Thursday, December 31, 2009

Setting apart Christ as Lord in our defense of the faith

"Where Peter commands us always to be ready to set forth a defense of the hope in us, he also specifies the condition under which this must done: 'Set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts' (1 Peter 3:15). In all our apologetical endeavors we must honor Christ as Lord over our thinking and argumentation. He alone must occupy this unique position of lordship in our minds, for He must be 'set apart' for that function. That which dictates what we think and present in defense of the faith must not be the theories, inferences, and assumptions of secular learning. The content and logic of our apologetic comes from the Word of Christ our Lord...

"Exclusive loyalty belongs to the Lord, and hence His Word must never be doubted or tried. Consequently, when Peter commands us to defend the faith by honoring the lordship of Christ, this means that we must never assume an uncommitted or neutral stance with respect to the veracity of God's Word. Scripture is not on trial, but must always be presupposed as true. To presume to work up to a recognition of its truth by independent argumentation would be to honor some other lord than Christ (whether it be empirical discovery, logic, some scholar's opinion, one's own rational abilities, or whatever). Christ alone must govern our thoughts, and His Word must not be brought into question. In setting forth our reasoned account for the Christian hope in us we are obligated by the word of our Lord to do so without casting doubt upon Scripture's veracity. The Lord's word must be presupposed and obeyed in everything we do--even apologetics. Like faithful Abraham, we must never waver in unbelief (Rom. 4:20). The Word of God should not be treated as a hypothesis to be proved by rational-emperical testing; it must never be reduced to the level of probability. It is the unquestionable Word of Christ our Lord; we begin with its veracity and argue accordingly. It is the thinking of the rebel sinner, not the Word of the Lord, that must be brought into question. Our defense of the faith does not work toward an honoring of Christ's lordship; it works under that lordship!"

- Greg Bahnsen from Presuppositional Apologetics (pp. 26-27)

The final two sentences devestate me: "It is the thinking of the rebel sinner, not the Word of the Lord, that must be brought into question. Our defense of the faith does not work toward an honoring of Christ's lordship; it works under that lordship!"

It saddens me to think about the biblical scholars who, in the classroom and their books, attack the veracity of God's own Word. It's remarkable really. As one Old Testament scholar said to me, "There is not a single page of the Bible that does not bear the taint of human error." His own presuppositions and conclusions have taken on a greater level authority than the Word of God. This is idolatry and rebel thinking.

It should be no surprise then when Christian students, attending "Christian" colleges, reared to believe the Bible as God's Word end up departing from the faith after one or two classes with such unbelieving Bible teachers.

Read the Bible in 2010

As you consider making resolutions for the new year consider reading the entire Bible in 2010.

Check out more options HERE.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christ the Center - 100th Episode

Take a listen to the 100th episode of Christ The Center over at Reformed Forum. Among the issues discussed in this episode is what it means to be Reformed.

Not Just Another Issue...

Abortion is not just one issue among many. We are not just arguing about different means to a shared end. We are arguing about the “right,” pulled out of constitutional thin air, to end a life. Abortion is the deepest social injustice because the human is helpless and innocent. It is the gravest tragedy because the procedure Abby Johnson describes is purposefully lethal and perfectly legal.

Lord, haste the day when the collective ignominy our nation feels toward slavery and racism will be felt concerning this evil as well.

And until that day, let every Christian light a candle and curse the darkness that makes its flame necessary.

Peaceful Coexistence?

From Paul McCain over at Evangel:
Muslims and non-Muslims who live in nations where Islam is not the law of the land talk a lot about how Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Christians who live in Islamic nations tell a different story. I picked this up from Ron Dreher’s blog, who writes: “If you want to know what it’s really like to live under persecution for your Christian faith and culture, listen to this presentation by Bishop Thomas, a Copt who serves in Assiut, an area of intense Islamic persecution of Christians. I met him once, and the man is so luminous, and peaceful. It’s almost humiliating to be an American Christian, with such an easy life despite it all, and to hear what life is like for Christians in Egypt and elsewhere. If you don’t have time to watch the whole nine minute video, start at about 2:45:

Art Therapy for Terrorists?

I know it's not fashionable right now to call terrorists, well, terrorists. Anyway, it seems that those fellas we released from Gitmo were being detained for a reason.

From Brian Ross, etc over at ABC News:
One of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007, according to American officials and Department of Defense documents. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Northwest bombing in a Monday statement that vowed more attacks on Americans.

American officials agreed to send the terrorist from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia, where he entered into an "art therapy rehabilitation program" and was set free, according to U.S. and Saudi officials. ABC News described his enrollment in the art therapy program in a January report.

Guantanamo prisoner prisoner #372, Said Ali Shari was sent to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 9, 2007, according to the Defense Department log of detainees who were released from American custody.

The Saudi national has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen, according to U.S. officials and the men's own statements on al Qaeda propaganda tapes.

When Evangelicalism is no longer evangelical...

Good article (part one of a series) by Martin Downes on the (almost) 20th anniversary of Robert Brow's "manifesto" on "the new evangelicalism."

It is almost twenty years since Christianity Today published the article "Evangelical Megashift: Why you may not have heard about wrath, sin, and hell recently" by the Canadian theologian Robert Brow (19th February 1990, to be exact).

Twenty years is a long time. After all in Febraury 1990, here in the UK Margaret Thatcher was still the Prime Minister, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was still several months away.

Over the next two months I will make some occassional posts on the original article, and will offer some reflections on the trajectories of what Brow called "new model" thinking. Brow claimed that this was "dividing evangelicals on a deep level." Al Mohler referred to this article, back in 1996, as a "manifesto for evangelical revision."

Indeed it is worth recalling his comments on the subtle progressiveness of this paradigm shift from old to new model thinking:

But now, almost without our recognizing it, another model has appeared...A whole generation of young people have breathed this air, making their thinking very different from that of "old-model" evangelicalism, even where there is shared commitment to Jesus as Savior and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. This theological sea change, as has so often happened in church history, involved giving new meanings to the ever stable language of the Christian faith.

In particular Brow noted that the words hell, faith, judge, wrath, sin, church, and the title "Son of God" were all being assigned new meanings in line with "new model" thinking:

We have looked at seven key words that have radically changed focus among new model evangelicals. When these words are encountered in the Bible, their meaning is articulated with a different accent.

Many readers of Christianity Today will recognize that they have moved in some of these directions without being conscious of a model shift. And the old model can be modified and given qualifications for a time. But once three or four of the changes have occurred, our thinking is already organized around the new model.

We may still use old-model language and assume we believe as before, but our hearts are changing our minds.

Others have noted that this article was a precursor for the open theist project (although an essay by Clark Pinnock in 1986 heralded this neo-Socinian theology to the evangelical world), and a portent much of the emergent and post-evangelical theology that has influenced evangelicalism in the first decade of the 21st century.

Almost ten years ago Gary L. W. Johnson was right to say that these "new model" thinkers have not lacked "a platform to propagate their anti-Reformational views" (and that not least through the medium of Christianity Today).

Yet, back in 1990, who would have thought that we would see a suprising resurgence of the very "old model" Calvinistic thinking that the "new model" thinkers were to determined to steer evangelicals away from?

Furthermore, however you assess it, this resurgence of the New Calvinists has brought in its wake a bold proclamation and clear articulation of the very words that the evangelical megashift was busily reinterpreting.

More to come...

My Books of the Year

The books published in 2009 that I most appreciated are (in no particular order):

Words of Life by Timothy Ward

Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell
The Gospel-Driven Life by Michael Horton

When Helping Hurts by Corbett & Fikkert

The Gospel in Genesis by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

* Books that probably belong on the list but are not because I am still reading them:

The Trellis and the Vine by Marshall & Payne

Calvin by Bruce Gordon

God's People in the Wilderness by O. Palmer Robertson

Words from the Fire by Albert Mohler

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Abortion Politics

As Congress and the White House march toward passing massive health care legislation, tax payers face the real possibility of being forced to fund the continuing moral catastrophe of abortion. The only hope of that not happening is for certain pro-life Democrats to steadfastly reject the Senate's so-called compromise language on abortion.

From an article by Pete Winn:

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said the White House and the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives have been pressuring him not to speak out on the "compromise" abortion language in the Senate version of the health care bill.

“They think I shouldn’t be expressing my views on this bill until they get a chance to try to sell me the language,” Stupak told in an interview on Tuesday. “Well, I don’t need anyone to sell me the language. I can read it. I’ve seen it. I’ve worked with it. I know what it says. I don’t need to have a conference with the White House. I have the legislation in front of me here."

Stupak had contact with the White House last weekend, when the Senate voted 60 to 40 in the wee hours of Monday morning to shut off debate on the Senate version of the bill.

The current version of the Senate bill contains so-called “compromise” language crafted by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). This language does not bar taxpayer funding of health plans that cover abortion, but does create a firewall to supposedly keep federal money from being used to pay for abortions. Over the weekend, Stupak issued a statement calling the proposed Senate language "unacceptable."

"A review of the Senate language indicates a dramatic shift in federal policy that would allow the federal government to subsidize insurance policies with abortion coverage," said the statement.

In his interview with on Tuesday, Stupak said that the White House "asked me just to hold off for awhile and not to say anything about this language. But as soon as the news broke that they had this [compromise], and they got the 60 votes, folks were asking me, and I’m not going to run from the issue I’m going to stand up and say, ‘Look, here’s my objections.' Here – it’s not just my objections – but there’s a number of my [colleagues] who feel strongly about this issue, and these are the parts that have to be fixed.”

Stupak said he is not alone in being pressured from the White House and the House Democratic leadership – other pro-life Democratic colleagues apparently are, as well. But they plan to hold firm, he said.

“We’re getting a lot of pressure not to say anything, to try to compromise this principle or belief,” Stupak said. “[T]hat’s just not us. We’re not going to do that. Members who voted for the Stupak language in the House – especially the Democrats, 64 Democrats that voted for it – feel very strongly about it. It’s been part of who we are, part of our make up. It’s the principle belief that we have. We are not just going to abandon it in the name of health care."

Read the entire article HERE.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blessed Incongruity

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
- Luke 2:1-21

In all of human history there is no birthday that has been celebrated more faithfully, with greater joy, by more people around the world than the birth of the Jesus; the birth of the Saviour. Oddly enough even people who are not Christians acknowledge that there is something special about this season.

What is it about a single birth over 2,000 years ago that so captivates much of the world? It is because whether the world acknowledges it or not that birth was a singular event. There was never before nor will there ever be again an event like it. What Luke recorded for us is his gospel account was not simply the birth of a good man or of a spiritual guru. What Luke records is the birth of the Saviour.

If you read Luke’s account carefully you will find that the birth of Jesus was blessedly incongruous. To say that something is incongruous is to say that it doesn’t fit. This bothers us. We want things to be congruent. We want round pegs for round holes. But throughout the event of Jesus’ birth God demonstrates a reckless disregard for the world’s expectations.

This is often how God teaches us. This passage of Scripture almost screams out to us the contrast between the ways of God and the ways of the world. If we read it carefully, this passage causes us to reflect on our own lives and consider how we do things versus how God does things.

Notice three areas addressed in this passage where God’s ideas and our ideas often clash.

The most ignominious birth in Israel happened under the shadow of the most powerful ruler on the planet. Luke tells us that Jesus was born during the days of the reign of Caesar Augustus. At that time there was no greater contrast in regards to power. What could be weaker than the a new born baby – particularly a new born in the circumstances that Luke describes? And there was no greater power on the planet than that of Caesar Augustus.

Recall what Paul wrote to the church of Corinth:
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

We learn some lessons about status in this story. The birth of the Saviour was heralded in heaven but it was ignored by the world. The Son of God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace was born and all of heaven erupted in praise. But the world slept.

Rome hungered for glory. The Greeks sought after wisdom. Israel desired signs and wonders. But what God sent would represent a stumbling block for them all. The birth of Jesus was not in keeping with the glory of Rome. The birth of Jesus was not in keeping with the wisdom of the Greeks. Nor was the birth of Jesus consistent with the expectations of Israel’s religious leaders.

The three major cultures that converged in that part of the world had certain standards for what constituted true status. And the birth of the Saviour failed to live up to any of those standards.

Interestingly enough Caesar Augustus became fond of the title – “Saviour of the world.” The world offers salvation through the exercise of force, political activism, Utopian dreams, or the acquisition of money. But salvation and genuine peace will never, can never be established by individual or national use of force or political persuasion.

Nations do not last forever. Even a power as mighty as Rome decayed from the inside out and crumbled. This is why Caesar’s Pax Romana (the peace of Rome) was ultimately an illusion. The greatest power on the planet eventually ended up on history’s ash heap. Salvation and genuine peace are given by God and that through the means of a suffering Saviour. These incongruities of power, status, and salvation highlight the beauty of God’s humility and willingness to touch us in our weakness and brokenness.

What is Christmas about?

That's Christmas (Short Film) HD from St Helen’s Church on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thinking Biblically about Bearing the Sword and Turning the Cheek

Does Jesus' command to his followers to "turn the other cheek" mean that the state cannot legitimately bear the sword? David VanDrunen has written an excellent article for Themelios on the difference between the church's responsibilities and that of the state.

Among the many biblical passages that provoke controversial questions about Christian non-violence and cooperation with the sword-bearing state, perhaps none presses the issue as sharply as Matt 5:38–42. When Jesus prescribes turning the other cheek, giving up the garment, and going the second mile as an alternative to the lex talionis—the eye-for-eye principle of strict, proportionate justice—he addresses a key element of justice not only in the Mosaic law (Exod 21:22–25; Lev 24:18–21; Deut 19:21) but also in the Noahic covenant of Gen 9 and in countless human legal systems, such as the Law of Hammurabi and the Roman Law.2 Applied literally and universally, Jesus’ words leave little room for Christian participation in the coercive enforcement of justice in civil society. Yet NT texts such as Rom 13:1–7 continue to speak positively about civil government and its justice and about Christian submission under its regime. Interpreting Matt 5:38–42 in light of the broader biblical witness, therefore, has proven to be an arduous and controversial endeavor.

In recent years a number of eloquent writers have defended a rather literal reading of Matt 5:38–42 and surrounding verses. This often entails a non-violent or pacifist position that avoids cooperation with the civil state, though ordinarily its advocates seek not to withdraw from society but to develop a radical, peaceful, counter-intuitive strategy for effecting social transformation.3 Into the present day, however, most Christian theologians have held that Christians may be faithful to the Sermon on the Mount even while circumspectly supporting the coercive enforcement of justice. They often defend this view through highlighting the hyperbolic character of verses such as 5:38–42, which Jesus did not necessarily intend to be performed literally.4

My sympathies are clearly with the latter line of thought, though I defend the compatibility of the Sermon on the Mount with the continuing legitimacy of civil authority in a distinctive way. In this article I argue both for a strong—even literal—reading of Matt 5:38–42 and for the ongoing legitimate role for the sword-bearing state and Christian cooperation with it. Recognizing the lex talionis as the principle of strict retributive justice is crucial for my argument. Jesus truly decreed that the coercive application of the lex talionis was not to be pursued. Yet in doing so he did not intend to undermine civil authority or to prohibit Christians from supporting the work of the state. In Matt 5:38–42, Jesus announces that the pursuit of retributive justice has no place in the kingdom of heaven. Though the kingdom of heaven is ultimately an eschatological realm, to be fully revealed in the age to come, in Matthew Jesus points to the church as the particular community that embodies the kingdom’s way of life here and now. Many recent scholars argue against interpretations that limit the application of the Sermon on the Mount to the church.5 Christians, indeed, are citizens of the kingdom in all that they do and should always seek opportunities to express the Sermon’s ethic of forgiveness and reconciliation. Nevertheless, I argue that in Matt 5:38–42 Jesus defines the unique character of his church and does not redefine (or eliminate) the state or his disciples’ basic responsibilities toward it. The state is to continue its work of coercively enforcing justice in civil society, with Christians’ support. But the church is a community that shuns the application of the lex talionis. In anticipation of the eschatological kingdom, the church is not only a non-violent community but also, even more importantly, a community defined by an ethic of forgiveness and mercy rather than by retributive justice.

I also claim that a two-kingdoms doctrine as commonly expressed in historic Reformed theology provides an effective theological framework for appreciating these exegetical conclusions. Though most people today do not readily associate Reformed Christianity with a two-kingdoms doctrine, the early Reformed tradition did develop two-kingdoms categories similar to, though also distinct from, the Lutheran tradition. I argue that this Reformed two-kingdoms doctrine better captures Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:38–42 than does either a Lutheran two-kingdoms doctrine or the neo-Calvinist paradigm popular in contemporary Reformed thought.
Read the entire article HERE.

What exactly does "justice" mean?

The Associated Press has posted an article on a so-called "evangelical church" in Denver. I say "so-called" because of the church's decision to embrace homosexuality as a legitimate Christian lifestyle. As I read the article it was clear that the church embraces the standard liberal positions on important matters. So there is not much of a story here. This is not a case of a truly evangelical church that has now come to embrace homosexuality.

The pastor says the church's decision is not a matter of "lenience but a matter of justice." So my question is, what does he mean by "justice"? I hear that word a lot in certain circles but it never seems to be in reference to God's justice. Usually what I hear described as justice sounds more like mercy. Mercy for the poor. Mercy for the marginalized.

Don't misunderstand. I am pro-justice. Well, I am pro-justice to a certain extent (I'll explain in a moment). God calls his people to do justice. We are to seek justice for the oppressed; for those who have been truly victimized. But I am concerned that there is often times a lack of clarity around what constitutes justice. When I hear it described by certain people it simply sounds like liberal economic policies. For the church in Denver, doing justice is embracing what God has clearly called an abomination.

Justice is receiving what we deserve. Therefore, it seems to me that Christians ought to use the word justice carefully. The good news is that none of us have received what we deserve.

Vacation Reading...

Here are the books I'm taking with me on Christmas break:

Presuppositional Apologetics by Greg Bahnsen

For the Thrill of It by Simon Baatz

Flannery by Brad Gooch

The Trellis and the Vine by Payne & Marshall

Far as the curse is found - The Promise Fulfilled

3. The Promise Fulfilled

Notice three ways that God’s Word reveals Jesus to us as the fulfillment of His promise.

God in the flesh
To fulfill His promise God would not raise up a more moral man. It would not be enough for him to simply find the best man for the job. God himself would have to come to us. But he would come in such a way that we would know him and see him. He would come in such a way that He would experience all our temptations and pains and frailties and yet without sin or any hint of imperfection. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” A merely better man would not do. What we needed only God himself could accomplish.

J.I. Packer writes:

“Trinity and Incarnation belong together. The doctrine of the Trinity declares that the man Jesus is truly divine; that of the Incarnation declares that the divine Jesus is truly human. Together they proclaim the full reality of the Savior whom the New Testament sets forth, the Son who came from the Father’s side at the Father’s will to become the sinner’s substitute on the cross…

“The Incarnation, this mysterious miracle at the heart of historic Christianity, is central in the New Testament witness. That Jews should ever have come to such a belief is amazing. Eight of the nine New Testament writers, like Jesus’ original disciples, were Jews, drilled in the Jewish axiom that there is only one God and that no human is divine. They all teach, however, that Jesus is God’s Messiah, the Spirit-anointed son of David promised in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa. 11:1-5; Christos, “Christ,” is Greek for Messiah). They all present him in a threefold role as teacher, sin-bearer, and ruler—prophet, priest, and king. And in other words, they all insist that Jesus the Messiah should be personally worshiped and trusted—which is to say that he is God no less than he is man.”

The second Adam
Romans five juxtaposes the sin of Adam with the obedience of Christ. And there we are told that just as sin and death reigned through Adam’s fall so now forgiveness and life have come through Jesus Christ. In this sense Jesus has been often given the title “the second Adam.” You see, where Adam failed Jesus succeeded. “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17)

The Lamb of God
What we needed from God was not a good moral example to follow. We didn’t need a good teacher who would give us helpful principles to live by. What we needed was a Saviour. One who could bear away the guilt of our sin.

John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus and the last of the Old Covenant prophets. He was a bridge figure between the old and the new. Like the prophets of the Old Covenant John called the people of God to repent from their sins. He also told of one who would come from God who would save the people from their sins. But what made John unique is that he was the one chosen by God to introduce the Messiah to the world. And so as Jesus was entering his public ministry John announced his coming by saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

“Lamb of God.” Could there have been more significant symbolic language for God’s people? For thousands of years their high priests had entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement with the blood of a spotless lamb.

Imagine a great novel without a final chapter. Imagine not knowing how it ends. It would make the entire story somewhat meaningless. I think we can rightly say that without knowing the final chapter of the biblical story we would not understand the story itself. Not knowing how God’s promise in Genesis three ends; not know where the birth in Bethlehem ultimately leads would keep us from understanding the ultimate point of that birth.

The story of God’s salvation in Jesus does not end with our own personal salvation. My personal experience is not the final chapter. The final chapter is told in the consumation of the ages. It is told in the events of Christ’s return to judge the world. It is told in Christ’s joyful welcome to all his people.

Interestingly enough just as the Bible begins with a creation story it ends with a new creation story. You cannot read the final three chapters of the Bible (Revelation 20-22) without being vividly reminded of the first three chapters of the Bible. The river of life reappears. The tree of life is restored. The heavenly city descends and once again the Lord walks in communion with his covenant people. Creation will be remade. And as far as the curse is found it will be once and for all wiped away.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Take and Read

Justin Taylor comments on a book that is on my must read list for 2010:

"Just noticed that for a limited time Amazon has Jay Richard’s hardcover book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, on sale for 60% off.

"Doug Wilson has written that it’s one of the best books he’s read in some time. Sam Storms says it’s the best book he read in 2009. Kevin DeYoung said it’s the most engaging, readable, and thoughtful Christian defense of capitalism he’s read."
Here’s the table of contents along with list of the myths that Richards sets out to dispel:
1.Can’t We Build a Just Society? Myth no. 1: The Nirvana Myth (contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives)
2.What Would Jesus Do? Myth no. 2: The Piety Myth (focusing on our good intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions)
3.Doesn’t Capitalism Foster Unfair Competition? Myth no. 3: The Zero-sum Game Myth (believing that trade requires a winner and a loser)
4.If I Become Rich, Won’t Someone Else Become Poor? Myth no. 3: The Materialist Myth (believing that intellect cannot create new wealth)
5.Isn’t Capitalism Based on Greed? Myth no. 4: The Greed Myth (believing that the essence of capitalism is greed)
6.Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Capitalism? Myth no. 5: The Usury Myth (believing that charging interest on money is always exploitive)
7.Doesn’t Capitalism Always Lead to an Ugly Consumerist Culture? Myth no. 7: The Artsy Myth (confusing aesthetic judgments with economic arguments)
8.Are We Going to Use Up All the Resources? Myth no. 8: The Freeze Frame Myth (believing that things always stay the same—for example, assuming population trends will continue indefinitely or treating “rich” and “poor” as static categories)
9.Conclusion: Working All Things Together for Good
10.Appendix: Is the “Spontaneous Order” of the Market Evidence of a Universe without Purpose?

Theology: Systematic / Biblical Balancing Act

Okay, if you're a theology nerd like me then you will want to read the debate between two of my favorite writers - Carl Trueman and Graeme Goldsworthy.

Now, I tease a bit about being a theology nerd. But don't misunderstand. Theology is a deadly serious thing and a precious thing. So I am thankful for the likes of Drs. Trueman and Goldsworthy who understand that theology must not only be thoughtful but devotional and doxological as well.

A Revolutionary Balancing Act by Carl Trueman

A Response to Carl Trueman by Graeme Goldsworthy

Oral Roberts, Prosperity and the Perversion of Scripture

Oral Roberts died this week. He was 91 years old. Roberts was a bit of a denominational mish-mash. He was a Pentecostal faith healer, a United Methodist, a university president, and a proponent of the prosperity "gospel." I know it is normal practice to say nice things about a man when he dies. However, because of Oral Roberts' position as an influential teacher in the church and the errors he promoted I can only grieve when I think of the stricter judgement faced by all those who teach.

John MacArthur has written a worthwhile piece briefly tracing the emergence of word/faith and prosperity teaching and Oral Roberts' role as a popularizer of those false doctrines.

Oral Roberts died this week and the obituaries have been abuzz with analyses of his life and legacy. The USA Today headline summed up his contributions this way: "Oral Roberts brought health-and-wealth Gospel mainstream." The Los Angeles Times gave a similar snapshot of the man: "Oral Roberts dies at 91; televangelist was pioneering preacher of the 'prosperity gospel'"

But Christianity Today's lead blogger, Ted Olsen, disagreed. He responded with a post titled "Why the Oral Roberts Obituaries Are Wrong." The long subtitle at the head of Olsen's post explained: "The 'faith-healer' (who hated the term) may have done much to mainstream Pentecostalism, but he was no architect of the Prosperity Gospel."

Olsen's argument, essentially, is that the real founder and mastermind of prosperity doctrine was not Oral Roberts but Kenneth Hagin, "who is far more widely recognized as the man who joined Pentecostalism with the Faith Movement (also called 'Word-Faith,' or derogatively, the Prosperity Gospel or 'Health and Wealth' gospel)."

Olsen, however, is wrong. He has evidently confused two categories. It is quite true that Kenneth Hagin is the main prosperity preacher who popularized word-faith doctrine--the notion that the words we speak determine the blessings we receive. Hagin borrowed that doctrine from an earlier, lesser-known preacher--E. W. Kenyon. (A mountain of evidence suggests that Hagin actually plagiarized large portions of his published works from Kenyon's writings.) Kenyon had been strongly influenced by the teachings of New Thought, a 19th-century metaphysical cult similar to Christian Science. So Hagin's word-faith doctrines had deeply cultic roots, but the idea fit perfectly with the prosperity doctrines that were already being taught by A. A. Allen, Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, and other faith-healers. The two ideas were natural complements to one another.

Still, word-faith doctrine and the prosperity gospel are not synonymous. (Even the current Wikipedia entry acknowledges this: "Although [the Word of Faith movement] shares teachings in common with Prosperity theology, they are not the same thing.") Prosperity doctrine is the notion that God's favor is expressed mainly through physical health and material prosperity, and that these blessings are available for the claiming by anyone who has sufficient faith.

Oral Roberts was certainly the 20th century's leading advocate of that idea. His prosperity doctrine laid the foundation for an enormous media-based religious system, and Oral Roberts was indeed its chief architect. It is preposterous that Christianity Today would try to whitewash that fact. Prosperity teaching was what Roberts himself wanted to be remembered for.
Read MacArthur's entire article HERE.

Also, check out this article from the Trinity Foundation.

Far as the curse is found - The Promise

God, in his amazing grace does not end His story with the fall. He continues the story with…

2. The Promise

Before God tells Adam and Eve of the consequences of their sin he first announces judgement upon Satan. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).

It doesn’t look like it a first, but this is a promise of amazing grace. And it comes in the form of a curse upon the serpent. Martin Luther called Genesis 3:15 the “proto-euangelion” – the first gospel announcement. And that it was.

Notice that God tells Satan that He will make Eve his enemy – “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” What is new here is not Satan’s hatred of the woman. Satan hates. He hates everything about God and that includes everything and everyone God has created. Jesus said in John 10:10, “The theif comes only to steal, kill, and destory.” The apostle Peter said that, “Satan prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” So it is nothing new that Satan hates the woman. What God is changing in his curse upon Satan is that the woman will hate Satan; that she will be his enemy.

Even though she was now a sinner and would have to live with the consequences for the rest of her life on earth the woman would not love the serpent. She would not follow after him and trust him. This is God refusing to give her up. This is grace. This is beautiful, blessedly jealous love.

The late great James Montgomery Boice writes,

Suppose God had not created enmity between Satan and the woman. In that case Adam and Eve would have become like Satan, and from that time forward they would have seen everything from Satan’s warped and inverted perspective. That is, they would have considered God to be the utterly evil one and Satan to be the saviour. They would have loved evil and have hated virtue. They would have called truth falsehood and falsehood truth.
And of course this is exactly how the first chapter of Romans describes the inevitable downward spiral of humanity apart from Jesus Christ.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

God demonstrates grace in making it clear to Satan that he cannot have the woman. And not only that. God says that he will put enmity between Satan and the woman and her descendants. In other words God is promising that he will have for himself a people.

Something very interesting happens in Genesis 3:20. Adam names his wife “Eve.” Until this moment she is simply, “the woman.” Now she has a name that means “life.” Don’t miss the significance of the timing. Immediately after God pronounces his judgement which includes their inevitable death Adam gives his wife a name that means “Mother of the living.”

Adam understands the promise God has made. He understands that God, in his mercy will not allow Satan and sin to have the final word. Adam could have named her, “Thanks a lot!” or “Look at the mess you’ve made.” But her gives her a name that means “life.” Adam is not being urealistic or na├»ve. He simply believes God’s promise.

Christmas is not a pagan holiday

Biblical Archaeology Review has an interesting article on why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. The article also dispells the widely held urban myth that Christmas was a pagan holiday.

The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.5 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea.6 They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly. . . .

There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character. . . . In the first few centuries C.E., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E. . . . .

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’
death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years.8 But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9 March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”11 Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

HT: Gene Veith

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Books to Look for in 2010

WTS Audio - The Authority of Scripture

Westminster Seminary has posted 100 audio messages on the authority of Scripture. Check it out HERE.

"C & E Christians"

A fascinating article on those who come to church only during the holiday season:

In Ohio, Hattie Gibson, 54, is defiant about only attending church twice-yearly and doesn't care who knows.

"I'm a C&E Christian and I'm proud of it," she says. "Churches have been giving me the full-court press for years, but I just ignore their silly mailings." She enjoys the warm community feeling at holiday services, but "won't sit for weekly indoctrination," she says. "If I hung around church, I'd just get into arguments."

Read the entire article HERE.

"Jersey Shore" and the elevation of immorality

As someone who lives about an hour from the Jersey Shore I cringed when I saw that MTV was airing a new reality show entitled "Jersey Shore." If you take every stereo type of young New Jersy-ites whose names end with a vowel and magnify it about gazillion times then you get the idea. I must admit that I watched the first 15 minutes of Jersey Shore and that was like having a root canal. It would be easy to laugh at or dismiss such utter banality and crudeness. But Jersey Shore and other similar cultural malignancies have a devastating effect on those classes of Americans who cannot afford to live as irresponsibly as Paris and Tiger.

Jonah Goldberg comments:

The elite minority’s general acceptance of racial and sexual equality as important values has been a moral triumph. But not without costs. As part of this transformation, society has embraced what social scientist Charles Murray calls “ecumenical niceness.” A core tenet of ecumenical niceness is that harsh judgments of the underclass — or people with underclass values — are forbidden. A corollary: People with old-fashioned notions of decency are fair game.

Long before the rise of reality shows, ecumenical niceness created a moral vacuum. Out-of-wedlock birth was once a great shame; now it’s something of a happy lifestyle choice. The cavalier use of profanity was once crude; now it’s increasingly conversational. Self-discipline was once a virtue; now self-expression is king.

Reality-show culture has thrived in that moral vacuum, accelerating the decay and helping to create a society in which celebrity is the new nobility. One senses that Richard Heene thought — maybe still thinks — that the way to make his kids proud of him was to land a reality show. Paris Hilton, famous for being famous thanks in part to a “reality” sex tape released days before her 2003 reality show The Simple Life, is now a cultural icon of no redeeming value whatsoever.

Whatever you think of what Toynbee and Murray would call the “proletarianization of the elites,” one point is beyond dispute: The rich can afford moral lassitude more than the poor can. Hilton, heir to a hotel fortune, has life as simple as she wants it to be. Tiger Woods is surely a cad, but as a pure matter of economics, he can afford to be one.

The question is: Can the rest of us afford to live in a society constantly auditioning to make an ass of itself on TV?

Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pastors, suffer well...

Village Church in Dallas, TX has released the news that their pastor, Matt Chandler, has a malignant brain tumor. So far in this process Matt has done a good job of suffering well before his congregation. Collin Hansen of Christianity Today reports on the story HERE. The latest report from the elders of Village Church reads as follows:
Dear church,

In the first chapter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes that whatever imprisonments, beatings and trials he may have suffered, they all “serve to advance the gospel” of Jesus Christ. We implore you to keep the gospel of Christ as the main focus as we walk with Matt and Lauren through this trial.

On Tuesday, Dr. Barnett informed Matt and Lauren that the findings of the pathology report revealed a malignant brain tumor that was not encapsulated. The surgery to remove the tumor, the doctor said, was an extremely positive first step; however, because of the nature of the tumor, he was not able to remove all of it.

Matt, who is being released from the hospital today, is meeting with a neuro-oncologist this week to outline the next steps of the recovery process. There is a range of treatment possibilities but the exact course of action has not yet been determined. He will continue outpatient rehab.

The Lord is calling Matt and Lauren and The Village Church body to endure this trial. It will be a challenging road for Matt, his family and our church body. The gospel is our hope and the Lord is our strength. Matt and Lauren continue to find solace and hope in Christ. They weep facing this trial, but not as those without hope and perspective. The gospel clarifies their suffering and promises more of Christ through it all.

You have done a wonderful job respecting the family, and we ask that you continue to do this. They are processing all of this together and need you to give them precious space. Please do not visit them at their house unless personally invited by the Chandlers. The best way to serve the family is to continue to be faithful in prayer. Specifically, pray for the following:

•Wisdom for all the coming decisions
•Strength and peace to endure
•The kids’ (Audrey, Reid and Norah) hearts; pray the Lord is merciful as they process and that their little hearts do not grow embittered
•The Chandlers and The Village would suffer well because of the gospel and for the sake of Christ’s name
By suffering well I do not mean denying the reality of pain. Some prominent preachers among neo-penticostal and word/faith set admonish their hearers to never use words like "cancer" because that constitutes a negative confession and will actually make one more likely to contrat c_____r. Of course we wouldn't give time to discussing such foolishness except for the fact that these groups represent a large percentage of American evangelicals.

So, suffering well does not mean denying pain. Cancer, heart disease, traffic accidents, and depression. are not natural parts of the "life cycle." They are unwelcome intruders into a world that was created without those things. What is more, they are simply preludes to the most unnatural of all our enemies: death. Everytime we experience pain, loss, and death we are being reminded of the tragedy of the fall. To suffer well we must not deny this. After all, Scripture reminds us that Christians do grieve. The difference is that we do not grieve as those without hope.

A pastor who suffers well, then, will be an example of one who hopes in his Saviour even while his life is visited with tears. He will rage against the sin that has visited such suffering upon the world but he will hope even more. His rest will outweigh his grief. He will give his congregation glimpses of hard won joy which is possible only for one who knows that it is better by far to depart and be with Jesus.

Approval Ratings

According to a new study clergy approval ratings are at a 32 year low. The good news is that we are doing much better than politicians but that is not saying much.

The study measures attitudes toward clergy ethics and the news is not comforting. Among Catholics, Protestants, and occasional church goers the numbers are down. Interestingly, the numbers are higher among the irreligious.

Commenting on the study, Scott Clark writes:

During the same period (e.g., 1850-1950) the radical egalitarian impulse of American religion enervated the vitality of American Christianity. That I’m commenting on this poll is all the evidence you need. Since when did faithful pastors care what their popularity or reliability ratings were? Jeremiah was so faithful he was lowered into a well (Jer 38). I guess most pastors are more worried about their cost-of-living adjustment than being put into a well. The democratizing impulse in American religion (see Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity) has marginalized the significance of the pastoral office. In many cases we’ve been complicit with the re-ordering of the preaching office into that of a therapeist, cheer-leader, or CEO.

Maybe the people are on to something? If most pastors were doing their jobs, proclaiming the law and the gospel clearly, distinctly, and unequivocally how would people be able to doubt our ethics? On what basis? They might doubt the story and they might doubt our sanity for persisting with an apparently impossible account of things (God the Son became incarnate of a virgin, obeyed the law for his elect, was crucified for it, and rose the third day) but they couldn’t doubt our honesty or sincerity and yet a considerable number of people do. Why? Perhaps it is because we too often give them reason to doubt us?

As Mike Horton rightly says, we’ve been given a script. We have a limited but significant part to play in the story of redemption: we are heralds. Our job is to announce the truth. Our job is not to organize buildings, bodies, and budgets. Our job is not to accumulate power in this world. Our job is not to manipulate people or build empires. Our job is not even to make people feel better. We’re not CEOs. Of the three biblical offices, ours most closely resembles the office of prophet. The deacons inherited the priestly office of receiving offerings. The elders inherited the kingly office of ruling the covenant community. Our job is to serve the Word by announcing it, by teaching it, by explaining it. The other biblical metaphor is “shepherd” (pastor)—not “rancher”. We’re to announce the bad news, the good news, and look after the spiritual well-being of the flock entrusted to us by the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). That’s it.

Read Dr. Clark's entire post HERE.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rediscovering Holiness

I am so thankful this book has been reissued! I have the old edition and was not sure if there would be a reprinting. After all, holiness is not what most Christians are reading about these days. The banalities of Joel Osteen, the fanciful stories of Tim Lehaye, and the exotic spirituality of the new pentecostalism are what sells. However, with the rise of younger evangelicals who desire something that is substantial and actually biblical there is a growing hunger for good books. Rediscovering Holiness certainly qualifies.

From the Publisher:

"There was a time," writes renowned theologian J. I. Packer in this classic book on biblical holiness, "when all Christians laid great emphasis on God's call to holiness. But how different it is today! To listen to our sermons and to read the books we write, and then to watch the zany, worldly, quarrelsome way we behave, you would never imagine that once the highway of holiness was clearly marked out for Bible-believers." In this revised and updated edition of Rediscovering Holiness, the highway is once more clearly marked out for a new generation of readers, pointing to true freedom and joy, both now and in eternity. "There was a time," writes renowned theologian J. I. Packer in this classic book on biblical holiness, "when all Christians laid great emphasis on God's call to holiness. But how different it is today! To listen to our sermons and to read the books we write, and then to watch the zany, worldly, quarrelsome way we behave, you would never imagine that once the highway of holiness was clearly marked out for Bible-believers." In this revised and updated edition of Rediscovering Holiness, the highway is once more clearly marked out for a new generation of readers, pointing to true freedom and joy, both now and in eternity.

I am not humble; really...

Readers of this blog know that one of my favorite writers is Carl Trueman. He always makes me laugh and then he makes me think.

His latest article posted at Ref21 caused me to look at myself in the proverbial mirror. When I think about what drives me I cannot help but be mindful of how incomplete is my sanctification. I am so prideful! I care too much about my reputation. I crave recognition. I love for people to think highly of me and dread my faults (which are legion) being known. In short, I have a long way to go.

Trueman writes:
I am a man divided against myself; I want to be the centre of attention because I am a fallen human being; I want others to know that I am the special one; and as long as the new me and the old me are bound together in a single, somatic unity, I will forever be at war with myself. What I can do, however, is have the decency to be ashamed of my drive to self-promotion and my craving for attention and for flattery and not indulge it as if it were actually a virtue or a true guide to my real merit. I am not humble, so I should not pretend to be so but rather confess it in private, seeking forgiveness and sanctification. And, negatively, I must avoid doing certain things. I must not proudly announce my humility on the internet so that all can gasp in wonder at my self-effacement. I must make sure I never refer to myself as a scholar. I must not tell people how wonderful I am. I must resist the temptation to laugh at my own jokes. I must not applaud my own speeches. I must deny myself the pleasure of posting other people's overblown flattery of me on my own website, let alone writing such about myself. I must never make myself big by clinging to the coat-tails of another. In short, I must never take myself too seriously.

Read the entire article HERE.

Worth Noticing...

Choking Hazard!
Martin Downes discovers a relic of the wild and wacky world of American evangelicalism.

An Insidious Agenda
Denny Burk on radical environmentalism and the elimination of humanity

Reassessing a Wicked Law
The Washington Post on the consequences of China's one child policy

Confusing the Categories?
Mark Jones on one of the most important distinctions in Scripture

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Some people are concerned"

In the last 20 years I have heard that statement more times than I can remember.

Here are some observations to which anyone in pastoral ministry can relate.

Far as the curse is found - The Fall

It was common among the ancient Greeks to picture time as moving in a circular fashion. You will still find that same idea in our own day. We speak of “the life cycle” and history repeating itself. Belief in Karma and reincarnation portray time in repetitious cycles. As a recent study by the Pew Forum demonstrates, those beliefs are no longer confined to eastern cultures.

Among atheists time is seen as a completely random movement. There is no God so there is no purposeful direction in time and space.

Endless repetition of cycles.

Meaningless movement toward an unknown end.

Of course the biblical understanding of time is radically different. God’s Word portrays time as moving purposefully in a particular direction not repeating itself in cycles. Time on a universal scale as well as the days allotted to each of us is under the sovereign direction of God. This means that history tells a story. It tells God’s story. And that story is punctuated by events that impact not only our individual lives but the entire cosmos. And standing at the ultimate pivot point of history is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These were actual historic events, not metaphors. They are exclamation points in actual history.

The story of Christmas begins long before the birth of Jesus some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. It begins before the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive of the Holy Spirit. It begins before Isaiah’s prophecies of a suffering Messiah who would bear away the sins of his people. It begins before God’s covenant with Abraham to make from him a nation of people made up of people from all the nations.

As far as human history is concerned the story of Christmas begins in a garden long ago. If we understand the events surrounding the advent of Jesus to be the most significant events in history then we should expect the story of his coming to be foretold from the earliest days of the human family. What is surprising is the context of that first announcement of the coming Saviour.

The story begins with…
The Fall

God created the man and woman as an expression of his joyful creativity and love. He created humankind to live on the earth, to multiply and be the crown of all creation. God created humankind for fellowship; for a unique relationship whereby we would glorify Him and He would pour out his love upon us. But the man and the woman, having listened to the voice of the Deceiver chose to be their own moral authority. They chose to reach for godhood themselves. They chose to do the one thing God had told them not to do.

In that single moment sin entered humanity, corruption entered creation, and what was innocent became guilty. We refer to this event as “the Fall.” Oddly enough this is where Christmas first enters the consciousness of God’s people.

God had warned the man and woman that if they chose to do the one thing he had commanded them not to do then it would constitute rebellion against him. It would be a wicked act of mutiny which is what sin always is. It is an attempt to dethrone God and place ourselves in His place. God had warned them that if they chose to sin then they would surely die.

In that moment of rebellion death surely entered the created order. What was incorruptible took on corruptibility and the man and the woman were driven out of that place of perfection. Mankind had been given the task of spreading throughout the earth and multiplying that paradise through their earthly dominion. But what happened instead is that paradise was lost. What is more God announced to Adam and Eve the curses which would follow in the wake of their sin.

Genesis three records perhaps the most tragic words in Scripture.

To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (vv. 16-19).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “This third chapter of the book of Genesis is absolutely essential to a true understanding of life, the whole of life as it is at this moment for each individual.”

Our story as individuals and as a people is in so many ways shaped by what we are told in Genesis three. It’s the story of how sin entered the world. It helps us understand why things go wrong and why people do wrong. The fall has had an incalculable effect on us all. Sin has effected us in ways that, whether we know it or not, we experience every moment of every day.

We are wronged and we do wrong. We seek things that are beyond our grasp. The happiness we search for is never quite within our reach. When we do have peace of mind we still live with the nagging sense that it could all change in a second. Our work is toilsome. Our marriages are hard work. We will not understand ourselves and our world unless we understand what sin has done.

Genesis three is not a fanciful story. It is not a metaphor. It is written in the style of genuine history. No less than Jesus the Son of God and the apostle Paul understood Genesis three as genuine history.

Again, from Lloyd-Jones:

“Here is the most important key to history that is available at this moment. It explains the past. It explains the present. It explains the future. Let me put it as plainly as this: this is not allegory. I have no gospel unless this is history. In addition, I have been pointing out that as well as being a literal historical record of something that actually happened, Genesis 3 is also, in the most amazing way, an account and a description of the very thing that happens to us one by one. For the astounding fact is that every one of us repeats the action of Adam and Eve.”

We carry within ourselves every day the consequences of the fall – the bitter fruit of sin. This is where the story of Christmas begins.

Labor of Love

Syncretism and American Christians

USA Today reports on a study by the Pew Forum on the religious beliefs and practices of American evangelicals, mainline protestants, and Catholics. I can honestly say that I was not at all surprised by the survey's findings.

Elements of Eastern faiths and New Age thinking have been widely adopted by 65% of U.S. adults, including many who call themselves Protestants and Catholics, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released Wednesday...

In the 1980s, Albert Mohler and Julia Jarvis were in graduate school together at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.

Today, Mohler is president of the seminary and a leading voice for Baptist orthodoxy. He sees a "rampant confusion" about faith revealed in the Pew findings.

"This is a failure of the pulpit as much as of the pew to be clear about what is and is not compatible with Christianity and belief in salvation only through Christ," Mohler says.

Pew says two in three adults believe in or cite an experience with at least one supernatural phenomenon, including:

•26% find "spiritual energy" in physical things.

•25% believe in astrology.

•24% say people will be reborn in this world again and again.

•23% say yoga is a "spiritual practice."

Mohler calls these "the au courant confusions," attachments to the latest fashionable free-floating beliefs.

"One hundred years ago, it would have been 'spiritualism.' They wouldn't have known what yoga was but might have been attracted to the 'New Thought' of the time," Mohler says.

His former classmate giggles at that. She's an ordained minister in the progressive United Church of Christ and leads the Interfaith Family Project, which meets for weekly worship at a Silver Spring, Md., high school.

Jarvis, of Takoma Park, Md., also studies with Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and finds a spiritual dimension in yoga.

"I don't do astrology, but my mother, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and was a staunch Baptist all her life, looked at her horoscope daily and totally believed it," Jarvis says.

Jarvis says her late mother, like 49% of adults in the Pew survey, also had a moment of "religious or spiritual awakening."

"My mother feared for years that I was no longer saved, but just two days before she died, she had an epiphany," Jarvis says. "She said she was 'told' in a spiritual experience to put aside all religious and political differences and just love each other. That was her blessing to me, and that's what I'm doing."

Read the entire article HERE.

God's Word calls this idolatry. It sounds so reasonable to the thinking of the unregenerate. Variety is good in food, clothing, and entertainment. Why not in spiritual matters? After all who am I to question your experience?

This flirtation with and embrace of syncretism among those within the church is more evidence of what happens when the authority and sufficiency of God's Word is abandoned. Liberals challenge the authority of God's Word. They deny the Bible's inerrancy and claim that its theology is contradictory. Ironically, many conservative pastors who profess confidence in the authority and truthfulness of Scripture nevertheless deny its sufficiency by failing to preach it faithfully. Both tendencies lead to the same end.