Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Security for the Weak are in the Savior's Wounds

Bernard of Clairvaux:
Where, in fact, are safe and firm rest and security for the weak but in the Savior's wounds? The mightier he is to save, the more securely I dwell there. The world menaces, the body weighs us down, the devil sets his snares. I fall not, for I am grounded upon firm rock. I have sinned a grave sin. My conscience is disturbed, but it will not be perturbed because I shall remember the Lord's wounds.

On, It Matters What Words Pro-Lifers Use

Joe Carter:
When you stop to consider the differences between such phrases as “methods of procreation” and “reproductive technology” it begins to become clear why social conservatives are losing ground in the fight to preserve the concept of human dignity. Any attempt to argue that embryonic human life is deserving of a particular moral status is undercut when we are using such phrases as ‘blastocysts produced by the technological advances of in vitro fertilization.” The language of the factory and of human dignity is as incompatible as would be the interchangeability of machine and life. Such degradation of language only leads to linguistic confusion and muddy thinking.

We are, of course, aware of the inherent power—particularly the political power—of words. For decades, both sides of the culture war over have abortion have attempted to ensure that their preferred terms— pro-life, abortion rights, etc.—seep into the media’s vernacular. While they are certainly overvalued, these words still retain their political usefulness as the struggle over their usages attest. But we cannot stop there. The preservation of human dignity requires us to fight for the hearts and souls of our fellow man and in order to do so, we must first reclaim the linguistic high ground. As the Southern conservative Richard Weaver famously expressed, ideas have consequences. If we are to have a significant impact on our culture we would do well to recognize that words have consequences too.
Whole thing.

Was Jesus Rude to His Mom?

Bill Mounce:
Jesus is at the wedding at Cana, his mom sees a need, and asks Jesus (well, actually tells him) to help. Jesus’ response is, τι εμοι και σοι, γυναι; (Jn 2:4). Word for word, Jesus says, “What to me and to you, woman.”

The translations really dance around with this one:

“Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (ESV).

“Woman, why do you involve me?” (TNIV).

“Woman, why are you saying this to me?” (NET, with the footnote, “The term Woman is Jesus’ normal, polite way of addressing women [Matt 15:28, Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 8:10; 19:26; 20:15]”).

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem” (NLT).

γυνη is Greek for “woman” or “wife.” It is in the vocative case as Jesus is addressing her directly. It is not nearly so abrupt in Greek as it sounds in English. It is the same form of the word Jesus uses when he tenderly comforts Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (John 20:15).

And yet it is unusual. Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 180) comments that while the vocative can be used to express “respect or affection,” it is an unusual term for a son to use of his mother. It is not a Hebrew or a Greek expression.

Morris’ suggestion is good. He says that the use of γυναι signals a change in Jesus’ relationship to a Mary, that their relationship as mother-son is no longer their primary relationship now that he is entering his public ministry.
Whole thing.

Obama is Giving Us Congressional Dominance

David Brooks:
The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.

When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.
While I doubt that this is actually 'The great paradox of the age,' at least David is starting to make some sense.

On Faith is Not What You Think it Is

Greg Koukl:
Faith is not what we fall back to when reason isn't available. It's the conviction of what we have reason to believe.
Also on this topic, see this post.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Righteousness of Christ as the Coat of Jacob

Calvin, in the Institutes, on Ambrose's assertion that we are covered by the righteousness of Christ in God's presence in the same way Jacob was covered by the skin of the animal in his father's presence, 3.11.23:
For this reason, it seems to me that Ambrose beautifully stated an example of this righteousness in the blessing of Jacob: noting that, as he did not of himself deserve the right of the first-born, concealed in his brother's clothing and wearing his brother's coat, which gave out an agreeable odor [Gen. 27:27], he ingratiated himself with his father, so that to his own benefit he received the blessing while impersonating another. And we in like manner hide under the precious purity of our first-born brother, Christ, so that we may be attested righteous in God's sight. Here are the words of Ambrose: "That Isaac smelled the odor of the garments perhaps means that we are justified not by works but by faith, since the weakness of the flesh is a hindrance to works, but the brightness of faith, which merits the pardon of sins, overshadows the error of deeds."
Quite an interesting typology. It had never occurred to me before.

Meat Good

fail owned pwned pictures

Is God Your Mate or Your GOD?

Matt Osgood writes well on how we can make our corporate worship interactions more about us than God. The last one is the most intriguing:
What do the lyrics say about God? Do they present him as he is - the God who is beyond our imagining - or do they bring him down to our size? Do our words help us realise God's awesome grandeur, or do they present him simply as a mate who helps us through life's troubles and finds us parking spaces when we need them? Yes, our God is intimate as well as infinite, yes he knows the number of hairs on our heads - but if we have the idea of God as fundamentally like us but a bit bigger, we have missed the point. God is entirely Other. We are bound by time and space, he is not. The greatest wisdom of humanity falls infinitely short of God's thoughts. Our power is pitifully limited, whereas God never fails to achieve anything he chooses to do.
Matt understands that, in much of our corporate worship, God is considered friend much more than he is considered God. The pendulum is swung left (or to the right?). But I do think that one must understand God not just as the transcendent, mighty and auspiciously holy Lord. One must also consider the biblical teaching that God is indeed immanent too. And his immanence is known mostly in the person and work of Christ.

One of my favorite portions of scripture is in Mark when Jesus raises the little girl from the dead. When he goes into the house, he does not push everyone out of the way, raise his hands into the air and proclaim loudly that she rise from the dead. Rather, he goes, sits by her side and, probably in a whisper, says Talitha cumi, which was the original Aramaic. It's most basic meaning, as R.T. France says, is 'Lamb.' Jesus, in truth, was saying to her 'Rise, little kid.'

Yes, proclaim the greatness of God. But also that he has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. It is no easy task, but it is a tension we must hold if we are to paint an accurate picture of God.

Girls Shouldn't Play Bass

Except for this one:

She was born, amazingly, in 1986.

Q: What do the scriptures principally teach?

A: The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. (1)

Micah 6:8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

John 20:31. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(From the Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Sanford Cheated Because He Had No Chest

Chuck Colson. on Why Gov. Sanford cheated:
We humans, you see, have an infinite capacity for self-rationalization. We reason that we can give in to those seemingly minor temptations—say an emotional attraction to a co-worker, or just one drink at the party—because we think we know the boundaries. We think our reason can keep us safe.

The problem is, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his timeless essay, “Men Without Chests,” that our reason is no match for the passions of the flesh. Lewis put it this way: Our stomachs (that is our appetites) can’t be controlled by our minds (that is, reason). Something else has to come in to play—and that is the spirited element, or our chests, as he called it. It’s our will being trained to do what is right and just.

Nearly every grave moral failure begins with a small sin. Because there comes a time, after we toy with sin, when one pull of the flesh causes us to cross the line, to disengage from reason, and to follow our appetites wherever they may lead.

And, I’m afraid, this is especially easy today. We’re told we can have it all, that we can be free to pursue any pleasure. Our wills are not trained to do what is good, but to do what pleases us. Many of us have become, as Lewis said, men without chests.
Whole thing.

I Could Care Less

Or could you? From Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Golden Plunger Awards on its incorrect usage:
This is an easy mistake to make. The correct phrase, of course, is "couldn't care less" - as in, "I don't care at all, so it wouldn't be possible for me to care any less about this." But over the years, that's morphed into a new phrase (with the same meaning), and even though the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage criticized the change in 1975, saying it was "an ignorant debasement of language," "could care less" seems to be around to stay.

Language historian say "couldn't care less" was originally a British phrase that became popular in the Untied States in the 1950s. "Could care less" appeared about a decade later. No one knows exactly why the incorrect form came into being, since it doesn't make sense. But the phrase has stuck, and a lot of grammarians care very much that it's not being used correctly. (Regular people, of course, couldn't care less.)
See other commonly misused words and phrases here.

Sanctification on the Basis of Justification, Not Vice Versa

The Reformation was necessary because the Roman Catholic church believed in an 'upside-down' gospel. Graeme Goldsworthy:
Both Catholicism and allegorical interpretation of Scripture involved the dehistoricizing of the Gospel. The Reformation rehistoricized both the Gospel and the Old Testament.

The prime focus recovered in the Reformation was the justification of the sinner on the basis of the objective, historic work of Christ for us.

Catholicism had reversed the vision so that the prime focus was on the work of Christ or his Spirit within us.

This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel.
This idea has not ended, unfortunately. Listen to Keller's sermon "The Prodigal Sons" and you'll see how this is still happening and why it isn't unique only to the Catholic church.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

On, What is Hypocrisy Anyway?

I just read a fascinating post by the fascinating Joe Carter. Though the article is about much more, the part I found most interesting was his calling out of the media on their castigating of 'hypocrites' when, in fact, they don't actually know what that word means (nor do I, I guess). He writes,
The American Heritage Dictionary defines hypocrisy as “The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.” The British literary critic William Hazlitt once explained, “He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves”
The 'hypocrite' in question is Gov. Sanford. What most media critics are bothered by is not the fact that he committed sexual immorality but that he committed treasonous 'hypocrisy.' Or, they would say, he did exactly what he condemns. Carter's point is that one can actually hold a belief and still act outside that belief and not be a hypocrite. So Sanford, though 'morally inconsistent,' is not hypocritical because he still believes that sexual immorality is sinful. If he continued to promulgate that idea that sexual immorality is sinful, while at the same time disbelieving it, then he would be a hypocrite (one's actions do often belie your actual beliefs).

Exit question: How then did Jesus use 'hypocrite' with respect to the Pharisees?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Seeking Shia?

Mark Moring of CT Movies quotes Shia LaBeouf (of the Transformer Movies) from a recent interview:
-Sometimes I feel I’m living a meaningless life, and I get frightened.

-I don’t give a damn about the money anymore. I used to.

-In my parents' generation, rebellion was pop culture. It's not anymore. You can see it in something as simple as where their music was at and where ours is now. If you look at our Billboard Top 100, a lot of those songs on there are from Christian country artists. A lot of rappers, too, are very Christian. The fact that [religion] is even still talked about is kind of wild to me.

-The good actors are all screwed up. They’re all in pain. It’s a profession of bottom-feeders and heartbroken people.

-I have no answers to anything. None. Why am I an alcoholic? I haven’t a damn clue! What is life about? I don’t know.

-I don't handle fame well. Most actors on most days don’t think they’re worthy. I have no idea where this insecurity comes from, but it’s a God-sized hole. If I knew, I’d fill it, and I’d be on my way.

Thank God I Don't Have Cable Today

I thought this morning, "Thank God I don't have cable anymore." I thought that because I know what is transpiring right now on nearly every channel. Tributes. Music videos. Incessant coverage of FF and MJ. Yes, MJ was especially inspiring to so many of us. I can't tell you how many times I watched the making of the Thriller video, or how many zippers my pants had in 1986, or why I actually thought it was cool to have a single, sparkly glove. But as inspiring and "iconic" as MJ was, we all know he was all too human as well. Tim Keller (via C.S. Lewis) talks about hell as a place where our narcissism grows without restraint. Citizens of hell will pour worth into idols to infinite levels, not unlike drug addicts. And that, most would agree, is hell. MJ seemed to have begun that process early. So why spend so much time reflecting on him?

Jonah Goldberg writes:
Sure, I liked the Jackson Five. I liked Thriller, too, when I was a teenager. Michael Jackson was an “icon” for me too.

But let’s pause for a moment on that word “icon.” It seemed the consensus adjective for the news networks. NBC ran a special on two “American Icons” – Fawcett and Jackson. Every cable network (including Fox, for the record) used the word “icon” to describe him as if this was some sort of safe harbor, a word everyone could agree on. “Love him or hate him,” the implied logic went, “he was an ‘icon.’”

Yes, well, maybe so. But that doesn’t let you off the hook. Even though the term sounds neutral, it isn’t. An icon, technically speaking, is a religious symbol deserving of reverence and adoration. The networks may not have intended to use the word that way, but they certainly showed an unseemly amount of reverence and adoration for the man.

I think part of it is the narcissism of our celebrity culture. Here was a guy so many of “us” read about in People magazine for so long. His passing, therefore, isn’t a loss in the sorrowful sense of the word, but in the selfish one. It’s a loss of an interesting subject, a creature to gossip about and to fill a few minutes on E or Entertainment Tonight.
He says well what I feel. For sure, Fox News' incessant coverage is not as much about him as it is them. And my fear is that dwelling on it along with them will lead to the same outcome for me.

Goldberg concludes:
If anything, Michael Jackson’s life, not his death, was tragic.

Every year at the Oscars they show a montage of people who died over the previous year. Invariably, the audience only applauds for the really famous people. This has always offended me. Not necessarily because the famous people don’t deserve praise but because it’s so clear that the audience is clapping for the fame. Michael Jackson had many accomplishments. But the press is sanctifying him because he was famous, deservedly so to be sure, but not because he was good. So much of the coverage seems to miss this fundamental point, as if being famous made him good.

I feel sympathy for Jackson’s family and friends who understandably mourn him. But I can't bring myself to mourn him any more than I mourn the random dead I read about in the paper everyday. Indeed, I confess to mourning him less.

Every channel says this is a sad day for America. I agree. But not for the same reasons.
I thought fondly about MJ and his impact on my early life for a few minutes yesterday. That is enough for me. I will be much happier going to a friend's memorial service today, dwelling on his life and how he made it his aim to trust on and point to Jesus. Much better than cable I say.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

So Long MJ

RIP. You defined so much of my early life. Hope you are dancing for Jesus.

John Piper Has a High Tolerance for Violence and Profanity on Film

But not naked ladies:
I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).
And on the subject he intended to write (TV):
But leave sex aside (as if that were possible for fifteen minutes on TV). It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ.
Whole thing.

My Church Has Crazy Gifted People

This is the ad/pic for the upcoming sermon series at my church ("Unsung Heroes"), designed by DN:

I think those are the hands of Robin Williams.

Churches are Made Up of Shoppers

From CT's Go Figure:
49% New church attendees who have transferred from other congregations, according to Protestant pastors.

32% New church attendees who were unchurched.

19% New church attendees who were children born to adults attending church.
The 49% figure is crazy to me. We have work to do.

How You Can Be Calvinist and Go to an Arminian Church?

I was searching through Michael Patton's blog and came across a great post on how he can be a relatively stanch Calvinist (complementarian) and go to an Arminian (egalitarian) church. The three main reasons he gives are,
1. Crossings (his current church) teaches the gospel and focuses on it.
2. Crossings teaches grace and does not divide over non-cardinal issues.
3. I am needed and used there.
He writes:
Would it be better if they were Calvinists? Would it be better if they were Complementarians? Sure, as long as they kept the grace. But, if I have the choice, I will never trade perfect theology (or nearly so) for grace. Grace is the Gospel. When you lose that, where do you go? Stay in bed.

You will never find the perfect church . . . never! There is no perfect denomination. There is no perfect tradition. There is no perfect church and there never has been.
Whole thing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Driscoll on Idolatry

A few quotes from his most recent talk at a major conference for pastors on idolatry:
Taking a good thing and making it a God thing, that's a bad thing.

As Martin Luther has said, if you don't follow the first two commandments, you can't follow the following eight.

If you want to know what you treasure, think about what you would grab if your house was on fire.

Husbands, if you want to destroy your wife, make her an idol, deify her. Watch her crumble under your unmet expectations.

So Many Links (24 June 2009)

Become a blackbelt in Gmail.

Soviet album covers.

Why Kinkade is a sellout (and why he is actually capable of producing good art).

Shakespeare was a Christian?

Creepy mountain bike trail
of the day.

CT article on Iron and Wine's Sam Beam.

What is Evil (and how do you understand it theologically and personally)?

Word of the day: Ebullient.

1. Thousands of miles are not enough to stop sin.
2. Innocence always precedes sin.
3. Republicans and Democrats and Ballerinas and Car Salesmen and EVERYBODY is sinful, wants to sin and, given the opportunity, will sin.
4. Jesus died for Gov. Sanford too, and he knows it.
5. He, accordingly, deserves our forgiveness:

Q: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A: The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. (1)

(1) Galatians 1:8-9. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Isaiah 8:20. To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

Luke 16:29, 31. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them... And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

2 Timothy 3:15-17. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

(From the Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Good News vs. Good Advice

This is a paraphrase of a Doug Wilson sermon illustration on what good advice is compared to good news, as relayed by John Piper.

Good advice is a teacher standing in front of her class and preparing them for a test. "Study hard, memorize your paradigms, do you homework and get it in every night, and you'll do fine on the final exam." That is very good advice. Well, come test day the teacher makes her way up and down the rows of students as they work, but notices that one student has a blank page before him; he hasn't even started writing. Good advice is the teacher coming up to him and urging him on, "You can do it, just take your time and concentrate, it will come." That is very good advice. Good news is the teacher sitting down at the student's seat and taking the test for him.

His Wrath Will Be Always Upon Them

What is God's relationship to those who are in hell? JP answers:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ice Cream + Soccer = Comedy Gold

The Westminster Shorter Catechism

Have you ever read The Westminster Shorter Catechism? 107 questions and answers that do a fine job of succinctly explaining the (Reformed) Christian faith.

Question Number one:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God (1) and to enjoy him forever (2).

(1) Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Romans 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

(2) Psalm 73:24-26. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God isthe strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
John 17:22, 24. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one... Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

Closed on Sundays

Someone pointed out to me that the pro-life organization CatholicVote.org will be shutting their website down on Sundays. Instead, their web page will look like this:

Why? They write:
In our hectic world, we at CatholicVote.org want to tell the world that Sunday is not simply just another day. As the Bible states: “The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord,” (Exodus 31:15)....

We’re encouraging people on Sunday to log off the Internet, Facebook and other sites. Of course, our Lord didn’t say ‘Thou Shalt Not Tweet on Sunday.’ But he did say, ‘Keep Holy the Sabbath.’ With this small step, we want to help reclaim the Lord’s Day as a day of worship and rest.
Very cool. I canceled cable. Maybe I should stop blogging on Sundays.

The Benefits of No TV

My fam has been without cable for a few months now. Though I'll withhold final judgment on this decision for a while, the experience so far has been only rewarding. To be clear, my wife and I will watch an occasional movie or TV episode via Netflix on DVD or streamed over the internet to our TV. But we no longer have the ability to flip the TV on and start surfing. Having access to TV like that seemed to lead to its misuse.

Jim and Amy Speigel, too, have lived without TV, for 11 years. They articulate well what I am just beginning to realize. On the benefits of having no TV:
1. Avoidance of commercials and the fueling of the consumer mentality — It’s all about the sponsors, as we all know. And to watch a TV show is to be bombarded with constant pitches for products one neither needs nor, properly, desires. Even the most circumspect person cannot help but be impacted by this.

2. Better stewardship of time — Amy and I spend much less time watching shows because we only view the DVDs and videos we plan ahead of time to view. We don’t end up watching shows that we didn’t want to watch (which, strange as it sounds, is a common phenomenon among viewers). Without TV, relative to my life before, I virtually have a 27-hour day, so I can get more accomplished with family time, reading, and creative projects.

3. Protection of children — Our kids are not exposed to inappropriate images, language, and lifestyle choices which even find their way into “innocent” shows (e.g. foul language, disrespectful attitudes, undermining of authority, the normalization of premarital sex and homosexuality, etc.). Of course, in our culture it is impossible to perfectly shield one’s kids from some of these influences, but without TV there is a dramatic reduction in this exposure.

4. Avoidance of narcissism, bad ethics, and poor reasoning — Whether it is sitcoms, reality TV shows, or even news programs, the me-first mentality is ubiquitous in television land. And from what I’ve seen of such shows as Friends and Survivor, the moral-decision making and logical thinking skills are rather suspect. Let’s just say that, as a Philosophy professor, I always know where to find vivid illustrations of moral vices and logical fallacies. So thank you for that much, Mr. Television.

5. Enhancement of aesthetic sense — Most television shows are just not very good from an aesthetic standpoint. A rare exception is The Simpsons, at least in previous seasons which I sometimes watch it via Netflix—so I can’t speak to how strong the show is currently. But generally speaking, constant exposure to television injures one’s aesthetic sensibility. Occasionally we hear someone recommend a show to us as “one of the best on television” (e.g. Lost, 24, Arrested Development, etc.). Invariably, when we take time to check them out, we are disappointed. To say a show is one of TV’s best is, well, damning with faint praise.
Just so I am clear, I am not saying that those who have cable are necessarily evil or ungodly. It proved for us to be too much to handle well, so we got rid of it. I have no doubt that there are some who can pay for cable and still use TV wisely.

Exit question: Are people more naturally inclined to abuse TV/cable or to use it wisely?

Making Golf Exciting

Pain You Can Endure, Shock You Cannot

As I have mentioned, I have been listening to Tim Keller's messages on Job and have gleaned some incredible insight into this life, in general, but most especially on how we should view and handle suffering.

In his fourth message, he focused entirely on wisdom, or why it is vital that, when suffering comes, we rely on wisdom and on God who grants us that wisdom. One part of his sermon stuck out (what follows is a summary and expansion of his teaching). Keller said that he has seen a lot of suffering in his life as a pastor. Many hospital visits, many funerals. Suffering people, he says, go one of two ways. They either get hard or they get soft. People will either lose faith in God and become worse people, or they will grow in faith and become better people. And which path you end up following has everything to do with pain and shock.

Pain, he says, is inevitable. Grief over a lost loved one, a friend who gossips about you, a struggling marriage, the loss of a job, getting stricken with cancer. You simply can't avoid physical and/or emotional pain in this life. Shock, on the other hand, is avoidable. If you understand the world, and especially the revealed word of God, the hard things in life that are inevitable will not be shocking. And it is these sorts of people who grow as a result of their pain. But those who are shocked by pain will almost always grow hard and cold. And Keller would say that two types of 'fools' are shocked by tragedy:

The Moralist lives life in such a way that they expect certain things. Religion to them is a way to get things, and usually this means God's gifts and approval. But the problem with this is that when pain comes, their only category--that God must be good to me because I am good to him--fails them. Because they believe they have done enough to please the deity, when pain comes, they are shocked.

The Relativist says that there is no right and wrong and that what you do in this life is entirely up to you, not anyone else (especially God). But even here, when pain comes, they are baffled. What they had determined they were actually free from (physical laws, moral laws) can't be avoided just because they are not believed. So not unlike the moralist, the only category they had set up--that the world (and God) must work in accordance with their beliefs--fails them. Because they had believed that they were not subject to the same systems the rest of the world was subject to, when pain comes, they are shocked.

And shocked people are unbelievers. They can't accept the pain that has been handed to them. And denial, as we all know, produces not joy but despair. However, when one accepts in wisdom that suffering and pain is inevitable, but also that God in his infinite wisdom and love uses it for our gain, we will, as Keller says, 'become soft.'

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Michael Horton, in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, p. 250:
I have already underscored how our message has been transformed from good news to good advice. The effects of confusing law and gospel in content has wide-ranging effects in church practice as well. If the message is deeds, not creeds, focusing on "What Would Jesus Do?" while assuming that everybody already knows what Jesus has done (and is doing and will still do), it only stands to reason that the flow of gifts from Christ to us will be reversed in the way we live out our personal and corporate life as God's people.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Justification: The Hinge

Calvin, in the Institutes, sets out to do justice to the doctrine of Justification. Though he had covered it before, he feels it necessary to broaden his teaching. Why? 3.11.1:
(Justification) is the main hinge on which religion turns, so that we devote the greater attention and care to it. For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God.

Luther's Gospel

Or, the gospel. Mark Noll, in Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, p.169-170:
Luther eventually cam to think that his earnest efforts as a monk were rooted in the theology of glory. He believed that systematic, conscientious, ardent, self-denying religious service would win acceptance with God, peace of soul, respect from his fellow spiritual pilgrims, and, in the end, an easful death. But all such notions were banished when he found the cross....

As Luther constantly repeated, the cross must always remain utterly scandalous. It was a scandal for the Jews, and all who sought God through moral exertion; it was a scandal for Greeks, and all who sought God through the exercise of the mind. The cross, for Luther, revealed the judgement of God that no amount of human work could make humanity successful; no amount of diligent study could make humanity truly wise; no amount of human exertion could provide enduring joy. The cross, in sum, was God's everlasting "no" to the most fundamental human idolatry of regarding the self as a God. It was God's final word of condemnation for all efforts to enshrine humanity at the center of existence.
So what, then, is the answer to this conundrum? Noll quotes Luther directly, p. 170:
For where man's strength ends, God's strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on him. And when the opposition comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden under weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there he performed his mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were string and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome.
Noll concludes, p. 170:
To embrace the scandalous cross is to be embraced in turn by Jesus. The blood-streaked figure enfolds those who come to him and ushers them into the kingdom of God. The theology of the cross shows us how to become a child of God.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Do You Long For Death?

Calvin, in the Institutes, 3.9.5:
But monstrous it is that many who boast themselves Christians are gripped by such a great fear of death, rather than a desire for it, that they tremble at the least mention of it, as of something utterly dire and disastrous. Surely, it is no wonder if the natural awareness in us bristles with dread at the mention of our dissolution. But it is wholly unbearable that there is not in Christian hearts any light of piety to overcome and suppress that fear, whatever it is, by a greater consolation. For if we deem this unstable, defective, corruptible, fleeting, wasting, rotting tabernacle of our body to be so dissolved that it is soon renewed unto a firm, perfect, incorruptible, and finally, heavenly glory, will not faith compel us ardently to seek what nature dreads? If we should think that through death we are recalled from exile to dwell in the fatherland, in the heavenly fatherland, would we get no comfort from this fact?
And 3.9.6:
This is obvious: the entire company of believers, so long as they dwell on earth, must be "as sheep destined for the slaughter" [Rom. 8:36] to be conformed to Christ their Head. They would therefore have been desperately unhappy unless, with mind intent upon heaven, they had surmounted whatever is in this world, and passed beyond the present aspect of affairs [cf. I Cor. 15:19]. On the contrary, when they have once lifted their heads above everything earthly, even though they may see wicked men flourishing in wealth and honors, even though they may observe the latter enjoying deep peace, taking pride in the splendor and luxury of all their possessions, abounding with every delight-if, moreover, believers are troubled by the wickedness of these men, bear their arrogant insults, are robbed through their greed, or harried by any other sort of inordinate desire on their part-they will without difficulty bear up under such evils also. For before their eyes will be that day when the Lord will receive his faithful people into the peace of his Kingdom, "will wipe away every tear from their eyes" [Rev. 7:17; cf. Isa. 25:8], will clothe them with "a robe of glory . . . and rejoicing" [Ecclus. 6:31, EV], will feed them with the unspeakable sweetness of his delights, will elevate them to his sublime fellowship-in fine, will deign to make them sharers in his happiness.

Free Will and Grace

Tim Keller defends the doctrine of election most unusually. But for him, it is not unusual at all. Hear him defend this particular doctrine presuppositionally:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What the Reformers Have Done

Inside baseball alert.

It is becoming clear that, as least as far as those in the New Perspective camp are concerned, the opinion of those who are Reformed is that their theology is too narrow. Too much about Justification by faith, too much about Imputation. There is, they say, a bigger picture that the Reformed camp misses entirely (the trees for the forest, as it were). Craig Blomberg wrote recently:
Fixate on the Reformer's (understandable) preoccupation with how an individual becomes right with God (crucial in its day against medieval Catholicism) and one may miss the bigger picture, in which the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham through the children of Israel as progenitor of the Messiah looms even larger.
Well...Doug Wilson, in response to Blomberg:
Notice what is being juxtaposed here. The Reformers had a individualistic fixation on getting individuals into heaven when they die. But we, upon whom the new perspective has shone, now understand that there is a "bigger picture." I see. And what did the Reformers do with their narrow vision? Well, they toppled kings, transformed laws, overhauled cultures, settled a continent, built nations, founded schools and colleges, inspired musicians and painters, and we could continue in this vein for quite a while. And what do we do, entranced as we are by the new perspective? We write academic papers, download podcasts of academic lectures that we can listen to in the privacy of our ear buds, and we go white in the face if conservative Christians suggest that Jesus might have an opinion about the ongoing slaughter of the unborn. John Piper, with his preaching on the pro-life issue, challenges the principalities and powers. The soft statism that goes with trendy theology these days does nothing of the kind -- it simply suggests (but not too loudly) that we need kinder, gentler principalities and powers.

Agony Will Be Turned Into Glory

A friend of mine died this morning. I recalled this quote, from C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce:
They say of suffering that no future bliss can make up for it. But that's not true. For resurrection and eternal life, if once attained, will work backwards and turn even all your agony into glory.
You're with Jesus now, buddy. No more agony. Only glory.


Best part: the topless dude.

Seriously, why doesn't anybody ask me to participate in stuff like this?

HT: Drewunits

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Church is About Gaining Christ

Michael Horton, in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, p. 228.
The church has a very narrow commission. It is not called to be an alternative neighborhood, circle of friends, political action committee, social club, or public service agency; it is called to deliver Christ so clearly and fully that believers are prepared to be salt and light in the worldly stations to which God has called them. Why should a person go through all the trouble of belonging to a church and showing up each Sunday if God is the passive receiver and we are the active giver? It's like being expected to look forward to Christmas when you are always giving but never receiving any gifts. Answering Simon's complaint against the woman who anointed Jesus with costly perfume, Jesus said, "He who is forgiven little, loves little." Then he turned to the woman and said, "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:47-48). When we regularly hear and receive Christ's forgiveness, we are filled with love for him and for others.

Preaching in a Bikini

Mandy E. McMichael writes with honesty today on the now infamous Carrie Prejean and the tradition of Christians in pageants:
Before Prejean expressed her convictions about marriage, she preached another, perhaps louder sermon. Prejean donned a bikini and an evening gown in which she walked across the stage to be judged on her appearance. Thus, despite the ways in which pageant participants reinterpret their pageant opportunities as religious ones, a tension remains: women are not only judged on their community service platform or their ability to do well in an interview, public appearance, or talent performance. They are also judged on their bodies, and it's difficult, if not impossible, to get around that.
Interestingly, there is a sort of apologetic contestants use in defending the apparent hypocrisy of claiming Christian faith but also donning a swimsuit:
While there are countless ways that Christians involved in pageants respond to this portion of the competition, contestants handle moral questions about the swimsuit competition in three ways. Simply put, some contestants grin and bear it. They recognize that competing in a swimsuit is required. It's the shortest part of the competition and in some ways the easiest. It's only 30 seconds. Other contestants reinterpret the swimsuit competition as a way to display that they have taken seriously God's commandment to treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. They claim that since their bodies are God's temples, they should care about their physical condition. It is akin to how athletes talk about their extensive training. By taking seriously God's command to love him with their whole heart, body, soul, and mind, these contestants assert that they are glorifying God by caring for their bodies. Finally, some contestants view the swimsuit competition as a way to make a faith statement. Take, for example, Miss Utah 2007, Katie Miller (Miss America). Miller, a Mormon, made headlines a couple of years ago with her choice to wear a one piece swimsuit. She also followed a strict modesty code in all phases of the competition. Fewer contestants have chosen this route as more and more contestants see that winners sport two piece swimsuits, but the one piece is still an option.
She concludes:
Whether their response to the swimsuit competition is lament, reinterpretation, or faith statement, all of the contestants don a swimsuit of some sort and walk across the stage in it in order to get one step closer to the crown. Moreover, all of them seem to find a way to reconcile this with their religious beliefs, and some even find the means to celebrate it. Prejean preached a kind of sermon before she even opened her mouth. But what kind of sermon was she preaching?

Perhaps this is further proof that for some Christians right belief will always trump right practice. Or perhaps it's more simple than that. Perhaps we see in her a bit of ourselves: the contradiction with which we all live. Carrie Prejean is neither a paragon of virtue nor a vile temptress. Rather, she, like all of us, lives in the messy space where secular and sacred intersect. She, like many of us, copes with inconsistencies between her beliefs and her practice daily. Most of us are simply fortunate enough not to have our lives subjected to public scrutiny. We could all learn from Prejean the importance of considering the types of sermons we are preaching (and encouraging) with our lives.
Whole thing.

Exit question: Does McMichael's conclusion, that Prejean is just an exemplification of how hard it is to be a Christian in the world, hold water?

In Defense of the Resurgence of Calvinism

Doug Wilson:
One of the reasons I am pleased with this resurgence of Calvinism is that the sovereign God takes us as we are, but He never leaves us as we are. The doctrines of grace deal with human autonomy and pride like nothing else, and to the extent that these things are being proclaimed (as they clearly are), the young people who are being established in this teaching will be transformed and will grow up into cultural maturity, or they will quickly abandon any pretense of Calvinism. Calvinism is high octane stuff, and it will have its way with us.

So Many Links (17 June 2009)

Oh Great: A sequel to Indiana Jones without Indiana Jones.

Speaking of which: worst movies ever.

Marriage resources.

Best news of the day: They are remaking Conan the Barbarian.

Summer books, theology style.

Want to go to seminary? Get arrested.

Good news: Obama's health care plan will only cost about $300 mil a day.

Dubious award of the day: Texting Champ.

Maybe the Kindle is not the perfect technology for reading after all.

Does Piper overemphasize Calvinism?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Taking Advice from Strangers on an Unplanned Pregnancy

They say it takes a village. Or, at least today, an online posting community.

Read the heartbreaking story of a young woman named Emmie who found herself pregnant and confused. To clear things up, she decided to go find her answers in a public venue, getting advice from anyone who had access to a computer. There are three posts, Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

I'll try to write on this later.

Why is Christianity True?

Why is Christianity true?

Normal Christian response: Because of what Jesus has done in my life.

Correct response: Because we know that Jesus existed in space and time, that the scriptures speak to his historicity, that he lived, died and rose again, that he was an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Or, not because I believe it, but because it actually happened and continues to be reality.

What is faith in Christianity?

Normal Christian response: It is a feeling I get in my heart that Jesus loves me; it is a burning in my bosom.

Correct response: Faith is the reasoned decision, based on particular historical and empirical evidence, that Christianity is truer than any other religion (based primarily on the work of Christ). Or, it is not blind feeling, but that belief in Jesus is not just possible, not just plausible, but something that is probable.

For a longer discussion on this topic, listen to this radio broadcast.

Even Calvin Worshiped Like a Pentecostal

Calvin, in commentary on Acts 20:36:
The inward attitude certainly holds first place in prayer, but outward signs, kneeling, uncovering the head, lifting up the hands, have a twofold use. The first is that we may employ all our members for the glory and worship of God; secondly, that we are, so to speak, jolted out of our laziness by this help.

Pick 'Em Up!

Why Don't We Take the "Stop Grumbling" Command To Heart?

Paul wrote rather pointedly in Philippians 2:14-15:
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
Now that seems pretty clear to me. Why, then, do we ignore it so often? Complaining, grumbling, is a way of life for Americans especially, but for Christians too. It is our "social mechanism," my wife would say. Now I realize that most people think they grumble altruistically, pragmatically. "We just want to make things right." But that's not really it, is it? We don't want bosses or programs to change. We don't want pastors to be better preachers or shepherds. We don't want friends to be better friends. In truth, we're actually grieved when our grumbling leads to things being 'made right.' Why? Because we then can't grumble anymore. We like to complain. It is our (usually clandestine) way to feel sufficient. When we tear others down, we feel built up.

So why would Paul say to stop grumbling? Because it won't get us anywhere. Pouring worth into an idol (and in this case, ourselves) is an endless enterprise. Idols are sieves. They give nothing back. And that is dangerous because we have only so much blood. Paul knows that grumbling is wholly unhelpful, in all things. Three things:

1. In whatever situation we're in, no matter how dire or terrible, we must remember that grumbling will not help. In fact, it will pollute us and the people around us.

2. If you truly can't remain in a particular situation without grumbling, leave that situation. Know, however, that the issue is probably not your situation--every job and church has issues. The problem, most likely, is you (see point 3).

3. Our ability to keep from grumbling is not self-wrought. It must be based entirely on the Gospel. We will stop grumbling if we consistently recall that the problem with the world is not 'them' but us, and that Jesus died to pay our debt and we are now alive in him. What could we possibly have to grumble about if that is actually true? If your life is based on the Gospel, then you will truly "shine as lights in the world."

Monday, June 15, 2009

We Forgive and Serve Men Not Because of Men but Because of God

These sections from Calvin on our dealings with people are so good. In the Institutes, 3.7.6 (italics mine):
The Lord commands all men without exception "to do good" [Heb. 13:16]. Yet the great part of them are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit. But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love. However, it is among members of the household of faith that this same image is more carefully to be noted [Gal. 6:10], in so far as it has been renewed and restored through the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, "He is a stranger"; but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh [Isa. 58:7, Vg.]. Say, "He is contemptible and worthless"; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image. Say that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to himself. Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions. Now if he has not only deserved no good at your hand, but has also provoked you by unjust acts and curses, not even this is just reason why you should cease to embrace him in love and to perform the duties of love on his behalf [Matt. 6:14; 18:35; Luke 17:3]. You will say, "He has deserved something far different of me." Yet what has the Lord deserved? While he bids you forgive this man for all sins he has committed against you, he would truly have them charged against himself. Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches [Matt. 5:44]. It is that we remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.

On Learning from Unbelievers

Spurgeon says you can learn much from unbelievers. I totally agree. From Lectures to My Students, p. 211:
I have seen very much of my own stupidity while in conversation with seeking souls. I have been baffled by a poor lad while trying to bring him to the Saviour; I thought I had him fast, but he has eluded me again and again with perverse ingenuity of unbelief. Sometimes inquirers who are really anxious surprise me with their singular skill in battling against hope; their arguments are endless and their difficulties countless. They put us to a non plus again and again. The grace of God at last enables us to bring them to the light, but not until we have seen our own inefficiency. In the strange perversities of unbelief, the singular constructions and misconstructions which the desponding put upon their feelings and upon scriptural statements, you will often find a world of instruction. I would sooner give a young man an hour with inquirers and the mentally depressed than a week in the best of our classes.

Trickle Down Princess Narcissism

Megan Basham, in the WSJ, on how parents these days are turning little girls into narcissistic princesses:
For only $44 at Nordstrom, you can dress your toddler in a tank top that declares her to be a "Juicy Couture Princess" -- that is, someone whose parents can afford to buy designer shirts that will end up stained with ketchup or jelly. And until recently, numerous Saks stores maintained Club Libby Lu, a spa for 5- to 13-year-old girls offering princess makeovers with tube tops and miniskirts that left girls looking more like Real Housewives than Cinderella. The ailing retailer closed the tween operation in May, but it grossed $60 million in 2008.

Call it trickle-down narcissism. Today, even as the economic crisis continues, many middle-class parents aspire to give their daughters the best of everything, "the best" meaning the most expensive. A quick tour around suburbia will show princess-themed bedrooms (the rhinestoned-and-feathered kind, not the cartoon-character kind) and ostentatious birthday parties, as well as pedigreed dogs being toted in designer bags by 10-year-olds. Maintaining a diva daughter has become one more way to one-up the Joneses.

Sadly, even believing Christians are participating in the princess push. Christian retail outlets like A Different Direction carry "God's Girlz," glamour dolls dressed in princess shirts and spandex with sparkling tiaras on their heads. St. Paul may have exhorted women to be modest in their dress, but many church-going girls proudly wear Christian-marketed clothing imprinted with messages like "Yes, I am a Princess." The small print underneath -- "I'm a daughter of the King" -- is supposed to differentiate the sentiment from secular princess gear (never mind that the King's firstborn declared himself not a prince but a servant of all.)
Heh. Whole thing.

Exit question: How does one go about praising their children while at the same time building up in them humility?

Among and Amongst

Grammar Amplified:

Among and Amongst are interchangeable. Though the former is far more common in American grammar, the latter is a perfectly reasonable substitute.

The Prayer of the Husband and Father: May I Fear God

Psalm 128, made into a prayer:
O God, I know that blessed is everyone who fears you, who walks in your ways!
When I remember this, when I live this,
I will eat of the labor of my hands,
I will be blessed, and it will be well with me.
If I fear you, my wife will be like the fruitful vine within my house;
my children will be like the olive shoots around my table.
Behold, I will be blessed if I fear you.
May I therefore fear and honor you oh great King as you stand before me,
and may I sink into lowly estate.

On Freedom Isn't What You Think It Is

Contention: Freedom is being free from all restriction.

Rejoinder: Tell that to a concert pianist.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Let Us Call Ourselves Back to Humility

Ah, Calvin. No wonder we celebrate your birth 500 years later. From the Institutes, 3.7.4:
4. Self-denial gives us the right attitude toward our fellow men

Now in these words we perceive that denial of self has regard partly to men, partly, and chiefly, to God.

For when Scripture bids us act toward men so as to esteem them above ourselves [Phil. 2:3], and in good faith to apply ourselves wholly to doing them good [cf. Rom. 12:10], it gives us commandments of which our mind is quite incapable unless our mind be previously emptied of its natural feeling. For, such is the blindness with which we all rush into self-love that each one of us seems to himself to have just cause to be proud of himself and to despise all others in comparison. If God has conferred upon us anything of which we need not repent, relying upon it we immediately lift up our minds, and are not only puffed up but almost burst with pride. The very vices that infest us we take pains to hide from others, while we natter ourselves with the pretense that they are slight and insignificant, and even sometimes embrace them as virtues. If others manifest the same endowments we admire in ourselves, or even superior ones, we spitefully belittle and revile these gifts in order to avoid yielding place to such persons. If there are any faults in others, not content with noting them with severe and sharp reproach, we hatefully exaggerate them. Hence arises such insolence that each one of us, as if exempt from the common lot, wishes to tower above the rest, and loftily and savagely abuses every mortal man, or at least looks down upon him as an inferior. The poor yield to the rich; the common folk, to the nobles; the servants, to their masters; the unlearned, to the educated. But there is no one who does not cherish within himself some opinion of his own pre-eminence.
The antidote to cherishing one's own pre-eminence?
Let us, then, unremittingly examining our faults, call ourselves back to humility. Thus nothing will remain in us to puff us up; but there will be much occasion to be cast down. On the other hand, we are bidden so to esteem and regard whatever gifts of God we see in other men that we may honor those men in whom they reside. For it would be great depravity on our part to deprive them of that honor which the Lord has bestowed upon them. But we are taught to overlook their faults, certainly not flatteringly to cherish them; but not on account of such faults to revile men whom we ought to cherish with good will and honor. Thus it will come about that, whatever man we deal with, we shall treat him not only moderately and modestly but also cordially and as a friend. You will never attain true gentleness except by one path: a heart imbued with lowliness and with reverence for others.
Exit question: What would the church look like if it heeded Calvin's supplication, even to a small degree?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Are Not Our Own, We Are God's

Calvin, in the Institutes, 3.7.1:
We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [Rom. 14:8; cf. I Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

The Gospel is Not About Us And What We Have Done

Michael Horton, in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, p. 152:
The gospel is not about us and what we have done but about God and his success story. After all it is news. I recently watched a PBS conversation between retired television news anchors. One interesting point that all three participants made was that journalism (especially on television) has shifted from an older slogan like, "All the news you need to know," to "All the news that you can use." Even news has turned into therapy and entertainment. By definition, however, news is something you don't already know and you may not already think it is all that useful. You have to be told what has happened. Furthermore, you hear the news. In other words, you are a recipient. You did not make the news, but if the news is significant enough, it can make you.

Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer Only Momentary Separation from God?

Or, why must unrepentant sinners suffer eternally when Jesus suffered only momentarily?

Piper is at his best when making theological distinctions:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Paul Was Not the Founder of Christianity, Thank You Very Much

It is a common assumption among liberal biblical scholars that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity, Paul was. They contend that Jesus' goal and Paul's were/are at odds. Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion, but Paul did. Robert Wright propounds similarly in his new book, The Evolution of God. Greg Easterbrook, in review of Wright, writes,
Paul wanted Christianity to become a global faith, appealing to anyone from any land or ethnic group. So he offered something no faith had offered to that point -- universal brotherhood. Did Jesus intend to start a new, broader-based religion? That's hardly clear -- Christ never used the word "Christian" or instructed his disciples to promote a new faith. Paul, by contrast, actively wished to start a cross-borders, proselytizing system of belief.
Now you must understand that this sort of claim is specious at best, and delusive at worst. In formulating such theses, preconceived notions are much more important than historical truth. Accordingly, large parts of the Bible must be dismissed in order that the intended theses remain accurate. In a letter to the editor this morning, Dave Reed deftly responds:
Amazing! Did neither the book's author nor its reviewer consult the Bible? After all, the Bible describes the unfolding plan in great detail.

Even Sunday schoolers know Jesus's final words on earth in the Great Commission, "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19, ESV). They also know about his personal conversion of Paul. In Acts 9:15, Jesus says of Paul, ". . . he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the gentiles [non-Jews] and kings and the children of Israel."

The Old Testament, throughout, points to "a righteous God and a Savior" for "all the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 45:22, 23). Jesus further reveals, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).

Perhaps Mr. Wright shall pen many anthropologic theories, and Mr. Easterbrook many nonfiction reviews, before the end arrives. Meanwhile, for those interested in the facts on the outreach of grace through faith, please consult a Bible.

Let Us Proceed in Holiness in Our Puny Capacity

Calvin, in the Institutes, 3.6.5:
But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly nattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

God is Way Bigger Than We Think

Man is not the center, God is.

On Comforting the Grieving

I have been listening to Keller preach through Job. And he is so helpful. For example, how should you comfort the grieving? "With truth and tears" he says. And he gets this from Jesus' different reactions to Martha and Mary as they deal with the death of Lazarus.


As Jesus enters the scene, Martha comes up to him and says "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," (John 11:21). Jesus responds with truth: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die," (25). So Keller would say that when you are with the grieving (or when you are grieving) part of your response must be to speak biblical truth to them.


When Mary approaches Jesus, she says to him the same thing Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," (32). But Jesus' response this time is very different:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. (33-35)
Jesus is not weeping for Lazarus. He knows he will rise again in moments. He is weeping with those who are in mourning. Accordingly, you must weep with those who weep.

What is unhelpful and callous is all truth and no tears. But on the other hand, what is unhelpful and unedifying is all tears and no truth. You must bring both to the grieving (and yourself).

The Absurdity of Abortion

1. I was talking to someone recently about the doctor who delivered their baby boy. Somehow it came up that this doctor won't do circumcisions. "Why?" I asked. "Because she thinks the practice is barbaric." This same doctor also performs abortions.

2. From the Beautiful Work blog:
This month marks a strange anniversary of sorts for me. It was 2 years ago this month that I was sitting in a chair looking at my unborn baby in 4D. She was precious! We had previously found out that our baby had several “markers” for down syndrome and had enlarged kidneys which may have required surgery upon birth. Thus we were monitored more carefully and had a ton more ultrasound shots at a hospital. This was the first level 3 ultrasound with this pregnancy (I had had one with my 3rd with no problems). I got to gaze upon my baby for almost a full hour – it was wonderful! I was there alone as my husband was out of town. The specialist doctor called me in after the ultrasound to go over the findings. The first words out of his mouth to me were “Well you will have to come in tomorrow for your abortion because of how far along you are.” I was utterly shocked and devastated. All I could do was mutter “What??????” He then proceeded to tell me that my baby had more “markers” for down syndrome and it didn’t look good. I was more shocked that his automatic assumption was that I would abort my baby. I almost couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me in that office. All I wanted to do was run as far away from that man as possible.

As soon as I was able to speak again I called my doctor. He was able to calm me down and after talking to him I decided against the amnio to find out for sure and thus my pregnancy went on not knowing whether or not I was going to have a baby with down syndrome. For me at that point the risk of miscarriage outweighed the need to know. What I did do was to research as much as possible about down syndrome to prepare. What I found out is what I want to remember and never forget. I do not know what the implications of this knowledge will be for my life but I am confident that this ordeal was not an accident. I found that over 90% of babies that are diagnosed with down syndrome are aborted. Those words the doctor spoke to me were for a reason and out of his experience. This has chilled me to the bone. Another fact I found was that even if your baby is diagnosed with down syndrome there is no way to tell what function level the child will be at. Some children with down syndrome go on to graduate from high school and lead independent lives. Others will require continual care. The point is that they can not tell you what the function level of the child will be. Having a special needs child is hard. It is life changing. It alters the family in ways that are not predictable. But who are we to judge who lives and dies?

Our fourth daughter was born in August with no physical problems. Her kidneys were fine and she did not have down syndrome. What my heart went through in the months of not knowing I hope and pray will never leave me.

Crazy Dudes and the Power of God

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jesus at the Center

Michael Horton, in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, p. 142-143:
Apart from Christ, the Bible is a closed book. Read with him at the center, it is the greatest story ever told. The Bible is trivialized when it is reduced to life 's instruction manual. What is the point of the historical books, the Psalms, the wisdom literature, and the Prophets? According to the apostles—and Jesus himself—the Bible is an unfolding drama with Jesus Christ as its central character. As the narratives themselves make plain enough, the Old Testament saints were not heroes of faith and obedience but sinners who, despite their own wavering, were given the faith to cling to God's promise. According to the apostle Paul, the Old Testament itself proclaimed this gospel of free justification in Christ alone through faith alone: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify" (Rom. 3:21 NIV).
He continues:
Isn't it amazing that, according to Jesus, the whole Bible is about him and Peter says that the angels long to understand the Good News that is (or should be) brought weekly by heralds, but we decide that someone or something else should be the focus of our sermon and worship this week? "Yes, but we already understand all of that," I hear someone saying. Do we? Not if we are by nature self-righteous and self-confident, answering the law with the oath of the Israelites at Mount Sinai, "All this we will do."

The Obligatory 'Bring Your Guns to Church Day' Post

From a report at the Out of Ur blog on the way churches are responding to the recent church shootings:
Pastor Ken Pagano from New Bethel Church in Kentucky is encouraging his parishioners to bring their guns to church for an "Open Carry Celebration" to celebrate the Fourth of July and the Second Amendment. "We're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms," says Pagano. "Without that this country wouldn't be here."

The Worship Album That Changed My Life

Is only $3.99:

So Many Links (10 June 2009)

10 ways to provoke a geek argument (e.g. “Mac, Windows, or Linux? Does it really make a difference?”).

Future geek to have argument with.

An open letter to Mike Tyson.

Anger is not morally neutral.

Match made in Christian Rocker/Hooker heaven.

The worst place on the planet. Pray often for the prisoners there.

Summer reading list from CT.

Finally: Get your own customized squirrel.

Piper, Gangsta:

Is Your Love Parasitism?

Ed Welch, in When People Are Big and God Is Small, p. 182-183:
Scott Peck, in his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, suggests that we can shape other people into host organisms. It is not a pretty picture: people are the intestine, we are the worm.
"I do not want to live. I cannot live without my husband [wife, girlfriend, boyfriend], I love him [or her] so much." And when I respond, as I frequently do, "You are mistaken; you do not love your husband [wife, girlfriend, boyfriend]." "What do you mean?"is the angry question. "I just told you I can't live without him [or her]." I try to explain. "What you describe is parasitism, not love."
People are our cherished idols. We worship them, hoping they will take care of us, hoping they will give us what we feel we need. What we really need are biblical shapes and identities for other people. Then, instead of needing people to fill our desires, we can love people for the sake of God's glory and fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

For me this last step is the hardest. It is not so hard to understand what the Bible says about people—everyone knows that we are supposed to love them—but it is difficult to apply this knowledge. Loving others makes life less comfortable. It means that I give up my own agenda for a Saturday morning in order to help a neighbor. It means that I get hurt more when someone moves away. It means that people stay at our house when I would prefer to be surrounded with just my immediate family.

Isn't that just like God's Word? Just when we think we have adapted it to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, it messes everything up. It tells us to love others in the same way that we have been loved by God.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Gospel Must Always Be Placarded Before Us

Michael Horton, in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, p. 125:
The law tells us what God expects from us; the gospel tells us what God has done for us.

So the law and the gospel are not inherently opposed, but when it comes to how we are saved, these two principles could not be more antithetical. And since our faith at every moment is threatened by our natural tendency to be distracted from its object--Christ--we need the gospel placarded before us not just at the beginning, but throughout the Christian life. The gospel is for Christians too. We need to be evangelized every week. It is not by following Christ's example but by being inserted into Christ, clothed with Christ, united to Christ--as the Spirit creates faith through the gospel--we are not only justified but sanctified as well.

Purgatory Minimizes the Need for the Atonement

Calvin, in the Institutes, 3.5.6, on the unbiblical, illogical, moralistic idea that there exists a place where Christian sinners are punished, for a time, for their earthly sins (italics mine):
When expiation of sins is sought elsewhere than in the blood of Christ, when satisfaction is transferred elsewhere, silence is very dangerous. Therefore, we must cry out with the shouting not only of our voices but of our throats and lungs that purgatory is a deadly fiction of Satan, which nullifies the cross of Christ, ''inflicts unbearable contempt upon God's mercy, "and overturns and destroys our faith. For what means this purgatory of theirs but that satisfaction for sins is paid by the souls of the dead after their death? Hence, when the notion of satisfaction is destroyed, purgatory itself is straightway torn up by the very roots. But if it is perfectly clear from our preceding discourse that the blood of Christ is the sole satisfaction for the sins of believers, the sole expiation, the sole purgation, what remains but to say that purgatory is simply a dreadful blasphemy against Christ? I pass over the sacrileges by which it is daily defended, the minor offenses that it breeds in religion, and innumerable other things that we see have come forth from such a fountain of impiety.

On Encouragement

People fail to encourage others for many reasons. Here are a few:
  1. We believe that by encouraging other people, what we are truly saying is that they are better than us. Or, if we don't encourage people, then we feel superior to them. Our idol is our own self-esteem, and it stands in the way of encouragement.
  2. We believe that most encouragement is not actually true and is therefore inauthentic. In truth, finding true, encouraging things to say to people proves too challenging.
  3. We convince ourselves that what helps people grow is pain, not praise.
What these beliefs show is that (1) We misunderstand what encouragement is, and (2) We misunderstand what the purpose of encouragement is. Acts 11:23, it seems, helps makes clear what encouragement is, but also frees us from our normal impediments that keep us from encouraging.

"When (Barnabas) arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts."
  1. Notice why Barnabas was provoked to encourage them: because he had seen 'the evidence of the grace of God.' So, most fundamentally, the reason we encourage people is not because of anything they have done but because of what God has done.
  2. And this makes sense insofar as our gifts are just that: gifts from God to us. The learned are learned because of God. The athletic are athletic because of God. The musical are musical because of God.
  3. Encouragement is unhelpful when it is meant only to bolster self-image. What is important is not how good you look, but how good Jesus looks. The reason Barnabas encourages them to 'remain true to the Lord' is because, apart from Jesus, what they have just isn't worth encouraging.
  4. Or, this is good news, because depending on the praise of men for what you have/are will always end in misery. But depending on what Jesus has done for you (paid your debt) and does for you (makes you righteous) will always end in joy.
  5. This will surely lead to great humility and courage. You are made humble because you finally realize you are a terrible sinner and need a great savior, but also that anything good in your life (your looks, money, brain) is not really yours. You are made confident because Jesus was glad to die for you and that you have been adopted by the God of the universe.
  6. So we encourage not to make people feel better about themselves, but to make them more cognizant of Jesus.
  7. Negatively, when we do not encourage, we make them less cognizant of Jesus.
  8. The reason we don't encourage, ultimately, is because we have forgotten the gospel. Or, we have forgotten the very thing that should be so encouraging to us.
  9. Ultimately, this is freeing because encouraging becomes less about us and more about God. When the basis for our encouragement is the gospel, seeing the grace of God in the lives of people, we will want to encourage.
  10. If you have a problem with #9, you have other issues.