How Luther Became Right With God (and You Can Too!)

I had the opportunity to give a lecture by this title at Meadowlands Baptist Church this past Sunday (30 October 2016). In the lecture, I describe some of the major events in Luther’s life from the Ninety-five Theses to the Diet of Worms in 1521, and then provide some reflections on the significance of Luther’s views on justification and sanctification. Much of the content in this video is adapted from material I prepared for the Reformation Conference I spoke at in Calgary.

The video above includes my slides in the corner, but you can also download just the audio (if you prefer) from SermonAudio below.

Reformation Conference in Calgary

Luther at the Diet of Worms
Luther at the Diet of Worms

Next week I’ll be speaking about the Protestant Reformation at Foundation Baptist Church in Calgary. Below is some promotional information about the sessions. More information will be available on the conference website, where you can sign up for email updates.

Nearly 500 years ago, the events of the Protestant Reformation upended the western world. Our pursuit of God today is greatly helped by the rediscoveries of the Reformers. Because our doctrine depends on the discoveries of faithful men and women in the past, we need to know our family history. Come to our Fall Conference on the Reformation for an encouraging and edifying look at what those turbulent times of the past mean for us today.

Read on →

Preachers, Publishers, and Plagiarism

Just yesterday, a plagiarism incident was exposed that should cause all Christ’s church to pause and lament. And no, I’m not talking about whatever Melania Trump said at the Republican National Convention (which I didn’t watch)—though I partly wish I were instead.

The sad story I have in mind is here on the Eerdmans website, and I also put a copy of it here on The press release states that respected New Testament scholar Peter T. O’Brien seems to have committed unintentional (but significant) plagiarism in his recent commentary on Hebrews and also (though to a lesser degree) in his works on Ephesians and Philippians. As a result, Eerdmans is taking all three titles out of print and offering credit to those who own copies. The author himself freely admits his error and issues an unqualified apology in the statement.

I’d like to use this incident to speak to the issue of pastoral ethics. Since I am writing so soon after hearing this news, I do not pretend to have reached a settled conclusion on all of the questions involved. But the exercise is important, I think, painful though it be.

Perhaps the biggest question here is what we should now do with O’Brien’s books. My own gut reaction, and that of many friends I’ve asked who are in pastoral ministry, is that while we certainly wouldn’t want to cite O’Brien’s work for academic research, we could probably still use it to study the biblical text personally and for preaching. Last night, I printed a copy of the Eerdmans statement to stick in the front of each book (I actually own all three of the discontinued titles), and wondered if I could just leave it at that.

But I’m not sure doing so fully appreciates what is actually at stake. Significantly, the Eerdmans statement does not tell us what material in these works has been plagiarised from whom. Sean Winter goes as far as to suggest an example in this post, but as he also notes, the important question now is “what ought to happen to the various copies of these works that are still available to students in university and seminary libraries.”

I suspect that the results of the inquiry have been withheld at least partially because it is about the only thing Eerdmans can do to preserve something of O’Brien’s otherwise worthy reputation. (As an example of the respect with which O’Brien is held in the scholarly community, consider that he was honored with a Festschrift including contributions from heavyweights such as D. A. Carson, Moisés Silva, Graeme Goldsworthy, and others.) Of course, it’s not really our business anyway, but not knowing what came from where creates other problems for us.

Certainly the ideas in these commentaries can still help us to understand the biblical text as we produce an exegetical sermon. But knowing that the commentary contains plagiarism means that, effectively, we cannot properly attribute any statement in these works to the original source. In other words, as long as I know that there is an attribution problem with these commentaries, I simply can’t cite anything from them and consider that to be a proper acknowledgment of the original source. Verbally acknowledging O’Brien as the source of an idea or statement would undermine my credibility to those who know about the problems in these works.

An important, and frightening, thing here is that merely changing a few words while preserving the basic structure and argument of a quoted source is not enough to avoid plagiarism. If your idea is not original to you, then you are responsible to show where you got it, unless it is demonstrable that your idea is “common knowledge.” A couple helpful resources for understanding what is (and isn’t) plagiarism include Andy Naselli’s interview with Justin Taylor and this page on I will not repeat these ideas here any further because doing so isn’t necessary. Oddly, though the definition of plagiarism may formally be “common knowledge,” it is also commonly misunderstood.

It’s certainly true that citation standards are somewhat different (at least in form) for sermons than in standard academic writing. But I believe that faithful preachers should still give some form of credit where it is due, even if it’s somewhat indirect—i.e., while I might say “as one commentator has said,” I would most definitely cite it in my written manuscript with something like, “(O’Brien, Ephesians, 323).” Even here I am not the first person to suggest this. The form of the words in this paragraph are my own, but the idea probably comes from this post by Kerry McGonigal—I honestly don’t even know.

And as we know, plagiarism in sermons is another huge problem of its own. I have heard of preachers who may have re-used sermon outlines from others without attribution. In my own experience, I remember approximately where I was in the pew when a guest preacher’s message suddenly seemed unusually eloquent—and after Googling a few of the key words that I had just heard on my smartphone, it was obvious that this preacher had lifted (without verbal acknowledgment) four or five paragraphs from a well-known blog. (For this and other reasons, I’ve stopped bringing my phone to church most Sunday mornings.)

So what should a conscientious (but also busy) pastor do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Even when sermon preparation time is limited, consult multiple sources to avoid depending too much on the insights of one author. You already know that, but I know the very real pressure that comes from the fact that “Sunday is always coming.”
  • Use your own words as much as possible. If you can’t explain what your source says in your own words, you probably don’t understand the original idea that well anyway. (Although it’s true that often your source will express the idea better.)
  • When quoting or using another’s idea, acknowledge your source in some form verbally and in your written notes. You simply can’t be too careful, as Justin Taylor has said.1 These days, there are many tools available to make this easier.

Preachers of the Bible which commands that “you shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15 ESV) should be especially careful to properly acknowledge their sources. We stand on the shoulders of many others who have studied God’s word before us. May God help us all to faithfully do that, and forgive us for the words we may have stolen unawares.

  1. Perhaps I am paranoid about my use of sources in this piece. But I think you can understand why.

Promo Video for My Church History Survey Class

In Fall 2016, I’ll be teaching Church History Survey at Foundation Baptist College. Come learn about the people, places and dates most important in understanding how the Holy Spirit has been saving, sanctifying and organizing people for the past two millennia.

Read on →

Submitting Assignments With Dropbox File Requests

For several of my classes, I’ve taken to using Dropbox’s “File Request” feature for having students submit writing assignments. It’s really easy for students to use:

  1. Open the File Request link for your project
  2. Drag and drop the file
  3. Fill out and submit the form
  4. I get the file instantly

Note: If you don’t get an email confirmation from Dropbox, you didn’t do it correctly (usually that means you forgot to click “Submit”). In that case, just try again.

Here’s a quick (7 seconds) video demo:

Here’s how to make your own on the Dropbox help site.

Carson and Keller on Revival

Last week while reading Pentecostal Outpourings, I went back and reviewed this video where D.A. Carson and Tim Keller discuss the topic of revival. Here are some notes from my Evernote file on the video, which is certainly worth 12 minutes of your time.

In the video Carson mentions that he has two personal resolutions should he ever encounter real revival in his own experience:

  1. Have as little to do with the media as possible, and
  2. Funnel the energy of the revival into good, systematic preaching and teaching rather than endless recounting of experience. This is because the experience itself can become an idol that is detached from Scripture.

Shortly after that, Keller contrasts about the Reformed view of revival with “the other view.” He describes the Reformed view of revival as an intensification of the ordinary operations of the Spirit. These include conviction of sin, conversion, giving assurance, sanctification. The other view defines it as the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit. When a sleepy Christian wakes up, they become more humble because they are more convicted of sin, and also more confident because they’re less concerned about what people think about them. This makes a potent evangelist. While he describes this view, Carson chimes in to observe that true revival is not something that your organize, or turn on according to a predetermined set of criteria. However, God does bring revival, and he can do it again.

So what should we do? As many others have pointed out, Keller notes that revival is sought through prayer. He compares it to building an altar and asking God to send fire. This is done by faithful preaching of the gospel, extraordinary prayer, leaders who model a renewed life, a few converts who are willing to open their mouths. Sometimes the fire comes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. Usually revival starts well, but ends poorly. However, we should still be seeking and asking for true revival.

Book Review - Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition

Pentecostal Outpourings

Smart, Robert Davis, Michael A. G. Haykin, and Ian Hugh Clary, eds. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016. ISBN 9781601784339. 280 pages.

Nearly all Christians say that they desire “true revival,” but few agree on what that phrase means. Evangelicals sometimes distinguish between “revival” and “reformation,” associating the former with individual spiritual renewal (usually through mass conversions) and the latter with outward societal change. Furthermore, many evangelicals will contrast “true (or genuine) revival” with “false revival.” Iain Murray captures this contrast in his well-known work entitled Revival and Revivalism. What is it that distinguishes between true revival and the excesses of revivalism? Should Christians pray for revival? How should they seek it, and what should they expect when it comes?

These questions are particularly vexing for those within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition brings together a coterie of Reformed historians to argue that true revival is not merely compatible with Calvinistic theology, but that historical revivals have been heavily influenced by Reformed preaching and represents a consistent understanding of the true gospel. Despite the real and lasting results of these revivals, the historical record is difficult to interpret because true revivals have often included mixed reports of unnerving enthusiasm or manipulative revivalistic tactics. Parsing these confusing elements requires a foundational understanding of true revival, defined as follows by Robert Davis Smart in the introduction:

Pentecostal Outpourings demonstrates that revival is a sovereign gift from God in which, for a special season, His normal and true work of advancing His kingdom is sped up or quickened so that more is accomplished through His servants in a shorter period of time. Revivals cannot be merited by us but have been secured by another—Jesus Christ. Jesus tells His disciples that His righteous life and atoning death won for us “the promise of My Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). When Jesus ascended to the Father and sat down at the right hand of God, He poured out His Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This once-for-all historical and redemptive event was not the last time Christ poured out His Spirit in redemptive history. Subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit, working by and with the Word, are reviewed in this volume in order that we may seek God earnestly to revive His church once again soon.

Each chapter in Pentecostal Outpourings focuses on the history of revivals within a particular area and denominational tradition and is written by a specialist. As a result, the chapters provide detailed and reliable historical scholarship tracing the impact of revivals, usually beginning with the “Evangelical Revival” or “Great Awakening” and carrying forward through twentieth century. In some cases, chapters conclude with an extended theological analysis of the historical events (e.g., the chapter by Eifon Evans on the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists). Each well-written chapter includes numerous historical examples from individual conversion narratives, the writings of revival preachers, and contemporary historical records. A few of these memorable stories include the remarkable revival stirred by the harsh preaching of “crazy James Glendinning” in Ireland, the eventual misappropriation of Jonathan Edwards’s revival apologetic by later revivalists, and Andrew Fuller’s growth out of hyper-Calvinism to the zealously evangelistic Calvinism that eventually led to William Carey’s missionary endeavors. Of course, these are but a few highlights, and the time would fail me to tell you about the countless ordinary believers who came to lasting faith in Christ through the revival preaching that is recounted in this volume. To fully appreciate these revival stories, you just have to read the book.

Many similarities stand out in these accounts of revivals which took place in vastly different locations, among divergent denominational traditions, and at different times. It is immediately obvious that true revival is no respecter of denominations. It occurs, often without warning or harbinger, wherever and whenever God pleases according to His sovereign plan. Genuine and lasting revival cannot be manufactured, yet many times it does occur amongst people who have earnestly prayed for it. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to distinguish between true revival and excessive emotional enthusiasm, which many times occur simultaneously. Careful pastors who are aware of this repeatedly seek to steer their people towards the Scriptures in an effort to curb excesses.

Those who read this book will be forced to reflect on their own relationship to God’s providential work. Evangelical Christians will come away from this work with a renewed longing for genuine revival, resulting in earnest prayer and renewed passion for faithful preaching and teaching of the Bible. But I suspect that even readers who are not evangelicals may be drawn to this volume, perhaps curious about evangelical claims of divine intervention. Although this book alone won’t be sufficient to overcome agnostic doubts, such readers will find such striking similarities in the genuine revival accounts that they may be driven further in a search to evaluate the claims of the Christian gospel itself.

Pentecostal Outpourings is available for purchase from Amazon and CBD. Purchasing a copy using one of these links below will earn me a small affiliate commission:

Read on →

Guidelines for Marking Student Papers

In my teaching, I frequently ask students to write research reports using the Turabian style guide. Of course, many students dislike having to follow the seemingly meticulous conventions for citations and formatting. I can understand that, but I tell them that the particulars are not the point—formal writing conventions exist to facilitate the interchange of ideas by providing a common format for displaying one’s work in an intelligible manner. In other words, it’s for the reader, which is the whole point. Besides, once a student masters the proper use of Zotero, it’s not that difficult.

Once I get the papers back, I’ve always become bogged down myself. Nobody ever taught me how to mark a paper, so I’ve tried all kinds of different approaches. Still, I usually wound up spending way too many hours on it, and of course, most of that time involved trying to show students why they can’t violate all the known conventions of English grammar and still be understood by readers. That’s not really helpful to anybody, actually.

Anyway, yesterday while I was in the middle of marking some papers, I thought I’d double-check to make sure that Turabian 8 was still the most recent edition of Turabian. On the University of Chicago Press website for Turabian, I found a PDF guide called “How to Teach Turabian” that includes a brief section called “A Quick Guide to Marking Student Papers.” It had never occurred to me that there would be guides on marking papers, and now I see that I’ve been doing this the wrong way for years.

Here are the guidelines for marking student papers:

  1. Distinguish marking papers (a learning outcome) from grading papers (an evaluation outcome).
  2. Let students help you decide when to mark their papers.
  3. When you don’t respond, students can learn from their peers.
  4. Don’t mark as you read.
  5. In marking, less is more.
  6. Have a learning agenda for your marks.
  7. Mark papers “top-down.”
  8. Don’t penalize good papers by leaving them unmarked.
  9. The most effective marks focus on a reader’s response, not on the writer’s success or failure.
  10. The most effective marks about writing have three parts: they (1) point out the specific issue on the page, (2) articulate the relevant general principle, and (3) suggest a change or, better, direct the student to make a change.
  11. The most effective marks about argument—“content”—have three parts: they (1) point out the specific issue on the page, (2) explain what gives you pause, and (3) make a suggestion or, better, ask a question pointing the student in a new direction.

If you ever have to mark student writing, you should read the whole thing.

A Study in Galatians & Romans

Starting in January, I’ll be teaching through the books of Galatians and Romans in my adult Sunday School class at my church. This post is an expanded version of a blurb I wrote about the class for a church bulletin.

Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Romans focus on the essential core of the gospel message—salvation as justification by faith alone. In Galatians, Paul describes the believer’s new life in Christ as a result of our co-crucifixion on the cross of our loving savior Christ:

ESV Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Romans expands this theme, giving us a theology of the cross that allows us to be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). Because God’s righteous wrath for our sins has been poured out on Christ as our sinless substitute, His justice is satisfied and He has passed over our guilt (Rom 3:25).

Focused as they are on the gospel of grace in Christ, these two books have had immeasurable influence on Christian theology throughout the history of the church. Beginning in January, my Sunday School class will begin with a study of Galatians which will take us until Easter, and then we will begin working through Romans (which will take us until at least mid-summer).

Study copies of the biblical text will be provided in class. Those who would like to go further on their own during the week are encouraged to pick up a copy of Galatians: A 12-Week Study by Geoff Ziegler (Crossway, 2015) in the Knowing the Bible series, which is available from for about $8.

Praying the Bible

In my recent class on the Psalms, we made a practice of praying the Psalms together at the beginning of each class session. The following is an excerpt from my lecture notes for that class where I introduce the concept of praying the words of Scripture.

Don Whitney has recently written a book titled Praying the Bible (Crossway, 2015) which compiles a lot of the things he’s learned about praying using Scripture over several years of thinking and teaching about this topic.

I haven’t seen the book itself—I’m sure it’s helpful, but I also think that I may not need the book itself to grow in my own prayer life. Fortunately for us, Crossway has released a number of helpful, free online resources to promote the book. I’ve listed some of these resources at the end of this post in the “For Further Study” section. In this interview below, Don Whitney shares a number of ideas about praying the Bible:

Read on →