A Christmas Sermon
by Dr. W. A. Criswell
Text: Matthew 20:28
We welcome you as fellow worshippers with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Christ Dying for Our Sins, Dying for a Lost World. And the sermon has in it a twofold hope in its message. Number one: that back of Christmas—with all of its color, and tinsel, and tinfoil, and the accouterments, the sleigh, the carol, the Santa Claus, the reindeer, the tree—back of all of it we remember the great purpose of the coming of our Lord into the world.
by Ronnie Rogers, pastor
Trinity Baptist Church
The good news according to Calvinism is to be proclaimed to everyone everywhere, but it is not good news for everyone who hears. I believe the gospel according to Jesus presents a better gospel.
To many it appears that Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, Traditionalists, etc., all believe the same thing about the gospel while merely differing on tertiaries. Consequently, they quite understandably retort, “Why all of this wasteful bickering; let us just preach the gospel.” I wholeheartedly agree that we can all communicate the gospel message so that anyone and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved; therefore, we should do so and applaud all endeavors at such. I also emphatically believe that non-Calvinists and Calvinists can be evangelistic.
However, I do think it is incumbent upon Christians to make clear that, even though these things are true, the differences between Calvinists’ and non-Calvinists’ perspectives regarding salvation do in fact influence the evangelistic and missionary endeavor. This influence is even determinative of what one can and cannot say to a lost and hell-bound world or a lost and hell-bound individual with whom we communicate the gospel.
These differences are not tertiary as some claim, for they do in fact change the raison d’etre (reason for being or existence) of the gospel, the purpose for sharing the gospel, the language used in communicating the gospel, and the nature of our passion derived from the gospel. Thus, these dissimilarities are substantial. So much so that they actually and unavoidably define the missiology of the church; accordingly, they are not tertiary, all asseverations to the contrary notwithstanding. Our differences even affect our understanding of arguably the most well-known, lucid, humbling, awe inspiring verse regarding the gospel and mission of evangelizing (John 3:16).
The well-known five-point Calvinist, John Piper, asked the question, “What message would missionaries rather take than the message: Be glad in God! Rejoice in God! Sing for joy in God! …God loves to exalt himself by showing mercy to sinners.” My answer to this question is the truth that when someone hears this glorious message, that same someone has a chance, by the grace and mercy of God, to receive the truth of the message by faith. Further, without opportunity for all sinners to accept, Piper’s message should be changed to say, “Some can be glad in God if He predestined you” or “God loves to exalt Himself by showing mercy to some sinners.” This is the actual message of Calvinism, and everyone who understands Calvinism knows it. Unfortunately, it is popularly and ubiquitously stated in the manner cited by Piper (or similarly opaque phrases) that shield most from yet another disquieting reality of Calvinism. I would greatly appreciate Calvinists’ due diligence to speak in such a way that all can be reminded of this reality (as some Calvinists are very careful to do). To propose that this distinction is tertiary is baffling indeed.
There is an abstractness to Calvinism’s understanding of the gospel, which results in a concomitant chilling unfriendliness of the “good news” when shared one on one. For example, it is one thing to say God loves Canada and desires the gospel to go there, or that He desires for Canadians to be saved. It is quite another for the missionary to look into the eyes of a lost and perishing Canadian and say God loves you and desires you to receive the good news of the gospel, which is the friendliness of the gospel in Scripture. The former has an abstract quality about it that the latter does not have (like the difference between saying I love Canadians and then really loving the one who moves in next door). A Calvinist can say, “Believe in Jesus for the remission of sins,” but there is a secret aloofness imbedded in the invitation for the vast majority of individuals who hear the gospel; an aloofness the Calvinist is very aware of and staunchly committed to.
Further, this abstract quality of Calvinism is the provenance of the “good faith offer,” which is reflective of Calvinism’s different understanding of the gospel. I for one find neither this abstraction, with its secret indifference for the majority of individuals who hear the gospel, nor the suggestion of such a concept as a “good faith offer” in the scriptural presentations of the gospel
This abstract quality transforms the simple straightforward gospel as seen in Scriptures from being exoteric (available to all) into an esoteric gospel (only available to some). The exoteric gospel of Scripture calls upon every individual with whom we share to receive the gospel and gives every indication that he should and can believe; that is to say, it is authentically and dependably what it appears to be, the good news of God’s love and compassion offered to all who hear.
Whereas the esoteric gospel according to Calvinism says everyone should come, but the secret is that while God has told Calvinists to tell the lost man to come, be forgiven, and flee the wrath to come, the inner circle—Calvinists—know that God has been pleased to exclude most individuals to whom the Calvinist present this truth. Therefore, if one is to be consistent with Calvinism, the gospel must be protectingly presented so that the hearer believes that God loves him and truly desires for him to be delivered from the fiery cauldron of God’s eternal fury; something no Calvinist can say to any particular individual unless God inspires him to intuit that the lost man to whom he is witnessing is one of God’s elect.
Actually, according to Calvinism, the gospel is good news for some, but inherent in their understanding of the gospel is that for most with whom they speak the good news, it is the ghastliest horror one could ever imagine (whether a sinner desires to believe or not does nothing to palliate this point). That being the case, one may rightly question the righteous legitimacy of indiscriminately declaring a gospel so construed that, in any way, intimates that it is for all who hear because it is emphatically not; something every good Calvinist knows. To wit, if a Calvinist shares the gospel in such a way that the hearers believe that God loves them, desires for them to repent and be saved by faith in Jesus, something that by God’s grace they can do, then the Calvinist has been true to the Scripture but not to Calvinism; additionally, is there not a point when “a good faith offer” is transmogrified into an “ungodly deception?” One that Calvinists can avoid by determinedly shunning any semblance of offering, via precisely chosen guarded language, what the Calvinist is convinced does not exist. Or is the concept of “a good faith offer” an unchallengeably justifiable and un-fillable reservoir for storing gospel secrets of Calvinism? I am simply asking Calvinists to be clear in presenting what they so doggedly believe to be the whole good news, and I do not think that is too much to ask.
Non-Calvinists follow the scriptural pattern of presenting the good news as good news for everyone who hears because, by God’s loving grace, they should and can believe; if they choose to reject, which they do not have to do, they will forfeit being adopted as a child of God and succumb to a sinner’s just dessert. This is based upon a clear, simple, and straight-forward reading of the clearest presentations of the gospel and the declared nature of God. Calvinism’s understanding of the gospel disallows any meaningfully eternal difference in the gospel if they simply said, “God hates you and has a terrible plan for you because the elect will get saved and the non-elect will not.” For Calvinists to respond that they are sharing the gospel out of obedience is not a solution to the problem I pose, but rather it is symptomatic of it. Further, for a Calvinist to rely upon such an idea as “a good faith offer” does nothing to absolve God from intentionally obscuring His real plan.
The gospel according to Calvinism is that the gospel that is commanded to be preached to all, is presented as available to all with an urgency that it be received by all, yet it cannot be received by all who hear the wonderful message of love and forgiveness; even though its universal availability is the obvious inference any listener would draw based upon most Calvinists’ carefully guarded presentation of the gospel (guarding the divulgence of the secret limitations of the gospel according to Calvinism).
Actually, the doctrine of selective regeneration preceding faith dictates that the gospel—good news— is really not good news at all because it cannot be received by anyone who just hears the good news, and this unavailability is just as true for the elect as the non-elect. Reception of the gospel is divinely limited to the selectively regenerated; therefore, the primary good news of Calvinism is not the gospel, but rather that some to whom they speak are on the secret list of those who have been selected for regeneration, which results in receiving the good news—gospel. That is to say, according to Calvinism, the gospel is not the good news to be received by all or any listener, but rather a description of the benefits that will be bestowed upon those on the secret list. Simply put, the gospel according to Scripture is a better gospel than the gospel according to Calvinism.
by Walker Moore, founder/president
This year, we will celebrate our first Christmas with our new grandson, Titus. I don’t know who’s more excited about hanging up the newest stocking on our fireplace mantle, his Grammy or me. Having a new little one in our family has renewed our outlook on life. We get giddy every time we hear his parents pull into our driveway.
by Johnathan Pritchett
SBCToday contributing writer
When Paige Patterson and Al Mohler both defend Reformed Christian Rap, Southern Baptists are bound to take note, especially those who do not follow contemporary styles of music in the wider culture of Christendom. A discussion panel at the recent Worship of God Conference sponsored by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches raised a question about Reformed Christian Rap. The panel made a few off-the-cuff comments, some of which were unfortunate; the video went viral, and a kerfuffle on the Internet ensured. That is to be expected. I commend the analyses of Patterson and Mohler to readers getting up-to-speed on this recent rumpus.
This post is not about all that, though. Subsequent comments from all the people weighing in on this issue have also noted the need for a wider discussion. This is the lone entry from SBCToday seeks to further the discussion rather than rehashing what already has been repeated.
In one sense, this conversation really is old hat. It seems that every time a new form of music enters Christian culture and steadily gains popularity as a ministry vehicle anywhere in the world, there is always a controversy. Dissenters rip verses like 1 Thess 5:22, Rom 12:2, and James 4:4 out of context. Advocates cite Ps 33:2, Ps 150:3-6, Ps 98:6, 1 Chr 15:16, and so on.
Since that conversation has been done to death, it is time to stop and assess some things. As I have written before here on this site, I believe that all things should be done for the glory of God, and reflect objective truth, goodness, and beauty. Those things are not in the eye of the beholder, but are grounded in the very nature of God. I believe that because I believe this is what the Bible teaches. Beyond that, I have seen that objectivity reflected in just about every musical genre. Sometimes it takes a tutored ear to hear it in certain musical genres, but unless someone is deliberately trying to make ugly and false noise, for me, almost everything is okay in my book – almost — though I prefer that some forms of music stay out of corporate worship services altogether. On the other hand, I also hope and pray that in a culture of Christendom, we would embrace all true, good, and beautiful art forms that bring glory to God. This is especially so if they are an effective delivery means for the Gospel.
Full disclosure: I was a Christian Rapper. See “Cross Soldiers” on Myspace and you will unfortunately be exposed to my horrific contributions to the genre. Before that, I was in a hard rock Christian band, which thankfully was before the time the Internet was in full swing, thus sparing me further embarrassment with my high school music efforts also being firmly embedded somewhere on the World Wide Web.
So, this discussion is one I have had for some time now, and given this history, I am a bit sensitive to it. I have not changed my views even though I am now a middle-aged white guy who has stopped pursuing that kind of music. Back then, I was only average at best; but it was fun, and preaching in that context is actually where I cut my teeth presenting sermons, even to the most hostile of crowds in the dirtiest bars in the Mid-South. Hey, many Christian artists merely give a testimony during their performances, if even that. So, yes, I am a bit biased toward being generally positive in embracing musical genres others in the SBC may not like. Yes, God uses it to bring people to Himself. I’ve seen it first hand. God is mighty to save.
Back to Reformed Christian Rap music. People often discuss the high theology in the lyrical content. Many praise songs we sing in contemporary services do not even come close to matching the theology in some of these rap songs. When was the last time you sang a praise chorus in a contemporary worship service that went into depth about the hypostatic union? I applaud high theology in any musical expression, even theology that contains soteriological views I reject.
But there is a picture bigger than just Reformed Christian Rap. There are other kinds of Christian Rap as well. Some of it contains sound theology that isn’t Reformed. However — and this is what is important to know — there is also an enormous amount of it that goes under the banner of “Christian Rap” but is, in the vernacular, “straight up garbage.” By garbage, I don’t simply mean it “sounds terrible” compared to other Christian Rap music, like my aforementioned contributions.
By garbage, I mean theological garbage.
As mentioned above, I was involved in the local Christian Rap scene here in Arkansas years ago, and almost all of the Christian rappers I knew of were in the extreme end of the charismatic, prosperity movements, complete with all the abysmal theology that goes with it in their music and rhetoric. Also, many of the rappers wore absurd amounts of jewelry, were flaunting money, and some even used the “n-word” minus the “r” in their lyrics — all under the guise of “relating to the people.”
In that sense, there is a bridge too far in these sorts of endeavors to “reach the lost” through popular genres of music, and heresy is heresy regardless of the vehicle it rides. As I have continued to survey the full spectrum of Christian Rap music over the years since my departure from it, not much has changed. Still lots of garbage Christian Rap music out there.
As far as theological garbage goes, the same can be said about a lot of Christian Rock, Christian Alternative, Christian Heavy Metal, Christian Praise Choruses, Southern Gospel, certain hymns even, and whatever else. Some of these artists and composers are not regenerate, live wickedly, and use the banner of “Christian music” as a means to get a crowd because they couldn’t hack it as secular artists and they just want to make some money and do music for their own glory and selfish ambition. This is neither unexpected nor surprising though, but it is worth the reminder.
Being from Arkansas, I remember when Evanescence openly claimed, despite the denials, to be a Christian band before they hit it big, and remember when they were pulled from LifeWay and other Christian retail stores when they made some questionable comments for public consumption. We’ve all seen other bands and artists that were “Christian” when they were nobodies, then get popular and go secular, or their lives go into the toilet, or they simply become nominal Christians who are snickered at behind their backs among their secular peers for clinging to their old beliefs, but not living according to them.
For the record, I don’t even believe every song a Christian musician performs has to be about Jesus, or contain rich theology. However, every Christian artist needs to live like a Christian, serve the Lord, pursue truth, goodness, and beauty, and do all things to the glory of God (Col. 3:23-24). Like pastors, theologians and anyone else in the Church, these Christian musicians are not above scrutiny and accountability.
So, I’ll add some more proof texts that actually are relevant to the discussion. 1 Thess 5:21, 1 John 4:1, and Rom 12:9 are pertinent to this issue of Christian music, rap or otherwise.
The body of Christ is diverse, each person with different gifts, from different cultures, etc. The whole book of Ephesians speaks to this mightily. The cross of Christ unites people from all tribes, tongues, and nations (Rev 5:9). God has not baptized any particular sin-stained culture. God redeems people from all cultures. God’s redemptive scope is cosmic (Rom 8:20-22). Thus, one sin-stained culture should not be completely abandoned in favor of another sin-stained culture in terms of artistic expression, clothing style, etc., within the bounds of Christian reason and biblical standards of conduct.
One does not get saved and have to therefore dress like a middle-aged white guy from the South and sing out of the Heavenly Highway hymn book (with horrific songs like “Ain’t It a Shame” and all that) and dare not go beyond those bounds. That kind of notion is, of course, complete rubbish (they should use the Baptist Hymnal instead…just kidding…sort of). The good ol’ South that I love is sin-stained as well. So, trying to impose some arbitrary standard of culture on people within the Church that cannot be grounded in good exegesis of Scripture is an errand of the foolish.
Now, having said that, this lone SBCToday contribution wants to add to this further discussion, this old hat discussion, one little bit of biblical wisdom: Use discernment with everything labeled “Christian,” and this biblical principle extends beyond music genres, but as the Scripture says, “in all things.”
Brewton-Parker College Press Release
Mount Vernon, Ga., – On Monday evening, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to elect Dr. Ergun Caner as president of Brewton-Parker College. Brewton-Parker is one of three colleges affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.