Machen on Reformation Fire

“It is not true at all, then, that modern liberalism is based upon the authority of Jesus. It is obliged to reject a vast deal that is absolutely essential in Jesus’ example and teaching – notably His consciousness of being the heavenly Messiah. The real authority, for liberalism, can only be ‘the Christian consciousness’ or ‘Christian experience.’ … Such an authority is obviously no authority at all; for individual experience is endlessly diverse, and when once truth is regarded as only that which works at any particular time, it ceases to be truth.

The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very Word of God. Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.

It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.”

–J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923), 66-67.

Questions for those with Questions: Shepherding College Students Called to Ministry

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. (Mark 8:27-30 ESV)

When I was both a college student and a new Christian, I had many questions about life and the prospects of ministry service. My college pastor was kind enough to help and guide me not by merely answering all my questions, but by asking me more questions in return.

Much like the Lord Jesus did with his disciples on the way to the villages, I have found that for those thinking about a call to vocational gospel ministry, one of the best helps we can provide is to shepherd them not only by listening and answering, but also by asking them more questions to ensure they are thinking through some things that haven’t yet occurred to them.

As I have talked with students over the years, here are three questions I have found helpful to ask them and then also to help them find answers. There are many more questions than these to ask and answer, but these are a good place to start.

1. Why are you thinking of pursuing vocational gospel ministry in these days?

“I am glad that you are here with me,” said Frodo. ‘Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

“The end of all things is at hand” – 1 Peter 4:7

I never saw the connection between the joy found in fellowship and having hope at the end of the world—I never saw the right connection between ecclesiology and eschatology—but there it was even in The Lord of the Rings.

The hero and his faithful companion, comprising the remnant of a Fellowship that set out on a journey to destroy evil and see the return of their King, lay exhausted and helpless surrounded by an erupting mountain of volcanic proportions with no cause for hope of rescue.

Yet in that moment they had the peace and security that only victorious soldiers must know when they, though dying, have saved countrymen or even countries. What was their source of hope? Knowledge that evil was ultimately defeated though the world self-destructed around them and hope in the truth for which they persevered.  That and remaining fellowship led them to express gladness and joy there ‘at the end of all things.’

Tolkien’s story is a helpful window through which to see there is great hope and joy for those of us laboring as Christians in the fellowships that are local churches in a self-destructing world—and thankfully that is a mere glimpse of the shining light of truth of these themes found in the Bible.

In 1 Peter 4:7 the Apostle Peter explains that “the end of all things is at hand” and by that he means that he and his readers were living in the last days before the return of Jesus. Since that time until our very own, humanity has been living at the verge of the end of the world, but that is not a cause for despair or hand-wringing. Peter’s point was focused rather on how one is to live at the end of all things and he spends the next few verses underscoring this for believers.

Peter explains that while a Christian should have his eyes fixed and his hope set on the soon and certain return of Jesus, he should be using his spiritual gifts, whether they be serving or speaking, all for the glory of God (1 Pet 4:7-11).

This end, then, is the source of hope that those considering vocational ministry should consider and pursue. In these days and until the end, whether one eats, drinks, preaches, trains, waters, reaps, types, writes, shares or disciples, he should be doing these things, through the fellowship of local churches, as the biblically prescribed means for carrying out the Great Commission to the Glory of God.

2. Do you first need formal theological training?

In 1939, C. S. Lewis delivered an address entitled, “Learning in War-Time” to encourage those to persevere in their studies at the advent of World War II. Reading through his comments, I am struck by the relevance his words have for those called to ministry but are currently considering whether they need to prepare by gaining formal theological education.

The men and women thinking of seminary, too, will pursue studies during an ongoing war—a spiritual war—and often the call of the front lines of full time ministry service in contrast to the present semesterly demands strains one to question if more school really is the right next step. For these questions C. S. Lewis can help.

At the end of his message, Lewis gave what he called “mental exercises” that served as helpful defenses for the student in his day to resist the enemy of excitement that war-time brought to those still in educational preparation. He said,

“[T]he tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work. The best defense is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one. There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.”

Just as for some in Lewis’ day who had eventually to abandon or postpone their studies in order to serve their country in war, there are some today who do, in fact, need to slow down their theological studies for a key ministry opportunity. However, this is not the norm and in my experience observing students rarely is this the wise course, and even rarer still does the student who suspends their studies altogether ever complete their degree. The excitement about future ministry will always be there. Better to prepare now so that when in ministry the excitement fades, one has learned well how to persevere.

3. What should you look for in a seminary?

After walking through the more formative questions above, thinking practically about where to study is vital. Instead of telling a student where he or she should study, first I offer four more questions to ask those who are asking about seminaries:

What do they believe?

The six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention are confessional institutions bound by the mandate of the churches that each and every faculty member agree with, teach, and support the Convention’s confession of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.  Churches in the Baptist Tradition have used confessions throughout their history not to replace or supersede the Bible in terms of authority, but rather as documents that summarize the minimum of what those churches believe the Bible teaches in order to partner together for the sake of gospel ministry and for the shared advancement of the Great Commission. In short, confessions of faith are tools to “define” and “defend” what Baptist churches believe and serve as life-giving, Bible-centered guardrails for the training and instruction of these seminaries. Rather than offer an anchorless or aimless education in the name of academic freedom, confessionally bound schools actually provide more freedom to think through timeless questions and the questions of the day, while at the same time providing answers to those questions.

With whom will you study?

J.I. Packer begins Knowing God with an illustration of two ways people express interest in the study of theology by  “by picturing persons sitting on the high front balcony of a Spanish house watching travelers go by on the road below. The ‘balconeers’ can overhear the travelers’ talk and chat with them; they may comment critically on the way the travelers walk; or they may discuss questions about the road, how it can exist at all or lead anywhere, what might be seen from different points along it, and so forth; but they are onlookers, and their problems are theoretical only. The travelers, by contrast, face problems which, though they have their theoretical angle, are essentially practical—problems of the ‘which-way-to-go’ and ‘how-to-make-it’ type, problems which call not merely for comprehension but for decision and action too.”  Packer then says, “Now this is a book for travelers.”

When one is considering a seminary, he or she should look for a school that has heart for training travelers. In much of what is classified as theological education in this country, the six Southern Baptist seminaries and several evangelical sister institutions stand apart in this regard, for many other schools are content to sit in ivory towers and spectate. The task of theology for these schools is to observe, comment, criticize, but not actually implement or trust. Further, and equally important, is finding a school where the faculty are also non-spectators. These are not mere theorists, but also practitioners—professors who are engaged in applying theology and the study of the Bible to life and ministry just as much as they are teaching and writing theology.

What degree programs do they offer and encourage?

When it comes to the theological degree with long standing proven effectiveness, the Master of Divinity continues to represent the mainstay for equipping those with a solid theological foundation for a lifetime of ministry. Other masters degrees are helpful for more specialized avenues of service, but the MDiv still is the best degree available for those called to vocational gospel ministry.

Likewise, I remain convinced that seminaries serve churches best when students can aim to complete a rigorous professional masters degree that focuses on the high quality biblical and theological core of what a student needs to prepare for pastoral ministry in three years. Since avenues for further specialized study beyond this foundational degree exist in the form of MDiv concentrations, the ThM degree, and doctoral degrees, a three year MDiv is ideally designed as the healthiest MDiv to prepare men and women to serve the churches.

For more on the history of the MDiv degree and my thinking regarding how long it should take to complete, please see this article.

What will it cost?

While finances should not serve as the first and driving factor for one’s decision for choosing a seminary, it should be a contributing factor. Incurring student loan debt for seminary puts the future graduate in a challenging place in terms of vocational options and hinders their ability to serve in places of greatest need.

The six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention are unique in that, due to almost a century of sacrificial gifts by churches of all sizes to a centralized Cooperative Program, these schools are able to offer a significant scholarship to students from Southern Baptist churches. This same Cooperative Program continues to fund many of these students who go on to serve on the mission fields of every continent on the globe. This partnership with the churches from the start of their seminary training is a remarkable relationship that has strengthened the seminaries, the students, and the churches now for several generations.

Questioning Those With Questions

I remain convinced that one of the best things we can do when talking to college students exploring a call to vocational gospel ministry is not merely to answer their questions, but rather first to shepherd them by asking them questions.

Are you praying and thinking through a call to vocational ministry? Are you walking with someone who is?

I’d love to speak with you, listen, and then ask some questions.


Jason G. Duesing serves as the Provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be reached via direct message on Twitter or Facebook, or via email at the addresses found here.


For further reading and wise counsel on this topic, be sure to read and then share a copy of Jason K. Allen’s Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How to Know for Sure and What to Do About It (Moody Publishers, 2016).


Reviving New England

Reviving New England: The Key to Revitalizing Post-Christian America
by Nate Pickowicz

“I firmly believe New England to be a region in desperate need of new churches. Here are just a few reasons:

First, the number of gospel-preaching churches is very small. It may be hard to believe, but there are whole towns and regions where there are no churches who actively preach the gospel. […]

Second, the number of Bible-teaching churches is very small. Even if a church may present the gospel once in awhile, it is exceedingly rare to find a ministry that teaches the whole counsel of God. […]

Third, new churches can reach people not reached by existing churches. Historically, New England is the oldest region in America, and there are many churches in the Northeast that are several hundred years old. Over time, a church may lose its witness and the locals simply aren’t keen to listen. A new church may appeal to those curious, and may be zealous and evangelistic enough to work harder to win people over to Christ.

Fourth, new churches are needed to help saturate the region. In my humble estimation, each town needs 3-5 new churches simply to match population density. With Bible-believing Christians making up only 2-3% of New England, there are simply not enough churches and resources to accommodate the large numbers of people should the Spirit work and add them to the church. […]

Fifth, new churches bring a level of excitement and vitality to a spiritually cold region …. This excitement can be contagious, and we need more strong believers with deep affections for Christ who will maintain a fervent witness. Again, some communities have never experienced a vibrant church full of believers who are in love with Jesus Christ.

Sixth, more churches means less travel for churchgoers and more opportunity for community involvement …. If believers could worship and serve in a body in their own town or area, their commitment would naturally increase and ministry would become more effective. […]

With such a large amount of territory and so many unsaved people, how does one even begin this work? Before any sermon can be preached, or any church planted, the work must begin on our knees.”

Reviving New England

Nate Pickowicz
Entreating Favor, 2017.



Would you like to see New England first hand? Travel with Midwestern Seminary professors to explore this unique mission field this May 17-24. We’ll walk where Edwards and Whitefield walked, visit everywhere from Yale to Harvard and coastal Maine to rural Vermont, meet with local pastors and church planters, and even take in a Red Sox game. Students can earn up to 6hrs of course credit. Learn more at


Spurgeon in An Age of Upgrade and Downgrade

— Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born into an age of upgrade and downgrade.

So begins the first installment of Christian T. George’s newly released The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Vol. 1 from B&H Academic. As George explains, with scholarly care, Spurgeon was a man of his time during the upgrades of long nineteenth, or what church historian K. S. Latourette called, “the great century.” Yet, he was also a man “behind his time,” often standing convictionally alone in an era of theological downgrade.

Spurgeon’s journey as a public prophet began as a sixteen-year-old preacher and for the next three years, he would hone his craft and record his sermons in nine notebooks. Most of those familiar with Spurgeon usually start with his arrival at London’s New Park Street Chapel, and not with this earlier teenage preacher, and understandably so for, until now, the Spurgeon sermonic corpus consisted of 63 volumes starting in 1855.

Enter Christian George who, while completing a PhD from the University of St. Andrews in the last decade, encountered Spurgeon’s early notebooks in the archives of Spurgeon’s College in London. As he explains, these “sermons were never actually ‘lost’ to history. But they were lost to publishing history. Until now the only attempt at publication was undertaken by Spurgeon himself in 1857, an attempt he abandoned” due to the pace of his work. Thus, for the last 160 years, the notebooks have remained hidden, accessed only by a few scholars.

With the arrival of The Lost Sermons, Vol 1. comes the inauguration of a new era of Spurgeon scholarship–a journey that will travel toward the publication of twelve volumes total. As George explains:

The volumes will follow in regular installments over the next several years. By then end of the expedition, a total of 400 sermons filling 1,127 pages, and also additional material, will be offered for scholarship. A prequel to The New Park Street Pulpit, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon constitutes the first critical edition of any of his works and adds approximately 10 percent more material to the total sum of his sermons.

Genuine projects of historical ressourcement of this size and significance are rare, and even the most significant often remain unread or underappreciated. What makes The Lost Sermons project so special is the fact that these sermons have the Gospel and the pursuit of godliness at their core, and they arrive in a day, much like Spurgeon’s own, of upgrade and downgrade.

Moreover, much of the value for future readers and beneficiaries of this treasury is only as great as what the particular historian, into whose hands Providence has given the sources, allows readers to see and know. In short, the piety of the editor matters as much as that which he edits.

These reasons are just a sample of why I am doubly proud and grateful that God has seen fit, in our day, to allow Christian George to serve, as what his father once rightly called, “the Lord’s remembrancer”–a steward of precious historical items who wields them, as George himself says, to “guide readers not just to Spurgeon but through Spurgeon to Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, may The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon once again point many to the Christ who came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10).

The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Vol. 1

Christian T. George, editor.
B&H Academic, 2017.



A Theology of Screwtape for the Rising Generation

Earlier this week while visiting with a Midwestern Seminary student, I mentioned and commended this often overlooked book by my colleague Jared C. Wilson. I wrote the review that follows first for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2013, before I ever met Jared or much less found myself working alongside him in Kansas City. Since then, my admiration for him as a writer, but even more as a brother, has only grown. In short, read Otherworld and everything else by Jared C. Wilson. You won’t regret it, even if some of it you have to read with every light on in the room.

Otherworld begins with a broken home, a depressed preacher and a hurting policeman. From the start, Jared Wilson crafts a compelling story that draws the reader to identify with and care for his characters. However, all of that changes once a farmer finds his cow lying dead and concludes that only aliens could be responsible. It was at this point that I knew the world was seeing a whole new side to the writings of Jared C. Wilson.

Familiar only with the non-fiction works and online presence of Wilson, I expected his first work of published fiction to tell a clever, well-written, theological allegory of sorts. In terms of clever writing and transmission of theological truth, Otherworld definitely delivers, but therein resides something more like a Frank Peretti narrative infused with the theology of Screwtape and fashioned for the rising generation. A 21st century Pilgrim’s Progress it is not—and that’s just fine.

Not since the 1990s when I read the Christian fiction of James Byron Huggins has this type of thriller so captivated my attention. Even though not well read in the genre, I can affirm that Wilson’s venture does not, as he says, lead with a theological point with the story “as a veneer thinly painted on.” Rather, Wilson excels as a storyteller and his story is thoroughly informed by his Christianity. The reader is not left wondering what is the truth about Jesus Christ, but neither does he feel like he is reading a repackaged or cheap reinvention of whatever is selling in the comparable fiction genre of the world. Otherworld, in this sense, is groundbreaking.

The title is taken from a phrase in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where Peter asks the Professor whether there really could “be other worlds—all over the place?” As one who grew up in Houston, this book took on special significance for the greater Houston area functions as character all its own in Otherworld. From the weather patterns, to the maze like structure of un-zoned streets and bedroom communities, Wilson does well to paint his canvas with this often overlooked city of great diversity and darkness mixed with the light of scores of noble people like those he presents as protagonists.

In terms of the sheer writing that leads and entertains, yet also reveals Wilson’s deep grasp on the human condition, I give just a few examples. Early in the book, Wilson describes the main character’s wrestling with the vacancy left by his separated wife:

“Now he floated, like an astronaut off the line, minutes from suffocation, his source and safety miles away.”

And later, as Wilson allows the reader to follow the process of his character’s awakening to his own sin and selfishness,

“He’d made an idol of his wife, and she’d withered under the weight. We always neglect the gods we presume to possess.”

The driving forces that the main characters engage in Otherworld are demonic. To depict the size and breadth of evil, Wilson spends a good deal of time developing, very convincingly, the reality and power of these principalities. The characters in Wilson’s world are not dealing with caricatures where “it’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark,” but rather wrestling with a prowling adversary and his accusers. While God is not centrally or overtly seen, and at times it seems the emphasis is too much on the depths of darkness, God is present and is not weak or silent.

Truthfully, some readers might not be comfortable with the level at which Wilson describes the demonic otherworld, following the wise admonition to be “innocent as to what is evil” (Rom 16:19). However, Wilson does not sensationalize or celebrate the dominions of darkness. As one of Wilson’s own characters relates, some

“give our Enemy far too much credit. Even more unfortunate, they believe him more powerful than he actually is. They endorse the literal equivalent of the American comedy routine catchphrase, ‘The Devil made me do it.’ This approach is not without humor but is theologically suspect (at best). We are to emulate Christ’s ministry, not Flip Wilson’s.”

In the end, the reader does well to remember that Otherworld is, and is meant to be, a work of fiction, though it reflects and comments on the reality of our world. As Wilson’s character instructs,

“There are two dangers in our understanding of the Enemy and his minions. One is that we become obsessed with them; the other is that we take them too lightly. The Devil is real, and though the physical proof of the demonic manifestations is rare in the West, to disbelieve in them is to grant the Devil his greatest goal—the disbelief in the Devil himself.”

As much as Otherworld presents a thrilling mystery of the demonic played out in real lives, it regularly raises and ultimately answers a central question: Should one fear death? Here Wilson is at his pastoral best, not providing pat answers or kitschy characters that copy and paste into the narrative a “Four Spiritual Laws” tract, but rather he walks with his characters and shows how some very flawed, yet genuine, believers stand and respond to temptation and evil with shaky but ultimately persevering faith in the truth. Wilson answers questions regarding the fear of dying by subtlety and surely pointing the way to a real and triumphant God revealed in his word.

I am not one who regularly reads or watches anything remotely close to a thriller like Otherworld. This book scared me the way an unknown roller coaster scares the first time you ride it. You know you are going to make it back in one piece, but you also know you might need some time to catch your breath and get your legs under you when you do. As much as I may regret admitting it, I had to avoid reading Otherworld late at night and always with plenty of lights on in the room.

But more than the thrills, this book awakened me again to the Ephesians 6 realities of “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” and drove me to pray. I prayed for my family, for lost relatives and for peoples in dark and oppressed nations. For there are “other worlds” and an evil one seeking to steal and kill and destroy. Thanks be to God, however, “who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor 2:14) and who “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” in Christ (Col 2:15).

In an interview about Otherworld, Wilson says that he has another unpublished novel that he thinks is the best thing he has ever written. Given what we have seen in his non-fiction works as well as in this book, that is saying something.


Jared C. Wilson
David C. Cook, 2013





Writing Theology for the Church

“The responsibility of making theology applicable to the church rests both with the theologian and the church.

Theology must be understandable to the church. Too often what theologians write is unintelligible for many church members. As someone has observed, our best minds are sometimes siphoned off to seminaries and graduate schools where they are expected to write highly technical research works for the limited number of people in the world who can understand what they are talking about.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I think that kind of scholarship should continue, especially at Baptist seminaries, but that cannot be the end of the theological enterprise. In the past, theologians of the church wrote so that literate people could understand, and it must be acknowledged that Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley are often much easier to read than many contemporary theologians.

Today we need theologians who can write in ways that are both accessible to and engaging of the church and the cultures.”

–David S. Dockery, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (B&H Academic, 2008), 159.

A Supreme Desire to Please Him: A New Book on Adoniram Judson

Evan Burns has just published a significant and thorough work on the spirituality of pioneer American missionary Adoniram Judson. A Supreme Desire to Please Him is a part of Pickwick’s “Monographs in Baptist History Series” and is delightful and inspiring to read. Sometime ago the author asked if I would write the foreword for his book, which I was very glad to do. As a preview of this new volume, I include my foreword below, and be sure to check out A Supreme Desire to Please Him by Evan Burns.

On the occasion of the centennial anniversary of Adoniram Judson’s first arrival in Burma, W. O. Carver, professor of comparative religion and missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for the seminary’s journal, Review and Expositor, entitled, “The Significance of Adoniram Judson.”[1] Carver set out not to provide a biographical overview of Judson’s life, but rather showed how Judson’s character and piety served as examples for a generation of missionaries and the formal start of modern missions from the United States.

Even though Carver signals the progressive theological drift from which his seminary would take nearly a century to recover, his article on Judson is appreciative and insightful.[2] While written over one hundred years ago, his conclusions regarding Judson’s place in history as well as Judson’s significance for the present, still ring true today.

In sum, Carver observed that Judson’s life had an effect “not only in drawing men into service, but rather more, perhaps, in sustaining men in service.”[3] That the study of Judson’s life could have this kind of encouraging effect on many in the centuries following his death is what makes his life significant and it is also why I am delighted that you hold in your hands a copy of Evan Burns’s A Supreme Desire to Please Him: The Spirituality of Adoniram Judson.

The study of Judson’s life and thought is fraught with difficulty for so much of what he wrote or recorded he also, at a challenging moment in his life, went to great lengths to destroy. Biographers and researchers in the past have only been able to piece together the facts of Judson’s life from those who have gone before but without any single comprehensive or standalone treatment. That changes now with A Supreme Desire to Please Him.

First, this book is the first theological synthesis and comprehensive analysis of all known primary and secondary Judson sources. In other words, Evan Burns has managed to uncover just about every imaginable stone related to Judson and then also rightly classify them.

Second, as W. O. Carver noted, one of the valuable characteristics of Judson’s life was his piety. Here, too, Burns capitalizes on perhaps the best possible avenue through which to pursue research related to Judson. By focusing on Judson’s spirituality, Burns has done something entirely original and, therefore, all the more helpful for readers.

Third, Burns has successfully moved the bar of knowledge and understanding of Judson and his contribution much higher than was previously the case. Further, his analysis of portions of Judson’s life and thought not before considered in depth is key. One example of this includes Burns’s exploring and explaining Judson’s “dark night” of self-denial following the death his wife, daughter, and father in light of the influence of Samuel Hopkins’s teaching on disinterested benevolence.

This study of the spirituality of Adoniram Judson could not come a better time in the history of Christianity. As Burns shows, Judson’s love for God and the Bible, fueled a life marked by self-denial, prayer, joy in Christ, and a desire to see such love and joy proclaimed and multiplied among the nations of the earth.

Thus, in our own day, as W. O. Carver noted, the reading of the work of God in the life of Judson can still serve to draw men and women into Gospel ministry as well as sustain those currently laboring in mission fields around the globe.

Indeed, the life of Judson and this book by Evan Burns may be the very best vehicles to call and sustain many to that end. Indeed, may God see fit to bless the nations once again through the significant life of Adoniram Judson.


A Supreme Desire to Please Him: The Spirituality of Adoniram Judson

Evan Burns
Pickwick Publications, 2016



[1] W. O. Carver, “The Significance of Adoniram Judson,” Baptist Review and Expositor 10 (October 1913): 475-484.

[2] That Carver would focus, too, on Judson’s evangelistic faithfulness is remarkable as Carver represents one of the early professors in Southern Baptist higher education who “who tried to bridge the gap between religious modernity and Southern Baptist traditionalism.” See Andrew C. Smith review of Mark R. Wilson, William Owen Carver’s Controversies in the Baptist South (Mcacon: Mercer University Press, 2010) in The Journal of Southern Religion XII (2010) available from Or, as Gregory A. Wills states in his magisterial institutional biography of the seminary, “The teaching of W. O. Carver was an important source” behind the seminary’s growing reputation as a “liberal school” in the early twentieth century. See Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Seminary, 1859-2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 255.

[3] Carver, “The Significance of Adoniram Judson,” 478.

God Sets Them Working for Good

“If all things work together for good, hence learn that there is a providence. Things do not work of themselves, but God sets them working for good. God is the great Disposer of all events and issues. He sets everything working. ‘His kingdom ruleth over all‘ (Psalm 103:19). It is meant of His providential kingdom. Things in the world are not governed by second causes, by the counsels of men, by the stars and planets, but by divine providence. Providence is the queen and governess of the world. There are three things in providence: God’s foreknowing, God’s determining, and God’s directing all things to their periods and events. Whatever things do work in the world, God sets them a working …. That which is by some called chance is nothing else but the result of providence. …

Learn how little cause we have then to be discontented at outward trials and emergencies! What! discontented at that which shall do us good! All things shall work for good. There are no sins God’s people are more subject to than unbelief and impatience. They are ready either to faint through unbelief, or to fret through impatience. When men fly out against God by discontent and impatience it is a sign they do not believe this text. Discontent is an ungrateful sin, because we have more mercies than afflictions; and it is an irrational sin, because afflictions work for good. Discontent is a sin which puts us upon sin. …

See what cause the saints have to be frequent in the work of thanksgiving. In this Christians are defective; though they are much in supplication, yet little in gratulation.”

–Thomas Watson, All Things for Good or A Divine Cordial (1663).

The Most Important Doctrine I Learned In Seminary

“People thought Tolkien was joking when he later said that he wrote The Lord of the Rings to bring into being a world that might contain [his] Elvish greeting …. The remark is witty – but also deadly serious.”

– Phillip and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship, 26.

J. R. R. Tolkien loved words. More than that, he loved the study of words and delighted in philology or “the zone where history, linguistics, and literature meet.”[1] Therefore, when he had invented several languages he found he needed a world to house them. The result–the entirety of the fictional environs we know as Middle Earth and its inhabitants found their genesis in their creator’s love of words.

Words are something our Creator loves as well. He spoke the world into existence with words, sent his Son as the Word, and the Spirit breathed perfectly all the words we have in the Bible as Scripture. Thus, the Christian life is a life clothed and shaped by words even as some of those words require hard work to gain their full meaning.

When I went to seminary (in the latter part of the 20th century) I had only been a Christian for 4 years. I knew what it meant to be saved but was still working out what all that meant. For example, I had come to learn and love the hymn:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

But it was not yet clear to me how exactly did Jesus wash me white as snow? I knew that Jesus died for my sins, but I don’t think I could have told you what happened when he did or how he did it. That is when I discovered I had a philology problem–a problem with words.

As I often tell students, when I arrived at seminary I was like a crumpled up piece of paper—all I needed to know for life and godliness was there on the page—I just needed some instruction and further discipleship to help iron out my many theological wrinkles.

Thus, through a combination of class instruction, mentorship from my pastor, and the discovery of a few important books,[2] I came to study the doctrine of the atonement. As I studied, I discovered that at the core of the atonement is a red-hot blazing term the Bible calls propitiation, a word I did not know, but one I came to treasure. As the ESV Study Bible simply and helpfully defines it, propitiation is “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor.”

As I studied, I discovered that while the word propitiation is used only four times in the New Testament,[3] its impact is tsunamic—the wave like implications and effects of this aspect of the doctrine of the atonement reach every corner of the Bible. As J. I. Packer says,

“Not only does the truth of propitiation lead us to the heart of the NT gospel, it also leads us to a vantage point from which we can see the heart of many other things as well.”[4]

From this new vantage point grew further understanding and—don’t miss the connection between study and practice—a deeper burden for the lost both at home and especially among those in the world who have never heard the gospel.

For an understanding that on the cross, Jesus took the wrath of God I deserved (Rom 5:9) and averted it for me (Rom 3:25) so I could have his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) led to an understanding that he also has averted it for every human being on the planet (1 John 2:2), and that righteousness is available for all who repent and believe (Phil 3:9).

In short, the theological freight packed into that one word—propitiation–would become the most important doctrine I would learn in seminary. The result of my philology problem, it became for me and remains a doctrine to know and a doctrine to share.

Yesterday, I preached an expanded version of this message looking at Hebrews 2:17 in our chapel service at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Links to audio or video will be posted here when available.

[1] Zaleski & Zaleski, The Fellowship, 24.

[2] In particular J. I. Packer, Knowing God and Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

[3] Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.

[4] J. I. Packer, “The Heart of the Gospel,” in Packer and Mark Dever, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Crossway, 2008), 42.

That They May Have Life

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

“Every human life is intended by God from eternity for eternity. Human life is sacred because it is the creation of God, the Lord of life. ‘For you did form my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13). Nature shares in the consequences of sin and innumerable lives are lost before they have an opportunity to develop in the womb, as many die in disasters such as famine, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Mortality is the common denominator of all life on earth. We are morally responsible, however, for the protection and care of life created in the image and likeness of God. The commandment ‘You shall not kill’ is the negatively stated minimum of what we owe to our fellow human beings.

The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life in abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and embryonic research is rightly understood as murder. In the exceedingly rare instance of direct threat to the life of the mother, saving her life may entail the death of the unborn child. Such rare and tragic instances are in sharpest contrast to the unlimited abortion license created by the Supreme Court, resulting in more than forty million deaths since 1973.

The blindness of so many to this moral atrocity has many sources but is finally to be traced to the seductive ways of evil advanced by Satan. Jesus says, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44).

The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life may be attended by what is believed to be compassion, especially in the case of the dependent and debilitated aged. While we can sympathize with those who view their own life or the life of another as a burden and not a gift, and while, by the grace of God, there can be repentance and forgiveness for those who are guilty of committing great evil, there can be no moral justification for murder. We are determined to employ every legal means available to protect, in law and in life, the innocent and vulnerable members of the human community.

We plead also with our fellow citizens who do not accept the authority of God’s commandments or the good news that is the gospel of life to consider the consequences of having created a license to kill. In the present state of our tragically disordered law, citizens are given, in the case of abortion, a private ‘right’ to kill those who are too young, too small, too handicapped, too burdensome, or, for whatever reason, not ‘wanted.’ When this ‘right’ and the lethal logic that supports it is established in law, there is no principled reason why it should not be applied to the ‘unwanted’ at any point along life’s way, as advocates of eugenics, euthanasia, and assisted suicide logically contend.

The inescapably public question posed is whether we as a political community adhere to the founding proposition articulated in the Declaration of Independence that all people are endowed by their Creator with certain ‘unalienable rights,’ beginning with the right to life. The course of progress in our political history has been one of inclusion rather than exclusion. Most notable has been the inclusion of slaves and their descendants, and the recognition of the political rights of women. The foundational moral claim on which our polity rests is the claim that all human beings are created equal and are the bearers of rights that we are obliged to respect. [….]

There are no doubt many reasons for our society’s perilous drift toward a culture of death. One major cause is the abortion regime established by the Supreme Court by the Roe v. Wade decision of January 22, 1973. That decision is rightly described as an act of raw judicial power that eliminated in all fifty states existing legal protections of unborn children. It is an encouraging measure of the moral health of our society that the abortion license decreed by Roe has not been accepted by the great majority of Americans. It now seems possible that this question will be returned to the process of democratic deliberation and decision in the several states. In that process, we as Evangelicals and Catholics together pledge our relentless efforts to persuade our fellow citizens to secure justice in law for the most vulnerable among us. [….]

Finally, our society’s drift toward a culture of death will not be arrested and reversed without a bolder and more persuasive witness to the gospel of life centered in Jesus Christ who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ Whatever our cultural circumstance, whatever the ebb and flow of political and legal fortunes, our first duty is evangelization: to share ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2) the good news of the unsurpassable gift of eternal life, beginning now, in knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. [….]

We cannot and would not impose this vision of a culture of life upon others. We do propose to our fellow Christians and to all Americans that they join with us in a process of deliberation and decision that holds the promise of a more just and humane society committed, in life and law, to honoring the inestimable dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God. For our part, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, we refuse to despair of the power of public witness and persuasion in the service of every member of the human community, for whom Christ came ‘that they may have life and have it abundantly.'”

That They May Have Life, A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, 2006.

See Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino, eds., Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty: Vital Statements on Contested Topics (Brazos, 2015).