Sunday, October 31, 2010

Introducing the Reformation

After today's sermon I was approached by a number of folks who expressed a desire to know more about the Reformation, particularly Martin Luther. The following is a list of books that are very helpful:

The Reformation by Stephen Nichols

The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves

Martin Luther by Stephen Nichols

Sunday's Sermon

For Reformation Day I preached from 2 Timothy 3:14-17. The title of the sermon is "Above All Earthly Powers" and can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

More from Washington...

A return to the civility of the past...

Washington DC

This week I was able to spend two days in Washington DC with my family. We had a great time. I have not walked that much since the last time I went to DC.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theological Quicksand

Once the authority of Scripture is dismissed in some things it is not long before it will be dismissed in all things.

Karl Giberson over at Biologos continues to reveal more of his theological cards. This is no surprise to those who have been warning about the theological quicksand of subordinating biblical authority to scientific paradigms. So, in a sense, Giberson has done us a favor with his latest articles at Biologos.

Al Mohler comments on Giberson's latest, but not surprising assertion that "science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world."

The folks at BioLogos continue with a fierce intensity to press their case for theistic evolution. In so doing, they are making the arguments that are essential to their case that Christianity and evolutionary theory are compatible. The arguments they are now making are integral to their cause, and they are amazingly, even breathtakingly candid.

In a recent article series responding to atheistic scientist Jerry Coyne, Professor Karl Giberson of Eastern Nazarene College rejects Coyne’s insistence that evolution precludes theism. Coyne, one of Darwin’s most ardent defenders, seems to operate under the quaint idea that Christians are marked by belief in an interventionist God and a confidence that the Bible is true.

Coyne also seems to believe that Christian theologians are not deists, and he is profoundly right. He wrote of “some theologians with a deistic bent,” who insist that evolution and Christianity are compatible, but who are in no way representative of true Christianity. Sometimes it takes an atheist to see the truth in a theological argument. Coyne strikes gold when he writes: “The reason that many liberal theologians see religion and evolution as harmonious is that they espouse a theology not only alien but unrecognizable as religion to most Americans.”

Coyne is one of the most recognized authorities on evolution in the world today. He sees those who argue for an accommodation of evolutionary science and religious belief as either dishonest or delusional. He is increasingly frustrated with scientists who make what he sees as a fallacious argument — that Christianity and evolution can be reconciled. “Attempts to reconcile God and evolution keep rolling off the intellectual assembly line,” he laments. “It never stops, because the reconciliation never works.”

In a five-part series at BioLogos, Professor Giberson seeks to refute Coyne’s argument. Now, Professor Giberson does land a few well-placed intellectual punches on Coyne’s absolute naturalism, but he does great damage to the Christian faith in so doing. At the same time, he ends up proving Coyne’s central point.
Read Mohler's entire post HERE.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Christianity of the Future?

"When a church doesn't take itself seriously, neither do its members. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1960, members of mainline churches (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and the like) accounted for 40% of all American Protestants. Today, it's more like 12% (17 million out of 135 million). Some of the precipitous decline is due to lower birthrates among the generally blue-state mainliners, but it also is clear that millions of mainline adherents (and especially their children) have simply walked out of the pews never to return. According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, in 1965, there were 3.4 million Episcopalians; now, there are 2.3 million. The number of Presbyterians fell from 4.3 million in 1965 to 2.5 million today. Compare that with 16 million members reported by the Southern Baptists.

"When your religion says "whatever" on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize and lets you do pretty much what you want, it's a short step to deciding that one of the things you don't want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.

"It doesn't help matters that the mainline churches were pioneers in ordaining women to the clergy, to the point that 25% of all Episcopal priests these days are female, as are 29% of all Presbyterian [PCUSA] pastors, according to the two churches. A causal connection between a critical mass of female clergy and a mass exodus from the churches, especially among men, would be difficult to establish, but is it entirely a coincidence? Sociologist Rodney Stark ("The Rise of Christianity") and historian Philip Jenkins ("The Next Christendom") contend that the more demands, ethical and doctrinal, that a faith places upon its adherents, the deeper the adherents' commitment to that faith. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which preach biblical morality, have no trouble saying that Jesus is Lord, and they generally eschew women's ordination. The churches are growing robustly, both in the United States and around the world.
"Despite the fact that median Sunday attendance at Episcopal churches is 80 worshipers, the Episcopal Church, as a whole, is financially equipped to carry on for some time, thanks to its inventory of vintage real estate and huge endowments left over from the days (no more!) when it was the Republican Party at prayer. Furthermore, it has offset some of its demographic losses by attracting disaffected liberal Catholics and gays and lesbians.

". . . As for the rest of the Episcopalians, the phrase "deck chairs on the Titanic" comes to mind.
"So this is the liberal Christianity that was supposed to be the Christianity of the future: disarray, schism, rapidly falling numbers of adherents, a collapse of Christology and national meetings that rival those of the Modern Language Assn. for their potential for cheap laughs. And they keep telling the Catholic Church that it had better get with the liberal program (ordain women, bless gay unions and so forth) or die. Sure."

- From a Los Angeles Times article by Charlotte Allen (Catholicism editor for Beliefnet)

How amazing is grace?

Monergism is offering this terrific resource for a great price. If you would like to know more about Reformed theology, Amazing Grace is a good place to begin.

What is Calvinism? Does this teaching make man a robot and God the author of sin? What about free will? If the church accepts Calvinism won’t evangelism be stifled, perhaps extinguished? How can we balance God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? What are the differences between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Why did men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edward’s and a host of evangelists deny the Arminian definition of free will and label it heresy? Why did the Roman Catholic Church condemn the Reformed teaching of predestination and election and embrace free will theology? And why do so many Protestants, perhaps unwittingly, agree with Rome on this issue?

Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism is the first video documentary that answers these and other related questions. Hosted by Eric Holmberg ( Hell’s Bells 1 & 2; The Massacre of Innocence) this fascinating three-part, four-hour presentation is detailed enough so as to not gloss over the controversy. At the same time, it is broken up into ten “Sunday-school-sized” sections so as to make the rich content manageable and accessible for the average viewer.

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday we continued our series through Hebrews with part 44 - "He has hushed the law's loud thunder." It is taken from Hebrews 12:18-24 and can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

Carl Trueman on Luther's 95 Theses

October 31 is Reformation Day. I know some folks think it is Halloween but really it's Reformation Day. So I will be shaving a bald spot on my sons heads and clothing them in the plain brown robes of the Augustinian monks. They will also be equipped with a mallet and a heavily embossed piece of parchment. After that we'll just need to agree on a Catholic church with a particularly prominent front door. I suppose I could try to dress them up like Zwingli or better yet Jan Huss but then people might think we're weird.

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther, then a monk, nailed on the door of the church at Wittenburg his now famous 95 Theses. It was one of the moments credited with igniting the Protestant Reformation.

Thanks to Justin Taylor for posting the following interview with Carl Trueman:

How did that act of nailing these theses to the door ignite the Reformation?

On one level, I am inclined to say “Goodness only knows.” As a pamphlet of popular revolution, it is, with the exception of the occasional rhetorical flourish, a remarkably dull piece of work which requires a reasonably sound knowledge of late medieval Catholic theology and practice even to understand many of its statements. Nevertheless, it seems to have struck a popular chord, being rapidly translated into German and becoming a bestseller within weeks. The easy answer is, therefore, “By the providence of God”; but, as a historian, I always like to try to tie things down to some set of secondary or more materialcauses.

Certainly, it was used in a way that appealed to popular anti-clericalism, resentment of the Roman curia, and a desire to stop money flowing out of German speaking territories to Rome. Yet, even so, the revolutionary power of such a technical composition is, in retrospect, still quite surprising.

For those today who want to read the 95 Theses, what would you recommend?

The place to start is probably Stephen Nichols’s edition (with an introduction and notes).

Nevertheless, if you really want to understand Luther’s theology, and why it is important, you will need to look beyond the Ninety-Five Theses. Probably the best place to start would be Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology.

Read the entire interview HERE.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Randy Alcorn on his most painful experience in ministry

Ministry is filled with painful experiences. A pastor who is doing his work properly will regularly help shoulder the sufferings of others. Additionally, though, he will have to shoulder (usually alone) his own pain. And the pain is frequent. A pastor knows what it is to receive almost daily "performance reviews" from various congregants. If he is fortunate he serves a church with many gracious people. If this is so then he will receive frequent words of encouragement. However, every pastor knows what it is to live with the awareness that he is always letting someone down. The number of needs and the often times competing expectations of the congregation means that not a day goes by that the pastor has not disappointed and even angered at least one of his flock.

And to whom does the pastor turn? Who will help him shoulder the weight? He cannot simply dismiss the criticisms of the crowd. He cannot 'let it roll off his back.' To do so would risk the hardening of his heart. The pastor cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to criticism if he wishes to remain a loving shepherd.

Randy Alcorn recently addressed his most painful experience in ministry. I have deep respect for Alcorn, not only because of his heroic efforts for the unborn but because of his humility. He is many of things I want to be but am not yet.

What is the darkest or most difficult experience you have had to date? from Randy Alcorn on Vimeo.

I went from being a leader to no longer being a leader. I had to learn what other people had needed to when they related to me as a pastor—such as follow your leaders and submit to them as Hebrews 13:17 and other passages tell us. But now I was doing that, and I have done that since. It has not always been easy. I love my church, and I love my church leaders, but I still don’t always agree with them, just as people don’t always agree with me. So I’ve experienced both sides of submission.

Nanci and I have grown tremendously through the years as a result of this difficult time. One of the things that helped us was praying for different pastors and church leaders who we felt were not supportive of us in the most difficult times. We‘re not bitter—God preserved us from bitterness.

In fact, the ministry we founded, Eternal Perspective Ministries, began with the financial support of a number of people, including a few of those pastors and several of those elders I worked with.

God was very kind to us, but as I’ve thought about it, this would have to be at the top of the list of most difficult things we’ve ever faced. It seems strange that it would be higher than the deaths of certain people who were very close to me. But I think it’s because you experience God’s grace more in certain areas and times with huge personal losses such as death than you may when there is alienation and distance from people you know and love and have had close relationships with.

God has been gracious in dealing with that distance and healing those relationships over the years. And it feels great to say that we now have very good relationships with those we felt had turned from us in a dark period of our lives. Some of them would probably do things different now than then, and I’m positive we would also. But forgiveness means accepting that just as you don’t always do things right, you shouldn’t expect others to either. And as God forgave you, you must forgive others, and it is liberating to do so.

Read the entire post HERE.

"Churches only have idea problems."

By now many of you have surely heard the news that the world famous Los Angeles Church, The Crystal Cathedral, has filed for bankruptcy. It is indeed a sad thing when a church runs aground financially. But considering this particular church and its founding minister, Robert Schuller, the story becomes sadly ironic as well.

Al Mohler writes:

How does the “gospel of success” deal with bankruptcy? The filing of bankruptcy papers would be humbling enough for any ministry, but how does the very epicenter of “Possibility Thinking” deal with the stark reality of financial calamity?

In his 1986 book, Your Church Has a Fantastic Future, Schuller provided what he called “A Possibility Thinker’s Guide to a Successful Church.” The book is a manual for a ministry built on pure pragmatism, sensationalistic promotion, a therapeutic message, and a constant and incessant focus on thinking positively.

His message about money was simple: “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems,” he asserted.

In an odd and upside-down way, the news of bankruptcy at the Crystal Cathedral makes that point emphatically. The most significant problem at the Crystal Cathedral is not financial, but theological. The issue is not money, but this ministry’s message. The “gospel of success” is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, therapy is no substitute for theology, and “Possibility Thinking” is not the message of the Bible.

It turns out that Robert Schuller offers the best analysis of this crisis with his own words. “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems.” The theological crisis in Garden Grove is far more significant than the financial crisis.

Read Mohler's entire post HERE.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pray for our suffering brothers and sisters in North Korea

On the second night of the Third Lausanne Congress taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, an 18 year-old girl from North Korea shared her story.

She was born into a wealthy family, her father an assistant to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong II. Eventually her father’s political fortunes shifted, and after being politically persecuted by the North Korean government, he, his wife, and his daughter escaped to China.

In China a relative brought her family to church where her parents came to know Jesus Christ. A few months later, however, her pregnant mother died from Leukemia. Her father started to study the Bible with missionaries and eventually the Lord gave him a strong desire to become a missionary to North Korea. But in 2001 he was reported as a Christian, was arrested by the Chinese police, and was returned to North Korea. Forced to leave his daughter behind in China, he spent three years in prison. During this time the girl shared that it only "made my father’s faith stronger” and that he “cried out to God more desperately rather than complain or blame Him."

After three years he was able to return to China where he was briefly reunited with his daughter. Soon after, however, he gathered Bibles having resolved to return to North Korea to share Christ among that hopeless people. He was given the opportunity to go to South Korea, but he turned them down.

In 2006 he was discovered by the North Korean government and was arrested. There has since been no word from him. In all probability he has been shot to death publicly for treason.

In 2007 this girl, who at the time was not a Christian, was given the opportunity to go to South Korea. While still in China waiting at the Korean Consulate in Beijing to go to South Korea, she saw Jesus in a dream. Jesus, with tears in his eyes, called her by name and said, "How much longer are you going to keep me waiting? Walk with me. Yes, you lost your earthly father, but I am your heavenly Father and whatever has happened to you is because I love you."

She knelt and prayed to God for the first time and realized that “God my Father loves and cares for me so very much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for me.” She prayed, “God here I am. I just lay down everything and give you my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength. Please use me as you will.”

Now God has given her a great love for North Korea. She shared that, "Just as my father was used there for God’s kingdom, I now desire to be obedient to God. I want to bring the love of Jesus to North Korea."

She closed with the following words:

I look back over my short life and see God’s hand everywhere. Six years in North Korea, 11 years in China, and a time of being in South Korea. Everything that I experienced and love, I want to give it all to God and use my life for His kingdom. I hope to honor my father and bring glory to my heavenly Father by serving God with my whole heart.

I believe God’s heart cries out for the lost people of North Korea. I humbly ask you, my brothers and sisters, to have the same heart of God. Please pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother and now me will one day come down upon the people of North Korea… my people.

Putting Cultural Relevance in its Place

Ed Stetzer has no problem with cultural relevance. Sometimes there is an almost knee jerk reaction against any mention of cultural relevance. But, by speaking in English and serving coffee rather than warm goats blood at our gatherings we are exercising cultural relevance. So to speak to our culture in a language they understand is a positively good thing. The problems come when being relevant begins to trump faithfulness to the Gospel.

Stetzer identifies several things that happen when cultural relevance is not kept in its proper place.

We elevate cultural relevance when we focus on personal or social transformation and not Gospel transformation. The Gospel message is not about trying harder to be a good person. Atheists, Mormons, and Oprah can help you be good. The gospel message is not about cleaning up our cities. Atheists, Scientologists, and politicians can improve our cities. Cultural relevance as a goal will encourage us to stop short of the most needed and deepest changes in our lives because because of the desire not to offend those in the culture. When it is the goal, we stay on the surface of change and avoid the heart. But if cultural relevance is a tool we will focus our work on the Gospel that says that we need to be changed from the inside out. We will focus on a ministry in which Jesus transforms lives.

We elevate cultural relevance when our sermons are so practical that they lack a Gospel priority. Of course I'm not saying that practical sermons are bad. I think sermons with practical implications and application are essential. Some are trying so hard to be practical in their preaching that their messages are easily understood, received and applied, but Christ is not made known. I seek to never preach a message that would not be true if Jesus had not died on the cross. Belief in a bloody cross and an empty tomb should be foundational to whatever practical advice we share.

We elevate cultural relevance when our outreach demeans others who preach the Gospel. I've seen the mailers from churches that say things like, "top 10 reasons every other church in this county stinks, but ours is great." They often use words like "relevant," "exciting," "fresh" and "real" to explain their ministries. If we are not careful, we can show confidence in our relevance, not in the Gospel. If the Gospel is at the center of our message and ministry, we will not communicate anything that allows people to devalue other churches that preach the Gospel. We will work with them and pray for them.

We elevate cultural relevance when personal evangelism is an oxymoron at our churches. Relevance as the goal makes our cool worship services the place where people connect and pastors are the only ones who tell people about Jesus. When the Gospel is the point and relevance is a tool, pastors will also equip God's people to take the Gospel with them into their communities. Sure, let's invite the neighbors to our worship services and ministries. But when done alone, it hinders the work of the Gospel.

We elevate cultural relevance when attendance is celebrated more than conversions. In one of our studies we asked a question about the conversion rate in new churches. We found that most churches never ask that question, and even if they ask they often give an inflated answer. One church from the study had done an incredible job planting multiple churches. They had the courage to survey all their people and ask the simple question, "Did you come to faith in Jesus Christ in this church?" The goal was 10% conversion growth in their new churches, but they found it was only 2-3%. Our focus can't simply be on our attendance, but seeing men and women come to faith in Jesus Christ.

We elevate cultural relevance when not offending seekers is often more important than telling the Gospel. God taught us a lot of things in the seeker movement. But it is hard to be perceived as sensitive when you talk about sin and death and the cross, the central elements of the Gospel. I think our focus needs to be "seeker-comprehensible": to communicate the Gospel clearly and understandably even as we communicate a message that is not sensitive or comfortable. Relevance is a tool that helps seekers comprehend the truths of the Gospel.

Read the entire post HERE.

Evangelism, Conversion, and the Local Church

Mark Dever delivered the a helpful message at Boyce College this week. Check it out HERE.

Another reason why I like Carl...

I have not yet read Carl Trueman's Republocrat. I am planning to. Actually I am eagerly awaiting an autographed copy (ahem...). I will resist the temptation to actually comment on the merits or demerits of the book until I have read it. I know that sounds reasonable, but on the other hand...

Carl comments on a recent review of Republocrat by someone who has not actually read the book:

In the meantime, while I do not usually link to reviews of my own material, this one is priceless, if only for the honest acknowledgment at the start that the reviewer has not actually read the book, a fact which becomes rather obvious as he then proceeds to disagree with me, and offer helpful correctives, on a number of positions which I never actually advocate and have never held. Still, if I am ever tempted to change my mind and adopt any of them, I now have a bookmarked webpage to which I can turn for help.
Carl is waiting on pins and needles to hear what I think of Republocrat. In fact I have heard that he has locked himself in his room and is refusing to eat until I weigh in. So I'll try to contribute something to the conversation as soon as possible.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Story

The following explains a new evangelistic tool called "The Story."

"The Story" Promotional Video from The Story ( on Vimeo.

What's new about the new Calvinism?

DeYoung, Duncan, Mohler: What's New About the New Calvinism from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Theology Fail

Check out this good series of posts called "Know Your Heretics".

Sunday's Sermons

On Sunday morning we were pleased to welcome once again Paul Tripp. His sermon was entitled "Amazement Vs. Faith" and was taken from Mark 6:45-52.

At the Vine on Sunday evening I preached a message from Psalm 96 entitled "Our International Anthem."

I would encourage you to listen to both messages. They can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My review of a "A Place for Weakness"

TGC Reviews has just posted my review of Michael Horton's A Place for Weakness.

One of the things I appreciate about Michael Horton is that he writes both for the academy and also the congregation. It’s a mark of a good theologian to do both well. Horton is a professor of apologetics and theology at Westminster Seminary California. Some of his outstanding titles include Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, People and Place, We Believe, and A Better Way. He is also the publisher of the indispensible monthly journal Modern Reformation and host of the White Horse Inn radio program.

This relatively slim volume was originally published with the title Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype, which I rather liked. Zondervan has released it with a new title and a new cover, and I am glad that new attention is being given to this outstanding book.

A Place for Weakness is driven along by an unrelenting but refreshing realism. There are no false promises here. There are no clich├ęs or newly discovered secrets for “living in victory.” Horton helps us understand suffering as unromantic but deeply purposeful. In other words, we do not have to pretend that suffering does not hurt and cause dismay. At the same time, we are confidently pointed to the mysterious comfort that everything that comes our way passes through the hands of our good and sovereign God. “The unity of God’s sovereignty and goodness that will be finally disclosed on the last day has already dawned decisively in the work of Christ” (45).

Read the entire review HERE.

Political Discource and the 9th Commandment

Some of you will be overjoyed by this post thinking that it represents the dawning of change in my political perspective (which it does not). Others of you will get angry, having the same thought. So, here goes...

Over at Ref21 my friend Carl has posted what I believe is a very balanced and thoughtful rebuke concerning the nature of contemporary political discourse among evangelicals.

Carl is interesting to most American Christians. It would be difficult to find a man of greater orthodox or "conservative" theological convictions. He is also pro-life and believes that biblical sexual ethics are not to be re-imagined for our own day. You will also find few men who can more ably skewer contemporary liberalism. And yet he is also, in some ways, a man of the left. Some of his ideas about the role of government would drive most conservatives a bit crazy. So what are we to make of a man like Carl? It seems to me that he is, in some ways, a man without a home (politically speaking). He is as offensive to liberals as he is to conservatives.

This is one of the reasons I like spending time with Carl. When it comes to politics I don't always agree with him but he makes me think (and he usually makes me laugh as well). Plus, he's a fun pub mate.

Anyway, I found this piece to be spot on and convicting for I have been guilty of breaking the 9th Commandment in some of my own discourse (believe it or not!).
One of the most depressing things about the current season of political stumping in the USA is the mindless nature of so much of the discourse. The recent sight of the unbearably self-important and ill-informed Bill O'Reilly and the overwheeningly self-righteous and equally ignorant Whoopi Goldberg squaring off in a TV spat about as realistic and spontaneous as a Hulk Hogan smackdown just about says it all. The most popular TV pundit of the Right, who yet cannot define `socialism,' versus the advocate for women's rights who does not regard the drugging, and forcible and perverted sexual violation of a thirteen year old girl as `rape.' If ever we needed a microcosmic demonstration of all that is wrong with left and right, those two say it all: it is all about empty posturing, extreme slogans, and, above all, entertainment.

More worrying, however, is the role of the religious in all this. The culture of extreme nonsense that leads many to regard the O'Reillys, Becks, Goldbergs and Olbermanns of this world as serious contributors to intelligent debate and discussion is, sadly, alive and well in religious circles, and frequently fed by such. Just recently, I read a comment in World Magazine describing Obama as a `Marxist-Christian syncretist.' Of course, Marxism, like socialism, is a term the Religious Right love to hate, even as they often struggle to be able to define it with any degree of precision. For myself, while disagreeing with many of Obama's policies, I find characterisation of him as a Marxist to be ridiculous, risible, and an affront to those who have truly struggled (and continue to struggle) under real totalitarian Marxist regimes. Indeed, when the `M' word is used by the Religious Right in the USA, it would seem to function in the same hyperbolic way as the phrase `You've totally ruined my life!' functions for the typical teenager whose cell phone has been confiscated for a couple of hours by an irate parent.

More seriously, however, if I myself were to apply such a term to Obama, it would surely represent a breach of my ordination vows. I subscribe to the Westminster Standards and, in the Larger Catechism, Question 128, on the Fifth Commandment, `What are the sins of inferiors to superiors?' carries the following answer: `The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonour to them.' I will not bore readers with the LC on other aspects of the Fifth commandment or, indeed, on the Ninth Commandment; suffice it to say that neither really allow much room for hurling accusations of `Marxist' or `Fascist' against those with whom we simply happen to disagree on marginal tax rates, health care, or Wall Street reform.

So here are two fun suggestions: Christians, right and left, should model intelligent civic engagement, not help to destroy it by pandering to the moronic soundbites and posturing of the TV pundits. And anybody who holds office in a confessional presbyterian denomination and who calls the President a Marxist (or carries around a picture of him at a rally photoshopped to make him into Hitler or the Joker), or anyone, for that matter, who claims that the Republicans are all Fascists or racists -- anybody who does such, I say, should be charged in the courts of the church with breach of vows and, if unrepentant, dismissed from office. Criticism and dissent are vital in democracy; but how we express that criticism and dissent should be shaped by our Christian commitments and, for those of us who hold office, by our solemn vows.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Questions science cannot answer...

What is moral? What is good? What gives value to life? What makes any life valuable?

I could go on but those are questions that science is hopeless to answer. Don't misunderstand. I am profoundly grateful for competent scientists. Every time I turn on a light or feel the cool air of an air conditioner or have a dentist give me Novocaine before he pulls a tooth I am thankful for scientists. I am giddy about antibiotics, the internal combustion engine, and red dye for red velvet cake.

But anyone who believes that life's most important questions can be answered via the scientific method is delusional.

That brings us to Sam Harris one of the young turks of the new atheism. Harris is famous for his book Letter to a Christian Nation. In that book Harris posits the incredibly brave idea that the real problem in America are those crazy Christians. In his latest book, Harris is attempting something that is not so much ambitious as it is asinine. The title of the book says it: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

Now, if Harris was attempting to establish that science can be helpful in understanding human values then he would find little or no argument. But notice the grandiosity of his program - "How Science Can Determine Human Values."

Over at Evangel, Tom Gilson reflects on Harris' latest effort:

I’m waiting for a chance to read Sam Harris’s new book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. I like Harris’s thoughtfulness, his recognition of moral realities, and his stand against religiously motivated violence. That doesn’t mean his attempts to create a scientifically-based moral system make sense, however. He told Jon Stewart last week,

I think the biggest challenge we’re facing is finding some way to create a global civilization based on shared values. We have to converge on the same kind of economic and political and social goals and so forth. We have to begin giving similar answers to the most important questions in human life; and the only way forward to do that I see is to begin to talk about morality and human values very much in the context of our growing scientific understanding of ourselves in the world….

To take a scientific perspective on moral questions can often be crucial. Consider global warming and carbon usage: if there is a link between carbon release and potential serious climate change, then carbon usage has moral implications. Our knowledge of that linkage and its potential moral repercussions depends on what we can learn through good, objective, hard science. Science really does inform moral decision-making.

But Harris wants it to do much more than that: not just to inform moral valuations, but to ground them, to function as their sole basis. In he stands nearly alone, for most thoughtful observers doubt science has the capacity to deliver right, true, and trustworthy answers to questions of morality and value. At least he recognizes how lonely his position is:

We have a problem. The only people on the planet at this moment who think that there are truly right answers to moral questions are religious demagogues who think the universe is 6,000 years old. Everyone else seems to think that there’s something suspect about the concept of moral truth.

Never mind his egregious distortion of religious belief there, which is too obvious to waste time or attention on. It would be fascinating to read the book and see how he justifies his idiosyncratic stance on science’s ability to ground morality. I seriously doubt he succeeds in that justification. There is, after all, a reason most people don’t think science can deliver us moral truth: it can’t. Not unless Harris has come up with something utterly earthshaking in the history of philosophical reflection. It won’t be this:

Morality and value clearly relates to human and animal well-being, and our well-being emerges out of the laws of nature; it depends on the way the universe is…. all of these domains fall within the purview of science.

Well-being? Define “well-being” on the basis of science, Mr. Harris? What constitutes the good life? Is that in your book? Are there scientific journal articles or conference proceedings to back it up? Science can, in some limited cases, describe how best to achieve life x as opposed to life y. If you assume life x maximizes well-being and life y accomplishes something less, then you might fool yourself into thinking science can show how to maximize well-being.

My guess is that when I read the book, I’ll find that life x‘s superiority will be taken as an implicit assumption throughout. I’m quite certain there will be no peer-reviewed, field- or laboratory-based agreement as to the value of life x; nor will there be consensus in other relevant fields of inquiry such as philosophy. (Harris claims that science is his only authority, but he’s practicing philosophy when he says that.)

Read the entire post HERE.

Excellent prices on excellent commentaries

The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is an outstanding series. For a limited time WTSBookstore is running a great special on these volumes.

The newest volume on Ephesians by Frank Thielman is now available for only $24.74 (45% off!)

The current set (15 volumes) is available for $440.91 (40% off!).

A Painful Necessity

Thanks to Ray Ortlund for posting this:
“None are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers. This comes not only from the difficulty of their duties, which are so great that sometimes they sink under them, or stagger or halt or take a false step, so that wicked men find many occasions of finding fault with them; but added to that, even when they do all their duties correctly and commit not even the smallest error, they never avoid a thousand criticisms. It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished. .

[T]he more sincerely any pastor strives to further Christ’s kingdom, the more he is loaded with spite, the more fierce do the attacks upon him become. And not only so, but as soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved. This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, over credulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending.”

John Calvin, Second Corinthians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Grand Rapids, 1964), page 263, commenting on 1 Timothy 5:19.

The sterility and bleakness of evolution

Al Mohler calls our attention to a USA Today article by Michael Shermer. Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine is an enthusiastic atheist and, therefore, evolutionist. In the article referred to by Mohler, Shermer seeks to explain how such deep love as that of a parent for a child is explained by evolutionary development.

Mohler writes:
Shermer has now experienced the “empty nest syndrome” for himself, as his daughter began her college studies just over a month ago. He clearly misses his daughter. And yet, how does he explain this experience?

He writes: “Why does it hurt so bad? Science has an answer: We are social mammals who experience deep attachment to our fellow friends and family, an evolutionary throwback to our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer days of living in small bands.”

You read that right. Shermer reduces the love of a parent for a child to “an evolutionary throwback.” He adds to this a physiological theory:

We parents can’t help feeling this way, and neuroscience explains why. Addictive chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin surge through the brain and body during positive social interactions (especially touch). This causes us to feel closer to one another. Between parents and offspring, it cements a bond so solid that it is broken only under the most unusual (and usually pathological) circumstances.

He concludes with words that can hardly be described as sentimental. “Each of us parents makes one small contribution to the evolutionary imperative of life’s continuity from one generation to the next,” he suggests.

Rarely is the sterility and bleakness of the evolutionary worldview displayed with such candor. The love of a parent for a child is reduced to an evolutionary factor that works through a physiological process of chemical interactions in the brain.

If evolution is true, it must explain everything. Michael Shermer’s article demonstrates just how unsatisfying that explanation is.

Bleak indeed.

And yet Shermer is consistent. If evolution is true then it must explain everything. It must explain even our feelings of love which in the end are only the results of chemical reactions in the brain.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A few days at the beach...

My family and I were away most of last week. I performed a wedding ceremony at a beautiful baptist church on Cape Cod. We were blessed to stay in a home with a great view of the ocean. It was great to get away for a few days.

Not friends after all?

Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, a scientist and former believer has finally settled the debate between science and Christianity. It seems that the two cannot be friends after all. Of course Dr. Coyne's presupposition is that religious faith is hopelessly nonsensical. His religious fervor is devoted to his preferred worldview which has no space for a God to whom he must give account. This is nothing new of course. Richard Dawkins sees the same incompatibility. But in light of the folks at Biologos wanting to give away the store in order to please the high priests of scientism I found Coyne's words instructive.

As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk. Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it’s not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science.

You see, it is not so much that Coyne and his ilk reject the biblical creation account but that they reject the first four words of the Bible. Under the tutelage of Biologos we can give away Genesis 1-11, most of the Old Testament, and even key parts of the New Testament and scientific opinion-makers still will not be satisfied. They will not allow us into their club until we reject "in the beginning God".

Al Mohler weighs in HERE.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What is the church for?

The Mission of the Church from Ben Peays on Vimeo.

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's message was part 43 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Pursuing Godliness Together" and is taken from Hebrews 12:14-17. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"The Privatization of Divorce" in Evangelicalism

Al Mohler has posted on a sad irony: the curious absence of divorce as a top issue for evangelicals in the 'family values' debate. Why is it that since the days of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority divorce is rarely mentioned as one of the most significant threats to 'traditional family values'? It seems that the evangelical church has made an uneasy peace with divorce. It is recognized now as a common reality among Christians and therefore not nearly as problematic as, say, homosexuality or abortion. And yet it can be convincingly argued that divorce is a far greater threat to marriage and the family than is homosexual marriage (which, by the way, I firmly oppose). It seems ridiculous to argue the contrary.

Mohler writes:

In the most general sense, the culture war refers to the struggle to determine laws and customs on a host of moral and political issues that separate Americans into two opposing camps, often presented as the religious right and the secular left. Though the truth is never so simple, the reality of the culture war is almost impossible to deny.

And yet, as Professor Smith [University of Washington] surveyed the front lines of the culture war, he was surprised, not so much by the issues of hot debate and controversy, but by an issue that was obvious for its absence — divorce.

“From the standpoint of simple logic, divorce fits cleanly within the category of ‘family values’ and hence hypothetically could represent a driving force in the larger culture war,” he notes. “If ‘family values’ refers to ethics and behavior that affect, well, families, then divorce obviously should qualify. Indeed, divorce seems to carry a more direct connection to the daily realities of families than do the bellwether culture war issues of abortion and homosexuality.”

That logic is an indictment of evangelical failure and a monumental scandal of the evangelical conscience. When faced with this indictment, many evangelicals quickly point to the adoption of so-called “no fault” divorce laws in the 1970s. Yet, while those laws have been devastating to families (and especially to children), Smith makes a compelling case that evangelicals began their accommodation to divorce even before those laws took effect. No fault divorce laws simply reflected an acknowledgment of what had already taken place. As he explains, American evangelicals, along with other Christians, began to shift opinion on divorce when divorce became more common and when it hit close to home.

When the Christian right was organized in the 1970s and galvanized in the 1980s, the issues of abortion and homosexuality were front and center. Where was divorce? Smith documents the fact that groups such as the “pro-traditional family” Moral Majority led by the late Jerry Falwell generally failed even to mention divorce in their publications or platforms.

“During the 10 years of its existence, Falwell’s organization mobilized and lobbied on many political issues, including abortion, pornography, gay rights, school prayer, the Equal Rights Amendment, and sex education in schools,” he recalls. Where is divorce — a tragedy that affects far more families than the more “hot button” issues? “Divorce failed to achieve that exalted status, ranking so low on the group’s agenda that books on the Moral Majority do not even give the issue an entry in the index.”

Read the entire post HERE.

Again, it is a sad irony that the conservative evangelical war to defend family values has all but ignored the family's greatest threat.

A Generation and a half from death...

Thanks to Gabriel Fluhrer for this quote from D.A. Carson:

"I have been teaching more decades now that I can count and if I have learned anything from all of this teaching, its this: my students...learn what I'm excited about. So within the church of the living God, we must become excited about the gospel. That's how we pass on our heritage. If, instead, the gospel increasingly becomes for us that which we assume, then we will, of course, assent to the correct creedal statement. But, at this point, the gospel is not what really captures us. Rather, is a particular form of worship or a particular style of counseling, or a particular view on culture, or a particular technique in preaching, or - fill in the blank. Then, ultimately, our students make that their center and the generation after us loses the gospel. As soon as you get to the place where the gospel is that which is nearly assumed, you are only a generation and a half from death".