Saturday, October 31, 2009

Above All Earthly Powers

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

- Martin Luther

Reformation Reading - History

Here are some great titles if you are interested in reading more about the history of the Protestant Reformation:

The Reformation by Chadwick

The Reformation by Stephen Nichols

Reformation Heroes by Beeke & Kleyn

"A Theologian of the Cross..."

From Luther's Heidelberg Disputation wherein he begins to give shape to his Theology of the Cross:

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom. 1:20].

20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

Happy Reformation Day!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Luther Rose

“There is first to be a cross, black [and placed] in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us.… Even though it is a black cross, [which] mortifies and [which] also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its [natural] color [and] does not ruin nature; that is, [the cross] does not kill but keeps [man] alive.… Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace; in a word it places the believer into a white joyful rose; for [this faith] does not give peace and joy as the world gives and, therefore, the rose is to be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all the angels. Such a rose is to be in a sky-blue field, [symbolizing] that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy; it is already a part [of faith], and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest. And around this field is a golden ring, [symbolizing] that in heaven such blessedness lasts forever and has no end, and in addition is precious beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.”

- Martin Luther

A Brief Biography of Martin Luther

In July of 1505, a young law student named Martin Luther found himself in a horrific thunderstorm. Having closely avoided being struck by lightening and fearing he was going to die, he made an impulsive vow, “Save me, St. Anna, and I shall become a monk.” St. Anna was, according to church tradition the mother of the Virgin Mary. What no one knew, Martin included, was that God's providential hand was guiding not only the weather on that fateful night but also the seemingly impulsive promise of the young lawyer. On July 17th Luther entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt.

This is not to say that the decision to enter the monastery was an easy one. Martin knew he would be disappointing his parents who were dominant figures in his life. But Luther's determination to keep his promise was an indication of the kind of tenacity that would characterize his life as a theologian and churchman. It is probably true that part of what motivated Martin to enter the monastery was the haunting insecurity regarding his salvation. He referred to his lack of assurance with the strong word anfectungen or afflictions. Surely life as an Augustinian monk would give him the assurance for which he longed.

This was not the case however. Luther was a disciplined and fervent monk. His devotion, however, did not help. He would spend hours in confession haunted by his understanding of the pervasive nature of his sin. Exasperated, his mentor told him to focus on Christ and him alone in his quest for assurance. Though he continued to suffer from these anfectugen for years to come, the seeds were sown for his later conversion.

A pivotal moment in the life of the future reformer occurred in 1510 when Luther traveled as part of delegation from his monastery to Rome. He was deeply troubled by the corruption and immorality he observed within the "city of God." Not only that, Luther received no comfort from this supposedly sacred pilgrimage.

In 1511, he transferred from Erfurt to a monastery in Wittenberg where, after receiving his doctor of theology degree, he became a professor of biblical theology at the newly founded University of Wittenberg.

In 1513, Luther's critique of the Roman Church began to take shape as he lectured through the Psalms. This critique became clearer and stronger as he lectured through Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1515/16). Not only that It was during those lectures that Luther finally found the assurance that had evaded him for years. Luther's discovery (or recovery) of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone changed the course of church history and the history of Europe.

In Romans, Paul writes of the "righteousness of God." Luther had hated that phrase because he understood it to mean that God was a righteous judge and would therefore judge His people on the basis of their righteousness. Indeed, the Church of Rome taught that very idea. The problem is that Luther knew that human righteousness could never be satisfactory to a holy God. Through careful study of the Scriptures, something not common among monks, Luther saw clearly what Paul was teaching in Romans. Righteousness is the gift of God's grace through faith in Christ. What God demands, God provides through Christ Jesus. The recovery of the biblical doctrine of justification changed everything for Luther and set him afire. The monk became a reformer.

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed a list of 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenburg. Martin's Ninety-Five Theses were a devastating critique of the church's practice of selling indulgences. The theses also explained the fundamentals of justification by grace alone. Luther also sent a copy of the theses Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz calling on him to end the sale of indulgences. Albrecht did not appreciate the monk's zeal. Word reached Rome where the cardinals saw Luther's theses as an attack on the authority of the Pope. In 1518 at a meeting of the Augustinian Order in Heidelberg, Luther set out his positions with even more precision. In what was known as the Heidelberg Disputation Luther's thought took on a new clarity and theological maturity. It is in the Disputation where we see emerge the Theology of the Cross.

Following Luther's appearance in Heidelberg, in October 1518, Luther was ordered to recant his positions by the Papal Legate, Thomas Cardinal Cajetan. Luther stated that he could not recant unless from "scripture and right reason" it was proven that he had erred. Short of that he would not, in fact, could not recant. Luther's refusal to recant led to his excommunication.

Throughout 1519, Luther did not lay low. In fact he continued to lecture and write in Wittenberg. What is more, in June and July of that year, he participated in another debate on Indulgences and the papacy in Leipzig. The pope had had enough of this "boar in the vineyard of the Lord." On June 15, 1520 the pope issued a bull (Exsurge Domini – Arise O' Lord) threatening Luther with excommunication. Luther received the bull on October 10th. Luther demonstrated his disdain for the pope's pronouncement by publicly burning the document on December 10th.

Luther's excommunication came in January of 1521. In March, he was summonsed by Emperor Charles V to Worms to defend himself. During the Diet of Worms, Luther once again refused to recant his writings. As a result of this refusal he was placed under Imperial Ban.

Luther was now a condemned and wanted man. It is quite extraordinary that he was not captured and executed. Luther hid out at the Wartburg Castle until May of 1522 when he returned to Wittenberg. He continued teaching. In 1524, Luther left the monastery. In 1525, he married an ex-nun named Katharina von Bora. From his writings it appears that Martin and "Katy" had quite a blissful home life.

From 1533 to his death in 1546 he served as the Dean of the theology faculty at Wittenberg. He died in Eisleben on 18 February 1546.

"And everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

From Al Mohler:

As Sen. John McCain recently remarked, "elections have consequences." President Barack Obama signed the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Thursday, fulfilling a campaign promise and handing the gay rights community one of its most sought-after achievements.

The bill, named for two men killed in vicious attacks, extends the definition of federal hates crimes to include attacks "based on a person's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or mental or physical disability." Referring to Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd, the President said:

It's hard for any of us to imagine the mind-set of someone who would kidnap a young man and beat him to within an inch of his life, tie him to a fence, and leave him for dead. It's hard for any of us to imagine the twisted mentality of those who'd offer a neighbor a ride home, attack him, chain him to the back of a truck, and drag him for miles until he finally died.

Those words are eloquent in exposing the deep evil that resides in far too many human hearts. If anything, the President spoke too cautiously. It is not only "hard" for any morally sane person to imagine the mentality behind these attacks, it is and must be impossible. Such crimes of violence against any human being should and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But defining these crimes as "hate crimes" shifts the legal issue from the criminally violent act itself to the thoughts and intentions of the criminal. This is a dangerous and unnecessary step, for the very idea of a hate crime requires the government to play the role of psychiatrist and also requires a list of those who deserve special protections. How can government stop the extension of that list? If criminalizing hate is legally justifiable, should not every citizen be granted these same protections?

Even more ominously, the logic of hate crime laws inevitably leads to the idea of laws against what is defined as "hate speech." It is not fair to suggest that this specific legislation includes a hate speech provision. It is fair, however, to sound the alarm that very important rights involving the freedom to speak openly against homosexuality, for example, are now at far greater risk.
Read the entire article HERE.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview with Michael Horton on "Christless Christianity"

Recently, Richard Doster interviewed Michael Horton concerning the premise of his book Christless Christianity.

For people who are in churches where Christ is faithfully preached, what’s the take-away? What do you want them to do with the information you present?

First of all, to fall down on their knees in gratitude for being in churches where Christ and Him crucified is the rallying cry, where that message is never taken for granted, where it’s always explored from Genesis through Revelation.

But I’m also hearing from a lot of people—pastors, for example, in very sound churches—who have said: “It’s helpful to know why I hear sermons preached with a non-Christo-centric focus. It helps to explain why sometimes my own preaching isn’t as Christ-focused as it could be.”

We need to be asking the question—when it comes to outreach, evangelism, worship, the songs we sing, the visitation we do, even diaconal ministries: How is Christ being delivered to sinners—even lifelong Christian sinners—in this time and place?

Asking that question, I think, is critical.

And so, we can’t envision a sermon that wouldn’t
be predicated on some facet of the gospel?

Right. Which means our preaching needs to be expository. If, as Jesus said, all the Scriptures proclaim Him, then we should be looking for Christ in every passage. We should expect that He’ll be placarded before us.

It makes a big difference if we go to the Bible looking for tips or for “our best life now” or for advice on child rearing, marriage, success in life … . Or, if we go to find Jesus Christ. If we go to find Christ, who is the wisdom of God, then all the wisdom on other matters—marriage, parenting, covenantal life—it finds its proper coordinates in Him.
Read the entire interview HERE.

Affirming the truth often involves identifying error

"It consist in the rise and progress of a spirit of indifference to all doctrines and opinions in religion. A wave of colour-blindness about theology appears to be passing over the land. The minds of many seem utterly incapable of discerning any difference between faith and faith, creed and creed, tenet and tenet, opinion and opinion, thought and thought, however diverse, heterogeneous, contrariant and mutally destructive they may be.

" true and nothing is false, everything is right and nothing is wrong, everything is good and nothing is bad, if it approaches under the garb and name of religion. You are not allowed to ask, What is God's truth? but What is liberal, and generous, and kind?"

- J.C. Ryle on "pressing dangers" facing the church (1884)

Carl Trueman on Facebook

I'm on Facebook. I like Facebook (some days) as a way of keeping track of friends new and old. But I have also seen Facebook degenerate into ugliness. It also seems to hold the danger of replacing deep, personal involvment in the lives of others with something shallow and superficial.

Carl Trueman puts it well:
“…the church should show this generation of text and web addicts where real friendship and community lie, not with some bunch of self-created avatars on Facebook but with the person next to them in the pew on Sunday, with the person next door, with the person they can see, hear, touch and, of course, to whom they can talk, and who is created not in webworld but by the mighty Creator.”


"Collision: Hitchens vs. Wilson" - EXCLUSIVE 13 minute preview from LEVEL4 on Vimeo.

Order Collision HERE.

Arts and the Church

From Kevin DeYoung:

The Church and the arts have had an on-again off-again relationship for a couple millennia. At times, the Church has been a patron of the arts, supporting and encouraging sculptors, painters, and musicians out of its largesse. At other times, the church has been standoffish toward the arts, seeing them as a waste of time, or worst, an expression of hedonism and sensuality.

Today, although many churches could hardly be called artist-friendly, there is a resurgence of interest in and advocacy for the arts. In the under-40 church crowd, loving the arts is like loving your grandma, as in, only the most backward philistines don’t. There are two things no young Christian dares to be against: social justice and the arts.

The passion for encouraging the arts is understandable and in large part commendable. Not only does the Church have a long history of commissioning art, but the Bible speaks highly of those with gifts of artistry and craftsmanship (see the famous pair, Bezalel and Oholiab). And let’s be honest, many of our churches are not exactly a haven for the artsy crowd. Church culture is usually more conducive to the bourgeois than the bohemian. So it makes sense that we would have to go out of our way to welcome artists and encourage their work.

DeYoung goes on to assert 6 theses concerning the church's relationship to the arts.

1. We must allow art to be art.
2. Art is valuable, but so are a lot of other things.
3. Art can do some things, and it can't do other things.
4. Our worship should strive for artistic excellence, but our worship will inevitably be "popular" and propositional.
5. Churches can learn to welcome artists, but artists should not expect the church to be an art gallery.
6. Artists can help us see our idols, and artists have idols of their own too.

Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"This Is That"

Derek Thomas preaching from Acts 2:14-41.

G.K. Beale on Revelation

Check out Dr. Beale's lectures from the Clarus Conference - "From Symbolism to Significance: The Book of Revelation."

Bryan Chapell on Christ-Centered Worship

"Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God's blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.

"In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that we are united around Christ's purposes rather than arguing about stylistic preferences."
Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lessons from an Atheist

Christopher Hitchens has some very interesting things to say about conservative Christians based upon his experiences debating Douglas Wilson.
I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a "script" that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.
Wilson isn't one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just "metaphors." He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn't waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he "allows" it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing.

HT: Church Matters

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's good to be Benny

Some items from Benny's expense report:
•cost of his 7,000 sq-ft house: $10-million
•amount spent per month for his private jet: $112,000
•price of his two cars: $80,000 each
•cost per night for staying at 5,400 sq ft luxury hotel room during a “layover”: $10,800 per night paid
•tips for a 3-day period: $4,500.

HT: Justin Taylor

Reach them with the Amazing God not helpful tips

From Kevin DeYoung:

I beg of you, don’t go after the next generation with mere moralism, either on the right (don’t have sex, go to church, share your faith, stay off drugs) or on the left (recycle, dig a well, feed the homeless, buy a wristband). The gospel is not a message about what we need to do for God, but about what God has done for us. So get them with the good news about who God is and what he has done for us.

Some of us, it seems, are almost scared to tell people about God. Perhaps because we don’t truly know him. Maybe because we prefer living in triviality. Or maybe because we don’t consider knowing God to be very helpful in real life. I have to fight against this unbelief in my own life. If only I would trust God that God is enough to win the hearts and minds of the next generation. It’s his work much more than it is mine or yours. So make him front and center. Don’t preach your doubts as mystery. And don’t reduce God to your own level. If ever people were starving for a God the size of God, surely it is now.
Read the rest HERE.

The Gateway to Heresy...

Thanks to Bart Barber for posting an outstanding article on the importance of the doctrine of the Bible's inerrancy. Barber postulates, I believe correctly, that many evangelicals are suffering from "inerrancy fatique." I think one of the evidences of this fatique is seen in the number of those being accepted as evangelical who assert that the Bible is riddled with errors, myths, and theological contradictions.

Barber's article is both generous in tone and accessible to the lay reader intested in having a robust doctrine of Scripture.

Dr. Jim Denison has served as the official professional theologian of the Baptist General Convention of Texas since being installed as Theologian-in-Residence at BGCT by the administration of Dr. Randel Everett in January 2009. Dr. Denison’s ministry as theologian-in-residence, according to Everett, will “[reflect] an innovative approach to serving the needs of our churches in Texas while also being involved in ministry beyond the state.”

Mentioned in the press release, and doubtless a factor in his selection, are Denison’s past labors in communicating theology to lay people. Among his better known efforts in this regard are his published books, such as Wrestling with God: How Can I Love a God I’m Not Sure I Trust? Far less known, but perhaps more important, is a paper Denison published in 2005 entitled “The Errancy of Inerrancy: Historical and Logical Examinations.”

The nature of the Bible is a foundational point of Christian theology. Denison serves in a rare and prestigious position as the official resident theologian of a large state convention of Southern Baptist believers. The inerrancy of the Bible has become a topic of significant historical importance. Denison’s writings are factually flawed and tend toward sophistry. For all of these reasons, this paper will offer a critique of Denison’s denial of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Two possible approaches exist for refuting Denison. One approach would involve the authorship of a footnoted pedantic rebuttal fit for the academic community. I believe that this type of rebuttal is the less important of the two options. Denison authored his paper in order to take the denial of inerrancy down from the ivory towers of liberal academia (its indigenous habitat) and plead his case “in common-sense terms” for the benefit of “anyone confused by this issue” for whom “too little of [the denial of inerrancy] has been explained or made relevant to the church member.” Because Denison has made this argument for the lay community, the rebuttal also needs to be addressed toward the lay community. Besides, Denison’s paper is merely a regurgitation of points long since addressed within academic circles, making an academic rebuttal superfluous. It is appropriate for this rebuttal to take a non-academic, common-sense tone in setting forth the simple logical flaws of Denison’s main arguments.

Those main arguments are six in number:

Denison argues that the word “inerrancy” has been defined and qualified in too many different and highly technical ways to be of any theological use; therefore, we ought to prefer to speak of the “trustworthiness” or “authority” of the Bible.

Denison argues that the word “inerrancy” has been defined and qualified in too many different and highly technical ways to be of any theological use; therefore, we ought to prefer to speak of the “trustworthiness” or “authority” of the Bible.

Denison argues that the concept of inerrancy, since it is applied exclusively to the original Bible manuscripts, actually undermines the faith of believers in their own copies of the Bible.

Denison argues that inerrancy is a recent doctrinal innovation not shared by those in Christian history whom we ought to emulate—that it is not among our theological “roots.”

Denison argues that rather than the denial of inerrancy's leading to other heresies, the affirmation of inerrancy leads to unwarranted divisiveness.

Denison argues that inerrancy is a philosophical position not supported by the statements of the Bible itself.

Denison argues that the Bible actually is not inerrant; therefore, to apply the test of inerrancy to the Bible is to set the Bible up to fail at a test that it does not and would not apply to itself, and thereby to undermine one’s belief in the “trustworthiness” of the Bible.

Barber spends the rest of the article addressing each of the six points. You will benefit from reading the entire article HERE.

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's sermon was part 20 in our series through Hebrews - "The Forerunner of a Greater Priest" (Hebrews 7:1-10). You can listen to or download it HERE.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Congratulations Mark Dever on 15 years at Capitol Hill!

Mark Dever is a hero to me. He is the kind of pastor I aspire to be. The video below is a surprise celebration hosted by his church to mark his 15th year as pastor.

The men gathering across the front of the stage midway through the video are men mark has mentored who are now patoring churches overseas.

The following is taken from a deeply moving testimony written by a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church:

it dawned on me, in God's loving providence, that God reserved my life's MOST challenging experiences for when i would be sitting in a church that has continued to sustain me. i wish there were words for all that i feel for this body of Christ. for these friends. for this unbelievable example of Love and Unity i share with these 600 people. i had no idea church could be like this...

this church isn't a club...or a place where we gather to hang out with people who are JUST like us. where we can find a common bond...or build relationships on human, earthly commonalities.

this isn't a shopping center where we can go and pick up something that serves our purpose. and this certainly isn't a place where we all gather for an emotional experience that provides warm fuzzies for our egos.

conversely, church for me can be painful at times...and that's ok. it's refining. it's clear. it's sharp. and it takes me from a place of comfort, into a place where i recognize i need something infinitely bigger than myself, or all this world can provide.

i say all of this, because our dear shepherd and tireless pastor, Mark Dever, has been leading our congregation for 15 years! and tonight we held a TOP SECRET surprise celebration for him, which was more meaningful than i even expected.
Read the entire post HERE.

Another Screed by Karen Armstrong

Okay, I'll confess up front that I have not read Karen Armstrong's latest book "The Case for God." I gave up reading Armstrong because her views of God generally and Christianity specifically are so reprehensible. She is a former nun with a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas. At least that's the way it seems when I read her.

I am posting a link to Tim Challies' review of the book because I am concerned that some who are not acquainted with Armstrong's work or her perspective will buy it thinking they are getting a good book on apologetics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I can save you thirty-five bucks and many hours of your life by telling you that 99% of what Armstrong has to say about God and religion she squeezes into the Introduction and the Epilogue, which together take up just 23 of the 340 pages of this book. There she spews forth what she really believes about God and those who seek to follow him. Though she writes about all faiths, she focuses almost exclusively on Christianity. The reader will learn, among other things: that nobody before modern times was foolish enough to believe that the Bible should be read as fact, as if the Creation account has any value beyond a mythological attempt to describe the world’s beginning; that the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture was unknown until the 1870’s when Hodge and Warfield dreamed it up; that Socratic dialogue with atheists would help us understand how we can be more faithful believers in God; that truth is found not by understanding or believing, but by doing; that the purpose of religion is to discover new capacities of mind and heart; that the danger to religion and the danger to the world is not religious adherents, but fundamentalist believers-those who believe in the exclusivity of their faith and who fall into old beliefs such as the infallibility of their scriptures. And that is just a sampling of a mere 23 pages.
Armstrong seems to have the same level of confidence in the Bible as some "evangelical" scholars I have read.

The rest of the book is an extended revisionist look at the history of religion in general and the Christian faith in particular. Armstrong seeks to show that the modern Christian God (I hesitate to capitalize God in the way she uses the name) is vastly different from the “unknown” God of pre-modern times. God was once mysterious and unknown, so transcendent, so other that people could not hope to really know who he is or how he acted. But then modernism had to come along and ruin a perfectly good deity by insisting that God could be known, that he even desired to be known. What the author believes we need to do, of course, is return to God as a mystery, to God as an unknowable force who combines the best of all the world religions. Along the way she pauses to offer a few words about nearly every religious leader and every philosopher who ever uttered God’s name. It is absolutely exhausting and, for simplistic old-school fundie Christians like myself, utterly exasperating. With her facts on the basics of the Christian faith so far from the truth and with her obvious bias, I actually found myself reading deliberately trying not to comprehend, not to retain, what she said. After all, having proven herself utterly untrustworthy in the basics, how could I trust her in anything else?

Read Tim's entire review HERE.

Historic Westminster Audio

Check out classic sermons and lectures (Murray, Van Til, Clowney, Keller, etc) from Westminster Theological Seminary HERE.

Reaching out without dumbing down?

Kevin Deyoung on the REAL way to reach out to younger people:
In the church growth heyday, scholars and pastors were wrestling with how to reach out without dumbing down. Today I would argue that we reach out precisely by not dumbing down. The door is open like never before to challenge people with good Bible teaching. People want to learn doctrine. They really do, even non-Christians. Whether they accept it all or not, they want to know what Christians actually believe. Young people will not put up with feel good pablum. They want the truth straight up, unvarnished, and unashamed.

Thom Rainer did a study a number of years ago asking formerly unchurched people the open ended question “What factors led you to choose this church?” A lot of surveys had been done asking the unchurched what they would like in a church. But this study asked the formerly unchurched why they actually were now in a church. The results were surprising. 11% said worship style led them to their church. 25% said children’s/youth ministry. 37% said that sensed God’s presence at their church. 41% said someone had witnessed to them from the church, and 49% mentioned friendliness as the reason for choosing their church. Can you guess the top two responses? Doctrine and preaching—88% said the doctrine led them to their church and 90% said the preaching led them there, in particular, pastor who preached with certitude and conviction. One woman remarked, “We attended a lot of different churches for different reasons before we became Christians. I tell you, so many of the preachers spoke with little authority; they hardly ever dealt with tough issues of Scripture, and they soft-sold the other issues. Frank and I know now that we were hungry for the truth. Why can’t preachers learn that shallow and superficial preaching doesn’t help anybody, including people like us who weren’t Christians.” When it comes to reaching outsiders, bold, deep, biblical preaching is not the problem. It’s part of the solution.

The next generation in our churches needs to be challenged too. In his book on the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers, Christian Smith coined the phrase “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the spirituality of American youth. They believe in being a good moral person. They believe religion should give you peace, happiness, and security. They believe God exists and made the world, but is not particularly involved in the day-to-day stuff of life. We are na├»ve if we think this is not the faith of some of the best and brightest in our churches, or even those reading this blog!

Church people are not stupid. They are not incapable of learning. For the most part, they simply haven’t been taught. No one has challenged them to think a deep thought or read a difficult book. No one has asked them to articulate their faith in biblical and theological categories. We have expected almost nothing out of our young people, so that’s what we get. A couple generations ago 20 year olds were getting married, starting a family, working at a real job or off somewhere fighting Nazis. Today 35 year olds are hanging out on Facebook, looking for direction, and trying to find themselves. We have been coddled when we should have been challenged.

Challenging the next generation with truth starts with honest self-examination. We must ask, “Do I know the plotline of the Bible? Do I know Christian theology? Do I read any serious Christian books? Do I know anything about justification, redemption, original sin, propitiation, and progressive sanctification? Do I really understand the gospel?” We cannot challenge others until we have first challenged ourselves. The “average” churchgoer must think more deeply about his faith. Many Christians need to realize, like I did one night in college when confronted with some of my own ignorance, that they don’t really know what they believe or why they believe it.

You’ve heard it said that Christianity in America is a mile wide and an inch deep. Well, it’s more like half a mile wide now. Christian influence is not as pervasive as it once was. I’m convinced that if Christianity is to be a mile wide again in America, it will first have to find a way to be a mile deep. Shallow Christianity will not last in the coming generation and it will not grow. Cultural Christianity is fading. The church in the 21s century must go big on truth or go home.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Anthony Carter on America's worst export

From The Gospel Coalition blog:

The most harmful and deadliest export that America is giving to Africa is the Prosperity Gospel in the hands of Neo-pentecostals. They claim it is the gospel, but it is no gospel at all. Taking their cues from the folly of prosperity preachers in the U.S., those self-proclaimed preachers in Africa (in particular Nigeria) are taking the prosperity message to its horrific and sadly inevitable ends. Like their American examples, they are promising wealth and prestige in place of Christ.

One church has the motto: “Poverty must catch fire!”

One church promises: “Where little shots become big shots in a short time.”

Still another says, “Pray your way to riches.”

Yet if this was the only horror, it would be tragic enough. However, such prosperity preaching is also accompanied by a rampant, unbiblical, and destructive neo-pentecostalism that is destroying lives, especially those of children. Out of control preachers and prophets are performing exorcisms for profit on children accused of witchcraft. Lives are being destroyed and souls are being lost. (Read the unbelievable story here).

If the church ever needed to stand against the prosperity message and it’s cousin neo-pentecostalism, it needs to stand against it now. The Church in America must bear some of the blame for this tragedy because we have not spoken more forthrightly against this heresy and denounced the purveyors of such horrific and deadly teaching. Might we have the courage to say “No!” to heresy. And call the prosperity gospel what it is, “doctrines of demons.”

Besides being appalled at these demonic acts, we can help these children by praying for and supporting Stepping Stones Nigeria.

- Anthony Carter

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More on "Ida"

Man, I hate saying, "I told you so."

Check out this story from Times Online.

Q: Are there lessons to be learned about making over-bold claims in documentaries before research has been published?

ES: Absolutely. Documentaries are extremely important for public understanding of science, so scientists and the media need to work together to make sure that they have their facts straight, and that they are portraying a balanced view of the evidence. I think that the most responsible approach would be to create documentaries well after publication of scientific results, so that other members of the scientific community have a chance to weigh in on the issue with the data in hand, and provide alternative viewpoints if they do exist.

"God's own standard of truth"

Inspiration involved the direct work of the Spirit in the mind of the writer, so guiding his thoughts that what he wrote expressed the communication of God to his people. Hence, God is the primary author of Scripture.

If Scripture is truly the word of God, then it reflects the attributes of God, such as his omniscience, truthfulness, and immutability. Consequently, Scripture is infallible, inerrant, and noncontradictory, measured not by some ancient or modern standard, but by God's own standard of truth, which is his perfect knowledge of what actually is, was, and shall be in himself and in his creation.

If Scripture is truly the word of God, then it originated in the mind of God. The conceptual world of Scripture, accordingly, is the mind of God. His word is tailored to, but does not originate in, the culture of the biblical writers. To communicate his word effectively, God simplified his message, expressed it in human language, and engaged the historical and natural circumstances of his people. This involved accomodation to the human condition, such as describing phenomena according to appearance and speaking of himself anthropomorphically. It even involved using words that had erroneous etymological meanings and that had referents about which erroneous ideas were commonly held, yet such use did not entail the endorsing of those concomitant errors.

If Scripture is truly the word of God, then the meaning of the text is God's intended meaning, his full understanding of the text as originally inspired.
- James W. Scott, Westminster Theological Journal, Spring 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good and Bad Reasons for Singing in Church

Vaughn Roberts offers some keen insights into a very controversial subject. Why do we sing when we gather? What are the legitimate, biblical reasons? Are there reasons for singing in church that are common but unbiblical?

In churches and Christian Unions all over the world, the time given to Bible teaching is less and less. Many do not want to think; they want to feel God’s presence with them, and they look to music to give them that feeling. But we only encounter God through faith in Jesus, not through music. And how can we have faith in him unless we hear about him? Paul writes: “Faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

What is more important to you: music or the Bible? When you choose a church, do you choose the one that has the best music group or the one that teaches the Bible best? Music is important. I will have much more to say about that later. But it would be possible to survive in our faith without it. But we could not survive without God’s word. It is by his word that God brings us into relationship with himself as we hear about Jesus and put our faith in him. It is also by his word that we are maintained in our Christian faith as the living God addresses us with both challenges and encouragements.

Some respond by saying: “That is fine; we do need the Bible. But we also need the Spirit. God speaks to our minds through his word, but he deals with our emotions through his Spirit”. But that reveals a serious misunderstanding of the relationship between God’s word and God’s Spirit. The Bible never allows us to split the two. The Spirit of God is the divine author of the Bible and continues to speak through it today. The word of God is “the sword of the Spirit”. So, if we want to be in close touch with the work of God the Spirit, it is vital that we listen to his word.

Read the entire article HERE.

The Theology of John Frame

Now Available:

From the Publisher:

Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame is a Festschrift honoring Prof. Frame’s career in seminary teaching - but this book does not merely collect essays on the subjects of Frame’s interests, it analyses Frame’s own work in the fields of theology, apologetics, ethics, worship, the church, and others. The authors include Wayne Grudem, Richard Pratt, Paul Helm, Vern Poythress, Bruce Waltke, William Davis, William Edgar, Peter Jones, Reggie Kidd, and others who are familiar with Frame’s work. Many are Frame’s former students and colleagues.

This is the first large scale analysis of Frame’s distinctive approach. The essays go into considerable depth, comparing Frame with other approaches and applying his ideas to many fields that Frame himself has not explored.

"What is refreshing is his ability to model a firm stance on truth with a heartfelt affection for people. Razor-sharp reason is used to carve error away for truth, not skin off adversaries."
- John Piper, Pastor for preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church

"If Frame writes it, I read it, not because I always find myself in perfect agreement, but because he teaches me."
- D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"An insolent affront to God..."

He [Luther] endorses every honest effort to reconcile problems to the extent possible: "Therefore answers that are given in support of the trustworthiness of Scripture serve a purpose, even though they may not be altogether reliable." His position is the same in connection with Haran's age, if Abraham was the elder brother and married Haran's daughter, Sarah. Luther allows for the possibility that Haran married a widow, and "that the daughter was brought along with the mother." Thus he seeks to squelch what he calls "the foolhardy geniuses who immediately shout that an obvious error has been committed" by averring that finally "it is the Holy Spirit alone who knows and understands all things." With truly wry touch Luther adds: "I wanted to call attention to these facts, . . . in order that no one might get the impression that we either have no knowledge of such matters or have not read about them." Luther likewise dealt with the problem of reconciling Genesis 12:4 with Acts 7:2, the accounts of Moses and Stephen concerning Abram's age at the time of his departure from Haran. He grants that while "each of the two is a trustworthy witness, . . . they do not agree with each other." His suggested solution is to rely on Moses' historical accuracy and to suggest that Stephen is emphasizing not details as much as the fact that God discloses Himself and His mercy through the promised Seed, Christ.

Undoubtedly, this sort of dutiful and childlike surrender when the problem went over his head, appears naive and evasive to much of modern scholarship, which boldly enters in where Luther - and the angels - feared to tread. But Luther resolutely refused to budge one inch from the Holy awe he felt before the Holy Spirit's handiwork in Scripture. This is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that as translator over a period of years Luther had to take that Scripture literally apart to get its meaning into his native German. To imply that it contained error was to him not only contrary to what the Scripture itself testified concerning its truthfulness and inerrancy. but, above all, an insolent affront to God who gave it.

- Eugene F. A. KIug

An Aging Heretic and His Manifesto

From Al Mohler:

"The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of the struggle will be." Those are the words of John Shelby Spong, the retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey. In his recently released "manifesto," Bishop Spong declares, "it is time to move on" and pledges never again to debate the issues of homosexuality or homosexual rights.

John Shelby Spong's new manifesto is a sign of the times. For the past three decades, Bishop Spong has staked out a theological position that is so far outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy that it defies description. In a succession of notorious publications, Spong has denied virtually every conceivable doctrine and has embraced almost every imaginable heresy. His abandonment of biblical Christianity is both intentional and straightforward -- what this bishop demands is nothing less than the total reformulation of the Christian faith. In other words, Bishop Spong would replace Christianity with a new post-Christian religion while continuing to be recognized as a bishop of the Episcopal Church.

An ardent proponent of gay rights and the total normalization of homosexuality, Bishop Spong has long pressed for same-sex unions and the ordination of practicing homosexuals to every office in his church. In his new manifesto, he simply declares victory for his cause. Though skirmishes in many churches and denominations continue, the bishop is convinced that the final outcome of the struggle is clear: "Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society has to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church."

In an act of individual self-assertion, Spong simply declares that he no longer needs "a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body" in order to bless or ordain gay and lesbian people throughout the life of the church. "The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished," he asserts. "A new consciousness has arisen. A decision quite clearly has been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state."

Read on HERE.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Less Wild Rumpus

Russ Moore reviews "Where the Wild Things Are" movie:

This past Saturday I took my three oldest sons to see the movie Where the Wild Things Are. Some Christians are all exercised about the fact that the movie might be too frightening for children. They’re wrong. The movie is not a great one, but that’s not the reason why. As a matter of fact, Where the Wild Things Are fails because it’s not scary enough for your kids.

And there’s something there Chrisians can learn about children, horror, and the gospel.

From the time my sons were babies I’ve read to them the Maurice Sendack classic picture book. They love it, and so do I. They’d sit attentively through Goodnight Moon, but they’d squeal “Let the wild rumpus start!” whenever we’d journey with Max to the place of the wild things.

Children, it turns out, aren’t as naive about evil as we assume they are. Children of every culture, and in every place, seem to have a built-in craving for monsters and dragons and “wild things.” The Maurice Sendak book appeals to kids because it tells them something about what they intuitively know is true. The world around them is scary. There’s a wildness out there. The Sendak book shows the terror of a little boy who is frightened by his own lack of self-control, and who conquers it through self-control, by becoming king of all the wild things.
Read the entire review HERE.

From Marx to Christ

Trevin Wax has posted an interesting interview with Marvin Olasky about his journey from Marxism to faith in Christ.

This week, I am posting an interview with Dr. Marvin Olasky, provost of The King’s College in New York City, and the editor-in-chief of World magazine. We will be discussing Dr. Olasky’s journey from Marxist philosophy to Christian faith, his contributions to the idea of “compassionate conservatism,” and the political involvement of evangelical Christians.

Trevin Wax: During the past few months, you have been writing a series in World that tells about your philosophical journey from Marxism to Christianity. What are some ways in which your past experiences have helped form your current perspective?

Marvin Olasky: I was recently in Minneapolis at a conference hosted by John Piper in celebration of the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Someone there said that it was Calvin’s difficult life experiences that gave him an acute awareness of the significance of the questions of his day. Had he not seen the persecution of the early Protestants in France, he might not have had the same sense of urgency.

I suppose that (in a much smaller way) my life experiences have also shaped me. I was able to see the Left in action. I saw Marxism in action. Had I merely read about Marxist philosophy in history books or considered it in the abstract, I doubt I would have had the same sense of the reality of this evil.

Trevin Wax: What was initially appealing to you about Marxism? What took you there first?

Marvin Olasky: I was an atheist looking for a purpose in life. During the late 1960’s, it seemed that Marxism was a good purpose. In some ways, it was a good purpose. The goal of peace was good. The goal of fighting poverty was good. But if you think that everything relies on you, and that you should seek peace by any means necessary instead of by relying on God and doing what he commands, then you are ready to go to all kinds of extremes.

In Communism, the goal in the abstract may sound good, but the particular means that people adopt to get there are extreme and murderous. They have to be. Why? Because human nature is not plastic in the way that Marxists think it is.

So Marxists are constantly frustrated. They think: If only you set up this certain type of environment, then people will respond. But because of human nature, people do not respond in the way that some idealistic Marxists may want. Sin has to be reckoned with.

The appeal of Marxism was idealistic. But the practice quickly becomes ruthless because it doesn’t take into account the nature of man. It doesn’t understand who God is.

Read the entire interview HERE.

Recommended Reading

Check out the Recommended Reading section of the website for Church of the Saviour. I have written blurbs for some of the books but still have quite a lot to do. The list is categorized and you can trust that all the books listed are worth reading.

Resources on Biblical Inerrancy

Check out this link to some very helpful resources on the Bible's inerrancy.

Westminster Weekend recap...

Karen and I were blessed to be with the kind folks from Westminster Seminary this weekend. The teaching and the fellowship were terrific. I was encouraged by the vision and commitments of Dr. Lillback and the faculty. The theme of the event was "Full Confidence" - a reference to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. Lord willing, Church of the Saviour will be hosting this event for the Philadelphia area sometime next year.

The sessions were...
* Greg Beale addressed the inerrancy of God's written word. Specifically Dr. Beale dealt with the question, "Can the Bible be completely inspired but still contain errors?" This is precisely what a number of evangelicals are saying. Some of them even use the term inerrancy to describe the Bible while at the same time claiming that the Bible contains error and myth. "But not to worry," they reason, "God inspired those errors and myths." In response, Dr. Beale gave an impassioned defense of the historic, and biblical view of the Scripture's inerrancy.

* Dr. Bill Edgar gave a fascinating talk which reflected on the connection between the complete reliability of Scripture and the shifting reality of culture. Addressing events as varried as Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg to Woodstock to the fall of the Berlin Wall Dr. Edgar made the case for the place of inerrancy in apologetics. Don't ask me how he did it, but he did it. Leave this to the experts kids!

* Dr. Richard Gaffin, professor emeritus at WTS addressed the Christ-centeredness of Scripture. One claim made by some so-called "evangelicals" is that the New Testament (Jesus included) misinterpreted and misused the Old Testament and forced upon it a Christ-o-centric reading that was not originally intended. This of course is a failure to understand the grand narrative of the Bible and displays the lack of confidence on the part of the errantists that God fully inspired the Scriptures.

* Dr. Carl Trueman rounded out the event by dealing with Martin Luther and the clarity of Scripture. Carl is the most engaging church historian I have ever heard. He demonstrated, among other things, how the debate between Luther and Erasmus, while on the surface dealt with the nature of human will, was really a debate about the clarity of Scripture. Erasmus (along with the Roman Church) believed that Scripture is clouded in mystery and therefore requires the Magisterium to tell the people what it means. Luther certainly believed in the important role of preachers trained in biblical languages and theology. However, he also believed in the basic perspecuity (clarity) of Scripture so that the average layperson is able to read it and understand its basic meaning. What is more, because of the Scripture's clarity the studied layman is able to evaluate the faithfulness of the preacher to those very Scriptures. This was not mere lecture. It was a profoundly encouraging message that God's inerrant Word is not locked away in mystery waiting to be explained by the experts but is basically clear and ready to be read and understood by God's people.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Sick in fact but healthy in hope"

"Now notice what I said above, that the saints at the same time as they are righteous are also sinners; righteous because they believe in Christ, whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but sinners because they do not fulfill the Law, are not without concupiscence, and are like sick men under the care of a physician; they are sick in fact but healthy in hope and in the fact that they are beginning to be healthy, that is, they are “being healed.” They are people for whom the worst possible thing is the presumption that they are healthy, because they suffer a worse relapse."

Martin Luther

Luther's Works vol. 25 (Lectures on Romans)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lest we be fools...

In light of some comments made in June by a well placed presidential advisor I have some books you may want to read lest you too think Mao Tse Tung was a great "political philosopher."

Mao: The Unkown Story by Chang and Halliday


First photo - my two sons and a friend in New York
Second photo - Baptist Church of the Great Valley in Valley Forge

Friday, October 16, 2009

Donald Miller's new book

From Chris Brauns at Ref21:
Donald Miller has a fascinating ability to engage readers as he reflects on the journey of his life. I first noticed this in Blue Like Jazz, later when I watched an interview , and, again last week when I read his latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (AMM). AMM was easy to read and entertaining. While I haven't read the entire Donald Miller collection, it's hard not to like him in his books. He has made me laugh more than once...

Along with Miller's winsome personality and the strength of his writing, the subject of this book is a potentially great one. In AMM Miller focused on the idea of story and I learned from him. He told a story to teach about story and it really worked. He interacted with the thinking of Robert McKee, whom I didn't know about previously, thereby showing how uniformed I am in this area. Yet, it is in this area of our stories that I have pastoral concerns about AMM. Many will read AMM and I am troubled about how it will influence readers, especially young people. Indeed, I might even agree with Rob Bell's choice of descriptions. Bell said that AMM is "disturbing." But, whereas Rob chose this word as an endorsement, I do so to express reservations.

Read the entire review HERE.

Carl Trueman on Packer and Ecumenism

The break between J.I. Packer and Martin Lloyd Jones was a sad event. They are both heros to me. They were certainly wonderful gifts from God to His church. I have spoken to Carl about the schism. As a historian and a Brit Trueman has keen insight into those events. I'm posting this in part because Carl is among the folks present at Westminster Weekend.

Incidentally, Trueman's chapter in THIS BOOK is outstanding.

Thanks to Martin Downes for posting this video and the following thoughts:

Have a listen as Carl talks about his recent essay on Packer "An English Non-Conformist Perspective" in Timothy George [ed.], J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future. You can read some sample pages here.

I don't suppose that my following comments will make any sense unless you have watched the video clip. Perhaps they won't make any sense even if you have watched it.

I have heard Carl talk about some of these issues before, and he is surely right about the lack of a systematic theology from Packer. That said he has given to the church a remarkable written legacy. As a sixteen year old I heard Packer preach in Cardiff on the doctrine of hell. I have listened to the recording many times since then, and had no appreciation at the time of what I was listening to, or who Packer was. I must find a way to get that message from audio cassette to mp3.

I have yet to read Carl's essay and so have no idea about the connection between my comments and what he has written as they appertain to Packer and Lloyd-Jones. The break with Lloyd-Jones came in 1970 and not in 1966. Indeed this Sunday will mark the 43rd anniversary of that definitive moment in post-war British evangelicalism when Lloyd-Jones, the speaker, and John Stott, the chairman, publicly disagreed over evangelical policy on ecumenism at the Evangelical Alliance meeting.

The break between Lloyd-Jones and Packer, in 1970, came after the publication of Growing into Union. The book was written by four authors, two evangelicals and two Anglo-Catholics. But the positions advocated were representative of a common mind ("We are all four committed to every line in the book...and we are determined that no wedge be driven between us." I am referring to a footnote by Iain Murray in Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace and am not able to verify what has been omitted from this sentence).

Certainly from Lloyd-Jones' standpoint the parting of the ways was due to Packer's ecumenical commitment expressed in Growing into Union. Lloyd-Jones expressed his concerns to Packer in a letter dated July 7th 1970. Referring to a discussion about the book at the monthly ministers' Fellowship (the Westminster Fellowship) Lloyd-Jones wrote:

The general opinion there, without a single voice to the contrary, was that the doctrinal position outlined in the book cannot be regarded as being evangelical, still less puritan. The three of us [the free church members of the Puritan Conference committee] therefore feel, most reluctantly, that we cannot continue to co-operate with you in the Puritan Conference. To do so would be at the least to cause great confusion in the minds of all Free Church evangelical people and indeed a number of Anglican people.

This I feel sure will not come as a surprise to you as you must have known that the views expounded in the book concerning Tradition, Baptism, the Eucharist and Bishops, not to mention the lack of clarity concerning justification by faith only, could not possibly be acceptable to the vast majority of people attending the Puritan Conference.

Packer, of course, continued to follow this trajectory, culminating in the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium, of which he was an endorser. That document contained the joint affirmation that "we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ," an affirmation notable for the omission of the Reformation's solas. This, above everything else, was surely the great failure.

It is somewhat ironic that the pursuit of a wider ecclesiastical unity, a pursuit that could never be fulfilled by a policy of temporarily suspending the practice of gospel essentials in order to achieve more visible agreement, has been the cause of the open divisions among evangelicals in the twentieth century.

Lloyd-Jones' letter also stressed something of Packer's literary failure that Carl noted in the video:

You have known throughout the years not only my admiration for your great gift of mind and intellect but also my deep regard for you. I had expected that long before this you would have produced a major work in the Warfield tradition, but
you have felt called to become involved in ecclesiastical affairs. This to me isnothing less than a great tragedy and a real loss to the Church.

Westminster Weekend

My wife and I are fortunate enough to be in Bedford, PA attending Westminster Weekend. A few of Westminster's faculty will be speaking on the full trustworthiness of Scripture. I'm very thankful to be here. It's being held at the beautiful and historic Bedford Springs Hotel. Guys, if you're looking for a great place to bring your wife for a weekend away then check this place out! I can see the golf course from my room.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Carl Trueman on Puritan Spirituality

I have a deep appreciation for the Puritans. They have been misunderstood and maligned. In recent decades however the Puritans have experienced a resurgence. They were not nearly the killjoys that they have often been portrayed to be. Certainly they were people of their time and cared deeply about holiness. They were also a sober minded lot. After all, living in 17th century Europe tended to acquaint one at a young age with the reliaties of life and death. Nevertheless, the Puritans left behind a spiritual legacy that is both biblical and passionate.

Check out these three messages by Carl Trueman on the spirituality of the Puritans.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Remarkable Faith in the Midst of Regrettable Tragedy"

Check out Dr. Julius Kim's chapel message delivered at Westminster Seminary.

The Necessity of Controversy

What happens when controversy rears its head and cracks in our unity appear?

Theological controversies invariably reveal that there are significant differences that people hold to on matters of doctrine, whilst the quarrelling parties both claim to stand for the orthodox position as understood both biblically and historically.

The long term wrangling over what constitutes essential evangelical doctrines is a case in point. Can you be evangelical and deny inerrancy, or justification by faith alone, or penal substitutionary atonement, or God's exhaustive foreknowledge, or the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, or eternal conscious torment in hell?

When an individual, or a party, wants to use the term evangelical but includes in that term views that are fundamentally opposed to beliefs directly essential to, or necessarily undergirding, an evangelical position then controversy is inevitable.

For controversy not to result would be the effect of an unstated but controlling theological principle that renders all doctrines essential to an evangelical position negotiable and effectively non-essential. That unstated position would itself show that a compromise on essential truths had already been made.

Even though controversy is inevitable is it desirable? The answer must be yes. For without controversy whatever unity that exists is as solid as the mist on an Autumn morning. It is merely a numbers and influence game, a fantasy and not a reality.

How can you stand for a unity that doesn't solidly exist upon matters of belief? Not only does the emporer have no clothes, but the empire is invisible too.

What is the point in having an agreed statement of essential beliefs that no one really adheres to because no one is willing to enforce it? If we have any concern for the truth we would surely want it to be made clear rather than being obscured by fog of meaningless ambiguous phrases.

Controversy, however, as most of us fear, can quickly become an ugly business. We can rapidly move the emphasis from what is right, to ourselves being right, or being seen to be right. Patient listening, charitable interpretation, and a desire for unity can be soon lost.

We are on a knife edge as we deal with these matters. Truth must not be traded, sounds words must not be emptied of their meaning, and compromise must not be the master of integrity. Desperate prayers for wisdom are to be top of the agenda, and we must think our way through these matters seeking understanding, light and clarity.

Perhaps this fear is what lies at the root of an unwillingness to engage in controversy even when there is an irreconcilable disagreement on matters of truth and error. We see the fraying tempers, the soured relationships, the carrying of tales and exaggerations, and we rightly feel that we want no part of that.

At this point we must distinguish between matters of orthopraxy in relation to the truth (the Pauline imperative to "hold fast" and "follow the pattern of sound words") and in matters of godly integrity (just read everything that Paul says to Timothy and Titus about how to be godly in the thick of a theological fight). We must distinguish between these two areas, and we must practice the truth in both of them without compromise.

Obedience in holding to the truth, and obedience in the practice of the truth, go hand in hand. But when error reaches a crescendo in the form of a false gospel then I must not think that bad attitudes among those who hold to the truth can be equated with the danger posed by heresy (Gal. 1:8-10).

That should not make me go easy on sins of bearing false witness, or pride (2 Tim. 2:24-26). The King is not honoured when I behave like this. But I would rather eat wholesome food served by a grumpy waitress than a meal laced with poison served by a seemingly sweet natured chef.

One of the benefits of controversy is the progress made from confusion to clarity. Luther made the following observations on the matter:

If heresies and offenses come, Christendom will only profit thereby, for they make Christians to read diligently the Holy Writ and ponder the same with industry...Thus through heretics and offenses we are kept alert and stouthearted and amid wrangles and battles understand God's word better than before.

William Cunningham's words are a fitting summary:

The uses of theological controversy are, to expose error, and to produce and diffuse clear and correct opinions upon all points of doctrine.

It is the church's imperative duty to aim at these objects, and controversy seems to be as indispensable with a view to the second as to the first of them. But it is an evil and an abuse, when the exposure of error is made to serve as a substitute for the realization and application of what is admitted to be true.

"The Reformers and the doctrine of assurance" in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, p. 148