Profiles of Holiness: James Montgomery Boice

14 “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14–16)

For the next several days, I will be profiling several individuals who not only preached about, but lived a life, of personal holiness before the Lord. While these pastors, evangelists, and hymn writers lived in different centuries and countries, they all shared a common bond which binds them together: holiness. These profiles will provide an introduction to our impending study of holiness. Today’s profile concerns pastor and author James Montgomery Boice.

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D. (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA from 1968 until his death. He continues to be heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast. He was also a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Regarding holiness, Dr. Boice was convinced that the church must first return to a biblical understanding of the person and nature of God. It is only when this occurs that the church will begin to understand what it means to be holy as God is holy. Dr. Boice writes:

“In any discussion of reformation in doctrine one must come to the realization that the real problem of our time is that there is hardly any doctrine at all to reform. So when we talk about reformation we must focus on a recovery of theology, period. Certainly in the liberal churches there is a lack of exposition of Scripture and sound doctrine, and unfortunately, this is rapidly becoming the case in evangelical circles as well. Now you might ask which doctrines are missing? I argue that primarily what we need is a recovery of the doctrine of God. You have to have some kind of starting point and that’s the point where I think we should begin. People have lost any real sense of the fact that when we come to church we come to worship and learn about God.” 

“If there is any doctrine that rivals God’s sovereignty in importance it is the holiness of God. But do we have any sense or appreciation of the holiness of God in our churches today? David Wells writes that God’s holiness weighs “lightly upon us.” Why? Holiness involves God’s transcendence. It involves majesty, the authority of sovereign power, stateliness or grandeur. It embraces the idea of God’s sovereign majestic will, a will that is set upon proclaiming himself to be who he truly is: God alone, who will not allow his glory to be diminished by another. Yet we live in an age when everything is exposed, where there are no mysteries and no surprises, where even the most intimate personal secrets of our lives are blurted out over television to entertain the masses. We are contributing to this frivolity when we treat God as our celestial buddy who indulges us in the banalities of our day-to-day lives”.

“Perhaps the greatest problem of all in regard to our neglect of God’s holiness is that holiness is a standard against which human sin is exposed, which is why in Scripture exposure to God always produces feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment and terror in the worshiper. These are all painful emotions, and we are doing everything possible in our culture to avoid them. One evidence of this is the way we have eliminated sin as a serious category for describing human actions. Karl Menninger asked the question years ago with his classic book, Whatever Became of Sin? He answered his own question by arguing that when we banished God from our cultural landscape we changed sin into crime (because it is now no longer an offense against God but rather an offense against the state) and then we changed crimes into symptoms. Sin is now something that is someone else’s fault. It is caused by my environment, my parents or my genes.”

“But once again, this is not simply a problem outside the church. We too have bought into today’s therapeutic approach so that we no longer call our many and manifold transgressions sin or confront sin directly, calling for repentance before God. Instead we send our people to counselors to work through why they are acting in an “unhealthy” manner, to find “healing.”

“David Wells claims that “holiness fundamentally defines the character of God.” But “robbed of such a God, worship loses its awe, the truth of his Word loses its ability to compel, obedience loses its virtue, and the church loses its moral authority.” It is time for the evangelical churches to recover the Bible’s insistence that God is holy above all things and explore what that must mean for our individual and corporate lives. To begin with we need to preach from those great passages of the Bible in which people were exposed to God’s awe-inspiring majesty and holiness. If nothing else, we need to preach the Law without which preaching the Gospel loses its power and eventually even its meaning.”

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

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