Gospel Polemics

Andy Naselli in a recent post shared this from Tim Keller. It is an excellent presentation on how to debate in our current age. Pastor Chris
Here’s what Tim Keller writes in an extended callout in 

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City

 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 376–80:


All Christian movements must be based on commonly held biblical truths, and yet they must be characterized by trust and a willingness to unite around central truths and accept differences on secondary matters that—in the view of ministry partners—do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. On the one hand, we must realize that if we are going to maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. On the other hand, we must engage in such a way that we show great respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not just punish them.

How can this be done? I suggest the following principles for “polemics”—contending over doctrine—that is seasoned in tone and strategy by the gospel itself. As I’ve read a number of respected Christian authors over the years, I have distilled a few “rules of engagement” that I believe can keep us from either avoiding polemics or engaging in it in a spiritually destructive way.

1. Take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of others’ views. In our Internet age, we are quick to dash off a response because we think Mr. A promotes view X. And when someone points out that Mr. A didn’t mean

 X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize—or maybe we don’t even do that. Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr. A believes and promotes before you publish. This leads to a related rule.

2. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own. Nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander stated that we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views. “Attribute to an antagonist no opinion he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” In other words, even if you believe that Mr. A’s belief X could or will lead others who hold that position to belief Y, do not accuse Mr. A of holding to belief Y himself if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent, but this is not the same as implying or insisting that he actually holds belief Y when he does not. A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr. A quotes a particular author favorably at any point, then Mr. A must hold to all

 the views held by the author. If we, through guilt by association, hint or insist that Mr. A must hold other beliefs of that particular author, then we are not only alienating him or her; we are also misrepresenting our opponent.

3. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively.

 A host of Christian doctrines have an “on the one hand/on the other hand” dimension about them—and without both emphases we can fall into heresy. What if we find Mr. A making what appears to be an unqualified statement that sounds very unbalanced? If that is all Mr. A ever said about the subject, it would be right to conclude something about his position. But what if Mr. A has been speaking or writing these statements to an audience that already believed certain things, and therefore he was assuming those points of doctrine without stating them? At minimum, we must realize that Mr. A simply can’t say everything he believes about a subject every time he speaks. We should not pull out certain statements by Mr. A while overlooking or actually concealing explanations, qualifications, or balancing statements he may have made elsewhere.

4. Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form. This may be the most comprehensive rule of all in polemics, because, if you adhere to it, most of the other policies and principles will follow. Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and

 actually have the possibility of being persuasive—which leads to our next point.

5. Seek to persuade, not antagonize—but watch your motives!

 John Calvin was a Reformer in Geneva, Switzerland. His comrade in this work was William Farel, who was outspoken and hotheaded by temperament. At one point, Calvin wrote Farel a letter in which he urged Farel to do more to “accommodate people”—i.e., to seek to persuade them, to win them over. Calvin then distinguished two very different motivations for seeking to be winsome and persuasive: “There are, as you know, two kinds of popularity: the one, when we seek favor from motives of ambition and the desire of pleasing; the other, when, by fairness and moderation, we gain their esteem so as to make them teachable by us.”

The Farels of the world believe any effort to be judicious and prudent is a cowardly sellout. But Calvin wisely recognized that his friend’s constant, intemperate denunciations often stemmed not from a selfless courage, but rather from the opposite—pride. Writing to Pierre Viret about Farel, Calvin said, “He cannot bear with patience those who do not comply with his wishes.”

In short, it is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. We may be winsome in an attempt to be popular. It is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we must take care that our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.

6. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology—because only God sees the heart. Much criticism today is filled with scorn, mockery, and sarcasm rather than marked by careful exegesis and reflection. Such an approach is not persuasive. No one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton in his well-known “Letter on Controversy


Newton states that before you write a single word against your opponent “and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.” This practice will stir up love for him, and “such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” Later in the letter, Newton writes:

What will it profit a man if he gain his cause and silence his adversary, if, at the same time, he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? … Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”

Newton also reminds us that it is a great danger to “be content with showing your wit and gaining the laugh on your side,” to make your opponent look evil and ridiculous instead of engaging their views with “the compassion due to the souls of men.”

The fourth principle above is especially important. Compare what Keller says earlier in the book:

  • The first step in active contextualization is to understand and, as much as possible, identify with your listeners, the people you are seeking to reach. This begins with a diligent (and never-ending) effort to become as fluent in their social, linguistic, and cultural reality as possible. It involves learning to express people’s hopes, objections, fears, and beliefs so well that they feel as though they could not express them better themselves. (p. 120, emphasis added)
  • Directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Talk regularly to “those of you who aren’t sure you believe this or who aren’t sure just what you believe.” Give several asides, even trying to express the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian doctrine and life better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even as you challenge them directly for their selfishness and unbelief. (p. 308, emphasis added)

Looking for the Living among the Dead

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The disciples of Jesus upon hearing about the empty tomb went running to find out if it was true. The angels who met them at the tomb asked a curious question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” From the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry He made it clear that the purpose of His life was die for sin and rise from the grave three days later. The disciples however, seemed unable to comprehend what He was talking about when Jesus would reference His divine purpose. Hence their frightened response to the divine encounter at the empty tomb on that first morning of Easter.
Looking back on those events through the accounts in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) we clearly see how many times Jesus told His disciples what would happen after His death. Each time He mentioned His death, He spoke of His resurrection from the dead. It seems so clear and simple from our vantage point. Why were the disciples so bewildered? But before we become too judgmental of them, let us be mindful of how many times we fail to understand what the Lord might be saying to us as we read His Word. The Lord’s instructions to His people through His Word today are as equally clear as those words Jesus spoke to His disciples regarding His death and resurrection. Let us not be surprised by His Word, but rather let us with child like faith believe and follow. Pastor Chris

Intentional Faith

May we focus our faith on living intentionally each day. We call this “Intentional Faith”. The verse we have chosen to remind us of this theme is 2Cor.5:9:
“….We make it our aim to please him”
Each day we want to purpose to be aware that we live by faith and not by sight. The Word is sufficient to guide our lives in our homes, work and church life. We want our affections, attitude and actions to be born out of faith, trusting what the Lord has said in His Word.

Thank You

The Lord has clearly communicated to Christians that we are to be a thankful people. In all of the teaching in the Bible, we do not find conditions on His desire that we be a people overflowing in and with gratitude. The following is a small sample of Biblical teaching on being thankful:
“O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  1Chron.16:34
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him. Willingly I will sacrifice to You; I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good. ” Psa.54:6
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 2Cor.2:14
“always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” Eph.5:20
These verses as just a few of the many that teach Christians to be thankful. So in the spirit of these Biblical exhortations I would like to offer my gratitude to God for the blessing of the saints at Bethany. The following is reprinted with permission from Karl Vaters.

“Thank you for staying in a church whose

  • Music
  • Clothes
  • Liturgy
  • Building
  • Service order
  • Preaching style
  • Sanctuary
  • or something else

has changed into something you don’t recognize any more.

Thank you for the heritage you passed on to us that gives us the courage to try new, even stupid things to see if they work.

Thank you for how much you pray for us.

Thank you for reminding us that the methods can change as long as the message doesn’t.

Thank you for keeping the ship steady when people like me want to rock the boat.

Thank you for the times you want to speak up, but decide it might be best to pray about it for now.

Thank you for the times you need to speak up and do.

Thank you for the times you express your concerns in private, so you can stand with us in public.

Thank you for forgiving us when we blow it.

Thank you for letting us reach higher, because we’re standing on your shoulders.

Thank you for letting us reach higher, because we’re standing on your shoulders.

Thank you for catching us when we fall.

Thank you for doing all of this without getting anything close to the credit you deserve.

For these, and so many other blessings that no blog post will ever be long enough for, we thank you.

We can’t do it without you.”
With a heart filled with gratitude,
Pastor Chris

Easter 2015

As we look forward to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we would like to make available to you the various songs we will be singing as a congregation on that Sunday. The titles of the songs below are linked to youtube videos of the songs to assist you in your preparations for our gathering on Easter. Please continue to pray with us that Christ be lifted high as we sing to testify of His saving grace.

Church-Killing Gossip

Gossip is one of the most destructive forces in the local church. The article below, entitled “How to Stop Church-Killing Gossip,” has many helpful suggestions for how we ought to address gossip when we hear it. (This article was originally published on the blog of the Gospel Coalition).

Kent Hughes:

Gossip involves saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face.

Flattery means saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.

Here are some wise words from Dan Phillips for when you hear gossip from someone:

  1. Ask, “Why are you telling me this?” Often, that in itself is such a focusing question that it can bring an end to the whole unpleasant chapter. It has the added benefit that it can help a person whose intentions are as good as his/her judgment is bad.
  2. Ask, “What’s the difference between what you’re telling me and gossip?” See above; same effect, same potential benefits.
  3. Ask, “How is your telling me that thought, that complaint, that information going to help you and me love God and our brothers better, and knit us closer together as a church in Christ’s love?” Isn’t that the goal we should share, every one of us? Won’t it take the working of each individual member (Eph. 4:16)? Isn’t the watch-out for harmful influences an every-member ministry (Heb. 3:12-1310:2413:12-15)?
  4. Ask, “Now that you’ve told me about that, what are you going to do about it?” While the previous two are subjective, this is not. If neither of the previous two questions succeeded in identifying gossip/whispering/sowing-dissension for what they are, the answer to this question will do so. Tip: if the answer is “Pray,” a good response might be “Then why didn’t you do that and leave it there in the first place?”
  5. Say, “Now that you’ve told me about that, you’ve morally obligated me to make sure you talk to ____ about it. How long do you think you need, so I can know when this becomes a sin that I will need to confront in you?” The least that this will accomplish is that you’ll fall off the list of gossips’/whisperers’ favorite venting-spots. The most is that you may head off a church split, division, harmed souls, sidelined Gospel ministry, and waylaid discipleship. Isn’t that worth it?

You can read the whole thing here.

Ray Ortlund explains what gossip is and why it is sinfully enticing:

Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification.

Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments.

It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop.

It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of.

It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty.

Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

. . . Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube.

It erodes trust and destroys morale.

It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere.

It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation.

It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial.

It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against.

It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers.

It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness.

It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves.

It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”

Read the whole thing, including his own counsel on what you should do when you start to hear gossip.


Easter is the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin. He offered Himself as the final sacrifice for sin, forever. Christ’s life and ministry prepared Him for Calvary. His birth, youth and ministry were leading Him to that eventful moment in human history when the blood of the lamb would take away the sin of the world. As Christians, we have nothing greater to celebrate, then Christ crucified and risen.
Below is a link to a 30 day devotional that you can use to prepare your heart for our celebration of Easter. The devotional guide will provide you with Scripture passages and questions to assist you in meditating on the life of Jesus. May the time you spend meditating on Jesus through your study adequately prepare you to lift up and exalt Jesus on Easter Sunday.

Food for Thought

Below is a post from Charles Wood regarding daily Bible reading. I hope it will encourage you to send time in the Word each day.


…”let’s be brutally honest for a moment : do we really feel a need for the Bible? Between Twitter, Oprah, our accountant and Sunday morning sermons, there’s already a flood of counsel washing into our lives.  What’s the Point?  So why read the Bible? And why every day? Dozens of reasons could be mentioned. Here are a few of the most important: Daily Bible reading is how we calm down, tank up, get wisdom, go deep, get busy and commune with God.
1. Calm down.  Each day we roll out of bed and, as C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, ‘all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.’ One reason we read the Bible is so that we are not subject to living the day out of haste but rather out of calm. We remember the shortness of life, the eternality of heaven and the abundance of a gospel from which no sin or failure is excluded. The promises of Scripture are like an asthmatic’s inhaler, enabling us to slow down and take a deep breath.
2. Tank up.  Reading Scripture is like eating food. We have to do it regularly, it tastes good to taste buds that are alive, and it nourishes us for the day. Bible reading is stored energy, stockpiled emotional and psychological capital. We stay afloat throughout the day by making moment-by-moment withdrawals from that vast reservoir.
3. Get wisdom.  By nature, we are fools. Over time we can shed folly and become wise. We will not do it on our own. And we will not do it by downloading all the cleverness of the world’s best self-help gurus into our minds. We need a word from heaven, from beyond. The Bible is the world’s great self-corrective. Each day it tweaks our lives and prompts fresh mid-course corrections. Wisdom flourishes.
4. Go deep.  Daily Bible reading deepens us theologically. On the one hand, the demons are excellent theologians (James 2:19). They would ace our seminaries’ doctrine exams. So it isn’t enough to have right doctrine. But it is certainly necessary. Defective doctrine means a defective view of God, and to the degree our view of God is defective, to that degree the ceiling lowers on our potential for joy, comfort and above all enjoying the gospel of grace. One reason we read the Bible is to deepen our minds. To sharpen the contours of our vision of God. To think more accurately about all that matters most.
5. Get busy.  We also read the Bible to be told what to do. It’s not the main thing we read the Bible for. But we do find ourselves stirred to take action in concrete ways. Sometimes the text commands action directly. Other times it doesn’t, but at the least, indirectly, a text will mess with us, change us a little bit, alter our outlook and thus impel us forward in some new step of practical obedience externally because we have been changed a tiny bit internally.
6. Commune With God.  This is the umbrella category that includes all the rest. This is the point. Reading the Bible is a personal experience—“person-al,” one person to another. What other book do we read, conscious of the author interacting with us as we do so? Daily Bible reading requires routine and structure, but it is not mechanical—just as a body requires a bony skeleton, but it is not the skeleton that gives it life. We do with the Bible what the Psalms guide us in doing—adore God, thank him, complain to him, wrestle with him, express perplexity to him and all the rest.
“Getting Practical:  So what might this actually look like?  To be sure, it would be simplistic to conceive of every person’s time in Scripture as looking the same. Just as there are different but equally valid ways to exercise, so too there are different but equally valid ways to read the Bible. But what is nonnegotiable is that we must be doing so with faithful regularity in order to be healthy.  I have found morning time, first thing, to be best for reading the Bible. The house is quiet. A day’s worth of activity and anxiety has not built up. My mind is as blank as it will be all day and my body is as lethargic as it will be all day, making me well suited for unhurried reflection on the text. At times in the past, I’ve tried spending time in the Word in the evening, but my mind is racing from the day’s events, and I find it extremely difficult to slow down and chew on the text in a meditative way. Coffee and Scripture first thing in the morning has become a daily ritual that I dearly love and need. Experiment with what works best for you. Reading through the Bible in a year may be a good idea, especially if you are newer to Christianity. For myself, I’ve found slower, unhurried reflection and meditation on very small portions of Scripture to be best at this stage, with four young kids in the house and a small window of time for quiet solitude each morning….”  Charles Wood

Spiritual Evaluation

When the calendar year changes, we often make resolutions for the coming year. Sometimes we keep those resolutions and sometimes they fade like the year that has passed. This year I would like to encourage our church family to take some time to look back, so that they can look ahead to the new year with a confident expectation that God would change us in some specific areas of our Christian life.
LifeWay has developed an excellent tool that we can use to evaluate our life in Christ. It is called a “Spiritual Growth Assessment Process”. The link below will take you to it. I hope this tool will help you as the Lord continues His good work in you.  Pastor Chris

“Your wait time is….”

It is possible that when you call a business, you might hear a computerized message which informs you of how long you must wait for a customer representative. Often when we hear that message we have to face how impatient we are. Recently I read an article that contained words of wisdom regrading the virtue of patience. The author of the article is Charles Wood. I am grateful for such godly and wise counsel.

Pastor Chris

“Most people don’t like to wait.  What an understatement for me!  Usually quite patient, I have been known to drive several blocks to get around a slowing moving or stopped train, a traffic light that will take at least three changes to get through, but I have stopped short of knocking down older people in order to get to the front of the line faster.   But while most of us are in a hurry, it seems God is usually not in a hurry.  The Scriptures say He is slow at going about things.  It seems He always has a plan and a purpose for everything.  The problem with waiting is not having all the details.  From our perspective, we have everything figured out, and we want God to move within our time-frame. 
    Waiting is a part of life and one of God’s tools for developing people.  But God rarely does things according to our time-frame, and because of this we can easily get discouraged or even begin to ask questions about God.  God always has good reasons for making us wait.  Waiting is a part of life and one of God’s tools for developing people.  An article I found in my files pointed out the following five reasons why God so often makes us wait:
1. Waiting Reveals Our True Motives:  Waiting has a way of bringing out the best and worst in people.  People who don’t have good motives won’t wait long because they’re not interested in the commitment it takes to see something through.  They’re too interested in short-term gains or success.
2. Waiting Builds Patience In Our Lives: Patience in waiting for small things leads to having patience in the bigger things.  Our problem is our perspective is usually wrong.  We tend to think the bigger things in life are finances and possessions, while God thinks influencing and changing people is more important.
3. Waiting Builds Anticipation:  Why do children get so excited around Christmas?  Because the wait has produced anticipation.  We tend to appreciate things the longer we have to wait for them.  Because of having to wait so long, we tend to cherish and take care of it more than others might.  People tend to treasure the things they have to wait for.
4. Waiting Transforms Our Character:  Waiting has a way of rubbing off the rough edges of our lives.  Few sermons talk about Moses having to wait in the desert 40 years before God came to him.  God used this time of waiting to transform his character.
5. Waiting Builds Intimacy With and Dependency Upon God: Think of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Jesus, Paul, etc.  Waiting during the difficult times developed their relationship with God.  Some of the most intimate relationships we have in our lives are because a friend stood in the trenches with us during the heat of the battle.  I’ve always believed God is just as interested in the journey as he is the destination.  If not, all the biblical accounts would only include the feel good parts and not the good, the bad and the ugly of the times of waiting.  We may not always understand why we have to wait, but the good news is that God never asks to wait without Him.
We discussed this in our small group Sunday evening as some in the group are going through serious times of waiting.  They added several more reasons:
6.  God Knows That We Are Not Yet Ready for What We Want: we may need more maturity, a different setting, some step of action on our part, etc., before we are really ready for any action on His part.
7.  He Just Shows Us Who Is In Control: we know that intellectually, but we sometimes tend to wander into His area.  Waiting may well be His “push-back.”
8.  There Is A Web of Humanity Involved: It is possible that other people and circumstances are involved in that for which we wait.  We are waiting because there are those other things that must be cared for first before our request can be granted.
9.  There Is the Possibility That We Are Not Ready For What We Are Waiting For: There is nothing more tragic that watching someone get an almost immediate answer to prayer and then squander what has been granted on trivialities or minutia.
10.  God May Be Making Us Wait So We Can See Why What We Wanted Would Not Have Been Good For Us To Have At The Time We Were Asking: some of the things I have had to wait for have become matters of indifference during my time of waiting.  Had He given them to me just when I asked for them, I would have squandered them in the sense that I really didn’t need them or even want them, something that I could only learn through the time of Waiting.”