Monthly Archives: April 2014

Theological Triage and Pulpit Supply Ministry

I was recently reminded of an article Dr. Al Mohler posted almost 9 years ago, entitled “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” (click here to read in full).  In his post, Mohler makes a case for a first, second, and third order classification of Christian doctrine.  Just as the medical community uses triage to assess the urgency of a situation they must address, theologians, preachers, and churches can make use of a method to determine what issues matter the most and deal with them accordingly. 

A broken arm and a heart attack are two different things, and both need addressing.  However, a broken arm is not necessarily life threatening in the way that a heart attack is.   Yet, you would not want to let a broken arm go without treatment, despite the fact that it is not the first order of importance.

In a similar manner, the three levels of doctrine proposed by Mohler do not imply that any of those doctrines is unimportant.  So, what are those three levels?

1. First-order doctrines “include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith . . . such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture,” as well Jesus’ virgin birth, perfect life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and future bodily return to earth.  These are “the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.”

2. Second-order doctrines differ from first-order ones “by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.”  Among second-order matters are the meaning and mode of baptism, the structure of church government, and qualifications for leadership (which would define one’s view on whether women can serve as pastors).

3. Third-order doctrines include issues on which believers “may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations” and would include the interpretation and timing of biblical eschatology (end-times) and certain matters of Christian liberty (matters about which the Scriptures do not directly say what is or isn’t permissible for Christians to do).

How Theological Triage Should Shape Pulpit Supply Ministry

I find Mohler’s three-tier categorization of doctrine helpful.  He doesn’t argue that any doctrine is unimportant.  But he does provide a helpful distinction so we can know which are of the greatest urgency to get right, and as a gauge for what constitutes proper fellowship.  If you preach outside the bounds of your local church and denomination, there are several implications for filling the pulpit as a guest preacher.  (If you are uncomfortable in settings outside of those where you find agreement on all three levels, this article will have little significance for you.)

As a general rule, we should limit ourselves to explaining and applying first-order doctrines in our preaching.  This does not preclude mentioning various interpretations related to second or third-level issues when preaching.  But if we deal with these, we should be fair by representing the major diversity of viewpoints briefly, identifying them as important but secondary, and moving on, not seeking to push any of them in this particular setting.  

One of the reasons we should limit ourselves to preaching first-order doctrines is that the basic level of fellowship as fellow believers, for many of us, may be the very basis on which we are legitimately invited to that church in the first place.  I am not ashamed to reveal that my view on second-order issues includes a belief in congregational church government, credo-baptism (baptism by immersion for believers only) and complementarianism (which understands the Scriptures to only qualify godly men as pastors), and that my third-order views include premillennialism and that I personally abstain from all alcoholic beverages.  Yet, I have found myself invited to speak in churches with real believers in our Lord Jesus Christ who have a different type of church government, different understanding of baptism, pastoral ministry, the millennium, or Christian liberty.  Frankly, some of these churches are ones I can preach in but could not join as member!  Nonetheless, we share a commitment to Scripture and the Gospel of Christ, and there is no lack of preaching to be done as relates to the first-order doctrines, matters of which many in our pews and chairs have a deficient understanding.  

There could certainly be exceptions.  If a Baptist is supplying in a Baptist church or a Presbyterian in a Presbyterian church, it may be suitable to get more specific on baptism or church government.  A church may even invite you to speak on a second-order or third-order doctrine precisely because they want more instruction on the specifics of a particular interpretation.  But to go into a church with a different view of a second- or third-order doctrine and seek to change them in one sermon could be seen as uncharitable, unwise, and the waste of a good opportunity to speak of what is most urgent.  (And probably a good way to not be invited back.)

This discussion may also raise another question: should I preach in a setting where I know the church is in error on first-level doctrines?

I would say YES – BUT.  

Yes, but don’t pretend to agree with a church that denies a first-level doctrine in order to get such an opportunity.

Yes, but in this situation you are positively obligated to speak on first-level doctrines.  Whereas you want to generally avoid second- and third-level doctrines in many churches, you never want to avoid first-level doctrines.  

Yes, but make clear what is so important about first-level doctrines.  And make it clear that you cannot deny these teachings of the Bible and still be a Christian.

Yes, but make it clear that you disagree with them and show them from the Scriptures, not just your opinion, why they are wrong and what is correct.

Yes, but don’t do it with a hatred or malice toward the people.  Patiently, clearly instruct, as Paul says to Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Yes, but don’t expect to be invited back.  It may be the only time you have to bear witness to the truth in such a circumstance.  And there may even be believers there who have been waiting for someone to tell them the truth.

All this emphasis on first-order doctrines should not discourage us from knowing what we believe about the secondary doctrines.  It should not make us shy away from joining a church based on agreement with first- and second-level doctrines.  And if you are a pastor, it shouldn’t make you second-guess whether you should preach in your church doctrines that are not first-level.

Theological triage should help us deal with the most urgent issues when we serve as guest preachers, and leave those matters of important, but lesser urgency, to our own churches and the personal conversations we have.  After all, why should we try to fix a broken arm if the person needs treatment for a heart attack first?

Updates Links and Deals

Please make time to listen to this message from Kevin DeYoung: “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism, and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible”  For professing Christians who claim that the Bible isn’t historically accurate…. well, JESUS disagrees with them. Faith-strengthening, encouraging — praise be to God for giving us His trustworthy Word!  DeYoung has a book, just released, on this topic, Taking God at His Word.  I just read it and I cannot recommend it highly enough (here’s the link for Amazon).

Sermon Description:  In this sermon, primarily from the Gospel of John, Kevin DeYoung argues that Scripture’s inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency provides a foundation for both the truth of the gospel and our confidence in evangelism. Christians believe this not because of a modern, man-made ideal of “inerrancy,” but because Jesus himself thought and taught this way. As DeYoung said, “It’s impossible to uphold the Bible more than Jesus did.”

I am working on the final touches of a book addressed to students at Christian colleges, particularly about the compromise some may face in the classroom.  Lord willing, it will be released on Amazon Kindle this week.

I’ve also read a bit in The Diary of Alvin York, the World War I hero.  Fascinating first-hand account.

Tim Challies says that in our preaching we may be shortchanging folks of the most important thing we can share with them.

Deals:

The following deals are good through April 30:

John MacArthur’s books on prayer and worry are 99 cents.  (Alone with God: Discovering the Passion and Power of Prayer and Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul.)

R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross is free this month as an MP3 audio download.

The following deals are good through May 11:

J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (99 cents)

Andreas J. Köstenberger & Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus:  The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived  (99 cents)

James N. Anderson, What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (99 cents)

John MacArthur, The Silent Shepherd (book on the Holy Spirit) (99 cents)

And…

Mark Dever’s book, The Church: the Gospel Made Visible is 99 cents for Kindle.  Gospel eBooks doesn’t say how long this deal is good, but the print list price is $12.99.

Merrill Unger, Biblical Demonology: a Study of Spiritual Forces at Work Today (FREE April 25 only)

The following deals are good through May 11

J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (99 cents)

Andreas J. Köstenberger & Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus:  The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived  (99 cents)

James N. Anderson, What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (99 cents)

Book Review: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

9781581348460mBook Review: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

Reviewed by Doug Smith

Mark E. Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007), 124 pp.

What exactly is the Gospel? What exactly is evangelism? Whose job is evangelism? How should we evangelize? Why should we evangelize? Why don’t we evangelize?

According to Mark Dever, the Gospel is such good news that Christians actually ought to share it. Of course, this idea is found in the Bible itself. This should be no surprise to us. Yet, it seems we find many excuses and reasons to neglect evangelism. At many seminaries and Bible colleges, students are required to take a course on personal evangelism. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that pastors-in-training are required to witness to people? Could that be because evangelism is done so little by many and that there is also a difficulty in knowing what kind of approach to take?

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., and founder of 9Marks Ministries. His book is a welcome help to those of us who struggle with personal evangelism and who would like to make it a regular lifestyle. In seven short chapters, he labors to present an accurate understanding of the Gospel, to press our obligation to evangelize, and to equip us with practical ideas to help us obey faithfully with joy.

Summary

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a short book filled with Biblical foundations for and vivid illustrations of personal evangelism. Dever often writes from his own experience. Early in the book, he disarms our anti-evangelistic weapons: excuses, many of which stem from selfishness, apathy, and fear of man. Dever does not neglect the relevant and controversial matters of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty for evangelism. He is straightforward and to the point: “It was Paul who wrote one of the clearest biblical passages about God’s sovereignty (Romans 9) and then went on to write one of the most pointed biblical passages about man’s responsibility” (p. 28). God’s sovereignty is actually an encouragement to evangelize and should never be used as an excuse to neglect this duty.

Dever clarifies what the Gospel is and what it isn’t. The Gospel is not simply the idea that God is love, that Jesus wants to be our friend, nor the idea that we’re all okay. It is:

[T]he good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.(p. 43)

All Christians are called to share the Gospel. The local church has an important role in evangelism. Principles and methods of evangelism are shared in chapter four, while chapter five details what evangelism isn’t, reminding us that personal testimony, social and political activism, apologetics, and the results of evangelism should never be confused with evangelism. Nor should imposition be confused with evangelism, as declaring the objective truth of God and the repentance and faith that He requires of all people is not the same as imposing our own ideas and opinions on someone else.

Dever discusses the types of responses to the Gospel (negative and positive), how we should view them, and how we should handle them. The book gives us reasons and encouragements to evangelize, including obedience to God and love for Him and others. The conclusion deals with the issue of “closing the sale.” Dever exposes the wrong evangelistic assumptions that tend to make false converts. We must realize that faithfulness is defined by sharing the Gospel clearly, regardless of the person’s response.

A brief annotated bibliography and a word to pastors rounds out the book, giving suggestions for further resources and practices to be faithful evangelists.

Evaluation

This book is short, straightforward, convicting, encouraging, and useful. You can read in one sitting. Dever communicates clearly with simple language and helpful illustrations, making for an easy and interesting read. The book should shock us out of our apathy, selfishness, and lack of love, but it should also provide encouragement in the joyful obedience of spreading the Gospel. This book is useful for any Christian, but busy pastors and students should especially take it to heart. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism would be an excellent resource to make available in a local church, and would be a helpful book for a study in a church setting or in personal discipleship. The practical suggestions, such as frequenting businesses to build relationships and intentionally provoking people to think about spiritual things, are quite clear and helpful.

Mark Dever leaves us with no excuse for neglecting evangelism, while encouraging us to be proactive, honest, urgent, and joyful in the spreading of this good news of Christ, the Gospel.  May this book bear much fruit for the sake of the Gospel.

This review originally appeared at Said at Southern. It has been slightly revised in its presentation here.

Updates, Links, and Deals for 4/20/2014

Updates Links and Deals

Placing the Cross in History – Can we know the exact date of Christ’s death, based on the information we have in Scripture?

Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon

Why It Matters Theologically and Historically that Women Were First to the Tomb

David Platt on Why We Should Not Believe “Heaven Is for Real”

Deals:

The following deals are good through April 21st:

R. C. Sproul, The Work of Christ – 1 cent (yes ONE CENT) through April 21.

John MacArthur, Saved without a Doubt: Being Sure of Your Salvation – 1 cent through April 21

More e-book deals that are good through April 21 (although one of the books on sale ends today) at the David C. Cook Super Sale

The following deals are good through April 22:

D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers – $3.99 and worth every penny.

Zach Eskwine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons That Connect with Our Culture – also an excellent resource/handbook for $3.99

Not sure how long these are for, but they’re likely temporary:

Mark Dever & Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (99 cents)

An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture – practical help to memorizing entire books of the Bible and long passages (and retaining them) – 99 cents

Best Evidences Pocket Guide from Answer in Genesis: Science and the Bible refute millions of years. Written by Larry Pierce , Dr. Terry Mortenson , Dr. Jason Lisle , Dr. Don DeYoung , Dr. Georgia Purdom , Dr. Danny Faulkner , Dr. Andrew Snelling and Ken Ham — Use Code EBFREE to get it free

For the whole month of April:

John MacArthur’s books on prayer and worry are 99 cents through April 30.  (Alone with God: Discovering the Passion and Power of Prayer and Anxious for Nothing: God’s Cure for the Cares of Your Soul.

R. C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross is free this month as an MP3 audio download.

99 cents through April 19:

Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness

The following deals are good through April 22:

D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers – $3.99 and worth every penny.

Zach Eswine, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons That Connect with Our Culture – also an excellent resource/handbook for $3.99

Not sure how long this is for, but it’s likely temporary:

Mark Dever & Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (99 cents)

Best Evidences Pocket Guide from Answer in Genesis: Science and the Bible refute millions of years. Written by Larry Pierce , Dr. Terry Mortenson , Dr. Jason Lisle , Dr. Don DeYoung , Dr. Georgia Purdom , Dr. Danny Faulkner , Dr. Andrew Snelling and Ken Ham — Use Code EBFREE to get it free

 

Erwin Lutzer’s Doctrines That Divide is free through tomorrow for Kindle.

Publisher’s description:

Many in the church seek unity by glossing over major theological differences. Lutzer confronts those differences head-on, seeking to give you a clear understanding of why they exist. His non-combative look at infant baptism, sacraments, the worship of Mary, eternal security, and other divisive issues will help you formulate a fresh biblical perspective on historic doctrines.

Crossway has good deals on several books now through April 20 (Kindle editions).

Preaching the Cross is a good collection of written versions of the messages delivered at the 2006 (inaugural) Together for the Gospel conference.  Included are two very helpful messages by Drs. Ligon Duncan (Preaching the Old Testament) and John Piper (Why Preaching Is Particularly Glorifying to God), as well as sermons by the other speakers.

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (which I have reviewed here) is an excellent work and only 99 cents this week.