Tuesday, February 22, 2011


June 2010

Mr. Hennig, we found your sermons on the internet. We are pleased to see that you welcome our feedback. Here are the notes from our scrutiny and discussion of your sermon on Lamentations.

Mr. Hennig, Mount Calvary Lutheran, Untitled Sermon, Lamentations 3.22-33.

Summary: (He reads the text, then mentions the various accessories that adorn his church and uniform during the season of Pentecost and what they signify.) The topic is growth in faith. (He gives examples of growth: from nature, family, and the athlete.) Muscles must be ripped before they will grow bigger and stronger. This is why it is said, ‘No pain, no gain.’ This phrase may apply to Christian growth as well, but with the following caution. Our growth comes from the work of God, through word, sacrament, and suffering, not our own efforts. Our text indicates that it is God who permits and even brings times of trial into our lives. It is hard for us to understand that God would cause grief. We often hear that God is love, and that he always shows his people favor. But as our text says, he also causes grief. God’s discipline and law come to us according to our need, to bring us back if we have strayed. (He now gives some context to the passage, which pertains to God’s punishment of his people for their faithless actions.) God brought discipline. When right and proper, he disciplines us. How should we respond? We turn to his word. We learn from it and listen to it. (He quotes a supporting passage.) Because it is a benefit to us, the discipline is not a cause for complaint. God is doing what is best for us. The children may react in a threatening, rebellious way when corrected by their parents. But because of the good they are aiming to accomplish, do the parents not look on in sadness at such a reaction? Do we cry out like children that God’s ways are unjust? We must embrace discipline and confess our sins. We are called to endure in patience and silence. Abide in him with hope. He does not discipline in rage, but in love. His compassion and mercy are not suspended when he disciplines. As we endure, God calls us to look upon the One who suffered for us—who endured all grief. Truly, we have failed to behave as we should in suffering. But Christ our Saviour has not failed. Our God suffered in our place. Therefore we know that a loving God watches over us. He has suffered the pains of hell—the eternal consequences of sin so that we would not. What a God to trust! We have rebelled. Jesus has not. He lived the perfect life. Salvation came to him for us. Discipline is for drawing us to God’s Son. We know that God is our salvation and that he will deliver us. God will bring our times of grief to an end. The children of Israel were eventually brought back. God’s mercies never end for us either. This is why we wait for his salvation. And by Jesus Christ, God has already delivered us from the greatest grief we faced: sin, death, and the devil. All has been overcome for us. Salvation has come to each one of us. Our sins are forgiven. The promise of eternal life is ours. Do not fear God’s discipline. The discipline on the cross is the salvation of the Lord. This is our salvation.

Remarks: Mr. Hennig begins by reading his text, and very shortly after that begins to expound it. He seems to be following a sermon program, which keeps him nicely hemmed in to handle important matters. Scripture verses are frequently brought in to support the text preached on, and they always suit the purpose. His illustration from the athletic world is excellent, especially because no base character from the world of sports is brought in to soil it. Incidentally, we are also thankful that no jokes are made during the sermon, and no amusing stories told. This is a refreshing change from what we find in other churches. Mr. Hennig seems like a serious man who is ‘about his Father’s business.’ There is no sense that he is putting on a show, as we have discovered in pastors elsewhere; he is humbly and confidently preaching, with a sincere aim to convey the word of God. He is not trying to ‘fit in,’ and cares more for delivering the word faithfully than for what listeners might think. He is not a ‘salesman,’ but more like the ambassador the Bible commands him to be. The sermon does not sound rehearsed, but strikes us as a message containing facts and lessons the speaker is familiar with. He really believes what he preaches and is glad to preach it. His voice is loud and clear, and he enunciates well. Mr. Hennig is passionate, reverent, and we believe he may even have unction. We get a sense of authority from this pulpit, and therefore also a sense that we can stand on the word of God that is preached from it. He seems to know the difference between law and gospel. Many pastors today do not. And he is aware that salvation is a deliverance that has a future aspect to it. That God brings trials into our lives is a comforting fact too often ignored or rejected. This pastor is not ashamed to preach it like it is. His sermon is not a soft-handed, ‘non-threatening’ conversation, but an actual sermon challenging Christians to bear the rod of God in patience and silence. The sermon also has a thought-provoking effect, which is another excellent aspect worth mentioning, for a sermon ought to cause the hearers to meditate. For instance, he calls discipline God’s ‘alien work.’ This term causes us to reflect on our fall from innocence and the sin nature incurred by disobedience. Since the topic of discipline so obviously involves the Christian life, we do not worry that he takes it for granted that his listeners are saved. The unsaved would probably realize their exclusion from his peculiar pronouncements of peace, hope, and eternal life. At one point we had a touch of anxiety. It was when he said that Jesus was “patient for the salvation of the Lord.” Our anxiety was increased when he continued with, “salvation came to him.” But we believe, upon closer examination, our anxiety to be groundless. Because of Jesus being our substitute, there is a sense in which he endured with patience and looked to the Father for deliverance. And it may be said that salvation came to him by virtue of his death, so long as it came to him for us alone. And this, we think, is Mr. Hennig’s meaning. We have no major faults to point out. We are tempted to mention brevity as a minor one, for the sermon is only sixteen minutes long. Maybe the pastor is under some unfortunate (though probably unnecessary) time constraint. And so this fault perhaps might be fixed. But a sermon does not need to be long, only true and convincing, which this one is. It is better to be left wanting more than to be left weary. There is a lot of precious content packed into a short space here. And it is well delivered. No specific examples are given to show what discipline and grief would consist of. This could be mentioned as another minor fault. That said, we are obviously quite pleased with the sermon. Maybe the pastor could make more of them available through the internet at the same time, unless he is worried that some saints might use the site as a substitute for attending church. Then we understand if he does not.

Conclusion: We do not follow a church calendar pointing out the various seasons of religion, like Pentecost, Advent, and Epiphany. But for the sake of lively, sober, sound preaching, we would put up with this. And we do not object to prayers by rote, so long as the pastor’s heart is involved. This sermon, and probably the whole service, is well structured, doctrinal, direct, decent, and even devout, which, I suppose, is what we should expect from a ‘word and sacrament’ ministry. 

Mr. Hennig, we cannot test your preaching by one sermon alone. You can expect further comments on two sermons more. You may get in touch with us by any means.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


June 2010

Mr. Doeksen, we have decided to tackle another one of your sermons. It would be rash to judge your teaching ministry on the basis of just one. If you listen to and absorb the comments that we make, we have no doubt that it will do you some good. We urge you to appeal to God for support as you read this analysis through.

Mr. Doeksen, Deer Park Alliance, Confession of Sin: Habits.

Summary: There are two works that need to be done: arresting and lifting. The questions I want to leave hanging in your soul are these: Am I for real? Who do I really belong to? Maybe there’s a habit that has reared its ugly head again, and you think, ‘I don’t know if I’m for real. Maybe I’m of the devil.’ In our text, you have people practicing sin and people whose sin is not to practice a law. This last group may have looked religious. These two groups are really of the same crowd. They just don’t hang with each other. (He’s in 1 John 3.) “What do my habits really say about who I think I am—about who I believe I am—about who I believe I belong to.” What it means to be born of God is to be practicing things that look right—that bring wholeness—that care for creation. We are redeemed to this, in Jesus Christ. Jesus died for our sin—for our lack of doing righteousness. He rose to redeem us to the practice of righteousness. He who abides is confessing at every turn. He does not practice sin. He does not want to sin anymore. You say, ‘I keep sinning. Am I born of God?’ Yes you are, for you are not still building this life on the practice of sin. And in your question is this desire not to keep on sinning. Making excuses for sin or ignoring it is to build a life that has more of it. We all begin in the same condition and can only sin until we see a Person who has never sinned. Maybe today’s the day for you to take your first look. “If you have seen Jesus’ life, in part, his death on the cross, and his resurrected life, and you believe it very simply, and want to enter into it, you are a child of God.” But you have not seen him in full. And you go to the Bible to see more of him; you pray, and ask for help. So what can you do to grow? You confess that you are not all that you desire to be. And then you practice acts of obedience. The first act is baptism. (He touches on what that symbolizes.) Then there’s the continual act of Communion. (He touches on what that signifies.) “I’m convinced that no doubt, this morning, as many mornings when we do Communion, there will be those that do this for the very first time because their hearts are awakened to want to be a child of God, and…they experience the Spirit of God in them.”

Remarks: From statements made in this sermon it appears that Mr. Doeksen knows that the gospel concerns the death of Christ for sin. Happily, this sermon contains no long, titillating stories. There is a little conviction in his preaching. And the preaching convicts a time or two. For instance, when addressing professors of faith who may in fact be unbelievers, he says, “When was the last time you stopped and cared for someone even though you were busy.” This is good.

Here are the faults. (1) The text is not really exposited. The several verses he speaks on that regard the commission of sin all come across as meaning the same thing because he does not deal with any verse to the depth that would bring out its distinction from the rest. Usually, when he attempts to unfold a verse, he just ends up repeating himself: “Everyone who makes the practice of sinning—they are really doing sin.” The mere recital and repetition of the words contained in the text is all we get. We could get this without going to church, just by reading. Truly, it would be better and safer to stay at home and read, for when he does attempt to go beyond tautology, he just confuses the text and leaves it in a garbled condition. We don’t know whether to rebuke him or commend him for saying, “Feel free to zone out on what I’m saying if it means that you’re reading this text again because this text will do a work in you just by reading it.” True, we would get more by reading the text than by listening to this sermon. But the teacher is supposed to be able to take us from reading to learning. This is why we have teachers. This is why we come to church.

(2) The teaching is too abstract. When modern pastors do not exposit their chosen text, they usually use it as a springboard to loosely and falsely teach on the theme found there. But when the chosen text is not exposited, and yet the teacher chooses to stay with it, you get abstractions instead of teachings. This is the case here. And the result is this oddity: a sermon that is all theory, yet without any doctrinal content. He promises to show us the textual framework. But we never get to see it because no exposition has been done. He gives us no sense at all of how this text should be divided and classified. And so no wonder that his theory does not connect with the particulars of life. The only part of the skeleton we get to see is the head: confession of sin. He tries to give us the rest. But how can he? He has not seen the rest any more than his listeners have. And so he tries to attach the skeleton to this head without having seen so much as the next bone to be assembled. What can the outcome be but a desperate, clumsy grasping after words? He is like a hummingbird hovering before a feeder without a beak to drink from. We don’t know how a pastor can go on in abstract language for forty-seven minutes without really saying anything. But the main cause is likely the absence of exposition.

(3) The preaching is careless. We’ll mention just one instance. To be anxious about our state may in fact be an indication that we are in a state of grace. To be worried about our sin may indicate that we are born again. But if the states of nature and grace are left undefined or even inadequately defined, then we must assume that the listeners may still be confused about such matters. Therefore, it is risky business to assure any of these anxious listeners that their anxiety is a sign that they are in possession of grace, and therefore safe for heaven. Their anxiety may be misplaced, and therefore constitute no proof whatsoever that they are in a saving state. For instance, suppose that you are anxious about your state, but to you a saving state is the belief that man is ‘resurrected’ to become one with the universe. Does this anxiety point to your being saved in the real biblical sense? Or suppose you are anxious over your sin only because of the physical or even psychical harm it is doing you? Does a selfish anxiety point to any true possession of grace? And so anxiety itself must be defined before we dare assure anxious persons that the anxiety they have is proof that they will be found righteous before the God who will soon judge the world. His teaching has not torn down falsehood nor explained the way to heaven well enough to assure anxious persons of anything except that they must be in danger.

(4) There is no depth. To say that we ought to confess is not enough. We need to be told what confession is and what sins might need to be confessed. And no incentive for confessing is ever given. He could have told us something about the devil that he mentions here and there, or something about an angry God, or something about hell. But we get nothing on these moving truths. The closest he comes to mentioning hell as a possible destiny is when he says something like, “Am I of the devil?” Who is this devil? Why should I not want to be on his side? What’s the difference? He tells us no details. There is absolutely nothing in this message to give a soul a shiver, much less make one tremble. He prays for trembling. But this kind of curtsy preaching will never produce any.

(5) His approach is timid. We’ll go out on a limb (a very short, safe, and sturdy one) and guess that this pastor is called ‘Pastor Carlin’ by the members of his church. In like fashion, the apostle John is called ‘Pastor John’ by Pastor Carlin. If we were to search long enough and hard enough, some praiseworthy preacher might be found identifying the apostle in the exact same way. But if so, we doubt very much that he would do so as a matter of practice. Pet names are for boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives. But regardless of whether Mr. Doeksen is called Pastor Carlin or not, his habitual identification of the apostle as ‘Pastor John’ points to his low opinion of the pulpit. The minister is supposed to be above his members, a person to look up to, a person to emulate. He is not supposed to be just one of the boys. Clearly, Mr. Doeksen is no more holy than his members are. His demeanor does not elicit any desire in us of aspiring to his level of sanctification. When you are not separate from your people, you have no authority, and because of this there will be no power in your message. A man is not likely to reprove his peers. It will be an uncomfortable thing to reprove them of anything. Mr. Doeksen seems to want to humble his people, but without hurting anyone. This is impossible to do. He doesn’t want to warn, and he doesn’t want to command. He tries to make the children of God obey. But any biblical tool he might use to accomplish this must be too awkward or frightening for him to wield. He never comes down to what sins ought to be confessed, except when he swiftly alludes to the habits of gossip and backbiting. And yet he says that the visitors are getting harassed for their lifestyles by this sermon! The whole service is downy and soft. And it lacks the solemnity required by the subject at hand. For example, is it exalting enough to the Lord to say that when he appears he will greet us with ‘a hug and a handshake’? Does this not seem like an underestimate of what will occur? Does a meeting like this not strike us as too familiar and informal? When we meet Jesus, will we not be prostrate before his glorious presence or at least on bended knee? Where in the Bible do we read of Jesus coming back to simply shake our hand and give us a quick hug as if he just returned from a weekend away from his friends? What posture does the Lord’s glorious presence provoke? What does the apostle John, the son of thunder, reveal to us, “The four and twenty elders fall down before him” (Revelation 4.10.) Handshakes are for equals. Worship is for Jesus.

(6) There is no church discipline. For the honor that is due Jesus for his vicarious death, for the protection of sinners, and for the maintenance of purity among saints, Communion is reserved by careful pastors for those who have demonstrated a valid profession of faith. But this pastor invites, without any examination at all, anyone, including visitors, apparently, to participate in this holy ordinance. Is Communion holy when it is no longer set apart for those alone who have appropriated Christ by faith? If any person chancing to come to church on Sunday is permitted by us to join with the saints in holy Communion, then are we not saying that God really makes no difference between saints and heathen? Are we not saying that faith is no more necessary to an admission to God’s privileges than unbelief and irreligion? If Communion is open to all, then there must be no distinguishing holiness about it, for something holy is by definition ‘set apart.’ If Communion is this open, it is no more holy than a pancake breakfast at the rodeo. By such openness we are saying that all persons, regardless of belief or lifestyle, have the sufficiency of Christ’s death to their account—this body and blood of Christ for their present and future hope. And this is not true. This indiscreet, indiscriminate openness is like tossing the body and blood of our Lord to the dogs. Is the Lord’s Supper holy? Then “give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7.6.) This pastor might never be so ‘impolite’ as to speak like this. But this speech of our Lord is to be highly valued; and, if not to be copied in conversation, it is at least for the pastor’s practical imitation in the sanctuary. We cannot think of a more apt application of these words than to the ordinance of Communion. It’s as if Jesus is warning his disciples to make a proper memorial of him, set apart from unbelievers, hypocrites, and nosy, unrepentant visitors. The impure treat the priceless jewels of the gospel like a swine would pearls. And this pearl of ours in Communion is all that signifies the holiest deed that was ever done or that ever could be done. Shall we not set apart, then, what has been consecrated by the Lord himself as most holy? Do we love him enough to do this? Do we love him so much as to be ‘impolite’ to others for his sake?

Conclusion: We perceive that the lesson in this sermon comes down to this: You’re not going to see Jesus fully until he comes back; so don’t be too hard on yourself. For lack of exposition, or out of fear, or because of nervousness, this pastor is guilty of mealy-mouthed speaking. What does this mean? By this rude sounding term we mean that the sermon seems to proceed from someone who is “unwilling to express facts or opinions plainly and frankly” (Funk and Wagnalls.) Here is an instance of that to show what we mean. Near the beginning of his sermon he states that his intention is to leave hanging in the listeners’ souls the following questions: Am I for real? Who do I really belong to? But when it comes time to challenge the people to examine themselves, the best he can do is: “What do my habits really say about who I think I am—about who I believe I am—about who I believe I belong to?” You have to go out of your way to speak like this. It is a typical case of mealy-mouthed language. ‘Who I believe I am’ and ‘who I believe I belong to’ speak of my being assured or not, of salvation. But this question of assurance is not the fundamental issue that he said he was going to deal with. More important are the questions, ‘who I am’ and ‘who I belong to.’ But he does not come down to this most basic, vital issue of our actual state because his foremost intention is not to offend anyone. To come right out and question the salvation of anyone is unthinkable to him. He can barely insinuate the possibility of someone being not ‘for real.’ Now this mealy-mouthed behavior comes with a sort of insincerity. It just goes with the territory. But we are convinced that he is sincere in his effort to preach, so long as no one gets hurt. Because of this sincerity we would like to be more positive. But he minces words throughout his whole message; he even does it in the prayer preceding the message. To mince: “diminish or moderate the force or strength of language; to say or express with affected primness or elegance; to alter (an oath, etc.) to a milder or euphemistic form; to walk with short steps or affected daintiness” (Ibid.) Remember this question he uses, ‘Am I for real?’ This is euphemistic language for, ‘Am I really saved from the penalty of sin, which is, ultimately, eternal torment in hell?’ He cannot bring himself to speak plainly, bluntly, and biblically. And so instead he suggests that we ask ourselves, ‘Am I for real?’ or at most, ‘Am I of the devil?’ This is poor preaching indeed. Truly, the summary does not come close to exhibiting the poverty of this sermon. We have been generous, though not dishonest, in our construction of it. Much of his chaos is due to his careless delivery. If he were to simply read cautiously prepared statements in place of extemporizing, much chaos would be avoided. But the harsh truth is that Mr. Doeksen does not have what it takes to make and deliver a good sermon. He doesn’t have the heart, nor the understanding, and perhaps not the will. He certainly doesn’t have the tools. Neither does he have the discernment and discipline required for conducting a holy service. It seems as if he has never once read a single textbook on systematic theology. Neither is there any evidence of his having studied any basic rules for interpreting Scripture. And we should like to apologize for saying so, but it seems like he has never so much as read the Bible through. He probably has. But if so, he’s just not thinking through the sweep of Scripture when he’s preparing his sermon. Something is disconnected. All we can do is to put it as honestly as that. More harm would be done, and no doubt has already been done by others, through flattery.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


December 2009

Mr. Doeksen, we found your sermon on the internet. We then listened to it in the spirit of the noble Bereans. Then we came together as a group to discuss our findings. We have put our exercise into the form of this document in order to share our findings with you. We thought you might be interested to know what some very careful listeners gleaned from your sermon. 

Mr. Doeksen, Deer Park Alliance, August 30, 2009, Abiding in his Word—Obedience.

Summary: (He thanks the church for its acts of obedience and asks for the members to consider their role in something called ‘Odyssey Park.’) Elevating Jesus and renewing life are the church priorities. Preparations are underway for the singing Christmas tree, which is a local mission effort. God is at work in us, doing these incredible things. (He prays according to his obedience theme, petitioning God for the visitors to experience a sense of belonging from God and for God to reveal himself to them. Then he asks for God to speak through his Spirit and to soften hearts to listen. After this he gives a list of who we are from something called ‘The Stella Awards,’ Stella being this woman who successfully sued a burger chain for not warning her that the coffee they sold to her was hot. And so he recounts the top seven outrageous suing victories in the ‘Stella’ list.) These awards are a reflection upon ourselves. Our tendency is to look inward when things go right, outward when things go wrong. (He gives examples of how we do this, beginning first with the men, then the women, and finally, the kids.) All of these behaviors have to do with our misunderstanding of faith and obedience and how they fit together—of how God has designed a life for us based on what he has done. It all starts with Jesus and what he has done on the cross. Then we live out the implications. A redefinition of faith comes from 1 John 5.1-12. Verses 4 and 6 are the key verses of this passage. There are two aspects of faith: the acts of faith and the gifts of faith. Confusion comes to our lives when we misapply either one of these: when we look inward for one of them when we should be looking outward. We look outward for the acts of faith. For the gifts of faith we look inward. We need to flip those back and forth. (He tries to show this from the text.) “Faith is done by looking inwardly and answering the call in terms of your responsibility to obey God’s commands.” The commandments are hard but not burdensome. The burdensome tasks are what wear us out. Obeying God is not like that because God is with us in our obedience. By obeying we realize how much God is with us and how much we need him. His commands seem burdensome when we are not doing them. Look inwardly to your responsibility. Look outwardly for the gifts of grace. (He tries to explain the spirit, the water, and the blood from verse 8.) This life of faith— these acts of obedience are gifts we receive. (He tries to explain why John wrote the epistle, then drifts into prayer for God to help as we obey.)

Remarks: Mr. Doeksen seems to be sincere in his attempt to teach. Much of the content is superficial; but he does try to bring a point across. And it feels as though the humor that happens is incidental, not contrived; but the levity that results is really his own fault for choosing the ridiculous ‘Stella Awards’ to preach on. A sermon on obedience looks suspicious when it follows an appeal for contributions. We do not say for sure that there is an agenda here. But the pastor should be careful to avoid the appearance of an agenda.

Here are the main faults. (1) Lack of structure. We don’t get any sense of where the sermon begins or ends. There are no points to the sermon. The pastor drifts in and out of prayer without warning. In other words, there is no distinction between the service and the sermon, or between the sermon and the preliminary remarks about how well the church is doing. The pastor needs to find some model to follow. This should have been taken care of at the seminary level.

(2) Worldly content and atmosphere. The main point of the sermon ends up being this worldly business of the ‘Stella Awards,’ for this is actually woven in throughout the whole message! We shouldn’t even need a textbook to tell us that the anecdote, story, or news item should be made to serve the sermon, not vice versa. It seems unlikely that even today’s seminary would teach a pastor to make a sermon revolve around something like a news article. But this could be the case. The only piece of information that is memorable to us from our listening is this ridiculous award news, for it permeates the message so much as to cast a cloud over everything else. And there is nothing in the Stella story except that which tends to titillate our lust for hearing strange things. But he actually calls this list from the ‘Stella Awards’ “a very important list…this is a profound list that, I think, will shape your life.” Aren’t we supposed to have our lives shaped by Scripture? He probably got this quaint, farcical list from the same place he got his nameless dictionary: the internet. The stories in this list, therefore, might not be anything more than urban legends. We care little, however, for whether the stories are true or untrue. But we care much that these silly facts or yarns form the substance of a sermon! We do not object to a brief news item being brought in to elucidate some truth. But it should never be allowed to take over as if we were bound to exposit the news item instead of Scripture! Anyone familiar with the sermon as the great, moving, truth-filled medium used by holy men called and sent out by God will know what we mean when we say that the glory has left the sanctuary. And we can say, from reading the books of A. B. Simpson, that the glory was probably in the Missionary Alliance at least once.

(3) The feminist bias and watered-down preaching. Feminism has infected this man and made him scared of the female gender. Mr. Doeksen exhibits a great fear of preaching sin, especially to women. We have no problem with him beginning with the man in his attempted rebuke of sin. But when he comes to the woman, he softens his rebuke with, “You have this husband that is impossible to respect.” And so he mitigates her failure to respect the man by emphasizing how impossible the man is. To be fair, his preaching of sin in this sermon, whether to man or woman, is insubstantial. There is nothing to it. He is more ‘politically correct’ toward the woman, but there is really nothing in his preaching of sin to man either. A sinful fear to preach sin is hazardous to God’s use of a minister. This fear he has extends, not just to those who profess Christianity in his church, but to the visitors too. Or maybe it’s just a sinful niceness he is guilty of here. He prays that God will reveal himself to the curious, the longing, and the undecided. But this is softened and mitigated by his prayer that they will experience belonging. How does God reveal himself to sinners? By convicting the sinners of sin, which is an uncomfortable thing to experience. And so to pray that God would reveal himself and at the same time pray that sinners be comfortable in church is contradictory. This is like the proverbial kingdom divided against itself. The last thing we should want, much less pray for, is for unrepentant sinners to feel as though they belong, for if they feel that way they will be disposed to feel that all is well with their presently condemned souls.

(4) The novel teaching. When a teacher cannot bring his point across it is usually because he does not understand it himself. And this is most likely the case here. Mr. Doeksen has probably had troubling second thoughts concerning the novelty he tries and fails to convey in this sermon. The sermon is frustrating to listen to because the thing he attempts to show from the chosen text cannot be seen there no matter how long we look for it. Part of the problem is that he thinks faith is redefined in 1 John 5. But if faith is redefined there, does this mean we should jettison our former definition? Or does it mean we have more than one? We do not fully know what it is that he attempts to prove from the passage. But when he says that our looking outward for acts of faith and our looking inward for gifts of faith should be ‘flipped back and forth,’ he probably means ‘transposed.’ This agrees with what he says elsewhere: that “faith is done by looking inwardly and answering the call in terms of your responsibility.” He seems to contradict this when he says, “Our ability to survive past earth, in Jesus Christ, comes as we look outwardly to God’s ability to grow us in our feeble acts of obedience.” But the first concept is the one that predominates. And so we can perhaps glean at least this much: he wants us to reach inside ourselves, where faith is, to derive strength to obey. And he probably gets this idea from a false apprehension of what our ‘faith overcoming the world’ means (in 1 John 5.4.) This reaching into ourselves in order to tap into faith’s power is hard to find in Scripture. And it sounds a lot like Quakerism, or even New Ageism. Faith overcoming is a fact. But it is not presented in this verse as a fountain we should attempt to draw from. Mr. Doeksen is trying to teach that we should not expect God to do our obeying for us. But how do we get our faith up to an act of obedience comparable to what a great saint can trust God for? Not by looking or reaching within. Plant good doctrine, like the hatred God has of sin, let God water it, and then the effect will be fruit, or works, which is the outworking of faith: obedience. What was Abraham focused on when he obeyed? “And being fully persuaded that, what he [God] had promised, he [God] was also able to perform” (Romans 4.21.) The strength of his faith (verse 20) came by, then, not looking or digging into himself, not probing into his faith, but meditating on, and reminding himself of, the promise God had made. How is faith done? Not by looking inward, as Mr. Doeksen teaches, but outward, to the promises of God. By getting to know God’s character (he does not lie), we come to trust in his promise. How did Sarah get to the point of obedience? She did it through her faith when “she judged him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11.11.) She looked to God’s character, imitating the behavior of this great husband that she esteemed as lord. How do we set aside sin and run the race? (Hebrews 12.1.) By “looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (verse 2.) In other words, our faith overcomes by our placing faith on the object, or source of faith. How did Jesus accomplish his mission? Not by going into himself (and he was perfect!), but by looking to the promise from God that he would, through this mission, be set forever at God’s right hand (verse 2 again.) Our performance is started, continued, and assured by looking outside ourselves to the promises and character of God. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1.6.) How does this work itself out practically in our lives? By us plucking our eyes out, for instance, which means: by a radical amputation of whatever is causing us to sin, sin being an obstacle to faith. To look into ourselves for the power to obey is to look where there is a mixture of dross and gold, strength and weakness, faith and sin. The object of faith is where we should look, for there is no ‘shadow of turning’ there. Like Spurgeon says, look to Jesus, just look: four letters, and two of them alike!

(5) The confusion regarding the incarnation. If this pastor holds to the orthodox position on the doctrine of the incarnation, then he is unable to communicate it. We hope that the case is no more serious than that, though this is serious enough! But from listening more than once to the portion of his sermon touching on this doctrine, and after reading a printout of that paragraph many times, we can only come to the conclusion that he believes the incarnation happened at Jesus’ baptism, not at conception. He says, “You remember this moment in John’s Gospel when we read of Jesus’ life, when Jesus wades into the waters and asks to be baptized. And at his baptism, as he is dunked under the water, right?—the Spirit testifies, and the Father speaks, ‘This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.’ And there is this moment that wraps up Jesus descending as fully God from heaven, taking on human flesh in the incarnation, and living this perfect life that we could not live.” We have italicized the two uses of the word ‘moment’ to show that the moment the incarnation happened is the moment Jesus was baptized, according to Mr. Doeksen. If we believe in grammar, then we must also believe that this is his teaching. The issue is made all the more confusing because what he communicates is that Jesus was in the water when Jesus descended from heaven as God! Regardless, his meaning must be that the entity we know as the second person of the trinity took on human flesh at the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth by John. And if his meaning is true, then Jesus was not God until he was baptized. At this baptism, the divine aspect came down to unite with the human aspect. This is what the pastor is attempting to say. And this is false. The incarnation occurred before this baptism, at the conception of the Son of God by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. The ruler in Israel to come out of Bethlehem, says the prophet Micah, originates “from of old, from everlasting” (5.2.) Who came out of Bethlehem but the ‘young child’? (Matthew 2.14.) And so we see that it was as a young child that this person with everlasting origins emerged out of Bethlehem. The union of divinity and humanity had already occurred, then, by the time Jesus came to be baptized by John. And this is why, before the baptism, John was able to say, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1.29.) It seems unlikely that he could have said this if Jesus had been just a man at that point, for a sacrificial Lamb possessing the sufficiency necessary for taking away the sin of the world must own a divine aspect. This ‘young child’ was worshipped by the wise men. They “fell down, and worshipped him” (Matthew 2.11.) If the Child Jesus was not God, then the wise men were not very wise in their worship in this instance, for they were guilty of idolatry. Does the pastor use the Creeds? They were written to save us from heretical errors. The Nicene Creed says, “Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds…for us men and for our salvation…came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.” This affirms that the incarnation happened in the womb. The Westminster Larger Catechism affirms likewise, “Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary.” What happened at the baptism of Jesus was the public inauguration of Jesus Christ by the first and third persons of the trinity, not the eternal Son taking on human flesh. This is what the Bible teaches and what the orthodox creeds affirm. The union of divinity and humanity happened in the womb, not in the water. This pastor asserts the Docetist teaching on the incarnation to be wrong, which says that the ‘aeon Christ,’ or ‘superhuman being,’ landed on Jesus the man but then departed before the crucifixion took place. But he does not realize that he is still guilty of some kind of Docetism or heresy, if only for the fact that he teaches this part about the incarnation beginning at Jesus’ baptism, not at his conception. What will this pastor do at the foot of this singing Christmas tree? Will he worship Jesus as the Babe without believing that this Holy Child was God? Would this not be to him idolatrous? If he is as sincere as he appears to be, then we expect him to be very uncomfortable when it comes time to oversee and participate in the singing Christmas tree affair. He will be expected to pay homage to the Child whom his teaching asserts to be no more than a human being. But besides anxiety and embarrassment, what are the implications of falsely apprehending the doctrine and fact of the incarnation? We cannot risk saying for sure that salvation depends upon a belief regarding when exactly the incarnation occurred, for a person might be ignorant about the implications of getting the timing wrong. But the Bible is clear enough about when the incarnation did occur. We suspect that there is a worthy theologian somewhere in history who can convince us of at least this: that the mission of Jesus Christ could not have been accomplished if the incarnation occurred no earlier than at his baptism by John the Baptist. Upon discussion about this with a friend, the issue came into the open, and my blind spot was cleared up. The following deductions, then, are unavoidable. If Jesus was not conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, then he must have had a human father instead, and therefore he must have inherited the sin nature, which of course must have disqualified him from saving anyone! A presentation of Jesus receiving his divine aspect at his baptism amounts to a caricature of him, a caricature that, if it were true, would undermine his ability to save. The Jesus in this sermon—Mr. Doeksen’s Jesus—can save no one. In other words, if we understand Mr. Doeksen, and we knowingly place our faith in the sinful Jesus that his teaching necessitates, our faith will be in vain. He certainly intends to teach this false, Docetic-like doctrine. He just doesn’t intend it as a heresy. He’s not aware, obviously, of what he’s guilty of. Nevertheless, this heresy is as serious as any that could be committed, for the Jesus presented to us would not be qualified for the mission of saving men from sin. If we were to place our faith in a sinful Jesus (and this Jesus of Mr. Doeksen’s can be nothing less than this), there could be no salvation through this faith.

Conclusion: This sermon and service are so confused with each other that we get no sense of any distinction between the two. The whole meeting sounds like something you would expect to hear at a community hall or a rotary club. Maybe the pastor worked hard at cracking this ‘inner/outward’ code that he believes is contained in 1 John 5. But this ends up being such a confusing and unbiblical teaching that it’s not a stretch to say that a more beneficial sermon might have been had through a novice preaching from memory with a closed Bible in his hand! We must be blunt enough to put it like this because this is the sad truth. We must tell it like it is even if it hurts the pastor’s feelings. This kind of preaching can simply do no good. Since both Jesus and faith were ill defined in this sermon, we do not hesitate to assert that an unbeliever could have preached this message. And since it is so characteristic of ‘the blind leading the blind,’ maybe an unbeliever did preach it! Any Christian possessing basic Bible knowledge ought to admit the fairness of this critical remark. No doubt some members will tap the pastor on the shoulder after a message like this and whisper sweet congratulations in his ear for a job superbly done. But these persons are just being dishonest and sinfully polite. Three of us listened to this sermon. And all three of us remain mystified that this could be the product, not just of a pastor, but of a senior pastor. If we were to accept his interpretation of that passage in question from 1 John 5, we would be more confused than when we first encountered it. This idea of his was entirely read into the text. The text was not exposited at all. Yet the first words we hear from this internet broadcast of this sermon are, “God’s word—let’s be thankful for it…really, God is going to do some teaching for us.” Is the pastor really being thankful for God’s word when, instead of lifting God’s doctrines and lessons from it, he reads his pet theory into the text instead? In his sermon he tells us that we should not expect God to just do our obedience for us. But he is doing something far worse: expecting God to just do his teaching for him! His next words are, “I feel, again, just the weight of it [God’s word, the teaching] and how it’s going to impact our lives for good and for his glory this morning.” The weight that he feels cannot be caused by God pressing him to deliver this message, for this message is Godless. The ‘weight’ he feels is due to nervousness, and nervousness is much the cause of his careless comments, which are thrown in to fill in nervous gaps. Certainly it is not wrong for our hearts to go out to him. We pity any person who thinks he has to stand before people to make a living. It cannot be easy. But the pulpit is the most sacred spot on earth. Every word that is said from a pulpit, therefore, must be scrutinized and taken apart and assessed by the listeners. Then the meat is to be digested and the bones are to be spit out. There is nothing at all to eat in here. Any man alleging to speak a message from God must be held to the highest standard. He must not be allowed to get away with any nonsense, much less heresy. And this sermon contains both. Because we do not want to put anyone down nor discourage, it pains us to have to question the validity of Mr. Doeksen’s calling. If he makes the mistake of sticking to this kind of employment that draws to himself souls who will depend on him for pointing out and explaining the way of salvation from an everlasting hell, he would do well to start from scratch, from the very first principles of how to conduct a service and present a sermon. As for content, he would be wise to put away forever this notion that he has to see some ‘surprise’ in the text he is to preach. From his blog we learn that he likes to read John Piper. I have little doubt that he is trying (maybe it is a subconscious act) to imitate this man, for his outward/inward principle reminds us of Piper’s forward/backward principle, which, incidentally, has been proven false too. Maybe he even got this odd idea of his from Piper. We do not know. The point is that it is unbiblical. It does not come from the Bible. Mr. Doeksen teaches that we should look inwardly for faith, and outwardly for gifts. But the father of faith, Abraham, does not do this. He looks outward, to the promise of God, and thereby his faith is strengthened to obey. To obey, he does not look inward at his faith, but outward to God. In his book called Future Grace, Piper teaches that we must obey by forward-looking faith, not by backward-looking gratitude. But he’s wrong as well, for we are compelled throughout Scripture, notably in the ordinance of Communion, to obey by an exercise of both gratitude and faith. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11.26.) We have here, gratitude for Christ’s death, which is past; and faith in the Lord to come, which is future. And it is indeed a ridiculous and unbiblical thing to say that faith must be forward-looking, for the faith that saves is backward on the death of our risen Christ! As much as Piper is respected and read by many, he is a risky author to imitate simply because he is trying to imitate Jonathan Edwards, but without the wherewithal to do what that great theologian has done. It is tragic when we go looking for our own novelty to perpetuate, and disastrous when we try to be someone we’re not. Mr. Doeksen needs to learn to be his own man with the old gospel. And if he is to read Christian authors, he ought to delve into those writings that have stood the test of time. Quaffing contemporary theology is like taking the drug that has not been tested by trials. Novelties abound in the books of our day; they are not only misleading, but dangerous. They are by nature unbiblical, for what is a novelty but something new that we cannot find in the old Bible? And we think way too highly of ourselves if we think we’ll be the first to discover some significant truth that has been in there all this time. By preaching the gospel doctrines God has traditionally set his seal of approval on, we will be innovators enough. The only innovation a pastor should seek to develop is the change effected by the Spirit when the gospel is preached. Novelties and innovations may be in fashion; but usually no one understands them and then they get exposed as contradictions to God’s Truth.

Mr. Doeksen, if you really believe that Jesus is real, then we suppose that you maintain, at least in theory, that the principal information that you gather for teaching should come from the Holy Bible. What does the Bible say? Jesus is both Savior and Judge. The destinies of man are both heaven and hell. What makes the difference between these destinies (besides election and sovereignty) is faith or unbelief in Jesus Christ regarding what was accomplished on the cross for man’s benefit. Why then, are you trying to communicate some academic novelty? Do you not realize that both saints and unconverted persons must get their conviction and nourishment from the riches of the gospel? Do you think that Bible basics may be set aside in order to teach some hidden principle by which to obey God? This thing you attempt to do in this sermon is kind of like gnosticism. Please listen to me. Obedience comes through the conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit when the riches of the gospel are delivered from the preacher. Do you not understand that even when morals are preached that they must be coordinated with the unbelievers’ and the believers’ respective standings to law and grace? This means that the thoughts, words, and deeds of man must be measured against the law and nature of God, and consequently the gospel must be brought in, for man stands condemned by the law. For instance, just look at verse 2 of your passage. It says there that we love God and keep his commandments. And so something must have happened to make this so, for these acts of faith are things that sinful man cannot do. To explain this you must learn to distinguish between law and gospel, and then preach each one in turn. After we receive Jesus, then we cannot obey the law perfectly, for we are hindered by the old nature, which still persists. To explain this you must get into the doctrines of sanctification and the advocacy of Christ. But you see that sanctification is the result of being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. And the advocacy of Christ is on account of what he did on the cross. And so the gospel should never be gotten far away from. As a matter of fact, what the churches of today need are detailed sermons on the basics of doctrines like repentance and regeneration. Such doctrines, far from being teachings we put away in favor of practical theology, are the bedrock of our practice. You speak of people making their sandwich in the back of the Winnebago while the Winnebago is on cruise control, careening off the road and into the ditch. But the pastor who preaches novelties is making the biggest sandwich of all in the back of his own Winnebago, a Winnebago full of everlasting souls, and this vehicle is right now running into the most awful ditch of all: the ditch of soul-condemning hell. We plead with you, then, not to take this analysis lightly. God will surely hold you responsible for what you do with that which warns you of wrongdoing, especially when the wrong you do is in the ministerial arena. Souls are under your care. And right now they are not being cared for. They are like sheep without a shepherd. And the wolf is at the door.