Packer on Justification

tsslogo.jpg“Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae — the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in medieval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatized from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks.

the doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace. The doctrines of election, of effectual calling, regeneration, and repentance, of adoption, of prayer, of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments, have all to be interpreted and understood in the light of justification by faith. Thus, the Bible teaches that God elected men in eternity in order that in due time they might be justified through faith in Christ. He renews their hearts under the Word, and draws them to Christ by effectual calling, in order that he might justify them upon their believing. Their adoption as God’s sons is consequent on their justification; indeed, it is no more than the positive aspect of God’s justifying sentence. Their practice of prayer, of daily repentance, and of good works — their whole life of faith — springs from the knowledge of God’s justifying grace. The church is to be thought of as the congregation of the faithful, the fellowship of justified sinners, and the preaching of the Word and ministry of the sacraments are to be understood as means of grace only in the sense that they are means through which God works the birth and growth of justifying faith. A right view of these things is not possible without a right understanding of justification; so that when justification falls, all true knowledge of the grace of God in human life falls with it, and then, as Luther said, the church itself falls.

A society like the Church of Rome, which is committed by its official creed to pervert the doctrine of justification, has sentenced itself to a distorted understanding of salvation at every point. Nor can these distortions ever be corrected till the Roman doctrine of justification is put right. And something similar happens when Protestants let the thought of justification drop out of their minds: the true knowledge of salvation drops out with it, and cannot be restored till the truth of justification is back in its proper place. When Atlas falls, everything that rested on his shoulders comes crashing down too.

How has it happened, then, we ask, that so vital a doctrine has come to be neglected in the way that it is today?

The answer is not far to seek. Just as Atlas, with his mighty load to carry, could not hover in mid-air, but needed firm ground to stand on, so does the doctrine of justification by faith. It rests on certain basic presuppositions, and cannot continue without them. Just as the church cannot stand without the gospel of justification, so that gospel cannot stand where its presuppositions are not granted. They are three: the divine authority of Holy Scripture, the divine wrath against human sin, and the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ. The church that loses its grip on these truths, loses its grip on the doctrine of justification, and to that extent on the gospel itself. And this is what has largely happened in Protestantism today.”

– J.I. Packer, from an introduction essay in the reprint of James Buchanan’s classic, The Doctrine of Justification (Banner of Truth: 1961 ed.). You can download a PDF version of Buchanan’s complete work (with Packer intro) here. Packer’s essay also appeared more recently in the Collected Shorter Writings of J.I. Packer (Paternoster: 1998), 1:137ff.

Critiquing the Missional Movement

tsslogo.jpgNow that all the Sovereign Grace Ministries messages are free, I’m slowly feasting message-by-message in a long and delicious buffet of audio. Today I finally arrived at Dave Harvey’s message from the SGM Leadership Conference this Spring (at the time, I was on the other side of the wall listening to Dever speak on his annual reading schedule).

Harvey, the author of the excellent book When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (Shepherd’s Press: 2007), is also an expert church planter and apostolic leader within SGF. This Spring in his session “Watch Your Mission: To Be, or Not to Be, ‘Missional,’” he assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement. In part, he argues the MM muddies the Cross-centered focus of the Church and misunderstands the apostolic context of the Great Commission.

Here’s the heart of his outline:

1. What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
B. Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
C. Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
D. They Also Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.

2. What are the Weaknesses of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
B. Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
C. Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
D. Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
E. Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.

Free: Get the full outline here and the mp3 audio here.

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Update: It should be noted SGM believes in a continuing apostolic gift: “present-day apostles plant and build local churches for the sanctification of the believer, the expansion of the mission, and the exaltation of God.” For more on why they use the term, what it means and does not mean, see the SGM booklet by Harvey titled Polity: Serving and Leading the Local Church (2004), pages 17-26, 49-50.

Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms

Book review
Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms

Published in 1746, Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections remains the great masterpiece on biblical discernment. Edwards exposes the inner workings of the soul, using Scripture to make concrete the contrast between the fleeting affections of a hard hypocritical heart and the enduring affections of a softened and converted heart. The precise dissection of the soul in Religious Affections is one of the enduring characteristics of Edwards intellectual brilliance and a precision warranted from such delicate matters. But many contemporary readers (like this one) have found Edwards’ intellectual precision difficult to read.

In his new release, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ (Crossway: 2007), Sam Storms has written an excellent guide through Edwards’ rich arguments. Storms is noted for his study of Edwards and has worked through the Religious Affections at least 10 times (p. 12).

But Storms is not enthralled with the genius of Edwards. He begins the book with clear, foundational biblical exposition and carries biblical proof throughout the entire work. Genuine discernment of the true work of God finds its basis in God’s Word, not Edwards. Storms’ careful biblical development deserves applause.

From here Storms builds a historical backdrop to Religious Affections and then defines affections, finally concluding that affections are the “warm and fervid inclinations that reveal the fundamental orientation of the human heart” (p. 44). Storms follows the design of Edwards in explaining the 12 signs that don’t necessarily authenticate the work of God in the soul and the 12 signs that do authenticate the genuine work of God in the soul. Genuine God-given affections are lit by the flame of God Himself, an enduring flame that displays itself in genuine love and admiration of God as He exists in His spectacular beauty. True religious affections will reveal themselves by causing us to hate sin and pursue Christ-likeness, driving our appetite for more of God and to pursue the sweetness in the Person and Work of Christ.

Edwards’ personal testimony of these religious affections comprise the final 80 pages.

Religious Affections is always relevant but especially in our day when “Christianity” is often defined by outward affiliations, church strategies, and cultural relevance. Edwards’ reminder to our era is that genuine Christianity is marked by a radical soul transformation. Christianity is not defined pragmatically by what it offers and what we get. More important than marketing Christianity as a list of exclusive benefits, Edwards understands that a true work of God begins with a vision of God in His unspotted glory and supreme majesty.

“We must, therefore, be careful that our primary joy is in God, as he is in and of himself, and not in our experience of God. That we have been made recipients of his grace and are enabled to behold his beauty is a marvelous thing indeed. But it is secondary and consequential to a recognition of God’s inherent excellency. What brings you greatest and most immediate delight: your experience of a revelation of Christ, or Christ revealed?” (p. 92)

Discerning this genuine work of God is essential for every generation of Christians, and Edwards’ timeless truth has now been made more accessible. But don’t misunderstand. If reading Religious Affections is climbing the face of Mount Everest, reading Sam Storms’ interpretation is climbing the rock wall at REI. There is a harness, air conditioning, engineered footholds and an attendant holding the rope, but you’ll still sweat.

Storms’ timing is excellent. Our generation needs Edwards to help us ground our discernment between the facade of inauthentic Christian profession and the genuine work of God in the soul.

“I doubt if there is a more pressing and urgent issue for the church today than determining ‘what are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards.’ Or to put it in other words, what is the nature of true spirituality and those features in the human soul that are acceptable in the sight of God?” (p. 37)

I think he’s right.

Title: Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’
Author: Sam Storms
Reading level: 3.5/5.0 > moderately difficult
Boards: paperback
Pages: 238
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: none
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price USD: $15.99 from Crossway (includes free PDF)
ISBNs: 9781581349320, 1581349327