because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it. You did not save yourself; He saved you. Your thanksgiving is itself an acknowledgment that your conversion was not your own work, but His work. You do not put it down to chance or accident that you came under Christian influence when you did. You do not put it down to chance or accident that you attended a Christian church, that you heard the Christian gospel, that you had Christian friends and, perhaps, a Christian home, that the Bible fell into your hands, that you saw your need of Christ and came to trust Him as your Savior.

You do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense. Perhaps, in the days when you were seeking Christ, you labored and strove hard, read and pondered much, but all that outlay of effort did not make your conversion your own work. Your act of faith when you closed with Christ was yours in the sense that it was you who performed it; but that does not mean that you saved yourself. In fact, it never occurs to you to suppose that you saved yourself.

As you look back, you take to yourself the blame for your past blindness and indifference and obstinacy and evasiveness in face of the gospel message; but you do not pat yourself on the back for having been at length mastered by the insistent Christ. You would never dream of dividing the credit for your salvation between God and yourself. You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God’s. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to.

This is the way in which, since you became a Christian, your heart has always led you. You give God all the glory for all that your salvation involved, and you know that it would be blasphemy if you refused to thank Him for bringing you to faith. Thus, in the way that you think of your conversion and give thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge the sovereignty of divine grace. And every other Christian in the world does the same.

There is a second way in which you acknowledge that God is sovereign in salvation. You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Savior. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask.

And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God’s own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God’s own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus, by your practice of intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God’s grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.

The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it.

…On our feet we may have arguments about it, but on our knees we are all agreed.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We like 'quick', God is OK with 'slow'

I found this a very interesting and helpful perspective.  While he comments from an American perspective, his comments ring true in Oz as well.   Dale Ryan, part of the Fuller School of Theology faculty since 1993 and director of the Fuller Institute for Recovery Ministry on spiritual tIransformation in a society addicted to speed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Backyard Bard

I had never come across this organisation before but this is excellent.  You can check out there range of presentations her at the website:

I have only watched this one, 2 Timothy, but if the others are a similar standard, well worth looking at.  The text is delivered with passion and insight that brings it alive for the listener. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Whenever we have to go and purchase a car or some latest IT gadget from Harvey Norman, it is almost always an opportunity to reflect on my response to the apporach taken by the salesperson (usually men).  The aggressive, in-you-face types just don't do it for me - I firmly reject their advances and tell them I am 'just looking' in the hope that they will leave me alone. If they do drop back, I inevitably seek them out and ask for advice - if they push harder, I am likely to just leave the store altogether. In the devloped world there are always other options!

The worst examples are, of course, the real estate salesmen who seem to stalk you through a house inspection, following you from room to room, pointing out what they consider to be the salient features of the house that make it a must-have for your family even though they know nothing about you.

I find myself asking if this is just a personal preference or do others feel this way?  Is it simply that my personality/style prefers a more laid back, 'can I be of help' style of sales pitch?

What got me thinking along these lines was a post by friend Andrew Finden about Mark Driscoll's latest Facebook post where he says: "So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you've ever personally witnessed?"   At last count the post had generated nearly 700 responses (no - I have not read them all) many of them aggreived at the tone and nature of the post. 

My mind went back to another recent tweet from another darling of what some call the neo-Calvinists, John Piper when, in response to Rob Bell's new book 'Love Wins', he tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell".

On the other hand, I was fascinated to read in Christianity Today a Q&A session with Francis Chan and CT editor Mark Galli.  Both  Galli and Chan have written books in response to "Love Wins".  While taking on Rob Bell's arguments, to me they have done so with humility and grace rather than the in-you-face style of Driscoll 

I owe much to the reformed tradition in my own faith journey - I would affirm that theologically, I remain attuned and aligned even with the emphasis on God's grace, on the priority and importance of Scripture and the atoning work of Christ. 

But increasingly I find myself repelled by the strident nature of the commentary by some of the neo-reformed proponents - the salesmen if you like of the neo-reformed movement.  I find myself wanting to move away and try a different 'store'. 

On the other hand, I find Tim Keller a most winsome and winning advocate of key aspects of the reformed tradition.  I have not read any of Francis Chan's works but the interview referred to above carries the same sense of humility that I find attractive.

So my questions are:
  • Is it just me or do others feel this way?  Is it a personality issue rather than a theological one?  While clearly some are attracted to Mars Hill of Driscoll fame, others are attracted to Mars Hill of Bell fame!
  • What is the impact of this sort of internal critique and carry on both inside and outside the church?  Doe it really help to promote the gospel and the kingdom or just the profiles and empires of the various protagonists?
  • Is this a feature of American evangelical debate in particular - the home of individualism and celebrity?  My spiritual hero John Stott (English), while never backing away from an opportunity to present a biblical perspecte on any issue, never seemed to indulge in the sort of vitriole that now seems to characterise much of the debate.
  • And finally, is it somehow related to the new world of the blogosphere - a place where you can say anything, anytime about anyone without fear of real retribution, hiding behind the relative anonymity?  These couple of paragraphs on a David Nilsen's guest blog at Rachel Held Evans site  captured some of this for me:
If I were not privileged to be in these relationships, it would be easy for me to demonize or belittle people who hold theological beliefs more conservative than my own. But when the person who holds some doctrinal position diametrically opposed to my own is sitting across the table from me eating chicken wings while we watch football, laughing at the joke I just made, it becomes a little harder to start a flame war with him online. We're friends, so when we find ourselves stuck between parting ways or talking out differences, we've so far been able to choose the latter.

You will not always like the people who disagree with you, and you will not always be able to have civil disagreements with them. But if you can start and maintain relationships with Christians who see things differently than you do, you'll discover they are real human beings who care about other people. When they think a lot of the same things are funny, and when they like a lot of the TV shows you like, you'll have a harder time calling them (and people like them) Pharisees or Heretics or Nazis or whatever else you are tempted to call the people with whom you disagree.

I know that there is more at stake here than the purchase of a new house or car ... just wondering though ...