Friday, September 30, 2011

Toplady's 4 Essential Guidelines for Gospel Preaching

Here's a short clip from the biography of AUGUSTUS TOPLADY I am writing for Evangelical Press in the UK. 
Arguably one of the most valuable instructions that Toplady left for Christian ministers today is his record of a visit to Exeter and the succinct instruction he received from “that excellent Christian, Mr. Brewer, the old ambassador of Christ.” The venerable minister recounted to young Toplady the charge he had given to another young minister in his installation service. 

1.    Preach Christ crucified, and dwell chiefly on the blessings resulting from his righteousness, atonement, and intercession.
2.    Avoid all needless controversies in the pulpit; except it be when your subject necessarily requires it, or when the truths of God are likely to suffer by your silence.
3.    When you ascend the pulpit, leave your learning behind you: endeavor to preach more to the hearts of your people that to their heads.
4.    Do not affect too much oratory. Seek rather to profit than to be admired.

Toplady, who hereafter preached Christ crucified, seems to have been much impressed and affected by this wise minister’s advice, and embraced the admonition as his own.

What would happen if every generation of new preachers heeded these four straightforward guidelines as Toplady did? The Apostle Paul knew the danger that lurks for preachers to impress their congregation with their learning and oratory. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (I Corinthians 1:17).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reader Question about killing and bloodshed in my books

I had a communication from a reader who read all my Mr Pipes series than started in on the Crown & Covenant Trilogy and the Faith & Freedom Trilogy. They seem to have recently discovered that I am a Calvinist and have perhaps been helped to conclude that that is not a good thing, as they understand things. They are dear folks who asked a question about why I justify killing in my books on the basis of the ones being killed being non-elect anyway. Needless to say, I was flummoxed at their question, and when I asked them to be more specific about what passage I could possibly have written that could have given that impression, they either could not or chose not to be specific. In any event, here is my reply to them.

Thanks for your candor,
I can assure you there is nothing stealth or covert about my writing. I,
like a vast host of heroes throughout church history and to the
present--from Augustine to Packer, Sproul, Piper, Mohler, Storms, Driscol,
Bridges, Keller, Tripp(s), MacArthur, Joni--list is too long, believe that
were it not for the electing mercy of God I would be forever lost in my
sins. I believe that God saves sinners. I agree with my hero CH Spurgeon
that Calvinism is a nick name. The real name is simply the gospel of
justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

I'm sad to think that you came to the conclusions you have come to about my
books communicating that it is good to kill the non-elect. That is never
stated or implied, because I don't believe that. Period. I agree with Calvin
who said, "That as I do not know who are the number of God's elect, I want
to make every man I meet a sharer in my peace." Remember Corporal Boig in
Rebel's Keep, a Royalist, an enemy, who Sandy M'Kethe risked his life to

I do, however, write historical fiction about times in history when there
was war and battles. And Christians did fight in those battles, and had to
seek wisdom from the Word of God to know when it was time to kill (I'm sure
you would agree that there's lots of killing and blood in the Bible too,
isn't there). Christians today face that same dilemma in war. We always have
faced it.

I wonder if what you are referring to is Sandy M'Kethe's instruction to his
sons--recall how reluctant he is, how anguished he is about finally coming
to the place where he and his sons are forced to restrain the evil of wicked
men? I have him instruct his sons in the degrees of punishment the Bible
often speaks about (Jesus own words: "Some will be beaten with many stripes
and some with few," and "It will be more tolerable for some than for
others." All of which and much more, teaches the perfect justice of God in
eternal punishment of the wicked). But nowhere does he presume to be
motivated to kill because the enemy is not elect. He is motivated to kill to
protect the innocent, and to restrain evil--all good things God commands his
people to do when they must. Your wording makes it sound like he takes a
devil-may-care attitude toward killing because the ones they're killing are
just non-elect after all so it doesn't matter. That is  clearly not my
meaning. That would defy everything I have written. When the wicked die or
are killed in their persistant wickedness, they have proven to be, yes,
non-elect. They will be forever punished in hell for their rebellion against
God and his will and ways.

But never in my books do I portray any character rationalizing killing by
because they know that the enemy is non-elect. This would be a significant
misrepresentation of my writing. Every time killing must be done, I portray
it as done with the greatest reluctance, and never as justified because a
character has presumed to know the mind of the Lord, his eternal decree to
pour out his grace on unworthy sinners, to rescue broken and lost rebels
through the redemption purchased by Christ for those sinners, solely
according to the good pleasure of God's will.

I hope this clarifies what my objective is. And I hope you will continue
reading my books. I appreciate you asking these questions, and hope my
answer has helped. I have not always been a Calvinist, and am one by the
unmerited mercy of a sovereign God who rescued my in his Beloved Son,
through no merit or worthiness of my own in the slightest degree. I am ever
a debtor to grace alone. I found reading, meditating, and memorizing
Scripture that particularly address election and predestination some of the
most humbling, and worshipful exercises in my devotional life with Christ.
Ephesians 1:3-11 ever remains a bulwark that points me away from myself and
to the Lord Jesus who paid it all, not most of it, but all of it, "It is
finished," were his dying words, not mostly finished. Praise be to him for
his grace. Do keep in touch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

INKBLOTS-our first play wright joined us tonight

INKBLOTS – September 27, 2011
Vully pinot noir from Switzerland; three of us tonight is all, but quality not quantity (and avoid clichés like the plague).

John S leads off with his contemporary fiction. “It must be fall,” but why would she not know this? Work on air being dead quiet; better adjective for quiet. It is sometimes difficult to put back in, pick up where we left off when hearing our ‘Blots brothers read last time. This is a dream, or what? Can you make the description more a piece with her hallucination, or whatever it is; can her observation of the details of their clothes, etc., be more from her perception; maybe her condition makes her keenly observant of things around her. Limbo. Then Emma woke up. This is chapter 15 of 21, a dream that she has that she thinks is from God. She believes that the dream means that her child, if aborted, will go to this mysterious place of Limbo.

Ken comments that as a reader, it would help to have had a subtle clue going into the. Difference between truth and fiction: Fiction has to makes sense. All fiction is contrivance. It just can’t trumpet the contrivance or the verisimilitude is lost. If you have a bazaar dream or hallucination it has to fit in the fabricated reality of the fiction and appear believable to the reader. If a reader says to himself while listening or reading, “This is too far fetched,” then I haven’t done my job sufficiently.

Having said that, John’s dream chapter reminded me within the first couple of paragraphs of C S Lewis’s Great Divorce, sort of a colorless, numb existence, featureless, not happy-not-sad sort of place. Which got us on what age we will be in heaven. Augustine believed we would all be 30 years old, the age of Jesus when he commenced his earthly ministry. The problem of evil. If there’d never been evil, there would be no backdrop on which to see the glory of God revealed. It just doesn’t seem such a terrible place, so why will Emma be so adverse to aborting her baby so that it won’t go there? That isn’t clear to me.
Ken critiqued John’s title idea, graciously, but that’s what Inkblots is about. Confusion about using gospel in the title of the book, with all the gospel of Judas, and other goofy new discoveries.

Ken Williams shared about his writing. He wrote this piece about sixteen years ago when he was off work for two months. Floaters, a murder mystery spoof in three acts. Full length stage play. Act 1, scene 1. 1930s, southern, pool side. Ken does a great southern accent. Kids of wealthy heiress sitting pool side awaiting the demise of their mother, and the windfall inheritance they anticipate.  I find it intriguing how Ken adds considerable director’s narrative in between the dialog of the play. I’ve never tried writing a play, and wonder if this is customary for the director’s script. Shakespeare didn’t add director’s narrative, though he does imbed hints in the dialog itself. Maybe modern plays are like this. His reading of it is energetic, and so that I can see the action happening. We have often discussed this at Inkblots, but the issue of swearing comes to the table again. We talked about Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christy and crime fiction a bit.

I read from chapter 6 of WEAPONS OF VENGEANCE, or MEAD HALL VENGEANCE, or whatever (still working on that title thing).  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Singing Hymns at Camp Snake Pit, Iraq

With about 100 high school aged young people, I explored the Veterans Museum in Chehalis, Washington on Wednesday this last week. Many sobering things to see and read about--soldiers taking great risks to secure peace and freedom, all too often for others to enjoy.

I was particularly struck by the story of twenty-two year-old Marine, Joseph P. Bier, a local boy from the small Washington town of Centralia. While home on leave in August he had gone fishing in his favorite trout stream near Mt Ranier, and had conversation with his father about whether he ought to reenlist in the Marines for another tour of duty.

He did reenlist. A bit before Thanksgiving, he requested that his parents send him four hymnals for his Bible Study at Camp Snake Pit, Ramandi. His favorite passage in the Bible was Psalm 144, "Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; 2 he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. 3 O LORD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? 4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow."

Joseph P. Bier, 22, of Centralia, Wash.; assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.; attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward); killed Dec. 7, 2005 by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Ramadi, Iraq (from Honor the Fallen website). 

Among his affects in the display case at the museum was his hymnal opened to Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress is our God. His comrades sent it home with his Bible and family pictures he kept with him. May God's grace be sufficient for his parents. And may my students remember their Creator in the days of their youth, and love lives of humble gratitude for the redeeming love of Christ and promised eternal life for all who have abandoned hope in themselves and trust alone in the merits of Christ Jesus..

Friday, September 16, 2011

New book contract: biography on AUGUSTUS TOPLADY

Evangelical Press (EP) contract on AUGUSTUS TOPLADY. After a number of emails this week, we decided to scratch the EP Isaac Watts bio in favor of an all new one on Toplady. I feel really good about this and am already researching and immersing myself in his writings. Yes, it will still be a complimentary volume to my RT Watts, both on important hymn writers. It will likely release far sooner than the original plan for Watts with EP, though we don't have a date on the calender yet.  

Controversial and often criticized by detractors, the author of Rock of Ages, Cleft for me, wrote in his private diary December 31, 1767—"Upon a review of the past year, I desire to confess that my unfaithfulness has been exceeding great; my sins still greater; God's mercies greater than both." And again, "My shortcomings and my mis-doings, my unbelief and want of love, would sink me into the lowest hell, was not Jesus my righteousness and my Redeemer."

I'm excited about researching and writing this 30,000 word biography. Pray for me as I do so. It will be helpful preparation for the 2012, HYMNS FOR ALL TIME TOUR of England & Wales, which I invite you to participate in.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


My wife and I had such a delightful time at the conference. Jim and Robbie Edgrin are some of the most gracious visionaries I have ever met. And the Olympic Refuge is an absolutely beautiful location tucked in the mountains bordering the Olympic National Park; the lodge and all of its rustic splendor is the result of many years of labor and of partnership with many Christians in the region. There was a variety of folks there (about 70), from many different churches, from community churches to Christian Reformed churches. And there were chaplains, active duty and retired, Dr. Edgrin among them; I think I counted at least four colonels in the gathering. The result was many warm and edifying conversations and prayer together.

The Hastings family ministered to us with their family music. How a family of nine can all play the violin so well I will never know! And the banjo and guitar. The final sung Amen in the great hall was a fitting finale to a wonderful day of the Lord's presence and blessing--for us, and we trust for all who attended. [See video below].

I was asked to bring two messages. The first from Luke 18:15ff on the difference between being CHILDISH and CHILD-LIKE. And the second from Zechariah 4:6-10 on not despising the day of SMALL THINGS and that it is God by his sovereign and gracious Spirit who builds his church, and he does so using small, weak, insignificant folks, like Rutherford, Bunyan, and Knox.

Here's the audio on each message for any who care to listen:
Zechariah 4:6-10 SMALL THINGS 

Join us for the HYMNS FOR ALL TIME TOUR, August, 2012!