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Rev. Dan Hawn
Senior Pastor

More on Sola Gratia

posted May 23, 2017, 10:24 AM by First Baptist

In our study of Acts 15 on Sunday, we learned how a number of early believers were uncomfortable with the doctrine of sola gratia (grace alone). Sola gratia means that God’s acceptance of us is entirely by grace, without any personal merit whatsoever.


Thankfully, the apostles spoke very clearly & forcefully on this. And yet, the church has always had to do battle with this tendency we have to mix together law & gospel, merit & grace, what we do with what Christ has done.


One objection to the doctrine of sola gratia is that it encourages unrighteous living. Specifically, the concern is that, if God accepts us no matter what we do or don’t do, that gives us license to sin. A poet put it this way:


“I like committing crimes.

God likes forgiving crimes.

The world is really admirably arranged.”


Let me say, first, that a right understanding of grace should provoke or give rise to this concern; in fact, if this isn’t a concern, our understanding of grace is probably deficient.


But the answer isn’t to moderate grace by mixing in some element of personal merit (however small). Instead, we need to understand how the apostles dealt with the concern about grace giving a license to sin.


What the apostles talked about was the EFFECT of grace. And what grace does is change our desires, or what one author calls, our “want to.” Quoting Bryan Chapell:


“Prior to experiencing the grace of God, our inclinations are hostile or indifferent to him. But when the kindness and mercy of God become profoundly real to us, at the same time that we deeply perceive how totally undeserving we are of them, then we desire nothing greater than to love him – and to love what and whom he loves.


I am not contending that grace removes all the allure of sin, but our love for it (which gives sin its power) is broken by the greater love grace produces.”


This is an important insight, summed up in these words by the apostle John: “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).


And so, let’s continue to celebrate God’s grace and not worry that we’re going too far with it. The apostle Paul certainly wasn’t concerned, as evidenced by these words:


“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)



Pastor Dan

The Benedict Option – Part 4 (final)

posted May 16, 2017, 10:13 AM by First Baptist



I’ve been reviewing this book by Rod Dreher. Per some of the feedback I’ve received, not everyone agrees with some of his conclusions or recommendations.


That’s okay; neither do I, but I think it’s good to be challenged in our thinking. And I certainly agree with his premise that the culture has become more hostile toward biblical Christianity in recent years. That alone forces us to think differently about how we live & minister.


The last two chapters are very powerful. Here’s how Dreher sets it up:


“None of [my suggested strategies] will work, however, unless Christians think radically different about the two most powerful forces shaping and driving modern life: sex and technology.”


Chapter 9: Eros and the New Christian Counterculture


The book is worth reading for this chapter alone. I’ll share a series of quotations, then summarize the author’s suggestions.


“Sex is a divine gift that, if cherished properly, becomes a source of joy, abundance, and flourishing – of the couple and their community. But if we use sex in a disordered way, it can be one of the most destructive forces on earth.”


“Sexual practices are so central to the Christian life that when believers cease to affirm [biblical teaching] on the matter, they often cease to be meaningfully Christian. It was the countercultural force of Christian sexuality that overturned the pagan world’s dehumanizing practices. Christianity taught that the body is sacred and that the dignity possessed by all humans as made in the image of God required treating it as such.”


“Gay marriage and gender ideology signify the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because they deny [the Christian understanding of what it means to be human] at its core and shatter the authority of the Bible.”


Author’s suggestions:


1.      Don’t water-down biblical truth on sexuality in order to attract young people.

2.      Affirm the goodness of sexuality.

3.      Moralism is not enough; teach that sex is part of our submission to & life with God.

4.      Parents must be the primary sex educators.

5.      Love & support unmarried people in the church.

6.      Fight pornography with everything you’ve got. Pornography makes it impossible for men to form normal relationships with women.


Chapter 10: Man and the Machine


Highlights include:


“Online technology, in its various forms, is a phenomenon that by its very nature fragments and scatters our attention like nothing else, radically compromising our ability to make sense of the world, physiologically rewiring our brains and rendering us increasingly helpless against our impulses.”


“We think our many technologies give us more control over our destinies. In fact, they have come to control us.”


“Technology is not morally neutral. [Instead, it] is a worldview that trains us to privilege what is new and innovative over what is old and familiar and to valorize the future uncritically. It destroys tradition because it refuses any limits on its creativity.”


“The most radical, disruptive, and transformative technology ever created is the Internet. At the neurological level, the brain refashions itself to conform to the nonstop randomness of the Internet experience, which conditions us to crave the repetitive jolts that come with novelty. The result of this is a gradual inability to pay attention, to focus, and to think deeply.”


Suggestions for Christians:


1.      Practice digital fasting as an ascetic practice.

2.      Take smartphones away from kids.

3.      Limit the amount of technology used in worship.

4.      Teach children to do things with their hands.

5.      Question progress.


My Conclusion


The book is well-written and thought-provoking. Not everyone will agree with the author’s pessimistic outlook with regard to the American church. Nor will everyone agree with his prescription for what the church needs to do. However, it seems undeniable that our culture is moving very rapidly away from Christian values & beliefs. This makes The Benedict Option an important book.


Note: If you’re not inclined to read Dreher’s book, there’s an excellent 57-minute interview with him conducted by Issues, Etc., a Lutheran organization. You can find the interview either on iTunes or the Issues, Etc. website.



Pastor Dan

The Benedict Option – Part 3

posted May 9, 2017, 11:27 AM by First Baptist


I was asked this past week if I agree with everything in this book.


While I don’t agree with every detail or recommendation, I do agree with the author’s basic premise; namely, that the Church in America is in trouble and some big changes need to be made.


The author is intentionally provocative, especially in the chapter on education. He writes:


“The insidious forces of secular liberalism are steadily robbing us and future generations of our religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural memory, and making us pawns of forces beyond our control. This is why we have to focus tightly and without hesitation on education.”


Unfortunately, according to the author, the educational system on which we depend is deeply flawed and outright dangerous for the young Christian. His analysis goes much deeper than what we typically hear or read.


Here are his key recommendations:


1.      Double-down on teaching children the Bible.


Professors at Christian colleges are shocked at how poorly the typical freshman (at a Christian college!) understands the Bible.


2.      Immerse the young in Christian & Western history.


The deeper our roots in the past, the more secure our anchor against the swift currents of modernity.


3.      Pull your children out of public schools.


The author calls the public school system a “toxic environment.” Get your kids out of there!


4.      Give your children a classical Christian education.


A classical Christian education is one that orders everything around the Logos, Jesus Christ, and the quest to know Him with one’s heart, soul, and mind.


5.      Don’t send your kids to public university.


As many as 90% will – for all intents & purposes – forsake the Christian faith by the time they graduate.


Next week: sex & technology.



Pastor Dan

The Benedict Option – Part 2

posted May 2, 2017, 10:29 AM by First Baptist


In this present series of articles, I’m reviewing The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.


Dreher argues that Christianity in America is under existential threat. “Existential” means having to do with its very existence. He says that not since the fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the 5th century is the outlook for the Church in the West so bleak.


The Church needs a new strategy. And that’s the subtitle for the book: “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.”



The Strategy in a Nutshell


Quoting from the book:


“The way forward is actually the way back – all the way to St. Benedict of Nursia. The sixth-century monk, horrified by the moral chaos following Rome’s fall, retreated to the forest and created a new way of life for Christians. He built enduring Christian communities based on principles of order, hospitality, stability, and prayer. His spiritual centers of hope were strongholds of light throughout the Dark Ages, and saved not just Christianity but Western civilization.”


Dreher’s main thesis is that, for the sake of the Christian faith, and especially for the sake of our children, serious Christians can no longer afford to be as engaged with the world around us. In short, we must retreat from the culture in meaningful ways and embrace a simpler, more disciplined, and more communal existence.



The Idea of a Christian Village


By “communal,” Dreher means vastly closer relationships with fellow believers in the church. Here are some of the statements I highlighted in this chapter:


§  The church can’t just be the place you go on Sundays – it must become the center of your life.

§  Your kids need to see you and your spouse sacrificing participation in other activities if they conflict with church. Whenever church is sacrificed for something else, you are communicating to your children in a not-so-subtle-way the secondary importance of their spiritual life.

§  Raise your kids to know that your family is different – and don’t apologize for it.

§  Make certain your kids’ closest friends are in the church. Nothing forms a young person’s character like their peers.

§  At the same time, make sure your children have spiritual heroes (i.e., others in the church whom your children can admire for their spiritual maturity).

§  Understand that technology isn’t morally neutral; restrict & monitor its use in the home and church.

§  In selecting a church, we typically equate size with success (the American mindset), but the size of a church isn’t as important as its depth. The depth of the pastor’s sermon will typically provide valuable insight into the spiritual depth of a church.


Next week: Dreher has some important things to say about education.



Pastor Dan

The Atonement

posted Apr 11, 2017, 10:51 AM by First Baptist


This week, as we commemorate the death of Christ and celebrate His resurrection, it is good for us to reflect on the doctrine of the atonement. The atonement is considered the central doctrine of the Christian faith. As with all doctrines, but especially this one, we want to be precise in our thinking.



Theories of the Atonement


Perhaps unsurprisingly, different views exist as to the purpose & meaning of the atonement. Here are several:


1.      The Example view – maintains that the real value of the death of Jesus lies in the beautiful and perfect example which it supplies us, epitomizing the type of dedication and sacrificial love which we ourselves are to practice.

2.      The Moral-Influence view – sees Christ’s death as the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us.

3.      The Governmental view – Christ’s death is a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, intended to induce in us a hatred of sin as well.

4.      The Ransom view – this was the dominant view of the early church. The idea is that Christ’s death was the “ransom” Satan required for humans to be set free from bondage to him.


The Moral-Influence view is probably the dominant view today (i.e., the view most talked about) and it certainly contains an element of truth (even more than an element). For example, Romans 5:8 clearly states:


But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


And yet, the Moral-Influence view doesn’t quite capture the full essence of the atonement as revealed in Scripture.



The Penal-Substitution View


The view of the atonement that best reflects the teaching of Scripture AND is the view deemed orthodox by Christians for the vast majority of the Church’s history is called the Penal-Substitution view.


According to this view, Christ died to satisfy the justice of God’s nature. He rendered satisfaction to the Father (not to Satan!) so that we might be spared from the just deserts of our sins.


There are 4 key ideas or motifs in the Penal-Substitution view:


1.      Sacrifice – Christ gave His life as an offering to the Father.

2.      Propitiation – Christ died to appease God’s wrath over our sin.

3.      Substitution – Christ died for our sins, not His own.

4.      Reconciliation – Christ’s death brings to an end the enmity and estrangement which exist between God and humankind.


We must never take lightly our salvation. Although it is free, it is also costly, for it cost God the ultimate sacrifice.


This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:10)



Pastor Dan

Signs & Wonders – Part 5 (finale)

posted Apr 4, 2017, 1:16 PM by First Baptist

In this series, we’ve been considering the different views within Christianity on the subject of signs & wonders, and specifically, whether we should expect God to perform signs & wonders today (even here in Harlan).


I’ll be honest about my interest in this subject. First, I have a longing to see the expression of God’s power in our midst. I believe signs & wonders would be a tremendous encouragement to the church. They would also serve as a “wake-up call” to the people of this community who are indifferent to God.


Second, I’m concerned about the lack of evangelism taking place in Harlan. The church in Harlan seems to be shrinking, not growing. Would signs & wonders help reverse that? Does Christianity need a “re-launch” in Harlan?





Just to recap, there are 4 views, or schools of thought, on this matter of signs & wonders:


1.      Cessationist view: Since Jesus’ ascension, the ability to perform signs & wonders was limited to the apostles.

2.      Charismatic/Pentecostal view: The ability to perform signs & wonders is an ongoing gift to the church; it’s no different from any other spiritual gift.

3.      Third Wave view: The performance of signs & wonders should normally accompany a church’s evangelistic efforts.

4.      Open but cautious view: Open to the possibility of signs & wonders today, but concerned about the abuse of the gift that seem to exist within many Charismatic/Pentecostal and Third Wave groups.


For example, Mike Bickle, a leading Third Wave advocate (founder of the International House of Prayer in KC), admits that 90% of the supposed manifestations of signs & wonders claimed today are not of the Holy Spirit. This leads one to ask: If not of the Holy Spirit, what is the source of these manifestations, many of which are quite bizarre?



Conclusions & Application


One, the Bible does not explicitly teach either the cessation or continuation of signs & wonders.


Two, at the same time, there is strong biblical evidence that the miraculous activity recorded in the book of Acts was intended for & limited to the formative years of the church. The activity also appears to have been limited to the apostles and a few designees. This is attested to by the writings of the post-apostolic church fathers.


Three, since God hasn’t explicitly said “yea” or nay” on the subject of signs & wonders, we must be open to the possibility. But, we must also heed the exhortation to “test everything” (I Thessalonians 5:21).


Four, there are no examples in Scripture of the Holy Spirit causing believers to behave in the bizarre, out-of-control fashion that is common is some Pentecostal & Third Wave circles. Indeed, one of the fruits of the Spirit is “self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).


Five, the proclamation of the Word does not require signs & wonders to be effective. The Word is powerful in & of itself (Romans 10:17). (I needed to be reminded of that!)


Six, the church grows when it combines faithful proclamation with extraordinary love. If the church is not growing in a particular region, it’s probably because one or the other of these (or both) is lacking.


Seven, throughout history, God has sometimes healed the sick in response to the prayers of His people. Thus, the church shouldn’t hesitate to pray for the sick in accordance with James 5:14-15.


Eight, there’s no harm in praying for signs & wonders, so long as it’s done with right motives (James 4:3).


Based on the above, I personally ascribe to the open but cautious view. What about you? I would love to hear your thoughts.



Pastor Dan

Signs & Wonders – Part 4

posted Mar 28, 2017, 10:51 AM by First Baptist

In this series, I’ve been describing the 4 views (or “schools of thought”) within Christiandom on the subject of signs & wonders.


It came up during our Q&A last Sunday, so let me share again my definition of a sign & wonder:


Signs & wonders are miracles through a human agent, usually in response to their praying (or even their declaring), for the purpose of demonstrating to unbelievers God’s presence, character & omnipotence.



Views Considered So Far


Cessationist view: God still performs miracles, but the ability of human beings to perform signs & wonders ended with the apostles.


Pentecostal/Charismatic view: The ability to perform signs & wonders is a continuing gift to the Church and is not merely for the purpose of enhancing the Church’s witness, but also for encouraging believers in their faith (primarily through the healing of their diseases & illnesses).



The Third Wave View


The Third Wave view emerged in the 1980s. Its main proponent was C. Peter Wagner, who at the time, was a professor of missions at the Fuller School of World Missions in California. In 1988, he wrote a book entitled The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit.


Wagner believes that the rise of Pentecostalism in the early 1900s was the first wave. The second wave was the Charismatic movement that began in the 1960s. This was quickly followed by the third wave that continues to the present.


What Wagner observed, as he traveled around the world in the early 1980s, was that signs & wonders were fairly commonplace in non-Western cultures. This was especially true when the Gospel was being taken into new areas.


The Third Wave view encompasses two main ideas:


1.      The signs & wonders present in Jesus’ ministry (and in the apostles) are to be regarded as normative. In other words, just like Jesus (and the apostles) our witnessing today should be accompanied by signs & wonders. Simple proclamation is not enough.

2.      The reason signs & wonders have been relatively uncommon in Western cultures is because Christians in these cultures, especially here in America, have largely adopted a rationalist worldview and are prejudiced against the supernatural. The argument is that our theology has been determined by our worldview, and not the other way around.


The third wave view has received a ton of criticism. Among the main criticisms:


1.      The so-called signs & wonders have shown a tendency to devolve into bizarre spectacles, such as uncontrolled laughter, shaking, falling down, etc.

2.      Fascination with power seems to replace serious interest in the actual content of the gospel.


Obviously, we will need careful discernment as we consider the manner of our witnessing for Christ in Harlan and beyond.


Next week: The open but cautious view.



Pastor Dan

Signs & Wonders – Part 3

posted Mar 21, 2017, 10:01 AM by First Baptist


In this series, we are exploring the 4 schools of thought within Christiandom concerning signs & wonders. The main question is: Did the ability to perform signs & wonders end with the apostles?


Last week, we looked at “cessationism.” This is the view that, yes, the ability to perform signs & wonders ended with the apostles. In other words, this ability (or gift) only existed during the formative years of the church. The purpose of signs & wonders was to authenticate the apostles as divine spokespersons until such time as the New Testament was written.


This week, we’ll look at the Pentecostal/Charismatic view.




Pentecostals/Charismatics reject cessationism and maintain instead that the ability to perform signs & wonders is a continuing gift within Christianity. In other words, the gift of performing signs & wonders is no different than any other spiritual gift.


Those who ascribe to this view argue there is simply no biblical warrant for suggesting the termination of signs & wonders. Indeed, the Old Testament promises that signs & wonders will be a characteristic of the “last days” and this means the entirety of the last days, not just a portion of them.


(Note: From a biblical perspective, the “last days” began with Jesus’ 1st coming and will culminate with His 2nd coming. Virtually every scholar agrees with this definition of the “last days.”)


John Deere represents the Pentecostal/Charismatic well when he writes:


“No one ever just picked up the Bible, started reading, and then came to the conclusion that God was not doing signs and wonders anymore and that [certain] gifts of the Holy Spirit had passed away. The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures. The doctrine of cessationism originated from experience [i.e., derived from the apparent absence or scarcity of signs & wonders throughout Christian history].”


Concerning experience, Pentecostals/Charismatics will point out that signs & wonders have indeed existed throughout the history of the church, although mostly confined to areas being evangelized for the first time, or to where a revival has sprung up after a lengthy dearth of evangelism. Therefore, it’s just not accurate to insist signs & wonders ceased; the relative scarcity of them is a different matter entirely.




The view that signs & wonders continued beyond the apostles is a strong one.* They certainly subsided (after the apostles), but that’s different than arguing they ended entirely. We also need to separate out the abuse of the gift versus the gift itself. It’s true there are charlatans who pretend to have the gift, but that doesn’t mean the gift doesn’t exist any longer.


Next week: The Third Wave view



Pastor Dan



*This shouldn’t be interpreted as an endorsement of all Pentecostal/Charismatic theology. I believe they are profoundly wrong on certain matters.

Signs & Wonders – Part 2

posted Mar 14, 2017, 10:03 AM by First Baptist

In our study of Acts, we learned that the early church prayed for “signs & wonders” and God provided them. The main questions are: Should we also pray for signs & wonders? And, if so, will God provide them?


As mentioned last week, there are 4 major schools of thought within Christiandom on this matter. But, before we consider each of them, let’s back up a bit.


What is a Miracle?


We tend to use the word “miracle” a lot. Virtually anything that causes us to marvel is called a “miracle.” Even ordinary events, such as the birth of a child, are sometimes described as miraculous.


We should try to be more precise. In Christian theology, a miracle is:


1)      An extraordinary event, inexplicable in terms of ordinary natural forces; and/or

2)      An event that causes observers to propose a direct supernatural cause.


What are Signs & Wonders?


Signs & wonders are miracles through a human agent FOR THE PURPOSE OF authenticating that person as God’s representative or spokesperson and demonstrating to unbelievers God’s omnipotence, especially with regard to either judgment or salvation (or both).


In Acts, the twelve apostles (and a handful of designees) were able to perform signs & wonders. The question is whether this ability extends BEYOND the apostles.


The Cessationist View


The first view (or school of thought) we’ll consider is called cessationism.


Cessationists believe God performs miracles, but the ability of human beings to perform signs & wonders ended with the apostles.


In other words, they believe this was a temporary gift (or ability) within the church during its formative years in order to authenticate the apostles and their message. Once the church was established and the New Testament was compiled, God no longer gave the ability to perform signs & wonders.


Support for the Cessationist Position


1.      In the New Testament, the ability to perform sign & wonders was limited to the apostles and a few of their close associates. One author writes: “The early church was not a miracle-working church. Rather, they were a church with miracle-working apostles.”


2.      The signs & wonders the apostles performed were limited to two types: casting out demons and physical healing. They didn’t perform the full range of miracles that Jesus did, such as walking on water, feeding 5,000 with a few loaves & fish, etc.


3.      In every recorded instance of the gift of healing in Acts, it is unbelievers who are healed. In other words, the gift wasn’t used on behalf of the church (Christians suffering from illness), but rather as a sign to unbelievers and as an aid to evangelism.


4.      The healings performed by the apostles had certain characteristics not found in many so-called faith healers today.

a.       The healing was of a grave, organic condition and could not be regarded as a psychosomatic cure.

b.      The healing took place by a direct word of command in the name of Christ without the use of any medical means.

c.       The healing was instantaneous, not gradual.

d.      The healing was complete and permanent, not partial or temporary.

e.       The healing was publicly acknowledged to be indisputable; there was no doubt or question about it.


5.      The writings of the post-apostolic church fathers don’t mention the performance of signs & wonders. Thus, the gift or ability appears to have ended with the apostles.


Next week: The Charismatic/Pentecostal view



Pastor Dan

Book Review: The Shack

posted Feb 28, 2017, 12:04 PM by First Baptist



On March 3, The Shack will be in theatres. This movie is based on the book by Paul Young, published in 2007. To date, the book has sold over 22 million copies, making it a huge bestseller.


The book (which I have read) is unambiguously theological; that means, it was clearly written with the intent of teaching about God and presenting Him a certain way. I assume the movie will be similar to the book in that regard.


If you see the movie (or read the book), I would encourage you to have your “discernment antenna” way up and in good working order.


What is Good about the Book?


§  It is a compelling story about a man whose young daughter was kidnapped & murdered.

§  It wrestles with the problem of evil and offers hope to those overwhelmed by tragedy.

§  It presents God as a Triune Being – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

§  It portrays God as all-powerful, all-knowing & all-good. He is compassionate and warm toward those who are suffering.


What is Problematic about the Book?


A lot! But, to keep this article relatively short, I’ll mention four major shortcomings.*


First, The Shack has a subversive quality to it. It is critical of many aspects of the church and Christianity. The author (Paul Young) professes to be a Christian, but according to Randy Alcorn, who interviewed him for 6 hours, he doesn’t attend church. His disdain of the church is fairly evident in the book.


Second, The Shack diminishes the importance of the Bible. Greater emphasis is placed on God’s revelation by other means, much of it mystical & totally subjective (e.g., supposed direct communication via a person’s thoughts and/or feelings).


Third, The Shack implies universalism, the eventual salvation of everyone. The book quotes God the Father saying everyone has been reconciled to Him and He doesn’t punish anyone for their sin.


Fourth, The Shack is contrary to Scripture with regard to the Trinity. There are several things I would mention here:


§  God the Father & God the Holy Spirit are both depicted in human form. This is a breaking of the 3rd Commandment.

§  God the Father is called Papa (good), but is portrayed as a woman (odd).

§  The book expressly denies the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Holy Spirit to the Son.

§  Papa (God the Father) claims to have also died on the cross and has scars on her wrists to prove it. This is an ancient heresy known as ‘modalism.”

§  God the Father denies having forsaken the Son on the cross; the Son only felt forsaken.

§  The human (Mack) exhibits no sense of awe at being in the presence of God. He basically interacts with God as an equal.

§  God is presented one-dimensionally. There’s no mention of what theologians call his “hard” attributes (righteousness, justice, wrath, holiness); only his “soft” ones (compassion, kindness, mercy, love).


This last item is particularly important.


Christians who are grounded in the Bible, will recognize that the book (or movie) is focusing on God’s soft attributes and will benefit from being reminded of them. However, those who aren’t grounded in the Bible, will come away from the book (or movie) with a false picture of God.


During the time he spent with Paul Young, Randy Alcorn urged him to present a more balanced view of God when the book was reprinted, but Mr. Young refused to do so.




Pastor Dan


*Adapted from a review of The Shack by Tim Challies, author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.

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