Classic Friday: E. Burns Interview (2021)


[] Burns is a missionary with keen insight into the theology of missions. Plus, he is the most interesting man I know!


Welcome to No Compromise Radio, a ministry coming to you from Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boylston.
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Apostle Paul said, But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
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Mike Abendroth. Thanks for listening. Just a couple quick announcements before we start the show today. We still hope to go to Israel February 23rd, 2021, so you can email me, mike at nocompromiseradio .com.
For more information. Second announcement, my brother, Pat Abendroth, the younger, more handsome, thinner, nicer
Abendroth. He has a new podcast that I think you'd like called The Pactum, thepactum .org.
He's done, I think, six or seven shows now. He's talking about Jay Gresham Machen, and if you like No Compromise, you'll probably like The Pactum from Covenant of Redemption, Pactum Salutis.
Well, today I have a returning guest, personal friend, I think we're friends up until this point,
E. Burns. Welcome to No Compromise Radio. Good to have you back. Hey, it's great to be here. Thanks, Mike.
Well, I've got all kinds of things to talk to you about, and the first one is, you wrote an article for the
Master's Seminary Journal, Spring 2021. What's the name of the journal article, and why'd you write it?
Oh, so, okay, I knew you'd ask me this question. The name, I can't remember, but it's something to the effect of imputation and missions, why the imputation of Christ in Sola Fide is good news for karma background believers.
I know it's a big mouthful, but the issues are multiple in the sense that missionaries on the field, they are typically surrounded by cultures that are karmic -like, and it doesn't mean that they all have to be
Hindu or Buddhist or from a Confucian background or some other Eastern religion background, but most cultures and religions in the world, they tend to operate on a system of reciprocity, of contractual performance, where if you do enough good things, you'll have blessings from the gods, from Allah, from the spirits or whatever in return, but if you don't do enough good things, well, things happen, things go bad, and you have to figure out the cryptic reasons for why you didn't earn enough blessings or things didn't go well for you, and it's a very karmic -related system, and most religions, most cultural value systems in the world operate like this, and the point of the article was not just how do we share the gospel cross -culturally to those people, but the fact is that a lot of missionaries, they operate in similar forms where, you know, it's like if you go to the mission field and you have a family, and that family is, everything's going well for them.
Kids are walking with the Lord, their support's coming in, their health is great, and it's just like everything's fruitful, but then there's that other missionary family, they're suffering, they're struggling, hardly making ends meet, health problems, they're not making any headway, and then they start to ask the question, what did
I do wrong? Why isn't God blessing my ministry? Why isn't God doing for me what he's doing for them?
Why will I never have a biography written about me? So on and so forth. Well, they're operating in a karmic
Christianity framework where they think they haven't done enough to keep
God happy with them, and so that was the point of the article, was to write from that perspective of why faith alone is the answer to that sense of contractual relationship with God to maintain or earn his blessings.
Jared Pellett Dr. Burns, it's interesting to me as I think through this whole karma thing, and maybe some people first heard about karma from the
Beatles or something in the 60s, and now when I think of karma, I usually don't think of Western civilizations.
But as you were talking, I thought you, especially with your overseas travels, probably see more karma in the
United States than most average people. Am I correct in that assessment? Dr.
Burns Yeah, I think it's hardwired into us, and the issue is not so much because we've been influenced by karmic thinking since, say, the 60s or whatever, it's because it's human nature.
We're legalists at heart, and we're always looking for something to do enough to achieve or earn or maintain a desired outcome.
That's why the law of God crushes the soul before the gospel can heal it, and we are wired to follow some sort of law.
It's either God's law or it's a self -imposed law. Either way, we are lawful people, and I think we're just not attuned to it here because we're a secular, open, free society.
Anything goes sort of approach to a lot of morality, but deep down inside, we all operate on a moral code, and the way you figure out what's wrong with you, whether or not you have an idea of what original sin is, you might interpret what's wrong with you as brokenness or woundedness or victimhood or whatever the terminology is that's popular of the day.
Still, you're looking for a way to fix it by doing something good or doing something to improve yourself.
Whatever you think is going to improve your life, that's a karmic system. Bad things happen, you fix them by doing good things to get a desired blessing or a desired outcome.
It's very karmic, and it's very human. Well, I like it that you tied that in in the journal article, which
I read and enjoyed, to the active obedience of Jesus. I guess if you're, from a layman's perspective, you're going to talk about obedience and law -keeping in one way or another, so if it's not human law -keeping, and then we never live up to that even as Christians, then we need to have that basis or that ground for our assurance and our salvation with the obedience of the
Lord Jesus as our representative. Is that what your tie -in was about, thinking about the active obedience of Jesus, because that is our standing before God, not did we have a good day or a bad day subjectively?
Yeah, it's exactly that, because the thing is, is a lot of evangelical
Christianity around the world, and this is not just an American phenomenon, this is everywhere where evangelicalism has gone, it's like we've got the gospel half -right, where we talk about the cross and forgiveness, but we don't talk about the positive, you know, alternative is the imputation of righteousness.
So justification in common evangelical parlance is something like, just as I never sinned.
Well, that's actually not totally accurate, because if you're forgiven, you are treated as innocent, but justification is the imputation of Christ's active obedience, and so it's not that you're just treated as innocent, you're treated as righteous.
Like, if you're treated as innocent, it's you've not done anything wrong, but if you're treated as righteous, you've done everything right.
And, you know, it's kind of like if a kid comes in, I mean, I think of my kids, and they ask,
Dad, is everything okay? Did I do something wrong? And I could say, no, no, you're fine, you didn't do anything wrong, or, and they walk away relieved that everything's fine, or I could say, you know what?
I am so happy with you. You've done everything right today. I'm just so proud of you.
And they walk out full of joy because my pleasure is in them for righteousness. I mean, of course, the analogy breaks down with our relationship with Lord, it's not ours, but that's essentially what
I'm pointing out is the active obedience of Christ, as Machen said, there's no hope without it.
And that's exactly what we must remember in all of our obedience to Christ. It's not our obedience, it's
Christ in us, and we do it out of gratitude for Sounds like many people who would say, well,
I think God loves me today because I obeyed, right? And if I disobeyed, He loves me less. And going back to your human father analogy, we don't even do that with our human fathers that are sinful, right?
Oh, I disobeyed you, Dad, do you still love me? Well, of course, I still love you.
Now you may receive fatherly chastisement, but it has nothing to do with my love for you.
And of course, if we are in Christ, God could not love us more, or He could not love us less, because He loves us like He loves
His son. Talking to Dr. Burns today on No Compromise Radio Ministry, I'm going to read a passage from the message, and you tell me where it's from.
You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we're in, first sin, then death, and no one is exempt now either from sin or death.
That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses.
So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses.
Even those who didn't sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God.
But Adam, who got us into this, also points us ahead to the one who will get us out of this.
I'm pretty sure that came from Eugene Peterson, but I think he was reading Romans 5 when he wrote that.
Well, I was thinking about active obedience in Romans 5 and some of those issues, but you know, there's a little truth in there, but you know, we want precision, do we not?
Yes. So, Dr. Burns, go ahead. I'm sorry. Oh, I'm just, yeah. I mean, we're dealing with theological language and, you know, you play stupid games with theological language, you win stupid prizes in the culture.
And we've got to be precise because words have meaning and ideas have consequences. Amen. Well, speaking about something stupid,
I have probably made a lot of stupid mistakes in ministry, and especially when it comes to missions.
I don't think I was taught much about missions. I'd like to talk a little bit, Dr. Burns, about some kind of mistakes people make in missions.
But before we talk about other people's mistakes, what was the biggest mistake you can think of that you made someplace overseas in a missionary context?
Well, just a funny mistake was when I was first learning, I was first learning
Turkish. The first country my wife and I were in was that country in Turkey.
And I was pretty proud of, you know, some of my Turkish language abilities. And I, one time we were,
I was just at the end of myself. I couldn't think of what to say in Turkish. And so I walked into a shop and I was looking for an English speaker.
And I said in, I said in Turkish, I said, does anybody here speak
Turkish? But I meant to say, does anybody here speak English? And they all looked at me like I was handicapped or, you know,
I was confused or on a, you know, drunk or something, but then they just laughed. And it was just a, it's one of those where I think of those moments in language where, you know, you just got to learn to laugh at yourself.
But on a serious note, I think what my biggest regrets,
I guess, yes, regrets, the things I've learned from challenges is, I, I didn't prioritize exactly what we just mentioned a few minutes ago about doctrinal precision and doctrinal clarity in missions.
The people that influenced me the most towards missions were what I call bleeding heart missionaries, people who are cause -driven and very motivational, very inspirational, very friendly, very kind, passionate people who care a lot about people.
And they're the kind of people that you would want to be friends with because they're really good people, but they're, they don't think deeply and theologically about things.
They think about what's going to help and what's going to work. Well, that kind of, you know, that kind of drive to missions doesn't, it doesn't last long when the stuff hits the fan on the mission field.
What you want to be is not a bleeding heart missionary, but a burning heart missionary, somebody who burns with the fire of the gospel, the word of God and the ancient doctrines passed down through the ages that are transcendent, that are immutable, that point to who
God is and are fixed outside of our experience. Those burning heart missionaries, I think
I was on my way there. I was probably, I was probably more there than a lot of my missionary colleagues having gone to Bible school and grad school, but I still was making errors based upon, you know, the senses and feelings and cause orientation.
And I hit the skids. I was on a team with some people who denied inerrancy and who were, had, you know, pages and pages of prophecy that they, they thought
God had given them and for what they were supposed to do, what I was supposed to do for them. And they're very motivational, very inspirational people, but just foundationally, we were, we were going in two different directions.
And my wife and I, we quickly changed course and made some adjustments and focused primarily on doctrine, grounded theology driven missions.
And that's been one of the best things we've ever done. Amen. Talking to Dr. E. Burns today on No Compromise Radio Ministry.
Dr. Burns, I've got another question that's kind of related to that. It seems to me in the old days at churches, maybe it was a
Sunday night, or maybe it was a missions conference for a weekend, including Sunday morning, have missionaries come and they would talk about the
Great Commission and unreached people groups and call people to be missionaries.
And it seemed like people would kind of sign up. Yes, we want to do that. We'd like to go overseas and preach the gospel and tell people about the
Lord Jesus. And it doesn't seem to me that maybe it's just the circles I run in or don't run in.
It doesn't seem to me that's, that's where we get missionaries these days. That's, that's kind of an old thing that we used to do, or maybe an
Arminian thing, I don't know. How does, how do people typically decide to become missionaries these days, or is there a general route?
Or if somebody wants to be a missionary, what should they do? Do you sense what I'm trying to get at here? Yeah, yeah, you got really good questions.
And I'm not in the mobilization world anymore. I used to be a long time ago, probably 17, 18 years ago.
But I think a lot of people, typically, they go after early 20 -somethings.
That's a very transitional, formational time in life, and they're very impressionable, and they're making big lifetime decisions.
That's a, you know, if you're just thinking strictly sociologically or psychologically, that's a good age range to target.
So a lot of college campuses will have missions nights, and they'll have prayer vigils, and they'll have missions conferences where a speaker comes and really, you know, appeals to the needs of the world, or appeals to opportunities.
And just my perspective on that is, I've seen that. I've been a part of those things, and I think
God's done good things through those things, but always in spite of them. I don't think it's the right avenue to pursue.
I do think, historically, God uses that naivete and passion of that age group.
But I think what would be better is if somebody were growing up in the Church, and part of the culture and the talk of the
Church in general was outward focus, in the sense that we gather on Sundays, we sing the songs of Zion, we speak the language of Zion, and we are here as the
Assembly, and we have a passion to get this gospel out to our neighbors and to the nations.
And in a Church culture that kind of fosters that sort of just general ideas and outward -looking orientation,
I think kids growing up in that think of missions or think of the
Great Commission as not just an option, but a good thing they should consider.
And as kids grow up in the Church in that environment, maybe there's somebody that the to that particular calling, and a great thing to do is for somebody, an older brother or sister, to come alongside them and try to mentor or disciple them towards that end and progressively watch them grow into deacon or elder -qualified type leaders that could then, therefore, go plant churches or translate
Bibles. So I see the call to missions, people who last long have lots of investment in them.
People who don't last long are kind of like fireworks. They're brilliant for a second, but then they kind of burn out over time.
And I just think it's a long -term investment, and it doesn't look flashy, it doesn't look exciting, it looks kind of like the mundane plotting on of normal life, but if you view it as, you know, tending a garden of the soul of young people as they grow up into this, you may not have 20 people going out into missions who last two years.
You may only have one every, you know, every decade or so, but those ones usually stay a long time because they've got so much invested in them.
And it's a slower process, but I think it bears longer -term fruit. Dr. Burns, how about COVID and how
COVID is used either properly or improperly to shut countries down and you can't get in or access or things like that?
It's more difficult because of health concerns and other things. Tell our listeners a little bit about the hope we have that every elect person is going to make it to faith.
God will regenerate them and give them faith, trust, in spite of all these things.
I mean, yes, it's a hurdle, but it's not going to stop the Lord of the church, right? Yeah, and I was actually teaching a class a few weeks ago on 19th, 20th century liberal theology and liberation theology, and I had a guy in the class, real good guy,
I don't know, I don't know what his church background was, but he raised his hand and said, it's in all your talk here, isn't it kind of like hyper -Calvinism?
And I said, well, actually it's not hyper -Calvinism. What I was talking about was what you just mentioned. It's actually, it's not a deterrent for missions.
This idea that God has an elect that he's going to save regardless of, you know, world challenges.
It's the only hope for missions. And so COVID, yeah, if you do kind of a
SWOT analysis on the world, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, it's definitely a threat.
It's definitely a challenge, but more than an obstacle, it's an opportunity to see what
God is going to do to spread his gospel in ways that we may not have ever anticipated or to places that we never would have thought.
And I have a home in Southeast Asia.
I'd like to get back to here eventually. And we're kind of limited on travel because of COVID and quarantines and so many other things that are up in the air with the vaccine.
And we just are chomping at the bit to get back. And there's, we have a lot of good friends and a kind of were snatched out of our hands because of COVID and we're just eager to jump back in.
But the fact of the matter, the truth is, is that Jesus is the Lord of the harvest.
He builds his kingdom. He's the king of the kingdom. And we're not, we don't build the kingdom.
We don't build the church. We testify to the kingdom. We bear witness to the king and his kingdom, but it's not our job to build it.
And so we can relax knowing that he's driving this thing, but, you know, we still want to out of love for him and love for the world and out of, you know, passion to see the great commission fulfilled to the honor of Christ.
We want to get busy for the Lord, but not motivated out of a sense of it all depends upon us.
That's what election and God's providence does for the missionary, is it's a stabilizing force to keep you pressing on.
Amen. Acts 18, I was reading the other day and the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent for I am with you.
That would be enough right there. Comma, and no one will attack you to harm you for I have many in this city who are my people.
And I guess we could say, well, that means there's a lot of Christians there. There were a lot of Christians that protect Paul, or as most people think, there are quite a few unregenerate elect people that God is now going to have
Paul preach to, and they will respond with faith that the Spirit gives them. So that's an encouragement. Yes, and it absolutely is.
So many times those types of passages or passages about Christ purchasing for God from every tribe, tongue, and nation, those, it's those moments that the
Holy Spirit through the Word reminds me that God has a plan. He has a people, and I can hang in there because He's going to get it done.
And even if I die on the field and see very little fruit and no church planted, I know there's going to be, you know,
Akka, Wahoo, Tyloo, Tycoon, Wah, people, Lisu people there at the throne that I never had a chance to meet as Christians this side of eternity.
But I can labor knowing that there will be brothers there with us. Amen. I just was studying Revelation 5 and chapter 4 as well.
How many times, over a dozen times, throne, throne, throne, throne, the sovereignty of God.
Well, I want to, before we end the conversation, Dr. Burns, we talked about your
Master's Seminary Journal article. I also know you've written a couple books lately.
Could you tell us about those books and why you wrote them? Yeah, no, the
Master's article was the, it was kind of the abbreviation of two or three chapters from one of the larger books.
So I took kind of the, what I thought were the greatest hits, so to speak, of chapters. I think it was,
I think it was just chapters 4 and 5 of what's called Ancient Gospel, Brave New World.
It's a book coming out with Founders Press and it should be out later this summer.
It is a longer academic version of a shorter version that I wrote with.
The shorter version is called The Transcultural Gospel and they're both saying essentially the same thing.
One is way more academically corroborated because I'm really arguing some cogent ideas that I needed.
You know, I needed to footnote things. I needed to show that I'd done a lot of research and that I'm not just spouting ideas.
I'm actually arguing from, you know, lots of resources and I'm abstracting from a lot of places.
So Ancient Gospel is that one and then Transcultural Gospel is the practical version. It's quite shorter.
And basically this is the idea of both of them is that, so in the area of missions, there's lots of talk about contextualization.
It's been, you know, a buzzword for a very long time and on the surface, contextualization is just, it's not a huge problem if you're talking about translating the
Bible into a language and trying to figure out how to explain or transfer those ideas to that target language.
That's just normal. People normally contextualize when they have to learn another language. I mean, it's just part of how the brain works.
And sometimes you have to use different types of idioms or, you know, different types of analogies, but generally it's not a one -for -one transfer, but, you know, the
Lord uses grammar and syntax to communicate his ideas all over the world and always has.
That's contextualization in its purest sense. But the problem with contextualization over the years is it's evolved into something so much so that the standard or the point of reference in asking about biblical interpretation in these different cultures is not the
Word of God as the starting point, but the person's experience and standpoint.
And, you know, in recent months, people have become more and more aware of what they call critical race theory or critical theory or any of those other theories from that particular milieu.
Well, in missions, not necessarily critical race theory, but where that came from, standpoint theory, standpoint epistemology, that's been pretty popular for quite a while, though they may not use that language or that vocabulary.
They use the ideas where, you know, this is where you get things like you have a
Zulu gospel or a
Sioux gospel or a Baluch gospel or a Chinese gospel, and it's something kind of tailor -made, contextualized for that particular culture.
And my book is arguing against all of that, saying we must start with the
Bible and its categories and its terms and its priorities and its theological definitions first, and then bring definition to those fallen cultures as opposed to starting with those fallen cultures and then trying to figure out ways the
Bible fits into their categories. It's a completely different starting point, and I'm basically saying that the transcultural gospel, the ancient gospel that the
Reformers recovered, the five solas, let's just say, those five points, the centrality of the
Bible, the centrality of the cross, the centrality of resurrection, of righteousness, of faith alone, grace alone, they recovered those from the ancient church.
That has transcended all cultures, all times, and we need to come back to that and start with that and then figure out how we can communicate that transcendent, those transcendent truths and those transcendent categories to cultures that are fallen as opposed to defining, you know, defining biblical terms using cultural ideas.
And so it's, I'm arguing to come back to center, basically. Amen. Well, I look forward to those books and to receive those.
And you know what, we'll have your press agent send me a copy, then I could have you on the radio show. Thanks, Dr.
Burns, for being on No Compromise Radio. I appreciate it. For those that are listening and who have been encouraged, if you write me, mike at nocompromiseradio .com,
I can give you some information. If you'd like to support Dr. Burns, lots of missionaries need ongoing support because churches fade off their support and they're always trying to find new support and then trying to do the work of the ministry as well.
I can tell you personally that I know no one in the universe that knows missions from our kind of no -compromise, theologically reformed position, as Dr.
Burns. I don't know anyone like him. And so I have our church support him.
And if you want to support him, somebody's coming up on a missions committee and says, we need to support somebody who will not compromise the gospel and tell people about the good news in lots of different places.
Just email me, mike at nocompromiseradio .com. Dr. Burns, thanks again for being on the show. Thanks so much,
Mike. No Compromise Radio with Pastor Mike Abendroth is a production of Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boylston.
Bethlehem Bible Church is a Bible teaching church firmly committed to unleashing the life transforming power of God's word through verse by verse exposition of the sacred text.
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