The Gospel Pt3 - The Preaching of Paul to Pagans

We have several detailed accounts of Paul preaching the Gospel. It is very interesting to see how different his message is when he is preaching to pagan Gentiles as compared with his message to Jews.

The two occasions are:

  • Acts 14:8-20 at Lystra
  • Acts 17:16-34 at Athens

It is quite remarkable how similar these two sermons are. I have laid the two passages out in parallel here: Paul preaching to pagan Gentiles--Acts 14 and 17 laid out in parallel.

Here are some observations:

  • Both contexts describe an idolatry that is excessive to the point of being ridiculous
  • There is no reference to the Old Testament Scriptures at all
  • Paul particularly addresses their context and meets them where they are
  • Both the Lystrans and the Athenians mis-interpreted Paul’s statements by interpreting them within their own framework
    • To quote Cornelius Van-Til:
      We must surely do what Paul did, tear our garment when men would weave our message into the systems of thought which men have themselves devised. We must set the message of the cross into the framework into which Paul set it... the doctrines of creation, providence and the consummation of history in the final judgement.
  • One of Paul’s main concerns is to distinguish himself radically from this conception and to show that the God he proclaims is utterly outside their own framework.
  • In both cases it was the idolatry that provided a point of contact for Paul.
  • In both cases, Paul appeals to two witnesses to substantiate his preaching. They are the same in each case and are:
    1. the creative work of God,
    2. his providential care.
  • How does Paul’s example help us in our own efforts to preach the Gospel to a largely pagan society? I believe Paul is very helpful to us.
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Preaching The Gospel, New Testament Fashion

What is the Gospel?

Back when I was in my early 20’s a friend asked me how she could become a Christian. I thought I had all the answers and had read all the best Reformed books, but was frustrated at the questions she kept coming up with. There seemed to be a mis-match between the books I read and how it was done in the New Testament.

Years later, when I came to do my M.Div thesis, I thought “this is a chance to really come to grips with this question.” I narrowed the subject down to Gospel Preaching in Acts and systematically analysed the contents of the book.

  • I found there were 49 places where there was explicit or implicit preaching of the Gospel
  • I narrowed the list down to places where there was substantial content recorded and was left with:
    • 5 addresses by Peter
    • 2 addresses by Stephen and Philip
    • 7 addresses by Paul
  • I was surprised by:
    • the remarkably strong patterns of similarities between these messages
    • and how they differed from preaching today
    • for example, Peter could not preach without the resurrection being one of his points
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Experiencing the Presence of God (Delighting in God part 2)

I’ve heard it said that if you removed the parts of the Bible that deal with the presence of God, you would end up with the genealogies, Proverbs & Philemon, and maybe not even that!

Everyone recognizes that this is one of the most important subjects that there is, yet very little is written about it apart from the description of some experiences. So here I am attempting to begin to develop the theology of the subject.

I believe that there are three ways that the Bible speaks about God’s special presence:

  1. His presence everywhere
  2. A special manifestation of his presence
    • External, e.g. in the O.T. from his presence in Eden, through to his temple presence
    • Intimate, through the Spirit e.g. Experienced by David and by New Covenant believers
  3. The chosen place of God’s final “residence” among his people (Rev 21:3)
    • We have a foretaste of this when believers are gathered and the Spirit makes God’s presence felt

So the big question is: Why do we often not experience God’s presence the way we would like to?

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Two dangerous errors regarding repentance

There are two common errors regarding repentance, both of which I believe are quite dangerous.

  1. That is is a purely intellectual activity. Sometimes people with a little knowledge of Greek misunderstand how language works and pull apart the Greek word for repentance: metanoia and claim it means a change of mind. Well of course that is part of it, but only part. The danger of this teaching is that it puts a lot of emphasis on the feelings
  2. The second error is to make repentance a work that has to be done before coming to Christ.

I believe that a combination of these two ideas delayed my own salvation for years since I found myself unable to work up a strong feeling of guilt for sin, and thought that I could not come to Christ until I had these feelings of repentance.

I have just written an article which describes these errors and does a study on the use of the word in the Old and New Testaments.

I also preached an evangelistic sermon on "What it means to repent" which is based on Acts 17. There is a certain amount of overlap in content, but the sermon is obviously much more popular in presentation. The notes and audio download can be found here:
What it means to repent - Acts 17

Fundamental Structures in Paul

I remember coming across this phrase as a section heading in Paul, an Outline of his theology by Herman Ridderbos. It was so exciting to read and I felt as if whole vistas of understanding were opened up to me.

That book together with Resurrection and Redemption by Richard Gaffin are two books that have made the biggest impact on me in my understanding of the Apostle Paul.

I imagine these concepts like a great range of underwater mountains that penetrate the surface of the ocean as groups of islands. In the same way, once you grasp Paul's underlying framework, you can see it poking through in numerous places in his letters.

For me, one of the most fundamental of the fundamental structures is Paul's teaching on the "Two Worlds", or if you prefer, "Two Aeons". Jesus leaves the old, entering the tomb and then is raised a new being. We follow by virtue of being united with him. This my picture of how I think of it:

The Two Worlds/Aeons

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Microsoft, Moses and the Burning bush

What does Microsoft have to do with Moses and the burning bush?

Back in the early 90's, Microsoft developed a remarkable piece of software, Windows NT. (Anyone who knows me will know that I am no fan of Microsoft but this product was an exception.)

What was most amazing about this software was that conventional wisdom was that it was impossible to develop something of that size and complexity in the timescale, even with a huge team. In 1994 a Wall Street Journal writer named Pascal Zachary obtained permission to interview all those involved and write a book.

The book is in some places shocking and even a little scary, because it becomes clear that what enables the project to succeed is the cult-like leadership qualities of the project leader, Dave Cutler, and his abilities to motivate his "followers" (employees) to the point where nothing else in their lives mattered, outside of working on his team. Here is a quote from the book:

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What it means to live under the New Covenant

Last Sunday evening I spoke at TACF on the subject of "What it means to live under the New Covenant" as part of their "Equipping series". Of all the subjects I speak on, this is probably the one that is most important and foundational for the Christian. It is also one that I get very excited about.

I have uploaded the video to Youtube:

If the above video does not play smoothly for you try the following link:

Please don't be offended at the way I have involved the audience in role-playing some of the scenes. I am not trying to be disrespectful to God, I just feel that there is much more of an impact when people are more involved.

All my notes (fairly detailed), illustrations and Scripture passages are at - What it means to live under the New Covenant

The video can also be downloaded to your computer from the following links:

Why Psalm 90 is not in the least bit depressing

Today I preached on Psalm 90
At first sight this seems like a very depressing Psalm:

  1. Yes, we are consumed by your anger,
    and by your wrath we are terrified.

Not very encouraging. Let's see how it continues...

  1. You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.

...But it gets worse:

  1. All our days pass away under your wrath,
    we finish our years with a moan.

    [literal translation]
  2. The length of our days is seventy years
    or if we have strength, eighty;
    yet their best is but trouble and oppression;
    for they quickly pass and we fly away.

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Are the commands of Jesus just legalism in another form?

I believe in grace, not legalism. Today I preached on the sermon on the mount in Luke. I came face to face with the problem that Jesus preached a lot of commands, and ended the sermon saying that those who kept the commands would be preserved and those who didn't would be destroyed (the house on the sand).
How come Jesus didn't say "I love you and nothing you can do will make me love you more or love you less"? Instead he gave us a set of commands that are even harder to keep than those of Moses, and said things like "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (John 14:21). I don't believe that we are loved on the basis of our performance, but this is what it sounds like Jesus is saying.

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