Friday, December 30, 2011

Seeing, they do not see...

In a recent Hardball, Chris Matthews and his panel demonstrate a stunning lack of moral seriousness in a conversation about abortion. Of course, avoiding moral seriousness is necessary if one is to hold a "pro-choice" point of view. The entire abortion debate rests on the issue of personhood. But it is this issue that Matthews and his ilk, for obvious reasons, seek to avoid.

Denny Burk links to
the Hardball episode and offers these comments:

I have often observed that debates about abortion among political pundits tend to miss the point. There is no serious moral contemplation of the issue, but only crass calculations of how a particular point of view might help or hurt some politician.

That is why I was struck by this conversation on Chris Matthews’ program “Hardball” (see above). Matthews and his guests seem to have discovered for the first time that pro-lifers actually believe life to begin at conception. They are astonished and appalled by this revelation, and it is almost as if they have never even heard of this point of view before several GOP candidates signed the Personhood USA pledge. As a result, the panel lampoons the view as if it represented some extreme, unheard of ideology. They don’t seem to realize that the pro-life position consists precisely in the view that individual human life begins at conception. How could they not know this?

The entire pro-life debate hinges upon the status of the life that is taken in an abortion. If it’s just a blob of cells, then abortion on demand would be no problem. If it’s a person (as pro-lifers have been arguing all along), then that unborn person should be protected in law. I am happy to welcome Matthews to the national conversation now that he has discovered what it is really about.

I give you fair warning that what you are about to see is completely morally unserious. Matthews argues that the politics of abortion should be totally disconnected from “metaphysical” questions about personhood. The panel even suggests that the reality of miscarriages somehow constitute prima facie evidence against the personhood of the unborn. The arguments here are really weak, but they are precisely the kinds of opinions that proliferate among unthoughtful pro-choice advocates.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Journaling Through the Bible

Journibles look like a helpful tool for studying and meditating upon the Bible. I am looking forward to the release of the 1 & 2 Corinthians edition.

Journible Spot 1 from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Jesus Calling" A Review

Tim Challies reviews Sarah Young's enormously popular book Jesus Calling. In it, Young claims direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Oddly, while Young claims the entries in her book are the words of Jesus delivered to her, she cautions the reader to not regard them as authoritative as Scripture. But how can this be? If her book is Jesus speaking (which she explicitly claims) then how can those words be less authoritative or binding as the Scriptures? Indeed, if Mrs. Young has written down the words of Jesus that He spoke directly to her, then how can they not be Scripture? Unfortunately, her many admirers seem not to mind her troubling claim or incoherent contradiction.

Challies writes:

James Montgomery Boice once said that the real battle in our times would not be the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture, but its sufficiency—are we going to rely on the Bible or will we continually long for other revelation? In Jesus Calling we see this so clearly. Young teaches that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. It was not enough for her and, implicitly, she teaches that it cannot be enough for us. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of messages from the Lord. It is not Scripture she brings to us, not primarily anyway, but these messages from Jesus.

On this basis alone this book is very suspect and needs to be treated with the utmost care. Young offers us words that she insists come straight from the Lord. But she gives no proof that we should expect the Lord to speak to us this way; all she offers is her own experience of it. At this point we are left with a few options. We can stop reading altogether, we can continue to read while rejecting her claims that these are words from the Lord, or we can read and take her at her word. Personally, unless reviewing the book, I would abandon it immediately. If she claims to be speaking Jesus’ words, I am no longer interested. However, for the sake of reviewing it, I continued to read.
Dr. Boice was right. Clearly, the battle over inerrancy continues. But more often it is the sufficiency of Scripture that is under constant attack in evangelical circles. "God told me," "God spoke this word in my heart," etc are frequent appeals to extra-biblical revelation. And yet such claims are ubiquitous among evangelicals. We make bestsellers out of fanciful tales of people's trips to heaven. How gullible have we become? We must ask, "When did God's Word become insufficient?" When did the Bible need the help of mystical experiences? extra words from God? or a little boy's trip to heaven and back?

Challies continues:

It is interesting that the majority of the devotionals are affirmations rather than commandments which means that the book tends to be more descriptive than prescriptive. It is less about Jesus telling how we are to live, but more about who he is, who we are, and how to enjoy his Presence. It is notable that these affirmations span only a very narrow range of the Christian experience. It is equally notable that many of Jesus’ words sound very little like what he says in the Bible. For example, “Let the Light of My Presence soak into you, as you focus your thoughts on Me.” And shortly after, “Learn to hide in the secret of My Presence, even as you carry out your duties in the world.” I do not even know what that means or how it might be applied. There is no clear command there for me to obey and no clear word about who Jesus is.

Jesus Calling is, in its own way, a very dangerous book. Though the theology is largely sound enough, my great concern is that it teaches that hearing words directly from Jesus and then sharing these words with others is the normal Christian experience. In fact, it elevates this experience over all others. And this is a dangerous precedent to set. I see no reason that I would ever recommend this book.

Read the entire review HERE

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Like "priapistic teenage boys sniggering"

Ed Young Jr. is by no means the only pastor out there with a fondness for preaching and writing about sex. However, his latest project does prompt more than a few questions. Is all this "honesty" about sex truly helpful for the church? Does the presence of Song of Songs in the Bible justify this, this, or this?

Carl weighs in with a dose of biblical sanity:

It is true: those who jump quickly to allegorise the Song of Songs bypass entirely the obvious fact that it is an erotic love poem. Nevertheless, it seems to me significant that the Bible reserves raw and explicit sexual references for passages like Ezk. 23:20. Yes, the Bible contains crudity but it never uses such language to describe a properly functioning marriage. Those who speak explicitly in their sermons about sex acts may be reflecting the fact that the Bible does refer to such things; but the form they use may actually be reflecting rather the pathologies of the wider culture. They are certainly not paying any respect to the form which scripture uses to speak of such things. There is a beauty to the Song of Songs which is connected to its poetic form. Telling the world it refers to this or that specific sex act misses the point on so many different levels and is an interesting and eloquent response which perhaps tells us much about the reader and little about the text; it reminds me of being in a gallery and seeing priapistic teenage boys sniggering at the naked breast of a woman in a painting by a Renaissance master.

I also wonder how helpful it is to deal in graphic detail with sexual acts from the pulpit for those struggling with addiction to internet pornography. Or even simply for single people. Or for those who have not heard of some of the sex acts mentioned. Or for those who are impotent. Or for those who are still children. Or for those who suffered sexual abuse. So many pastoral issues would seem to be exacerbated by explicit and indiscriminate teaching on this issue from the pulpit. Yes, there are obviously serious sexual dysfunctions in the church - many deriving directly from a wider culture which is so explicit about sex - but most if not all of these are best addressed in more individualized pastoral settings.

Further, the reduction of sex to a set of physical acts seems to play to the idolatries of the world around, and this reduction can be the result as much of the way we talk about sex as the content of what we say. I find it significant, for example, that we now routinely talk of `having sex' rather than `making love.' Perhaps the latter is somewhat archaic but it still carries with it emotional, relational and loving connotations which the former lacks entirely. A man can have sex with a prostitute; he can only make love to one to whom he is emotionally connected.

The Bible's refusal to reduce sex to physical acts is surely one of the reasons why it uses poetry to describe it. Poetry communicates meaning and significance which cannot be reduced simply to the reference; and the turning of the Song of Songs primarily into a sex manual is arguably a greater act of reductionism than jumping straight from the text to Christ and the church. This is important because reducing the importance of sex to the physical is one of the greatest moral errors of the spirit of this age, and the current penchant for explicit content in sermons seems rather to stand in continuity with this spirit than to be a prophetic sign against it. Paul's advice about it being better to marry than to burn is not reducible to 'if you struggle with lust, find a girl to marry and have sex with her.' That does not address the underlying problem. Everyone knows that nobody is ever addicted to one pornographic picture; thus lust is not eliminated by simply trying to set it in a monogamous context.

Finally, I wonder if the current passion for producing books and preaching sermons on sex also witnesses to the erosion of the boundary between public and private which is all too obvious in the world around us. Facebook, Twitter, reality TV and the rise of celebrity have each served to turn us all into exhibitionists and to make those who yearn for privacy look like weirdoes and losers. That this is impacting the church from the top down is obvious; and it is at least worth pausing to ask whether sex books and explicit sermons are part of this. It is surely hard to imagine Christian public figures of yesteryear such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J I Packer or Carl Henry setting up a website called the `sexperiment' or giving advice on sexual technique from the pulpit.
Read the entire post HERE.

What you want in a pastor...

Good stuff from Jonathan Leeman:

I’m not talking about a man who simply checks the belief box on the “authority” or “sufficiency” or “power” of the Bible.

I’m talking about a man who whose conviction here runs so deep that it profoundly influences the way he works and lives. He plans his weekly schedule based on this conviction. He rests his daily mood upon this conviction. He even picks his clothes in the morning knowing that, it’s not how good he looks that will bring life to the dead, it’s the resurrection power of God’s Word and Spirit.

This is as important as any other quality a pastor could have. It’s as important as swimming is to a lifeguard, throwing is to a quarterback, or adding is to an accountant. It defines the very task of what a pastor does.

Humans create with hands, shovels, and bulldozers. Not God. God creates with words. He says, “Be,” and it is. He says “Peace” to the riotous wind and waves, and they obey. He says “Come forth” to dead people and their eyes pop open.

Just as astonishing, God tells the light to shine in dark hearts, giving them the ability to see the glory of his Son (2 Cor. 4:6). His Word of power saves (Rom. 10:17). It fundamentally changes people (1 Thess. 1:5-7). It gives the new birth (1 Peter 1:23).

Now get this: God gives his faithful servants the ability to do the same things. “If anyone speaks, she should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). This is why Don Carson calls preaching “rerevelation.” A preacher’s primary task is to say again what God has already said. Did you think life comes to the dead through the power of our intelligence or humor or charisma?
Picture Ezekiel standing in a valley of dry bones. He preaches God’s Word, God’s Spirit blows, and the bones come to life. Your church wants a pastor who believes—deep in his bones!—that the same supernatural power is available to him. POW! He doesn’t rely on “the weapons of the world” but on “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). KAZAMM!

Why is this critical for who your church should look for in a pastor search?

1. It will keep him from manipulating. Paul said he “renounced secret and shameful ways” but instead “set forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor. 4:2). If a man believes that the Word alone is powerful to save, that’s what he’ll do—preach plainly and not try to emotionally manipulate.

2. It will keep him from building your church and your spiritual life on his personality. Paul wasn’t a “trained speaker” with an impressive resume, like the “super-apostles.” He just preached Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel (2 Cor. 11:4-5). Likewise, you want a man who is a good steward of his gifts, doesn’t rely on or trust his gifts to give life. He plants and waters, but relies on God to give the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Men who build on their personalities have churches filled with nominal Christians.

3. It will keep him happy. A man who trusts God to save by his Word and Spirit is a man who can sleep at night, because it doesn’t finally depend on him. This is a happy man who probably has a happy wife and children because he spends time with them. He doesn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is a man who won’t burn out as easily and will serve your church for years.

4. It’s the primary means to your growth and your church’s growth. It’s through the words of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God’s people become prepared for works of service “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

5. It’s your best hope of reaching non-Christian neighbors. “Faith comes from hearing the message,” says Paul (Rom. 10:17). Can the message be proclaimed through special programs and events? Of course. But you want a man who recognizes that it’s the regular, weekly “in season, out of season” work of “great patience and careful instruction” that saves the lost and builds up the saints—you want a man who “does the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:2-5).

Jonathan's book Reverberation was one of my favorite reads for 2011. I would love every church member to read it.

Secrets Pastors Keep

I can certainly identify with much that is in this following list. Perhaps this will serve as a helpful way to inform our prayers for our pastors.

From Ron Edmondson:

1. Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone looks to us to have all the answers.

2. People tell the senior pastor all kinds of things about what is happening in their life or in the lives of others…many we would rather not know sometimes…and sometimes the weight of others problems we carry is enormous.

3. Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty, which keeps us in prayer, but also makes us question our abilities at times. It makes depression common for many senior pastors. (Need a Biblical example…see 1 Kings 19)

4. Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others.

5. Sometimes we allow insecurity to cause us to become overprotective of our reputation and our position.

6. We face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.

7. Our spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.

8. Loneliness can exist for all leaders and many pastors suffer from it.

9. We seldom know who we can trust, which is why we become guarded and appear hard to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.

10. We suspect the staff, church leaders and congregation sometimes talks about us behind our back.

Read the whole thing HERE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cherishing what we still precariously hold

For those of us in church leadership who are always under pressure to innovate, the following words from P.D. James present a relevant challenge:

We live in an age notable for a kind of fashionable silliness and imbued with a restless desire for change.

It sometimes seems that nothing old, nothing well-established, nothing which has evolved through centuries of experience and loving use escapes our urge to diminish, revise or abolish it.

Above all every organisation has to be relevant—a very fashionable word—to the needs of modern life, as if human beings in the twenty-first century are somehow fundamentally different in their needs and aspirations from all previous generations.

A country which ceases to value and learn from its history, neglects its language and literature, despises its traditions and is unified only by a common frenetic drive for getting and spending and for material wealth, will lose more than its nationhood; it will lose its soul.

Let us cherish and use what we still precariously hold.

Let us strive to ensure that what has been handed down to us is not lost to generations to come.

I believe it was C.S. Lewis who wrote about "chronological snobbery": the tendency to think that your time, your methods, your generation, etc are somehow worthy of greater esteem than that of the past. This has been tragically true within evangelicalism. The irony, of course, is that we are a people whose entire existence depends upon events 2,000 years ago and beyond. What is more, we have two millennia of church history from which to draw. Unfortunately, in our preaching, praise, and education we seem to prefer the cheap porridge of contemporary trends over the rich and thoughtful deposits of our forebears. The finest historians on the planet ought to be Christians. Our churches ought to be filled with historical referents. Not that our buildings would be museums and our gatherings exercises in nostalgia. A thousand times no! However it seems to me, to quote one of my co-laborers, "We are sowing the seeds of our own demise."

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached from the messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 9. It is entitled "A Great Light" and can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

Christmas Everyday...

Good stuff from Carl:

The irony of the Christian Christmas is that the Christ child comes not because of any need of his own or any desire to fulfill a selfish or inwardly directed want; this child, the child in the manger, considers it not robbery to be equal with God and yet humbles himself by taking the form of a servant in order to be obedient even to death on the cross. All of this is done for those who not only did not deserve it but who despise the very thought of grace. For the strong and the self-sufficient to be shown their need and to be delivered therefrom by a nobody who begins life in a manger and ends it on a cross is a profound insult to everything we hold dear. The world looks on - now as then - and see this all as so much childishness; the tragedy, of course, is that it is the unsuspecting world which is truly childish.

I wonder if it is coincidence that at the very moment when childhood - or, perhaps better, childishness - seems to be permeating society, atheism and the militant rejection of Christianity are becoming so trendy. There is nothing more childish than the repudiation of parental authority by those who are still dependent upon their parents for everything from food to shelter to clothing. As the fourteen year old kid with the body-piercing and mohawk is still utterly dependent on his parents' money to buy him the torn jeans and the tee-shirt with the anti-authoritarian slogan spray painted on it, so those dependent upon God for their lives take a perverse and childish pleasure in denying his claims over their lives. And as the fourteen year old punk looks like a serious adult role model to the twelve year old wannabe, so the angry atheism that sells so many books today looks like true maturity to the world at large. Yet it does not change the fact that, as Romans 1 tells us, such is really a move not towards maturity but towards a fundamental denial of our humanity.

This should put our need to engage with atheists in perspective. Atheists do appear scary to the church, as the foul-mouthed kid with the leather jacket and the tatttoo might well be an intimidating and alien presence in my neighbourhood late at night; but all the expletives in the world do not change the fact that he is just a kid with attitude, not a serious challenge to my safety or well-being. Yes, we sometimes need to refute atheists in the same way we need to check unruly teenagers; but we should not waste too much time on such matters. The church also has adult work to be doing and dealing with kids should not distract us from that. Atheists come and atheists go; as far as I can tell, Mt. 16:18 continues to prove to be true.

The message of Christmas is the message of the cross: all our human conceptions are turned upside down; greatness is found in a manger and on a cross; the most powerful autonomous aspirations of men and women are in comparison to the baby Jesus but childish acts of meaningless defiance; atheism pretends to maturity; but from the perspective of the Bethlehem stable, it is but so much juvenile posturing.

Read the entire article HERE.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Dear Leader" Dies

We may never know the extent of Kim Jong Il's brutality and madness. We know that he tortured and murdered his people on a massive scale. Il the atheist insisted on being worshipped as a god. He routinely threatened the world. All the while the "Dear Leader" lived in luxury enjoying fine wine and American movies. Since the North Korean Communist dictatorship is a family enterprise, the reigns of leadership will go to one of Kim's sons. There is, so far, no indication that any of his sons will change the ever darkening course of this already dark country.

Justin Taylor has posted a series of videos that give a glimpse into the wicked cruelty that was Kim Jong Il's North Korea.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A yearning for justice or banal, wicked envy?

Try this challenging thought experiment from Doug Wilson.

Would Christopher Hitchens rid the world of theists?

An obituary for Christopher Hitchens

Doug Wilson has written a moving but, thankfully, not sentimental memorial for Christopher Hitchens who died of cancer yesterday.

G. K. Chesterton once pointed to the salutary effect that the great agnostics had on him—that effect being that of "arousing doubts deeper than their own." Christopher was an heir of the Enlightenment tradition, and would have felt right at home in the 18th-century salons of Paris. He wanted to carry on the grand tradition of doubting what had been inherited from Christendom, and to take great delight in doubting it. This worked well, or appeared to, for a time. But skepticism is a universal solvent, and once applied, it does not stop just because Christendom is gone. "I think, therefore I am. I think." We pulled out the stopper of faith, and the bathwater of reason appeared undisturbed for a time. But modernism slowly receded and now postmodernism is circling the drain.

Our intelligentsia needs to figure out how to do more than sit in an empty tub and reminisce about the days when Voltaire knew how to keep the water hot. Christopher knew that faithful Christians believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment. He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe—for I told him—that in this life, the door of repentance is always open. A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume. We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down (Matt. 20:6).

We also know that Christopher was worried about this, and was afraid of letting down the infidel team. In a number of interviews during the course of his cancer treatments, he discussed the prospect of a "death bed" conversion, and it was clear that he was concerned about the prospect. But, he assured interviewers, if anything like that ever happened, we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo or something had gotten to his brain. If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead. In short, he was preparing a narrative for us, just in case. But it is interesting that the narrative he prepped us with did not involve some ethically challenged evangelical nurses on the late shift who were ready to claim that they had heard him cry out to God, thus misrepresenting another great infidel into heaven. It has been done with Einstein, and with Darwin. Why not Hitchens? But Christopher actually prepared us by saying that if he said anything like this, then he did not know what he was saying.

This is interesting, not so much because of what it says about what he did or did not do as death approached him, and as he at the same time approached death. It is interesting because, when he gave these interviews, he was manifestly in his right mind, and the thought had clearly occurred to him that he might not feel in just a few months the way he did at present. The subject came up repeatedly, and was plainly a concern to him. Christopher Hitchens was baptized in his infancy, and his name means "Christ-bearer." This created an enormous burden that he tried to shake off his entire life. No creature can ever succeed in doing this. But sometimes, in the kindness of God, such failures can have a gracious twist at the end. We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right. Christopher Eric Hitchens (1949-2011). R.I.P.

Read the whole thing HERE.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached the final message in our series focusing on the Great Commission. It is entitled "Sustained By Grace" and can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

* On Sunday January 8th, I will begin preaching through Philippians.

My Favorite Reads for 2011

The following are books (not all published in 2011) that were either the most enjoyable or the most important books I read over the last 12 months.

Theology / Biblical Studies:

Historical Theology by Gregg Allison

I have not read this book cover-to-cover. However, it is extremely helpful; a great "one stop shop" for the history of the development of Christian doctrine.

What is the Mission of the Church? by DeYoung and Gilbert

Excellent. Clarifying. Careful. Readable. Important. Need more?

Union With Christ by J. Todd Billings

I am thankful for what may be a renewed focus on a sadly neglected doctrine. Dr. Billings's volume is a great example of theology in service of doxology and the church.

The Deity of Christ, Morgan and Peterson ed.

Outstanding! Readable and doxological instruction.

The best single volume I have read on the doctrine of the Word of God. Man, does Frame love appendices!

Applied Christianity:

I love this book! Dr. Cary offers an important correction to the errors of what he calls "the new evangelicalism."

Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman

Excellent. Leeman helps the reader understand how God uses his Word to transform his people. This is one of those books I wish every church member would read.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

A refreshing journey through Colossians with an eye toward the radical nature of the gospel.

Read this

Non-Fiction / Biography:

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Raven by Tim Reiterman

* Okay, I understand how some of you may be concerned about my seeming fascination with tyrants and cult leaders.

I confess that I have not completed this yet but so far it is excellent.

An amazing story but little known in the U.S. The story of Donald Crowhurst is a compelling mix of adventure, mystery and tragedy.


Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow

Hitler's Niece by Ron Hansen

The following are some books I have recently begun reading and are, so far, excellent:

Truman by David McCullough

Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner

Feast Day For Fools by James Lee Burke

Authentic Church by Vaughan Roberts

The Christian Faith by Michael Horton

Friday, December 9, 2011

Simply Proclaim

Carl Trueman on the challenge and privilege of preaching (especially at Christmas):

The problem is not just metaphysical, not simply a question of how one can talk about infinite God entering finite human existence (`Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man', to use Wesley's beautiful phrase). In this it is akin to the cross as Paul articulates it in 1 Corinthians: it is foolishness and a stumbling block. Foolishness, because the very idea of the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe being born of a teenage virgin in a stable in a tiny nation of no account at the far end of the Mediterranean is utterly ridiculous. Indeed, one might say that it looks very much like proof that God cannot exist -- at least, that is, God built according to our specifications and requirements. An offence because I do not need salvation, especially salvation brought by a pre-modern peasant's child in some backward place nobody would otherwise ever have heard of.

Yet this is where the glory of preaching and hearing the word of God comes into play. Preaching is proclamation, and proclaim we must, however inadequate we might think our words and our delivery are. Preaching is not a carefully worked-out philosophical defence of what God must be like if the advent of Christ is to be true. Nor is it an attempt to make Christianity look sophisticated or moral as the world understand these things. Least of all is it stand-up comedy designed to entertain those who might otherwise seek their fun elsewhere. Its agenda, especially at Christmas, is not to be determined by unbelief or what the hipsters in the Village will tolerate or what the brain's trust at MIT think is plausible. Preaching at Christmas is akin to Lk. 2:8-12. It is the announcement of what God has done, that he has come in Christ, and that thereby his grace has abounded and overflowed to those who deserve it not.. Our task as preachers is to do simply that: proclaim the advent of the Christ. Can there be a greater privilege, a more awesome responsibility, or a greater delight?
Read the whole thing HERE.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Some light reading for Christmas...

Carl Trueman has posted some recomendations for Christmas reading:

Gregory K. Beale, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Baker). Monumental work. My students know I have a thing about people who use `eschatological' every other sentence (the Reformed equivalent of quoting Bono among trendies) but in Greg's case, I'll forgive him. The book has already changed the way I think about New Testament teaching on eldership. It is self-contained (good job at over 1 000 pages) but familiarity with Greg's work on the Temple is useful.

J. Todd Billings, Union with Christ (Baker Academic). Those who have enjoyed Dr Billings' work on Calvin and on scriptural interpretation will know what to expect. Thought-provoking treatment of a hot topic. To be read alongside Robert Letham's book with the same title. Both of these books are both theological and doxological. Letham also has one of the most concise and brilliant summaries of Cyrilline Christology to be found anywhere.

James Dolezal, God Without Parts (Pickwick). An important elaboration and defence of divine simplicity, a doctrine frequently rejected today but rather less frequently understood.The Reformed Orthodox would have regarded divine simplicity as one of -- if not the most -- important element of their doctrine of God.

Derek Prime, Charles Simeon: An Ordinary Pastor of Extraordinary Influence (Day One). OK, I have not read this yet; but the combination of author and subject is irresistible. Mine is on the way from the UK but some Christian bookshop in the USA needs to take this on.

Finally, guilty pleasure for anyone with a (British) sense of humour: Adam Macqueen, Private Eye: The First Fifty Years (Private Eye). Nothing Christian about this one. I became an avid Eye reader at age 13 and it inspired me to go on to be part of the team that put together the semi-underground satirical magazine for my school (greatest achievement: getting it banned from the girl's school next door because of `unacceptably subversive' material). My role was writing parodies written in the style of the local newspaper and in the manner of various schoolmasters. All the inspiration came from the Eye. If you are suspicious of establishments, the self-important, Rupert Murdoch, celebrities of any stripe and have never grown up, this is the book to read. And Craig Brown is one of the few living geniuses.
I have just begun Dr. Beale's massive new volume on biblical theology. I'm still in the introduction! I just received in the mail today Dr. Billings' book on union with Christ. It looks like it will be an excellent read. I will certainly try to get hold of Derek Prime's book on Charles Simeon.

Learning from Herman Cain

Albert Mohler has written a thoughtful challenge for Christian men in light of the news swirling around Herman Cain.

Mohler points out five lessons to be learned:
1. The Christian man must realize that credible accusations of sexual misconduct or immorality are fatal to credibility and ruinous to Christian witness.

2. The Christian man cannot dismiss any charge of sexual immorality as being a private matter of no public concern.

3. The Christian man must plan his life in order to assure moral accountability and protections.

4. The Christian man must depend upon his church, the congregation that is so essential to his Christian vitality and faithfulness, as a bulwark against sin.

5. A Christian man knows that his wife is his best defense against sexual immorality and sexual vulnerability - and his most important witness to character.

Read the entire article

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's sermon was part 7 in our series focusing on the Great Commission. It is entitled "How Disciples Are Made" and can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The fanaticism of amorality

"A revolution without a firing squads," Lenin is meant to have said, "is meaningless." He spent his career praising the Terror of the French Revolution because his Bolshevism was a unique creed, "a social system based on blood-letting." The Bolsheviks were atheists but they were hardly secular politicians in the conventional sense: they stooped to kill from the smugness of the highest moral eminence. Bolshevism may not have been a religion, but it was close enough. Stalin told Beria [one of the most sadistic members of Stalin's inner court] the Bolsheviks were "a sort of military-religious order"...Stalin's "order of sword-bearers" resembled the Knights Templars, or even the theocracy of the Iranian Ayatollahs, more than any traditional secular movement. They would die and kill for their faith in the inevitable progress towards human betterment, making sacrifices of their own families, with a fervor seen only in the religious slaughters and martyrdoms of the Middle Ages - and the Middle East...

The "sword-bearers" had to believe with Messianic faith, in order to act with the correct ruthlessness, and so convince others they were right to do so. Stalin's "quasi-Islamic" fanaticism was typical of the Bolshevik magnates: Mikoyan's son called his father "a Bolshevik fanatic." Most came from devoutly religious backgrounds. They hated Judaeo-Christianity--but the orthodoxy of their parents was replaced by something even more rigid, a system of amorality: "This religion--or science, as it was modestly called by its adepts--invests man with a godlike authority...In the Twenties, a good many people drew a parallel to the victory of Christianity and thought this new religion would last a thousand years," wrote Nadezhda Mandelstam. "All were agreed on the superiority of the new creed that promised heaven on earth instead of other worldly rewards."
From Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

On the fate of those who have never heard the gospel...

An illustration from Francis Schaeffer:

If every little baby that was ever born anywhere in the world had a tape recorder hung about its neck, and if this tape recorder only recorded the moral judgments with which this child as he grew bound other men, the moral precepts might be much lower than the biblical law, but they would still be moral judgments.

Eventually each person comes to that great moment when he stands before God as judge. Suppose, then, that God simply touched the tape recorder button and each man heard played out in his own words all those statements by which he had bound other men in moral judgment. He could hear it going on for years—thousands and thousands of moral judgments made against other men, not aesthetic judgments, but moral judgments.

Then God would simply say to the man, though he had never head the Bible, now where do you stand in the light of your own moral judgments? The Bible points out . . . that every voice would be stilled. All men would have to acknowledge that they have deliberately done those things which they knew to be wrong. Nobody could deny it.

We sin two kinds of sin. We sin one kind as though we trip off the curb, and it overtakes us by surprise. We sin a second kind of sin when we deliberately set ourselves up to fall. And no one can say he does not sin in the latter sense. Paul’s comment is not just theoretical and abstract, but addressed to the individual—”O man”—any man without the Bible, as well as the man with the Bible.

. . . God is completely just. A man is judged and found wanting on the same basis on which he has tried to bind others.

—Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, 2d ed. (Crossway, 1985), pp. 49-50.

Romans 2:1-3; 14-16:

1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? . . .

14 . . . When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

HT: Justin Taylor