Monday, May 31, 2010

The Last Full Measure

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

- A. Lincoln

Greater love has no man than this...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What should we expect from the government?

There is a wealth of great resources at the webpage of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA. Terry Johnson, the pastor of IPC, is one of my favorite pastor/writers. He has written some wonderful books including The Case for Traditional Protestantism, When Grace Comes Alive, When Grace Transforms, and The Parables of Jesus.

When you get a chance read his thoughful article "The Kind of Government We Want."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When Good Works Go Bad

What a mixed bag of good and bad, wisdom and foolishness are the people of God. The Scriptures teach what the Reformers clearly articulated as the doctrine of Total Depravity. I know that no one wants to think of themselves as 'totally depraved.' After all, we are capable of wonderful acts of kindness and generosity. But this doctrine, which is revealed throughout the Scriptures, does not mean that we are as bad as we could be. It means that there is no part of us that has escaped the ravages of sin. That is, the totality of our being has been touched by wickedness, scared by fallenness.

We see the reality of total depravity enacted on a global scale through genocide, tyranny, injustice, greed, and sexual license. We see it in our own communities in crass materialism, addiction, adultery, and violence. In Christian households we see the ravages of total depravity in the disrespect of children for their parents, the lack of serving love between spouses, and the ruin of irresponsible stewardship. In our own hearts there is lust and covetousness and pride. The heart is truly deceitful.

Even our good deeds do not go untouched by sin. Our motives are mixed. We call attention to our acts of generosity or spiritual maturity because we crave the admiration of others. We let slip evidence of our generosity, spiritual discipline, service, or fasting. But not only do we crave admiration we also seek to press our advantage over others. If I have loved more, prayed more, served more, or fasted more than you, then certainly I am more spiritual than you.

Jesus warns against this impulse by calling us to secrecy in our good works and acts of devotion.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt 6:16-18).
We must be careful not to broadcast our good works. Let it be, as it were, a secret even to ourselves. This will certainly rob us of the applause of man but it will gain for us a greater reward from our Father.

In Colossians 2 Paul tells us to not submit to the legalistic standards of others:

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind..." (vv. 16-18).

The implication is that we must not demand that others submit to our own standards of spirituality. If I choose to spend time in the Scriptures every morning at 5:00 then I must strenuously avoid any expectation that you should do the same. If I choose to abstain from drinking a glass of wine then I must not demand the same of you. If I fast on Saturdays as a way of preparation for the Lord's Day then that in no way obligates you to do the same.

There is something in our hearts that always seeks an advantage over others. But this prideful impulse is a cruel mistress for it eventually ruins the very thing it promised to satisfy. In this case, pride ruins the virtue of the virtuous deed. Pride makes good works go bad.

The Scriptures speak quite clearly about the dangers of good works. Our Lord said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy,

sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt 6:1-4).

I have a practice of not using any of my good works as sermon illustrations. I know my tendency to love the admiration of others so it is vital that I avoid broadcasting my good deed. Of course, in writing about my virtue of not bragging about my virtue I have just preened the feathers of my self-righteousness. Total Depravity indeed!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Are the Gospels reliable?

From Trevin Wax:

There are a number of evangelical books on the reliability of the New Testament documents. F.F. Bruce and Craig Blomberg have made contributions in this area. Now, Mark D. Roberts joins these scholars with a book designed to bolster our confidence in the historical reliability of the biblical biographies of Jesus.

Two things set Roberts apart from the other books on this subject. First, Roberts interacts with current scholarship as well as pseud0-scholarship (like Dan Brown’s overactive imagination). Second, Roberts writes pastorally and on a level that any educated layperson could find helpful. He also includes anecdotes and a personal touch (referring to himself in the first person, etc.).

I highly recommend this book for pastors and laypeople who want to know more about the Gospels and why we can trust their accuracy.

The Gospel is for Christians

From Tullian Tchividjian's new book Surprised by Grace:

I once assumed the gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved, but after they believe it, they advance to deeper theological waters. Jonah helped me realize that the gospel isn’t the first step in a stairway of truths but more like the hub in a wheel of truth. As Tim Keller explains it, the gospel isn’t simply the ABCs of Christianity, but the A-through-Z. The gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life; it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going every day. Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.

This idea that the gospel is just as much for Christians as for non-Christians may seem like a new idea to many, but, in fact, it is really a very old idea. In his letter to the Christians of Colossae, the apostle Paul quickly portrays the gospel as the instrument of all continued growth and spiritual progress for believers after conversion: “All over the world,” he writes, “this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth” (Col. 1:6 NIV).

After meditating on Paul’s words here, a friend once told me that all our problems in life stem from our failure to apply the gospel. This means we can’t really move forward unless we learn more thoroughly the gospel’s content and how to apply it to all of life. Real change does not and cannot come independently of the gospel, which is the good news that even though we’re more defective and lost than we ever imagined, we can be more accepted and loved than we ever dared hope, because Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again for sinners like you and me. God intends this reality to mold and shape us at every point in every way. It should define the way we think, feel, and live.

Martin Luther often employed the phrase simul Justus et peccator to describe his condition as a Christian. It means “simultaneously justified and sinful.” He understood that while he’d already been saved (through justification) from sin’s penalty, he was in daily need of salvation from sin’s power. And since the gospel is the “power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), he knew that even for the most saintly of saints the gospel is wholly relevant and vitally necessary—day in and day out. This means that heralded preachers need the gospel just as much as hardened pagans. (16-17)

Summer Reading

Over at First Thoughts, Joe Carter has posted his top 50 Summer Reads. This is a great list because many of the books are quite accessable rather than a bunch of high brow nonsense. Of the books that make Carter's list that I have read I heartily recommend:

The one book on Carter's list that I have been intending to read for years and perhaps will try to tackle this summer is Lonsome Dove. Also, I am a huge Ron Hansen fan but have not yet read Mariette in Ecstasy.

A few suggestions of my own:

The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick - Just started it. Excellent so far.

The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen - One of my favorite books.

The Wizard's Tide by Frederick Buechner - One of my favorite writers.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy - Dark. Disturbing. Brilliant.

The Forsaken by Tim Tzouliadis - Compelling. Required reading.

Witness by Whitaker Chambers - One of the most important books of the 20th century.

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The church is not a social services agency...

"[W]hen a church confuses the benefits of redemption with the comforts of a better life or the equitable workings of the state it has misunderstood the significance of the message it proclaims."

- Darryl Hart

Husbands Love Your Wives

The latest issue of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is now available. The JBMW is not exclusively online. It is an outstanding resource.

Online Version
PDF Version
The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Check out the article by Rob Lister which offers a practical plan for helping husbands to better love their wives. After setting the proper context Lister suggests a series of questions for husbands and wives to discuss in order to assess the health of their marriage.

After praying and seeking God’s blessing on our time, we turn our attention to the following questions:

(1) On a scale of 1-10, give your overall assess- ment of our marriage in the past six months. To be sure, this is a very broad and subjective item, but I have found it helpful to open the conversation with an item of this kind of breadth, because it helps to prime the pump. Obviously, you won’t hit on a ton of specifics with this one—that’s what the rest of the questions are for—but I have been truly amazed at just how much discussion this assessment alone can generate, as various issues come to mind. From there, we’re off and running. Follow-up questions in the event that the conversation fails to gain traction initially: What have been the strengths of the past six months? What would make your assessment higher?

(2) How has the husband’s leadership been over the past six months? The wife’s support? Fol-low-up: How can I improve in fulfilling my respec- tive role?

(3) How is your walk with God, both person-ally and as a couple?

(4) Where do you see ungodliness in my life?

(5) Do I have any unconfessed sin that needs to be shared with my spouse?

(6) Are we guarding meaningful time together? Prayer? Conversation? Date Night?

(7) How is our sex life?

(8) What could I do to make you feel more loved/secure/respected?

(9) How can I serve you better?

(10) What are the issues that we need to anticipate in the upcoming six months?

(11) What’s your greatest personal disap-pointment and your greatest satisfaction in the last six months?

(12) How can I best pray for you?

(13) What are our major upcoming mutual prayer concerns?

(14) Spend a few moments, in an encouraging fashion, sharing several of the things that each of you loves and appreciates about the other.

(15) Then close, by spending some concerted time in prayer for those prayer concerns you just shared, as well as thanking God for his faithfulness to you as a couple over the past six months.

Before charging ahead, read the entire article HERE

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

20 Years

Today marks 20 years of marriage to my excellent wife. I am thankful that she has stood by me for two decades in life and vocational ministry. What is more, she has hung in there during much needed maturing on my part. I never realized how messed up I was until I got married.

Anyway, after 20 years I cannot imagine life without her. I still look forward to seeing her every day. I still have to call her on the phone at least once every afternoon for no other reason than to hear her voice.

"What Can Miserable Christians Sing?"

I was reminded of the following excellent article by Carl Trueman from a mention on the WTS website. It is included in his book The Wages of Spin.

Anyway, each time I read "What Can Miserable Christians Sing?" I am reminded of how impoverished the corporate worship has become in much of contemporary evangelicalism. As Carl makes clear, it is not about style but about the woefully shallow content.

Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.

In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.

Read the entire article HERE.

Dr. Trueman will be one of the speakers at the "Full Confidence Conference" being held at Church of the Saviour in September.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Last Sunday's message was part 36 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Faith Seeking a Home" and is taken from Hebrews 11:13-16. You can listen to or download it HERE.

"We are slowly starving to death."

It seems that everyone has named "biblical illiteracy" as one of the gravest problems facing the church. But is anything being done about it? Collin Hansen has written a sobering but hopeful article in the latest issue of CT.

Perhaps the first step toward improved Bible literacy is admitting we have a problem. A 2005 study by the Barna Group asked American Christians to rate their spiritual maturity based on activities such as worship, service, and evangelism. Christians offered the harshest evaluation of their Bible knowledge, with 25 percent calling themselves not too mature or not at all mature.

And we know it's not "those other churches." We are not surprised by a 2004 Gallup finding that a mere 37 percent of teenagers can find the quotation from the Sermon on the Mount when given four choices. And we are not surprised that only 44 percent of born-again teenagers could do the same.

It could be worse. The same Gallup study of 1,002 teenagers found them basically familiar with Adam and Eve, Moses, the Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule, and the meaning of Easter. And the Bible Literacy Project (BLP) now provides resources for more than 360 public schools in 43 states.

"We've had no problem conveying the importance of biblical literature for understanding everything from public discourse to reading Toni Morrison," says BLP general editor Cullen Schippe.

But pastors, professors, and others committed to teaching the Bible have identified a problem far larger than fluency with basic characters and stories. It's one thing to recognize the reference to the Promised Land in a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. It's another to recognize biblical references within the Bible itself. Even weekly churchgoers who know the names and places struggle to put it all together and understand the Bible as a single story of redemption.

The problem struck a nerve for Schippe as he sat in a hotel room thumbing through a copy of the Book of Mormon. Some of the characters were familiar, but the overarching story befuddled him. That, he realized, was how a growing number of Americans now see the Bible.

Fortunately, motivated churches, small groups, and even public school teachers are finding ways to take biblical literacy beyond name recognition.
Read the rest of the article HERE.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Coming to Church of the Saviour

"Westminster's conviction is that this revealed, self-attesting Word of God must ground and shape all human thought, and that this Word, centered on Jesus Christ the Eternal and Incarnate Word, bears absolute authority in defining, understanding and defending all issues of life in a changing world."

- Carl Trueman

Friday, May 21, 2010

"Christless Christianity" audio

Ligonier has posted the audio from their 2010 "Christless Christianity" Conference.
On March 26-27, 2010, in Los Angeles, Calif., Michael Horton, Peter Jones, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul joined together to examine many of the popular misunderstandings of the gospel in our day as countless churches are preaching a message that has little if anything to do with the biblical gospel.
Messages include:

The Church Cries "Uncle" ("Sam" That Is) by Michael Horton
Becoming a Better You by John MacArthur
Questions & Answers #1
Good Advice or Good News? by R.C. Sproul
A Gnostic Gospel by Peter Jones
Questions & Answers #2
Moralistic & Therapeutic Deism by Michael Horton
Back to Basics by R.C. Sproul
Once Lost, Now Found: How Reformed Theology Assures Us by Daniel Hyde (Break-out Session)

What Did You Expect?

Paul Tripp's outstanding book on marriage, What Did You Expect? is now available.

What Did You Expect?

"What Did You Expect?" Short from Crossway on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The fascination with the sensational OR Whose story matters most?

R. Scott Clark has weighed in on the Ergun Caner mess. In case you don't know Ergun Caner is President of Liberty Baptist Seminary (one of the world's largest) in Lynchburg, VA. He is an author and well known preacher who has gained a lot of attention and made a lot of money by telling the dramatic story of his conversion from Jihad to Jesus. The problem is that it appears as if Dr. Caner has significantly exaggerated his biography. I posted about it Here. Carl Trueman has recently written some reflections on the situation HERE.

Anyway, Dr. Clark (Professor at Westminster Seminary California) makes the important observation that contemporary evangelicalism has created the ideal conditions in which an Ergun Caner can rise to popularity: a love for the sensational. Of course this is not new. Certainly during the so-called "Second Great Awakening" sensationalism and manipulation ruled the day under the leadership of revivalists like Charles Finney.

Dr. Clark grew up in a religious milieu very much like my own. Every year our church would hold the Fall and Spring "revivals." Well known (and sometimes lesser known) preachers would come with great fanfare. Some of them were good and faithful preachers. Others however were unfortunately too committed to using manipulative tactics to get as many people as possible to "walk the aisle." We were told dramatic stories by the preacher who would also use a bit of the Bible for good measure. We were told suicide stories, murder stories, disaster stories, and many personal stories and anecdotes from the preacher's own life. The whole thing would create the perfect atmosphere for "decisions."

This style of evangelism stems primarily from a lack of confidence in the preaching of God's Word. Certainly we cannot expect God to use the seemingly foolish means of preaching the seemingly foolish message of the cross and resurrection. We need flash, drama, and sensation.

Clark writes:

In the conversionist, revivalist, aisle-walking, just-as-I-am-singing piety in which Caner moves it is essential to have a good, colorful, compelling conversion story. The essence of both drama and comedy is tension. In comedy the tension is created and resolved in an unexpected and delightful way. In drama the tension is created and resolved in a compelling, affective way, i.e., in a way that moves the emotions to sadness or pity. The greater the contrast between “before” and “after,” the greater the tension and the more powerful the resolution.

In revivalist-conversionist circles, there is a great, unspoken pressure to heighten the tension by exaggerating one’s pre-conversion biography. In truth few of us have dramatic conversion stories. Certainly they exist but most of our pre-Christian lives are quite mundane. Sure, our families and lives were full of the dysfunction that sin brings but most sins are hidden from public and have relatively little entertainment value. It is, however, a lot easier to get a crowd worked up and sweaty and ready to walk the aisle during the invitation if the testimony includes some juicy details. Hence the embellishment...

The moral of the Caner saga is not one of Calvinist (or even Muslim) conspiracies but one of the subtle pressure to conform to a religious culture, a piety, and expectations created by the conversionist paradigm. The dramatic story we Christians have to tell, however, isn’t, in the first instance, about us at all. In the first instance, the story we have to tell is about God the Son incarnate, about his obedience for us and his mercy to us. The subject of our story is not “we” or “I” but “He,” that is the God who saved us in Christ. Yes, we are, by grace alone, through faith alone, now a part of that story. Jesus is our federal head. He acted for us and now that he has made us alive (sola gratia) by his Spirit, who operates through the preaching of gospel narrative, and has by faith alone (sola fide) united us to Christ by his Spirit that story is our story.

Read the entire article HERE.

A Timely Rebuke

Thanks to Martin Downes for posting the following insights from Dale Ralph Davis' excellent book The Word Became Fresh:

"The opening paragraphs of Dale Ralph Davis' The Word Became Fresh: How to preach from Old Testament narrative texts are enough to stop every preacher dead in his tracks.

"Ralph Davis mentions that as he was reading Richard Pratt's He Gave Us Stories, Pratt cited these words from John Owen:

For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation of him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from any one who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability.

"And if that were not enough to send you to your work with your complacency shaken, Ralph Davis adds:

We are guilty of arrogance, not merely neglect, when we fail to beg for the Spirit's help in the study of Scripture. We may even have such arrogance even when we seem to be seeking the Spirit's aid--I think of those times when in a light-headed tokenism we utter our slap-happy prayer that the Lord would 'guide and direct us as we study this passage.'

One shudders to think how flippant we are. But how many more times we neglect any overt seeking of the Spirit's help! The pressure is on. The passage must be studied for the sermon or lesson. We pull out our exegetical notes; we grab several of the better commentaries off the shelf; make sure that one Bible dictionary of choice is close at hand.

Deep into our study time the thought occurs to us that we have not looked--nor did we think of looking--to the God who breathed out this Scripture to give us an understanding of the Scripture.

He will likely give that understanding through the tools we use, but when we use tools while neglecting him the tools have become idols.

We may have a high view of the Bible; we may be distraught because large sectors of the church seem to ignore its authority. Yet in our own Scripture work we easily ignore its chief Interpreter.

Professionalism rather than piety drives us. We needn't be surprised at our sterility and poverty if we refuse to be beggars for the Spirit's help.

Sunday's Sermon

Last Sunday's message was part 35 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Faith in God's Promise" and is based on 11:11-12. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nothing CAN exist

From Gene Veith:

Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory are reporting that they have discovered a new clue that could help unravel one of the biggest mysteries of cosmology: why the universe is composed of matter and not its evil-twin opposite, antimatter. If confirmed, the finding portends fundamental discoveries at the new Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, as well as a possible explanation for our own existence.

In a mathematically perfect universe, we would be less than dead; we would never have existed. According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us. And yet we exist, and physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why...

- via From Fermilab, a New Clue to Explain Human Existence? –

So it isn’t just that science can’t explain the fine-tuning that makes life on earth possible. Nor is it that science can’t explain why anything exists. According to its own theories, nothing CAN exist.

The particle accelerators are making progress, I suppose, finding that matter beats out anti-matter 1% of the time. But even that means that the standard theory of physics is incorrect. And a better theory and better evidence still leaves a long ways to go to account for ordinary existence, its structures and its forms, much less life, and much less human life.
Read the entire piece HERE.

"Theological Leverage," "Relational Mobility," and the Mocking of God

Once again Carl Trueman makes me laugh, think, and then helpfully brings me low. His latest piece at Ref21 addresses the ways in which we tend to cover or soften our sin by creative uses of language. However, a lie is still a lie. Adultery is still adultery. And God is still not mocked.

Words are interesting and powerful, no-one denies that. And one of the ways in which this is made clear is the way in which there are so many struggles about words and how they are used. Indeed, `political correctness' is, if nothing else, a movement about language: the disabled become `differently abled'; various racial epithets are outlawed, if not by the state then at least by the bounds of acceptable taste and convention; and, indeed, in striking a blow for that despised group, the middle aged male bald guy, I might suggest we replace `baldy', `chrome dome', `Mekon' (hey, that last one will test your knowledge of post-War British pop culture) and `helmet head' with `follicly challenged', `alternatively thatched', and the increasingly popular self-designation `Mature, intelligent male with youthful outlook and GSOH seeks lady (20-25) for friendship and perhaps more.'

There is, however, another aspect to the changing of language which is driven not so much by a desire to avoid hurting others but rather by the attempt to hide the full horror of certain situations. We are all aware of how this can be done. Sometimes it is done with reference to things that are not necessarily evil but which are not exactly good news: to close a loss-making factory might be `to rationalize resources;' to put a sick dog out of its misery might be `to put it to sleep.' Other times it can be clearly utilized to blunt or even invert the moral dimensions of an action: to argue for abortion is to be `pro-choice;' to kill off the elderly and the infirm is `euthanasia' or `mercy killing' or `death with dignity' (however one dies, I suspect the departure of life from a body can never be dignified, just more or less awful).

Well, so much for the way in which language has been used in general public discourse; what is really worrying is that some of this spin is now firmly established within the church. Two recent examples come to mind. First, there is the notorious case of Ergun Caner, of Liberty Theological Seminary. Caner allegedly invented whole swathes of his past in order to enhance his public profile and career. Most normal people would regard a cock and bull story concocted about growing up in Turkey and having a background in jihadi culture, if not actually true, then as being a pack of lies put forward for personal gain by playing on American evangelical fears about Islam. Not so, according to Elmer Towns, Dean of Liberty's School of Religion in a statement to Christianity Today: if Caner's story is not true, then it is just a case of the kind of `theological leverage' in which the school typically allows its faculty to engage.

So telling lies has now become theological leverage, and is acceptable once one has reached a certain rank in the Christian firmament? "What?" you say "Next thing you know, they'll be inventing new and trendy terms for adultery which blunt the moral force of that sin too, presumably not an ethical matter either, providing one is high enough up the evangelical hierarchy to be accountable to no-one." Well, funny you should mention that...... recently, I happened to come across someone talking about a new sin with which I was not familiar, the sin of relational mobility. Hmmm, I thought, sounds interesting. I wonder if that's what it's called when I roll over at night and accidentally whack my wife on the head with a flailing arm as I fight off some imagined sea serpent that has invaded my dreams? Or perhaps it's a cute way of referring to the typical husband's capacity for vanishing off the face of the earth when his wife wants to go the shops to choose some new wallpaper?

Wrong on both counts. As I investigated the conversation, the crime in question seemed to be nothing less than divorce based on adultery; to be blunt, the shattering of a marriage by illicit and explicit genital intercourse between two people outside the bonds of the marriage vows that had been taken. That's what the sin of 'relational mobility' apparently is. Nice way of putting it, nest'ce pas?

Read the entire article HERE.

The Gospel VS. The Implications of the Gospel

Okay, I know that some of you can't stand Glenn Beck. Actually, I have never watched his program and have only caught snippets of his radio show. While I am a conservative I do find Glenn to be a bit over earnest. Also, Glenn Beck is a Mormon which means he desperately needs Jesus and ought to be the object of our prayers.

That said, I am very thankful that Glenn Beck encountered Dr. Peter Lillback's monumental book
George Washington's Sacred Fire. It is an impressive tome by almost any standard. It is, in my mind, a model of thorough historical scholarship. So now, this once fairly obscure book has received national attention and has soared to the top of Amazon's sales. What is more, last evening Dr. Lillback appeared on Glen Beck's program on Fox News to discuss the issue of "social justice." I am happy to say that Dr. Lillback made the Gospel of Jesus clear and also made the essential distinction between the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel.

The Gospel, which is the message of Christ's sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, must NOT be confused with the implications of the Gospel. The Gospel the announcement of what God has done in Christ to reconcile sinners to himself. Period. It is all promise. The Gospel is not command. The Gospel is not our good works. The Gospel is not our helping the poor. The Gospel is not our sexual ethics. The Gospel is not our feeding the hungry. These are certainly implications of the Gospel. But if we mix into the Gospel those things that the gospel produces then we adulterate the very heart of Christianity. We turn grace into law and we lose the good news itself. If you are not sure whether or not that is a big deal then read Galatians.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How many times do I have to tell you?

Periodically I post about J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism. I do this because I know that some of you out there have not yet read this truly great book. Don't you think it's time?

Carl Trueman writes that Christianity and Liberalism...

is a masterpiece and without doubt the single most important book ever written by a Westminster professor. In this work, J Gresham Machen lays out in simple terms all that is at stake in the struggle between those who build their theology on an acceptance of the Bible as God's holy and inerrant word and those who do not. It is not a struggle between siblings; it is not a struggle between two equally legitimate visions of biblical Christianity; rather, it is a struggle between Christianity and a variety of impostors to that title.

"This small book is a veritable treasure trove of giant truths. I would urge all Christians to read it every year, not simply to remind themselves of why Westminster came into existence, but to see why it is crucial that institutions such as Westminster remain faithful to their calling. Above all, this work serves as a reminder of what is really at stake in the struggle for biblical authority, for theological truth-claims, for supernaturalism, and for the exclusivity of Christ: nothing less than the soul of Christianity itself."

- Rev. Dr. Carl R. Trueman, vice president for academics and professor of historical theology church history, Westminster Theological Seminary

One Sick Puppy

Don't believe the hype coming from HBO's biopic on Jack Kevorkian. Several years ago, after hearing rumors that a movie about Kevorkian was in the works, Wesley Smith wrote the following:

He is ubiquitously portrayed in the media as the doctor who helped terminally ill people end their own lives. No doubt, that is how he will be portrayed in the movie — as the iconoclastic visionary whose compassion induced him to test the boundaries of the law to help the actively dying achieve a gentle end.

But this view of Dr. Death — who received the moniker when, as a medical student, he haunted hospital wards to watch people die — is a blatant, media-driven myth. In reality, Kevorkian’s notorious assisted-suicide campaign, which dominated the headlines throughout most of the 1990s, was driven by a ghoulish desire to conduct human vivisection, or “obitiatry,” as he liked to call it. Yes, you read right. Kevorkian’s primary motive in all that he did was to create the social conditions that would permit him to experiment on the people he was putting to death. . . .

. . . Kevorkian’s first targets in his quest to slice and dice people were not the ill, but the condemned. He spent years visiting prisons and corresponding with death-row inmates, seeking permission to conduct “obitiatric research” on those being executed.

Only after Kevorkian was thrown out of every prison he visited did he hit upon another angle. If condemned people were not going to be made available for “unfettered experimentation on human death,” perhaps he could gain access to experiment on sick and disabled people. His front would be assisted suicide. But his goal would remain human vivisection.

Kevorkian appears to have pursued a three-step plan toward achieving his dream: First, popularize assisted suicide and make it seem acceptable; second, give society a utilitarian stake in assisted suicide by using the victims for organ procurement; and finally, gain permission to conduct his death experiments on the sick and disabled people he would be allowed to kill.

Read the entire article HERE.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Teach Your Kids Church History

A new book by Stephen Nichols and Ned Bustard looks like it will be a great tool for parents to teach church history to their kids. The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith is due to be released next month. One great feature is the website that accompanines this book. Check it out HERE.

If you are unfamiliar with Stephen Nichols, he is professor of Christianity and Culture at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School. Dr. Nichols is one of my favorite people to read. I don't know of anyone else who writes church history as well as Dr. Nichols.

From the Publisher:

With whimsical, full-color illustrations and engaging prose, this book teaches church history in a fun and creative way.

Dramatically converted on the stormy seas, a slave-trader-turned-abolitionist penned the best-loved hymn of the Christian faith. A church father was arrested and martyred for teaching the truth about Christ’s incarnation. Captured by pirates and shipped off to Ireland, a priest baptized thousands of pagans, from paupers to princes. Now who ever said church history was boring?

The Church History ABCs is a fun way for kids to learn about great figures in Christian history. Twenty-six heroes of the faith march through the alphabet, boldly telling their stories in language children can understand. This wide range of characters—men and women from across the centuries, from all over the globe—reflects the breadth of church history and reminds children that these great figures of the past were living, breathing people who lived and died for the glory of God.

Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns

David Gordon's soon to be released book Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns promises to be an important contribution to our thinking about the church's worship. Gordon's book on preaching, Why Johnny Can't Preach is one of the better books on the subject I have read in a long time.

From the publisher:

Changes in music have affected the way we think, the way we worship—even the way we are able to worship. We are steeped in a culture of pop music that makes other genres seem strangely foreign and unhelpful. Worship has become a conflict area, rather than a source of unity.

T. David Gordon looks at these changes in worship and not only examines the problems, but also provides solutions. They are solutions of great importance to us all—because how we sing affects how we live. Dr. Gordon not only shows the problems, he also provides solutions — it's important, because how we sing affects how we live.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On the historicity of Adam and Eve

Ref21 has posted an excerpt from a book published last year by IVP UK entitled Should Christians Embrace Evolution. Fortunately, our friends at P&R have obtained rights to publish this book for the US market and will be releasing it this year.

One of the contributors, Michael Reeves, addresses the importance of maintaining the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Evangelical Christians have generally resisted the demythologization of the events of the Gospels, whereby, for example, the resurrection of Jesus is interpreted as a mythical portrayal of the principle of new life. Indeed, they have argued strongly that it is the very historicity of the resurrection event that is so vital. However, when it comes to the biblical figures of Adam and Eve, there has been a far greater willingness to interpret them as mythical or symbolic. The simple aim of this chapter is to show, in sketch, that, far from being a peripheral matter for fussy literalists, it is biblically and theologically necessary for Christians to believe in Adam as first, a historical person who second, fathered the entire human race.

Adam was a real, historical person

The textual evidence

The early chapters of Genesis sometimes use the word 'adam' to mean 'humankind' (Gen. 1:26--27, for example), and since there is clearly a literary structure to those chapters, some have seen the figure of Adam there as a literary device, rather than a historical individual. Already a question arises: must we choose between the two? Throughout the Bible we see instances of literary devices used to present historical material: think of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, or the emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus' death at the time of the Passover. Most commentators would happily acknowledge that here are literary devices being employed to draw our attention to the theological significance of the historical events being recounted. The 'literary' need not exclude the 'literal'.

The next question then must be: does the 'literary' exclude the 'literal' in the case of Adam? Not according to those other parts of the Bible that refer back to Adam. The genealogies of Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 all find their first parent in Adam, and while biblical genealogies do sometimes omit names for various reasons, they are not known to add in fictional or mythological figures. When Jesus taught on marriage in Matthew 19:4--6, and when Jude referred to Adam in Jude 14, they used no caveats or anything to suggest that they doubted Adam's historical reality or thought of him in any way differently to how they thought of other Old Testament characters. And when Paul spoke of Adam being formed first, and the woman coming from him (1 Cor. 11:8--9; 1 Tim. 2:11--14), he had to be assuming a historical account in Genesis 2. Paul's argument would collapse into nonsense if he meant that Adam and Eve were mere mythological symbols of the timeless truth that men pre-exist women.

The theological necessity

We can think of the passages cited above as circumstantial evidence that the biblical authors thought of Adam as a real person in history. Circumstantial evidence is useful and important, but we have something more conclusive. That is, the role Adam plays in Paul's theology makes Adam's historical reality integral to the basic storyline of Paul's gospel. And if that is in fact the case, then the historicity of Adam cannot be a side issue, but must be part and parcel of the foundations of Christian belief.

The first exhibit is Romans 5:12--21, where Paul contrasts the sin of 'the one man', Adam, with the righteousness of 'the one man', Christ. Paul is the apostle who, in Galatians 3:16, felt it necessary to make the apparently minute distinction between a singular 'seed' and plural 'seeds', so it is probably safe here to assume that he was not being thoughtless, meaning 'men' when speaking of 'the one man'. Indeed, 'the one man' is repeatedly contrasted with the many human beings, and 'oneness' underpins Paul's very argument, which is about the overthrow of the one sin of the one man (Adam) by the one salvation of the one man (Christ).

Throughout the passage, Paul speaks of Adam in just the same way as he speaks of Christ (his language of death coming 'through' Adam is also similar to how he speaks of blessing coming 'through' Abraham in Gal. 3). He is able to speak of a time before this one man's trespass, when there was no sin or death, and he is able to speak of a time after it, a period of time that, he says, stretched from Adam to Moses. Paul could hardly have been clearer that he supposed Adam was as real and historical a figure as Christ and Moses (and Abraham).

Yet it is not just Paul's language that suggests he believed in a historical Adam; his whole argument depends on it. His logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolic one (Adam). If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall. With a mythical Adam, then, Christ might as well be - in fact, would do better to be -- a symbol of divine forgiveness and new life. Instead, the story Paul tells is of a historical problem of sin, guilt and death being introduced into the creation, a problem that required a historical solution.

To remove that historical problem of the one man Adam's sin would not only remove the rationale for the historical solution of the cross and resurrection, it would transform Paul's gospel beyond all recognition. For where, then, did sin and evil come from? If they were not the result of one man's act of disobedience, then there seem to be only two options: either sin was there beforehand and evil is an integral part of God's creation, or sin is an individualistic thing, brought into the world almost ex nihilo by each person. The former is blatantly non-Christian in its monist or dualist denial of a good Creator and his good creation;(1) the latter looks like Pelagianism,(2) with good individuals becoming sinful by copying Adam (and so, presumably, becoming righteous by copying Christ).
Read the entire excerpt HERE.

In related news, John (Jack) Collins, an Old Testament scholar at Covenant Seminary who was also trained in the sciences at MIT has written a book defending the historicity of Adam and Eve which will be released by Crossway.

The Shroud and the Sufficiency of Christ

There is fresh enthusiasm surrounding the Shroud of Turin as it is on public display for the first time since 2000. As the Church of Rome's most noteworthy relic, the Shroud always gathers a lot of attention and has been hotly debated for generations. But the Shroud raises some serious questions not only about the errors of Roman Catholic doctrine and piety but also about evangelicalism's current fascination with the mystic and sensational.

Al Mohler has contributed an important article reflecting on these themes.

He writes,

The veneration of relics, still a part of popular piety among many Roman Catholics worldwide, is a grotesque distortion of biblical piety. The authority for our faith is not based on the evidence of relics, but on the fact that God has spoken to us in his Word. We are to trust the truthfulness of the Bible, not the existence of some relic, authentic or not.

Of course, most of these relics are not authentic — a fact easily determined by even a casual review of the story behind the item. Furthermore, the existence of contradictory claims, such as were made by competing villages with respect to the circumcision remains of Christ, demonstrates the embarrassing fact that these claims cannot be trusted.

The best evidence concerning the “Shroud of Turin” is that it dates to the medieval period and is probably an artifact of human artistry. In David Farley’s words, “a medieval fake.” Nevertheless, more than a million and a half people are lining up to see it, representing far more than historical curiosity. Farley also reports that relics associated with St. Therese of Lisieux went on a 28-city tour of Britain last year, also drawing huge crowds. Clearly, interest in and veneration of relics is not a thing of the past.

But is anyone hurt by the veneration of relics? "After all," one may reason, "if relics provide comfort and hope to the believer, isn't it a good thing?"

Mohler continues:

The “happiness and relief” found in these relics is empty and delusional. Christians are to find happiness and relief and infinitely more in Christ alone. The obsession with relics comes at a grave cost — the confusion of the Gospel, the marginalization of Christ, and the subversion of the Bible’s sufficiency.

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church has failed its members and betrayed the Gospel by embracing and allowing various forms of the veneration of relics, and this particular feature of Catholic piety and theology cannot be isolated from the larger project of Catholic doctrine.

Mohler's article, however, is not a critique of Roman Catholic piety alone. He helpfully calls evangelicals to attention concerning our own tendency toward relic spirituality.

Evangelical Christians observing the veneration of relics by Catholics are rightly horrified by the practice, but may be wrongly satisfied that nothing like this marks evangelical piety.

This temptation should be checked by the realization that many evangelicals fall prey to similar modes of thinking. Consider the attention given in recent days to the claim that remnants of Noah’s ark had been found on Mount Ararat in Turkey. A team from “Noah’s Ark Ministries International,” based in Korea, claimed that wood found on the mountain came from Noah’s ark — with a certainty of “99.9 percent.”

Archaeologists remain skeptical about the claims, and the controversy is likely to continue for some time. But Christians should not give too much attention to such claims in the first place. Our confidence that the account of the flood and Noah’s ark happened in space, time, and history is grounded in the Bible, not in remnants of ancient timber.

If archaeologists later agree that the fragments are indeed from Noah’s ark, that will be a matter of real interest to Christians, but this should add nothing to our confidence in the Bible. If the fragments are determined to be authentic or, most likely, if there is no consensus at all, this will not detract anything from the truthfulness, authority, and sufficiency of the Scriptures.

Our confidence is in the Bible as the Word of God, not in gopher wood.

Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Smart Christians...

"The 20 Most Brilliant Christian Professors"

Apply the Gospel to Everything

“In order to grow in Christlikeness, we’ve got to intentionally apply the gospel to everything we are and everything we long to do. We’re not to sever our obedience from [Christ's] perfect sinlessness nor disconnect our mortal life from his resurrected life. We’ve got to understand ourselves in the light of our new identity, seeing ourselves as we truly are: sinful and flawed, loved and welcomed. Only these gospel realities have enough power to engender faith, kill idolatry, produce character change, and motivate faithful obedience.”

- Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me

On learning hymns...

Over at the Gospel Coalition James Grant has written a very helfpul piece on intruducing contemporary congregations to the richness of Christian hymnody.

I occasionally get questions about introducing hymns to congregations that do not sing them. Should a pastor introduce old hymns? And if so, how should we go about the process?

First, make sure to explain and teach to your people the importance of theological expression through music. Help them see the depth of a hymn like, “For All the Saints,” or another one listed below.

Second, help them see that as Christians, we have to lean against the “arrogance of the modern.” We are people who are connected with brothers and sisters from the history of our faith, and we should not ignore that. Learning hymns is a way to participate in the church universal and the communion of the saints.

Third, develop a practical method for introducing the hymns. I suggest you introduce a new hymn each month. I used this for introducing the Psalms, but it works just as well for a hymn. At significant points in the church year (Advent, Christmas, Easter) introduce a powerful hymn. If you start in March around the time of what some observe as Lent, you can introduce a hymn like “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” which is a hymn that emphasizes the passion of Jesus Christ. Then for Easter introduce a hymn like “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

Fourth, develop a long-term plan. By this I mean you should know the main hymns you want to introduce over the course of the next few years. That means if you want to plan out two years, pick 24 hymns. Put the appropriate hymn in the month relative to the major event of the church year.

Read the entire piece HERE.

I resonate with Grant's statement that Christians ought to push back against the "arrogance of the modern." Many younger evangelicals have abandoned their protestant church in favor of a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox communion. This trend has less to do with theology than it does with a desire for connection to something which is reverent and enthusiastically embraces its history. My rule of thumb is something like this: The older something is, the greater likelihood that it is right. The newer something is, the greater likelihood that it is wrong.

Perhaps the chief reason the church is losing so many of our young people once they go off to university is that they have not been equipped with a robust faith. Their concept of God is often sentimental and this in no small part because of the woeful condition of Christian worship. It offers a romantic but substance-less vision of God. Our understanding of worship is often limited to music while ignoring or minimizing the public reading of Scripture, the sacraments, prayer, and the preaching of God's Word as vital elements of corporate worship. What is more, we often sing about our love for God and our emotional longings for Him but who this God is and what He does has gone largely ignored. Thus our faith more romantic than substantive.

This can be addressed by a thoughtful consideration of how the church has worshipped through the generations. Certainly there were practices that needed (or still need) to be jettisoned. Certainly the Church of Rome is full of extra-biblical rituals. However, the content of great hymns is something that needs desperately to be recovered by the contemporary church. Certainly, candy is much easier to eat and digest than steak but sugar is no substitute for protein. Let us not give our young people a bowl of porridge in place of their magnificent birthright.

The Evangelical Liturgy?

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Good Weekend

Thanks to my church family for letting me get away with my wife for a few days. We spent the weekend on Martha's Vineyard. The occasion was our 20th anniversary. Actually our anniversary is not until the end of the month but that is when summer rates kick in on Martha's Vineyard. Anyway, we stayed in a great inn, saw some beautiful sites, and enjoyed each other's company.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Theological Leverage"?! (Updated)

This seems to be another sad case of biographical embellishment from a well known evangelical "leader." Liberty University ought to be ashamed. I expect no such emotion, however, from Dr. Caner.

Scripture teaches that few of us should be teachers for we will face a stricter judgement. It is the church's responsibility (as well as that of Christian organizations such as Liberty University) to hold accountable those who are entrusted with the mantle of leadership. Should they be encouraged, supported and prayed for? Absolutely! But they must be rebuked when their sin damages the purity and witness of the body of Christ.

Justin Taylor has posted the latest on this sad story. I hope that Liberty University will take this issue seriously. Justin posts a series of questions that James White has raised which indicate just how many problems there are with Caner's multiple versions of his own story.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Westminster Seminary on iTunes

Check it out HERE.

Justification, N.T. Wright, and the New Perspective on Paul

Ligonier Ministries has posted a wealth of helpful resources addressing N.T. Wright's theology, commonly referred to as the New Perspective on Paul. Check it out HERE and HERE.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"The great secular idol of modernity," or "Keep your politics out of our morality"

From a very helpful article on Christians and politics by Doug Wilson:

James Davison Hunter has this to say about contemporary Christian political involvement.

"These qualifications notwithstanding, the reality is that politics is the tactic of choice for many Christians as they think about changing the world . . . It is not an exaggeration to say that the dominant public witness of the Christian churches in America since the early 1980s has been a political witness" (To Change the World, p. 12).

Yeah, but. An important qualification has to be added to this. Before offering that addition, however, let me say that I acknowledge that there are evangelical Christians out there who are political wonks and junkies in a way that is not spiritually healthy. That said (in order to demonstrate that I am as even-handed and as balanced as can be), let me proceed to add my qualification.

Think about this for a moment. The "most dominant public witness" of Christians has been political. Assuming this to be so (and I believe it is), there are different
reasons why it might be so. One reason could be that Christians are the ones with the problem. They have politics on the brain. They rush to the mechanisms of the state (which were modestly hiding in a distant village), in order to advance their public faith with the politics of coercion. In other words, these Christians have lost faith in Jesus their Savior, and are trying to use the political process as a sort of savior's-little-helper.

Another option, and one that I consider far more likely, is this. The political state in our day is swollen and overgrown, and has gotten into everything. Politics, the great secular idol of modernity, has virtually filled up every public space. This means that it is not possible to go into any public space in order to have a public witness of any kind without it resulting in some kind of political confrontation.

To this extent, to blame public Christians for being "too political" is like blaming Noah's ark for being "too wet."

Read the entire article HERE.