Monday, November 30, 2009

A God-Centered Approach to Language

Dr. Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary is interviewed over at Christ The Center.

Dr. Vern Sheridan Poythress returns to Christ the Center to discuss his latest book In the Beginning was the Word: Language: A God-Centered Approach to Language published by Crossway. The panel discusses Dr. Poythress’s multi-perspectival approach to Biblical studies and theology and specifically the trinitarian basis for language and the meaning of language. Contrary to evolutionary theory, language is not merely a humanly constructed reality but is a gift from God. The panel also considers the unique problems about how modernism and postmodernism view language.

Listen to the interview HERE.

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday was part 24 in our series through Hebrews - "Finally Forgiven" (Hebrews 9:15-22).

You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Michael Horton on Suffering

Great Sale!

Westminster Bookstore is having a great sale on various children's books and CD's. Check it out HERE.

The Immorality of Heresy

An excellent post from Martin Downes:

The New Testament connects truth with godliness, and error with immorality.

Paul speaks in Titus 1:1 about the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3), and in 2 Timothy 2:16 about irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (cf. 1 Timothy 6:4-5).

Although we should never be glad about it, the truth is that we are not surprised when a false teacher is further compromised by immoral behaviour. As G. K. Chesterton once said "heresy always affects morality, if it's heretical enough."

Heresy, however, not only leads to sin, it is sin. Believing in heresy is wrong not only mentally but also morally. Choosing to believe it is an act of the mind, heart and will that is against God and his Word. Of course there will always be some who believe error that have never been exposed to the biblical gospel. For others there will have been a choice exercised, rejecting one thing and embracing another. I have addressed some of the principle reasons why people embrace errors here.

Paul's reminder to the Corinthians about the gospel that he had preached to them, which they had believed, and on which they had taken their stand, also included the admonition to hold fast to the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2). This ongoing act was a vital and necessary part of Christian obedience. It was orthopraxy in action. Not to hold fast would be an act of disobedience. In the movie Master and Commander one of the weather beaten old sailors has the letters H-O-L-D F-A-S-T tattoed across his knuckles. A great motto for a sailor, but an even better one for a Christian.

In the pastoral epistles Paul warns of those who have swerved from love, a pure heart and a good conscience and have wandered away into vain discussion (1 Tim. 1:5-6). Hymenaeus and Alexander have rejected and not held to faith and a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19).

Deacons must hold the mystery of the faith with a good conscience (1 Tim. 3:9), knowing that the Spirit has forewarned that some will depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-2). Paul's closing admonition is that Timothy must "guard the deposit entrusted to him" and avoid what is falsely called knowledge. By professing this some have swerved from the faith (1 Tim. 6:20-21).
2 Timothy carries similar reminders about those who have "swerved from the truth" and now preach a different interpretation of the resurrection (2 Tim. 2:18). All these examples show an unwillingness on the part of heretics to continue in the faith, an aversion to the truth, and a preference for closely worded alternatives.

If we realise that the deliberate choice of heresy is itself an immoral act perhaps we will be less impressed by the apparent godliness of heretics. Heresy can come with all the trappings of spirituality, self-denial, humility, tolerance, and self-discipline. All these, however, can gloss over the presence of a carnal pride that refuses to submit to the truth, and the arrogance of an autonomous spirit that deliberately dismisses biblical doctrine.

Reflecting on the early Christian centuries Jaroslav Pelikan summarized this position well

Heresy was treated by the early church as the concern not only of doctrinal theology, but also of moral theology, of canon law, and finally of civil law as well.

This was not only because of the stock accusation that false doctrine led to "all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that 'they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God,' " but because of the claim that the invention and especially the propagation of false doctrine were due to "a vainglory that has preoccupied their mind (Irenaeus)."

The antidote to all this was well expressed by the great Puritan theologian John Owen. Writing about the rise of Socinianism, Owen remarked:

This I am compelled to say, that unless the Lord, in his infinite mercy, lay an awe upon the hearts of men, to keep them in some captivity to the simplicity and mystery of the gospel who now strive every day to exceed one another in novel opinions and philosophical apprehensions of the things of God, I cannot but fear that this soul-destroying abomination will one day break in as a flood upon us.

Can We Trust the Bible?

On June 20, 2009 an important conference was held held at Westminster Chapel in London. The name of the event was "The Bible and Church Conference" and was sponsored by Tyndale House. The purpose of the conference was to argue for the trustworthiness of the Bible as God's Word.

Society is being bombarded with misinformration about the Bible. It has allegedly been corrupted by power-hungry Christians who are charged with having omitted books and material they did not like. They changed the original message of Jesus.

When these wide-spread claims are made in the media, many Christians don't know how to respond or defend the trustworthiness of the New Testament that they believe in. Some end up having their faith shaken as a result.

The Bible and Church Conference was organized to provide Christians with reliable scholarly evidence in support of the historical basis of the faith and to then equip them to share that faith with confidence. It brought together biblical scholars who successfully challenged the false claims made by critics about the scriptures and who brought evidence to the table to show how and why the New Testiment can indeed be trusted.
The conference presenters were Dr. Peter (P.J.) Williams (Warden of Tyndale House and former Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Deputy-Head of Aberdeen University's School of Divinity, History and Philosophy), Dr. Dirk Jongkind (Research Fellow at Tyndale House and Laing Fellow at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge) and Dr. Simon Gathercole (author, editor and lecturer in New Testament at Cambridge University and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College).

You can purchase a DVD of the event HERE.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Having Conscience in a Culture of Death

From an article by Wesley J. Smith in the December 2009 issue of First Things:

Over the past fifty years, the purposes and practices of medicine have changed radically. Where medical ethics was once life-affirming, today’s treatments and medical procedures increasingly involve the legal taking of human life. The litany is familiar: More than one million pregnancies are extinguished each year in the United States, thousands late-term. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington, and, as this is written, Montana via a court ruling (currently on appeal to the state supreme court). One day, doctors may be authorized to kill patients with active euthanasia, as they do already in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

The trend toward accepting the termination of some human lives as a normal part of medicine is accelerating. For example, ten or twenty years from now, the physician’s tools may include embryonic stem cells or products obtained from cloned embryos and fetuses gestated for that purpose, making physicians who provide such treatments complicit in the life destruction required to obtain the modalities. Medical and bioethics journals energetically advocate a redefinition of death to include a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state so that these living patients—redefined as dead—may be used for organ harvesting and medical ­experimentation. More radical bioethicists and mental-health professionals even suggest that patients suffering from BIID (body-integrity identity disorder), a terrible compulsion to become an amputee, should be treated by having healthy limbs removed, just as transsexuals today receive surgical sexual reassignment.

The ongoing transformation in the methods and ethics of medicine raises profound moral questions for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others who believe in the traditional virtues of Hippocratic medicine that proscribe abortion and assisted suicide and compel physicians to “do no harm.” To date, this hasn’t been much of a problem, as society generally accommodates medical conscientious objection. The assisted-suicide laws of Oregon and Washington, for example, permit doctors to refuse to participate in hastening patient deaths. Similarly, no doctor in the United States is forced to perform abortions. Indeed, when New York mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to increase accessibility to abortion by requiring that all residents in obstetrics and gynecology in New York’s public hospitals receive training in pregnancy termination, the law specifically allowed doctors with religious or moral objections to opt out through a conscience clause.

Read the entire article HERE.

Why Doctrine Matters

The following article by Stephen Rees (originally published in Banner of Truth) can be found in the articles section under the Recommended Resources page at the Church of the Saviour website.

Why should Christians be familiar with the great doctrines of the Bible? Let me give you four reasons.

1) The first is the simplest of all: Because we love God. And if you love someone, you want to know everything about them. If a young man meets a girl and falls in love, he’ll want to find out all sorts of things about her - what sort of family she’s from, which school she went to, what her hobbies are, whether she’s had other boyfriends, whether she prefers Indian or Chinese food ... And if we love God, we’ll want to know all about him - about his nature, his character, his purposes, his commandments; about the work he’s doing in the world, about his work in saving people, about his plans for the future. In other words we’ll want to study ‘doctrine’. If I ask you what ‘justification’ means, what I’m really asking is, ‘how does God justify sinners?’ If I ask you what the Lord’s Supper is for, what I’m really asking is ‘what does God do for us through the Lord’s Supper?’ All our doctrines are about God.

2) A second reason why Christians should study doctrine: Because what you believe will shape your spiritual life. It’s obvious isn’t it? The way you think about God will affect the way you relate to God. If you don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, you can’t believe that God is eternally love. It’s the doctrine of the Trinity that gives us confidence to believe that love is in the very nature of God. Again, if you believe that God is only in control when good things happen, you can’t trust him in the times when everything goes wrong. It’s the doctrine of God’s total sovereignty that enables us to say in the darkest hour, 'I don’t know why this has happened but I know you planned it, and that you planned it for my good'. Or again, if you’ve never realised that God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself, every part of your relationship with him will be distorted. Instead of having him at the centre, you’ll go through life thinking that human happiness is the most important thing of all - and expecting him to think so too.

I said above that studying doctrine is really just finding out the truth about God. And we need to do that so that we can relate to the God who’s really there, not the God we imagine him to be.

3) And then thirdly, we need to study doctrine, because without it we won’t understand the world in which we live. Or to put it differently, we won’t know how to live in the world.

A friend whose husband is suffering with a crippling and painful illness asks you whether you think euthanasia is wrong, and if so, why. Or somebody asks you why the Bible is against homosexuality. You’re not going to be able to answer those questions in any consistent way unless you understand the doctrine of Man as the image of God. It’s the fact that every human being is God’s image-bearer which gives every human life - however damaged - infinite value. It’s the fact that Man and Woman in their union are supposed to mirror the diversity in the Trinity, which makes homosexuality such an unnatural thing.

You’re trying to sort out your children’s behaviour problems. How far are they to blame for the tendencies that they’ve inherited from you? When do you restrain a child? When do you punish him? When do you encourage him? The only way you’ll get clear answers to those questions is by taking seriously a whole string of Bible doctrines: the doctrine of God’s justice; the doctrine of the Fall and the effect of Adam’s sin on all his descendants; the doctrine of total depravity; the doctrine of common grace ... No wonder that parents in our society are at sea when it comes to bringing up children! They don’t know what human nature is, they don’t know what justice is, they don’t know what authority they themselves have. But the doctrines of the Bible give you compass and chart through the storms.

A thorough knowledge of Bible doctrine will give you the tools to sort out all the practical problems of living in this complex fallen world - even in matters where the Bible doesn’t speak directly.

4) And fourthly, we need to study Bible doctrine because without it we won’t know what to say to the unsaved people we meet. Peter tells us that we must be ‘prepared to give to every man a reason for the hope that is within us’ (1 Peter 3:15). We have to be competent to answer questions. So what do you say when someone asks how God can allow a tsunami to sweep away scores of thousands of people? How can you answer that question if you’ve never grappled with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty? How do you answer when your child says to you ‘I’ve tried to become a Christian but it didn’t work?’ You’ll need a very clear grasp then of just what saving faith is, and how it relates to the human will, and where assurance fits in. Your atheist friend sneers at the food laws of Leviticus and asks why God changed his mind; why he lets you eat prawns and pork. Are you going to be able to sum up clearly the function of the Old Testament law and how it’s fulfilled in Christ?

Well, if I gave you a test on Bible doctrines, how would you do? OK? You think you could answer all the questions without much difficulty? I’m very glad. But remember, that would only scratch the surface. Don’t imagine that you would have mastered the doctrines of the Bible. It would take a thousand lifetimes to explore all that God has revealed about himself in Scripture. It will take all eternity to explore God himself in the world where we’ll need no Bible. Keep growing, keep learning, keep thinking. Another quote from Peter:

Therefore dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18). ‘Hold on to what you already know, and grow in knowledge!’ - that’s his advice.

And what about those of you who would struggle? Well I can’t blame you. Put it down to the preacher you’ve had to listen to each Sunday night. But don’t give up. Go back and listen to some of the sermons again. You may find that they make more sense second time through, when you’re at home and the children have gone to bed. You couldn’t take in all the passages I quoted? Well listening on your own you’ll be able to stop the recording to look them up, and make sure you’ve grasped what they’re saying. If questions come to your mind as you’re listening and you can’t find the answers, write them down and ask me. If I don’t know the answers, we’ll both have some work to do.

There are lots of good books to help us. We’ve got the 1689 confession - what a wonderful guide to Christian doctrine! We’ve got the big books of systematic theology, written by giants like Dabney, Hodge, Berkhof or Dagg, and smaller handbooks like Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth or Berkhof’s Summary. We’ve got masterful works on individual doctrines like Bavinck’s Doctrine of God or John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. And we’ve got the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. We don’t expect him to reveal new truth to us now. But we do expect him to illuminate the truth that he’s already revealed in Scripture.
- Stephen Rees is Pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Stockport, Manchester

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why it is important to get the Gospel right...

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures."
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
- 1 Corinthians 2:2

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
- Romans 1:16

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
- Galatians 1:6-9

Clearly, when it comes to knowing what the Gospel is, God has not left us in the dark. Nor has God invited us to join Him in crafting a definition or re-definition of the Gospel. Indeed, God warns us in very harsh terms about the consequences of messing around with the Gospel. Sadly, those warnings have not deterred certain voices within evangelicalism (some well known) from taking a shot at "re-imagining," reducing, or adding to the precious truth which Paul called the "matter of first importance."

Esquire Magazine has printed a piece by Shane Claiborne entitled "What if Jesus Meant All That Stuff?" To be sure there are some good things in what Claiborne writes. But, as noted in the above cited Scriptures, when it comes to speaking for God, particularly the Gospel, we had better be careful to get it right.

Kevin DeYoung has posted an excellent article that addresses both the good and the bad in what Claiborne has written. Specifically Deyoung addresses what he calls "the new gospel". Some of the defining features of the new gospel are, according to Deyoung:
1. It usually starts with an apology.
2. There is an appeal to God as love.
3. It is an invitation to join God's mission in the world.
4. There is a studied ambivalence about eternity.

Deyoung then offers some reasons why this new gospel is so popular.
1. It's partially true.
2. It deals with straw men.
3. The New Gospel leads people to believe wrong things without explicitly stating those wrong things.
4. It is manageable.
5. It is inspirational.
6. It is not offensive.

After explaining each of these points, Deyoung offers some truly important observations on why this "new gospel" is problematic.

It shouldn’t be hard to see what is missing in the new gospel. What’s missing is the old gospel, the one preached by the Apostles, the one defined in 1 Corinthians 15, the one summarized later in The Apostles’ Creed.

“But what you call the New Gospel is not a substitute for the old gospel. We still believe all that stuff.”

Ok, but why don’t you say it? And not just privately to your friends or on a statement of faith somewhere, but in public? You don’t have to be meaner, but you do have to be clearer. You don’t have to unload the whole truck of systematic theology on someone, but to leave the impression that hell is no big deal is so un-Jesus like (Matt. 10:26-33). And when you don’t talk about the need for faith and repentance you are very un-apostolic (Acts 2:38; 16:31).

“But we are just building bridges. We are relating to the culture first, speaking in a language they can understand, presenting the parts of the gospel that make the most sense to them. Once we have their trust and attention, then we can disciple and teach them about sin, repentance, faith and all the rest. This is only pre-evangelism.”

Yes, it’s true, we don’t have to start our conversations where we want to end up. But does the New Gospel really prime the pump for evangelism or just mislead the non-Christian into a false assurance? It’s one thing to open a door for further conversation. It’s another to make Christianity so palatable that it sounds like something the non-Christian already does. And this is assuming the best about the New Gospel, that underneath there really is a desire to get the old gospel out.

Paul’s approach with non-Christians in Athens is instructive for us (Acts 17:16-34). First, Paul is provoked that the city is so full of idols (16). His preaching is not guided by his disappointment with other Christians, but by his anger over unbelief. Next, he gets permission to speak (19-20). Paul did not berate people. He spoke to those who were willing to listen. But then look at what he does. He makes some cultural connection (22-23, 28), but from there he shows the contrast between the Athenian understanding of God and the way God really is (24-29). His message is not about a way of life, but about worshiping the true God in the right way. After that, he urges repentance (30), warns of judgment (31), and talks about Jesus’ resurrection (31).

The result is that some mocked (32). Who in the world mocks the New Gospel?There is nothing not to like. There is no scandal in a message about lame Christians, a loving God, changing the world, and how most of us are most likely not going to hell. This message will never be mocked, but Paul’s Mars Hill sermon was. And keep in mind, this teaching in Athens was only an entire into the Christian message. This was just the beginning, after which some wanted to hear him again (32). Paul said more in his opening salvo than some Christians ever dare to say. We may not be able to say everything Paul said at Athens all at once, but we certainly must not give the impression in our “pre-evangelism” that repentance, judgment, the necessity of faith, the importance of right belief, the centrality of the cross and the resurrection, the sinfulness of sin and the fallenness of man–the stuff that some suggest will be our actual evangelism–are outdated relics of a mean-spirited, hurtful Christianity.

A Final Plea

Please, please, please, if you are enamored with the New Gospel or anything like it, consider if you are really being fair with your fellow Christians in always throwing them under the bus. Consider if you are preaching like Jesus did, who called people, not first of all to a way of life, but to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). And as me and my friends consider if we lack the necessary patience and humility to speak tenderly with non-Christians, consider if your God is a lopsided cartoon God who never takes offense at sin (because sin is more than just un-neighborliness) and never pours out wrath (except for the occasional judgment against the judgmental). Consider if you are giving due attention to the cross and the Lamb of God who died there to take away the sin of the world. Consider if your explanation of the Christian message sounds anything like what we hear from the Apostles in the book of Acts when they engage the world.

This is no small issue. And it is not just a matter of emphasis. The New Gospel will
not sustain the church. It cannot change the heart. And it does not save. It is crucial, therefore, that our evangelical schools, camps, conferences, publishing houses, and churches can discern the new gospel from the old.

Christ-Centered Apologetics

From Lane Tipton...

Monday, November 23, 2009

How Common is the ground between Muslims and Christians?

I posted on "A Common Word" last year. "A Common Word" is a statement designed to bring about dialogue, trust, and peace between Muslims and Christians. All worthy goals for which we ought to strive. However, the devil, as they say, is in the details.

There was an interesting discussion on "A Common Word" at this year's ETS meeting in New Orleans. Check it out.

Al Mohler on why he signed the Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration

"I am not inclined to sign manifestos or petitions. While believing strongly and passionately about many causes, I am not usually impressed with the effectiveness of such statements and I am generally concerned about how such statements might be used or construed by others. I am not reluctant to speak for myself and from my own Christian convictions and consequent judgments. Furthermore, the constant exchange of opposing statements on this or that issue merely crowds the public square as opposing viewpoints compete for attention. So, for reasons perhaps both admirable and not so admirable, I prefer to stand on my own public statements.

"But I signed The Manhattan Declaration. Indeed, I am among the original signatories to that statement, released to the public at the National Press Club last Friday. Why?

"There are several reasons, but all come down to this — I believe we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process. There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes. I believe that the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and religious liberty are very much in danger at this very moment.

"The signatories to The Manhattan Declaration include evangelical leaders, as well as leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches. The statement establishes the priority of the issues addressed:
While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non­believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

"The Culture of Death looms over our civilization, threatening every human being and the very right of our fellow citizens to experience life and to be respected at every stage of development. The statement calls for all Christians to “be unified and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that begins with the abandonment of the unborn to abortion. But the issue of the sanctity of human life reaches far beyond abortion, to threaten genocide, “ethnic cleansing,” euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the destruction of human embryos for medical experimentation.

"On marriage, the statement includes a humble admission of our own Christian complicity in its subversion: 'We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage.' The declaration goes on to state:
The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same­-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life.

The declaration includes a pledge 'to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture.' Why? 'The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God’s creation covenant. Indeed, the union of husband and wife mirrors the bond between Christ and his church.'

The threat to religious liberty is a clear and present danger — not a remote danger on a far horizon. As the statement rightly reminds us:
We see this, for example, in the effort to weaken or eliminate conscience clauses, and therefore to compel pro­life institutions (including religiously affiliated hospitals and clinics), and pro­life physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other health care professionals, to refer for abortions and, in certain cases, even to perform or participate in abortions. We see it in the use of anti­ discrimination statutes to force religious institutions, businesses, and service providers of various sorts to comply with activities they judge to be deeply immoral or go out of business. After the judicial imposition of “same­-sex marriage” in Massachusetts, for example, Catholic Charities chose with great reluctance to end its century­long work of helping to place orphaned children in good homes rather than comply with a legal mandate that it place children in same­-sex households in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi­marital “civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions. In Canada and some European nations, Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching Biblical norms against the practice of homosexuality. New hate­crime laws in America raise the specter of the same practice here.
In recent decades a growing body of case law has paralleled the decline in respect for religious values in the media, the academy and political leadership, resulting in restrictions on the free exercise of religion. We view this as an ominous development, not only because of its threat to the individual liberty guaranteed to every person, regardless of his or her faith, but because the trend also threatens the common welfare and the culture of freedom on which our system of republican government is founded.

"Finally, The Manhattan Declaration ends with a statement of public conscience and conviction. These words are meant to send a very clear message — we cannot and will not abandon or compromise our Christian convictions:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo­destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti­life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
"I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I believe it is an historic statement of conviction and courage that is both timely and urgent. Over the course of the next few months and years, these issues will be reset in our culture and its laws. These are matters on which the Christian conscience cannot be silent. There are, of course, other issues that demand Christian attention as well. The focus on these three issues is forced by the circumstances of current threats as well as the awareness that the time of decision on these questions has come. Though Christians struggle to understand the extent to which our convictions should be incorporated in the law, we must now recognize that the very respect for these convictions — and the freedom to follow obey these convictions in our own lives, families, and ministries is now at stake.

"I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I lead a theological seminary and college, serve as a teaching pastor in a church, and am engaged in Christian leadership in the public square. Thus I see the threats to Christian liberties that now stare us in the face. The freedom not to perform a same-sex marriage is one thing, but what about the freedom to hire employees according to our Christian convictions? What about the right of Christian ministries to conduct their work according to Christian beliefs? What about the freedom to preach and teach against the grain of the nations laws (for example, after the legalization of same-sex marriage)? When to hate crimes laws slide into definitions of “hate speech?” The threats to our religious liberties are immediate and urgent.

"I signed The Manhattan Declaration because it is a limited statement of Christian conviction on these three crucial issues, and not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity. I cannot and do not sign documents such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together that attempt to establish common ground on vast theological terrain. I could not sign a statement that purports, for example, to bridge the divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on the doctrine of justification. The Manhattan Declaration is not a manifesto for united action. It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues — the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the defense of religious liberty.

"My beliefs concerning the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches have not changed. The Roman Catholic Church teaches doctrines that I find both unbiblical and abhorrent — and these doctrines define nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But The Manhattan Declaration does not attempt to establish common ground on these doctrines. We remain who we are, and we concede no doctrinal ground.

"But when Catholic Charities in Massachusetts must choose to end its historic ministry of placing orphaned children in good homes because the State of Massachusetts required it to place children with same-sex couples, this is not just a Catholic issue. The orphanage could have easily been Baptist. When Belmont Abbey college in North Carolina is told by federal authorities that it must offer abortion services in its insurance plans for employees, this is no longer just a Catholic issue. The next institution to be under attack might well be Presbyterian. We are in this together, and we had better be thankful that, in this case, we are not alone.

"Finally, I signed The Manhattan Declaration because I want to put my name on its final pledge — that we will not bend the knee to Caesar. We will not participate in any subversion of life. We will not be forced to accept any other relationship as equal in status or rights to heterosexual marriage. We will not refrain from proclaiming the truth — and we will order our churches and institutions and ministries by Christian conviction.

"There will be Christian leaders, pastors, seminaries, colleges, universities, denominations, churches, and organizations that will abandon the faith on these issues. They will bend the knee to Caesar. Far too many already have. The signatories to The Manhattan Declaration pledge that we will not be among them.

"I want my name on that list. I surrendered no conviction or confessional integrity to sign that statement. No one asked me to compromise in any manner. I was encouraged that we could stand together to make clear that to come for one of us on these issues is to come for all. At the end of the day, I did not want my name missing from that list when folks look to see just who was willing to be listed."

- Al Mohler

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do not render to Caesar that which is God's

The Manhattan Declaration

“Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
- from The Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration is a document that affirms the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

You can read the Manhattan Declaration HERE.

How to Preach in Prison

John Piper recently preached at Angola State Prison in Louisianna. His post on the event gives good insights not only about ministry to prisons but how one should preach to those who will live the rest of their lives behind bars.

Warden Cain says: I am as nice as they let me be and as mean as they make me be. Given the job he is given to do, it is a good motto.

I saw the Warden’s “nice” as we sat for half an hour with G.B., a prisoner on Death Row whose death by lethal injection the Warden will oversee in January. There are over 80 on death row, some now for over 14 years as appeals go on. The Warden asked me to share the gospel with G.B. Never have I felt a greater urgency to say the good news plainly and plead from my heart. The thief on the cross is a hero on Death Row.

The Warden answered all G.B.’s questions about what the last day would be like and who from his family and the press could be there. He gave G.B. unusual privileges for these last seven weeks. He was manifestly compassionate while stating the facts with precision. I took G.B.’s picture with my phone and said I would pray for him. (Perhaps you would too.)

I preached with all my heart to those who could fit in the chapel, and to the rest by closed circuit television. G.B. (and three others on Death Row) told me they’d be watching. I pulled no punches:

For 90% of you the next stop is not home and family, but heaven or hell. O what glorious news we have in that situation. And believe me it is not the prosperity of Gospel. Jesus came and died and rose again not mainly to be useful, but to be precious. And that he can be in Angola as well as Atlanta. Perhaps even more.

Read the entire post HERE.

Another Stunning Achievement of Evangelical Narcissism

"By which He has granted to John His precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these John may become a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust." (2 Pet. 1:4)

Have you ever inserted your name as you read the Bible to make it more personal? Now you can experience the reality of God's love and promises in a way you never thought possible. In the Personal Promise Bible, you will read your first name personalized in over 5,000 places throughout the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, over 7,000 places throughout the complete Old and New Testaments.

As if there were not enough versions of the Bible already, now we can have our own personalized Bible. The Personal Promise Bible is another stunning achievement of evangelical narcissism.

But the Personal Promise Bible makes perfect sense if you have payed any attention to the trajectory of American evangelicalism. Quite simply, it's all about me. "What's all about me," you ask? Well, everything. As the publishers of the P.P.B. indicate, "You will read your first name personalized in over 5,000 places throughout the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs, over 7,000 places throughout the complete Old and New Testaments." In other words, "If you thought Jesus was a big deal in the Bible wait until you see your own name mentioned exponentially more times than even that of our Lord."

This vaudevillian move is not so strange when considering how the many promises in Scripture are routinely ripped from their context and made to be my own little private arrangement with God. For instance, how many times are God's promises to national Israel under the Old Covenant concerning their prospering in the Land of Promise used by contemporary Christians to assure themselves that God wants them to have a bigger swimming pool, a better job, and successful children? How many times are God's promises to the Church personalized in such a way that they lose their true meaning? It seems that within contemporary evangelicalism a morbid preoccupation with self is not only no longer a sin but a virtue.

The Cross as Fulfillment of God's Law

The cross demonstrates the permanent, immutable nature of God's law. To save us, Jesus did not go around the law. He did not remove it. Rather, he fulfilled it. Taht is because the law is the eternal standard by which we will all be judged, and God is passionate about it. Every jot and tittle of the law must be fulfilled, promised Jesus (Matt. 5:17-20). The cross says, "There will be no lawbreakers in heaven." The cross says, "God is fervent about his law."

Verses such as "Now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law" (Rom. 7:6) have convinced many that law does not apply to Christians, that in some mysterious way it is no longer relevant or important. In one sense they are right. The law no longer enslaves Christians. We could not keep the law, so Jesus kept it for us. God has released all who put their trust in God's Son from the burden of being perfect law keepers. But the cross reminds us that we will never be released from the law as the standard for judgment.

Jesus did two things on our behalf to fulfill the law. First, he lived a perfect life. He obeyed every jot and tittle of the law so that he could impute that obedience to to unworthy lawbreakers who put their faith in him. Second, on the cross he bore the punishment that lawbreakers deserve. Jesus glorified his Father's passion for his law by both fulfilling it and atoning for its abuse.

William Farley from Outrageous Mercy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CT interviews Michael Horton

Michael Horton was interviewed by Christianity Today about his books Christless Christianity and The Gospel-Driven Life.

What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?

When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: "These are God's commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?" Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

Then there is the therapeutic approach: "You can be happier if you follow God's principles." All of this is said with a smile, but it's still imperative. It's still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

In both cases, it's law rather than gospel. I don't even know when I walk into a church that says it's Bible-believing that I'm actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I'm going to hear about how I should "dare to be a Daniel." The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don't.

But aren't many churches doing good preaching about how to improve your marriage, transform your life, and serve the poor?

The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn't gospel. The gospel isn't "Follow Jesus' example" or "Transform your life" or "How to raise good children." The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on "What would Jesus do?" rather than "What has Jesus done?"

Why is this such a temptation for the church?

It's our default setting. No one has to be taught to trust in themselves. No one has to be taught that what you experience inside yourself is more authoritative than what comes to you externally, even if it comes from God. Since the Fall, it has been part of our character to look within ourselves. And it is part of our inherent Pelagianism to think we can save ourselves by following the right instructions.

In such a therapeutic, pragmatic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society as ours, the message of God having to do all the work in saving us comes as an offensive shot at our egos. In this culture, religion is all about being good, about the horizontal, about loving God and neighbor. All of that is the fruit of the gospel. The gospel has nothing to do with what I do. The gospel is entirely a message about what someone else has done not only for me but also for the renewal of the whole creation.

Read the entire interview HERE

"Well Acts" and the Loss of Sin

Much armchair and professional psychoanalyzing has gone on about the Major Hasan's murderous rampage at Fort Hood. What seems to be lost in the hunt for a motive is the reality of human sin fueled by a wicked ideology.

Al Mohler writes:

Any civilization requires a stable, rational, and consensual moral framework in order to survive. Western civilization has been built on a framework of Christian morality, with the so-called "Judeo-Christian ethic" providing the moral principles that support laws, ethical reasoning, and moral impulses.

Over the past several decades, that framework has been under sustained attack by ideological opponents, subverted by a secular shift among the elites, and increasingly forgotten by the masses. In its place, the moral reasoning mustered by many Americans amounts to a mixture of moral intuitions, ideological threads, and cultural assumptions. In the main, these all add up to what Philip Rieff called the "triumph of the therapeutic." When morality collapses, all that remains is therapy.

This has been brought to our attention in the aftermath of the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, arrested for the shootings that killed 13 and wounded scores of others, is now known to have yelled "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) as he was shooting, to have links to Islamic extremists in Yemen, and to have visited a mosque frequented by the September 11, 2001 terrorists. More details of his background and motivation have been revealed over the last few days. There is ample evidence that Major Hasan, a physician and psychiatrist, provided much evidence of his motivation.

The role his Muslim faith played in the shootings will require more time to unpack. There will be plenty of time for that consideration as his trial is conducted. In the meantime, we should note the extent to which some observers are doing their best to absolve Major Hasan, whatever the deepest sources of his motivation, of moral responsibility for the massacre.

Read the entire article HERE.

I am my biggest problem

From Paul Tripp:

I must face the fact that my greatest need is not environmental. My greatest need does not derive from the fact that the brokenness of the Fall fractures every situation, every relationship, and every context. Yes, all my relationships are flawed in some way. And no, the world around me does not operate as God intended. But this environmental brokenness is not my greatest, deepest, most abiding problem. No matter what I face in this fallen world, my greatest problem in life exist inside of me and not outside of me. Sure, I want to think that it is…

My spouse

My children

My neighbors

My extended family

My history

My church

My job

My friends

My boss

My community

My finances

The government

The traffic

The Internet

Society in general

And the list could go on and on.

But the Bible tells me something very different. Even though my environment has been broken by sin, my biggest problem is moral. There is something wrong inside of me, and in one way or another it influences everything I desire, think, choose, say, and do.

Reminder: Paul Tripp will be at Church of the Saviour January 10-12.

"We shall bring an untiring energy to the study of Thy Prophets and Apostles..."

I know, O Lord God Almighty, that I owe Thee, as the chief duty of my life, the devotion of all my words and thoughts to Thyself. The gift of speech which Thou hast bestowed can bring me no higher reward than the opportunity of service in preaching Thee and displaying Thee as Thou art, as Father and Father of God the Only-begotten, to the world in its blindness and the heretic in his rebellion.

But this is the mere expression of my own desire; I must pray also for the gift of Thy help and compassion, that the breath of Thy Spirit may fill the sails of faith and confession which I have spread, and a favouring wind be sent to forward me on my voyage of instruction.

We can trust the promise of Him Who said, Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you and we in our want shall pray for the things we need.

We shall bring an untiring energy to the study of Thy Prophets and Apostles, and we shall knock for entrance at every gate of hidden knowledge, but it is Thine to answer the prayer, to grant the thing we seek, to open the door on which we beat.

Our minds are born with dull and clouded vision, our feeble intellect is penned within the barriers of an impassable ignorance concerning things Divine; but the study of Thy revelation elevates our soul to the comprehension of sacred truth, and submission to the faith is the path to a certainty beyond the reach of unassisted reason.

And therefore we look to Thy support for the first trembling steps of this undertaking, to Thy aid that it may gain strength and prosper. We look to Thee to give us the fellowship of that Spirit Who guided the Prophets and the Apostles, that we may take their words in the sense in which they spoke and assign its right shade of meaning to every utterance.

For we shall speak of things which they preached in a mystery; of Thee, O God Eternal, Father of the Eternal and Only-begotten God, Who alone art without birth, and of the One Lord Jesus Christ, born of Thee from everlasting. We may not sever Him from Thee, or make Him one of a plurality of Gods, on any plea of difference of nature.

We may not say that He is not begotten of Thee, because Thou art One. We must not fail to confess Him as true God, seeing that He is born of Thee, true God, His Father. Grant us, therefore, precision of language, soundness of argument, grace of style, loyalty to truth.

Enable us to utter the things that we believe, that so we may confess, as Prophets and Apostles have taught us, Thee, One God our Father, and One Lord Jesus Christ, and put to silence the gainsaying of heretics, proclaiming Thee as God, yet not solitary, and Him as God, in no unreal sense.

- Hilary of Poitiers

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

13 Books on the Doctrine of God

Keith Mathison from Ligonier Ministries has recommended 13 books on the doctrine of God. Check out the list HERE.

I would add to that excellent list a few titles that are a bit more accessable to the lay person:

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Behold Your God by Donald MacLeod

The Message of the Living God by Peter Lewis

A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson

The Pleasures of God by John Piper

"Creating Fog" - A review of N.T. Wrights "Justification"

David Mathis has written a clear and, in my mind, accurate assessment of N.T. Wright's "Justification." More than a review of Wright's latest book, Mathis offers a critique of Wright's tendency toward a less than careful exegesis of the biblical text as well as a frustrating avoidance to truly engage his critics.

Tom Wright has done it again. He has produced yet another title in addition to his esteemed and still-in-progress series Christian Origins and the Question of God. Even the growing many who question whether Wright has ventured off course in his retelling of Paul’s doctrine of justification can appreciate his productivity. Put this reviewer in that category.

Wright tackles Justification in two parts. “Introduction” addresses perspective, rules of engagement, backgrounds, and definitions in a lengthy prolegomena; “Exegesis” then aims to show his vision of Paul’s vision from Paul’s texts—first Galatians; then Philippians, Corinthians, and Ephesians; and finally, Romans. Wright says, “I am writing this book to try, once more, to explain what I have been talking about—which is to explain what I think St. Paul was talking about” (p. 21). He finds that John Piper, author of The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), as well as Wright’s mounting list of critics, “hasn’t really listened to what I’m saying” (p. 21).

It is easy to pen a quick list of the good in this book. Wright constantly reminds us of Sola Scriptura, emphasizes the necessity of exegesis, underscores the corporate nature of Paul’s theology, highlights the role of Israel in redemptive history, wields a wonderful Christology (and registers his disagreement with the Christology of James D. G. Dunn, to whom he has strangely dedicated this book), acknowledges that Romans is primarily about God (p. 40) and that it is “one of the greatest documents ever written by a human being” (p. 175), and condemns the use of the “loose language” of salvation by faith. Wright even refreshingly admits that he, Dunn, and Richard Hays have “not always followed either history or exegesis perfectly” (p. 196), and that he is sorry for giving wrong impressions in the past (p. 180).

But despite the smattering of good, it is disheartening to find that Wright is not yet addressing the issues he must in order to move the discussion forward, thus leaving his inquisitors with the same unanswered questions. The places where Wright creates disappointment and leaves questions can be clustered into a sequence of five groupings.

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ehrman's Errors

In the latest issue of Themelios, Darrel Bock reviews Bart Ehrman's latest attack on the Bible, Jesus, Interrupted.

Bart Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted by his own admission says nothing new. It packages what scholars have been saying about issues in the Bible in a very public way for two decades. As Ehrman points out, these issues go back centuries—and the positions he defends have been advocated for a few centuries. What the book does is put many of these well known examples in one place, laid out so anyone reading the Bible has to face up to them. In a real sense, Jesus, Interrupted is an “in your face” book for those who have a high regard for the Bible. Saying in effect, “Take that,” Ehrman tackles an array of textual issues. His chapters discuss supposed contradictions he sees in the text, the point of variant readings, debates about authorship, treatment of issues tied to the historical Jesus, and discussion about orthodox Christianity emerging later than the first century out of an originally more diverse situation.

In fact, folks like Augustine and Origen were aware of the kinds of issues he raises. Answers and debates around what Ehrman raises have been around for a long time, but one reading this book would never really know what the real conversation is about in these kinds of examples. Ehrman begins his study on a biographical note. He often does this in his books to tell how, becoming enlightened, his position changed. He notes that when he learned the historical critical method in place of the devotional method, he discovered the Bible was full of contradictions and discrepancies. He came to see it as a completely human book with Christianity being a religion that is completely human in its origin and development. His experience portrays the core thesis of Jesus, Interrupted. Ehrman has become a one-man band seeking to make clear what everyone should know about the origins of the Christian faith—its roots can be explained on completely human terms.

Read the entire review HERE.

For some reason, the word "admissions" in the first sentence of the quote above is a link to University of Phoenix. Earlier it was a link to a message that said, "Obama wants moms to return to work." I have no idea where that came from. For some reason I cannot remove the link. Anyone out there care to tell me how something like that happens?

Cormac McCarthy

There are few writers I enjoy reading as much as Cormac McCarthy. I began reading McCarthy when I picked up a copy of Blood Meridian a year or so after I graduated from University. I was hooked.

McCarthy was interviewed recently by the Wall Street Journal about his writing, God, movies, and the end of the world.

WSJ: People have said "Blood Meridian" is unfilmable because of the sheer darkness and violence of the story.

CM: That's all crap. The fact that's it's a bleak and bloody story has nothing to do with whether or not you can put it on the screen. That's not the issue. The issue is it would be very difficult to do and would require someone with a bountiful imagination and a lot of balls. But the payoff could be extraordinary.

WSJ: How does the notion of aging and death affect the work you do? Has it become more urgent?

CM: Your future gets shorter and you recognize that. In recent years, I have had no desire to do anything but work and be with [son] John. I hear people talking about going on a vacation or something and I think, what is that about? I have no desire to go on a trip. My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That's heaven. That's gold and anything else is just a waste of time...

WSJ: You grew up Irish Catholic.

CM: I did, a bit. It wasn't a big issue. We went to church on Sunday. I don't even remember religion ever even being discussed.

WSJ: Is the God that you grew up with in church every Sunday the same God that the man in "The Road" questions and curses?

CM: It may be. I have a great sympathy for the spiritual view of life, and I think that it's meaningful. But am I a spiritual person? I would like to be. Not that I am thinking about some afterlife that I want to go to, but just in terms of being a better person. I have friends at the Institute. They're just really bright guys who do really difficult work solving difficult problems, who say, "It's really more important to be good than it is to be smart." And I agree it is more important to be good than it is to be smart. That is all I can offer you...

WSJ: Is there a difference in the way humanity is portrayed in "The Road" as compared to "Blood Meridian"?

CM: There's not a lot of good guys in "Blood Meridian," whereas good guys is what "The Road" is about. That's the subject at hand.

JH [director of The Road]: I remember you said to me that "Blood Meridian" is about human evil, whereas "The Road" is about human goodness. It wasn't until I had my own son that I realized a personality was just innate in a person. You can see it forming. In "The Road," the boy has been born into a world where morals and ethics are out the window, almost like a science experiment. But he is the most moral character. Do you think people start as innately good?

CM: I don't think goodness is something that you learn. If you're left adrift in the world to learn goodness from it, you would be in trouble. But people tell me from time to time that my son John is just a wonderful kid. I tell people that he is so morally superior to me that I feel foolish correcting him about things, but I've got to do something--I'm his father. There's not much you can do to try to make a child into something that he's not. But whatever he is, you can sure destroy it. Just be mean and cruel and you can destroy the best person...

WSJ: Do you feel like you're trying to address the same big questions in all your work, but just in different ways?

CM: Creative work is often driven by pain. It may be that if you don't have something in the back of your head driving you nuts, you may not do anything. It's not a good arrangement. If I were God, I wouldn't have done it that way. Things I've written about are no longer of any interest to me, but they were certainly of interest before I wrote about them. So there's something about writing about it that flattens them. You've used them up. I tell people I've never read one of my books, and that's true. They think I'm pulling their leg.

WSJ: Earlier you referred to the role luck plays in life. Where has luck intervened for you?

CM: There was never a person born since Adam who's been luckier than me. Nothing has happened to me that hasn't been perfect. And I'm not being facetious. There's never been a time when I was penniless and down, when something wouldn't arrive. Over and over and over again. Enough to make you superstitious.

Read the entire article/interview HERE.

Who Made God?

Tim Challies has given an enthusiastic recommendation to Who Made God? by scholar Edgar Andrews.

Why should the Devil get all the good scientists? It sometimes seems that way, doesn’t it? We hear of scientists like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins and others who are acclaimed as being at the top of their field and almost inevitably it seems that they are atheists or otherwise committed to explaining the world in terms of Darwinian evolution. Occasionally we find a great dissenting mind, but then we discover that that person is committed to beliefs that seem opposed to the plain account of Scripture. So we have Francis Collins who writes The Language of God but who in the book says that, though God exists, life and creation can be explained in terms of natural laws and processes that do not depend on the Divine hand of God. It is both tiresome and frustrating.

But here at last comes Edgar Andrews whose list of academic credentials include more letters than all the names in my family: BSc, PhD, DSc, FInstP, FIMMM, CEng, CPhys (which, according to a site I consulted, is together an anagram for disbenching tscpf fpsps chym- cmd ‘m). No, I don’t know what any of those degrees mean, but they sure sound impressive. He is Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and an international expert on the science of large molecules (not small ones, mind you, only the large ones). His credentials include things that sound like they must set him apart; things such as this: In September 1972 he was one of four specially invited speakers at the dedication symposium of the Michigan Molecular Institute, two of the others being Nobel Laureates Paul Flory and Melvin Calvin.

Put it all together and you find that Andrews is one smart dude. He’s smarter than you and me and the rest of us put together. And in his new book Who Made God? he launches a full front assault on the new atheists. He does this not through a point-by-point refutation of their books, but by an insightful look at science and the existence of God. An excellent writer who mixes a subtle British sense of humor with a powerful intellect and a deep understanding of science, he very quickly picks apart the arguments we have for so long been hearing from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and even Francis Collins. Yet he still crafts a book that is readable and, best of all, understandable. Even the chapter dealing with string theory is comprehensible—no small feat for a smart guy writing about what lies at the very frontier of science.

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Scott Oliphint on Apologetics and Scripture

Great Gift Idea

It is my wife's birthday.

To celebrate the day, a friend from church took her out to eat and do a little shopping. What struck me as a particularly good gift was the prayer journal that she presented to my wife. It was the prayer journal this lady began keeping in the days prior to the church's vote on me as pastor all the way through the early days of our arrival in Pennsylvania. There are prayers for each member of my family. Prayers for our safety and well being. There are prayers for needs of my children in their transition to a new school and church. Also recorded are specific answers to prayers. Though she had never intended to give it Karen, the journal is a profoundly moving gift.

We are blessed to be surrounded by people who pray for us. The gift Karen received today was a powerful reminder of this.

Why the church is vitally important...

Good stuff from Carl Trueman...

It is all too easy for the theological student to end up remembering God as an object of knowledge; it is quite another thing to remember him as the all-surpassing subject of existence.

This is why church is vitally important. OK, long-standing readers of Themelios know what is coming next: Trueman’s pitch for seeing the local church as the necessary context for the Christian life, not least for those called to study theology at the highest level. Well, here it comes; and just because I have said it before does not make it any less true or any less necessary to say it again. After all, some of you may—ahem—have forgotten the speech. As noted above, that’s what the Bible itself indicates as happening when predictable but important routines are abandoned or their content taken for granted.

Much modern theological scholarship, particularly—though not exclusively—in the areas of Old and New Testament studies is predicated on a culture of amnesia. What the church has said about the Bible between the close of the apostolic era and the present day can be, by and large, dismissed. These people did not have access to the documents we now have, they did not understand Judaism as we now do, some were simply naïve in how they looked at the world and how they read texts. These are the kind of arguments which pervade this culture.

Now, for the student studying for an MA or MDiv or PhD, these are not insignificant points; they have to be addressed if the student is to avoid being an obscurantist. But the student should also be aware that the framework out of which these kinds of arguments arise is not a value-neutral one; nor does it actually reflect a particularly biblical view either of the value of the past or the importance of the church as the Body of Christ in biblical interpretation, systematic doctrinal synthesis, or application. Thus, it is vitally important that such students make sure that they place themselves within a local church and under the sound preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments/ordinances on a regular basis. Why? Because otherwise their memories of who God is and what he has done over the years will slowly fade or distort as they simply accommodate to sinful, human expectations of who God is and how he acts.

To the research student, and even perhaps the one studying theology for a first degree, this all sounds terribly boring. To spend the week voyaging at the far reaches of intellectual seas of scholarship, and then the weekends listening to some person standing in a pulpit and simply expounding the text or serving bread and wine? What is the value in that? One can imagine the Israelites in the Book of Judges raising similar questions. Do we need to do that Passover thing again? Do we not all know what it means? Do we really need the law read to us so often? Surely once we know what it says, we can move beyond it? The net result in Judges is, of course, that the values of Sodom come to flourish within the very boundaries of the Promised Land and within the very practices of the Lord’s people, with fatal consequences for at least one young woman. Neglect of the boring, day-to-day routines led to absolute disaster.

It is the same today. I have yet to come across a student who struggled with, or even abandoned, the faith, who did not, at some early point in their struggle, abandon the mundane routines of the Christian life: regular attendance at the preaching of the word, prayer, etc. etc. Boring they may be, but they are God’s means of preventing amnesia; and we forget them at our peril.

Read the entire article HERE.

Grudem on Scripture's Clarity

The Bible is not locked away in esoteric mystery as theological liberals or postmoderns would have us believe. God gave us His Word (yes, I believe it is HIS Word) not to confuse or confound us but to reveal Himself to us. Belief in the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture is often miscast by the pomo/emergent/liberal crowd as arrogant. They assure us that their approach of not really knowing what the Bible means is a "humble apologetic." But I wonder. Is it truly humble to say of God's carefully crafted and fully inspired Word, "Who can truly know what it means?"

It leaves me wondering if the opposition to the Bible's perspicuity has more to do with discomfort over what Scripture has made clear than it is about Scripture being truly indecipherable.

One of the great achievements of the Protestant Reformation was that the common man should have access to the Scriptures because much of what the Bible says is readily understood by the common man. Surely this does not mean that formal training is of no use. Indeed, formal training in the biblical languages, hermeneutics, and theology are extremely helpful in deepening one's understanding of Scripture. I am deeply grateful for the fact that I was able to be formally trained in seminary. But the common layperson is not dependent upon those who are formally trained to understand those things in the Bible that pertain to salvation and godliness.

The latest issue of Themelios carries a helpful article by Wayne Grudem on Scripture's clarity. Among the points that Dr. Grudem makes are the following qualifications:

1. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but not all at once.

2. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but not without effort.

3. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but not without ordinary means.

4. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but not without the reader's willingness to obey it.

5. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but not without the help of the Holy Spirit.

6. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but not without human understanding.

7. Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but never completely.

Read the entire article HERE.

New Issue of Themelios

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday's Sermon

Today's sermon was part 22 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Shadows and Substance" and covers Hebrews 8:1-13. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.