This is the last post in my little series on this visit to Scottsdale Bible Church. I have been sitting on the fence about posting this at all, as my impression of SBC was mostly positive and most of what I have to say here is negative. And it’s not a criticism of SBC or Jamie Rasmussen in particular, but more the way we as conservative, Bible-believing and -quoting Christians go about exegesis.
The tagline for this sermon was Rasmussen’s encouragement to us to develop “a mindset that leads to a biblical worldview of the struggles of life.” This was sort of its premise and its conclusion: Rasmussen took us from this as a statement of a goal to be reached, then to various Scripture verses with commentary, and back here to this conclusion again. Let’s for the moment ignore the question of whether terms like “mindset” and “worldview” are native to Scripture or whether they’re modern concepts that have to be imported into a text. For Rasmussen this boils down to a simple (not to say easy) matter of switching our focus from our personal struggles to “the glory of God.” This consumes most of the sermon, and it’s not until the end that he explains what he more or less means by the latter term, and it turns out to mean the pursuit and perfection of various spiritual disciplines: more prayer, more Bible reading, etc.
I’m going to call this a bait and switch, because that’s what I think it is. It’s not that our problems are real and God’s glory is imaginary, but rather that our problems are concrete and specific, while the glory of God is often abstract, general, and nebulous. We have a sense of God’s glory in the grand sweep of redemptive history, and we know God is glorified in specific acts of worship, but generally the terms here can’t be fairly compared. Either God is glorified by the fact that we suffer (and that’s not what Rasmussen is claiming) or He isn’t; if the former we’ve got an apples-to-apples comparison here; if the latter we don’t.
Rasmussen also sets up and knocks over a straw man that is familiar in conservative circles: he appeals to unnamed TV preachers who claim God will deliver us from trouble if we pray enough and are faithful enough, if we buy “prayer cloths” and “combine your faith with my faith by giving to my ministry.” I don’t know who if anyone on television actually says these things, especially the latter about combining faith. I don’t think the conservative community is well-served by this sort of characterization. Preachers who do this should either name names and give concrete examples (which would be my preference) or stop dealing in these terms. It’s sloppy and cowardly.
Finally Rasmussen closed with this quote from Spurgeon:
There are experiences of the children of God which are full of spiritual darkness and I am most persuaded that those of God’s servants who have been most highly favored have nevertheless suffered more times of darkness than others.
I continue to be surprised that otherwise careful people offer up such bland nonsense as true just because it was said by somebody famous. To my recollection Scripture offers no such sentiment; I’d pay a whole dollar for a reasonable counterexample. I think it’s more likely that this is comfort Spurgeon, who it is widely believed today suffered from some form of depression, offered himself, but on the basis of his own opinion, and it should be treated as such, rather than as the closing citation in a sermon otherwise founded more or less on Scripture.
This post deals with the content of the sermon I heard at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church; the sermon itself can be heard and downloaded via SermonAudio [link]; it runs about 37 minutes, including opening and closing prayer. This post is a straightforward summary; I may follow up with comments, analysis, etc. in a later post.
The sermon text is Romans 1:17 “for in it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, as it is written ‘the just shall live by faith’” [ESV].
Fry opens with prayer, a prayer that is partly to the Holy Spirit but mostly reminds us that the Scriptures are inspired and preserved, asks for protection against the Evil One, and a request for understanding and strength.
He follows with an appeal to our understanding of the ongoing struggle between terrorists and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and then-current resistance to TSA security measures and says the best of systems have their flaws, including the best security and judicial systems have their flaws. By contrast Jesus (in God’s courtroom) will give out “pure, absolute justice.” And punishment, both for the guilty and the innocent according to God’s law. The only innocent will be people who have kept God’s law perfectly. The multitudes of innocent people will have been declared righteous by God according to Jesus’s perfect obedience.
He then reads the text, starting at verse 8, apparently reading from the KJV or the NKJV.
The sermon outline has three points:
- Where can I find that which is needed that I might go through the day of judgment? Where can I find what is needed?
- What do I find? The righteousness of God.
- How does this become mine?
It has been revealed through the Scriptures; through the Gospel. The righteousness of God was revealed in the Old Testament. After all, Paul is steering toward a quote from Habakkuk, and has already spoken about how Abraham and David were justified by faith, prophetic faith in something symbolic of Jesus’s death. Fry references Hebrews 11 as being people who were saved by faith in the same way, not saved by sacrifices or other religious observances, but by faith; also 1 Peter 1:18ff. Concludes that men have always been saved by the righteousness of God. Also references Romans 3:25.
What do I find? The righteousness of God. Fry I think here makes a passing reference to the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and what it means for this righteousness to be “of God,” but doesn’t delve, just saying that this is sometimes a reference to God’s character, His attributes of righteousness and justice. Fry wanders a bit here, making several references to Romans 3 before saying that there’s a righteousness God has and one He provides to sinners, and it is this provision that is good news and saying that this righteousness is shown in Jesus, who kept the Law perfectly.
Fry injects a subtle bit of humor into the sermon by asking us to consider how Jesus could be sinless while living in a real home with sisters and worked a job and dealt with customers. Also, any of us would have been stretched beyond what we could bear by dealing with the scribes and Pharisees.
God has provided righteousness for his people; Fry asks who would rejoice in the provision of the righteousness of God, and mentions that lots of people are out having fun on Sunday and aren’t concerned. Fry says those who seek righteousness are the ones who come under the sound of the Gospel and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. People who have made a real impact are the ones who have been the most convicted: Abraham, David, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Edwards, and Spurgeon. Fry says anyone who aspires to be a pastor should have a sense of how sinful he personally is; “the same should be true of us.”
How does this become mine? How does the sinner receive it? Fry mentions but doesn’t delve into the question of what “from faith to faith” means, then passes over it to “justified by faith,” and then goes on to the quote from Habakkuk, a contemporary of Jeremiah (PRBC is studying Jeremiah on Sunday evenings). He says saving faith isn’t natural; he contrasts this with ordinary trust, like a person exercises when riding in a car or plane, says it is a gift of God. After claiming that people want credit in salvation Fry says we seldom mention the righteousness of God as part of evangelism.
The closing illustration is about putting on a coat in cold weather; Fry says we should thank God for protection against cooler weather and says we should remember that God has covered us with His righteousness (against the day of His wrath).
The closing prayer asked God to convict people and draw them to Himself.