Our family has successfully transitioned back to life in Cambodia since our return on July 7. We’re glad for the chance to begin ministry with the Brown family to further reach Kampong Cham and Tbong Kmum with the gospel.
We met 17-year-old Net while out witnessing. He is learning to work on motorcycles. Net listened intently as we introduced him to the true God during our second visit with Him. As we return to his house in the next few days, please pray for his heart to be open to listen to the gospel. Please pray for there to be no distractions or hindrances as we visit him again.
Map is a young man we met who had been exposed to the gospel as a small child through the children’s ministry of a missionary in Phnom Penh years ago. He has not forgotten what he had learned about the Savior. We had the chance to water that long-sewn seed today. Please pray for Map as we meet him tomorrow for lunch to share God’s word with him further. Pray that God would open his heart to the gospel and remove any distractions.
Please pray for Kim. She is an older lady that we met who lives both here and in California. She has chosen to live in Cambodia part of the time because the weather here is better for some of her health issues. We had met her previously several years ago. Today, we had the chance to witness to her in English (with a small smattering of Khmer for completeness). She seemed open to the prospect of joining us for church on Sunday. Please pray for the Lord to keep the door open to witness to her, to open her heart and make her see her need for the Savior.
Please pray for Ket Loang, Sithaa, and Naren. These are other people that we have had to opportunity to witness to recently. They all need to be saved. They have various levels of interest in Christ and various hang-ups to trusting in Him.
In the coming weeks, we are planning to take survey trips to the “Red Dots” that we have mentioned in the past. We have some 12–14 places to visit. We ask you to pray that God would give us wisdom and boldness as we move forward with this work. More than anything, we ask you to pray that God would show his power in making the gospel known and lead us to the “son of peace” in each place whereby the gospel could be made fully known.
Thank you for your prayers.
Adam, Alison, Joshua, Anna, Abigail, Charity, Mary-Lynn, and Isaiah Wood
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This year of our furlough has come to a close as quickly as it began. The bags are packed and we are ready to head back to Cambodia. On Tuesday July 5, we leave from Atlanta to return to our corner of God’s field. Our furlough, we feel, as been truly blessed by our Lord. We have had the opportunity to visit so many faithful supporting churches, some of which we had not seen in 9 years or more. Our Lord has provided abundant grace, wisdom, and strength for Alison’s health needs. During this year, the Lord Jesus has given us a renewed vision and zeal for the work in Cambodia. We have seen Him do a work in our own hearts and lives to make us more fit for His service. We desire now more than ever to see the hand of the Lord with us and the ministry. And that, for this letter, is my prayer request.
We would not be negligent to ask for your prayer for my wife’s health, safety in our travels back to Cambodia, and wisdom and strength as we transition back to life there. Yet a great desire weighs upon us—to see God’s hand of power upon our ministry in Cambodia. By the grace of our God, and only by His grace, we will preach His word to the lost in Cambodia. But we want—rather, must have—His power with us to accomplish His will. We long to see our God show Himself mighty in ways that only He can, just as we read in Acts 11:21. So we ask you to pray, just as Paul asked of the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, that the word of the Lord would have free course and be glorified. Please pray that as we return to God’s field, that God would cause His word to mightily grow and prevail, both among Cambodian believers and unbelievers.
We thank you so much for your prayers. We cherish your love. We are humbled by your support.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Adam, Alison, Joshua, Anna, Abigail, Charity, Mary-Lynn, and Isaiah Wood
May 12, 2016
Dear Brethren in Christ,
We know this letter finds you secure in God’s good grace! As our remaining time in the United States quickly winds down, our burden, vision, and desire to resume the ministry in Cambodia winds up. The Lord continues to provide opportunities to Brother Matt Brown to sow the seed of God’s word in Viel Sbov village. A number of kids in our church come from this village, and both we, and now Brother Matt, have had much opportunity to make Christ known there. We continue to ask you to pray for the Red Dots that we mentioned in our last correspondence.
Lord willing, we will be purchasing our return plane tickets very soon. We plan on leaving the United States on or around July 5. Our travels have taken us to Louisiana and Florida to be in several churches. While it is our goal and desire to be a blessing and an encouragement to the churches we visit, we have rather found ourselves the recipients of the Lord’s blessings through His people. We were able to meet and encourage a number of young men and families that want to devote their lives to serve our Lord in the area of missions! We hope some of them can make a visit to Cambodia in the future! One of the greatest blessings of our time in the United States has been visiting churches across America.
Alison’s health has shown some improvement lately. To date, she has seen at least five different kinds of doctors and has undergone numerous types of tests to determine the cause of her issues. Thank the Lord, the only problem found thus far has been a vitamin D deficiency. Once Alison began taking vitamin D supplements, she clearly began to improve. We are not sure that this is the complete cause of her problems, but we are SO grateful to our Lord Jesus for some kind of answer and measurable progress. Our big prayer request is that the Lord would help her to maintain this improvement as we transition back to life in Cambodia.
Thank you so much for your continual prayers for our work and family.
Your Servants in Christ,
Adam, Alison, Joshua, Anna, Abigail, Charity, Mary-Lynn, and Isaiah Wood
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The first half of our time in the United States has come to a close. Our time spent here has been profitable to us. We have been able to be a part of some missions meetings at various churches, which have been a great encouragement to us. Recently, a missions conference in Tennessee truly provoked us to good works in our personal lives as well as our ministry in Cambodia. We have so many ideas and are yet so far away! Oh how we need God’s grace to believe to put them into action! In the coming months we are planning to be in several more churches in the northeast, as well as other places, as we make our rounds to the churches that have supported us and visit new churches.
The time in the United States has also afforded us the chance to get reacquainted with our home church and our new pastor, Jeff Stewart. This time has encouraged my family and me much more than I thought it would. All our kids anticipate going to church, which is priceless to a parent.
Back in Cambodia, the Lord continues to feed His people through Brother Matt Brown. One of our members, Rith, sadly had to move away for a job opportunity. Yet I rejoice that he is still seeking the Lord and faithfully attending a good church in Phnom Penh where he now lives. It is a blessing to see God’s people continue to follow Him.
There are a number of people that I would like to ask you to pray for specifically. These are all family members of people in Grace Baptist Church and all of them need to be saved.
Ming At’s family
- Her husband
- Daughters Srey Roat and Thida
- Sons Chhaya and Samol
- Grandchildren David, Davin, and Danin
- His father
- His step-mother
- His sisters
- Brother Monorum
- Husband Huv
- Twin daughters Srey Muey and Srey Pii
- Her mother Kunthia
- Her step-father
- Uncle Roatana
I know these are a lot of funny names of people you don’t know, but each name represents a family member of one of your brothers or sisters in Christ, a person for whom Christ died, and a person whom we are praying God will save. I also know that there are people that will see these names and will join us in praying earnestly for these souls.
As I mentioned in our last correspondence, Alison visited an ear, nose, and throat doctor about the problems with her ear. Thank the Lord, everything looked fine. Yesterday, she visited another doctor about some ongoing abdominal pains. She is scheduled to have several tests done on February 2, which will hopefully shed some light on her problems. Please pray that God would provide wisdom to the doctor and healing to my wife during this time.
Thank you so much for your unceasing prayers for our family and ministry in Cambodia.
The Wood Family
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Since our last correspondence, through our Lord’s kind hand of protection, we have traveled about 5,000 miles safely, without even the slightest safety or mechanical issue. Our treks took us up to the cool and colorful states of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Rhode Island. We had the chance to visit long-time friends and supporters and be encouraged by their expressions of appreciation and affection for us. We are—and forever hope to be—truly humbled. We have just a few more meetings in the coming months while we wind down to spend much-anticipated time with the family during the holidays. If you would like us to stop by your church in the coming months, please let us know.
Though we are here in the U.S., our hearts don’t travel far from our Cambodia. Grace Baptist Church continues by God’s grace and the work of Brother Matt Brown. God’s grace and leadership is evident in the Khmer Christians’ lives. The people are actively witnessing and trying to follow God’s leading. Soon, we hope Navy and Kanan will follow the Lord in baptism. Please pray for their family members to be saved as well (Kunthia and Roatna). Also, please pray for more open doors and receptive hearts for Brother Matt and the people at the church to witness to the lost.
As a result of an unpleasant visit with an ear, nose and throat doctor in Cambodia, Alison will be visiting another doctor here to try and correct some long-term ear damage she has been dealing with. This ordeal might require surgery. Please pray for her visit in late November, that God would provide wisdom and healing.
While we were in western Pennsylvania at a church, we met a lady from a group of people that are trying to start a church in that area. They already have a core group and meeting place where they meet on Wednesdays. They also have various ministries in progress. What they do not have—and need most—is a leader. They need a church planter to jump in with both feet to establish the church. If you know of anyone that might be interested in stepping up to help plant this church, please contact me.
Thank you for your unceasing prayers for our family and work.
The Wood Family
In mid-June we arrived back in the US to begin our furlough. We have enjoyed getting reacquainted with family and friends, as well as our church. Our children especially have taken joy in meeting grandparents for the first time (as far as they remember).
The first few weeks here were spent preparing materials for coming meetings at churches, which now are in full swing. The Lord has already blessed in the churches we have visited. In the coming months we have plans to visit churches in South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island. Please pray for our travels and meetings.
As part of our preparations for furlough Brother Matt Brown and I put together a video presenting the true-to-life Cambodian religion and the reason why Christians should consider taking the Gospel there. We are currently showing this video in churches that we visit. We would love for you to watch the video and prayerfully and seriously consider its message. You can view it below. Please pray with us that, if He is pleased, our Lord would use the video to call some of His people to preach the Gospel in Cambodia as missionaries.
Back in Cambodia, Grace Baptist Church is moving forward with the help of Brother Matt Brown. The Lord continues to take care of His church! A few weeks after we returned to America, Navy and Kanan, two kids whom we had been teaching, made professions of faith. Now Brother Brown is following up with them and their families, and seeing more opportunities to share the Gospel with them. Please keep Navy, Kanan, and their families in your prayers. There might be opportunity to start a kids ministry in Navy and Kanan’s village. Please pray for wisdom and fruit in this endeavor.
If you remember, I reported that Ming At’s husband was in jail. He has since been released, for which we are thankful. Please pray for him to be saved. Another lady I have mentioned previously, Poch, is seriously ill. Please pray for her to be saved. One more soul who needs God’s salvation is Piev. He is Rith’s brother. He has been involved in witchcraft and has suffered under the devil’s control. He seemed to have opened up to Rith’s witness recently, so please don’t forget to pray for Piev.
Thank you for your unceasing prayers for our family and work.
Greetings in the name of kind and faithful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ! First of all, we want to express our gratitude to you all that have so closely followed my wife’s health issues. Thanks to God, she is doing much better! She still has longer term problems with headaches and her blood sugar. These things are manageable for her now. Thank you for faithfully praying for her.
Grace Baptist Church of Kampong Cham is about the same. Though we haven’t been growing numerically as I would like, I would be short-sighted to overlook the spiritual growth in our people. It has been a blessing to watch! This kind of sameness has offered me an opportunity to really try and teach our folks one-on-one to follow the Lord Jesus daily. They are witnessing to their family and friends and bringing them to church. We have been traveling through Acts in our services. It seems to be very helpful. “Ming Yesu” (Aunt Jesus), as one of our ladies is not-so-affectionately called by her neighbors, can identify with the experiences of the early Christians in Acts.
A couple months ago we held a special 4-day meeting with a guest preacher, Rodney Ruppel, a missionary veteran of 17 years here in Cambodia. He preached on the subject of the church to our people. Since that time, they have exhibited greater faithfulness not only to the services, but also more willingness to join in other ministries. My prayer over the last few months has begun to be, “Lord, give us your increase” (Col. 2:19). I want to ask all of you to join me in praying for this “increase of God” for our church in Kampong Cham, both spiritually and numerically. Another missionary put it like this: pray that God gives us disciples. That’ll work too.
There are a few names that I would also like you to keep before our Lord in prayer. Poch is a middle-aged lady who lives in Toul Srae village, where we have been teaching various people every Friday for a year or more. Poch was listened in a long time ago, but has recently shown renewed interest. She has a lot of confusion about Christianity in general, yet she wants us to teach her. So we are. Please pray that God would open her heart and mind to receive His truth—the truth. Another lady whom I have mentioned in previous correspondence is Srey. We taught her through the whole Gospel, which she then refused because of the potential persecution from her family. We still try and visit her from time to time and pray for her to be saved. Please help us pray for her.
Khmer Christian Radio, an Internet-based Christian radio station in Khmer that we have started, is now on air. Actually, it has been up and running for some time now, but we just recently went public with it. So, it is now available for any Khmer (or non-Khmer) that has an Internet connection. You can tune in at www.khmerchristianradio.com. In the coming months we will hopefully begin adding new music and getting the word out to Khmer churches.
If you receive a hard-copy of this letter and would rather only receive it via email or social media, please let me know. Thank you so much for your prayers and support for our family. Fare ye well, dear brethren.
Due to some crazies harassing us via this blog, I am not posting a copy of our printable prayer letter. If you would like one to print out, please send me an email and I will get one to you.
And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them (Acts 4:13).
In the twenty-first century, few words would be more insulting to a church than, “And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” We have become obsessed with having a large crowd at the church that we are often blind to the clear praise that God gave to the first church in Jerusalem. For sure, this church did not lack a crowd (Acts 2:41; 4:4). And though God does point out the many people that He added to the church, He also praised them because people didn’t join their ranks. How clearly this demonstrates just how much different God’s perspective of a church is from ours. We would do well to take a lesson.
There are churches that obsess about the number of people in attendance. They are willing to do almost anything to get more. There are other churches that take pride in the fact that people won’t come, as a kind of badge or proof of their spiritual prowess. This church in Jerusalem was like neither.
Paradoxically, the church at Jerusalem had both large numbers and people afraid to join them. So, what’s the key here? The key is found in verse 14—believers joined them.
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
The contrast between verse 13 and 14 is stark—and so helpful. Consider all the good things that the apostles and christians were doing to the people of their communities. Verse 16 tells us that they were healing every one that came to them. There was great reason for the words in the latter part of verse 13: “…but the people magnified them.” So, interestingly enough, many people around them who were not a part of the church; that is, they weren’t believers; sang the praises of these christians. Yet they did not join them.
There might have been a number of reasons why these people did not join themselves with the christians. One might have been persecution. The threat of persecution (by “persecution” I am referring to suffering in any form as a result of one’s faith) is a strong resistance to people trusting in Jesus. Here in Cambodia, even before a person trusts in Christ they often become the targets of nasty words, threats, and mockery. This often serves to cool the person’s interest before they are saved. It’s sad, but true.
Last Sunday, a lady in our church brought her sister-in-law to church, who is not a christian. After the service was over (which I later learned was spot on that sister-in-law), the lady in our church asked her sister-in-law to hold her Bible. She refused, saying she didn’t want someone to think she was a christian. That might seem like slight, yet it has a familiar ring, reminescent of Acts 5:13.
Another reason that people did not join themselves with the church in Jerusalem might have been that they did not believe. Society lauded the holiness, good works, and uprightness of the church, but just didn’t believe in the Lord Jesus. This happens regularly here in Cambodia. People that do not believe praise the christians they know, but they themselves don’t care to join in. It just costs too much. Yet another reason might be the strictness of our faith. Just recently I have heard complaints from non-christians that God requires repentance from false gods and 100% faith in Christ alone. That is strict and exclusive, yet it is absolutely true. For at least these reasons, they didn’t dare (“durst” is a form of “dare”) join with the believers in Christ.
It is fascinating that at the church at Jerusalem, for all the high praises they received from society, unbelievers didn’t typically join them. The ones who joined them were believers. For the unbelievers, the persecution was too strong, the message to strict. For the believers, however, those who dared not join with them before found themselves happily seeking them out that blessed group of God’s people.
Should it be our goal in the twenty-first century to get as many unbelievers into our churches as possible? Should we tailor our styles or customize our message in an effort to draw unbelievers in? Is the church not primarily for believers? This is plainly evident in verses 13 and 14. As the church of the living God, our primary concern should be to honor God in our church meetings and our personal lives. Towards the lost, we should love supernaturally, call unceasingly, and pray fervently. But at the same time, we should have a church that exhibits such dedication to the holy God of the Bible and His word, that people dare not join our ranks; that is, they dare not join us until they have come to know that great God and Savior Jesus Christ. I think the question must be asked: are people that know not God comfortable in your church? Are they “cool with” your faith? If that’s the case, or if that’s your goal, you are in woeful disagreement with the church that God praised in Jerusalem.
We need churches of such quality that those who don’t know God are uncomfortable with our love, loyalty, and dedication to Jesus Christ and His word! We need churches of such stature that the clear teaching of God’s word is such that those without God can’t just hide out to sit and listen. But oh the joy when those who avoided us and our Savior come looking for His people in His church after they have found Him that is altogether lovely and worthy!
As you probably guessed it from the title, I’m not a fan of “Total Depravity.” But, lest I am instantly defined by those who do not like my title, let me provide some definitions. Total depravity is:
…man’s natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man.
This quote, by John Piper, seems on its face to be acceptable, I would agree. However, it is the defining of the above statement that leads me to beg to differ. Moreover, the definitions and presentation of Total Depravity, as well as the other 4 points of Calvinism, irritate me for this reason. I almost never hear a Calvinist come out and make his positions clear in one breath, especially when speaking with a non-Calvinist. Among each other the code is apparently understood: “doctrines of grace,” “effectual call,” “sovereign grace,” etc. However, among others you will practically never hear a Calvinist say “I believe that all men are so sinful that everything they do, think, feel and say is inherently evil and that they never and cannot seek God, believe or repent.”
I hear the one in the back saying, “You misunderstand Total Depravity.” Actually, what I wrote is just a summary of Mr. Piper’s article on his position on the TULIP. In this article, I want to rebut his version of Total Depravity. And, lest any Calvinist sympathizers say I haven’t read what actual Calvinists say, I chose the writing of one of the most popular modern Calvinists.
Let me make a couple of other things clear. Just because I don’t believe in the definition of “Total Depravity” as defined by Mr. Piper does not mean that I
- believe a man can save himself.
- believe that man has a spark of divinity.
- believe that men are basically good.
Some will read that and just deny that I actually mean what say. I can’t make it any more clear. Even Piper said this:
But if the mercy by which we are brought to faith (irresistible grace) is not part of what Christ purchased on the cross, then we are left to save ourselves from the bondage of sin, the hardness of heart, the blindness of corruption, and the wrath of God.
So, if I don’t subscribe to the Calvinist system I have to believe this? Well, I don’t on both accounts. Every honest Calvinist knows that if any one petal of the TULIP withers the entire flower falls because the points are mutually dependent. If one point stands, as a Calvinist defines it, they all must stand.
John Piper asserts this of Romans 14:23:
Therefore, if all men are in total rebellion, everything they do is the product of rebellion and cannot be an honor to God, but only part of their sinful rebellion.
In his total rebellion everything man does is sin.
At the beginning, however, he says this:
There is no doubt that man could perform more evil acts toward his fellow man than he does.
So, more than once Piper says that everything man does is sinful. So, whether or not man is doing as much sin as he possibly can, the result is the same: everything he does is sin. The problem is Piper’s proof verse, or rather the second part of his proof verse, Romans 14:23:
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
This verse has a clear context. If it didn’t, and you amputated it from its context, then nearly everything people do, Christians and non-Christians, would be sin. Mowing the grass would be a sin. Walking down the street would be a sin. Driving the car would be a sin, because we do these things without forethought all the time. Piper explains the verse like this:
This is a radical indictment of all natural “virtue” that does not flow from a heart humbly relying on God’s grace.
So, the “faith” in the verse is not referring the persuasion that doing a doubtful act is indeed pleasing to God, as in the context, but relying on God’s grace for salvation? So, he redefines the context to basically mean, “If you are not a Christian, whatever you do is sin.” The context is clear in verses 5, 6, 14 and 22. In fact, in verse 22, God says:
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. (emphasis mine)
The scripture actually mentions faith and sin in the previous verse! So, Romans 14:23 cannot be honestly used to argue that every, single deed, word or thought of a lost man is sin. Yet, Romans 14:23 is the main pillar of the entire Total Depravity argument. If his argument about the meaning of Romans 14:23 stands, then men can never seek God, believe, repent, etc. That’s the subtle direction the argument is going. In other words, it is impossible for man to make any kind of movement toward God. No matter the difference of opinion of the timing of regeneration among Calvinists, it necessitates an act of God to cause a man to be able to do those things. That act, according to Piper, is regeneration.
Because Piper’s interpretation of Romans 14:23 is clearly overturned, we must examine how depraved man actually is, according to the Bible. Before we do that, we must make another definition clear: sin. Piper asserts that everything an natural man does is sinful. Yet, according to the Bible, sin is not defined in the reverse sort of way: if he does it, it is therefore sin. No, sin has a very clear definition in scripture, the transgression of God’s Law:
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
So, sin is not “everything lost men do,” but that which violates God’s Law. So, the unsaved man taking his kids to school, kissing his wife or working on the construction site is not sin, for it does not violate God’s Law. This is very important. Redefining the very definition of sin totally changes and fits into the argument, from the Calvinist’s perspective. But I still haven’t answered how depraved man is. John Piper’s own use of very good verses will suffice.
Romans 3:9-10, 18 are fine verses to show man’s depravity. Piper quotes them as well, and rightly so:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God..There is no fear of God before their eyes.
God says men do not seek God. Can they seek God? This verse does not answer that question. Then Piper asserts that men do seek God:
It is a myth that man in his natural state is genuinely seeking God. Men do seek God. But they do not seek him for who he is. They seek him in a pinch as one who might preserve them from death or enhance their worldly enjoyments. Apart from conversion, no one comes to the light of God.
On the one hand, Piper wants to take a strict view of Romans 3:9-10 to argue that no one seeks God. But, that would have to include us Christians. It does say “none.” On the other hand, he says that men do seek God, but reminds us of this caveat: men do not genuinely seek God. He says they only seek God in a pinch, etc. Psalm 107 gives several examples of sinners whom God saved out of their trouble when they sought Him in a pinch:
Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses (Psalm 107:10-13).
There is nothing to indicate that these men knew God, notwithstanding the verses in the early part of the chapter. To say they did to fit the argument is dishonest. Yet, they sought the Lord in a pinch. God thought it was genuine enough to save them (not from sin, but) out of their distresses. So, we have a number of examples of men seeking God. Also, Piper adds an additional requirement by saying men must seek God for Who He is. Whatever that means, it’s not in the Bible. He provides no proof of that. Then, Piper says, “apart from conversion, no one comes to the light of God.” No one argues with that. But, that is not the issue at hand. The issue is that Piper asserted that men do not genuinely seek after God, which is patently false.
Let me clarify something. God does indeed say that men do not seek God. God is always the initiator in contact with men. This is the whole point of Romans 3. Men don’t seek God because they don’t want to (John 3:19). This is supported by Romans 8:7-8, which Piper also quotes. Ability to seek God is not in view in Romans 3. When unregenerate men do indeed seek God, and they do as has already been shown, it is because of the grace of God. Don’t forget that in the scripture God is constantly found seeking men out. Consider our most recent passage, Psalm 107, verse 24:
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
Even the works of the Lord are symbols of God’s seeking man! This is also found in John 1:9:
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
So, to summarize, men do not naturally seek God. This is clear. Yet, when God makes himself known to them, as he does, they do indeed seek Him. Many a Calvinist would simply reverse the perspective and say that it is because they are effectually called, or chosen. Nothing merits this manipulation of plain truth. This argument is critical to the Calvinist’s view of Total Depravity, because if the scripture says man can indeed seek God, then he might also be able to believe when presented with the truth of God’s Word.
Next, in an attempt to assert than man cannot do “good,” Piper feels it necessary to make sure we understand what he calls “good.” Actually, those three paragraphs are pretty nebulous. Whatever the case, it is irrelevant. As we have seen, sin is not enumerated by what a lost man does, but by God’s Law. It is surprising how out-of-the-way Piper goes to define “good.”
Then, John Piper brings up Romans 8:7-8:
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
This is the first and only time a verse of scripture used by Mr. Piper uses the word “can.” This is the crux. Can man seek God, believe or repent? Piper uses this verse to assert:
So natural man has a mindset that does not and cannot submit to God. Man cannot reform himself.
I have no problem with that. Yet, I fail to see how “man reforming himself” has anything to do with that verse; that is, unless Piper is setting up a straw man by intimating that those that do not hold a Calvinist position think that man can reform himself. I don’t believe that because of Romans 8:7-8, which Piper is using. Remember, no matter how we try to interpret it, the verse does not say that the carnal mind “cannot believe or repent.” The verse says the carnal mind, which surely includes lost folks, “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Absolutely true. This is a truth also found in Romans 3:19-20:
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The lost man cannot be subject to God’s law. This verse says nothing of whether a man can seek God or believe. Yet, Piper asserts:
So natural man has a mindset that does not and cannot submit to God. Man cannot reform himself.
He misquotes the verse. The law could never save anyone, because man is sold in sin and under sin. The verse simply does not support Piper’s point. The fact that sinners are not and cannot be subject to God’s law is the very reason why Christ died (Gal. 2:16)! Lastly, it is also absolutely true that the man in the flesh cannot please God. This speaks nothing of man’s good, but of God’s displeasure with his sin. At this point I can imagine a Calvinist saying, “If a man can seek God, believe God and repent, then he can please God!” Nothing like that is in view in the verse at all. God does not receive the believing sinner because of the merit of his faith. God receives a sinner because of the merits of Christ’s work and because God promised he would receive them if they believed.
Finally, the favorite analogy is used—death. Piper brings up Ephesians 2:1:
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.
The interesting thing about the use of this verse is that it is an entirely deductive argument. Again, Piper injects incapability:
The point of deadness is that we were incapable of any life with God…We were totally unable to reform ourselves.
Whereas it is true that man cannot raise himself from the dead, spiritual death is often used by the Calvinist to make a point that a dead man cannot seek God or believe. Of course, because men are dead “in trespasses and sins” those dead men can still sin, but only not make any move toward God, as it goes. That would be fine if we were talking about a physically dead man. However, spiritual death is in view. Spiritual death is reworded in Ephesians 4:18:
Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.
So, if spiritual death is anything, it is the absence of life. Yet, consider these verses:
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life (John 5:40).
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:31).
If you’ll notice that in both of these verse, faith is the requirement for life. Faith comes first, then life. So, the Calvinist, like John Piper, uses the analogy to assert that dead men cannot believe or seek God. However, Jesus said on at least two occasions that a man must believe to have life. So, awakening from death happens after faith—upon faith.
Let us hear the conclusion of the matter. There are other verses used by Calvinists to argue their definition of Total Depravity. I have addressed these because these were chosen by one of the most popular Calvinists around. My point was to show that the Calvinists’ understanding of the depravity of man is flawed. Depravity makes men—all men—totally deserving of an eternity in the lake of fire. Depravity makes all men totally defiled before God and unable to please Him. Depravity makes all men desperately need a Savior. However, the scripture simply does not support the idea that depravity renders a man incapable of responding to God seeking him. Therefore, I believe the other points should also be considered suspect.
I recently received an article through several of my social media “orifices,” an article which caused a dual reaction in my heart. The article is “Things that Discourage Millennial Christian Leaders” by Brother Cary Schmidt at Encouraging Words. In summary, the article is basically a summary of Brother Schmidt’s take on the millennial generation (the generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000). As I read, I found myself both commending and challenging some of his major and minor points. I would like to submit my take on the millennial generation.
I am a millennial. I was born in 1981. I have almost every type of social media account and use them regularly. I have a smart phone. To my knowledge, except in jest, I have never used terms such as “movie house,” “honky-tonk,” “bull-fightin’ britches,” or other terms of a previous era. I say this tongue-and-cheek only to point out that my family and I are not outsiders. We are insiders. Many of my closest friends on earth are of this generation. I love this generation and believe it has great potential. It must, for it is the generation that will make up God’s servants in the first part of the 21st century. Yet in all honesty, what I see of my own Christian millennial generation is often discouraging.
It’s not all bad, though. I like the Christian millennial’s willingness to challenge others to prove their views from the Scripture. I like the millennial’s willingness and eagerness to try new things and be innovative. I like the millennial’s aversion for camps, clubs, cliques, schools and the often slavish loyalty to institutions that have long-since departed from the loyalist’s own beliefs. Like the millennials, the generation before us has many reasons for commendation, and some reasons for critique. There were and are some in the previous generation that had what I would consider (remember, I am a millennial) undeserved loyalties to schools or groups. There are some in the previous generation that practice shoot-from-the-hip dogma with little proof or explanation of their positions outside of tradition. Millennial Christian leaders are adept at pointing these things out and using them as grounds to ride the pendulum the other direction, while not noticing the religious whoppers that they themselves have swallowed without the same cynicism that they gave to the previous generation (think “God doesn’t care what kind of music I listen to,” or “It only matters what’s in my heart”).
I have also found in Christian millennials, and yes, even church leaders, some nasty little foxes that are now serving a catalysts to bring about changes that are not positive. And these foxes are actually serving to allow the changes to go virtually unchallenged, because of a lack of self-cynicism. So, here is a view of Christian millennials and the leaders among us from a millennial.
1. Christian millennials fear rejection and ostracizing by the culture in which they live. They seem to be terrified of being labeled “irrelevant,” “out-dated,” odd or “Pharisaical,” whether is it merited or not. Let’s be clear: the culture in which we now live is wicked. It is becoming more and more wicked each year that passes. We should not be worried what our “culture” thinks of the way we follow God’s Word and will. I can understand making the Gospel and Bible teaching as applicable to the audience as possible. However, the fear of rejection by “the culture” in the heart of a Christian leader is debilitating and will often lead to decisions that are not in accordance with the Scripture or to decisions in which God’s Word was not seriously consulted at all. That, I’m afraid is the root of this problem. I am persuaded that fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) clouds the objectivity of the millennial and taints his judgment. I have seen this first hand in my own family members who are not Christians, how a lack of uprightness and “differentness” of a Christian (with a pure doctrinal statement) led to a dismissal of the Gospel by my family members. This is a serious problem with serious repercussions. We must accept that faithfulness to God will mean ostracizing and mockery by “the culture” (2 Timothy 3:12).
2. Christian millennials are averse to playing it safe in matters that are unclear. With the rights-culture permeating the West, millennials feel that their mere question of a matter is grounds for action or change. They are keen on pointing out matters in ministry that are gray. But, rather than play it safe in the gray area (that is, an area that they themselves say is unclear) they take the ambiguity as a kind of license to do it, then defend their actions in this gray area vigorously from all attacks of the “traditionalists.” “This is a gray area. It doesn’t have anything to do with doctrine,” is often the refrain. If it is a gray area indeed, then shouldn’t Romans 14, verses 15-16 be as closely and prayerfully regarded as verses 5 and 10 are? Faithfulness to the Scripture demands that clear Scripture be contended for; Christian charity demands that ambiguity be ruled by love for your brother. It works both ways.
At this point I want to challenge an assertion that is often presented when gray areas are brought up. To put it briefly, many millennials (and non-millennials) define a gray area as a “non-doctrinal issue.” They also often narrowly define “doctrine” as a list of beliefs that are enumerated on a doctrinal statement. In this way, almost all contentious matters can be relegated to one’s preference in style, as if the Scripture never addresses the practice of our obedience. Once doctrine is defined thus, in practice almost everything outside of the doctrinal statement can be purely preferential. Therefore, any argument or criticism can always be labeled as judgmental. I know it sounds like I am just speaking in generalities, but I have heard this very idea in use many, many times. This narrow understanding of doctrine is unknown to Scripture. “Doctrine” in the Bible merely refers to the body of what a person teaches. It is most certainly not simply theology, soteriology, eschatology, etc. Consider Matthew 16:12:
Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
A cursory reading of the context reveals that Christ was warning, not of the doctrinal statement of the Pharisees, but of what they taught and practiced. This verse is one illustrative example of the use of the word doctrine in the Bible. Because of the broad definition of doctrine in Scripture, it is impossible to draw a line at the place where “doctrine” ends and preferences begin. Any line drawn must be arbitrary and subject to the individual’s estimation of what is worth contending for. And thus, because “doctrine” is boxed away neatly, many practical teachings of the Scripture seem to be disregarded, like Romans 12:2 (worldliness), 1 Timothy 2:9 (modesty), Psalm 101:3 (entertainment), Psalm 26:5 (separation), Romans 13:8 (debt), etc. Detractors from my point will say that the Christian millennial leaders do live by these verses. Why, then, do I see so many violations of these Scriptural teachings? I would expect to see at least some basic practice of these Scriptures. It has nothing to do with “behaviorism,” but everything to do with being a Christian who loves his God with all of his heart who wants to please and honor Him in every thought, word and deed (1 Corinthians 10:31). I would not dare make some sort of rule list by which to judge all my brothers and sisters in Christ and hold them to my own standard. But, seriously, where are the Christian millennial leaders that are being self-critical and testing their own preferences by the Scripture?
Lest any misunderstand or misinterpret my point, let me be clear. Just because one cannot draw a line between doctrine and preference in the Scripture does not mean that all minute details of practice should be argued (1 Corinthians 11:6). However, it does mean that we cannot simply narrowly redefine “doctrine” to exclude the things that we think are not of the highest importance, then accuse others on our right who disagree of being Pharisaical or judgmental. We must believe in the diety of Christ our Lord and salvation by grace, as well as avoid watching adultery played out on television. Both are in the Bible. Both should be obeyed. What’s more, begin to involve my children and what influences them and the criteria for what is worth contending for change even more.
3. Christian millennials are often unwilling to honestly and bravely examine their own preferences by the Scripture. This is where the rubber meets the road, in my opinion. In general, millennials do not like criticism, as is probably true with everyone to some degree. However, it is the responsibility of Christian millennial leaders to examine themselves and their beliefs and ministries by all of God’s Word with brutal honesty. We should be willing to objectively scrutinize our own viewpoints by the rule of God’s Word, even non-“doctrinal” issues. With all honesty I say this: I don’t see this happening. On the contrary, I see many millennials using gray areas as a license to press the limits. I see millennials’ apparent disregard for clearly defined standards of practical righteousness as set forth in Scripture. I am not referring to how-long, how-short, how-beaty kind of arguments. I am referring to even basic adherence. I rack my brain, sometimes, wondering, “How in the world could they say that’s at all modest or unspotted from the world? How could they say that glorifies God at all?” To many, this is simply judgmental. Yet, God commands me to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Where are the Christian millennials that will bravely look at their family’s wardrobe and say, “Is this dress modest and appropriate for a Christian?” Where are they that stick the neck out and ask, “Is this song a clone of the world?” Where are they that ask themselves, “Should I be watching this show with this evil in it?” This is not behaviorism. This is being a Christian wanting to abstain from all appearance of evil for His Lord’s sake. This is being a Christian millennial that is trying to apply all of God’s Word to his life in his era.
Lastly, let me say this. It is not true that you must equate tradition with doctrine or either worry only about “doctrinal” integrity. There is a middle ground. The middle ground is not one that uses the length of your hair or skirt or sound of your music to judge the spirituality of your brother. The middle ground is honestly looking at the Word of God—all of it—and conforming to it in every way that you know how. For sure, we will not always agree on the final conclusions of those examinations. However, defense of one’s actions and excuses to simply test limits among Christian millennials must stop. We cannot continue to be the judges of the previous generation’s faults while we are willfully ignoring our own reluctance to examine what we believe and practice. I love this most applicable quote from Brother Paul Chappell:
It’s okay to challenge the preferences or convictions of the last generation, but show us how you are going to conform to His image and not to the world in your generation. (emphasis mine)So, I’ll part with four exhortations to Christian Millennial leaders:
- Brutally and honestly try yourselves and your beliefs by God’s Word in every matter.
- Be the Christian that loves and seriously considers the reproofs of the generation before, even if those reproofs come with an undesirable attitude or disposition.
- Tenaciously build your life and ministry on faithful adherence to all of God’s Word, no matter how “the culture” views it or whether or not it is a “doctrinal” issue.
- Truly love and pray for those to the right and left of you.