Thursday, August 29, 2013

That odd moment when Carl Trueman is compared to Sarah Palin...

It really did happen. Check it out HERE.

Just because some of our brethren are humorless does not mean the rest of us have to be.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached my first sermon as pastor elect of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, VA. It was a blessing to open God's Word with these beloved saints. My text for the sermon was Psalm 96. You can listen to it HERE.

When the music does what the sermon doesn't

In his latest article over at Ref21 Carl Trueman recounts a recent visit he made to King's Chapel at Cambridge University. Trueman, a graduate of Cambridge, remembers the gospel-less preaching of King's Chapel during his student days. However, on this visit he wished his youngest son to experience a service of Evensong. If you are not familiar with Evensong, it is a ritualized service of sacred singing, prayers, and meditations from the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican). It is the essence of High Church Protestant liturgy. The irony, as Carl has told me, is that the old songs and liturgy from the BCP stand in profound distinction from the typically vapid sermons in that and many other Anglican churches.

Trueman writes of being seated next to a young Muslim woman wearing a hajib was also in attendance in the service at King's Chapel. Afterward he wondered along with his son what the young woman had seen and heard in that service.
Now, I confess to being something of an old Puritan when it comes to liturgy. Does it not lead to formalism and stifle the religion of the heart? Certainly I would have thought so fifteen or twenty years ago. Yet as I reflected on the service and what the girl in the hijab had witnessed, I could not help but ask myself if she could have experienced anything better had she walked into a church in the Protestant evangelical tradition. Two whole chapters of the Bible being read? To have one whole chapter from one Testament seems to test the patience of many today. Two whole psalms sung (and that as part of a calendar which proceeds through the whole Psalter)?  That is surely a tad too old fashioned, irrelevant, and often depressing for those who want to go to church for a bit of an emotional boost. A structure for worship which is determined by the interface between theological truth and biblically-defined existential need? That sounds as if it might be vulnerable to becoming dangerously formulaic formalism. A language used to praise God which is emphatically not that employed of myself or of anybody else in their daily lives when addressing the children, the mailman, or the dog? I think the trendy adjective would be something like 'inauthentic.'

Yet here is the irony: in this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware - than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. Yes, it was probably a good thing that there was no sermon that day: I am confident that, as Carlyle once commented, what we might have witnessed then would have been a priest boring holes in the bottom of the Church of England.  But that aside, Cranmer's liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God's word seriously in worship I fall. 

Of course, there were things other than a sermon which the hijabi did not witness: she did not witness any adults behaving childishly; she did not witness anybody saying anything stupid; she did not witness any stand-up comedy routine or any casual cocksureness in the presence of God; she did not see any forty-something pretending to be cool; in short, she did not witness anything that made me, as a Christian, cringe with embarrassment for my faith, or for what my faith has too often become at the hands of the modern evangelical gospellers.
Read the whole post HERE.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Knowing Vs. Feeling in Worship

Good stuff from Alistair Begg:

An Interview with the Housewife Theologian

On the latest edition of the Mortification of Spin, Carl and I interview Aimee Byrd about everything from the threat of mountain dwelling cannibals in West Virginia to the importance of teaching doctrine in the church. Check it out HERE.

You can purchase Aimee's new book, Housewife Theologian, HERE.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Coming up on Mortification of Spin

As Carl has already pointed out over at Ref 21, we recently interviewed Aimee Byrd about theology, women, the church, and her new book Housewife Theologian. You can also check out Aimee's excellent blog HERE.

Never let it be said that two middle aged cranks like me and Carl cannot get in touch with our more feminine, nourishing side. Aimee was so impressed with our manners that she has agreed to join us as a recurring guest host on Mortification of Spin. It will be broadcast from Mrs. Byrd's mountain cannibal-proof bunker in West Virginia.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gender Identity, The Fall, and God's Good Creation

Jerry Brown, the Governor of California wound up in the news recently for signing legislation that allows "equal access" in schools for students who believe themselves to be "transgendered." That is, students in California schools who believe that they are not the gender into which they were born, will have the option to use whichever restroom they choose. This same access will be accommodated by athletic teams as well. For instance, a boy who feels himself to be a girl will be allowed to try out for the girl's volleyball or soccer teams. The complexities and moral hazards for such an arrangement are legion.

Russell Moore, the newly appointed President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written a helpful piece for the Washington Post.

Dr. Moore writes:
Laws such as those in California will quickly test the boundaries of society’s tolerance for a psychological and individualistic definition of gender. There are reasons, after all, why societies put boys and girls in different bathrooms, men and women on different sports teams.  When gender identity is severed from biological sex, where does one’s self-designation end, and who will be harmed in the process?

As conservative Christians, we do not see transgendered persons as ”freaks” to be despised or ridiculed. We acknowledge that there are some persons who feel alienated from their identities as men or as women. Of course that would be the case in a fallen universe in which all of us are alienated, in some way, from how God created us to be.

But we don’t believe this alienation can be solved by pretending as though we have Pharaoh-like dominion over our maleness or femaleness. These categories we believe (along with every civilization before us) are about more than just self-construction, and they can’t be eradicated by a change of clothes or chemical tinkering or a surgeon’s knife, much less by an arbitrary announcement in the high school gym.

The transgender question means that conservative Christian congregations such as mine must teach what’s been handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church. A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities then is a revolt against God’s lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God had embedded in the creation.
Read the entire article HERE.

Answers to tough questions

Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (P & R) will soon be releasing what promises to be an excellent new series of short books entitled Christian Answers to Hard Questions.

Titles in the series include:
Christian Interpretations of Genesis One by Vern Poythress
Christianity and the Role of Philosophy by Scott Oliphint
Should You Believe in God? by Scott Oliphint
Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin? by Brandon Crowe
Science and the Problem of Evil by William Edgar
Morality of God in the Old Testament by Greg Beale
Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Guillermo Gonzalez

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Song for the Suffering

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say you do it all in love
That I might know you in your suffering

Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I’ll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I’ll know every tear was worth it all

Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

Though tonight I’m crying out
Let this cup pass from me now
You’re still more than I need
You’re enough for me
You’re enough for me

[Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.]

Though you slay me
Yet I will praise you
Though you take from me
I will bless your name
Though you ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

HT: Desiring God

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reza Aslan - Giving History a Bad Name

John Dickson is an Australian pastor, historian, and evangelist. Denny Burk has called Dickson's review of Reza Aslan's book on Jesus "the most devastating" he has read. After reading it myself, I must agree. In fact, if you read only one review of Aslan's best-seller, Dickson is the one to read. Incidentally, Dr. Dickson is a fabulous preacher and apologist. His books are worth reading and the programs he has produced for Australian TV are outstanding.

Check out his review HERE.

"The most disappointing thing about the fanfare accorded to a book like Zealot is not that it will undermine the Christian faith (it will not); even less that it poses a challenge to the consensus of working scholars (it certainly does not). It is that it chips away at the public's confidence in history per se.

"For a brief moment, Reza Aslan will be heralded as a breakthrough author. In a month or so, some other theory, equally unsubstantiated and certainly contradictory, will get the same kind of airtime. Such works are generally ignored by working scholars, who tend to be suspicious of anything that bypasses the peer review process.

"The general public, however, over time experiences breakthrough fatigue - an increasing contempt coupled with a decreasing curiosity toward any new claim about the man from Nazareth. The net effect is a weary scepticism that we can know anything about the historical Jesus or about history at all.

"The Jesus depicted in Zealot is certainly a figment of the imagination of a professor of creative writing, but he is likely to do concrete damage to the public's appreciation of a vast and worthwhile academic discipline. Aslan's Jesus is giving history a bad name."
- John Dickson

Coming up on Mortification...

Later this week Carl and I will be recording some more installments of the Mortification of Spin. We received so much feedback from our recent edition on spousal abuse and divorce that we decided to record a follow-up. We will also be welcoming back the delightful Aimee Byrd. On the docket as well is a discussion about my recent move to Presbyterianism (PCA) - How did the Southern Baptist-raised pastor of a large non-denominational church make the leap across Lake Geneva?

We want to hear from you. Are there topics you would like us to discuss? Are there questions you would like us to explore? Are there people you would like us to interview? Let me know in the comment section.

Pornography and the loss of shame

Helpful observations from Carl Trueman:
I have never been convinced by the Madonna-Paglia argument that pornography liberates and empowers women; but one does not have to agree with that argument to see that pornography has been normalized in society.  When one reflects on this, it is hardly surprising: the detachment of sexual gratification from committed, monogamous heterosexual relationships happened a long time ago.  We are now at a point where someone who does believe that sex is exclusively reserved for such a context is portrayed as sexually repressed and socially retarded in popular culture and decried as a hate-filled bigot by the political media.  Further, there has been a radical abolition of the distinction between the public and the private, fuelled by everything from twitter to reality television.   If sex is primarily for personal pleasure and there is no boundary between the public and private, then the acceptance of pornography as normal, harmless diversion is hardly an unexpected development.  Indeed, those Christians who feel a compulsive need to tweet their every private thought and to live their lives as a public performance might do well to reflect on the possibility of a connection between that type of behaviour and the growing social acceptance of pornography.

Internet pornography is probably the number one pastoral problem in the world today.  I wonder if it is set to become yet more so: as the social shame dimension passes away, it will be harder to maintain discipline on this issue.  The Christian church is currently mesmerized by developments relative to sexuality, not least because these development are couched in the rhetoric of civil rights and have serious legal implications. I wonder if a more serious and lethal internal issue for the church will actually turn out to be pornography.   Holding the line on this will probably not come with direct legal and financial penalties attached; but when even The Spectator carries not one but two articles in a single week which assume the harmless normality of porn consumption, the pastoral challenge of preaching and maintaining basic sexual purity in the church is set to escalate beyond our wildest nightmares.
Read the entire post HERE.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mortification of Spin

The latest Mortification of Spin is up and running:
Your favorite comedian/theologians, Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman, team up yet again - this time to answer some important questions about how the church should be run and who should be running it. We'll learn that faithful teaching, a willingness to contend for truth and godly maturity are all important characteristics of a good pastor or elder. But women listeners won't be surprised to learn what Todd and Carl eventually conclude...that the way an elder treats his wife may be the best indicator of his ability to lead well.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Gospel For Japan

Michael Oh is chairman and founder of CBI Japan (, which includes a graduate level theological seminary (Christ Bible Seminary), church planting efforts (All Nations Fellowship), and various outreach ministries, including Heart & Soul CafĂ©. Dr. Oh is the executive director of the Lausanne Movement (lausanne. org). He has also contributed to the book Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged.

Michael is also a good brother in the Lord. I have enjoyed fellowship with Michael talking about everything from our families, the church, and the need for the gospel in Japan. I have also had the privilege of having Michael preach at Church of the Saviour.

Recently, the good folks at Ligonier Ministries interviewed Michael for Table Talk Magazine. Here is a portion of that interview:
TT: What is the greatest lesson God has taught you as a missionary in Japan? 
MO: That God alone saves. There are many questions about why the gospel has taken so long to take root in Japan—and why Korea has thrived spiritually and Japan hasn’t. There are many answers that can be offered to those questions. But the clearest answer is that God will save Japan when God saves Japan. God will bring revival to the Japanese church when God brings revival to the Japanese church.
We pray and work toward those ends. We strategize and seek to be faithful. But God alone saves. Many missionaries labor for twenty-to-thirty years without seeing much visible fruit. They faithfully serve their congregation of fifteen people, with just a few responding to the gospel. I thank God for such faithfulness and perseverance. They inspire me. They humble me. But I do hope and pray to see with my own eyes in my lifetime a season of unusual gospel impact and growth. I believe that we may be entering into such a season. Last Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing seven wonderful Japanese people. We’re already planning for our next round as well. God alone saves. 
TT: What is the state of the church in Japan?
MO: The church in Japan is filled with precious believers with sincere faith. I love Japanese Christians and consider it a privilege to serve side by side with them. Overall, though, the church is aging, languishing, and overly self-preserving. There is a need for fresh vision to reach young people, to engage actively with the society around them, and to return to the Lord with devoted prayer, hunger for His Word, and a willingness to pay the price as a witness for Christ.
TT: Historically speaking, why has it been so difficult to reach Japan with the gospel?
MO: Historically speaking, we are talking about a nation with the longest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world, with a centuries-long global isolation, and its entire population residing mainly on one island. Change does not and will not occur easily. On this isolated main island, leaders over the centuries have exercised rigid control over its populace. The Japanese have been as efficiently and effectively socialized as anyone has anywhere at any time. It’s not too different from the totality of what it means to be a Muslim. Add to this the fact that there was a generally lukewarm response to the call for missionaries after the end of World War II (when the spiritual opportunity was greatest), and it’s no surprise that it’s been difficult to reach the Japanese. But God alone saves, and He saves indeed. And He alone will get the glory. Difficult is not impossible. And for God nothing is impossible.
Read the entire interview HERE.

Be relevant: Stop listening to the squeeky wheels

Rachel Held-Evans made the news again for a piece she wrote for CNN's Belief Blog. In it she argues that the church must begin listening to the concerns of Millenials if it is to survive. She asserts that the church is losing the younger generation because it is too conservative, opposes gay marriage, and not involved enough in social justice. Of course the first problem with her argument is that the church she's calling for exists already in numerous forms: The United Methodist Church, PCUSA, American Baptists, and The United Church of Christ. And, by the way, those denominations have been steadily dying for the better part of the last century.

Held-Evans' post generated many helpful replies but I think Brett McCracken truly nails it.

He writes:
Millennials: why don’t we take our pastors, parents, and older Christian brothers and sisters out to coffee and listen to them? Perhaps instead of perpetuating our sense of entitlement and Twitter/blog/Instagram-fueled obsession with hearing ourselves speak, we could just shut up for a minute and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before?

And for pastors, church leaders, and others so concerned with the survival of the church amidst the glut of “adapt or die!” hype, is asking Millennials what they want church to be and adjusting accordingly really your best bet? Are we really to believe that today’s #hashtagging, YOLO-oriented, selfie-obsessed generation of Millennials has more wisdom to offer about the church than those who have thought about and faithfully served the church decade after decade, amidst all its warts, challenges and ups and down?

Part of the problem is the hubris of every generation, which thinks it has discovered, once and for all, the right way of doing things. C.S. Lewis called it “chronological snobbery,” defining it as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”

But a deeper problem is that Christianity has become too obsessed with how it is perceived. Just like the Photoshop-savvy Millennials she is so desperate to retain, the church is ever more meticulously concerned with her image, monitoring what people are saying about her and taking cues from that.
Read the entire article HERE.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Spurgeon on Conversion

From Charles Spurgeon:

“One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment – I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’”

Questions Christians Ask

The Good Book Company (an excellent publisher) has released a new series of books with the enticing title Questions Christians Ask.

Titles in this series include:
  • Is God Anti-Gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction by Sam Allberry
  • Did the Devil Make Me Do It? And other questions about Satan, evil spirits and demons by Mike McKinley
  • What Happens When I Die? And other questions about heaven, hell and the life to come by Marcus Nodder
  • Who On Earth is the Holy Spirit? And other questions about who He is and what He does by Tim Chester and Christopher de la Hoyde

  • Credo Magazine

    The latest issue of Credo Magazine is now available online. If you are not familiar with Credo I encourage you to check it out. It is an excellent resource and the entire website has a wealth of helpful articles. The theme of the latest issue is God's sovereignty in regeneration.

    An Adult Faith

    "I was asked last week why some evangelicals convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Reasons vary, I am sure, but I commented that one theme I have noticed over the years is the fact that evangelicalism lacks historical roots.  That is not to say that it has no history; rather it is to say that a consciousness of history is not part of the package. Rock band worship, Beautiful People everywhere (miserable middle aged plain people need not apply), and history nowhere in sight unless it is a reference in the sermon to an early Coldplay album. On that level, I can understand why people looking for something serious, something with a sense of theological and historical gravitas, simply give up on evangelicalism and start looking elsewhere. Some adults want a faith that is similarly adult, after all."

    From an article by Carl Trueman