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Confessions

I am thankful for the kindness of God in allowing me to read Saint Augustine's Confessions.  I can say that it has impacted my understanding of God and of myself as much as any other book that I have ever read (aside from the Bible mind you).  I only wish that someone would have clued me into this great treasure many years ago because it would have been helpful in so many spiritual battles.

One of the first things I noticed as I began reading is Augustine's utter awe of God.  Not one sentence in this book spoke of God flippantly.  Rather, God was held in the highest esteem, yet it was done without any hint of legalistic rigidity.

There is one thing evident above all others: Augustine had been changed by the sovereign grace of God, by the life-giving Spirit of God.  Whereas he was once enslaved to sexual promiscuity and man-centered philosophy, God awakended him to new life.  As he sat in a garden contemplating his spiritual state, he heard a voice of a child from a nearby house chanting, "Pick up and read, pick up and read."  So he did, and in the providence of God, Augustine opened to Romans 13:13-14, which said, "Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts."  His often quoted conversion is recorded this way:

"I neither wished nor needed to read further.  At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart.  All the shadows of doubt were dispelled."

Later in the book Augustine described his conversion this way: "You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.  You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.  You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.  I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours."

These kinds of statements in the Confessions about the grace of God in salvation through Jesus Christ bring the Christian reader to a point of worship.  It would be hard to imagine how a genuine believer could read such words and be unmoved.  To think back and remember how God calls sinners like me out of darkness into spiritual light humbles me and brings me to worship God for His work of salvation.  My earnest prayer is that any reader of this article would read the testimony of Augustine and that God would do the same in them.  May He turn dark hearts to light!  May He turn light hearts to ever brighter lights!  May He show every reader that no good thing lies within us, and that we need Him more than our next breath!

Well, time and space would not permit me to share the numerous quotations that set my soul soaring and those that brought me to the depths of the valley, but suffice it to say that this book is worth the read.  It takes a little while to get used to reading a fourth-century document like this, but if you pick up a good translation of it, this will help immensely (I read the Oxford World's Classic printing translated by Henry Chadwick, and it was excellent).  Also the last two or three chapters are quite philosophical in their approach to the topic of time, so be aware of that as well.

Aside from these cautions, "Pick up and read, pick up and read!"

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything

What do you think of when you hear the word disciple? You would think after 2,000 years of Christianity that Christians would have a definite definition, but you might be surprised to learn that they don't.  The words disciple, discipleship, and discipling are all buzz words among many Christians but often their understanding of these words are very different.  Some believe that these words refer mainly to one Christian mentoring another Christian and helping to mature them in the truths of Christianity.  While this is certainly a desired goal of discipling, this is a more complicated understanding than it has to be.  So what is discipleship and how do we do it?

In The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne address this issue from a fresh perspective.  Using the metaphor of a trellis and vine that is common in an everyday garden, the authors make a comparison to the work of the church.  They compare the structure of the church (programs, facilities, events, institutionalism, etc.) to the trellis and the Great Commission (evangelism/discipleship, worship, accountability, fellowship/Christian community, etc.) to the vine.  Like the trellis and the vine, most everyone agrees that the church must have some kind of supporting structure to maintain healthy relational community within the church.  What most everyone disagrees on is whether the trellis or the vine is more important.

The point of The Trellis and the Vine is that while a church's structure is important, the most important thing is the vine itself.  Without the vine, there is no need for even a small, simple trellis, let alone a large, complex one.  The Great Commission is the vine--that is, the preaching of the gospel, the making of disciples, and the nurturing of disciples.  And it is the duty of all Christians, and not just the elitist clergy, to do the vine work.  The pastor leads out as an example to the flock and as a guardian of doctrine and health of the flock itself, but all members of the flock are to be vineworkers.

Speaking about the Great Commission, Marshall and Payne state, "The commission is not fudamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country.  It's a commision that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple." (emphasis authors', p. 13).  To make their point clear, they said, "our goal is to grow the vine, not the trellis" (p.12).

The remainder of the book sheds light on how to go about vine work, and they make the case that a ministry mind-shift has to take place.  The average Christian must catch a vision that they are called to proclaim the gospel to lost people, see God convert sinners to Christ, and then help those disciples learn how to be vineworkers too.  While programs and other structural things can help us with vine work, they can also become a crutch and/or an idol that hinders us from doing personal evangelism and discipleship.

I really appreciate the fundamental truths shared in this book and recommend it to leaders of the local church who desire that every Christian be involved in the disciple-making process.  May it start with you and me!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Radical

Few things will get you as strange a look among American Christians as the mention of the principles found in David Platt's book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, published by Multnomah.  This book, however, is timely in that the material prosperity of the American church has been no greater than today.  With such prosperity comes avalanches of temptations to "do Christianity" out of a man-centered, self-effort sort of way.  The biblical fact is that Jesus has called us to a life of sacrifice and suffering.

While there is nothing sinful about having earthly wealth as a Christian, I am convinced that it is sinful to do with our wealth what too many of us do.  When the statistics bear out that more than 26,000 children will die today of starvation or a preventable disease and that Christian Americans have the means of making a difference in the lives of many of these children, then we must reevaluate our spending habits, both as churches and individuals.  Reflecting on the American church's historical blind spot of slavery, Platt rightly contemplates:

"We look back on slave-owning churchgoers of 150 years ago and ask, 'How could they have treated fellow human beings that way?'  I wonder if followers of Christ 150 years from now will look back at Christians in America today and ask, 'How could they live in such big houses?  How could they drive such nice cars and wear such nice clothes?  How could they live in such affluence while thousands of children were dying because they didn't have food and water?  How could they go on with their lives as though the billions of poor didn't even exist?' "(p.111)

Radical is a call to a simplified approach to possessions for the sake of helping others with the basic needs of life, including food, water, clothing, shelter, and (not the least of which), THE GOSPEL.  Platt makes the poignant statement, "Surely this is something we must uncover, for if our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to questions just how effective we will be in declaring the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth." (p.111)

One of the driving points of Radical is that Christian Americans need to understand that God has blessed them materially so that they can be a conduit of blessing to the nations.  While it is not sinful to live  in abundance (as is amply clear from Scripture), it is sinful to live stingily and callously toward the poor.  While caring for the poor must not be substituted for preaching the gospel, how can we preach to the poor without a deep compassion for their physical human condition and not just their souls?

I pray that God would continue to use the message of Radical to impact Christians around the world for the glory of God and His great gospel

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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What Is the Gospel?

I recently read a great little book titled What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert and published by Crossway.  In the same way he introduced his book, I introduce this book review with stating the obvious: You would think that answering the question, what is the gospel?,  would be easy for those professing to be Christians.  Gilbert noted, "It's like asking carpenters to sit around and ponder the question, What is a hammer?" (p.15). 

Therefore, Gilbert's book addresses a serious question for Christians to ponder, indeed the most serious of all questions.  If we get this one wrong, then it is a matter of eternal life or death.

In eight short chapters, Gilbert addresses the question, what is the gospel.  Chapter 1 begins by pointing inquirers to the Bible as our only sure hope of truth and authority.  The remaining chapters highlight what we find in the Bible that are inseparable pieces to the gospel puzzle.

Chapter 2 affirms God as the righteous Creator of man.  As such, God has Creator-rights over man and demands holiness from those who have been created in His image.

Chapter 3 affirms man's sinfulness by both nature and choice.  As such, man is completely unable to initiate any step toward God.  Rather, God must take the first step of spiritual birth referred to as regeneration in the Bible.  Gilbert noted, "The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest.  To human hearts that stubbornly think of themselves as basically good and self-sufficient, this idea that human beings are fundamentally sinful and rebellious is not merely scandalous.  It is revolting." (p.51).

Chapter 4 affirms that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of mankind.  He is the long-awaited Messiah, fully God and fully man.  He lived the righteous life that man should have lived.  He died the horrendous death, enduring the wrath of God, that sinful man deserved.  He was raised from the dead victoriously as the first-fruit of resurrection.  He nows sits at the right hand of God the Father making intercession on behalf of His people.

Chapter 5 affirms the only appropriate response to the message of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection: faith and repentance.  Faith is relying on the truth of the gospel and the promise of eternal life to all who believe this truth.  Faith is relying on Jesus to secure a righteous verdict from God on our behalf.  Faith alone in Christ alone without any insulting human effort added is the simple message of the gospel.  Repentance is the flip-side of faith.  To believe in Christ is to turn from sin, and to turn from sin is to believe in Christ.  Repentance is not a life of sinless perfection, but it is characterized by a life of warring against sin, no longer living at peace with it.  As Gilbert stated, "We declare mortal war against it and dedicate ourselves to resisting it by God's power on every front in our lives."

Chapter 6 affirms that the gospel is really a command for all people to repent of sin and believe in the King who is building His kingdom.  The gospel is a call to live for the King now and to live with the King one day in His consummated heavenly Kingdom.

Chapter 7 affirms that the gospel must be cross-centered or it is no longer good news for anyone.  While the cross is offensive to many and a stumbling-block to others, it remains the only hope for those who are being saved.  By the foolishness of the cross, Christ put to death sin for all who believe on Him alone for eternal salvation.

Chapter 8 affirms the utter power of the gospel to save sinners to the uttermost.  From repentance and faith, to resting and rejoicing in Jesus, to loving fellow Christians, to loving lost sinners enough to call them to Christ, to longing to be with Jesus in heaven, the gospel has the power over us for God's glory.

And so I end with this plea to my fellow Christ-lovers: proclaim the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for God's glory alone.  And to any unbeliever that may be reading this I plead with you: turn from your sin that is leading you to eternal destruction and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your deliverance.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

A few months ago I read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, which was written by John Piper and published by Broadman & Holman.  As to be expected, Piper has produced yet another God-glorifying text on a most important issue in the American church.  In the opening chapter, he highlights what the pastor ought to be and then questions how closely evangelicals are adhering to this biblical standard:

"I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world.  We are fools for Christ's sake, but professionals are wise.  We are weak, but professionals are strong.  Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute.  We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.  When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13).  Or have we?"  (p.2).

The book contains thirty chapters, mostly short, in which Piper exhorts American pastors strengthen areas of pastoral minsitry that he believes have languished in recent years.  Because of the lengthiness of any attempt to addres every chapter, I am going to choose my favorite quotes from various portions of the book and simply quote them.  In doing this, I hope to unobscure Piper's own words and allow him to speak on his own behalf.

  1. Chapter 1: Brothers, God Loves His Glory--"Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God?  Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think that we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem.  Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us. . . .  God's ultimate commitment is to Himself and not to us." (pp.6-7)

  2. Chapter 4: Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith--"If you work for your justification, what you are doing is trying to put God in your debt.  And if you succeed in getting God to owe you something, then you can boast before men and God.  If you worked for justifcation and you succeeded, you would not get grace, but a wage.  God would owe it to you.  And when you got it, you would be able to say, 'I deserve this.'  And that, Paul says, is not what Abraham did." (p.25)

  3. Chapter 6: Brothers, Tell Them Not to Serve God--"What is God looking for in the world?  Assistants?  No.  The gospel is not a help-wanted ad.  It is a help-available ad.  God is not looking for people to work for Him but people who let Him work mightily in and through them." (p.40)

  4. Chapter 7: Brothers, Consider Christian Hedonism--"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." (p.45)

  5. Chapter 8: Brothers, Let Us Pray--"Oh, how we need to wake up to how much 'nothing' we spend our time doing.  Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to 'nothing.'   For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer." (p.55)

  6. Chapter 12: Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker--"Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations.  In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error." (p.84)

  7. Chapter 16: Brothers, We Must Feel the Truth of Hell--"When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news." (p.116)

  8. Chapter 19: Brothers, Our Affliction Is for Their Comfort--"When Paul says to the Corinthians that his afflictions are for their comfort and salvation, he implies that there is a design and purpose in his sufferings.  But whose design?  Whose purpose?  He does not design and plan his own afflictions.  And Satan surely does not design them to comfort and save the church.  Therefore, Paul must mean that God designs and purposes his pastoral afflictions for the good of the church." (pp.139-140)

  9. Chapter 21:  Brothers, Don't Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations--"Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn't look like one.  Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.  Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.  Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.  Alcoholics don't feel welcome in the church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in the church." (p.155)

  10. Chapter 23: Brothers, Tell Them Copper Will Do--"The person who thinks the money he makes is meant to mainly to increase his comforts on earth is a fool, Jesus says.  Wise people know that all their money belongs to God and should be used to show that God, and not money, is their treasure, their comfort, their oy, and their security." (p.168)

  11. Chapter 28: Brothers, Focus on the Essence of Worship, Not the Form--"It will transform your pastoral leadership in worship if you teach your people that the basic attitude of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with your hands full to give to God but with your hands empty to receive from God.  And what you receive in worship is God, not entertainment." (pp.238-239)

  12. Chapter 29: Brothers, Love Your Wives--"Loving our wives is essential for our ministry.  It is ministry." (p.246)


For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Gospel-Powered Parenting

If you're like me, then you find it difficult to find gospel-centered parenting books out there.  While there are morality-centered and behavior-oriented books aplenty, the scarcity of God-centered and gospel-centered parenting books can be quite frustrating when you set yourself to looking for them.  God recently graced me with one of those rare treasures of a gospel-centered book on raising children to know Christ, and I rank this one right up there with two of my other favorite parenting books: Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Ted Tripp; and Don't Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Plowman.  This newly found treasure is Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.

Gospel-Powered Parenting is written by William P. Farley, pastor of Grace Chrisitan Fellowship in Spokane, WA, and is published by P & R.  Throughout the book, Farley holds high the power of the gospel as the only hope of our children's future.  Thus, he remains true to the title of the book.  In the following, I will note the chapter titles and briefly summarize each chapter with a few points and/or quotes from William Farley.

Chapter 1: Intellectual Submarines, contains five assumptions that Farley believes a parent needs in order to grasp the power of the gospel in our parenting:
1)  Parenting is not easy: "Because parenting is difficult, and because you are imperfect, you will need the grace that comes to you through the gospel.  God will use problems to deepen your dependence on him" (p.20).
2)  God is sovereign, but he uses means: God is the beginning, middle, and end of salvation.  In His infinite wisdom, however, He has elected to use parents as one of His means to work in the hearts of children for His glorious purposes.  Farley notes, "God is sovereign, but parents are responsible" (p.22).
3) A Good Offense:  "Effective parents assume that a good offense is better than defense" (p.22).  Parents are too often guility of defending/protecting their children against the wiles of the world (which is obviously necessary to a great degree), but these parents tend to forget about using godly offense.  Just as a football team with either a weak offense or no offense at all will more likely lose the game, so will the parenting that is weak on offense more likely lose the soul of the child.  Now this is not to presume either way upon the sovereigny of God in salvation, but it is a reminder that God has ordained means by which He brings a person to salvation, including a good offense.
4)  Understand New Birth:  Farley says bluntly, "Statistically, most Christian parents assume their child's new birth.  This could be your biggest parenting mistake" (p.26).  The point here is that parents should never assume that just because their child "made a profession of faith" at a certain point in time or that their child attends Sunday School, church, or a Christian school, that their child is "okay" and has no more need for instruction in the gospel.  To the contrary, parents should be fruit inspectors on behalf of their children.  Farley says, "The bottom line is this: New birth is known by its fruits, not by a decision.  The most important fruit is hunger for God himself.  Effective parents assume this, and patiently wait for sustained fruit before they render a verdict" (p.30).
5)  Child-Centered Families:  "Effective parents are not child centered.  They are God centered" (p.31).  In too many Christian homes, the children and their desires are the driving force of the family.  Many examples of "child-run homes" exist, but here are a few decisions that many parents have relinquished to their children: sleep schedule, eating schedule, TV/Video Games schedule, extra-curricular schedule (sports and fine arts activities: how many and how often), and many more.  Farley concludes, "It is positively hurtful to build your lives around your children instead of God.  It damages children, it tears down our marriages, and most importantly, it displeases God" (p.36).

Chapter 2: Gospel-Powered Parenting, emphasizes the fact that the main goal of Christian parents is to prepare their children for eternity.  So the goal of preparing them "for life" alone is insufficient.  Rather, parents should have the goal of preparing their children "for eternal life," or else their children will face judgment for their sin against a holy God.  The only hope of our children is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, our children don't need simple morality, which can be just as damning as outright debauchry.  Our children need the new life that only the gospel can bring.

Chapter 3: Gospel Fear, reminds parents that a genuine fear of God is imperative even now that God's people have entered the New Covenant through the blood of Christ.  In fact, the cross of Christ is meant in part to floor us at the foot of the cross, realizing that this is what God thinks about sin.  God's wrath will be poured out on the sinner either at the cross or in an eternity of hell.  So the cross brings us to fear God "who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt.10:28).

Chapter 4: A Holy Father, builds on chapter 3 and the fear of God.  The cross brings Christian parents to fear God because they see God's holy justice there where God poured out His holy wrath upon His own Son.  Not only does the cross bring Christian parents to fear God, but Farley gives four other motivations:  the cross motivates them to pursue personal holiness, give them an eternal perspective in all of life, makes them decisive in their approach, and reminds both parents and children of their neediness.

Chapter 5: A Gracious Father, demonstrates the great need of parents for the grace of God in the impossible task of Christian parenting.  Commenting on God's grace, Farley states, "It reminds us every day that we cannot be perfect.  We can't discipline consistently.  We can't teach sufficiently.  We don't love adequately.  But it also emboldens us.  It reminds us that God's grace is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10)" (p.101).

Chapter 6: The First Principle of Parenting, presents an idea that may surprise many Christians. The first principle of godly parenting is not discipline or love of children.  No, the first principle of parenting is acutally Ephesians 5:27-33, where God instructs wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord and for husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for here.  In short summary, "This chapter has said that our example matters, that our marriages preach the gospel" (p.122).

Chapter 7: Gospel Fathers, is another somewhat shocking chapter, but one that rings with so much biblical truth.  It probably is the most counter-cultural chapter in all of the book, and this is obvious from the first sentence that claims, "Christianity is a patriarchial religion.  That means that it is father centered" (p.125).  Farley goes back to Eden and reminds us that God created the husband as head and the wife as his assistant.  Interestingly, he argues, "The Bible addresses all its verses on parenting to fathers.  That is because God has given each father inordinate power over his children's hearts, and ultimately their spiritual destiny.  The general principle holds: As the father goes, so goes the family, and so goes the parenting" (pp.141-142).  Farley fills the chapter with plenty of statistics to support this biblical aspect of parenting.

Chapter 8: Foundations of Discipline, discusses the biblical fact that "Clarity about sin and authority are the foundations of parental discipline."  Both parents and their children have the same problem, namely sin.  Sin is more than outward behavior but lies in the very nature of man, and our children are not exempt.  Therefore, parents must deal with heart issues and not simply sinful behavior alone.

Chapter 9: Discipline that Preaches, connects chapter 8 with chapter 3.  Christian parents discipline their children out of fear of God because they know that the hearts of their children are corrupt and in need of redemption that comes only through the gospel.

Chapter 10: Food for the Hungry, emphasizes the need for feeding our children the Bread of Life (God's word, particularly the gospel) on a regular schedule.  Parents must guard against the busyness of life that will absorb valuable time that is required for instructing our children in God's word.

Chapter 11: Gospel Love, can be summed up with Farley's words, "Before we can love our children, we must love God more.  That is because love for God defines how we love our children" (p.214).

Chapter 12: Amazing Grace, reminds parents once again that God's grace must be held at the forefront of our parenting because it is not a matter of "if" we will fail but "when" and "how often" we will fail.  Farley comments, "Parents who repeatedly find forgiveness in the gospel can extend that forgiveness to their children.  Your children need to watch you continually shedding your guilt and fear at the foot of the cross" (p.219).

May the Lord grant in His grace that Christian parents raise up children who are passionate for God's glory, and may this book remind them of the only hope of that happening--THE GOSPEL!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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9 Marks of a Healthy Church

9 Marks of a Healthy Church was published by Crossway and written by Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Bapist, Washington D. C., and the executive director of 9 Marks ministries.

Perhaps one of the more troubling facts regarding the current state of most evangelical churches in America is the dire state of their overall spiritual health. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I am a late comer to Mark Dever's 9 Marks of  a Healthy Church.  Not only do I verge on shame, I'm actually twinged with regret as I have no doubt that Dever's words of wisdom would have strengthened my many weaknesses and failings in my previous pastoral posts had I read his work earlier.

Dever has accomplished much for the church with this book.  Rather than sit on the sidelines in perplexity at the problems facing too many churches, Dever challenges us to contemplate and (re)commit ourselves to nine of the most fundamental catalysts for church health.  While so many things could be said of this book, I will limit our discussion to a brief summary of each of the nine marks:

1.  Expositional preaching: This is the supreme mark of a healthy church.  God brings spiritual life through the expositional preaching of His word.  Expository preaching is preaching that draws its main point from the main point of a particular passage.

2.  Biblical theology:  A healthy church has a biblical understanding of God's character and ways.  Dever summarized the main thrust of the Bible's teaching on God when he noted, "that He is creating; that He is holy; that He is faithful; that He is loving; and that He is sovereign" (p.60).

3.  The Gospel:  A healthy church recognizes the centraility of the work of Christ (death, burial, resurrection) for all those who would repent of sin and believe in His atoning sacrifice.  This repentance and believe is not simply out of tradition but actually changes the way the believer lives.  True repentance and faith is not just a one time thing but is a lifelong characteristic of the believer.

4.  A biblical understanding of conversion: A healthy church understands that conversion is an act of God.  Just as no one can "born themselves" physically, neither can a person be born again spiritually without the initiating and efficacious working of the God the Holy Spirit.

5. A biblical understanding of evangelism: A healthy church is actively evangelistic, but not necessarily in a programmed sort of way.  Rather, evangelism is the natural overflow of Christian worship and fellowship.  Simply put, the church is the evangelistic program.

6. A biblical understanding of church membership: A healthy church emphasizes and requires faithful membership for the sake of purity, accountability, and mutual edification.

7. Biblical church discipline: A healthy church disciplines blatanly sinning members for the sake of the sinner, the ones offended (other believers and God), and the unbelieving world.

8. A concern for discipleship and growth: A healthy church disciples new believers, as well as more mature believers, with the word of God and in mutual accountability around God's word, most easily done through covenanting together around a common statement of believe such as a church covenant.

9. Biblical church leadership: A healthy church seeks out leaders based not on secular qualifications but on biblical qualifications of godly character and trustworthiness.  Both pastors and congregations will be held accountable for what is being taught from the pulpit.

May the Lord continually purify His church and may His church continually submit to His sanctfiying work so that every local body of Christ will be spiritually healthy for God's glory.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Church Planter

Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission was published by Crossway and written by Darren Patrick, who is the vice president of the Acts 29 Network and the founding pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis.  Patrick has organized the material for his book around the simple premise noted in the title and sub-title.  It seems good to present this review with that same organization in mind.

Church Planter: The Man--In essence, Patrick describes the qualified church planter as a man who has been genuinely saved by grace, called of God, meeting the biblical qualifications of elder/bishop/pastor, who is dependent on God, skilled in teaching the Bible, able to shephered the flock of God, and determined not to turn his back on the task no matter the personal cost.

Church Planter: The Message--In this section, Patrick discusses the message that the qualified church planter will proclaim.  The message is the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message rooted in actual history, that results in salvation for all that repent of sin and believe in Christ, a message that is centered on Christ rather than sinful man, that exposes sin for what it is and what it does, and a message that destroys man-made idols that hinder whole-hearted worship of God.

Church Planter: The Mission--Patrick ends the book with this section on the church planter's mission.  Each chapter addresses an area of the mission including the necessity of the church planter having a compassionate heart, carrying out the mission through the local church (as opposed to para-church organizations), contextualizing the gospel, caring for the less fortunate, and hoping and aiming for city transformation.

Strengths of the book include Patricks' faithfulness to the Bible and biblical orthodoxy when addressing issues in the sections on The Man and The Message.  For Patrick, the church planter must be a man, and a saved, called, qualified man at that.  Additionally, the church planter must be a preacher of the historical, saving, Christ-centered gospel that exposes sin and crushes idols.  This is a breath of fresh air in an area that too often encounters mush.  The Mission section also challenged the reader to think deeply about how compassion is a key component for every church planter and every pastor in general.  Each of these strengths coupled with the fact that the book is an introductory work for church planting types, makes it a valuable tool.

Weaknesses of the book are most notable in the final section The Mission.  The previous sections were outstanding material, especially for potential church planters who may not have a solid foundation in the areas of biblical qualifications of pastors and the biblical understanding of the gospel.  Patrick's  section on the church planter's mission was also insightful, yet it lacked the jolt of the previous discussions.  The greatest weakness of The Mission was the discussion of contextualization.  To be fair, Patrick acknowledged the slippery slope of contextualization.  On one end there is under-contextualization that ignores a cultures "language, customs, politics, and belief systems" (p.194).  On the other end there is over-contextualization that subverts the gospel to the authority of culture.  I agree with his point here.  While I also agree with Patrick's main premise that the church will always carry cultural baggage and have a certain cultural flavor to it, I do think too much is made of this principle in the book.  As I have heard Thabiti Anyabwile say, the church is indeed multi-ethnic but that does not mean it is multi-cultural.  Rather, the church has its own culture, which in reality is counter-cultural.  There is neither time nor space to elaborate on the issue here, so much has been left unsaid.  All in all, Patrick has done a good job handling even this aspect of church planting.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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The Unquenchable Flame

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, written by Michael Reeves, the Theological Advisor for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship.  Reeves has written a concise and comedic history of the sixteenth-century Reformation.  To use the adjectives "concise" and "comedic" to describe a history book may seem oxymoronic, but both words fit the bill.  Not only this, Reeves' account is accurate, balanced, and thoughtful.

Space would not allow for sharing all of the most significant points that this little book brings to light, but I must note at least the following four:

1)  The Reformers, while far from perfect in a variety of ways, risked all for the sake of returning the Church to a biblical understanding of the gospel: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, God's glory alone.

2)  Opponents of the gospel hate God's word.  The Roman Catholic Church and its devotees feared the translation of God's word into "common" languages more than anything else because they knew it would lead to the questioning of their authority regarding church tradition and popish dogma.  We can find a correlation with today.  Today, many professing Christians hate the expositional preaching of God's word either out of fear or flat out boredom.  Those that fear it do so because it challenges their traditions and preconceived notions of God, not to mention that it brings them face to face with some of the most difficult texts in Scripture such as, "He who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt.24:13); and "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him." (John 6:44).  Those that find it boring usually do so because they want their flesh fed (John 6:25-27) or are simply indifferent (1 Cor. 2:14).

3) The heart of the Reformation was not political but religious.  Now admitedly, the radical fringes were quite political, and even the mainstream reformers found themselves inextricably intertwnined in political issues.  The heart of the Luthers, Calvins, and Zwinglis, however, was one of religious intent.  For the likes of these, the Reformation was about the truth of salvation.

4) Related to the previous point, the heart of the Reformation was justification by faith alone.  If all other things could be agreed upon, yet it remains that the marked difference between Catholic and Protestant was and is the doctrine of justification by faith.  Luther said, "Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed." because it is the belief "on which the church stands or falls".  Reeves concurs, "Justification was what made the Reformation the Reformation." (p.176).  It is here that the line must be drawn and maintained.  For the Catholic, justification by faith is the process of becoming more holy and thus becoming more worthy of salvation.  For Reformers, justification by faith is the declaration of God that the sinner, whille still a sinner, has been given the righteousness of Christ.  The argument may seem to be a mere wrangling over words, and at one level that is true; but it is so much more than that.  What is at stake when one wrangles with these hot-bed words?  The gospel itself.  The Catholic side says one must develop a righteousness, with God's help, that will result in salvation.  The Reformer says one must simply receive the righteousness of Christ by God's grace through faith in Christ, which results in salvation.

In conclusion, we must ask with Reeves and many other contemporary figures, "Is the Reformation over?  Reeves, and I with him, give a resounding, "NO!"  As long as the enemy continues to lead so many (including Protestants) into the error of thinking that the sinner can muster up a righteousness of his own in order to obtain salvation, the Reformation must continue to cry, "Solus Christus!"

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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