October 30, 2009 by Tony Reinke
The Cheap Seats blog recently got ten copies of the ESV Study Bible (retail $75) to give away.
If you haven’t seen it before, the ESVSB has wonderful study aids for young and mature Christians alike: book overviews and outlines, detailed illustrations, 50 articles, 20,000 study notes, and about 80,000 cross-references. It’s something we’d recommend for every Christian hoping to understand their Bible more, so it’s exciting to have a few to share with our readers. As C.J. wrote in his endorsement, “I can’t imagine a greater gift to the body of Christ than the ESV Study Bible. It is a potent combination indeed: the reliability and readability of the ESV translation, supplemented by the best of modern and faithful scholarship.”
Since the Study Bible was created to serve the church, this giveaway is built around highlighting God’s grace in your particular local church. We want to hear from you about what God is doing. To enter the drawing, just write a note describing what you most appreciate about your pastor or your local church.
Email this note to us and—voilà—you are entered in the drawing.
• The deadline for submission is 11pm on Wednesday night, November 4.
• Entries must be at least three sentences but no longer than a page.
• Include your first name, last initial, hometown, and the name of your church.
• Please submit one entry per person.
• Email those entries to blog AT sovgracemin DOT org with the subject line: ESVSB entry.
OTHER FINE PRINT—
• We’ll only ship the Bibles to addresses in the United States or Canada.
• If we like your entry a lot, we might post it (or part of it) online.
• Winners will be selected at random and announced on the blog on Friday (Nov. 6).
• We’ll appreciate it if you reference a Bible verse to frame your entry, but it’s not necessary and won’t affect your odds of winning.
• Winners will choose between these seven editions:
TruTone Classic Black
TruTone Natural Brown
TruTone Mahogany, Trellis Design
TruTone Brown/Cordovan, Portfolio Design
TruTone Forest/Tan, Trail Design
Bonded Leather, Black
Bonded Leather, Burgundy
Thanks for participating in the ESV Study Bible giveaway!
Today’s topic is “why plant churches?” I’m going to answer this question in two posts, or maybe three. Or maybe 40.
In my first post, I mentioned that church planting is part of our DNA. That’s worth explaining because it goes to our history. I’m going to get to the more important reasons from Scripture in my next post, but let me first tell you a brief version of our story.
Way back in the 1970’s, before rock was classic and when disco still had shreds of respectability, there was a teaching ministry in the Washington, DC, area called Take and Give (TAG). For several years, TAG’s weekly meetings attracted up to 2,000 people, most of them young and eager for genuine encounters with Christ. C.J. Mahaney was one of the primary teachers.
I’ve heard C.J. say that season was the closest he’s ever come to experiencing authentic revival. Hundreds upon hundreds of young people were powerfully converted to Christ. But as TAG’s attendance grew, there was a concern among some in leadership about the limitations of regularly gathering people for teaching in a non-church context.
The Lord was blessing the teaching meetings, but a mere teaching meeting seemed insufficient. People needed care, training, and meaningful relationships in a loving but accountable context. They needed pastors who would teach them and care for their souls. This cast them back upon Scripture. Through study, the TAG leadership began to see that their approach to teaching and caring for Christians lacked a biblical context. They began to gain a burden and a vision for the local church.
So imagine this scene. One evening, at the height of TAG popularity, the TAG leaders stun the large crowd by announcing that the Tuesday night meetings are ending. I wasn’t there, but I’m told it was quite the evening. Why would these men possibly tamper with that kind of success?
It’s simple. A conviction had reached critical mass. The TAG leaders were convinced that God’s appointed means of caring for his people was the local church, not simply a teaching meeting. Soon thereafter, Covenant Life Church was born. And soon a passion for church planting developed.
Our church in Philadelphia was a first fruit of that passion. A small group of families and singles relocated to the Philadelphia area in 1984 for the express purpose of starting a church. As we became established, the vision for church planting was internalized through study and a growing awareness of how God had blessed us through the sacrifices of our sending church. Covenant Fellowship has since planted other churches (ten, to date!) and helped train many other leaders for church plants. And, now, some of those churches are themselves beginning to explore and enjoy the adventure of church planting! Similar patterns have emerged elsewhere within the Sovereign Grace family too.
Early in our journey, it became apparent that our churches needed a stronger link than name and common doctrine. A leadership team was formed to help establish strategies for future missions direction. Sovereign Grace Ministries—then called People of Destiny International and later PDI—was formed. The result has been slow, intentional growth from a single church to, as of this writing, more than 85 churches…including eight being started right now. We also work in 22 nations worldwide by helping leaders catch a biblical vision for planting gospel-centered churches. By God’s grace, these churches are joined by a commitment to the gospel and a passion for the local church and missions, which itself spills over from our love for the gospel and the application of God’s Word.
Sovereign Grace owes its existence to the grace of God through church planting. That’s why it’s in our blood. But more importantly, it’s in our Bible.
Join me next time to examine why Scripture compels us to plant churches.
Dave Harvey leads international expansion and church planting for Sovereign Grace Ministries and is based in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. For more information about the Sovereign Grace church-planting process, click here.
A compilation book of the messages delivered at the 2008 Together for the Gospel
conference is now available. Titled Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology
(Crossway, 2009), the new book is authored by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, and C.J., with contributions by Thabiti Anyabwile, John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul and one additional piece by Greg Gilbert.
What follows is a glimpse at the contents, a link to each original conference message audio recording, and a brief comment on each message/chapter taken from Dever’s introduction to the new book.
Chapter 1: Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry (Duncan). Message audio
. Dever: “Ligon Duncan begins this volume as he began that conference. He entered the lists asserting that systematic theology is a worthwhile task. Indeed, in days when the narrative form of biblical theology is attracting great (and deserved) attention, it is too often being pitted against systematic theology. Ligon defends the usefulness and necessity of systematic theology with clarity and vigor. A pastor must remember the truths in this chapter or risk losing the gospel itself” (pp. 12–13).
Chapter 2: Bearing the Image (Anyabwile). Message audio
. Dever: “In his address at Together for the Gospel, Thabiti challenged us to recognize that the category of ‘race’ is irredeemable. It brings far more confusion than light, more contention than understanding, more prejudice than impartial judgment. As you turn to that chapter—perhaps the most explosive of the conference—open your mind and get ready to think” (p. 13).
Chapter 3: The Sinner Neither Willing nor Able (MacArthur). Message audio
. Dever: “John MacArthur delivered a message on human depravity that was a model of clear thinking. In it, John masterfully assembled the witness of Scripture (in the very way Ligon had encouraged us the previous day) on this vital topic. John showed that a mistake here is a mistake in the foundation of understanding the nature of our problem. He laid out challenges currently facing this doctrine and concluded by calling us to be faithful to this aspect of the message, no matter how hard we may find such faithfulness” (p. 13).
Chapter 4: Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology (or) Questioning Five Common Deceits (Dever). Message audio
. Dever: “The next message was mine. I had been mulling over for some time the confusion about the content of the gospel. The message came together as I reviewed notes I had made some months earlier about various issues that needed ‘addressing.’ I began to notice that each one evidenced a distortion of the gospel. With encouragement from my T4G brothers—and the Capitol Hill Baptist congregation—I worked and reworked the material until I felt I got close to saying what I wanted to say. I wanted to get evangelicals talking about what the gospel is exactly” (pp. 13–14).
Chapter 5: The Curse Motif of the Atonement (Sproul). Message audio
. Dever: “R.C. Sproul brought to the conference what many felt was the most devotionally rich meditation on the sacrifice of Christ. And he did it by meditating upon the curse motif in the Old Testament! In his own inimitable conversational style, with wide learning and profound biblical understanding, R.C. took us on a tour of Old Testament practices, verbally painting scenes before our eyes. Again and again, as we stared into the depth of those practices, we began to see the cross of Christ more and more clearly until, well, let me simply encourage you to read what I heard many call ‘the best I've ever heard R.C.’ And, I promise—it's not R.C. you'll be glorifying when you're done” (p. 14).
Chapter 6: Why They Hate It So: The Denial of Substitutionary Atonement in Recent Theology (Mohler). Message audio
. Dever: “This conference in many ways was birthed out of our concern that the atonement is being misconceived and mistaught in too many evangelical books and churches. It was Al who decided to wade into the sea of literature and explain to us what has happened. With a mastery of the literature that is both exceptional and yet typical of our well-read friend, he led us to see the lines of misunderstanding—of attack—that have been laid down against Christ's death being in the place of sinners. His conference message, now here in print, should serve as a guide to the literature and, even more fundamentally, to thinking carefully about the atoning work of Christ” (p. 14).
Chapter 7: How Does the Supremacy of Christ Create Radical Christian Sacrifice? A Meditation on the Book of Hebrews (Piper). Message audio
. Dever: “The last day of the conference, John Piper brought the cross into our own lives and ministries. He posed the question, ‘How does the supremacy of Christ create radical Christian sacrifice?’ Looking through the last few chapters of Hebrews, John called for us to live radical lives so as to have radical ministries. He called us to be God's men. He called us to be certain that in such a ministry suffering will come” (p. 15).
Chapter 8: Sustaining the Pastor's Soul (Mahaney). Message audio
. Dever: “The final message was once again given by the conference pastor C.J. Mahaney. C.J. preached a wonderful message titled ‘Sustaining the Pastor's Soul.’ He presented Paul as an example of one who suffered without complaint and served with obvious joy, regardless of the circumstances. And he called us to be ‘happy pastors,’ too. What was it he repeatedly said? ‘How striking that the one with the most responsibility was the one with the most joy.’….Even though this message appears as the book's last chapter, if you're a pastor and feeling particularly pressed, let me suggest that you begin there” (pp. 15–16).
Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology
is a follow-up to the first volume, Preaching the Cross
(Crossway, 2007), which developed out of the messages delivered at the 2006 T4G conference
I was having a wide-ranging conversation with a friend the other day when we wandered onto the topic of the gospel. I casually observed how frequently the word gospel
was freighted with elements that belong more precisely to the realm of discipleship or ethics—e.g., what we do in response
to the gospel, or how we live in light of
My friend responded with puzzlement: “Aren’t those things part of the gospel? Didn’t Jesus say in the Great Commission, ‘teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’?”
A lively and edifying conversation ensued in which we found ourselves largely in agreement, but also in which a crucial issue surfaced: what precisely is
Perhaps it’s foolish to tackle such a question in a medium that militates against nuance and formulaic clarity. No doubt my comments will be parsed and found wanting by many who discern neglect of this or that biblical theme or emphasis—ah, well, such are the joys of blogging. It is, however, a question that lies at the very heart of our faith, and therefore at the heart of pastoral ministry.
So what does the New Testament present as the gospel?
A good place to begin is Mark’s gospel. At the outset of the book, the author immediately alerts us to the significance of what will follow: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Syntactically, this heading flows directly into the remainder of the prologue (Isaiah’s prophecy, John the Baptist, and Jesus’s baptism/temptations)—indicating that these introductory events are the “beginning of the gospel,” while the balance of Mark’s narrative presents the rest
of the gospel.
What’s the point? For Mark, the gospel is the story about Jesus—the good news of all that Jesus did in his life and ministry and death and resurrection.
We see a similar idea in the early preaching of the church. When Peter is summoned to Cornelius’s home and discovers that God is behind this miraculous chain of events, his presentation of the gospel (“proclaiming the good news of peace”—Acts 10:36b) is an outline of Jesus’s ministry, beginning with John the Baptist on through to his resurrection and commissioning of the apostles to proclaim forgiveness through his name (Acts 10:36-41; cf. 2:22-24; 3:13-15). As far back as C.H. Dodd, commentators have viewed this as a summary of apostolic preaching and noted its basic agreement with the structure of Mark’s gospel. Once again, the gospel is the news of what God was doing through Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.
Paul uses the term gospel
more than any other NT writer. Of course, one of the most familiar renditions of “gospel” in the NT is Paul’s summary statement in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you...For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” Again, the gospel consists of what Jesus did
to save us. Paul’s presentation is more narrow, focusing on the pinnacle of Christ’s work—his substitutionary death and resurrection—but that focus is also embedded into the very structures of the canonical gospels themselves, which reserve far more space for, and place the greatest emphasis on, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So what is the gospel?
Although this brief survey is far from complete, it consistently reveals that the gospel is good news concerning Jesus and what he did to accomplish salvation for sinners.
In other words, the gospel is objective
. It tells us what God has done to save his people. It consists of concrete, historical events, rooted in Old Testament promises, types, and institutions that were fulfilled in Jesus. It promises that all who trust in Christ and his work will receive forgiveness and life. Of course, this isn’t merely a catalogue of events of only historical interest; all of this has massive implications for our lives. But we must not confuse the gospel message itself with the outworking of those implications.
So, for example, although the gospel calls me to respond to what Jesus has done, strictly speaking it doesn’t include
my response—repentance is not
the gospel. Although the gospel introduces me to a life lived in glad obedience to God, strictly speaking it doesn’t include that life of obedience. Our existence as Christians involves unspeakable privileges, significant responsibilities, and untold promise. But those things themselves are not
Why is all this important? It’s important because the very nature of the gospel is at stake—and there is no higher priority for the pastor than to guard the gospel from neglect, distortion, or redefinition (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14).
If the gospel message expands to include “discipleship in the kingdom,” then the objective nature of Christ’s work is minimized. When the gospel is redefined as a call to a social or political movement, Christ’s work is replaced with ours. When the gospel includes my response, then the ground of my assurance lies in me rather than in Christ. Indeed, anytime we shift the definition of the gospel from God’s objective accomplishment to our subjective appropriation, the rock-solid foundation of our faith is misplaced—and the glory of God in the gospel is obscured.
Of course, we can be clear on the gospel message and make other mistakes. We can neglect the entailments
of the gospel (a life of self-denial and obedience to Christ). We can focus only
on spiritual salvation to the exclusion of any concern for the material or physical well-being of others. We can so focus on a heavenly home that we neglect our responsibilities of loving others in a fallen world, and that our ultimate future lies in a “new heavens and new earth” that have been fully renewed by God’s power.
None of these mistakes, however, minimizes the importance of holding fast to the gospel of our salvation. For it is through the power of the gospel that we are transformed to live new lives by the power of the Spirit. It is through the gospel that we are freed from selfishness to give our lives in service of others. Sure, the scope of Christ’s redemption is the whole cosmos (Colossians 1:20), but at the center
of his redemptive concern are rebellious image-bearers whom he is ransoming to be his children. But all of these entailments, implications, and promises are founded upon the rock-solid, unchanging accomplishment of God through the gospel of his Son. It is this message that is God’s power to save sinners, to comfort the grieving, to motivate the listless, to encourage the downhearted, to assure the guilt-stricken.
This message never changes; this message is always true; and so our hope is always secure.
And it precisely when those erstwhile rebels grasp God’s accomplishment in the gospel—the greatest display of “the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love”—that they will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19) and marvel with wonder at the gospel’s display of God’s glorious grace.
Jeff Purswell serves as the Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.
There are regularly more stories of God’s grace in Sovereign Grace churches than we have space to tell. It seems each month new ministry opportunities continue to develop around the United States and in various countries around the world. Recently C.J. recorded a video to provide a brief overview of a few of the latest developments and give a shout out to all those who make it possible. You can view the update from C.J in this eight-minute video:
A Debt of Gratitude from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo. HT: Citygate Films.
Note: This film forms one piece of our 2009 Mission Presentation. Two of this year’s films are available online. To view the other film (“Kingdom Life: Bahamas”), see this post from last week.
For more Mission Presentation films from this year (or previous years) click here.
October 15, 2009 by Dave Harvey
Categories: Church planting
So my buddy C.J. says, “Why don’t you contribute to my ‘view from the cheap seats’ blog a couple of times a month?” This was a real honor, ’cause C.J. has been a dear friend and mentor for over two decades. Still I did wonder if I should hold out for a blog from better seats. Maybe the guy who blogs “from the box seats” or “from courtside” will extend an invitation. Probably not. I should probably just be grateful to blog from anywhere in the arena. I mean, if C.J. sees things from the cheap seats, then I’m outside in the parking lot—much further away, but delicious if you find the right tailgaters.
Really, my first thought was, what an honor to serve my dear friend by speaking to the people we both love and respect the most—pastors!
Okay, let’s move to introductions. I’m Dave Harvey. I’ve pastored in the same Sovereign Grace Ministries church for 23 years. But I’ve also worked in Sovereign Grace Ministries for a good part of that time, kinda on the side. This past October, I turned the senior pastor role over to a 28-year-old man named Jared Mellinger. I’m going to tell you all about that in upcoming blogs, but let’s press through this one first.
Because we love proclaiming the gospel, Sovereign Grace Ministries created a new role and asked me to fill it. We’re not big on titles around here so I’m the “person-responsible-for-church-planting, international-expansion-and-church-care-in-Sovereign-Grace.” People typically start yawning about halfway through my title, so I often grab attention by also throwing in “bomb disposal.”
I live in Philadelphia, home of the world champion Phillies and some pretty awesome cheesesteaks. If you don’t know what a cheesesteak is, then eating one someday should immediately go on your prayer list. Many young men feel called to plant churches in Philly after eating one.
But I digress.
The church in Philly where I am based (Covenant Fellowship Church
) hosts the SGM Church Planting Group. You’re going to hear a lot more about them as I write, as well as how they partner with our regional leaders to plant healthy churches. But here’s a quick overview on the Church Planting Group. They are a team assisting Sovereign Grace pastors in the recruiting, assessing, training, and launching of church planters. It’s a wonderful job since we’re in the process of planting eight churches right now. One of them is being planted by a good friend of mine named Kenny Lynch, who was just sent from our home church last month.
I can’t believe I get to do this kind of stuff; it’s epic sweetness.
Sovereign Grace Ministries defines success partly by planting gospel-centered churches. It is so important to us that we dedicate an enormous amount of time, training, resources, and personnel to it. We’ve been doing it for 25 years…it’s in our DNA, our genes, our blood, it’s…well, you get the picture. But here’s the neat thing: It still feels like we are just getting started. There’s still so much to do, so much to learn. And then we’ve got to effectively transfer the whole thing to the next generation so that they can continue the mission in strength.
I hope this is important to you as well. But sheer enthusiasm is not enough. We need to understand from God’s Word why we as a ministry are called to plant and build gospel-centered local churches around the world.
Wow, I get excited just writing about this stuff. And I hope my blog contribution will encourage those of you with the same burden for church planting
Next time we’ll get started by answering the obvious and foundational question: Why plant churches in the first place?
So log on, grab a cheesesteak and join me next time.
October 14, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Today we end our study of Galatians 4:1–7 with the final verse: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
In this passage we see a change from the plural (“sons” in v. 6) to the singular “a son.” Paul brings his argument down from an address to the Galatians in general, to individuals in particular. The doctrine of God’s adopting grace is deeply personal.
In this passage God is making eye contact with you! He is looking into your eyes because he wants you to be certain of his love for you. He wants you to be convinced of his adopting grace. He wants you to receive his love, experience his love, and rest certain in his love.
But I am not worthy of his household
, you may say. True, you are not. I am not! No one can be a son through human effort or merit. We can be his children only “through God,” only through his initiative and sovereign grace.
Here we conclude our study of adoption: by looking to God. Adoption is not about drawing attention to ourselves, it is about God and his activity, his initiative, and his love. He sent his Son to die for us. And he sent his Spirit to dwell within us for the purpose of convincing us of his love.
Our sinful condition is not unlike the two boys we met at the outset of this series
. They were destitute and without hope. They could not initiate a relationship with their adoptive family. They did not ask to be adopted. They could not conceive of adoption. In fact, they were afraid of being adopted and taken away from what they knew.
Those boys could not earn adoption. And neither can we. Yet we are tempted to reach out, to reach back, to grab at the familiar life of sin. Yet God, in his mercy, has adopted us.
And he is taking us home, to a place of unimaginable beauty and pleasures forever.
October 13, 2009 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Adoption | Book reviews
Puritan John Owen penned an unforgettable statement about God’s love: “The greatest sorrow and burden you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to him, is not to believe that he loves you.”*
Stop for a moment and reflect on that sentence—it could change your life.
Now, let me ask you three questions: Do you believe in God’s personal and passionate love for you? Are you delighting in God’s unconditional love? Or have you laid a sorrow and burden upon your adopted Father by questioning his love for you or refusing to believe that he loves you?
If you are uncertain of God’s love for you—or simply unfamiliar with the gift of adoption—I want to encourage you to restrict your spiritual diet for a season so that you might experience the greatness of God’s love. This is more than an academic exercise; this study is a means to experiencing God’s affection, closeness, and generosity as Father. Immerse yourself in an extended study of this topic, this passage (Galatians 4:1–7), and other passages on this topic.
Allow a godly scholar to hold your hand as you study, explore, and experience this topic. I would recommend three resources, ordered from the easiest to read to the most technical:
• J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP, 1993), 316 pgs. Especially note chapter 19: “Sons of God.”
• Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Banner of Truth, 1989), 144 pgs. Especially note his chapter: “Delighting in the Father’s Love.”
• Trevor J. Burke, Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor (IVP Academic, 2006), 233 pgs.
Why devote so much time to studying the doctrine of adoption? For fresh motivation I close with words from J.I. Packer:
If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.…Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.**
* John Owen, Communion with God (Banner of Truth, 1991).
** J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP, 1993), pp. 201–202.
Cedric Moss serves as the senior pastor of Kingdom Life Church in Nassau, The Bahamas, and graduated from the Sovereign Grace Pastors College in 2008. We’ve just released the first of our annual Mission Presentation films, which profiles Cedric and his wife Alexine. In this short video, they share their Pastors College story, including their expectations of their sojourn in Maryland, the hurdles they faced, and the fruit of their PC experience.
Watch the ten-minute video here:
Kingdom Life: Bahamas from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo. HT: CityGate Films.
To watch Mission Presentation videos from previous years, click here
video crew films C.J’s office, library, work habits, and captures a few distinguishing features of a “pastor-athlete” in this 7 minute video:
CJ Mahaney – Study Video
from Together for the Gospel (T4G)
HT: Justin Taylor