“A Strange Anomaly in Contemporary Evangelicalism” (Boice)

James Montgomery Boice made some good points on the perseverance of the saints in these following paragraphs:

This doctrine has a logical connection to the other Calvinistic distinctives, of course.  Because we are radically depraved and because salvation depends on God’s sovereign acts in our salvation, we have a security that is based on his ability and will rather than our own.  If salvation depended in any measure on what we were able to do or contribute to it, we would not be secure at all.

But there is a strange anomaly in contemporary evangelicalism at this point. The great majority of evangelicals are theologically Arminian.  That is, they do not believe in radical depravity or election.  They believe that the deciding factor in whether a person becomes a Christian and is saved is not God’s regenerating power but the individual’s free will, by which he can choose either to believe or disbelieve.  In other words, he is able to put himself into the kingdom or keep himself out.  But in spite of this synergistic and ultimately man-determined theology, most evangelicals nevertheless believe in perseverance, insisting that when a person is once saved, he is saved forever.  It is a correct point, but Arminian theology provides no basis for it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly and wisely grounds our security in God’s acts when it says of perseverance, “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (chap. 17, sec 1).

James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, p.138

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Self-Absorbed in Worship? (Boice)

 We’ve all heard the contemporary praise song that says “I will” more than a few times.   Phrases like “I will celebrate,” “I will sing to God,” “I will praise God,” are sung and repeated many times in the same song.   Here are James Montgomery Boice’s comments on such a song:

The chorus seems to be praising God – it claims to be praising him – but that is the one thing it does not actually do.  As [Marva] Dawn points out, ‘The verbs say ‘I will,’ but in this song I don’t, because although God is mentioned as the recipient of my praise and signing, the song never says a single thing about or to God.

What is the song about then? If we look at it carefully, the answer is clear.  With all the repeats, ‘I’ is the subject twenty-eight times.  Not God, but ‘I’ myself,  And not even myself along with other members of the covenant community, just ‘I’.  ‘With that kind of focus,’ says Dawn, ‘we might suppose that all the “hallelujahs” are praising how good I am…at celebrating and singing.’  What is this but narcissism, an absorption with ourselves which is only a pitiful, sad characteristic of our culture?  If we are self-absorbed in our worship services, as we seem to be, it can only mean that we are worldly in our worship, and not spiritual as we ignorantly suppose.

The praise songs of the Psalter do not fall into this trap, which is one reason why they are such good models for our worship and why they should be used in worship more often than they are.  Think of just the last five psalms, as an example.  They are a kind of praise climax to the Psalter, showing us what it means to praise God….

J. M. Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace, p. 181.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Unconditional Election: A Motive to Missions

 Sometimes people say that the doctrines of grace (aka Calvinism) are a hinderance to missions and evangelism.  The reasoning goes like this: why share the gospel with someone if he might not be elect?  Why share the gospel with someone if Jesus didn’t die for him?  While hypercalvinists might say “Good point!” to those questions, biblical Calvinists answer those questions something like J. M. Boice did:

“People suppose that if God is going to save certain individuals, then he will save them, and there is no point in our having anything to do with it.  But it does not work that way.  Election does not exclude the use of the means by which God works, and the proclamation of the gospel is one of those means (1 Cor. 1:21).”

“Moreover, it is only the truth of election that gives us any hope of success as we proclaim the gospel to unsaved men and women.  If the heart of a sinner is as opposed to God as the Bible declares it to be, and if God does not elect people to salvation, then what hope of success could we possibly have in witnessing?  If God does not call sinners to Christ effectively, it is certain that we cannot do so either.  Even more, if the effective agent in salvation is not God’s choice and call – if the choice is up to the individual or to us, because of our powers to persuade people to accept Christ – how could we even dare to witness?  For what if we make a mistake?  What if we give a wrong answer?  What if we are insensitive to the person’s real questions?  In that case, people will fail to believe.  They may eventually go to hell, and their eternal destiny will be partly our fault, and how could any thinking, feeling Christian live with that?”

“But on the other hand, if God has elected some to salvation and if he is calling those elected individuals to Christ, then we can go forth boldly, knowing that our witness does not have to be perfect, that God uses even weak and stuttering testimonies to his grace and, best of all, that all whom God has chosen for salvation will be saved.  We can be fearless, knowing that all who are called by God will come to him.”

This excellent quote was taken from Boice’s chapter on unconditional election in The Doctrines of Grace (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).

shane lems

Reforming Worship: According to the Word

This is a great book.  I’m sorry I put off reading it for a few years!  Phil Ryken, Derek Thomas, and Ligon Duncan edited Give Praise to God together as a festschrift for J. M. Boice, as sort of a tribute to Boice’s emphasis on worship according to the Word.  The structure of the book is 4-fold:  1) The Bible and Worship, 2) Elements of Biblical Worship, 3) Preparing for Biblical Worship, and 4) Worship, History, and Culture.

I especially liked Duncan’s first two chapters, which is basically a two part essay on the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  Here’s Duncan: “True Christian worship is by the book.  It is according to Scripture.  The Bible alone ultimately directs the form and content of Christian worship” (p. 20).

He goes on.  “The key benefit of the regulative principle is that it helps to assure that God – not man – is the supreme authority for how corporate worship is to be conducted, by assuring that the Bible, God’s own special revelation (and not our opinions, tastes, likes, and theories), is the prime factor in our conduct of and approach to corporate worship” (p. 24).  Duncan explains the RPW from the OT and NT in the last part of this (his first) essay.

He also has a penetrating discussion of idolatry and the RPW.  You’ll have to read the full essay, especially the golden calf section (cf. Ex 32), but here’s where he goes:  “…there are two ways to commit idolatry: worship something other than the true God or worship the true God in the wrong way.

I’ll stop here, and post more about this essay (and Duncan’s other one), as well as a few parts of the fine essays by Ryken and Thomas as well as Terry Johnson.  I may not blog on it for awhile, but to increase your curiosity, Robert Godfrey has a great article on worship and the emotions, Nick Needham has a good one on the church’s worship through the ages, and Mike Horton closes the book with a great discussion of modernism and postmoderism (“Challenges and Opportunities for Ministry Today”).

You’ll want this book if you need more “training” on the whats and hows of worship according to the Word.  Also, for our RR friends not in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, I’m pretty confident it would wrestle you around as you consider what God-honoring worship is all about.  Enjoy!

shane lems

sunnyside wa