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This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

1. His ministry began in the year of his conversion as a young man.

Spurgeon was raised in a Christian home, but was converted in 1850 at fifteen years old. Caught in a snowstorm, he took refuge in a small Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester. After about ten minutes, with only twelve to fifteen people present, the preacher fixed his eyes on Spurgeon and spoke to him directly:

“Young man, you look very miserable.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” Spurgeon later wrote, ‘Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.’ 1

The ‘Prince of Preachers’ was tricked into preaching his first sermon that same year. An older man had asked Spurgeon to go to the little village of Teversham the next evening, “for a young man was to preach there who was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of company.” It was only the next day that he realized the ‘young man’ was himself.2

2. He was a man of hard work and huge influence.

He went on to preach in person up to thirteen times per week, gathered the largest church of his day, and could make himself heard in a crowd of twenty-three thousand people (without amplification). In print he published some eighteen million words, selling over fifty-six million copies of his sermons in nearly forty languages in his own lifetime.

3. He was self-consciously a theological and doctrinal preacher.

While Spurgeon is not known as a theologian as such, he was nevertheless a deeply theological thinker and his sermons were rich in doctrine, and dripping with knowledge of historical theology – especially the Puritans.

Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.3

4. He was pre-eminently a theologian and preacher of the cross.

Spurgeon’s was a cross-centered and cross-shaped theology, for the cross was “the hour” of Christ’s glorification (John 12:23–24), the place where Christ was and is exalted, the only message able to overturn the hearts of men and women otherwise enslaved to sin. Along with Isaiah 45:22, one of Spurgeon’s favorite Bible verses was John 12:32: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

He insisted on celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and often broke bread during the week as well. He believed his preaching of the crucified Christ was the only reason why such great crowds were drawn to his church for so many years.

Who can resist his charms? One look of his eyes overpowers us. See with your heart those eyes when they are full of tears for perishing sinners, and you are a willing subject. One look at his blessed person subjected to scourging and spitting for our sakes will give us more idea of his crown rights than anything besides. Look into his pierced heart as it pours out its life-flood for us, and all disputes about his sovereignty are ended in our hearts. We own him Lord because we see how he loved.4

5. He aimed his ministry and preaching at new birth.

Regeneration was one of the “three Rs” (ruin, redemption, and regeneration) Spurgeon always sought to preach. And regeneration was something he always expected to see as he preached the gospel. A friend of his once came to him, depressed because for three months of ministry he had not seen a single conversion. Spurgeon slyly asked, “Do you expect the Lord to save souls every time you open your mouth?” Embarrassed, the man answered “Oh, no, sir!” “Then,” Spurgeon replied, “that is just the reason why you have not had conversions: ‘According to your faith be it unto you.’”5

Regeneration, he saw, is a work of pure grace—and those the Lord regenerates, he will indwell. And “with such an indweller we need not fear, but that this poor heart of ours will yet become perfect as God is perfect; and our nature through his indwelling shall rise into complete meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.”6

6. He knew how to enjoy life.

Spurgeon loved life and saw the creation as a blessing from God to be enjoyed. For tired ministers, he recommended:

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm,’ which ‘would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.’7

He couldn’t resist walking outside in thunderstorms (‘I like to hear my Heavenly Father’s voice in the thunder’), he is known for his cigar smoking, and he had a keen interest in botany. Like us all, Spurgeon was uniquely himself. Yet his big-heartedness and joy as he walked through his Father’s creation displays exactly the sort of life that will always grow from the theology he believed.

January 20, 2019

Article by Scott Klusendorf

ABSTRACT: The pro-life movement in America seemed in dire straits in 2016, with losses on almost every front. Donald Trump’s surprising win appears to have stalled the abortion juggernaut. An escape, however, is not a triumph. Dunkirk was not Normandy. Abortion is here to stay as long as millions of young Christians are uninformed, unequipped, and unconcerned.

The pro-life movement faced a gathering storm in 2016.

In California, pro-life pregnancy centers were forced to advertise abortion services or pay crippling fines. In New York, Catholic nuns were told to fund abortion in their health-care plans or dissolve. Nationally, pro-life doctors were pressured to refer patients for abortion or risk their medical credentials. Politically, the outlook was grim. Abortion activists were one appointment away from commanding the Supreme Court. A conservative justice was dead. The Republican presidential candidate had lamentable character, and his pro-life commitment was unproven. And the candidate sworn to uphold abortion at any stage of pregnancy appeared to be running away with the election.

Then, in God’s strange providence, Donald Trump’s win stalled the abortion juggernaut. Given a choice between a flawed presidential candidate who might limit abortion and one who affirmed it wholesale, a majority of pro-life advocates voted to limit the evil and promote the good insofar as possible.1Political ambition did not drive them to the polls. Survival instinct did. They feared a Clinton presidency would irrevocably crush their efforts to save children.

Pro-lifers received some immediate relief from the new president. He cut off overseas funding for abortion. He created a special office to protect the conscience rights of health-care professionals. Most importantly, he began overhauling the federal courts. Last summer, the Supreme Court tossed the California law that forced pregnancy centers to promote abortion. The decision was 5-to-4. Without Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, that ruling goes the other way.

All this is good news for the pro-life movement, but an escape is not a triumph. Abortion is here to stay as long as millions of Christians are uninformed and unequipped, as long as those predisposed to accept our view and contend for it never actually experience pro-life teaching. Whatever gains have been made in Washington, we are failing in our churches and Christian schools. And the political cost of that failure is steep. Sustained political victory happens when large coalitions of pro-life voters command the electoral landscape to the extent that we can protect candidates who support us and penalize ones who don’t. Christian students are especially vital to building that coalition, but they’re not hearing from us. The problem is not messaging. It’s access. For many Christian leaders, the thought of pro-life teaching is dead on arrival.

Only Two Percent

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez presides over a political party dedicated to the proposition that an entire class of human beings can be set aside to be killed. For Perez, the right to abortion is absolute. “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. . . . That is not negotiable.”2 Perez blames churches for hamstringing his party’s messaging on abortion. The Sunday morning pulpit elevates abortion above everything else “and people buy it. Because that’s their only source,” the DNC chairman laments.3

Anyone who thinks Perez is right should visit Summit Ministries. Each summer, Summit runs regional worldview conferences in Colorado, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. The purpose is simple: prepare Christian students for the intellectual challenges they will face once they leave the safety of their local churches and step on to the university campus.

I teach the abortion sessions at Summit. For the last five summers, I’ve conducted an informal survey of attendees. I ask for a show of hands on a specific question: “How many of you, prior to coming to Summit, heard a pro-life apologetics presentation in your church aimed at equipping you to defend the pro-life view?” The numbers are remarkably consistent. Out of 1,800 students present each summer, an average of 45 have prior exposure to a pro-life apologetics presentation in their local churches. Let that sink in: 45 out of 1,800! That’s only 2.5%.

What Makes Pro-Life Teaching Hard?

Churches aren’t the only challenge. Life Training Institute (LTI), where I serve as President, trains Christians to make a persuasive case for life in the public square. The primary way we fulfill our mission is by making pro-life apologetics presentations in Catholic and Protestant high schools. Last year, our speaking team reached 72,000 students with pro-life apologetics talks. Unlike other pro-life presentations that focus on chastity or sexual purity (programs we fully support), LTI presentations focus exclusively on why the pro-life view is true and reasonable to believe. To my knowledge, we are the only pro-life group that systematically targets Catholic and Protestant high schools with pro-life talks of this sort.

It takes a Herculean effort and a lion’s share of our budget to get in front of 72,000 Christian students. Many schools ignore us. Why is that?

Credentials aren’t the problem. Anyone who spends five minutes on Google can see that LTI speakers engage students with persuasive content and earn favorable reviews everywhere they go. Nationally syndicated programs like Focus on the Family and Issues, Etc. feature our presentations. We’ve published books with Crossway and Hendrickson. The Gospel Coalition publishes our articles. We’re contributing authors to the Christian Research Journal. In addition to Summit, we lecture at Biola University’s worldview conferences and teach pro-life apologetics to aspiring lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom’s Blackstone Academy. We were asked to advise a presidential candidate on abortion. Christian leaders like John Piper, J.D. Greear, Al Mohler, and John Stonestreet reference our training materials. We have secular credentials as well. I’ve debated my friend Nadine Strossen — former president of the ACLU — on several university campuses.

Messaging isn’t the problem. Students routinely thank us for making persuasive arguments instead of emotional appeals. A common response is, “That was amazing. You’re the first person to actually give us reasons.”

Speaking fees aren’t the problem. We understand that most Christian schools are broke. Thus, with few exceptions, we send our speakers for free. We pick up the airfare, hotel, car rental, and speaker stipend. We absorb the cost of hiring a full-time staffer to secure the event in the first place. The school pays nothing.

It’s still tough getting in.

What They Don’t Want to See

Put simply, our problem is subject matter. We’re offering an abortion presentation many Christian schools and churches don’t want. Our challenge is to make them want it, to convince them it’s vital to the formation of a Christian worldview, and to persuade them that students will thank them for hosting it.

Once a Christian high school agrees to have us, we face another challenge: negotiating an effective presentation. The best talks include persuasive arguments, gospel, and the careful use of abortion imagery. Gregg Cunningham puts it well: “Pro-lifers should stop protesting abortion and start exposing it. When you show pictures of abortion, abortion protests itself.”4Our pro-abortion adversaries know this and candidly admit their rhetoric is no match for the visuals. “When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say, ‘choice,’ and we lose,” writes feminist Naomi Wolf.5

Nevertheless, opposition to the images is stiff, even among pro-lifers. Last year, I spoke in chapel at a large Christian university. The event host refused to let me show a 55-second clip depicting abortion as part of my presentation despite acknowledging my documented history of using visuals responsibly. He knew that I never spring disturbing pictures on unsuspecting audiences, that I fully disclose the contents of the film before showing it, and that I invite people to look away if they wish not to watch. He knew that I situated the pictures within the context of the gospel, stressing God’s grace to wounded people rather than condemnation. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t fight for the clip when his staff objected to its use. He admitted the images save lives and resonate powerfully with audiences but said students at his university were too fragile to handle them.

Event hosts say this all the time. They want other people to see the images, just not their people. They hope FOX News will do the heavy lifting for them. Ironically, that same chapel host said he was on a personal mission to recruit more students for the campus pro-life club, whose numbers were abysmally low. How? By hiding the truth from them? As Cunningham points out, “When pro-life leaders care more about the feelings of the born than they do the lives of the unborn, the pro-life movement is in real trouble.”

If you think accessing Christian schools is tough, try popular Christian conferences. Students ages 18 to 24 are most at risk for abortion, yet you would never know it by surveying the speaking lineups. You’ll find sessions on global sex trafficking, world hunger, economic justice, climate change, refugees, and racism, but there’s no passion to engage the culture on the legally sanctioned killing of 61 million innocent human beings in our own nation since 1973. At times, pro-lifers encounter outright hostility. In 2015, Urbana — once the premier evangelical student conference — featured a Black Lives Matter speaker who used her keynote slot to bash pro-lifers for “only doing activism that is comfortable” and for “withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn.”

Does any of this sound like an evangelical community woke to elevating abortion above everything else?

Functionally Pro-Choice?

It gets worse. The 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference, where I presented a session on pro-life apologetics, featured a keynote address from Eugene Cho, the former lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. Cho told pro-lifers to rewrite their job descriptions to include a comprehensive, whole-life ethic. “We can’t just be anti-abortion. We should be for the sanctity of life from the womb to tomb. . . . Not just American lives, but Syrian lives. Not just Christian liberty religious lives, but Muslim refugee lives.” We can’t cherry pick. “All life is sacred and every single human being bears the image of God.”6

Except when that image-bearer isn’t sacred enough to legally protect. What conference attendees may not have known is that Cho is functionally pro-choice. He personally opposes abortion and wants to reduce it but thinks it should remain legal in a pluralistic society due to the high cost of outlawing it. He writes, “Like most Christians I know, I am against abortion. However, I just do not believe we can legislate it. . . . Can we maintain choice but do all that we can to preserve and ensure the life of an unborn?”7

Has it ever occurred to Cho that a society which dramatically reduced the lynching of blacks, but left it legal to lynch them, would be a deeply immoral society? Imagine telling blacks, “We will do all we can to protect you so long as it’s not too expensive and meets with popular approval in our pluralistic society. After all, we want to maintain choice.” This is beyond mind-boggling. When a pro-choice pastor, who thinks it should be legal to intentionally dismember innocent human beings because it costs too much to protect them, uses his platform at an evangelical pro-life conference to tell abortion opponents they aren’t really pro-life, “pro-life” has lost all meaning.

Cho isn’t providing students or anyone else biblical leadership on abortion. He’s conveying what the secular culture already believes. As journalist Christopher Caldwell points out, Americans love to condemn abortion with words but keep the option legally available. “Even where Americans claim to disapprove most strongly of abortion, they booby-trap their disapproval so that it never results in the actual curtailment of abortion rights. A pro-life regime is not really something Americans want — it’s just something they feel they ought to want.”8

Moreover, why is the “whole-life” argument never used against other groups who target specific forms of injustice, only pro-lifers? If an inner-city daycare ministry only receives grade-school kids from 3:00 to 5:00pm on weekdays, do we cast aspersions on them for not operating 24/7? Do we insist they spread their already scarce resources even thinner fighting poverty and gang violence? True, abortion isn’t the only issue — any more than slavery was the only issue in 1860 or killing Jews the only issue in 1940. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Pro-lifers are right to give greater weight to the greater moral issue.

My colleague Marc Newman writes, “Individuals and organizations that make it their exclusive mission to save innocent human beings from a culture hell-bent on butchering them have nothing to apologize for. They don’t need additional causes; they need additional support.”9

Meanwhile, we shouldn’t assume that Christian students will get pro-life teaching from evangelical thought-leaders when some of the most influential ones consider pastoral silence a theological virtue. In 1994, Billy Graham said that addressing abortion in the pulpit could impede his “main message” of salvation. “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” Graham told talk show host Larry King.10

More recently, WORLD magazine reports on an evangelical pastor in New York who says that abortion is a double-justice issue and people should be stopped from doing it, but he doesn’t focus on it from the pulpit because “pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion” — something Jesus warns about. The biblical approach to controversial sins, he says, is to preach the gospel and let congregants arrive at the right conclusion. He cites the example of an Ivy League graduate who thanked him for not focusing on abortion from the pulpit. She added, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.” She was a lawyer, a resident of Manhattan, and an active ACLU member. Her history included three abortions. Eventually, the woman converted to Christianity under the pastor’s influence. Later she approached him to ask, “Do you think abortion is wrong?” He said yes. She replied, “I am coming to see that maybe there is something wrong with it.”11

I’m glad she eventually figured it out, but what are we to conclude — that clerical silence in the face of child sacrifice is an acceptable means of evangelism? That’s cold comfort to dead children who, this pastor candidly admits, “are not being treated as they deserve.”

Prudence in the pulpit is essential, but the pastor presents a false choice. Pastors don’t have to choose between “pushing moral behaviors” or “lifting up Christ.” They can preach truthfully on abortion but do so within the context of the gospel.

For the rest of the post…

Few aspects of local church ministry are as challenging or necessary as bridging the timeless truths of the gospel to the historically contingent, ever-changing context of the surrounding culture. Enthusiasm for proper contextualization is to be commended. The Word of God must be made intelligible in order for it to edify (1 Cor. 9:19–23; 14:22–25).

The video-venue model of ministry—showing a live feed or recorded sermon on screens rather than having an in-person pastor preaching on stage—is an example of a popular method of ministry contextualization that, despite its efficiencies, is problematic.

I’m not talking about videotaping a live sermon and making it available on a website for those unable to attend church on Sunday. I’m talking about ministries where a sermon-on-the-screen, delivered to a satellite campus by a remote feed, has become normative for the Sunday morning service.

Lessons From Paul’s Ministry

At least three non-negotiable aspects of Paul’s ministry render a video-venue approach problematic in the teaching ministry of a church.

1. Relational Orientation

Consider, first, the relational orientation of Paul’s ministry. He planted the church in Thessalonica during his second journey (Acts 17). A short time after he had departed, he reminded the Thessalonians, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). The Thessalonians came to “know” Paul’s motivation for ministry (vv. 5–7) and were “witnesses” to the apostle’s “holy and righteous and blameless” conduct (v. 10).

Paul was known by those he taught. His ministry in Ephesus was characterized by the same relational intimacy between the teacher and the hearers of the Word. As with the Thessalonians, Paul confidently reminds the Ephesian elders of the relational integrity of his ministry: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia” (Acts 20:18). Luke emphasizes the depth of Paul’s relationships with the Ephesians later in the narrative, as he is about to depart for the last time: “There was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (20:37–38).

Paul apparently felt strongly about sharing close personal relationships with those he taught. Contrast this with the video-venue pastor, or any pastor of an overly large church, who teaches the Bible each week to individuals with whom he has no personal relationship.

By its nature, the sermon-on-a-screen approach dangerously isolates the cognitive from the relational aspects of our faith. Shepherds in the New Testament world did not bring in a food truck to feed their sheep. They fed the flock themselves.

For Paul and the early Christians, the cognitive and relational aspects of Christian leadership were inseparable. This, in turn, gave him and his co-workers the moral authority to challenge their converts to imitate their behavior.

2. Imitation

The imitation theme was a central component of Paul’s ministry (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9). Paul’s converts were able to imitate him only because they knew him well. And apparently this was standard fare for early Christian leaders; the author of Hebrews similarly exhorts: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7).

The ability to imitate a church leader assumes you are familiar with that leader’s life. I can only imitate someone I know. But this kind of relational intimacy is hard to cultivate in video-venue settings or overly large churches where leaders are inaccessible.

3. Reproduction of Leaders

The importance of reproducing leaders also raises questions for a remote preaching ministry. A key qualification for elders in the New Testament church was the ability to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). There were a plurality of elders in the early Christian congregations and, from what we can tell, they shared the teaching of the Word (e.g., Acts 13:1). This dynamic likely provided a key avenue for raising up new pastors.

When a single individual teaches 5,000 to 10,000 people Sunday after Sunday, where do the other pastor-elders in the church learn to exercise this crucial aspect of ministry? Megachurches do a good job of raising up efficient ministry managers. But are we successfully developing the next generation of Bible-teaching shepherds?

Christ’s Relational Ministry

Paul wasn’t the only example of New Testament ministry that prioritized a relational orientation. Jesus himself modeled it. The apostle John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus of Nazareth came to us as a person—not as a set of pixels on a screen.

For the rest of the post… 

Associated Press/Photo by Nell Redmond (file)

Can you imagine wanting to be colorblind? And yet I hear that hope all the time.

When I speak with people about ethnic and racial diversity, it’s not long before I hear, “I don’t see color. I’m colorblind! My parents taught me not to see color.”

The phrase is trying to express that all people are people, and that color doesn’t matter. I’ve also heard colorblindness cited as a defense against racism: “I’m not racist. I love all people. In fact, I’m colorblind.”

But I disagree.

I’d like to suggest that we aren’t colorblind, we don’t need to be colorblind, and we actually should strive to not be colorblind. Colorblindness leads us in the wrong direction. Instead, I want to encourage us to be colorsmart. Here are four reasons why.

1. It’s Not Realistic

I’m an African-American woman. I cannot—and crucially, I have no desire to—erase the fact that God made me this way. There’s no hiding my milky-brown, freckled skin. I am who I am. When I walk into a room and I’m the only black woman, it’s obvious. I know it; you know it; we all know it. It’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

This doesn’t mean we need to act awkward around each other. If we’ve embraced the fact that God has created us as equals, there’s no reason for awkwardness. If you encounter someone ethnically different from you, it’s unrealistic, unhelpful, and possibly unloving to pretend you don’t notice. When your child says, “Mommy, why is that woman wearing a dot on her forehead?” don’t shush him quiet out of embarrassment. Take the question as an opportunity to positively explain her culture.

Instead of pretending we’re colorblind, let’s celebrate God’s creation and be colorsmart.

2. It Misses the Opportunity to Celebrate God’s Good Design

Colorblindness seeks to ignore or flatten the differences between us. Being colorsmart, however, enables us to see others as crafted in God’s image—just like us—while still acknowledging the beauty of our differences. We’re all equally created to reflect aspects of our Creator God. Nevertheless, he creates each of us uniquely. This should be proactively acknowledged and celebrated rather than fearfully ignored.

The reality is we’re not all the same in regard to skin color, interests, likes, gifts, and desires. God made us differently for a purpose: his manifold glory. Instead of striving to be colorblind, then, let’s recognize these differences in ways that express genuine love for neighbor and gratitude for the beauty of God’s flawless design.

Don’t we want to celebrate who God designed us to be? We should want our kids to rejoice that God created them the way they are and others the way they are. That’s the beautiful reality of creation.

3. The Gospel Is for All Nations

The most important reason to be colorsmart is that the gospel is for every nation. God celebrates his creation and redemption of all kinds of people.

The Bible tells us that we sinned, putting everything out of order, leading to the racial hatred we tragically see throughout history and still today. But Scripture also shows us how God is working for the redemption of all people through Christ. He’s glorified now when redeemed rebels from all nations worship him as one. We can see the fulfillment of his promise to redeem every tribe, tongue, and nation when we gather, fellowship, and worship with those who are different from us.

For the rest of the post…

by Bryan Fischer   – Guest Columnist

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bryan FischerRobin Williams’ desperately sad ending arouses our sympathy, as it should. But we must not confuse our sympathy with God’s salvation. There’s only one path to eternal life.


Robin Williams’ suicide, as is every suicide, is a tragically sad thing. My heart hurts to think what Williams’ inner life must have been like at the end to drive him to such a terrible decision. My heart aches for those he has left behind – his wife, his children, loved ones and friends. His death has left a hole in their lives that nothing and no one can fill.

RIP Robin WilliamsIn the wake of his suicide, billboards and media pundits alike have been assuming that Robin Williams is now in heaven, making God laugh along with other funny men who left this earth before their time. So is he?

There is one thing we do know and one thing we do not know that can help us think clearly about Robin Williams’ eternal destiny.

The one thing we do know is that access to the presence of God and life in the age to come is reserved exclusively for those who have placed their eternal trust in Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is nothing remotely ambiguous about that statement. All roads may lead to Rome, but only one leads to eternal life. The only door that leads to life is the narrow gate that Christ himself has opened. As Peter puts it, “[T]here is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Why do some people have difficulty accepting the exclusive nature of ‘only one way’ to heaven? (Select all that apply)
They find it ‘intolerant’They don’t like to think about eternityThey like to think they can get there on their ownThey want to be in controlThey believe ‘a loving God’ would be more inclusive

The world naturally will stiffen their necks when they hear these words and throw epithets at those who verbalize it. But their argument is not with us, it is with Jesus himself. He is the one who said it. We simply agree with him.

Now Williams’ desperately sad ending arouses our sympathy, as it should. But we must not confuse our sympathy with God’s salvation. There is one and one path only to eternal life, and that path has not been altered by so much as one centimeter in 2,000 years. That’s what we know.

The one thing we do not know is whether Robin Williams did business with God in his dying moments. While his mother was a Christian Scientist (a counterfeit form of religion which is neither Christian nor scientific), his father was an Episcopalian – so it is certainly possible that Williams heard the gospel in his formative years and may have remembered it all his life.

The thief on the cross did not place his faith in Christ until he was drawing his final breath. His last words were,“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In response, Jesus’ last words to him were, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 22:42-43).

It takes but one moment, one whispered, even agonized, prayer, to pass from eternal death to eternal life.

No one but the thief and Christ knew that this transaction had been made. The thief’s wife and children didn’t know, and it’s unlikely that any of the onlookers heard this private exchange. As far as everyone knew, this man died as he lived, a sinful, unrepentant and broken man.

Yet we know better now, and one day we will be where he is, with Jesus in Paradise.  Will we see Robin Williams there? We don’t know. Only two men know the answer to that question.

For the rest of the post…

When Karl Barth finally finished his formal education in the first decade of the 20th century, he, like many other rookie theologians, had trouble finding an academic post (some things never change). Unsurprisingly, Barth was in the upper echelon of the Western European liberal theological community, yet still struggled to find a teaching gig. Although he was Swiss, Barth was trained in German Protestant liberalism and was positioned to be the next big thing in the scholastic movement. That is, until he graduated.

As Barth backed away from high philosophies and high theorizing, he let the Word loose, changing him and his congregation forever.

Upon completing his training, Barth took his academic achievements into a job that was available: he became a pastor at a rural Reformed church in the village of Safenwil, in Switzerland. He began the regular pastoral duties of preaching and teaching in this small, simple congregation. He philosophized and theologized with grandiose word pictures and complicated strands of thought each Sunday only to watch his congregation’s eyes glaze over. All of the theology that seemed to work in the academic world of Germany seemed to fall flat in rural Switzerland. He could not connect the word of God to the villagers. What was he doing wrong?

It was only in Barth’s preaching through the book of Romans that he began to discover just how far he had been led astray while in school. Barth became somewhat famous for disagreeing with most of his academic mentors back in Germany as he began to watch the simplicity and power of the gospel take hold of his congregation through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. As Barth backed away from high philosophies and high theorizing, he let the Word loose, changing him and his congregation forever.

About 15-20 years later, as Barth moved on and became a professor, he also turned into an academic idol for a young Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had just accepted a Sloan Fellowship to study theology at New York’s Union Theological Seminary. In New York, Bonhoeffer would encounter a similar struggle as Barth in American pastors. Much like Barth, they couldn’t seem to get the power of the gospel on the ground to their congregations. Bonhoeffer became bitterly disappointed in the churches in New York for their theological gymnastics that ended far outside of gospel of Jesus. “In New York,” Bonhoeffer famously said, “they preach about virtually everything except … the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

As highlighted in Charles Marsh’s excellent new biography on the man, it wasn’t until Bonhoeffer joined Abyssinian Baptist Church in the ghetto of Harlem that he would say he “heard the gospel preached” for the first time. All through the large, well-known churches of New York City, there was little good news being proclaimed. From Bonhoeffer’s view, it was in the “Negro churches” of the ghettos and the poor rural landscapes in the great American South that the gospel was alive and well. He was transfixed by the preaching in the black churches during the struggle for civil rights and often wrote about the “ecstatic joy ‘in the soul of the Negro.'” Bonhoeffer found the joy of the gospel of Jesus, but only in what he called, “the church of the outcasts in America.”

For the rest of the post…

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