Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Pitfalls of "Pietistic Goofiness"

Keswick spirituality is very much like what came to be known earlier in the 20th century as "higher life." If you grew up in a broadly evangelical church in the 70's or 80's then chances are you were at least influenced by this approach to spiritual growth and holiness. I certainly was.

I heard a great many sermons on how to live "the victorious Christian life." It held out an ideal that, if the proper spiritual techniques were employed, one could live beyond sin and temptation. It leads to a form of perfectionism that, in the end, is always beyond the reach of those looking for a higher plane of existence. I remember living from Fall revival to Spring revival just hoping that this time I would finally "get it."

Andy Naselli's newest book explores the history and theology of Keswick spirituality. He has written a helpful guest post for
Kevin DeYoung.
It is not much of a recommendation when all you can say is that this teaching may help you if you do not take its details too seriously. It is utterly damning to have to say, as in this case I think we must, that if you do take its details seriously, it will tend not to help you but to destroy you. [p. 159]

That’s what J. I. Packer wrote about Keswick theology, a teaching that has destroyed many people and continues to destroy more today.

It frustrated the tender-hearted J. I. Packer as a young, recent convert in his pursuit to be holy:

It didn’t work and that was a deeply frustrating and depressing thing. It made me feel like a pariah, an outsider, and at the age of eighteen that was pretty burdensome. In fact, it was driving me crazy. [p. 169]

The reality of its [i.e., Keswick theology’s] passivity program and its announced expectations, plus its insistence that any failure to find complete victory is entirely your fault, makes it very destructive. [p. 157]

Packer felt like a “poor drug addict” desperately, unsuccessfully, and painfully trying “to walk through a brick wall.” The explanation for his struggle, according to Keswick theology, was his “unwillingness to pay the entry fee,” that is, not fully consecrating himself. “So all he could do was repeatedly reconsecrate himself, scraping the inside of his psyche till it was bruised and sore in order to track down still unyielded things by which the blessing was perhaps being blocked.” His confusion, frustration, and pain grew as he kept “missing the bus.” The pursuit was as futile as chasing a “will-o’-the-wisp.” He felt like “a burned child” who “dreads the fire, and hatred of the cruel and tormenting unrealities of overheated holiness teaching remains in his heart to this day” (pp. 157–58).

Packer concludes that Keswick’s message is depressing because it fails to eradicate any of the believer’s sin and that it’s delusive because it offers a greater measure of deliverance from sin than Scripture anywhere promises or the apostles themselves ever attained. This cannot but lead either to self-deception, in the case of those who profess to have entered into this blessing, or to disillusionment and despair, in the case of those who seek it but fail to find it. [“Keswick and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification,” p. 166.]

The Puritans, says Packer, correct what he calls Keswick theology’s “pietistic goofiness” (p. 33).

Lying in order to justify what is evil

It is now clear that, while serving in President Clinton's administration, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan lied in official documents in order to push a radically pro-abortion agenda. She knowingly manipulated scientific data to justify the evil of partial birth abortion.

In 2000 the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law prohibiting partial birth abortion. The key document they cited in justifying their position came from a 'select panel' of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The report from the ACOG stated that partial birth abortion, "may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.” There is only one problem. That is not what the ACOG wrote. The language was placed in the statement by Elena Kagan who was serving as a policy advisor to President Clinton. Originally, the statement from the ACOG read that they, "could identify no circumstances under which this procedure . . . would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.” The difference, of course, is radical.

In a devastating article written for National Review Online, Shannen W. Coffin writes:

Upon receiving the task force’s draft statement, Kagan noted in another internal memorandum [PDF] that the draft ACOG formulation “would be a disaster — not the less so (in fact, the more so) because ACOG continues to oppose the legislation.” Any expression of doubt by a leading medical body about the efficacy of the procedure would severely undermine the case against the ban...

Her notes, produced by the White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee, show that she herself drafted the critical language hedging ACOG’s position. On a document [PDF] captioned “Suggested Options” — which she apparently faxed to the legislative director at ACOG — Kagan proposed that ACOG include the following language: “An intact D&X [the medical term for the procedure], however, may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.”

Kagan’s language was copied verbatim by the ACOG executive board into its final statement, where it then became one of the greatest evidentiary hurdles faced by Justice Department lawyers (of whom I was one) in defending the federal ban. (Kagan’s role was never disclosed to the courts.) The judicial battles that followed led to two Supreme Court opinions, several trials, and countless felled trees. Now we learn that language purporting to be the judgment of an independent body of medical experts devoted to the care and treatment of pregnant women and their children was, in the end, nothing more than the political scrawling of a White House appointee.

Read the entire article HERE.

So, a supposedly independent and nonpartisan scientific organization whose stated purpose is to care for pregnant women allowed themselves to be co opted by a political appointee in order to advance a political agenda. And now the one who distorted the original report from the ACOG will likely sit on the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Sale!

Westminster Bookstore is preparing for a move to a new, larger location. For a limited time they are offering some wonderful books at 45% off. Check it out HERE.

And the hits just keep on coming...

One wonders why some who claim to be evangelical seem so highly invested in enouraging people to reject whole swaths of the Bible as error or myth. I recall one visit with a scholar who rejects much of the Bible as erroneous. I asked if he believed in the resurrection of Jesus. His reply to me was, "Yes." I asked him why he believed in the resurrection of Christ but rejected most of the Old Testament and much of the New. His reply was curious to say the least. "Because I have not yet seen any evidence to the contrary." I was stunned by the answer because there is a very simple reply: Dead men are not raised. That is the most compelling reason I know of to reject the resurrection of Jesus.

If God did not create the universe as the Bible says, If He did not created man as the Bible says, if God does not direct history as the Bible says, if the testimony of the Scriptures is hopelessly contradictory, if the New Testament misinterprets the Old, and if Jesus did not perform the miracles attributed to him in the gospels then it seems foolish to suddenly accept the resurrection as fact especially on such flimsy grounds as, "I have not yet seen evidence to the contrary." Again, I say, dead men are not raised!

The fact is, I believe in the resurrection of Jesus because the Word of God declares it to be so. certainly there are other "proofs" of the resurrection that can be quite compelling. But no such proofs can stand apart from the attestation of God's powerful Word. It is God's Word which creates faith in the heart of the unbeliever. It is God's supernatural use of His unerring Word which creates faith where once dwelt only skepticism and rebellion.

So, for the one who wishes to endorse the ethics of Jesus but rejects His miralces; for the one who dismisses creation but holds on to redemption; for one who denies God's power to give us an unerring word but claims belief in resurrection, I ask, "Why?"

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Still Under Attack...

It is nothing new that the doctrine of Scripture is under attack. This has always been the case. It is certainly the case in our day. The reliability of the Bible as God's Word has always been challenged. Even among professing evangelicals the doctrine of the Scripture's inerrancy is actively attacked.

The good folks at Modern Reformation and The White Horse Inn have been doing some outstanding work in recent months on the reliability of Scripture. I encourage you to take time to listen to some of the recent episodes of the White Horse Inn.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Fool For Christ...

The life and death of Manute Bol demonstrates just how little popular culture, and sadly the church, understands about what constitutes genuine redemption.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Jon Shields comments:

Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.

During his final years, Bol suffered more than mere mockery in the service of others. While he was doing relief work in the Sudan, he contracted a painful skin disease that ultimately contributed to his death.

Bol's life and death throws into sharp relief the trivialized manner in which sports journalists employ the concept of redemption. In the world of sports media players are redeemed when they overcome some prior "humiliation" by playing well. Redemption then is deeply connected to personal gain and celebrity. It leads to fatter contracts, shoe endorsements, and adoring women.

Yet as Bol reminds us, the Christian understanding of redemption has always involved lowering and humbling oneself. It leads to suffering and even death.

It is of little surprise, then, that the sort of radical Christianity exemplified by Bol is rarely understood by sports journalists. For all its interest in the intimate details of players' lives, the media has long been tone deaf to the way devout Christianity profoundly shapes some of them. Obituary titles for Bol, for example, described him as a humanitarian rather than a Christian. The remarkable charity and personal character of other NBA players, including David Robinson, A. C. Green and Dwight Howard, are almost never explicitly connected to their own intense Christian faith. They are simply good guys.

Christian basketball players hope that their "little lights" shine in a league marked by rapacious consumption and marital infidelity. They could shine even brighter if sports journalists acknowledged that such players seek atonement and redemption in a far more profound way than mere athletic success.

Read the entire article HERE.

When political ends trump the gospel...

From an interview of Jerry Falwell Jr. by Glenn Beck:

Falwell Jr: "We can argue about theology after we save the country."

There is so much wrong with that statement that it would be difficult to unpack it all. It is also a window into the sad state of Liberty University. Glenn Beck, a Mormon, needs to hear the Gospel. I am thankful that Pete Lilback of Westminster Seminary has clearly explained the Gospel to Glenn and has not confused him by inviting him to speak at commencement.

Apparently Falwell Jr. calls declaring the Gospel clearly "arguing about theology." Once again political ends trump Gospel clarity. We see this from the political right and left. The command to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers is routinely disobeyed to achieve political goals.

To all of my friends on the right and left: We cannot save the country. The only hope for our country is the only hope for all people - The Gospel. We dare not compromise it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's message was part 40 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Faith That Overcomes" and is based on Hebrews 11:29-40. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Beginning this Sunday we will take a break from Hebrews. I will preach a series of messages from Revelation two and three entitled "What Jesus Says to the Church."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Answering Digital Idolatry with God's Word

Dave Garner has written a helpful article entitled Rescuing the Church from the Arms of Digital Deity - Returning to the Authority of Scripture.

I love this paragraph:

In the twentieth century, liberal Protestants put the Bible on trial and found it guilty of error, abandoned their dependence upon God’s Word, and replaced it with the lifeless lyrics of their own wisdom. What social Gospel theorist Walter Rauschenbusch preached, Charles Sheldon popularized; “What did Jesus do?” became “What would Jesus do?” Morality and social justice supplanted redemption, and the living Christ died again, this time buried beneath unbelieving, yet captivating rhetoric. He was not to rise again in the liberal Protestant Church.

Read the entire article HERE.

Answers for Church Members

There is a new feature on the IX Marks webpage called "Answsers for Church Members."

Here's a sample:

According to Scripture, why should every Christian join a church? Read Answer »

What are some other reasons to join a church? Read Answer »

What should I look for in a church? Read Answer »

I don’t feel like there are opportunities for me to get involved in my
church. What should I do? Read Answer »

What should I do if I disagree with something my pastor said? Read
Answer »

How can I make the most of the preaching I hear every week? Read
Answer »

Marriage Blog

Church of the Saviour now has a blog focusing on strengthening marriage. Check it our HERE.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Losing our religion?

I have been preaching through Hebrews which is known, in part for its warning passages. Some take those warning passages to mean that it is possible for genuine converts to Christ to lose their salvation. I certainly agree that it is possible for religious people to lose their religion. It is possible to become enthusiastic about Jesus only later to abandon Him. But I also believe that the Bible makes plain that those who are genuinely saved by God's grace are kept eternally sercure by that same grace.

Thomas Schreiner, professor of New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written some outstanding resources on the doctrine of the saint's perseverance. His latest is entitled
Run to Win the Prize.

From the Publisher:

Scripture's commands to persevere, and warnings of the consequences if we fail, have been met with apathy by some, and led others to doubt the state of their salvation. The fearful and eternal nature of these issues warrants careful examination of what the Bible says about perseverance. Thomas Schreiner once again tackles this difficult topic in Run to Win the Prize. Clarifying misunderstandings stemming from his more detailed treatment in The Race Set Before Us (IVP 2001), Schreiner draws together an illuminating overview of biblical teaching on the doctrine of perseverance.

Schreiner details how God directs the collective warnings and exhortations of Scripture toward believers as a means of preservation. We are to think of the call to persevere in light of the initial call to faith, both agents by which God leads us to final salvation. Those looking for a general treatment of the doctrine of perseverance will profit from the challenges and assurances in Run to Win the Prize.

Whatever Happened to Manhood?

It is not a secret. Men are buffoons. Men are morons. Men are inept. Men are predators. These are messages that saturate our culture. From sitcoms to the classroom men are out. In her timely and disturbing book The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers showed that in the typical American classroom (beginning as early as pre-school) masculinity is viewed as a disorder to be corrected rather than a positive good to be matured.

Al Mohler has commented on an article in the Atlantic by Hanna Rosin. Rosin's article chronicles the decline of male dominance in the workplace and university. For the first time, women outnumber men in both.

Rosin begins her article with the fact that sex-selection technologies in the West are now more often used to select a preference for girls than for boys, reversing the historical trend. Why? She explains: “Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed. Cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, worldwide.”

Rosin’s article is well documented and forceful in argument. The bottom line is the claim that the trend and trajectory of the global economy have for some time now been headed toward female skills and talents. At the most basic level, this means a shift from physical strength to intellectual energies and education. At the next level, it also means a shift from leadership models more associated with males toward the nurturing leadership more associated with women. In any event, the changes are colossal...

Hanna Rosin’s article is not the first salvo of information on these troubling trends, but the fact that The Atlantic chose her essay as a cover story is itself evidence of how this phenomenon is taking hold of attention, even among the elites.

For Christians, the importance of this article is even greater. God intended for men to have a role as workers, reflecting God’s own image in their vocation. The most important issue here it not the gains made by women, but the displacement of men. This has undeniable consequences for these men and for everyone who love and depend on them.

The failure of boys to strive for educational attainment is a sign of looming disaster. Almost anyone who works with youth and young adults will tell you that, as a rule, boys are simply not growing up as fast as girls. This means that their transition to manhood is stunted, delayed, and often incomplete. Meanwhile, the women are moving on.

What does it mean for large sectors of our society to become virtual matriarchies? How do we prepare the church to deal with such a world while maintaining biblical models of manhood and womanhood?

The elites are awakening to the fact that these vast changes point to a very different future. Christians had better know that matters far more important than economics are at stake. These trends represent nothing less than a collapse of male responsibility, leadership, and expectations. The real issue here is not the end of men, but the disappearance of manhood.

Read the entire post HERE.

The Reformation of Hip Hop

Justin Taylor has posted an interview he did with Trip Lee, one of the bright lights in a growing phenomena - Doctrinally thick hip hop. Like Shai Linne, Tripp Lee is right here (in Philadelphia, that is). He is a student at Philadelphia Biblical University and attends Epiphany Fellowship. Epiphany is an urban church connected with Acts 29. Eric Mason, the pastor, is a wonderful guy.

Here is a portion of the interview:
One of the most interesting things to me about this resurgence of Reformation-influenced hip hop is the amount of teaching and celebrating you can do in one song, especially compared to other forms of music. Can you give us a bit of insight into your process for songwriting?

Yeah, hip hop is such a unique art form. I was talking to a brother in Nashville the other day about the fact that words like propitiation and eschatological don’t sound so great in “praise and worship” songs. Not that our goal is to use big words, but the nature of hip hop gives us a bit more freedom and an amazing platform. A hip hop song has a lot more words, therefore we can be more didactic and can be more thorough in our celebration. So, we are allowed to play a special role in the Christian music world.

Personally, my songwriting process differs from song to song. Some songs are more reflective so they come out quickly and easily. Others may require further study, etc., so it is a longer process. For example, we did a project called “13 Letters” a couple years ago where each of us surveyed a book or two from the Pauline Epistles. I did Philippians and Titus. Those songs took a bit of extra study because I wanted to be careful to hit most of the major themes, and to do as good as job as possible with such a massive task. But no matter what song I am writing, I always take great care to make sure I am in line with Scripture. With my last two albums, I have a friend whom I trust theologically who reads over all of my lyrics before I finalized the songs. I jokingly call them “heresy checks” and he looks to see if there is any misleading wording, or any theological mistakes that I looked over. I am constantly aware of the fact that as a minister of the Gospel, I speak on behalf of God. And though music is not preaching, any time I say “God said,” He better have said it.

I know you’re studying at Philadelphia Biblical University and worshiping at Epiphany Fellowship with Pastor Eric Mason. What’s the future look like for you?

Well, I’ve been in Philly for around 4 years and I’m staying put for a while. I live in Northeast Philly with my beautiful wife of one year. In the future, my prayer and desire is to help pastor a church. So I see my schooling as preparation for that. I’ll graduate within a year or so and I plan on doing seminary after that. I also try to take advantage of sitting under Pastor E at Epiphany. He trains all of the ministry leaders at Epiph regularly. And in addition to that, me and him get together often so I can learn from him and our other pastors. Music is what I’m giving myself to for this season, but ultimately I think the pastorate is my calling. I’m trying to be patient, but my heart yearns to help shepherd God’s people. I’m praying God gives me the opportunity and the grace to serve well. I also want to write a lot, and I just began my first book on why doctrine matters and how to study it properly. I hope it reaches the kinds of people who don’t visit the Gospel Coalition site every day. I’ll continue to make music as long as God continues to transform lives, and as long as it is the best use of my time. My desire is to be faithful wherever the Lord places me.

Read the entire interview HERE.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What is God like?

Thanks for Andy Naselli for linking to D.A. Carson's message from the NEXT Conference. Excellent!

The messages from the Next 2010 Conference (May 28–31, 2010) are available as MP3s. Don Carson’s assignment was to preach on God, and his sermon describes God and then unpacks Exodus 34:1–9. Here’s his outline:

Some Things about God That Christians Have Always Confessed
1.God is triune.
2.God is the transcendent creator.
3.God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.
4.God is holy.
5.God is love.
6.God is self-disclosing.

Five Observations from Exodus 34:1–9
1.The setting is sin.
2.The revelation is dangerous.
3.The revelation is hugely self-defiant.
4.The revelation is frankly mystifying.
5.The response is unqualified submission.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Lure and Power of Pornography

Donald Hilton Jr. has written a very helpful article in Slavo on the addictive properties of pornography. This in no way diminishes personal reponsibility or the reality that indulging in porn is sinful. However, to deny the power of porn to lure and hold its captives is naive and perhaps dangerous.

While some have avoided using the term “addiction” in the context of natural compulsions such as uncontrolled sexuality, overeating, or gambling, let us consider current scientific evidence regarding the brain and addiction.

This article will seek to answer two questions: (1) Biologically, is the brain affected by pornography and other sexual addictions? (2) If so, and if such addictions are widespread, can they have a societal effect as well?...

Drs. Robert Malenka and Julie Kauer, in a landmark paper in Nature in 2007 on mechanisms of the physical and chemical changes that occur in the brain cells of addicted individuals, said, “Addiction represents a pathological, yet powerful form of learning and memory.” We now call these changes in brain cells “long term potentiation” and “long term depression,” and speak of the brain as being plastic, or subject to change and re-wiring.

Dr. Norman Doidge, a neurologist at Columbia, in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, describes how pornography causes re-wiring of the neural circuits. He notes that in a study of men viewing internet pornography, the men looked “uncannily” like rats pushing the lever to receive cocaine in the experimental Skinner boxes. Like the addicted rats, the men were desperately seeking the next fix, clicking the mouse just as the rats pushed the lever.

Pornography addiction is frantic learning, and perhaps this is why many who have struggled with multiple addictions report that it was the hardest for them to overcome. Drug addictions, while powerful, are more passive in a “thinking” kind of way, whereas pornography viewing, especially on the internet, is a much more active process neurologically. The constant searching for and evaluating of each image or video clip for its potency and effect is an exercise in neuronal learning, limited only by the progressively rewired brain. Curiosities are thus fused into compulsions, and the need for a larger dopamine fix can drive the person from soft-core to hard-core to child pornography—and worse. A paper published in the Journal of Family Violence in 2009 revealed that 85 percent of men arrested for child pornography had also physically abused children.

Folks, this is an important article. I urge to carefully read it HERE.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Last Sunday's message was part 39 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Faith Treasuring God" is based on Hebrews 11:23-29. You can listen to or download it HERE.

He was the right man at the right time

God does not give every pastor the same kind of ministry. Some pastors serve in well known churches and receive a great deal of attention. Most pastors serve small congregations and receive little or no attention or praise. Some pastors serve faithfully. Others fail tragically. Some pastors seem to come along at just the right time. This was the case with James Montgomery Boice who served as senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death from cancer on June 15, 2000. Dr. Boice was the model of the pastor/theologian. He was a man of books with a heart for ministry. He was committed to God's glory and his city. There are few men whose preaching and ministry I admire as much as that of James Boice.

Over at Ref21 Rick Phillip has written a fitting eulogy for his pastor and mentor.

In my opinion, the reason for James Boice's influence and legacy is seldom understood. What was it about him that drew so wide an audience of pastors and laypeople? The answer is that as a Reformed theologian, James Boice was a Christian first. That is, the issues for which he stood were Christian issues: the inerrancy of Scripture, the gospel of faith in Jesus, the sin-cleansing power of Christ's blood, and the Christian witness for the salvation of the lost. It is true that Boice served this Christian and evangelical cause from a distinctively Reformed perspective, but his cause was simply that of Christ and his gospel. It is in this way that Boice so ably advanced the credibility of Reformed theology within evangelicalism, by showing that it is only the Reformed doctrine that can consistently uphold Christian distinctives. Boice taught, proved, and defended Calvinism by teaching, proving, and defending the Bible. On a personal level this Christ-centered priority was also true for James Boice. While Boice was a Calvinist through and through, his passion was for the person and work of Jesus Christ, and his labor was offered in personal service to his living and reigning Lord and Savior. Calvinism was ever the servant of Boice's passion for Jesus and never the master.

I think that James Boice's ministerial career can be seen in three phases. The first phase of his career, from the mid-1960's to around 1980, involved the defense of evangelical doctrine against liberal assaults. These were the years when Boice was wrapping up the education he received in liberal institutions like Princeton Seminary and the University of Basel. In his John commentary, dating from these early years, one will frequently read Boice defending the Bible from the interpretations of liberals like Rudolf Bultmann. These were also the years when Boice was ordained in the liberal United Presbyterian Church, so that the context for his ministry was that of opposition to liberal attacks on the Bible. It is no surprise that Boice's chief concern during these years was to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, as seen in his leadership of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).

The second phase of Boice's ministry took place from around 1980-- when Tenth Presbyterian Church left the liberal UPC and eventually made its way into the evangelical Presbyterian Church in America -- until 1993. This phase of Boice's ministry focused on the teaching of Reformed theology within an evangelical context. Boice believed that the evangelical movement could only maintain its doctrinal moorings (and therefore its spiritual vitality) by standing on the foundation laid by the Protestant Reformers (and the apostles before them). The crowning achievements of this period of Boice's ministry were his four-volume commentary on Romans, which not only lays out the biblical basis for Reformed doctrine but also shows the necessity of these doctrines for Christian faith and life, and his lay-friendly systematic theology, Foundations of the Christian Faith.

The final phase of Boice's ministry can be dated from the publishing of David Well's book, No Place for Truth, in 1993, which uncovered the looming danger of worldliness in the faith and practice of evangelical churches. These years saw Boice emphasize not merely the inerrancy of the Bible but also the sufficiency of Scripture for the church's evangelism, holiness, guidance, and cultural impact. It was around this time, 1994, that Boice (along with Michael Horton) founded the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals, which carries on his work to this day. One of Boice's final and best books issued this clarion call to reformation, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? a book which retains every bit of its relevance today and will continue to be relevant for decades to come.

Read the entire peice HERE.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"The Hole In Our Gospel" - A Review

Kevin DeYoung has written a thoughtful and helpful review of Rich Stearns book The Whole in Our Gospel.

DeYoung voices the very concerns I have about the book. First of all it should be said that Stearns is absolutely right in calling us to care for the poor. No follower of Jesus can ignore the plight of those who are suffering. However, it does matter how we understand and then respond to the challenge of poverty and suffering. Our own experience has taught us that many good intentions have suffered from the law of unintended consequences. That is, many efforts to help the poor have unintentionally ended up causing great harm. So it is very important that we exercise great care in the manner in which we offer help. It is also vitally important that we not distort or misappropriate essential doctrines in the course of calling Christians to action. The title of Stearns' book is quite ambitious. He is suggesting that we have missed something essential about the Gospel. So it is necessary that his handling of the Gospel, no small matter to the apostle Paul, be scrutinized.

While appreciating Stearns' motives and worthy call, DeYoung challenges both the economic assumptions in "The Whole in Our Gospel" and, more importantly, the doctrinal formulations.

The Hole in Our Gospel marginalizes what is central to the gospel. To be fair, Stearns acknowledges that reconciliation between God and man through the atoning work of Christ is part of the gospel (15). But the whole gospel, says Stearns over and over, is God’s vision for a new way of living (276). The “essence” of the good news is that God’s kingdom is going to begin on earth through the changed lives of His followers. But Stearns doesn’t make clear how one enters this kingdom, or that the in-breaking of the kingdom is bad news for those who oppose God and do not trust in Jesus Christ. No doubt, Stearns would agree with the apostle Paul that the gospel is the good news that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised from the dead and appeared to many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:3-8). But what Paul labels “as of first importance,” I hear Stearns demeaning as a diminished gospel (279).

It seems that for Stearns the gospel is primarily something we do. The gospel is not an announcement of what God has done for us in history. The gospel is a “social revolution” (20). At one point, after quoting 2 Corinthians 5:20 that we are “Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us,” Stearns says, “God chose us to be His representatives. He called us to go out, to proclaim the ‘good news’—to be the ‘good news’—and to change the world” (3). This is certainly a curious gloss on what it means for God to make His appeal through us.

Frankly, for all its laudable exhortations, I find Stearns’s gospel exhausting and even triumphalistic and paternalistic at times. I can’t count all the times in the book we are told to change the world, start a social revolution, or usher in the kingdom of God. If only we gave more or had the will, we could eradicate hunger and win the war on poverty. For the first time in history we have the know-how and access to solve these problems, we are told. Now we just have to make it happen. The church around the world is waiting us for us to act. Without our efforts and resources directed toward the developing world, their lot in life will never improve. According to Stearns, “This is not to be a far-off and distant kingdom to be experienced only in the afterlife. Christ’s vision was of a redeemed world order populated by redeemed people—now…It’s up to us. We are to be the change” (243–44, emphasis in original). Does God’s reign and rule really depend on us?

I think I know where Stearns is coming from. He wants our faith to work. He wants Christians to care about the world and not just about their “fire insurance.” I get that. I applaud that. He should be more careful in talking about the gospel, however, lest it become a generic message about how God is going to make the world a better place. “Preach the gospel always; when necessary use words” (23) is not a helpful saying. Besides the fact that there’s no record that St. Francis ever said this and every indication that he didn’t live this way, the pithy saying represents a confusion of categories. We must use words if we are to preach the gospel, because the gospel is a message we must proclaim. If we never live like Christians, we are not Christians. But to tell people that they must repent and believe in Jesus for the remission of sins, to tell them that God sent His Son in love to bear His just wrath, to tell them that they must receive the kingdom in faith like little children, is not a
gospel with a hole in it. It is precisely the center, and Stearns’s call to action would have been more compelling if it more clearly radiated from there.

This crystalizes well my own reservations about The Hole in Our Gospel. It matters that we get the Gospel right. Indeed, Paul called the Gospel (the message of Christ's death for sinners and glorious resurrection) the "matter of first importance" (1 Cor 15). Stearns makes the same mistakes of the social gospel movement in the early 20th century. It is a confusion between what the Gospel is and what the Gospel produces. It is a confusion of the root and the fruit. The Gospel is the announcement of what God has done through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not our obedience. Herman Bavinck wrote, "The Gospel is sheer good tidings, not demand but promise, not duty but gift."

When we confuse the Gospel (what God has done in Christ) with the implications of the Gospel (our grateful, obedient response) then we distort, even destroy the Gospel. We turn grace into law. We turn gift into duty. We turn ourselves into moralists. It matters.

Read DeYoung's entire review HERE.

I would recommend the outstanding When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.

"Becoming more and more aware of the poverty in the world, the North American church is responding and ministering to the poor in unprecedented numbers. But this is easier said than done, as poverty is a complex problem. Good intentions are not enough, for faulty assumptions can result in strategies that do considerable harm. If churches truly want to help, this book is a must-read. It presents a biblically based framework for understanding poverty and its alleviation. The principles and strategies will help the church build an effective ministry for a hurting world, both at home and abroad."
- Dr. Paul Kooistra, Executive Director of Mission to the World

  "Globalization, immigration, and suburbanization are bringing new opportunities to minister to the poor to the front doorsteps of many North American churches. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past by running away from those whom Jesus loves so deeply. Rather, we must learn how to walk with our new neighbors in highly transformative relationships. There is no simple route to success, but this book provides a marvelous compass to guide our steps. I highly recommend it to any church that wants to be "the body" to the world outside its doors."
- Jim Bland, Executive Director, Mission to North America

Friday, June 11, 2010

Iain Campbell reviews "Doctrine"

Iain Campbell has written a glowing review of Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears. Not surprisingly, Campbell quibbles with a few issues (there is no such thing as a perfect book). He is cautious about Driscoll and Breshear's views of God speaking in our day as well as what they call "unlimited limited atonement" which can be a bit confusing. However, Campbell calls Doctrine "the sort of book I want to write some day." I'd call that an endorsement.

Read the review HERE.

Some other doctrinal primers that I highly recommend are:

A Faith to Live By by Donald MacLeod
Know the Truth by Bruce Milne
Concise Theology by J.I. Packer

As the seminaries go...

The new direction of the Clarmont School of Theology, a United Methodist institution, demonstrates once again how theological liberalism inevitably leads to apostasy. This is one of the reasons why many of us are sticklers for detail when it comes to doctrine. The first reason is that love for and faithfulness to God demands holding firm to His Word. But secondly, when the tent of acceptable doctrine becomes broader than the Scriptures allow then ruin is sure to follow.

Al Mohler comments:

The leftward march of liberal Protestantism is hardly news, but on occasion a development arises that serves as something of a parable of that trajectory. Such is the case this week with news from California that the Claremont School of Theology, a school historically related to the United Methodist Church, is transforming itself into a multifaith center for the training of clergy.

In a press conference held on June 9, leaders of the school formally announced the “University Project,” which will involve the addition of programs to train Muslim imams and Jewish rabbis. Programs to train Buddhist and Hindu religious leaders are to be added in the future.

The school’s Board of Trustees voted back in 2008 to inaugurate the program. A statement from the school explains that this vote “set in motion the University Project as a means to rethink classical models of theological education in an effort to promote interreligious cooperation and ethical integrity in the training of religious leaders for a variety of religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others.”

David Roozen of the Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Theological Seminary told The Los Angeles Times that Claremont’s plan is “really kind of a creative, bold move.” He also suggested that liberal Protestants have been moving toward more expansive multifaith dialogue — a dialogue he described as on a continuum alongside race, gender, and sexual orientation. “Multifaith is the new ‘other,’” he told the paper. “It’s kind of the next step.”

The next step toward what? In a sense, the announcement from Claremont is indeed just a “next step” along a leftward progression set decades ago. Liberal Protestantism long ago grew embarrassed by the exclusive claims of biblical Christianity and the historic Christian faith. Adopting pluralist and inclusivist reconstructions of the faith, liberal theologians and theological schools have been pressing the margins for over a century now. Given that trajectory, a multifaith theological seminary was an inevitability — the only question was when and where it would happen.

Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Don't divorce Christianity from the Body of Christ

Trevin Wax has posted a very helpful review of the late Michael Spencer's recently released "Mere Churchianity." While Trevin finds some very helpful moments in the book he takes issue with what seems to be the recurring problem: "pitting a Jesus-shaped spirituality against a church-shaped spirituality."

Spencer not only does not blame Christians for abandoning the church, he seems to encourage it. On page 57 he writes, "For many of you, leaving the church may have been the most spiritually healthy thing you ever did." Spencer also seems to have had a deficient view of the very nature of the church. On page 6 he refers to the church disparagingly as a "religious institution." On the one hand, I suppose you could call the church a religious institution. But the Scriptures call the church the Body and Bride of Christ.

What is more Spencer states that, "Life as a Jesus-follower grows out of Jesus and the gospel, not out of the church." I challenge anyone to find anywhere in the Bible where being one of God's people under the Old or New Covenants is divorced from being a member of His covenant people. The fact is, the New Testament teaches that Jesus-followers are indeed made by the church. Disciples are made and grown in the church.

Does the church always do this well? Of course not. Is the church always loving and affirming? No. But the reason for this is not because the church is an idea whose time has come. The church is often a mess because Christians are often a mess.

Trevin writes:

Michael rightly teaches that the gospel is for people who recognize they are messed up, rebellious, sinful, broken and dysfunctional. Christianity is for the losers, for the people who recognize their need for salvation outside of themselves. So far so good.

But let’s engage in a bit of logic. If churches are organized groups of these messed up, broken, dysfunctional people, why in the world would we expect the church to always live up to some unattainably high ideal? I’m not saying we shouldn’t shoot high. I’m not saying we should be satisfied with Christless churches. But surely Michael should give groups of broken people (churches) the same patience he gives individual broken people.

So in the end, I want to say, “Michael, you’re right about individual Christians. We’re broken, wounded, sinful and selfish. So why can’t you see that churches are going to be that way too? Please don’t encourage broken people to leave churches that are broken! Just as we need Jesus in us as individuals to slowly remake us into his image, we need Jesus-filled people in churches if there is any hope for the church to reflect the glory of Christ to the world.”

If Christ remains committed to us – as broken and messed up as we are – why would we not remain committed to his followers? Why would we bolt out the door when our church experience becomes a hassle? What looks more like Jesus – to hit the road? Or to stay with a congregation through thick and thin, through good and bad?

Michael thinks the church’s problems are an obstacle to Jesus-shaped spirituality. I think the opposite: commitment to bear with the church’s problems is the method by which we become more Jesus-shaped.

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's message was part 38 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Faith At The End of Life" and is taken from Hebrews 11:20-22. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Thinking Biblically about Social Justice (5)

Kevin DeYoung has continued to explore the issue of social justice through the lens of Scripture. He has been examining those texts of Scritpure that are most often cited in connection with social justice. In his latest post he deals with Micah 6:8.

We come to the beloved words of Micah 6:8, our sixth well known “social justice” passage.

Micah 6 begins with a covenant lawsuit against Judah (“plead your case” – v. 1). Later the question is asked, “With what shall I come before the Lord?” (v. 6) Should God’s people bring a burnt offering or a thousand rams or a river of oil? (6-7) Is perfunctory ritual obedience pleasing to God? No! “He has told you, O man, what is good” (8). The Lord requires that his people do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God.

But what does it mean to “do justice”? That’s the million dollar question. And it must be answered exegetically. Thankfully, Micah unpacks his notion of justice by chastising Judah for all her injustice.

Some in Judah were coveting fields and seizing them, oppressing others through corruption and lawbreaking (2:2). “The chief offenders,” argues Ralph Smith in his Micah-Malachi Commentary (WBC), “were a relatively small group of greedy, powerful business men who spent their nights devising schemes to get possession of the land of the small farmers. The next day they carried out their schemes because they had sufficient economic, political and judicial power to accomplish their goals even when their goals deprived a man and his household of their inheritance which was a part of covenant right” (24). In other words, these men were land-grabbers, taking what they did not own. And they had the power to get away with it. They weren’t just buying land, they were stealing it, in violation of the eighth commandment and in opposition to the stipulations about safeguarding a family inheritance.

In chapter 3, Micah inveighs against the “heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel” (1). This is probably a reference to the local magistrates who made judgments in the gate of the city. These men were like circuit court judges, responsible for administering blind justice that paid no attention to the status of the supplicant. But tragically, these men did not “know justice.” They hated the good and loved the evil (v. 2). They acted like cannibals toward their own people, chewing them up with their perverted power (1-3). They seem to have been especially cruel to the helpless poor (v. 5).

Shot through this corruption was a greedy love of money. The “heads” made decisions based on bribes. The priests taught for a price. And the prophets practiced divination for money (11). As we’ve seen time after time in these “social justice”
passages, the classic form of injustice is siding with the rich against the poor because the former will pay you for it and the latter cannot do anything to stop you. The rich, for Micah and the prophets in general, tend to be greedy bribers who take land by force, speak lies to get their way, and oppress the poor to increase their wealth (6:11-12). This is the sort of rich person the Lord disdains.

So what does Micah, and the Lord through him, mean by “doing justice”? He means we should not steal, bribe, or cheat. Conversely, we should, when we are in the position to do so, render fair and impartial judgments. And at all times in whatever calling, we should do good, not evil.

Sound Doctrine and Good Works

Mark what I say. If you want to do good in these times, you must throw aside indecision, and take up a distinct, sharply-cut, doctrinal religion. If you believe little, those to who you try to do good will believe nothing.

The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology; by telling men roundly of Christ’s vicarious death and sacrifice; by showing them Christ’s substitution on the cross, and His precious blood; by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe on a crucified Saviour; by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit; by lifting up the brazen serpent; by telling men to look and live—to believe, repent, and be converted.

This—this is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honoured with success, and is honouring at the present day both at home and abroad. Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology—the preachers of the gospel of earnestness, and sincerity and cold morality—let them, I say, show us at this day any English village, or parish, or city, or town, or district, which has been evangelized without “dogma,” by their principles. They cannot do it, and they never will.

Christianity without distinct doctrine is a powerless thing. It may be beautiful to some minds, but it is childless and barren. There is no getting over the facts. The good that is done in the earth may be comparatively small. Evil may abound, and ignorant impatience may murmur and cry out that Christianity has failed. But, depend on it, if we want to “do good” and shake the world, we must fight with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to “dogma.” No dogma, no fruits! No positive evangelical doctrine, no evangelization!
J.C. Ryle from Holiness (355-356)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Carl Trueman on Scripture

Carl Trueman will be one of the featured speakers at Church of the Saviour for the Full Confidence Conference on September 24-26, 2010. Hope you are planning to attend.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Piper on Genesis 1-2

Piper's three key points:

1) We should teach without any qualification that God created the universe and everything in it. It wasn't always here. It didn't spontaneously emerge from a big bang alone, however God did it. God did it. That's clear, and everybody who believes the Word should preach that.

2) Secondly, I think we should preach that he made it good. There was no sin in it, when he first made it.

3) Thirdly, I think we should preach that he created Adam and Eve directly, that he made them of the dust of the ground, and he took out of man a woman. I think we should teach that. I know there are people who don't, who think it's all imagery for evolution or whatever.

And we should teach that man had his beginning not millions of years ago but within the scope of the biblical genealogies. Those genealogies are tight at about 6,000 years and loose at maybe 10 or 15,000. So I think we should honor those genealogies and not say that you can play fast and loose with the origin of man.

That's not the age of the earth issue there. That's the origin of what is a human being, when did that human being come into existence. I think we should say he came into existence by God's direct action and that it wasn't millions of years ago. That was within the scope of these genealogies.

Now, when it comes to the more controversial issues of how to construe Genesis 1-2 about how God did it and how long it took him to do it, there I'm totally sympathetic with a pastor who is going to lay his view down, having studied it, and is going to say to his people, "Here is my understanding of those chapters. These six days can't be anything other than six literal days, and so that's how long God took to do it. And this universe is about 10 or 15,000 years old. Though it looks old, that's the way God made it. He made it to look old," or something like that.

Or he might take another view that these days are ages.

Or he might take Sailhamer's view, which is where I feel at home. His view is that what's going on here is that all of creation happened to prepare the land for man.

In verse 1, "In the beginning he made the heavens and the earth," he makes everything. And then you go day by day and he's preparing the land. He's not bringing new things into existence; he's preparing the land and causing things to grow and separating out water and earth. And then, when it's all set and prepared, he creates and puts man there.

Wright's Bad Habit

Tom Wright has a bad habit of mischaracterizing the views of those with whom he disagrees.

His latest book, After You Believe has been reviewed in CT by Michael Horton. While Horton appreciates much in Wright and his latest book, the bishop's bad habit is on full display once again. Horton is confounded by Wright's assertion that the Reformers were not interested in personal virtue. Anyone who has a remedial acquaintance with the writings of the Reformers will find this charge to be somewhere between amusing ("O, that's just Bishop Wright!") and dishonest ("Why are we still reading this guy?").

Of course the bigger issue with Wright is his continued denial of the biblical doctrines of justification and imputation. If he had little or no influence then we could just move on. But Wright's influence is deep and profound. He has impacted not only the dwindling ranks of the emergent kids but is having an impact on many PCA congregations.

John Piper sums up his concern over Wright's theology and influence in his outstanding book The Future of Justification:

My conviction concerning N. T. Wright is ... that his portrayal of the Gospel—and of the doctrine of justification in particular—is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognise as Biblically faithful. It may be that in his own mind and heartWright has a clear and firm grasp on the Gospel of Christ and the Biblical meaning of justification. But in my judgment, what he has written will lead to a kind of preaching that will not announce clearly what makes the lordship of Christ good news for guilty sinners or show those who are overwhelmed with sin how they may stand righteous in the presence of God (p. 15).

Read Gerald Bray's excellent critique of Wright HERE.

The problem with Bishop Wright’s analysis is that in attempting to get beyond the limitations of the individual, he constructs a pattern of salvation that is essentially abstract. This can be seen from the way in which he establishes a parallel between Israel and Jesus. How was Israel originally expected to save the world? The entire nation could not have died as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, so that idea must be ruled out. Could Israel have fulfilled its side of the covenant by keeping the law, in faithfulness to the God who gave it to them? This also seems very unlikely, not least because every single Israelite would have had to keep every jot and tittle of the law for that to have happened. But who would have been able to police that? The truth, of course, is that Israel was never intended to save the world. God chose Abraham and his descendants to be a blessing to the nations, but that is not the same thing as salvation. The presence of Jews or Christians is a blessing to any society, but that does not guarantee that it is thereby saved. Israel was meant to be a light to the nations, proclaiming God’s standards and promises to those who accepted them, but only until such time as the Messiah should come. Far from being a sort of plan B, the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ was the culmination of the divine purpose from the beginning. For that reason, Israel must be interpreted in the light of Christ and his work, not the other way round. Bishop Wright’s elaborate hermeneutical construction is unsound at the root, and so we should not be surprised that it has been rejected as unsatisfactory by those like Mr. Piper who have taken the trouble to examine it.

Michael Horton on Wright's understanding of Justification HERE.

Dan Wallace critiques Wright's rhetoric and exegesis HERE.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Social Justice - A Fleeting Movement?

From Mike Pohlman at the Gospel Coalition:
Writing for TIME magazine, Amy Sullivan brings to our attention an issue that has much of contemporary evangelicalism scrambling for clarity. The issue is the relationship between the gospel and “social justice.” How this relationship develops, particularly among younger evangelicals, is fraught with potential pitfalls for the unified advance of the gospel in our day.

Sullivan’s article argues that today’s younger evangelicals (the under-30s) are “expanding their mission” by being deeply concerned not with “fire-and-brimstone
conservatism” (like most people Sullivan invokes Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson as representatives of this “older” evangelicalism), but with issues like global poverty, creation care, and inner-city education. According to Sullivan, “Today’s young Evangelicals … are socially conscious, cause-focused and controversy-averse.”

Sullivan’s article is helpful in noting several reasons for this shift. Some of the reasons, like seeing attention to social justice issues as the outworking of the gospel, seem good and right. Love to neighbor can look like a million things, including laboring in the inner cities of America to help provide a better education for poverty stricken families. But some of the reasons for this shift, if true (and I suspect they are), do cause concern.

First, Sullivan observes that many young evangelicals are engaged in social justice issues simply because it’s popular:

Young Evangelicals are politically involved for that most prosaic of reasons as well: it’s popular. Bono talks about his faith at the National Prayer Breakfast and challenges world leaders to forgive the debts of poor countries. Relevant magazine, a publication for young Evangelicals with 100,000 subscribers, urges its readers to “reject apathy” and educate themselves about issues ranging from “unjust war” to “creation care” (the Evangelical phrase for protecting the environment). A young minister named Tyler Wigg-Stevenson launched an Evangelical movement in 2008 to abolish nuclear weapons. And at a revival gathering called Passion 2010 in Atlanta over New Year’s weekend, more than 22,000 Evangelical college students donated nearly $700,000 of their own money to support organizations working to dig wells in Africa, help children in poverty and save women from sex trafficking.

If a movement is based on popularity the inevitable question has to be asked, “What happens to the cause when it’s not popular anymore?” It’s hard to sustain anything long-term if it’s based merely on popularity.

A second reason for the rise in popularity of social justice issues among young evangelicals is still more disquieting: the desire to not be like our parents. To make this point Sullivan invokes Don Miller:

Does all of this social activism mean young Evangelicals are liberals? Hardly. Theologically, they remain fairly conservative, but mostly they reject political and religious labels. In fact, many would rather you didn’t even call them Evangelical (simply Christian is the preferred term). “For a lot of younger Evangelicals, it steals our identity,” says Don Miller, whose spiritual memoir Blue like Jazz has sold more than 1 million copies and has developed a cult following among under-30 Evangelicals. “We’re not like Pat Robertson. We’re not like Republicans. We’re not like our parents.”

What Miller seems to be highlighting here is simply a form of rebellion cloaked in good deeds — hardly a motivation worth giving one’s life to.

For the sake of moving this debate further along, let me suggest another reason many younger evangelicals might find social justice issues so attractive: it’s easy. What do I mean by this? Surely I don’t think working in inner-city Chicago to help poverty stricken children learn to read is easy, do I? Yes, in a relative sense.

The world will applaud your move to the south side if you’re working in a school. But see what the world has to say if you plant a church. The world’s applause will likely turn to scorn, and for a generation raised on social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace, this must be avoided at all costs. God forbid I lose a friend, follower, or page-view due to my overt gospel ministry. But tell my family and friends I’m going to give my life to help end global poverty, and suddenly I’m a rock star (or at least a lot like one). Social justice issues fit with Sullivan’s description of younger evangelicals as “controversy-averse.” No one argues with the need to feed the hungry. But people are killed for the proclamation of the gospel.

I’m grateful for Sullivan’s article because it’s an issue Christians must wrestle with. What is the relationship between the gospel and social justice? With Scripture as our guide, how should we think about this without just writing another “Four Views” book?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's sermon was part 37 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Faith Tested" and is taken from Hebrews 11:17-19. You can listen to or download it HERE.

A Day Late

I know that Memorial Day was yesterday but I wanted to post the following thoughts from Kevin DeYoung. I know it is common for one generation to reject the patriotism of the previous generation. But usually this is nothing more than generational snobbery. The fact is, we owe the free air we breathe to hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers. If we do not teach the generations following us that liberty is precious and costly then we will surely lose it. Certainly God is sovereign. This is our hope. What ever freedom we enjoy is a gift from God. But God uses means. And in His sovereign grace God has used the means of military force to bless the United States and the western world with liberty. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was instituted to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. After World War I, the purpose of the day was expanded to include all men and women who died in U.S. military service. Today, Memorial Day is mainly thought of as the unofficial start of summer–a long weekend with a car race, playoff basketball, and brats and burgers on the grill.

It is always tricky to know how the church should or shouldn’t celebrate patriotic holidays. Certainly, some churches blend church and state in such a way that the kingdom of God morphs into a doctrinally-thin, spiritually nebulous civil religion. But even with this dangers, there are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day.

1. Being a soldier is not a sub-Christian activity. In Luke 3, John the Baptist warns the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The crowds respond favorably to his message and ask him, “What then shall we do?” John tells the rich man to share his tunics, the tax collectors to collect only what belongs to them, and the soldiers to stop their extortion. If ever there was a time to tell the soldiers that true repentance meant resigning from the army, surely this was the time. And yet, John does not tell them that they must give up soldier-work to bear fruit, only that they need to be honest soldiers. The Centurion is even held up by Jesus as the best example of faith he’s seen in Israel (Luke 7:9). Military service, when executed with integrity and in the Spirit of God, is a suitable vocation for the people of God.

2. The life of a soldier can demonstrate the highest Christian virtues. While it’s true that our movies sometimes go too far in glamorizing war, this is only the case because there have been many heroics acts in the history of war suitable for our admiration. Soldiers in battle are called on to show courage, daring, service, shrewdness, endurance, hard work, faith, and obedience. These virtues fall into the “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just” category that deserve our praise (Philippians 4:8).

3. Military service is one of the most common metaphors in the New Testament to describe the Christian life. We are to fight the good fight, put on the armor of God, and serve as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. When we remember the sacrifice, single-minded dedication, and discipline involved in the life of a soldier, we are calling to mind what we are supposed to be like as Christians in service to Christ.

4. Love of country can be a good thing. As Christians we have dual citizenship. Our first and ultimate allegiance must always be to Christ whose heavenly dwelling is our eternal home. But we are also citizens of an earthly country. We will stand before God not as individuals wiped clean of all earthly nationality, but as people with distinct languages, cultural affinities, and homelands. It is not wrong to love our distinct language, culture, or nationality. Whenever I’m at a ball game I still get choked up during the singing of the National Anthem. I think this is good. Love for God does not mean we love nothing else on earth, but rather that we learn to love the things on earth in the right way and with the right proportions and priorities. Love of country is a good thing, and it is right to honor those who defend the principles that make our country good.

5. This may be controversial to some, but I believe the facts of history will demonstrate that on the whole, the United States military has been a force for good in the world. Obviously, as a military power, we have blundered at times, both individually and corporately. But on the whole, the men and women of our armed services have fought and are fighting for causes that promote freedom, defend the rights of human beings, and reject tyranny. War is still hell and a tragic result of the fall. Praise God for his promise to one day end all human conflict. But in a world where people are evil by nature and leaders are not always reasonable and countries do not always have good intentions, war is sometimes the way to peace–at least the best peace we can hope for between peoples and nations this side of heaven.

So thank God for a day to remember God’s common grace to America and his special grace in enlisting us, poor weak soldiers that we are, in service to Christ our Captain and conquering King.

Become a Better Bible Interpreter

I have just begun reading 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer and it is outstanding.

Here is what Justin Taylor has to say about it:

Robert Plummer’s new book, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Kregel, 2010), is simply excellent.

For most books on biblical interpretation, I’d want to qualify the recommendation by specifying the target audience. (For example, seminarians should probably buy Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral but it’s probably not a good text for most Sunday School classes. On the other hand, Nigel Beyon and Andrew Sach’s new Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word is very helpful for a lay level but wouldn’t be used as a seminary course textbook. (For more on this one, see this interview by Josh Harris.)

But Dr. Plummer—who teaches at Southern Seminary—has managed to produce something pretty unique here. I’d recommend it for virtually all Christians: laypeople, parents, pastors, and professors. If I were teaching a Sunday School, college, or even seminary class, I’d make this required reading (though obviously the higher the level of class the more supplemental reading would be required).

I can see a lot of folks using this as a one-stop introductory resource on questions of text, canon, translation, inerrancy, Christ-centered interpretation, application, genre, etc. Pastors in particular: this is a very good resource for producing concise, excellent answers for most of the questions people ask about matters of the Bible.

The section on “Issues in Recent Discussion” also concisely and helpfully covers issues like speech-act theory, “theological interpretation of Scripture,” and other issues.

Quite simply, this is the best introductory book on biblical interpretation I’ve yet seen. I highly recommend it.