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.