Last week at the Christian Booksellers Association conference in Altanta Georgia, Dr. Steven Lawson (Pastor and author of Foundations of Grace and The Expository Genius of John Calvin) was gracious enough to grant me an interview. We sat in a coffee shop for a couple of hours and I was edified to hear his obvious passion for our Lord. Our time together gave me great encouragement and I left him with a few questions he could reflect on and get back to me with. Here is the fruit of our conversation:
1. Who are those that have had a profound influence on you and your ministry (both living and deceased)? and why?
God has been pleased to bring select men into my life, individuals who have played a strategic role in shaping me into what God desires me to become. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This says, certain men have a stimulating and sharpening effect upon us. This has been true with me.
Undoubtedly, the most powerful influence has been John MacArthur, pastor/teacher of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles , CA . What I have learned from Dr. MacArthur is an unwavering commitment to biblical exposition with theological precision. This faithful shepherd is the embodiment of one whose preaching flows directly from the depths of a passage of Scripture. I have literally cut my teeth on his preaching and carry his influence upon my ministry. I have also learned from him the value of preaching verse by verse through entire books in the Bible over an extended period of time. Only in this fashion is the full counsel of God ensured to be brought to bear upon the life of a congregation. Dr. MacArthur has been very gracious to afford to me much of his time, a relationship which has greatly encouraged me in the things of the Lord. I have learned from this devoted servant what a gracious and humble spirit looks like in the life of a man of God.
In addition, R. C. Sproul, who is a former professor of mine, has had an extraordinary impact upon my life and thinking. His theological insights into Reformed theology, especially as it relates to the bondage of the will and monergistic regeneration, have been very helpful to me. I would also have to site his endearing spirit and winsome character as a strong influence upon me. Dr. Sproul has helped polish some of my rough edges by investing his life into mine.
In my earlier years, S. Lewis Johnson, teacher at Believers’ Chapel in Texas , was very influential in my life in bringing me to the understanding and acceptance of the doctrines of grace. No one was more Arminian than I was, yet the Word under his preaching transformed me. Sunday by Sunday for five years, I sat under his remarkable expositions and was greatly impacted. I will always be grateful for this gracious Southern gentleman with a commanding authority in the pulpit. His passionate gospel pleas at the end of his sermons still ring in my ears.
Further, James Montgomery Boice, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, Philadelphia , preached two Bible conferences in my church for me when I was a young pastor. Those visits left an indelible impression upon me in my formative years. His confidence in the power of the preaching of the Word of God played a key role in shaping me as a young man in the ministry.
Each one of these men—MacArthur, Sproul, Johnson, and Boice—have made a significant investment in my life and have been a living example to me of an expositor/theologian who has rightly handled the Word of God.
Among those men deceased, several men have significantly impacted me through the written page. As John Piper says, “My best friends are dead men.” Some of my good friends who are dead would be Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, A. W. Pink, and, more recently, John Calvin. All four of these men have thundered their expositions of the Scripture into my heart, most specifically, in their exaltation of the sovereignty and supremacy of God.
2. What are the most influential books, apart from Scripture, that God has used tremendously in your growth as a Christian and in influencing your ministry?
First, I would reference A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth) by Thomas Watson. This book contains a series of sermons that Watson preached as he expounded the Westminster Catechism. I learned from this book the God-centeredness of theology, as well as the sovereignty of God in all things. His chapter on “ Providence ” was especially helpful to me in understanding this grand, life-changing truth.
Second, I must single out The Forgotten Spurgeon (Banner of Truth) by Iain Murray. This book deepened my understanding of the doctrines of grace, especially the relationship between regeneration and faith. It also demonstrated for me that the doctrines of grace are to be preached with evangelistic zeal and fervor. Believing in the sovereignty of God should not make us stoic and monotone in our public proclamation. Rather, as I learned from Spurgeon in this book, these truths should arouse the passions of our heart to preach with our entire being. This was the genius of Spurgeon—he was “theology on fire.”
Third, I have been significantly influenced by reading the two-volume work George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival (Banner of Truth) by Arnold Dallimore. These excellent volumes convey something of the romance of preaching. Here in Whitefield’s life is the sheer adventure of a man who was entirely abandoned to the proclamation of the Word of God. Further, the warm piety of Whitefield’s life is compelling and contagious. If I could be anyone in church history, I think I would most want to be George Whitefield—on the back of a horse, riding up and down the eastern sea coast of the Colonies, advancing to the public square, lifting up my voice, and saying, “I have come here today to speak to you about your soul” and “You must be born again.” This is what I have gained from reading this excellent biography of Whitefield, an enflamed desire to preach the Word of God.
I would be remiss not to mention the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The first six volumes which comprise The New Park Street Pulpit (Pilgrim Press & Baker) are especially powerful. The preaching of the early Spurgeon with all his youthful zeal is unusually arresting to read. Here was both light (truth) and heat (conviction) in the preaching of the Word. Here truly was one, as Richard Baxter said, who preached “as a dying man to dying men, as never to preach again.”
3. What prompted you to begin the phenomenal books that will be the five volume series "Foundations of Grace"?
What has prompted me to write the five-volume series A Long Line of Godly Men grew out of a desire to teach the men of our church the doctrines of grace. For the last three years, I have met on Friday mornings at 6:00am with our men, and have taught them biblical, systematic, and historical theology, specifically focused upon the sovereignty of God in salvation. I have wanted them to see that while we may be out of step with the times in which we live as we hold fast to these God-honoring truths, we, nevertheless, stand in a grand procession of godly men that spans the centuries. The great men of Scripture and church history, for the most part, have held to the truths of sovereign grace. These are the men who God has used to promote reformations, ignite awakenings, translate the Scriptures, and launch missions’ movements in their day. This five-volume series which I am writing with Reformation Trust—A Long Line of Godly Men—is the overflow of teaching these truths to the men of our church, so that it might reach a broader audience. Each handout has become a chapter in the book. Behind all this, my burning desire is to see a new reformation in this present hour.
4. As you have traveled to many different countries, do you see, by and large, a embracing of the doctrines of grace in other parts of the world? Do you think America is the most resistant to the doctrines of grace? Why or why not?
As I travel to many different parts of the world, I, unfortunately, see an Arminian base where I go. Tragically, the church in America , I have found, is the most resistant to the doctrines of grace. I think that this is caused by a culture and church that is saturated with political correctness, individual autonomy, and financial prosperity, as well as spiritual apathy and theological superficiality. All these elements have a deadening effect upon understanding the truth and feed Arminianism, in one way or another. Sad to say, the church is just as man-centered in other parts of the globe as it is here. We, who believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation, remain islands of reformed thinking in the midst of oceans of semi-Pelagian doctrine.
5. Do you see a trend rippling through modern evangelicalism that is turning back to the great doctrines of the reformation? If so, why do you think this is?
I am grateful to say that I do see what may be the initial sun rays of the dawning of a new day in the church. A resurgence in Reformed theology is definitely beginning to capture the minds and hearts of a new generation. Young people in their teens, twenties, and thirties are no longer content with the tired and trivial answers of my generation regarding the fundamental issues of a Christian world view. They long for more, and those answers are found exclusively in the depths of the Word of God. I am encouraged that there is a new wave of men and women who are marching onto the scene, who are committed to this great truth: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
6. What do you think is the doctrine that is most foundational for the church of today to be solid on in order to be a healthy church?
I believe that the most foundational truth for the church today, as well as in any generation, is the sovereignty and holiness of God. As one’s view of God goes, so goes the entire church. A high view of God inevitably leads to high and holy living. But a low view of God leads unmistakably to low living. A towering view of God in which He is seen in His unrivaled sovereignty and absolute holiness has the most dramatic and profound effect upon the church. Such a vision of God inspires transcendent worship, induces godly living, empowers tireless service, deepens spiritual fellowship, imparts supernatural joy, breathes abundant life, and motivates global outreach. The church will never rise any higher than her lofty view of God.
7. Where do you think the monergism vs. synergism debate falls on this scale? can you elaborate?
I agree with Charles Spurgeon, who once noted that days of revival in the church are marked by, among other things, the preaching on the doctrine of regeneration. Our understanding of monergistic regeneration is absolutely essential for a holy and healthy church. Even having a converted church is at stake. The debate between monergism and synergism is nothing more, nothing less, than the controversy between a God-centered world view and a man-centered paradigm. Monergism teaches that ‘salvation is of the Lord,’ entirely and exclusively. Synergism fabricates that ‘salvation is of God and man.’ In this latter view, man becomes his own co-savior, and this robs God of His glory. A monergistic view of regeneration dusts off the high ground of soteriology and gives the church a firm place to stand and serve.
8. As you touched upon in our conversation. Describe the greatest trial that you have endured as a pastor and how did God minister to you (whether through Scripture, the Spirit, or other people) in that time and how have you been able to use it for the benefit of other pastors (see 2 Cor. 1:3-9)?
The greatest trial that I have endured in the ministry is being put out of the previous church that I pastored. The last six years of my pastorate there saw many pressures brought to bear upon me, each one provoked for teaching the full counsel for God. Issues such as expository preaching, the lordship of Christ, church discipline, divine sovereignty in salvation, and marrying only two believers created much controversy and caused much difficulty for me. Ultimately, it was the truths of the doctrines of grace that caused many people to gnash their teeth and reject the clear teaching of Scripture. In reality, this refusal was a clear and calculated rejection of God Himself, who is the Truth. Standing in the vortex of such a whirlwind was most demanding and draining.
What enabled me to persevere through this difficult time was the sufficiency of Scripture, the sufficiency of Christ, and the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit. The all-sufficient grace of God abounds to us and is always greater than our deepest valleys and darkest nights. God gives a greater grace to those who humble themselves in His presence. This was my experience.
The testimony of the psalmist was tested and found to be true: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quite waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalms 23:1-6).
Either these verses are true, or they are not. In my time of greatest difficulty in the ministry, a season in which I was being attacked and assailed for preaching the full counsel of God, I found the sufficiency of God’s sustaining grace to be enough. Solus Christus—Christ alone—was my all and all.
Thank you Dr. Lawson and may the Lord continue to richly bless you ministry,
For more information on Dr. Lawson click through the following links:
New Reformation Ministries (His personal website)
Christ Fellowship Baptist Church (the local church where Dr. Lawson pastors')
Download his sermons on MP3