Carl Trueman on the Connected Kingdom

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In this episode of The Connected Kingdom, we enjoy a lively conversation with pastor, author, theologian and church historian Carl Trueman. We ask him about Rob Bell and the controversy on hell, we ask him about today’s theological controversies and how they’ll be won or lost, we ask him about the differences between British and American humor, and we ask him why he is teaching a course at Puritan Reformed Seminary on Thomas Acquinas.

Carl is a regular contributor to the blog at Reformation21 and the author of quite a few highly-recommended books.

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Dangerous Dollars

Almost everything that we buy today comes with a warning on it; whether it is something electronic, or mechanical, or even a child’s toy. But the most dangerous thing in the world doesn’t carry any warning. It is the dollar (or whatever currency we use). Paul says that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10), and if he had his way it would come with a government health warning. Notice what Paul says should be written on every note of currency.
“I am a great temptress”
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation…” (1 Tim. 6:9). Some temptations come so obviously; but financial ones come so stealthily, so beautifully dressed, so innocently, so excusably. If only we could see behind them: I am a temptress, I am a seductress.

“I trap”
“Those who desire to be rich fall into…a snare” (v. 9). If we knew that we were about to walk through a forest in which hunters had set traps and snares everywhere, how carefully, how slowly, how gently, how gingerly we would go. Paul warns that the love of money puts traps everywhere; traps that can grab us, damage us, and injure us. Yet how thoughtlessly and carelessly we walk!

“I fool”
He says it leads into many “foolish lusts” (v. 9). “Foolish” here means irrational and illogical. He is saying, “If only people could see how irrational and illogical this love for money is. It looks reasonable, it looks logical, it looks normal. But, no! It’s irrational; it’s illogical if only you could see what it is doing to you.

“I injure”
Paul does not only speak of foolish lusts but also “harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (v. 9). He says, “You think that this money is raising you up, promoting you, and making you big and high. No! If only you can see it’s drowning you, it’s taking you down, it’s suffocating you, it’s sucking the oxygen out of your life and you are slowly dying.”

“I can make you an unbeliever”
Paul mourns that because of the love of money, some have “strayed from the faith in their greediness” (v. 10). The dollar has turned more people into unbelievers than any false religion.
“I impale”
Due to the love of money some have “pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (v. 10). It’s a picture of someone crucifying themselves. Every ill-gotten dollar, though it is thought to bring comfort, pleasure, and happiness, is actually turned into a sharp and painful knife. Talk about self-harm!

Imagine if the dollar said all these things before we wanted it, before we got it, and as we thought about how were going to spend it. It would cry out, “I tempt, I trap, I fool, I injure, I drown, I create unbelievers, and I impale.” That would make a difference in our desire for it, what we do when we are given it by God, and how we use it.

Maybe you are saying, “How can I be delivered from the love of money? It has put down deep roots in my life. Is there a weed killer? Is there a way to round up these weeds and roots and kill them? Or am I just left to my own efforts trying to kill these weeds in my own strength?” Well, thankfully not!

Tomorrow I’ll supply some weedkiller. But if you want a hint about how to get started today, then have a look at verse 6.

Pray for Justin and Kevin

As most of you probably know, Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung are taking considerable heat for their courageous pre-emptive strikes against the misleading, confusing, and damaging publicity materials surrounding Rob Bell’s anticipated book Love Wins. Kevin’s latest post clarifies the issues considerably.

What some of you may not know is the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual toll that such spiritual conflict takes on the body, mind, soul, and relationships of the men at the center of this storm. So, I’d simply like to ask you to put Justin and Kevin in your prayers throughout these days. May I suggest that we pray specifically that they will:

1. Have peace and assurance in the heat of the battle
2. Enjoy restful nightly sleep
3. Communicate wisdom and grace in all their responses
4. Avoid losing their tempers in public (and private)
5. Receive understanding and support in their congregations and workplaces
6. Be protected from overt and covert assaults on their ministries and characters
7. Experience the daily relief of happy relationships with their wives and children
8. Win souls to Christ as they have opportunity to speak the truth in love
9. Hold the line.

Yes, and let’s pray for Rob Bell too. If he’s erring, may the Lord bring him back before he leads many astray. If he’s been misunderstood, let’s pray that he will issue a speedy clarification. He can settle this before lunchtime if he wishes.

Time to declare email bankruptcy?

Financial bankruptcies are at record levels. It’s very tempting to give up paying off our debts and start again with a clean slate.

Now we hear that more and more people are declaring email bankruptcy. The basic idea is that if you are drowning in over 3000 unanswered emails, with 200+ still coming in every day, select all the emails in your Inbox, press delete, and send out an email to all contacts declaring your bankruptcy and your intention to move forward with fresh start and an empty Inbox. (Don’t tempt me!)

Or you can just declare a vendetta against email. That’s Alexandra Samuel’s solution to the eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt reply to every email.” 

The expectation that every message gets an answer dates from that previous era: the era when a correspondent had gone to some trouble, enough to warrant a response. By carrying it forward, into an era when it’s the recipient and not the sender who bears the burden, we’ve condemned ourselves to a life of email servitude. We carry our Blackberries and our iPhones so that we swat down messages as quickly as possible, before they have time to accumulate in our inboxes. We routinely answer email in the hours after dinner (remember the old idea of “personal time”?) because there’s no way to get through it during the business day. We set up vacation messages to apologize for 24 hour email absences, and then take on the burden of plowing through the backlog up on our return.

Declaring a vendetta on mandatory email, involves putting the cost of communication back on the sender.

What if we decided only to respond to the emails that actually feel important, valuable or exciting enough to warrant a response? What if we left inquiries unanswered, information unacknowledged, requests unfulfilled? What if we chose to respond only to the email we actually want to respond to? It’s possible. We can can shift the cost of making a message response-worthy back to the message sender.

Here’s a draft of the message she’s planning to send to her contacts:

Due to the volume of email I receive, I no longer personally review every message. If you are interested in learning more about why I have decided to set limits on my email time, you can read this [link to this blog post or one you draft yourself]. If you do not receive a further reply within 72 hours, please assume that I have had to focus on other professional or personal priorities at this time. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

Don’t you just love that! It is so, so tempting.

PS: Isn’t it amazing how willing people are to declare financial and email bankruptcy, but so few are prepared to declare spiritual bankruptcy (Matt. 5:3), and move forward by grace into the future and into eternity with a clean slate.

Leadership Lecture: The Courageous Captain

Audio and pdf of lecture on the need for courageous Christian leaders. Click on “Leadership Lectures” tab below for previous lectures.

After giving this lecture I realized I could have provided more helps to building courage than simply pointing to biblical commands and biblical examples of courage. That sets the bar high but doesn’t really provide help to reaching it. 

So, although I feel I have more expertise in cowardice than courage, here are a few things I’ve found useful in times when I have been enabled to put my head above the parapet.

1. Memorize scripture
When I studied at Glasgow University, I did a bit of open-air preaching with some other other young guys. Most of us did so with ghost-white faces and jelly-knees. We also published and distributed a Christian newspaper for students. I remember handing it out to 300 students at the door of my moral philosophy class, and then entering the lecture auditorium to find 598 angry eyes staring at me (there was one Christian in the class). I must admit that I used to have sleepless nights before such baby-steps of Christian witness. However, I still remember the spiritual power I enjoyed when I tried to memorize Scripture before venturing forth on these mornings. I used to look for two verses: one to remind me of God’s greatness (e.g. Isa 40:12) , and one to remind me of human smallness (e.g. Isa. 40:6).

2. Ponder the potential
When faced with challenges, I have a tendency to focus on all the possible negative outcomes: he will laugh/shout at me, they will leave the congregation, she will slam the door in my face, they will assault me, etc. I have to battle to think and keep thinking about the possible positive outcomes. I especially want to remind myself of the potential of my pathetic witness being used to save a precious soul to the glory of God. “Come on, David, think of what one verse of Scripture can do with God’s blessing….This tract could transform a family…This young man may become a missionary to the Jews…This young Christian woman could be rescued from a miserable marriage to a worldly man…Jesus might be loved by one more person”

3. Seek the En-courager

The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, which can also be translated “the Encourager,” the one who comes alongside us to prompt, motivate, and move us forward. The most Spirit-filled people I’ve known have been marked by a gentle courage. And that’s quite different to a rude, aggressive, and abrasive spirit that has more to do with nature than with grace.

4. Take baby-steps
Military cadets are not thrown straight into front-line battle. They are broken in gradually; trained and pushed further and further until they are battle-ready. Some Christians, and some Pastors, let the “small” battles pass them by; they’re waiting for the big test; but that never comes. Meanwhile they are softened and weakened more and more by their refusal to fight the “little” fights God brings their way – until they are useless for anything. (Although they are usually fantastic armchair generals). So, don’t view the little fights as beneath you, but as sent by God to train you and gradually build you up for more vicious battles ahead.

5. Serve in the shadow of Calvary
Above all, maintain a daily awareness that, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.” Let the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ em-power and en-courage you. There is a strange and mysterious energy in grace. It changes “ought-to’s” into “want-to’s,” and conscription into consecration.

UPDATE: Some further thoughts I had last night

6. Trust the Lord with your future
The Lord may ask us to take action that risks our future ministries. We may have to take a stand against powerful people, even Christian leaders, who might not hesitate to use their influence to destroy us and our congregations. Everything is saying, “If you do this, or say that, then your ministry will be terminated, your character will be blackened, you will be put out of the church, your past will be dredged for skeletons, etc.” But we must trust the Lord, not just for our salvation but for our providence. Providential faith is often harder to exercise than saving faith. I once had to do something which I was sure would end my ministry. I’ve never had such a momentous struggle with my conscience. I had to come to the point where I said, “This is my duty. This is the right thing to do. If I lose my character or my ministry, then the will of the Lord be done. If He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

7. Hold on to the promises
The Lord has promised that He will honor those who honor Him (1 Sam. 2:30). How many Christian men and women have held on to that promise in the heat of battle. How many have found it to be so abundantly true, no matter how much dishonor may be heaped upon them for a time.

8. Maintain a clear conscience
Nothing weakens a person like an accusing conscience. I’ve seen good men retreat from spiritual battles because of something in their past: “How can I take this action, speak this truth, if I’ve done this or that myself?” The Devil uses these weaknesses: “Who are you to take a stand when you’re no better yourself…” Why was Paul so courageous? Because he exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence before God and man (Acts 24:16).

9. Remember the final judgment
We may have to suffer loss for a few years here on earth. We may see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. We may even see good people defend the wicked and oppress the righteous. However, we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for the deeds done in the body. However many unjust judgments are passed upon us here, we may appeal to the final judgment, lay our case there, and wait for the verdict that will both bring forth our judgment like the noon day sun (Ps. 37:6) and also cut down the wicked, no matter how strong their tree may appear (Ps. 37:35-36).

Be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart (Ps. 27:14).

Quote for preachers

When you’re forced to be simple, you’re forced to face the real problem. When you can’t deliver ornament, you have to deliver substance.
Paul Graham