The crown of the whole thing was your obvious growth in your ability to listen. I know that could sound like a put-down compliment. But it is not at all.
My belief is that comparatively few leaders in the church today are really sharp listeners. I know I have an ongoing struggle with listening, especially when issues are being considered that are very important to me. I get afraid that the wrong ideas will prevail. At such times I have an overpowering urge to talk rather than to ask questions and listen for answers from others. It seems supremely important that everyone be immediately brought to perfect clarity by my powers of illumination and persuasion.
Sometimes what makes this confusing for me is that the Lord has given me a measure of insight as a leader. I do have almost thirty years of experience in planting and growing churches. But my mistake is that I want to persuade now without first gathering in all the knowledge I need and do not see the importance of taking time to hear others, to learn from them, and to reveal my love with a sympathetic response to what they are thinking.
Really patient, attentive listening is another way of saying “I love you and respect you.”
Not listening or half-listening is contrariwise, my saying, “I have a much higher view of my opinions than I have of yours.”
Expressed in that bold way, my not listening is exposed as egocentricity, perhaps even hardline pride.
Once Dave Powlison gently admonished me, “Jack, you are a born persuader as a leader. It’s a good gift, but persuasion should follow listening and asking questions. Give balance to your leadership by delaying your persuading until you have had time to ask questions and to listen closely to the answers.”
I could agree with that in principle and did not have so much trouble applying it to meetings where issues were not major.
But when the concerns being considered seem foundational to me, it is hard for me to listen closely, or to refrain from breaking into someone’s speaking. I feel a compelling need to get the problems and lines of thought into clear focus now. It’s almost as though I try to act as the head of the church.
I know that may sound pretty silly. Who, after all, is so stupid as to think he can replace Christ as Lord over the church and its mission?
Still the history of the church has very few pages that are not blotted by the megalomania of church leaders.
It is simply that we are prone to fall in love with our own authority as official leaders and unconsciously distance ourselves from Christ as the real Head of the church.
We begin to try to control the church or the members of the team and end up in personality conflicts with brothers and sisters who either dislike our control or want to impose their own control upon us.
When this happens, we are inwardly swept by anxieties. The irony of it all is that the more we try to control the work in our own name, the more the work and its problems control us. We begin by trying to own the work of God and end up with the ministry owning us. Perfecting the work becomes our bondage, and the bondage manifests itself by our losing the capacity to patiently listen to others and to be corrected by them.
Indeed, when we get into this perfectionistic frame, we can fall into some very nasty bondages in our leadership. We hate criticism, we get preoccupied with trivia and are willing to fight major battles over minor issues. We feel threatened when anyone disagrees with us or introduces an idea that is unfamiliar.
I once knew of a church situation where a pastor and his associate gradually developed such a rotten relationship that more than once they beat on each other with their fists!
So I want you to join me in having confidence in our human depravity as leaders.
Do not be surprised to find your corruption expressing itself in perfectionistic self-will in your own leadership style. Expect to encounter in yourself defensiveness, dominance, and poor listening practices.
But I also urge you to have a much greater confidence in Christ’s capacity to release you from such bondages.
He is the crucified Head of the church, the only One who knows how to perfect it! Just to know that fact, to rest upon it, and to build upon it, is to be released from the bondages which duty imposes upon our spirits.
You find His liberating grace through honest confession of sin and fresh release by surrendering the government of the church to its Head.
Excerpt taken from Letter by Jack Miller to Alan written Feb., 1986. You can find the letter on page 136 of “Heart of a Servant Leader” by Jack Miller.
Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of DiscipleshipPosted: June 11, 2016
For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).
Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.
Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you…
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A good deal of the impetus for the [Leadership] training program came out of dissatisfaction with the seminary/Bible school model of training for service.
The strengths of a seminary/Bible school model are largely intellectual. These strengths include extensive exposure to Scripture, textual criticism, and Greek and Hebrew, sytematic theology, and church history.
The weaknesses are too many ideas and truths given too quickly and sometimes superficially, without a sharp focus on the unifying power of the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The other critical weaknesses include a minimal interest in prayer and learning to work together as teams.
I do not mean at all to suggest that everyone who attends seminary is tainted with every weakness I shall mention. I am only talking about what is common enough to be said to be virtually typical.
The typical seminary graduate has these serious problems and often does not know he has them:
1. In a formal sense he likely has his doctrines straight. But his thinking about biblical truths lacks sharp focus. Why? Because of lack of understanding of the majesty, power, simplicity, and joy found in the gospel! And because of a failure to apply to himself concretely to the uncompromising demands of God’s holy law and to be broken by the exposure of his radical self-centeredness! Often the graduate is a man who sees himself as a repairer of the walls of the city of God but fails to see that his own walls are broken down.
2. He likely has a pretty hazy idea how his ideas apply to life and has not wrestled seriously with learning to communicate biblical truth with divine clarity, power, and concreteness.
3. He likely will see himself as a corrector of others without being awakened to the supreme importance of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 that we are to be correcting ourselves first. He may evidence more of the self-protectiveness that goes with pride than the openness that goes with the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit.
4. He may not know how to control his own tongue or how to guide others in controlling theirs. He may have no idea whatsoever about working through conflicts in the church and how to engage in constructive conflict. The idea of spiritual warfare conducted by fervent prayer may well be virtually unknown to him. Why should it not be? Charles Hodge’s large three volumes on Systematics has a section of more than 300 pages on the means of grace, and of these 300 pages only 17 are devoted to prayer, and the quality of these 17 pages is not up to the fine quality of the rest of the volumes! A spiritual disaster for training to have that kind of embalance in a valued text for theological training!
5. He will be typically inexperienced and un-humbled through his working only with students. He will easily assume that the church is mostly a classroom. His ignorance of small group and congregational dynamics will be massive and he will likely have little idea how dangerous this is. Only a few seminary graduates that I have known had any idea that there is such a thing as congregational dynamics.
5. The net effect is that he is likely to be self-protective rather than seeing his whole Christian life as one of a son who constantly engages in repentance, both tasting of its sorrows and its joys.
Against this background, at the beginnings of New Life Church we strongly emphasized the congregation as training ground in prayer, repentance, and witness.
Reflections by Jack Miller in “Training and Mobilization: A New Form of Education.”
As I process research and writing for “Cheer Up! A Biographical Study of the Life and Ministry of C. John “Jack” Miller,” important documents (and audios) by Jack remain unpublished; documents that, in my estimation, are keenly insightful, prophetic, and could greatly bless and aid the church of Jesus Christ today.
Today, I’ve spent almost all day typing a 40 page essay by Jack Miller entitled “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century.”
This essay was written by Jack in December of 1978 at a turbulent time in our culture, in the church, and particularly at Westminster Theological Seminary, which was then immersed in a theological quagmire over justification by faith that had already lasted three years, continued until 1982, and arguably is alive and well (or not so well depending on your perspective) in the church today.
I’m not going to unload all 40 pages on you in this blogpost. With what I’ve gathered thus far in research and writing, I’m fairly convinced a study on Jack Miller and his treatment of “Justification by Faith in Union with Christ” is a research project/book that is waiting to happen.
For those of you who may be uninterested in an older theological debate, or presume you are a Christian because you walked the aisle of a church, were baptized, had a feeling, said some religious words of commitment, or have tried sincerely to be a good person and keep the commandments — this debate regarding justification by faith alone, which is as old as the Garden of Eden, is something, whether you realize it or not, you desperately need to hear about.
Trust me! For your well-being, joy and happiness now and eternally, you need to wrap your arms around, or better yet, by faith have Jesus Christ wrap His loving embrace around you with this glorious legal reality of justification by faith alone with respect to remission of sins and acceptance with God, and you will find it is bursting with relational relevancy.
And for those Christians who have left their justification by faith somewhere back there in the past, moved on to other salvation benefits, and are grinding out this Christian life on your own with only a vague recollection of “Continuance in Justification,” and/or you have no idea what this heavenly declaration means to your life today, we do need to get together so we can talk about some of what Jack has been teaching me on this subject.
However, in this blogpost, I wanted to accomplish two things.
First, I want to wet your appetite by giving you just a taste of only some of what I’m finding from Jack Miller.
All that I’m finding couldn’t possibly make it into a biographical study without it being a 1000 pages. Nonetheless, it is essential that I at least draw attention to it in some introductory way.
This will help me and others gauge the future interest with respect to what further Jack Miller research and writing should follow next.
Second, because I’ve regularly heard what I know to be unfounded criticisms that Jack was “Lutheran-leaning” or more like “German Pietists,” basing this misguided assertion on the way he “over-emphasized justification” without awareness of the ongoing justification controversy at WTS, I thought it would be helpful for you and others to set before you what Jack himself has to say.
You won’t see much in this particular paper about sanctification (though other papers do address that topic) since the focus at the time was directed to justification. However, Jack will conclude this essay by talking about James 2 and Justification, as well as Justification and the Last Judgment.
You will notice, under “Affirmation 5, I’ve cut-and-pasted parts of what I’ve spent today typing from this unpublished working document Jack left for us to benefit from. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed curating it from research.
Nine Affirmations by Jack Miller concerning Justification by Faith
Affirmation 1: I wish to affirm that it is my conviction that justification by faith has as a foundational presupposition a consciousness of the majesty of God and the absolute demands of His justice. (Page 3)
Affirmation 2: I wish to affirm that the cure of our disease lies in a personal encounter with God’s law and the conviction of sin which arises from that encounter (Romans 7:9-11). (Page 4)
Affirmation 3: I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation. (Page 8)
Affirmation 4: I wish to affirm the fundamental distinction between a legal promise and a gospel promise. The contrast is developed with fine clarity in Calvin’s treatment of justification in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. XVIII. (Page 9)
Affirmation 5: This gospel promise 0f Justification is received by faith alone.
Content of Affirmation 5:
In the Reformed tradition, this “alone” has been called “the exceptive particle.” This faith alone is synonymous with the expression “without works” or “apart from works.” It means that we are not trusting in a legal promise for our salvation [see Affirmation 4]. Such faith abandons the works of the law in order to trust in Christ alone for acceptance with God.
When we meet the expression “without works of the law” (Ro. 3:28) we should understand that Paul is further protecting the Christ alone (3:20-22). Here the language “without the works of the law” is attached to faith in order that faith will not be construed in some way as a new work blurring the ground of our justification, which can only be Christ.
So what is being said here in Romans 3:28 is that faith alone, or faith without works, is simply the equivalent of Christ alone. Faith in its receiving character is not attempting to fulfill [the legal promise of] Leviticus 18:4-5; instead it is abandoning all claim to self-justification and laying hold of that which lies outside of the man, even Christ and His merits.
For this reason I believe that it is a serious mistake to say that works may have a part in declarative justification. This may be done with all sincerity on the plausible basis that works may have a place in justification provided that they are not understood as meritorious or as the ground of our pardon and acceptance with God.
Editorial Note: Jack has inserted a handwritten page entitled “Insert on p. 13” and directed where it is to be inserted in the essay.
In summary, I wish to say that I can admire the pietist zeal to check the presumption of easy-believism by stressing the necessity for sincere faith in salvation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century godly pietists did this by placing weight on the right kind of faith. So far so good. But the danger is that this right kind of faith (sincere faith) will mean at least that you as a sinner are expected to work to prepare before you come to Christ (see Norman Petit, The Heart Prepared).
But when you do that, I fear you may have moved in the wrong direction of justification by faith plus works. James Denny put the issue in these challenging words:
“The German pietists, in opposition to a dead orthodoxy, in which faith had come to mean no more than a formal recognition of sound doctrine, spoke with emphasis of penitent faith, living faith, true faith, obedient faith, and so on. It is somewhat against qualifications like these that they are foreign to the New Testament. What they come down to in practice is this: Before the mercy of God in Christ in propitiation can be available for you, O sinful man, you must have a sufficient depth of penitence, a sufficiently earnest desire for reconciliation and holiness, a sufficient moral sincerity; otherwise grace would only minister to sin. But such qualifications do infringe upon the graciousness of the gospel . . .” (The Death of Christ, pp. 290-91).
End Editorial Note.
For this reason the Westminster standards do not speak of faith in its justifying function as “obedient faith” or “working faith.” To be sure, faith which justifies is going to be faith which works and obeys. But in the justification of the ungodly that is not its function.
Rather, its unique office in declarative justification is to abandon all human righteousness and to receive and rest on Christ alone as justifier.
Calvin says it like this: “when you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle.”
I see little reason to dispute over a term like “instrument” if a better one can be found. I personally prefer the word “means” or some more popular language like “the eye that looks to Christ” or “the empty hand that receives the gift of Christ.”
Yet whatever terminology is used, the main point must be upheld — which is that faith is the sole means by which we enter into union with Christ, the union which gives us our free justification as sinners.
On the divine side, our regeneration brings us into union with Christ. But the human part in establishing this union is faith alone.
There is nothing else. It is the sole doorway by which I enter into the house of salvation and receive Christ and all His glorious benefits, including justification.
Therefore we may not say that faith and non-meritorious works both function as the means or instrument of justification. If we were to maintain this view, we would take away from the unique role that faith performs in our justification. That function is to receive Christ, something works can never do, no matter how you describe them.
Given these conclusions, all of us in the Reformed tradition ought to agree that teaching such a concept of faith and works (as instruments of justification) would constitute an offense against biblical doctrine.
As well, faith must always be seen as prior to justification in the order of the application or redemption. Temporally, faith and justification take place at the same time, but since faith functions as the unique means for bringing us into the state of justification it follows that faith has a priority. It is the priority of means.
There have been times when I have doubted the importance of this distinction. But I have seen that such a priority is inherent in the very idea of the open empty hand which takes hold of Christ, and faith is the way one lays hold of Him.
Therefore, I am persuaded that this is a matter of importance just because it protects the humble character of justifying faith. Our salvations begins not with our effort, but in our taking a free gift.
This is confirmed by Scripture. In Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 the prepositions translated “through” in relationship to faith imply that faith comes first as a means of our justification.
We conclude then that God from all eternity decreed to justify His elect, and Christ died for their sins on the cross and rose again for their justification, but it is still true that they are not justified until they first have believed in Jesus Christ and His righteousness imputed to them.
There is no such thing as an eternal justification nor is there any such thing as an “active justification” which precedes this declarative once-for-all justification. Justification does not come to sinners until they have entered into applied union with Christ through faith in Him.
I say this strongly by way of loving challenge. If I am wrong on this point, then I would like to see the Scriptures which shows that there is an “eternal” or an “active” justification prior to justification by faith described in Romans 3 and 4.
Affirmation 6: I wish to affirm the vital power of saving faith. So far, I have been focusing on its unique role in God’s act of justifying the ungodly. In such a discussion, I refuse to give any place to talk of love, works or obedience. It does not belong here. In this context the work of faith is that of a hungry mouth. (Page 15)
Affirmation 7: I affirm that it is my belief that Galatians and related passages in the New Testament draw a sharp distinction between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. But I am of the opinion that in our time we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of “Reformed orthodoxy” which reads biblical history primarily in terms of “covenant continuity.” (Page 19)
Affirmation 8: I affirm my conviction that declarative justification as set forth in Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 is a definitive act of God’s grace on behalf of the ungodly. (Page 24)
Affirmation 9: I affirm that declarative justification properly understood does not cancel out discipleship but makes it a reality. (Page 29)
Taken from “Justification by Faith in the Twentieth Century” (unpublished), The CJM Manuscript Collection, The PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO. (40 pages), December, 1978.
Recently, three things happened leading up to Molly’s musical debut on my Grahamline Blog.
- I learned how to convert audios from old recordings (e.g., tapes) to mp3.
- James, my youngest son, introduced me to “The Voice” (e.g., that is where I learned the meaning of “cover” as in a song by Rebecca St. James performed by Molly Graham. How about that?
- I stumbled across an old cassette of my youngest daughter singing.
Taken together, I am starting my own version of “The Voice” and asking you to vote Molly through the blind auditions directly to the finale where she will receive a music contract recorded on the Graham Family Label with other old recordings from my kids (e.g., like Mary Helen standing on a table when she was very young belting out Whitney Houston).
Molly will be home from Erskine College this weekend. What a great way to greet her; allowing her to enjoy this delightful MP3 on her drive home to see me, which I’ll text to her just after publishing this post.
As a side note to all my kids, who I fully expect to be extremely nice to me, their mom, and their grandparents in the present and take care of us very very well in our retiring old age years.
Over the last several years, I’ve learned how to chase down, collect, research and archive personal historical information fairly well.
As you can see from this post, I also know how to make that personal historical research social media ready so the whole world can enjoy its seeing the light of day.
And you also know how your mom loves to keep everything even if she may not know where it is.
To top it all off, as a preacher and at least amatuer student of culture, I am aware how vitally important managing your public image is for your generation, and even worse, controlling that related and overwhelming fear of public embarrassment, especially in front of your friends and school mates.
So, enjoy listening to your sister’s wonderful solo of “In Me” with me and so many others.
Of course, it would be better should you “honor your father and mother” for gospel reasons motivated by love. After all, it is the first commandment with a promise, and I delight in giving good gifts to my children.
However, Jesus is far more gracious than I am, and I’m not above resorting to more sordid and manipulative methods of achieving my objectives.
Remember Hoopla! (e.g., family secret that can’t be mentioned in public).
With much love, your Dad!
How does the Spirit become unleashed on the practical level of human action?
[First,] the answer is that the Spirit works as we go with the message of the cross to human beings and as we pray before and during this undertaking.
In brief, we must resolve to go with the gospel daily and to keep going . . . [T]he first step is to go no matter how I feel. I go to people and as I go I preach the gospel to my own heart. What does this mean “preach the gospel to my own heart”?
This preaching takes place as I go with the message as a “sent one” (Romans 10:6-17). No matter how painful and arduous it may be at times, I must go. But the Spirit of the Lord tells me to hear the preached word of the Lord in my heart as I “go” (Romans ]0:6-10, 17). As I witness let me look at the cross and meditate on the sheer awesome wonder of it.
Then, then, I know that my going is secondary; His going is primary.
What He has begun in the self-giving of His Son He now executes through the presence of His Spirit within me. In my speaking He is speaking.
My persuading of others is always marked by inadequacy, if not by sin and failure. But I now through the vision of the atonement of Christ have the beginnings of a humbled attitude, a brokenness over my continued unworthiness, and a new resting in the gospel which I bring to others. His atonement, the grace of His love, is changing me.
This is the unleashing of the Spirit.
The second step in learning to rely on the Spirit of grace is to pray for His presence. But what does this mean?
I am thinking of prayer of a certain kind, with a sharply defined biblical focus which leads me to face up to the depth of my self- reliance. In prayer I must face the mystery of the unbelief of my friends, relatives, fellow workers, and neighbors. And the mystery of my own unbelief which expresses itself in self- dependence and fear.
How does my sin of unbelieving fear express itself? Even in my prayers. Well, I pray, but as I try to pray I think of “their faces. ” Their faces — will they be angry? Supercilious?Indifferent? Cynical? Or open and welcoming? I am constantly weakened, if not crippled, by the thought: “What will they think of me?” Inwardly I fight battles that never need to be fought. My soul gets cast down by my own imaginings fueled by my own dark unbelief.
I do not mean there is no reason to fear rejection today. People at present despise a message which informs them that they are lost, or at least they are often profoundly indifferent to that which the Spirit reveals to us about the Father’s love. They can be so utterly heartbreakingly careless — outwardly — to the peril of their souls and God’s costly, crucified love.
But let me now pray for the Spirit to give me a vision of the peril of the lost and confess my fears. I pray desperately, feelingly, weakly, and then with growing awareness of the promise of the gospel found in John 3:16 and other great passages. And the Spirit then enters my heart in a new way.
This is a great paradox. I have the Spirit, I am already in-dwelt by Christ (Galatians 2:20). But I also need to have Him daily dwell in me by faith (Luke 11:1-13, Ephesians 3:16-17). He comes as I surrender my fears of rejection to Him. I confess the proud independence of spirit which lies behind these fears. Then I give my tendency to be ashamed of Jesus to God and ask Him to forgive it and take it out of my heart.
Then I directly and plainly ask the Father to give the gift of the Spirit to me. I who already have the Spirit claim the promise of the Spirit; I now wish to drink afresh from His vital life (Luke 11:13, John 7: 37-39) .
I also try to make my praying practical. I ask for the Spirit to give me comfort of soul and endurance. I think the key to effective evangelism is always the Spirit’s giving grace to be winsome and enduring, going on day after day in the work always with a smile and sometimes with tears.
About those tears. Here the mere talk ends and the walk begins. As I go with the message of the cross I must bear the personal cross He has appointed me. There is no other way. I must tell Him, with fear and trembling, that I am now willing to will His will. I am ready to be hurt for His glory. This ultimate surrender is very hard for me to do no matter how long I pray.
Jack Miller, Focus on What Matters Most in Evangelism, p. 8-9.
In our eagerness to rationalize God’s truth we may also ask all kinds of questions which can do more to confuse us than help. We may ask, When do I have enough of His sanctifying presence to witness? How do I know when the Spirit is speaking through me, and when I am witnessing out of my own strength? What do I feel when I have the Spirit’s active presence in my witnessing?
My counsel is to shift your vision from all mental agitations of this sort. Forget about them and look to Christ. Begin by taking time to meditate on the greatness of His love in His self-sacrifice on the cross. Think about this love for you and for lost sinners constantly. Talk about it, sing it, breathe it, and love it.
Think especially about the ministry of the Spirit and His eagerness to help you do the will of God in bringing in the harvest. I like to keep reminding myself of a few basic facts about Christ and His Spirit:
One, Christ has a great missionary purpose and has made me a partner in it. He aims to conquer the world by grace and judgment and now is the day of grace. He desires to use me as a partner in the fulfillment of that purpose.
Two, Christ is at work with sovereign power in accomplishing His grand goal. The basis for this working–and therefore the focus of my faith–is His victory at the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension to the Father’s right hand for rule. The Spirit has been given to the victorious ascended Jesus without measure by the Father. And our Mediator has sent the Spirit into the world to do one great thing: to apply to hearts with convicting, revealing power the message of God’s love as summarized in John 3: 16.
Three, Christ wishes to confront my own secularized ways of thinking. Specifically He desires to expose the contemporary idea that I have a right to my own comfort of mind and life. Put crudely, it is the odd notion that God and the universe owe me something.
The pinch comes in the area of rejection. Typically the modern person thinks that rejection is about the worst thing you can suffer and avoiding the pain of rejection is primary for successful living. But the Lord wants me to know that to preach the cross is to pursue a way of rejection.
Therefore, I need to begin with my own self-centered fears of rejection. Do I have a proud mind-set which tells me that I ought not to suffer? I can see it in others, but what about me? My flesh wants to be transported via spiritual helicopter over the battlefield so that I may enter heaven without wounds or scars. But by the Spirit I repent of such an attitude, and resolve by grace to make “no provision for the flesh” and its love of comforts and instead to be “clothed with Christ” which includes a willingness to suffer, even to the point of giving my life (Romans 5: 13: 14).
Then I can see more clearly what is the ministry of the Spirit. His work is the enterprise of imparting holy love to those who do not deserve it in any way whatsoever (Romans 15:30, Colossians 1:8). Concentrate your energies on knowing God’s love, and you have pleased the Spirit of Christ.
Jack Miller, Focus on What Matters Most in Evangelism (unpublished), p. 6-7.