Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: C. Stephen Evans. "Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith."

In this short book, C. Stephen Evans has done an admirable job of making the incredibly complex world of the philosophy of religion attainable to new students in this field. As such, this work would make a very helpful textbook at the introductory college level. Throughout this work, Evans does a remarkable job of defining the seemingly unending array of technical verbiage, while giving helpful illustrations to explain their usage to the reader.

"Philosophy of religion," as a technical term, is the particular branch of philosophy which, as its name suggests, grapples with religious truth claims and beliefs through the grid of reason and logic. Among the topics covered in this book are:
  • the classical "proofs" for the existence of God, 
  • the validity of religious experience, 
  • the nature and possibility of miracles, 
  • particular objections to theism (such as evil and the apparent contradictions of science), 
  • and the unsettling difficulties related to religious pluralism.
Each one of these topic could easily fill an entire volume.
In this reviewer's opinion, the most helpful aspect of this work is the way that Evans fairly and evenhandedly deals with skeptics' attacks on theism. While Evans eventually does show the rationality of theism (and particularly Christianity) in each chapter, I don't think anyone could accuse Evans of attempting to deal with the skeptic's challenges unfairly or impatiently. Where he sees weaknesses in the theistic position, he does not attempt to hide them. Where he sees strengths, he likewise argues back with equal force. 

No chapter of this book should be seen as an outright apologetic defense of theism in general or Christianity in particular. It is not a book on apologetics. On the other hand, Evans does his best to show over and over again that belief in God is rational, logical, and coherent in the face of a number of threats and claims to the contrary.

In his chapter on the classical proofs for God's existence, for instance, Evans does not pretend to claim that any one 'proof' would compel all rational thinkers. On the contrary, he does assert that the preponderance of the evidence points in a cumulative way towards the existence of God. Likewise, in his concluding chapter on religious pluralism, he admits that Christians in particular have appeared to be arrogant in their claims of religious exclusivity, and yet he concludes this book by acknowledging the inherent humility of Christianity, even as it regards our evangelistic mission.

In conclusion, I think three groups of readers will find this book helpful.

1) First, the student who is interesting in determining for himself whether theism in general and Christianity in particular holds any water logically and rationally; 2) secondly, the non-theist who has many skeptical reasons to deny the validity of religious faith, but who nonetheless is open to reviewing his presuppositions; and 3) finally, the pastor who is interested in presenting some of the logical basis and rationale for Christianity to his congregation in an accessible manner.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter @matt_everhard.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Will the Real 'Religion of Peace' Please Stand Up? President Obama and the Question of Islamic Terror

Faced with yet another recent outbreak of violence and murder in the Mid East, this time incited by an unflattering YouTube video of the Prophet Mohammed, the Obama Administration is once again plagued with the dilemma of how exactly to label this type of brutality.

Unlike his predecessor who commonly identified these forms of evil as "Islamic Terror," President Obama has repeatedly and emphatically denied that Islam--as a world religion--is in any way a source of the problem.

Following his long-standing policy, President Obama has again insisted that this recent outburst of sudden violence, resulting in the brutal and violent death of a US diplomat, does not fit with the real "Religion of Peace."  Islam, as his formal policy goes, is a religion of tolerance and peace. These sorts of outbursts, we are told, simply do not fit the paradigm.

One wonders how much longer the Administration expects the general public to be patient with this kind of reasoning. Let's consider this matter more deeply.

Philosopher of religion Anthony Flew (1923-2010) identified an informal fallacy that he dubbed the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. (No surprise there, Flew was British of course!) In this maneuver, a claimant denies that a universal category is ever truly broken by a given counterexample that stands against his claim. Accordingly, no exception could ever be given that denies his own general rule. Here is an example of how it works:
Smith: All Scotsmen are loyal and brave.
Jones: But McDougal over there is a Scotsman, and he was arrested by his commanding officer for running from the enemy.
Smith: Well, if that’s right, it just shows that McDougal wasn’t a TRUE Scotsman.(1)

If Smith claims that all A are B, and Jones produces a counterexample of A that is non-B, Smith simply denies that Jones' example truly represents A rather than altering his own categorical universal. 

I think it is apparent how the Obama Administration has committed this logical fallacy over and over again. Each and every time that Islamic-related violence fans its deadly fires, we are told that these incidents don't represent the "true Islam." If the malefactors are ever identified as Islamic at all by Obama or his Press Secretary, we are told that they do not represent the "real version" of Islamic religion.

But given that the counterexamples seem to proliferate monthly and ubiquitously around the globe, one wonders where exactly this "religion of peace" paradigm can be found in the first place. Bin Laden (we are told) didn't represent the "real" Islam when his henchmen slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center. Nor Al Qaeda. Neither did Saddam Hussein when he released biological agents on his own people. Nor Ahmadinejad when he repeatedly threatens Israel with extinction. Nor did Al Zarqawi. Nor Hamas. Nor do the current massacres of Syrian civilians. Nor the bombers of Christian churches in Nigeria and Kenya. Nor any other Salafist jihidist groups for that matter.

Accordingly, it seems impossible for the Obama Administration to admit that Islam is, at best, a deeply flawed and tragic imposter of a "religion of peace." Any time a counterexample is given to add evidence that Islam is an intrinsically violent and dangerous religion, that counterexample is passed off as being "No True Muslim."

Perhaps it is time that we recognize the religion of Islam for what it is. 


Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Charles Spurgeon. A Defense of Calvinism.

A Defense of Calvinism is a brief tract written by the preeminent Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), long considered to be the Prince of Preachers.

Although many Christians today recognize Charles Spurgeon as one of the most able preachers, and certainly among the most quotable pastors of all time, and certainly the last 200 years, most do not realize that he was also an ardent Calvinist.

Although Spurgeon rarely mentions John Calvin by name in his sermons, and quotes him directly rarer still, this small booklet was meant to show his own unequivocal alignment with traditional Reformed Theology ("Calvinism") as against the Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinistic trends of his own day.

In this brief work, Spurgeon defends the doctrines of total depravity, election, limited atonement, and perseverance on Biblical and logical grounds. Here, he explains that the doctrine of the Reformers (and Calvin in particular) is nothing other than the Biblical theology of Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles.

At the end of this tract, Spurgeon explains how the sovereignty of God in election does not in any way stand in opposition to the doctrine of human responsibility, and does not preclude man as a moral agent, responsible for his own sin.

This short work will not likely take the reader any more time than half an hour, and will greatly enhance his understanding of Spurgeon's theological foundations as well as that of Calvinism.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gnostic Nonsense

So, if you haven't heard, some more Gnostic papyri has been found, and surprise surprise, it seems to say that Jesus had a wife.  Read more here.

Discoveries like this are anything but new, though they are always touted to be of great importance.  If this scrap of paper does anything it reveals our general lack of knowledge on the whole subject.  However, that's not to say that an unbelieving friend may not still engage you on this subject.  "Hey!  Did you hear that Jesus may have had a wife?!  I wonder how that affects what the Bible says."  What would you say to a comment like that?  Most of us would have no idea where to start.  

Thankfully, Dr. James White, an actual expert on the subject, gives us some wise talking points and a few opinions of his own.   Enjoy!    A Note to the Secular World:  Do Your History

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Eyewitness Experiences and the Existence of God

Do eyewitness encounters with God “count” as an apologetic for the existence of God? If so, how in the world can one man’s experience with God, for example, at a burning bush (or the Apostles' claim to have seen the Resurrected Christ for that matter) be a proof for God’s existence if the skeptics themselves have not seen these events with their own eyes? Can such experiences be validated?

The White Stag Illustration
Let me try an illustration. Suppose that a large group of persons went together on a camping trip into the woods, some three hundred people. And let’s suppose that ten men are sent out to fetch water from the stream while the others stay back. And let us further suppose that those ten men witness with their own eyes the most beautiful, pure white stag, drinking from the stream.  They cannot believe our eyes! An albino buck! These men immediately return to the camp to tell everyone what they’ve seen. Most are skeptical. Some are not interested. A few are curious. Eventually the first ten men lead another ten people back to the stream, right to the same place they saw it, and sure enough--it is gone!

Logically (remember: we are interested in reasoning clearly) does the fact that the second envoy failed to see the white stag prove that the first group’s experience didn’t happen?

One man says “I didn’t see anything!”

Another man says, “I didn’t either!”

A third says “I’ve never even heard of a white stag!”

A fourth says “That’s patently impossible!”

The ‘Logic’ of Unbelief
Quite often, the logical thinking of the skeptic goes something like this…
a. I’ve never seen a white stag.
b. I can not believe what I have not seen. 
c. Conclusion: Therefore there are no white stags.

Obviously there is a fallacy between points ‘b’ and ‘c.’ The fact that one observer has not personally beheld any given object or phenomenon does not make it impossible a priori.

Nevertheless, the question remains, How do we validate other people’s claims of religious experience? If a skeptic has not experienced a given phenomenon (such as grace), how can he weigh the claims of those who have? Is there any objective way that he can weigh the evidence? I think there is.

Weighing the Claims of Witnesses

1. Agreement in Testimony: First, in the White Stag Illustration, the witnesses have the benefit of not being alone. If only one man had seen it, we might have reason to suspect that he’d been smoking something on the walk to the brook. But the fact is that nine others saw the same thing, and their testimony agrees. In Christianity of course, we have the benefit of 2.2 billion other people making the same claim of having experienced the grace of Jesus Christ! It’s hard to dismiss 2.2 billion people! And that is only counting those alive on the planet today, not to mention the billions that have lived in prior centuries.

2. What Do They Stand to Gain? Secondly, we can ask whether the witnesses stand to gain anything by making such a claim. Are they planning to write a book about it? Are they selling the rights of the interview to Katie Couric? Are they going on a speaking tour to make millions? Will there be a Pixar animated “White Stag” movie forthcoming? If there is clearly something to gain personally, we might weigh their claims with some degree of dubiousness. 

3. What Do They Stand to Lose? On the other hand, we might also ask if their experience puts them in such a position that they are now going to suffer because of their experience. I can tell you that Moses’ claim to have seen God at the bush did not exactly make life easy for him. It made his life infinitely more complex. It brought him into the cross-hairs of Pharaoh. It brought great suffering to the Egyptians in the ten plagues. It would eventually cause Aaron and Miriam to rebel against him. And ultimately, it placed upon his shoulders the additional burden of leading the people of Israel who, throughout much of the Pentateuch, amount to a bunch of whiners and complainers, and grumblers, and faultfinders!

As for the Apostles, we can say without any hesitation that their having seen the Resurrected Christ was a decidedly “inconvenient truth.” Their claim to have seen Jesus Christ raised from the dead cost ten of the remaining Apostles their lives. James was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. The only apostle who lived was John, who was exiled.

In fact, I can go even further and state that being a Christian believer is the hardest life any mortal could possibly choose. Our people, from day one, AD33, have been chased, mocked, beaten, burned at stakes, tossed to lions, systematically persecuted, hated, lied about, slandered and falsely accused. 

Add to that the fact that we as a people willingly choose to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, tithe on our income, volunteer or time, deny the cheap pleasures of this world, retain our sexual purity within marriage, and many other marks of sacrifice—one wonders why anyone would willing choose Christianity if God had not first chosen us.

So if there are multiple witnesses whose testimonies agree, and those witnesses stand to gain nothing by their claim (at least in regards to this fading world) and in fact have everything to loose for their confession, eyewitness testimony turns out to be a very powerful apologetic for God’s existence. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter @matt_everhard

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Preaching and Preachers. 40th Anniversary Edition.

Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is simply stated one of the best texts on the duty and glory of preaching the Word of God that I have ever read. I must confess right out of the gate that I was predisposed to like this text. My own mentor and dear friend, Dr. Wilfred Bellamy (the former Coordinator of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church) was himself raised under the teaching ministry of  Lloyd-Jones. Thus, Lloyd-Jones' unusual manner of up-lifting the office of the preacher and the blood-bought ardor of declaring God's Word is "in my genes," as it were. 

Overall Analysis
As a general summary, this 340-page work features all of the main subject headings with which a preacher must come to terms. Lloyd-Jones has very candid and often practical advice on virtually every aspect of the sermon: from preparation in the study, to the written manuscript, to the delivery of the sermon with voice and body, to the preacher's living relationship with the congregation. But far and away, the strength of this book is the unusually high role of preaching that DMLJ assigns to the God-ordained ordinance of Gospel preaching.

He says famously, "To me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called" (p. 17).  From cover to cover, DMLJ does not back down from the statement. Those who labor in the study and pulpit as their life's work will find their strivings constantly affirmed as they seek to proclaim the glory of the Gospel to a dying world. In that sense, those who take their work of preaching with eternal regard will find their hearts strengthened to persevere in their labors.

Lloyd-Jones disdained the idea that a pastor has "more important" things to do than preach. The CEO leadership  model, the professional counselor model, and the entertainment-based story teller model must all die a hard death according to Lloyd-Jones. And he slays them relentlessly throughout. The true power of Christian ministry, according to The Dr. is in the pulpit of a man with Bible open who has been ordained of God to announce the Gospel with authority. "It is preaching alone that can convey the Truth to people, and bring them to the realization of their need, and to the only satisfaction for their need" (p. 50).

If anyone has heard Lloyd-Jones preach (thank goodness 4,000 of his messages have been recorded and are now available on digital formatting; see p. 343) he will quickly realize that The Dr. himself held a pulpit ministry based seriously and zealously on proclaiming Biblical doctrine. Long can a listener wait for a joke or personal illustration in his own sermons. They will not come. Lloyd-Jones approached the sacred desk several times weekly during his pastorate at Westminster Chapel ready to declare the revealed will of God without compromise and with death-knell seriousness.

Controversial Statements
I don't think many readers today will make it through this text without disagreeing with DMLJ somewhere. More still will close the book with broken toes! Among the many practices that Lloyd-Jones would like to see piled on the trash heap of history are: the praise band (he saw entertainment-oriented worship coming a mile away), "worship leaders" which he viewed to be taking up too much of the preacher's time, lay preachers (because they are not ordained to do the work but instead are hobbyists), personal testimonies, recorded or videotaped sermons (ironic since thousands are blessed by his sermons still today), and even homiletics classes where preachers learn "techniques" to improve their delivery. The latter, he regarded as a "prostitution" of the calling and "an abomination" (p. 130). Obviously, there is much room to disagree!

Spoiler Alert: If you are Hawaiian shirt-wearing, stool-sitting, coffee-sipping preacher who weekly walks onto the platform to have a "conversation" or "dialogue" with the congregation, you will find yourself kicking against the goads in every chapter. After only a few pages, one gets the idea that Lloyd-Jones would disdain most of today's practices of video introductions, power-point presentations, movie-clips, and the endless barrage of personal anecdotes. At one point, Lloyd-Jones even tells preachers to leave their endearing stories about their children at home!

Perhaps the last chapter of the book is the best. Here, The Dr. discusses one of his hallmark doctrines, the unction (or anointing) of the preacher. Lloyd-Jones has a doctrine of the filling of the Holy Spirit that is slightly unusual for a Calvinist. He views the filling of the Spirit not as a general spirit-led life of fruit-bearing, but rather a dramatic anointing of the Holy Ghost especially available to preachers as they declare the Law and Gospel of Christ. In my reading of this work, he does not seem to strongly distinguish the "baptism" of the Spirit from the "filling" of the Spirit.

To defend this position, Lloyd-Jones does a careful study of the New Testament usage of the phrase "filled with the Spirit" and demonstrates that it does not appear to describe the daily walk of a faithful Christian (as most would have it), but rather the unusual moments of Holy Ghost fire that fall upon a man while testifying to Christ crucified and raised again. 

Here, he pleads with preachers to plead for themselves in asking the Holy Spirit to endow their ministries with power. "Do you always look for and seek this unction, this anointing before preaching? Has this been your greatest concern? There is no more thorough and revealing a test to apply to a preacher" (p. 322).  And again he writes, "I maintain that all of us who are preachers should be seeking this power every time we preach" (p. 339).

This 40th anniversary edition of Preaching & Preachers comes newly supplemented with six essays from some of today's most well-known preachers. Among them are Kevin DeYoung (editor), John Piper, and Ligon Duncan. These are short 3-page essays, mostly laudatory, which generally showed an appreciation for Lloyd-Jones' legacy. The contribution of the inclusion of these essays was minimal in my view, other than to give the reader a mental break from The Dr's relentless attack on wimpy preachers!

Some Minor Criticisms
Personally, this reviewer finds little fault with this work and generally appreciates the tenor and tone of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' up-building of the work of the anointed pulpiteer, as well as his excoriation of the  "professional."

The only concern that I had with this book is that Lloyd-Jones found very little room to compliment or affirm hardly one of his own contemporaries. Although he shares a number of interesting anecdotes related to his observations of preachers (many of these quite amusing) I did notice that most of his positive examples were of his own ministry. I found the tendency to use his own ministry as the north-star example of good preaching a bit tiring. On the other hand, he did compliment many ministers such as Whitefield and Spurgeon--it is just that all whom he seemed to appreciate are long dead!

Any time Lloyd-Jones begins an anecdote, "One time I heard a preacher..." you can be sure a counter-example is forthcoming. To listen to Lloyd-Jones discuss his contemporaries, one gets the idea that no one else was doing what he was doing in his own day and age.

All told, this reader (himself an ordained man of the Book) found this work to be one of the most affirming works on the nature and worth of expository preaching. Preaching is "logic on fire....preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire!" he shouts. "What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence" (p. 110).

The average preacher who often wonders if he is making any difference in this world--a question that we all struggle with from time to time--will find himself greatly affirmed by hearing the now-gone voice of a man who believed Gospel preaching is the most important work in the world.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter @matt_everhard

Friday, September 14, 2012

10 Free E-Books (You're Welcome!)

In light of my recent post on the benefits of having a Kindle or other e-reader, I thought I would post some of the best works of theology and fiction that you can get free (read: no cost) on your device.

No strings attached....Seriously.

  1. The ESV Bible. The ESV is the best English translation available today. Thank goodness that Crossway publishers is more concerned with giving away the Gospel than making money!
  2. John Bunyan. Pilgrim's Progress. The classic allegory of "Christian" who is making his way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Read my review of this work here.
  3. Andrew Bonar. The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. RMM was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor in the 1800's. As a poet and preacher, M'Cheyne inspired multiple generations of Christians with his selfless devotion and warm piety.
  4. Johann David Wyss. The Swiss Family Robinson. Read a good classic aloud to your children once in a while. This work is full of surprising lessons about Christian discipleship.
  5. A.W. Tozer. The Pursuit of God. One of the classic works of spiritual formation in the last century. Long before Piper wrote Desiring God, Tozer was speaking on the God-exalting life from a Chicago pulpit.
  6. Martin Luther. Small Catechism. One of the great didactic works for children. A surprisingly relevant discussion on the central tenets of Christianity.
  7. Jonathan Edwards. Selected Sermons. Newbies will find Edwards' sermons to be the easiest and most accessible works that the great American Puritan wrote from New England centuries ago.
  8. J.C. Ryle. A Sketch of the Life and Labors of George Whitefield. A simple and short read on the basics of one of history's most revered evangelists.
  9. John Foxe. Foxe's Book of Martyrs. The classic work on the lives of many of Christ's martyrs.
  10. Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I love this fictional work, so I threw it in here. Stevenson gives us a most unusual glimpse into the doctrine of total depravity.
 You're welcome. If you really want to pay me back for all this free stuff, just follow me on Twitter @matt_everhard. We'll call it even!

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Moral Argument for the Existence of God

At Faith Church, we have recently been considering some philosophical arguments for the existence of God. (Listen to our sermon series here).

One such argument for the existence of God is called the Moral Argument. It is an argument for the existence of God based on the undeniable existence of Good and Evil in this world. 

Consider Exodus 3:7,  "Then the Lord said, 'I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings'" (Exodus 3:7, ESV). Historically, we know from Scripture that the Egyptians treated the Israelites wickedly. They held them as slaves. They beat them viciously, even slaughtering their children. Slavery and genocide were both inflicted upon God's people Israel (cf. Exodus 1:13-16).

Slavery is an interesting and timely example today because even the most secular, left-leaning, veggie-burger eating liberal must acknowledge slavery to be a monstrous Evil. Ethics professors at secular, state-funded universities will get on their soapbox  to declare slavery to be Evil. And I agree! I doubt that many ethics professors today would label slavery today as “morally relative.” It is interesting, isn't it, which actions relativists choose to label as "relative."

But the more important question here is this: “Where did human beings (even atheists) even get the idea that some actions are Evil and others are Good?”

Good and Evil 
The Moral Argument for God works on the premise that everyone (universally!) acknowledges the existence of morals—right and wrong. You say, ‘What about criminals and the people that fill our overcrowded jails and prisons?’  Well, one may be the most notorious, cold-blooded mobster in 1940’s Chicago, but if you shoot up his hideout, he calls it Evil. The Moral Argument doesn’t assume people are good, but it states that everyone certainly knows when they’ve been wronged!

Here are the premises on which the Moral Argument rests...

a. All men know intuitively that there is a distinction between Good and Evil, especially when evil is done unto them. 

b. The fact that there is a distinction between Good and Evil requires the existence of a universal Moral Law to differentiate between them. 

c. The existence of a universal Moral Law differentiating between Good and Evil requires there to be a universal Moral Law-Giver.  

Conclusion: This Moral Law Giver must be God.

As an interesting historical anecdote, it was the Moral Argument that convinced CS Lewis—one of the world’s all-time greatest thinkers—to lay down his atheism and to worship at the feet of Jesus. He found it to be irresistibly compelling, and writes about it eloquently in his Mere Christianity.

Notice that we don’t have to agree on which acts are inherently Good and which are Evil to make the case. Some societies in the Middle East argue that a woman must cover her entire body. In other societies in the south pacific islands women wear virtually no clothing at all. Here in America, we can argue all day about birth control for instance. Divergences in moral theory do not undercut the moral argument; the fact remains that everyone believes some actions are good and others wrong. If someone doesn’t agree with that, just kick them in the shins and they soon will!

The main point is this: If you say there is really such thing as “right” and “wrong” you must acknowledge the existence of One who created and defined such categories in the first place!

Alvin Plantinga, recognized to be one of the most astute philosophers alive today, sums the argument well, 

“Could there really be any such thing as horrifying wickedness [if there were no God and we just evolved]? I don’t see how. There can be such a thing only if there is a way rational creatures are supposed to live, obliged to live…a [secular] way of looking at the world has no place for genuine moral obligation of any sort…and thus no way to say there is such a thing as genuine and appalling wickedness. Accordingly if you think there really is such a thing as horrifying wickedness (and not just an illusion of some sort), then you have a powerful argument [for the reality of God].”[i] 

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

[i] Quoted in Timothy Keller. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. P. 26-27.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pastors: Why You Need a Kindle (Or at Least the Free App!)

One of the greatest advances in technology that I am apprising myself of in recent months as a pastor is the incredible world of digital publishing. Not only does digital publishing greatly reduce the costs of purchasing books, commentaries, biographies, and out of print works, but I have also begun to be able to put more of my own content into the hands of my church members and believers around the world.

Advantages in  Digital Media
Amazon produces a simple hand-held device called the Kindle that is meant to be used as a document or book reader. There are currently a baker's dozen versions of the Kindle. Most of the more utilitarian versions are around $69 for purchase. The more advanced versions (like the Fire) are closer to an Ipad in function and cost around $200. 

Here are some of the great advantages of this kind of e-reader.

1. Most of the all-time great books are now totally free. If a book has gone into public domain (author's life + 75 years) chances are the book is now completely free. In my world of theology, this is a gold mine. Everything from Calvin's Institutes, to Wesley's Sermons, to Jonathan Edwards, to Luther's writings, to Robert Murray MacCheyne's journals will cost you nothing. You can load up on thousands of pages of material without spending one dollar beyond the Kindle purchase price.

2. The best publishers today are constantly giving away their books free or at greatly reduced prices. If you follow Crossway Books, P&R, or Ligonier Ministries on Twitter for instance, you will get updates on books featured for nearly free. I can't tell you how many times I have seen publishers give away their stuff for free or just a dollar. Of course, John Piper at Desiring God gives away all of his books in PDF form for absolutely no cost. There is simply no reason whatsoever that we should miss out on this age of technology.

3. Publishing is easier than ever. As an author, I have published books "the hard way" (i.e. paper and glue books through traditional publishers) and the "easy way" -- direct to Kindle Edition. In some respects, I prefer the latter, at least for my own congregation. I am able to write a book, put it through an editing process, and have it ready for my people in a much shorter time-frame. For instance, I recently prepared a six-chapter study on Christian missions that I am using for our upcoming trip to El Salvador. My people can download it to their Kindle or other device (see below) easily and study it together while on the trip!

4. Document reader.  If you have a job that requires you to read lots of PDF's or Word documents, you can simply send them to your device via email for free. As a pastor, I do this all the time as I grow weary of reading longer documents on the computer screen. The Kindle screen is easy on the eyes as it has no light source. Instead it uses an incredible process of magnetic ink. You can read for hours without the eyestrain of a lap top or computer screen.

The Kindle App
If you are not able to get a Kindle for the $69 dollar range, don't despair. You can download the Kindle Reader software to your laptop or desktop for free. Again, this puts thousands of volumes right before your eyes for no cost. If you own a tablet, or a smart phone (Iphone or Android) the application is free there as well. You can be reading Moby Dick, Cinderella, Swiss Family Robinson, Jekyll and Hyde or hundreds of other books in 60 seconds.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: John Bunyan. Pilgrim's Progress (Free Kindle Edition)

I have just now completed the Pilgrim's Progress for the third time and have loved it more with each reading. This small allegory is a classic piece of Puritan literature and a devotional masterpiece.

In this allegory, Bunyan traces Christian (representing all true believers who follow Jesus Christ) from the City of Destruction all the way to the Celestial City. After experiencing the weight of the burden of his sin, Christian is converted when the weight of his guilt falls off upon seeing the cross and the empty tomb. With the help of his allegorical sojourners--Evangelist, Help, Faithful, and Hopeful--the protagonist is able to persevere through unimaginable trials.

Christian endures the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Humiliation, fights off the foul demon Apollyon, watches Faithful's martyrdom, and survives imprisonment at Doubting Castle despite the tortures of the Giant Despair.

Throughout the work, Bunyan, himself an imprisoned Puritan during times of severe religious persecution, is instructing Christians on the great doctrines of the Christian religion: perseverance, true faith, the means of grace, spiritual warfare and more.

I found that the Kindle Edition was laid out well, the search features worked adequately, and the page enumeration was available in addition to location numbers for academic citations. Though some may find the original language archaic (King James-ish), my prayer is that this masterpiece will be rediscovered by another generation of modern pilgrims.

Matthew Everhard
Senior Pastor, Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Book Review: J.I. Packer. A Quest for Godliness.

I cannot imagine anyone more qualified to write on the Puritan vision for godliness than one of the eminent theologians of our day, the revered J.I. Packer. With lucidity and skill, Packer takes the reader through a brief history of the Puritan life and purpose. And yet this work is not strictly an historical work. Much of the genius of this book is in Packer's ability to take the reader into the inner workings of the Puritan mind.

Like a expert mechanic, Packer opens up the hood and shows the student the "engine" and its component parts within the Puritan worldview. Subjects such as the conscience, revivalism, preaching and the sermon, spiritual gifts, the Lord's Day, and marriage and family are all addressed with thorough documentation.

One of the special features of this work are the copious quotations from the original source writings themselves. In each and every chapter, Packer brings the reader into a close-encounter with the very men he calls the "Redwoods" of Christian theology. (Foremost among them are Owen and Baxter, over whose works Packer demonstrates thoroughgoing mastery). New readers in this field will find that, having completed this book, they have already met a few of the Puritans first-hand.

Rev. Matthew Everhard, Pastor, Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Brooksville Florida.

Book Review. Bruce Little (Ed.). Francis Schaeffer: A Heart and Mind for God

Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God was not exactly what I thought it would be when I purchased this brief book. Judging by the subtitle on the cover (a proverbial error!) I suspected this tiny work of about 100 pages would be a mini-biography of the great apologist. It was not. This is not to say that I was disappointed, however.

Instead the book contains five brief chapters that were given at a conference on the life and thought of Francis Schaeffer. Notable among the contributers are Udo Middleman (would that more parents name their children Udo!) the son-in-law of Rev. Schaeffer, and a key expert on his personal life as well as his theology.

Also memorable were the two essays presented by Jarram Barrs, a former L'Abri student of Schaeffer, and now one of the foremost experts on Schaeffer studies at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

Dick Keyes presents a well-written article on Sentimentality at the end of the book, although it is not directly connected with Schaeffer, other than that Keyes suggests this is the kind of work that Schaeffer might have done had he been alive today. Perhaps. The inclusion of this essay, while helpful, certainly bore little relevance to the title or subtitle of the book.

While I was hoping for a short biographical introduction to the life of Schaeffer, these brief chapters gave some helpful context to shed light on some of Schaeffer's own books.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida

Book Review. John Frame. Worship in Spirit and Truth.

Although Professor Frame has been no stranger to theological controversy in the last few years (see his recent Escondido Theology), this work is an irenic piece that is gentle, helpful, and unifying for the Body of Christ. I expected Frame to take a much harder stance on some contemporary issues related to corporate worship (i.e. contemporary musical forms) inasmuch as Frame has a renowned reputation as a gifted and traditional organist.

I was delighted to see a conservative writer (Frame is ordained in the PCA) express his desire to be generous regarding traditional versus contemporary issues and the "worship wars." Frame's interpretation of the Regulative Principle (the idea that only what is commanded in Scripture is permissible) is broad enough to bind together Reformed believers of various worship styles.

Frame spends much of the first half of the book guiding the reader through the theological underpinnings of gathered worship from both Old and New Testaments. He amply helps his audience draw conclusions from Scripture that lead to the conviction held by most in the Reformed tradition- that Scripture alone should guide worship. Yet in the second half of the work, Frame answers many practical questions (Is drama permissible? Should Psalms alone be sung? Should we lift our hands or dance with our bodies?) that often plague modern worship leaders. He kindly applies some degree of latitude to the strictness with which many others in our tradition apply the Regulative Principle.

As a pastor myself, I found this work to be very helpful as I endeavor to organize worship services for my own church.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Book Review: David Dickson. The Elder and His Work.

Each year our session (board of elders) chooses one book to study for our annual elders' retreat. On these yearly outings, we pray for our church, and discuss the spiritual task before us. This year we selected The Elder and His Work by David Dickson.

Although this brief work is written by a Scottish Presbyterian Elder from the 1800's, the subject matter of these 130 pages is timeless. Updated by Philip Graham Ryken and George Kennedy McFarland, the scope of this book covers all of the basic fields of ministry responsibility related to the office of Ruling Elder.

Dickson covers such topics as the character of the elder, his primary duties, ministering to the sick, church discipline, family worship, and more. Each of the updated chapters come with study questions provided by the modern editors. Here, I believe is the advance of this latest edition. These questions will provide your elders and mine great fodder for thought as we discuss and analyze the spiritual health of our own congregations today.

Yes, this book has some dated concepts. Particularly dated is the parish (proximate geography) visitation concept used in old Scotland. But I am sure that this work has challenged our elders to consider again our great, Scriptural calling and charge to lead our congregation with humility and wisdom.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Book Review: R.C. Sproul. The Mystery of the Holy Spirit

This is not one of Sproul's more famous books. It will probably not soon rise to the prominence of his "The Holiness of God" for instance. Nevertheless, "The Mystery of the Holy Spirit" should be considered one of Sproul's more helpful and practical works of basic-level theology.

Most Christian believers suffer from one of two problems: either they are woefully ignorant of the Holy Spirit's nature (and power!), or else they seem riddled by poor teaching from word of faith Neo-Pentecostals.

Sproul, one of the more skillful theologians at bridging the gap between Sunday School and seminary, does a superb job of filling in the gaps of ignorance of basic instruction in these weighty issues and deconstructing the commonest errors about the Holy Ghost.

Here, Sproul adequately covers the basics of pneumatology (the study of the Spirit). Chapter topics include the Spirit's relationship in the ontological Trinity with Father and Son; the Spirit's role in regeneration; and the Fruit of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22).

Most helpful to this pastor, however, was Sproul's masterful job in chapter 8 in explaining the complex doctrine of "the baptism of the Holy Spirit," one of the most distorted teachings common to those prone to charismatic excess. Sproul shows from Scripture that the baptism of the Spirit is not a second blessing that differentiates super-Christians from ordinary Christians, but is rather the joyful inclusion and drenching of the believer with the Holy Spirit given as a free gift to all the regenerate at conversion.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Thrill of Victory

Goal! Touchdown! Score! Slam Dunk!

These common expressions get a crowd excited  in the midst of watching or attending a sporting event. More than a single play though, a last-second ending in which a team miraculously defeats their opponent to achieve victory serves as a fundamental benchmark of excitment in sport. As a University of Florida alum, I still recall fondly sitting in the student section watching my team block a potential game-winning field goal against South Carolina on the last play of the game to win 17-16. The Gators went on to win the college football national championship that year and that blocked kick and that game proved to be a decisive moment that season. I remember the true, unadulterated joy I felt as myself and 90,000 others simultaneously cried out in adulation for our team.

What is it about dramatic finishes that amazes us? Whether a movie with a plot twist, a great solo that ends with a flourish, or a myriad of other things, we as human beings have a love for the dramatic. The Bible shows us that our creator also had a similar flare for fantastic finishes.

Through Jesus' earthly ministry, he claims himself to be and is revealed to be the Son of God, God in the flesh. Despite this claim, and many miracles and revelations that reveal him to be who he claims to be, his contemporaries vehemently disagree with him and arrest him. He is tried in court and is ordered to be crucified. The claim that he is the "Christ," the Savior of God's elect people, looks to be in serious doubt. The drama peaks in Matthew 27:46 when Jesus cries out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Anyone reading this story would assume that at that point, the story was over. Jesus died, the victory had been achieved by the enemy, death had claimed another victim, and it was time for everyone to go home and go about their lives. However, the sovereign God of the universe proved that death would not have victory over him. Matthew 28 reveals that the Son of God had overcome the grave. When the two Mary's come to his gravesite, they are confronted by Jesus in verse 9- And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him.

Wow! What a fantastic finish to this story, and as believers, what a fantastic story we have been made a part of. We have seen God come to earth and perfectly obey the law, defeat sin and death, all to atone for our sin and make us righteous. What a wonderful message!

After the Gator game, I called everyone I knew to share with them my excitement about the outcome of the game. Likewise, the disciples, after seeing Jesus alive, committed the rest of their lives to share the message that Jesus was alive and had achieved victory over sin and death! Our calling is the same... Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.


Drew Taylor
RTS Orlando
MDiv Student (3rd Year)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

An Open Letter to Stay-at-Home Christians

Note: The following fictional open letter is addressed to the growing demographic of self-professing Christians who prefer to worship at home than publicly in a fellowship of other Christian believers at church.

Dear Eugene,

I want to thank you for the kind email that you wrote me recently after we met by God's providence at the Holy Grounds cafe last Thursday. I believe you are right that it was "a divine appointment" that we ran into one another, as it afforded us an opportunity to renew a conversation that we begun months ago.

Although you have chosen to no longer worship with us at First Avenue Reformed Church, I was greatly encouraged to hear that your confidence in the grace of our Lord still remains strong. You described yourself as experiencing a new joy and freedom that you had not known in a long time. For this, I am grateful.

I have to admit that part of me was deeply jealous when you described the relief that you have felt since you walked away from the frictions of the Deacon board! Our work in serving the hurting persons of our congregation is no doubt messy. Sometimes hurting people can be the cruelest of all! Since you left, those tensions have not been fully resolved, and I admit that some of the other men you mentioned are as difficult to get along with as ever. We are such an imperfect lot! In this sense, the church will always be "full of hypocrites" as you alleged.

But are not these very tensions also part of our sanctification? It is true that you were wronged by our brother Carl. I have had to apologize for our many failures as a board and as a church much more often than I would like. It is my experience, however, that those same conflicts are really the necessary and silent hand of our Master Carpenter applying His rasp and sandpaper to our lives in order to refine us.

This prompts me to ask an important question: if you continue to worship alone in your home to avoid these kinds of conflict, would you not also be missing out on the joys of their resolution? In other words, how do you intend to practice forgiveness if you seek to avoid all those whom you may actually have to one day forgive? Is not our own Christian walk made more perfect by those whose walk is not?

Eugene, I too covet those times of personal prayer and devotional worship that you described taking place in the "prayer closet." Jesus commanded as much. You are right to cite Matthew 6:6 in cultivating a "personal relationship" with Jesus. But I don't think we must choose between "personal" and "corporate" as though they were mutually exclusive.

True, those times alone with Christ in the secret place are invaluable. But I have to confess to you that I am doubtful that our Lord meant those should be our only times of worship! Are we not commanded to worship alongside others in Scripture (Hebrews 10:25)? How then shall you fulfill the dozens of "one another" texts in Paul's epistles if not in the context of a local church like those to whom Paul originally wrote? Is not the first word of the Lord's Prayer the plural possessive, "Our"?

You mentioned that the Greek word "church" does not mean a building, nor does worship require any certain number of people in order to be authentic. You even quoted Matthew 18:19 when the Lord exhorted us that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them." But come now Eugene, surely you don't think that your reluctance to submit to church membership or the body of elders is justified by this text, do you? In context, my brother, this passage is in regard to church discipline; a "severe grace" of God that I am afraid is quite difficult to impose upon oneself!

While we are speaking of the means of grace, how do you intend to practice the Lord's Supper while alone, if at all? Or baptism? Unless you have jettisoned these practices too as "formal," "religious," and "institutional!" Are these not the very signs and seals of God's grace that Christ has given--even commanded--us to perform in his name? Are they not impossible when alone?

Yes, I am sure that the online sermons of Piper and Driscoll that you have grown so fond of are a means of grace as well, so to speak. You were correct when you said they are a blessing to millions. But that's just the problem right there. No matter how wonderful these gifted men of God are (and we thank God for their ministries) they will never know you, nor can you ever be known to them. As gifted as they are, they won't be able to correct you when you go astray or exercise discipline in your life if your doctrine should go amiss.

Perhaps that's what's so alluring.

Your brother in Christ,


Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following me on Twitter @matt_everhard

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Cosmological Argument: The Existence of God Demonstrated by the Existence of the Universe

Have you ever wondered why there is something rather than nothing?

All things being considered fairly, it’s probably more likely that nothing would have existed than something. If nothing ever existed, we wouldn’t have to ask where any of it comes from. There wouldn’t even be an “us” to ponder the question.

But that fact that something exists  rather than nothing is a primary clue to approach the God Question. The fact that something exists--anything--begs the question: where did it come from?

The Cosmological Argument
One of the classical "proofs" for the existence of God is called the Cosmological Argument. It is called the cosmological argument because the word “cosmos” means universe. It is an argument for the existence of God based on the existence of a universe. The cosmological argument is centuries old. It goes something like this:

    A. Some things exist. Would anyone really dispute this point? If you do, raise your hand. If you raised your hand you just raised a thing and confirmed Premise A.
    B.  All things that exist are either caused (contingent) or uncaused (necessary). Really there are no other categories. I doubt many would deny Premise B either.   
    C. If caused (contingent) things exist, there must be an uncaused (necessary) thing as their ultimate source.
    Conclusion: This uncaused (necessary) thing is God.

All contingent things are caused or made by something else. When we take any one object (a desk, tree, a shoe, a man) and consider its origin, we can trace it to other contingent things. In a long series of successive "causes" we trace caused (or contingent) things back to other caused (contingent) things, to still other caused (contingent) things until eventually we have to say—there must have been an uncaused cause that started the entire series in the first place.

Unmoved Mover
Aristotle (384-322 BC) in Book 12 of his “Metaphysics” called this necessary logical starting point the “Unmoved Mover.” Aristotle himself was not a Christian. He wasn’t a Jew either. His “Unmoved Mover” was a far cry from the God of the Bible that we know and love. But at least this pagan philosopher recognized that at the starting point of history there must have been a necessary being that himself is not caused, created, or made, or initiated by anything else. There must have been an Unmoved Mover!

Some will say, “We science people call that the ‘Big Bang,’” i.e. when the universe spontaneously erupted into existence. But naked science has some real philosophical problems. The Big Bang cannot qualify as the Unmoved Mover because it does not explain what caused it to go “bang” in the first place. As a theory, it doesn’t explain how “matter” got there or what caused it to explode two seconds before it did. Eventually, Aristotle (and Thomas Aquinas after him) would say: we must ultimately come to a being that does the causing, without Himself being caused.

In other words, underlying all contingent things, is a necessary being--God.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is currently doing a sermon series entitled He is There and He is Not Silent in which he is considering the cumulative case for the existence of God.

How "Pro-Life" Are You? Radical Enough for Nursery Duty?

Our church is pro-life. Period.

The sanctity of human life is part of our official theology as a Reformed, Bible-believing evangelical church. We unabashedly preach the sanctity of human life from passages like Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139, and Jeremiah 1:5. I typically get hearty "amens" when I do.

Every year in January we set aside a special Sunday to honor the work of life-ministry near the anniversary of Roe Vs. Wade in our prayers. We pray for life-ministries, and ask the Lord to forgive us for our spiritual lethargy in not advancing the cause more ardently.

We are proud to have launched a city ministry from our home church that regularly works towards the cause. A New Generation was founded by one of our members and her husband, an elder. A New Generation gives free  away free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, life-coaching, and provides whole-family ministry to those in crisis.

Our church is pro-life. Period. 

And yet I continue to marvel at how we struggle to staff our nursery on Sunday Mornings and Wednesday nights.

This prompts me to wonder just how pro-life the people in the pews really are. Pro-life enough to vote on matters of conscience in crucial elections? Absolutely! And oh how emotively we discuss the candidates and their positions on life!  I can't name one person in our church that wouldn't list a candidate's views on abortion as a top priority.

Pro-life enough to give funding to our annual Life Banquet each October? Definitely! Give me a few  moments to cite some current statistics on abortion rates, and I can probably hand you several check right now.

Pro-life enough to take a turn in the nursery once a month to serve those that we love so passionately (in theory)? That seems to be another story.

Haven't we been arguing all along that life inside the womb is qualitatively equal to life outside the womb? That the imago dei in human beings before birth is as real and present as it is post-birth?  Indeed. Why then the baffling loss of passion once those beautiful children don diapers, bring their runny noses, and enter our church nursery? I'm at a loss to explain it.

It seems to me that a pro-life church ought to have no problems staffing a nursery.

I can tell you about the family who raised a child they rescued from poverty in Russia. I can tell you a heart-warmer about another family who adopted a child from Eastern Europe. Or still another about the child rescued from a drug and violence filled home. These are just anecdotes from my own church, and there are several others.

But when it comes to getting volunteers (especially men) to move from the pews to the nursery department once a month to take care of the children we've rescued, it's not exactly as easy as "taking candy from a baby."

Just saying...

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is also the author of Abortion: The Evangelical Perspective, a great book with a really ugly cover.