Contending For The Faith

September 4, 2009

S. Lewis Johnson Teaching From Genesis 19

Filed under: Bible Study,S. Lewis Johnson — Lynda O @ 10:09 am
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I’ve been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Genesis” series, which he preached in 1979. I’ve now completed the study for Genesis 19, and here are a few important points.

This chapter deals with a “carnal Christian,” Lot, and the consequences of his worldliness, including in his own family. It’s a familiar narrative passage, but here are a few things of special note.

SLJ notes that the angels seem much more reluctant to go home with Lot than they had with Abraham. They readily came to Abraham’s tent in Genesis 18; but it seems that they would prefer to stay in the town square than with Lot.

Lot does show great hospitality, one evidence of the fact that he was a righteous man (2 Peter 2), but his worldly life compromises his witness to the world. He had evidently selected unbelieving men to marry his daughters. When Lot later tried to warn them of the coming destruction, their disbelief again reflects Lot’s worldly character, he was the type of person not to be taken seriously.

The words from the men of Sodom to Lot, in verse 9 (“This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.”), show that the believer trying to get ahead in the world never really does fit in as well as he would like to think. S. Lewis Johnson says it well:

It is obvious that while he been there and evidently he had a place and position, deep down within they did not really like Lot. There was something about Lot that made him different, and even in his worldliness, there was that basic commitment to the promises given to Abraham and they figured that out.

That is why, incidentally, a worldly believer never is able to accomplish what he thinks he will accomplish. He thinks that by mingling with the world, he will be an influence upon them. But he is not an influence upon them and the one who is hurt is he himself.

Lot is the object of great mercy, and his life is spared on account of his relation to Abraham, as mentioned in verse 29 (So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.) Yet throughout the account Lot clearly does not appreciate the great mercy, as he is continually reluctant, to the point that the angels have to take charge. After that, Lot is still trying to wheedle out any more concessions, such as the part about fleeing to the small town of Zoar rather than to the mountains.

S. Lewis Johnson’s remarks about homosexuality in America are interesting, coming from the viewpoint of 1979. The situation is far worse now than 30 years ago, yet even then homosexuality was being championed as a great alternative lifestyle. He quotes from a cover story in Time magazine, “How Gay is Gay,” in which was told the line that 10 percent of the population is homosexual, and that many popular cultural items in our lives (disco and disco lights, long hair, even Adidas running shoes) came from homosexuals and then to the broader society. SLJ makes the important observation, from Romans 1, that increasing homosexuality in a nation is itself a judgement from God–not a sign of future possible judgement, but the actual judgment itself:

So when we look at increasing homosexuality in our society, we do not say, “Well if this continues, we are liable to experience the judgment of God.” According to Paul, the increase in homosexual practices is the judgment of God. It is upon us because of our apostasy from divine truth and so when we see this pervading our society, we are not a society that is moving toward judgment, but we are a society that is already under judgment and moving toward the final cataclysmic destruction of the society as we know it when the Lord Jesus Christ comes at his second advent to the earth.

August 21, 2009

Bible Details Matter

Filed under: Bible Study,John MacArthur,S. Lewis Johnson — Lynda O @ 6:20 am
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Regular Bible Study and repeated readings of the Bible really help with understanding scripture and its meaning and context, and increase our ability to discern truth and error in the teachings of our pastors/teachers.  Consider the following example from my recent readings.

2 Thessalonians 3:17-18 (ESV):  ” I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

The previous day I had read chapter 2, which begins thus:
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 (ESV):   Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

It is clear from these verses, and the rest of 2 Thessalonians 2, that someone had sent a forged letter claiming to be from Paul, in which they claimed a false doctrine:  that the day of the Lord has come.  The reason for Paul’s closing comment in 2 Thess. 3:17 is also clear:  his original handwritten letter had some distinguishing feature by which the Thessalonians could recognize his writing as compared to a forgery.  As John MacArthur remarked, Paul must have had a unique signature that was not easy to duplicate.

All of this is so straightforward, so why do I even bring it up?  Something as simple as this can be twisted to teach something completely unrelated, as I have seen from a not-so-solid pastor.  Twice in the last fifteen years he has preached through the book of Hebrews, and both times he began his series with an “introduction” message that included many great “proofs” for authorship by the apostle Paul.  One of the “proofs” he cited is that Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18, said “this is the sign …. it is the way I write.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” and in the book of Hebrews the author closes the letter with the same phrase “Grace be with you all.”  This pastor then proceeded to show many examples (even having the congregation actually turn their Bibles to each of these passages) where Paul closed his letters with that same phrase “Grace be with you all,” and also showed how the non-Pauline epistles did not end with that same phrase.  In the pastor’s thinking, Paul’s comment to the Thessalonians that “this is the way I write” is directly connected with the next sentence “Grace be with you all.”  Therefore, any epistle that ends with that same phrase, including the book of Hebrews, must be showing Paul’s special mark of authenticity.

Obviously this pastor completely missed the seemingly obvious point of 2 Thessalonians chapters 2 and 3.  Paul’s concern was to show the Thessalonians some physical way to distinguish his letters from that of a forgery.  The closing phrase “Grace be with you all” could just as easily be put into a forged note as into a real note, and the words themselves say nothing as to the genuineness of Paul’s authorship.  After all, I know many people who sign their letters with “In Christ,” or “Regards,” but does that mean that all such letters were written by the same person?  As to the authorship of the book of Hebrews, I’ll go with John MacArthur’s and S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching on this: we don’t know who wrote Hebrews, but it was not Paul.  S. Lewis Johnson made an interesting point here, in a brief reference to the topic:  the style of writing of Hebrews is very different from Paul’s letters, and this is much more clear in the original Greek texts.  (From which it is also safe to infer that the above pastor doesn’t know Greek, at least not that well; and considering that he is self-taught, never went to seminary, that too makes sense.)

I don’t know the Greek language, but as a layperson who studies God’s word (in my own language, English) I can study it for its context and meaning, and along the way discern whether what a pastor-teacher says agrees with what the Bible says in its context, its meaning.  Some examples of such discernment are of course easier than others, and the pastors that demonstrate many obvious errors (as with the pastor cited above) easily prove themselves to be poor teachers and even false teachers.  Of course we can all find something we don’t agree with, or some factual error.  I’ve even found a few factual errors, in the use of certain sermon examples / illustrations, from John MacArthur and S. Lewis Johnson; though in these the error was with the illustration itself and not related to any actual biblical teaching.  After all, all teachers are only human and without perfect knowledge; but some are much closer to the truth than others.

August 11, 2009

The Rebellion of the Young, Restless, Reformed

Filed under: eschatology,S. Lewis Johnson — Lynda O @ 11:32 am
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I’ve been reading through and enjoying the eschatology blog series at HipandThigh (Fred Butler) and similar articles from Expository Thoughts (Matt Weymeyer, Caleb Kolstad, and others), and have updated my blog articles page with links to all these articles. Fred Butler wrote some good rebuttals to Sam Waldron, who so objected to John MacArthur’s 2007 Shepherd Conference message that he published his own book, and has since written many more articles dealing with the basics of Eschatology. Now that I’ve listened to 112 messages from Jim McClarty, plus S. Lewis Johnson’s 37-part series, plus reading through various online articles at pretrib.org and elsewhere, most of what is addressed in these blogs is familiar material.

Fred Butler makes an interesting observation in reference to his own story and that of others, as to why so many Reformed Christians are puffed up on amillenialism and quick to denounce the dispensational premillenial view:

It seemed as though many of them were like me: Raised in a non-Calvinistic, fundamentalist church whose leadership never really taught anything theological at all, let alone Calvinism. Those were doctrines I had to learn on my own from pastors I heard on the radio or read in books I had to obtain personally. At any rate, many of my restless young Calvinist friends came to embrace Calvinism because they, like myself, saw the doctrines clearly taught in scripture.

But, with this embracing of Calvinism came a total overhaul of their entire theological worldview, including the complete abandonment of a dispensational perspective and premillennialism as an eschatological system. …even though some of these dear folks say they are biblically convinced of a non-dispensational, non-premillennial point of view, from what I read on their blogs and at times discussed with them in person, I saw their change in eschatology as a final “rebellion” as it were against the non-Calvinistic churches where they were first saved and nurtured. In other words, if these churches were wrong about the doctrines pertaining to salvation, they had to be equally mistaken about eschatology. Thus, it was believed a more Reformed view of eschatology had to be embraced in place of the errant dispensational premillennialism.

In response to this rebellion, Fred also adds this important reminder (emphasis mine):

I am for theological reform along all areas of doctrine; but I am not of the opinion I have to become either amillennial or postmillennial in my eschatology, or even adapt amillennial hermeneutics when it comes to the interpretation and application of prophetic literature, in order to be “completely reformed.” I think R.K. McGregor-Wright stated it well when he wrote,

It’s important that we as Protestants who take sola Scriptura seriously, not treat patterns of doctrine, especially the reformed tradition of theology that we have learned so much from, as a “package deal.” In fact, “reformed theology” as we find it in the literature, is no such thing. Reformed theology is a particular tradition of understanding emanating from the Reformation, not an exclusive system of divine truth that cannot itself be altered. No theology has the same status as Scripture, and no confession of faith has the same finality as the Word of God written. All theologies are the results of human effort, and they partake of the failures and partial successes of the men and women who have contributed to them down through the years. They are traditions, not additional revelations. Reformed theology is itself reformable today for the same reason catholic theology was reformable in the sixteenth century. The controlling principle of sola Scriptura still applies, Calvin or no Calvin. (The Premillennial Second Coming: A brief defense, pg. 1, unpublished paper).

Having come to a premillenial understanding from a different background, I had not been aware of this “rebellion” among the “young, restless, reformed” crowd. However, I can clearly see this trait in several individuals I know. It explains the attitude of the young Indian missionary to India, whose financial connections to Arminian churches were cut-off after he came to understand the Doctrines of Grace. Recently he has been traveling around and visiting many “Sovereign Grace” churches to create a new network of missionary support. I was rather put-off, though, when he made a special point of declaring that he had also abandoned the dispensational premill eschatology, that he now realized that all that stuff was fantasy. It also explains the attitude of one person at my church, who apparently was previously taught and adhered to dispensationalism, but now will consider every other option except the futurist premillenial view. This rebellion even accounts for the local pastor’s anti-dispensational attitude. Though he’s not among the “young” crowd, he too was taught the dispensational view as a young person in an arminian-type church, later came to understand Calvinism, and now, though he still has his old Scofield Bible, outright rejects dispensational eschatology.

In all these cases, what I see is that they really never understood what they were taught, and they did not (and still don’t) have a good grasp of the Bible itself and what it says, except in a broad overview way. Instead they put great emphasis on studying creeds and the Church Fathers (especially Augustine) and the Reformers, falling into Dan Phillips’ number one of the “25 stupid reasons for dissing dispensationalism,” that “it isn’t cool to be dispensational.” Yes, that too reflects an immature, rebellious attitude of one more interested in man’s opinions than God’s.

God’s word is quite clear on the matter, and the more I read and study my Bible, the clearer it is. My eschatology begins at Genesis 12 (and as I listen to SLJ’s “Genesis” series I’m now up to Genesis 12) and continues strong throughout the OT and continues loud and clear in the NT. But those who uphold their amillenial and preterist ideas must of necessity put man’s ideas and man’s theological systems before the word of God.  The only way to come up with such ideas is when one imposes that “system” onto a text rather than reading the Bible at face value in the normal way of reading a text, according to the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

July 16, 2009

Why Satan Must Be Released (Rev. 20:3)

I’ve just completed S. Lewis Johnson’s 37-part eschatology series, which cleared up and explained more questions I had concerning the tribulation and the Millennial kingdom.

One interesting item is the purpose of the Millennial Kingdom age (in SLJ’s message 35). Revelation 20:3 states that, after having been bound, Satan must be released for a short time. The Greek term for must indicates logical necessity; it is not that Satan will or shall be loosed, but that he must. In considering this text, S. Lewis Johnson points out that in each successive “age” or dispensation, God gives man some additional “help” to answer the human objection of what was lacking in the previous dispensation. Each successive age removes another human excuse, as again and again man still fails miserably even with extra assistance, showing his true wickedness and depravity.

In the “age of conscience” (from Adam to the flood), man lacked human government and its restraints: basic capital punishment. So the “age of human government” (Noahic era) answered that objection with new directives (Genesis 9). Then came the era of divine principles — the Abrahamic covenant, and the Mosaic covenant (the law) — and again man failed. Our present Church Age answers the previous system’s objection: our inability to keep the law. Now we have divine enablement with the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. Yet even this is not appropriated by all (only by believers), and is not perfectly appropriated even by believers. Thus, as the scriptures tell us, this age will end in general apostasy.  As S. Lewis Johnson explains it:

Well, someone might say after this age is over, the reason that this age ended in general apostasy is that we had satanic opposition. Surely, we had divine enablement, but we had satanic opposition and Satan’s opposition is too much for us.

The next age, the Millennial kingdom, addresses the current-day objection of “the devil made me do it,” by the binding of Satan. So the Millennial kingdom gives man every possibility to succeed. Man has more than the divine enablement of the Church Age, he actually has Christ reigning on the throne in Jerusalem, with only resurrected saints and living believers entering the kingdom. It is a time of true peace, Israel in the land, worshipping, with Jesus reigning there; the Gentiles come to Jerusalem for the feasts (Zechariah 14, Isaiah 66), and the people have long life spans in the manner of the pre-flood age. Man also is free from demonic influence during this time. Yet the end of it proves even further that, left to himself, without Satan’s influence, man still rises up in rebellion against God. Every inducement to do good, and every human excuse for man’s failure, has been tried by the end of that age.

Thus we see the logical reason why Satan must be released. There is sin and death in the Millennial kingdom; it is not the final consummation of God’s plans. Satan’s “second coming” accomplishes two purposes: it demonstrates Satan’s utter incorrigibility, and it demonstrates human depravity.

Now, what then is God demonstrating through all of these ages? Well, he is demonstrating the sinfulness of the human heart. He is demonstrating original sin. He is demonstrating condemnation. He is demonstrating the fact that it is impossible for a man in the flesh to please God. So I think that probably is the explanation of that statement, And after that, he must be loosed for a little season. There is a logical necessity for God to demonstrate that even though Satan is not here, still man is sinful and rebels against the revelation of God.

 

July 15, 2009

Some insights from S. Lewis Johnson

Filed under: Bible Study,eschatology,S. Lewis Johnson — Lynda O @ 6:36 am
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I’ve really been enjoying listening to S. Lewis Johnson, to his messages from Genesis, as well as his 37-part eschatology series. Here are a few good thoughts to remember:

From the end of Genesis 3: Adam and Eve were naked and ashamed. The Lord clothed them with the animal skins. Then the Lord Jesus took that shame of nakedness on the cross — He was naked on the cross, taking on Himself that shame that Adam and Eve originally experienced.

From Genesis 4: Cain was the first seed of the serpent, and Abel the first righteous one to die. S. Lewis Johnson considers the issue of what Eve said when she gave birth to Cain, pointing out that some have constructed the Hebrew to say that she thought Cain was the promised seed. SLJ does not hold to that view (a view I first learned from John MacArthur), but does agree that Eve clearly expresses her understanding as a believer, that God was the one that gave her the child.

From both the Genesis and Eschatology series, I’ve learned about the significance of the creation and its curse — and the necessary reversal of the curse on the creation. In Genesis 3 the curse is pronounced on mankind, and in Christ that curse is reversed. So too the creation was cursed, and that curse will be reversed, at the renewal and restoration, when our Lord returns everything to the ideal condition of Genesis and the Garden of Eden, as described in Revelation 21 and 22. Paul in Romans 8 speaks of the creation itself groaning and in travail, waiting for the renewal.  As S. Lewis Johnson says:

the whole of this creation will be refashioned, and we shall have a glorious refashioned earth upon which the Lord Jesus will rule and reign in righteousness and in justice.

Jesus also speaks of this in Matthew 19:28 — that at the renewal of all things, the disciples will also sit on twelve thrones;  here again is a reference to the renewal of the creation as well. It is indeed very reasonable to see that, just as He redeemed our souls and will resurrect and give us physical bodies, so He will also redeem and restore creation to that “utopian” condition.

Amillennialists are so plagued by the Greek notion that anything physical cannot also be spiritual, that physical means sinful and carnal and material. Yet in this life we see it all the time, that the physical and spiritual co-exist. SLJ tells a great “parable” (from a true event) about a gathering of preachers at a banquet, enjoying fried chicken while discussing their views of the future kingdom.

If the kingdom of God can exist now on the earth in a 200-pound preacher full of fried chicken without any reprehensible materialistic connotation, perhaps it also can exist in eating and drinking under more perfect conditions in a future millennial kingdom.

To the amillennialist charge of “how ridiculous” a millennial kingdom would be, with resurrected saints walking around and interacting with non-glorified saints (those still living in their natural bodies), the most obvious answer is: well, Jesus Himself in His resurrected body interacted with non-glorified bodies, coming and going for 40 days.

I encourage everyone interested in good Bible exposition to read and/or listen to S. Lewis Johnson, a great resource for Bible teaching. Some of the audio files are of poor quality, from original tape recordings in the 1970s, but for the most part the audio is good. The SLJ Institute also has transcripts of all his messages.

June 18, 2009

Great Christian Influences

This is a common topic on Internet blogs and message boards: list your favorite Bible teachers, or list the ones you’re most influenced by / learned from, etc.

Over time I find this list changes, and it’s always interesting to see the lists from others. Many of the names are unfamiliar, though over time I begin to hear more about those individuals. My own list is much smaller than others, those who obviously have been studying from many Christian teachers over many years.

Here is my own list of those great influences:

  • John MacArthur
  • Phil Johnson
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • S. Lewis Johnson

I’ve studied some from a few other names during the last 12 months– R.C. Sproul, Jim McClarty–but these are the important ones, and really more than I have enough time for in any given week. Unlike the Cal.vini.st  blogger, I don’t have an iPod to do podcasts, so I’m sticking with the “old” technology of MP3 files played on my computer, or burned to CDs and CD-RWs to play on the home DVD player or the car stereo.

My typical week includes:

  • listening to at least two John MacArthur sermons in my car, CD-RW discs with WAV files — currently listening to his Revelation series, up to chapter 16.
  • reading Charles Spurgeon devotionals (from Alistair Begg’s “Truth for Life” daily devotional emails), and reading a few sermons from the 1855 New Park Street volume
  • reading some of Pulpit magazine  and Teampyro blogs
  • listening to S. Lewis Johnson MP3s: half a sermon (about 23 – 25 minutes) each weekday morning before going to work.  I just started his series through Genesis.  Also, listening to MP3s of SLJ’s eschatology series, usually one message each weekday, on my PC at work (currently finished up through number 20 out of 37)

I’ve especially come to appreciate S. Lewis Johnson recently — a name I had often heard in the last several months, as being of like theological views to John MacArthur and Grace Community Church (baptist, Calvinist, dispensational). He really was a great teacher as well, with great depth of teaching (what I also appreciate about John MacArthur), and now I hope to listen to all of his messages, available on the Believer’s Chapel website (link here), and I’ll start by going through from Genesis to Revelation, all of his scripture-book messages.

June 5, 2009

Concerning Prophecy and Study

Filed under: eschatology,S. Lewis Johnson — Lynda O @ 2:54 pm

My studies in God’s word continue, and I continue to enjoy and have great desire for learning all that is contained therein. One new observation I have, after months of study and perusing message board posts at BibleForums(www.bibleforums.org): one reason I especially enjoy studying the prophetic texts of scripture is that this particular area does require more detailed study than most other scriptural matters. Those who only give superficial attention to the Bible will never plunge into the depths of scripture, will never do the extra work necessary to see how the different texts relate to each other to form a more complete overall picture. So much of scripture deals with Christ’s Second Advent, yet so many neglect it altogether or only skim the surface and come to completely incorrect conclusions.

I can see this quality of study and depth of thought in the posts in BibleForums’ eschatology section. Whereas the overall content of the website is light and often superficial (as typical of all message board sites), at least a few of the posters in the eschatology sub-board show great intelligence and skill with their subject matter, knowing the scriptures and how to present and defend the premillennial view with solid biblical interpretation using the literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. This resource too is quite helpful for learning the topic, albeit in a broad, non-systematized manner of looking at specific issues rather than an organized presentation.

I’ve now embarked on a new topical series, a general eschatology series of 37 messages from the late S. Lewis Johnson. I’m in the “Covenants” section now, having just completed all three parts of the Abrahamic Covenant (message 12). Much of the material is review at this point, basic ideas I learned from Jim McClarty’s 112 message series, but S. Lewis Johnson adds more detail and insights. Again I think of Spurgeon’s great quote about increasing our faith as I consider the wonders of our great God, who not only purposed our own salvation but has an even greater plan, to also save a future generation of Jews. As S. Lewis Johnson said, it is so inconsistent of Calvinists to think that their own salvation is elected from God, but that the Jews lost their promises based on their efforts–their behavior and apostasy. Such a view would be more consistent from an Arminian, but not from Calvinists who understand God’s Sovereignty in Election. If God could reject Israel because of their failure, what confidence have we to assume that He would not reject us based on our efforts?

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